An Aussie West Ham Fan’s Memories of Upton Park and Farewell to The Boleyn
Tomorrow night West Ham United bid farewell to Upton Park or ‘The Boleyn’ as it is also known after 112 years in East London.
The Olympic Stadium and even Europe beckons after a couple of extremely positive seasons that as Hammers fans are exciting to watch having constantly been on the end of many heartbreaks like relegation and last minute defeats in recent years. Like many fellow Hammers fans I would celebrate a draw against a big 4 team as though we had won all 3 points and the game, hell even just scoring goals was tough in the late 2000’s but now we seem to be scoring 2-3 per game! It has truly never been a better time to be a West Ham United fan with all the encouraging things that are taking place.
It seems a tad odd to get sentimental regarding a club leaving a concrete building but West Ham and the Boleyn hold a special place in my heart. I’ll be sad that I won’t get a chance to watch one final game there but just like all the other West Ham fans who were lucky enough to attend a game here or perhaps even just walk outside the ground on a weekday over the years or watch games on TV in their part of the world, the visits that I made to the stadium will forever be etched in my fondest memories of both living in London and being a sports fan.
Here’s a bit of my story in becoming a West Ham United fan and a look back at the matches I attended over the last decade.
2006: ‘Who the hell are the Brisbane Broncos?’
I was not a football fan when I first moved to England at the end of 2006 to take up my first teaching post in Mildenhall outside Cambridge but I became one after the first day of school. I was teaching maths, geography, art and design across grades 5-8 and on the first day of school I asked all the students a few questions to get to know them and vica versa (mainly just me saying Crikey and other Australian slang words which made them laugh). When the topic of sports came up, the kids asked me what team I supported and I said ‘That’s easy, the Brisbane Broncos’ and one cheeky kid replied ‘Who the hell are they?’. I quickly learnt never to talk about rugby league in this part of the world ever again and in the interests of finding a team to support I asked all of the kids across all of the classes I took (400 odd of the 600 odd school population) what team they supported and that I’d support the team with the most votes.
I still remember the votes as they were tallied up by a student during the end of following afternoon’s final class.
Arsenal- 107 votes
Liverpool- 107 votes
Manchester United- 58 votes
Chelsea- 43 votes
Tottenham- 31 votes
Ipswich- 18 votes
Cambridge- 8 votes
Total: 394 Votes
So there it was. It looked as though I was going to have to follow Arsenal AND Liverpool or these kids would never let me hear the end of this. I ended up making my way up to Anfield and saw LFC take on PSV in a Champions League match in April 2007 and had a great night out with local fans but something was missing. Liverpool just wasn’t for me. Plus I couldn’t get up there every fortnight so I needed a team closer to London.
2007: The IT Crowd ‘West……..Hammmmm’
I finished up my first teaching stint in Mildenhall, Suffolk and returned to Australia for a few months before returning to live and teach in London for another year in 2007. Around the end of 2007 a friend and I decided to sign up to the Channel 4 live TV filming sessions out of curiosity and for something fun to do while living in London. One Friday we made our way out to the studios at the end of the Metropolitan line in Uxbridge with 450 other lucky people to see two episodes of The IT Crowd being filmed. While one episode was filmed live we also watched another episode on the screens with our laughs being recorded for both episodes (so yeah if you’re an IT Crowd fan you can hear my laugh in the DVD’s).
Anyway in one of the episodes there was this ridiculously funny scene where one of the character has to choose what team he supports and thus looks at a ham and says ‘West….Hammmm’ which then followed a scene of the guys at a West Ham match. It was a funny moment in a hilarious show that made me laugh and I got me thinking about how I needed to find a team to support while living in London and West Ham could just be that team.
Here’s that famous scene if you’ve never seen it before
And here’s a pic to prove I was in the audience…..and yes WTF is going on with my hair. I don’t even know!
Game 1: West Ham United Vs Portsmouth November 15th, 2008 0-0
In November 2008 as my visa and time teaching in London was coming to an end I finally had my first opportunity to head out to Upton Park to watch West Ham take on Portsmouth in what would turn out to be a 0-0 draw and featuring the Socceroo’s Lucas Neill.
There’s nothing quite like stepping off the tube and walking down Green St from the Upton Park tube station. Fans cheering and yelling, laughing and smiling ahead of the big match was something that always gave me goosebumps.
Exiting right out of the station and crossing the road to walk down to the stadium that was a short 600m walk you would sense an air of excitement in the crowd. You would often have to walk on the road if it was closer to the match starting as the sidewalks would be busy with foot traffic as you past by the unofficial West Ham merch sellers, hot food stands, pubs, old houses and chicken and kebab shops.
Soaking up the atmosphere and the vibes of this first visit was surreal as was the moment I knew I was a Hammer for life. My friend Kim and I walked into the Queens, ordered a few pints and struck up a conversation with some Irish West Ham fans who had been coming across to The Boleyn every fortnight or so for the last twenty years to watch the team play. I’ll never forget this one bloke telling me these passionate stories of what the club meant to him and why he was such a die hard fan as well as asking which team my friend Kim and I were going for seeing as we had no ‘colours’ on. I asked why this mattered and he said, ‘well people might bash ya thinking yer a Pompey fan!’ We laughed and said ‘who’d bash us, we’re Australian!’ and as the opening whistle was approaching this guy handed me his scarf and beanie and said ‘there you go fella, you’re a West Ham fan now’. Sitting in the Sir Trevor Brooking Stand for my first match here, I have thought about that gesture of kindness from this fan many times and of the moment I had become a West Ham United supporter.
Match report: West Ham halted their losing streak with their first clean sheet of the season and a point, but they could easily have had all three.
Game 2: West Ham United Vs Arsenal October 25, 2009 2-2
In 2009 and now working more in the music business back in Brisbane, I headed back to London for a trip to see some friends, catch some gigs, network with the London music business and of course catch a West Ham game at The Boleyn.
On this cold London night in October I headed out to watch the Hammers team of Parker, Upson and Green play an Arsenal side that featured Van Persie, Gallas and Fabregas amongst others. Something that became a bit of a tradition on every occasion back to the stadium was to buy that seasons kit and get the number of the corresponding Premier League campaign on the back of the jersey.
A great come from behind win ensued as the Hammers came away with a 2-2 draw following a Carlton Cole strike and Diamanti penalty 6 minutes later that had the ground shaking.
My mates and I followed up this win of sorts over a powerhouse Gunners team with beers til the early hours of the morning at The Boleyn pub next door to the stadium and then from what I can vaguely remember a quick one mile dash to get the last tube from East Ham afterwards.
Match report: Late goals from Carlton Cole and substitute Alessandro Diamanti saw West Ham come from 2-0 down to claim a deserved draw with Arsenal.
Game 3: West Ham United Vs West Bromwich Albion March 30th, 2013 3-1
It would be close to four years wait til I was able to get back to Upton Park for what would turn out to be seeing the Hammers win a game for the first time from in the corner of the Green Street stand.
From 2009 to this moment there would be many late nights spent watching West Ham games live on Fox Sports Australia on the couch at 11pm, in bed at 2am or at the gym at 6am or even just at pubs with fellow Brisbane Hammers fans such is the life of an Aussie EPL fan with the late time slots of matches.
In 2013 I came back to London for my 29th birthday for this West Ham game and to see one of my favourite bands (Black Rebel Motorcycle Club B.R.M.C) play a few dates across Europe.
I also came back to this great city as I was looking to leave both the music industry and teaching and get back into the sports business. I ended up having a heap of meetings with a host of Premier League and Championship clubs before later convincing Queens Park Rangers to take me on later in the year. You can read more about how I scored an internship with QPR here (I still can’t believe it happened!): QPR Internship
The match day program featured the new stadium design for the Olympic Stadium and West Ham went on to win 3-1 thanks to a brace from Andy Carroll and a sublime effort from Gary O’Neill.
The customary photo outside the front gates would later follow as was another thing I loved to do before or after every game.
Match Report: Andy Carroll scored twice to ease West Ham’s fears of dropping into the Championship with a win over West Brom.
Game 4: West Ham United Vs Sunderland 14th December 2013 0-0
Having ended my teaching career in late November to come back and work with QPR was a dream come true and while I was able to work at the club for a few months learning valuable fan engagement skills, I was also trekking up and down the English coastline visiting 20 odd stadiums for various matches.
West Ham were of course on the cards for two matches, the first of which against Sunderland turned out to be somewhat of a waste of £60 in the East Stand due to the wet conditions but nonetheless it was another great day out with some mates first at a pub in Plaistow and then with some pies and mash at Nathan’s Pie and Eel shop on Barking Road.
Match Report: Sunderland earned only their third away league point of the season following an uninspiring draw against fellow strugglers West Ham at Upton Park.
Game 5: West Ham United Vs Arsenal 26th December 2013 1-3
This game was a good laugh. I sat with my music business and London football mate Jon whose an avid Arsenal fan. Jon wore his Gooner kit to the game and then jumped up and down when both Cole and Walcott scored thus narrowly avoiding a smack down from fellow Hammers fans.
We sat in the Bobby Moore stand, drank pints of Carlsberg and Fosters at the Queens and then sang ‘Bubbles’ as West Ham lost 2-1. A fun day out on what was another freezing winter’s day in London.
Match report: Theo Walcott struck twice and Lukas Podolski netted a third as Arsenal came from behind to win at West Ham and go back to the top of the Premier League.
Game 6: West Ham United Vs Manchester United 8th February 2015 1-1
Having landed a dream job in sports with a global start up I was back in London for work and it just so happened to coincide with a massive match up at the Boleyn with West Ham taking on United.
We so nearly had this game until Blind scored in the 93rd minute of what was a freezing Sunday night in London.
I went solo to this match and bought a ticket in a pitch side section of the East Stand for about £70 which was quite high but I’m glad I did now as it sadly turned out to be the last game I ever got to see at Upton Park.
Match report: Daley Blind rescued a point for Manchester United with a 93rd-minute equaliser after Cheikhou Kouyate’s sublime volley put West Ham ahead.
West Ham United Memories
Over the years and on my various trips to London I would often head out to the stadium to soak up that feeling of stepping off the tube and walking down to the ground, stopping in at the club merch store to buy a few pieces of merch for myself and my fellow fans back in Australia. As luck or fate would have it when I went back in November 2015 it would be to have a meeting with the club having brought them on to our audioBoom platform. A totally ridiculous story in the end of how I would go from being a fan to then working with the club albeit in a small capacity.
I did a couple of away trips over the years too. I watched us get thrashed in the FA Cup third round at Nottingham Forrest 5-0 in 2014 and then went over to Wellington, New Zealand to see us get beaten by A-League team Sydney FC 2-1. Who on earth would support this team….well I know a few million fans who would through thick and thin regardless of the results!
THAT Nottingham Forest FA Cup Match 2014
West Ham Shop 2007-2015
West Ham United Tour 2013
West Ham United Tour of New Zealand 2014
While it is sad that the club will be moving on from this part of the world, I’ll never forget the great memories of being an Aussie in London, finding a team to support in West Ham United and heading out to The Boleyn/Upton Park over the past decade to watch the team play.
Onwards and upwards and forever blowing bubbles wherever I get to watch the team play in the world.
COME ON YOU IRONS!