First thing’s first, a confession. West Ham United are not my only footballing distraction on a Saturday afternoon.
Since moving north 20 years ago, I have followed local football in my adopted home of Bradford, and seen my second club in weird and wonderful venues from Dinnington to Widnes and beyond. It’s fun and I enjoy it. But one thing I don’t enjoy is the abuse dished out by ‘supporters’ to their own players, even on away grounds.
Last week, I saw a father and son do their Statler and Waldolf routine complete with abusive bellowing and jabbing fingers. Yes, it was a poor performance, and we were 3-0 down, but is it so difficult to swallow your anger just for a few minutes? Obviously not in this case. The trouble is, this is typical of supporters everywhere when things are going badly, and reactions can be particularly extreme on message boards, where there is so little comeback.
Every football fan gets annoyed with their club sometimes, but some perspective is needed. There are, honestly, bigger things in life. I try to convince myself that to worry over things I can’t control – like West Ham results – is totally irrational, and this helps sometimes. It will certainly help me watch the game this evening in a state approaching calm.
As I write this, I’m expecting little from the second leg in Frankfurt, given how good our opponents were in the first game. But I suspect certain people are already poised over their laptops, ready to revel in a bad result if it comes, and hark back to our barren January, transfer-wise. I don’t know about you, but I think the club – manager, players, and staff – have been superb this season, and I’ll forgive our dodgy end of season run, given the remarkable job David Moyes has done since his return to West Ham.
During seasons like this, my mind goes back to the relegation decider at Bolton in 2003, when a West Ham team full of England players barely broke sweat in losing 1-0. Or the frightening afternoon at Chelsea in 1987 (another 0-1, as it happens), and the crush that developed when we were held back for over an hour. By comparison this season has been a breeze and whatever the result in Frankfurt, we should be optimistic.
Some people don’t seem to realise that winning is not guaranteed. As we saw with Manchester City in Madrid, even the best teams can implode, and we’re not (yet) in City’s class. So please, let’s go into the second leg hoping for the best, but aware that we could lose, and ready to react accordingly, with good memories of this season and hope for the future.
As I feared, the result went against us; another ‘game too far’ in our marathon season. But the achievements of the past ten months, the resilience of a thin squad and the outstanding performance in Lyon, will stay with me. The terrific win at Norwich has West Ham within touching distance of the Europa Conference League; a decent consolation for the disappointment of Frankfurt, and a world away from the shambles David Moyes inherited. We should remember this as we lick our wounds.