I grew up playing football with my friends on the small green field in front of our house. I played from the early morning until it was too dark to even see the ball. We threw our coats down as goals, waited for someone to bring a ball, divided ourselves up into teams and played.
The rules were harsh, flexible, biased, unfair, argued over, non-existent and often left in shreds somewhere behind the goals as we battled with our friends in games that seemed to last forever. Goals were disputed, tackles that started fights were not easily forgotten, injuries proudly worn behind blooded shirts and jeans and trainers battered and muddied until they could barely hold themselves together.
In blustering winds, torrential rain, snow storms, blistering sun, freezing cold, grey days and early nights we played our hearts out, wore ourselves ragged until we fell exhausted on the floor barely able to muster the energy to talk. But talk we did about the wonder goal, the game saving tackle, the perfect pass and the tactics that came straight from the matches we saw on the tv.
We compared our skills with the best – we were Mervyn Day diving right to make a save, Bobby Moore completing one of his trademark tackles, sending the ball wide to Trevor Brooking, making a run down the wing to whip a cross in for Clyde Best or Geoff Hurst to take on a defender and score!!!!!!
Those were the days that filled our younger years and built a passion for a game that we play in a different way now as we watch critically from the stands. The passion, the joy, the nerves, the anger, frustration, applause, boos and singing as we make the same runs down the wing, check ourselves as we dribble past one player, another and then cross …….
“I’m forever blowing bubbles, pretty bubbles in the air,
They fly so high, nearly reach the sky,
Then like my dreams they fade and die…”
We compare the players to ourselves – we are there on the pitch, shouting at our team mates, we are cutting up the chalk on the wing, sprawling on the grass – hey ref, com’on! What a pass!!!! Whose side are you on ref? What a goal!!!!! You don’t deserve to wear the shirt!!! I can play better any day! How did he miss that? If I was the manager I would …. I could have scored that easy! The stadium fades away and we are standing on the torn up green as a kid, standing over the ball eyeing up a free kick that could win us the FA Cup.
As an amateur photographer and West Ham season ticket holder my passion for the game has inspired me to record thehome matches from when we were based at the Boleyn Ground through to London Stadium. The exhibition focuses on the fans, those who grew up with their own memories of following and playing football as kids and now who stand together, as a family united in our support for our team.
We all have our own unique stories and diverse reasons why we support our team, from memories of time with our father as a kid, because we were brought up to support West Ham, from a visit that brought us as if by fate to open our hearts to the Hammers, or loyalty for our local team. Our bond is not dependent on results – however much some results can hurt, not on who wears the claret and blue – players come and go, but on a sense of family and the people we meet who sit next to us, who talk to us on the journey to the ground, we recognise the passion, the knot of love and the colours worn with pride.
This is a work in progress and the people I have met along the way have filled me with pride for their journey, respect for their commitment and shared role in a family that rises as one to sing and cheer on our team.