One of the first things I’m usually asked as a foreign-born West Ham supporter is simply ‘why’?
This is often accompanied with noticeable disbelief and more than a hint of condescension when coming from a glory hunting Big Four fan.
It is a question I have sought to ponder myself on more than one occasion, as I envy those who follow the ‘Manchester United’s’ of the world and are unable to fathom the concept s of relegation dogfights, promotion campaigns, thirty year trophy droughts and watching helplessly as the cream of the home-grown players are wrestled from the club’s grasp just before they reach their prime.
After only brief consideration, I was astounded with the abundance of reasons that simply flowed as to why I chose to support a club with which I have no heritage or affiliation.
Foremost amongst these was the Great Escape season of 2006/2007, whereupon I began my tortured love affair with the Irons. As I observed the drama of the season unfold, I remember the key moment was watching the infamous Tottenham game and experiencing the inevitable rollercoaster of emotion.
Genuine joy as young Mark Noble smashed in a cracker and Carlos Tevez scored his first goal for the club before jumping headlong into the delirious crowd.
Despair as Spurs pinned one back and then drew level.
Ecstasy when Bobby Zamora sent the Boleyn faithful into wild celebrations as he made it 3-2.
Utter heartbreak as I watched the turnaround become complete with Green’s fumbled save, and the empathy I had for Noble’s visible anguish at the final whistle.
Needless to say, I was hooked.
Undoubtedly one of the greatest attractions of West Ham, for a self-confessed romantic, is the club anthem.
There is something eerily haunting about the lyrics in Bubbles, particularly in the line “and like my dreams they fade and die”.
I find it reminiscent of the resigned attitude amongst our fans that we are destined for ill fortune and the club is doomed to be associated with teetering on the brink of greatness and always falling short.
“Same old West Ham” is a phrase I quickly became accustomed to muttering.
Furthermore, it can’t quite be put into words the feeling I get when the music stops playing and the crowd belts out “fortunes always hiding”, as the magnitude of the passion within those lyrics never fails to overwhelm me.
Unwavering loyalty to the club by the somewhat beleaguered supporters is another lure.
We may have won several trophies, (including as you may have heard, The World Cup), but are more often subjected to the pain of relegation or lack of success.
Regardless of this, Hammers turn up in numbers and at full voice home and away.
Possibly my favourite example of the tremendous backing was the 4-0 loss to Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup Semi Final of 1991, with “Billy Bonds Claret and Blue Army” ringing out over Villa Park even as we were 3 nil down.
The lone voice that started the ‘John Lyall’s Claret and Blue Army’ chant at the 2006 FA Cup Semi Final against Middlesbrough must surely go down as one of the finest moments in our history.
It was an extremely fitting way to send off a great club servant and I found this was echoed in the way the crowd joined in within seconds to the brave cry of the solitary man.
Perhaps it is appropriate that Lyall’s most famous quote sends chills down my spine whenever I read it, “football is in my blood, for me the bubbles will never fade and die”.
When I first began supporting the Hammers, I hadn’t even begun to realize the contribution of the Academy of Football to providing quality, young players for club and country.
In my West Ham education, I learned that under the tutelage of Tony Carr MBE, The Academy has produced recent talents such as Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard Jr, Joe Cole, Michael Carrick and Glen Johnson.
However, easily the most famous of the youth graduates, as I quickly discovered, were the World Cup winning trio of Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters.
These three men are revered by even the youngest generations of Hammers, and I rapidly learnt to regard them as club legends for their achievements, loyalty and service.
Therefore it is with great pride that I watch a West Ham side that regularly fields three graduates in the first team, with Jack Collison, Mark Noble and James Tomkins representing an illustrious history.
Moreover, rising stars in the form of Daniel Potts, Robert Hall and Christian Montano lend support to the belief that The Academy is still capable of producing gems for the future.
Another drawing point is the glorification of the clubs hard men, namely Paolo Di Canio and Julian ‘The Terminator’ Dicks.
Both came before my time but it is the affection in which older fans speak of them that heightens the appeal.
I only regret not being able to witness one of the Terminator’s rocketing penalty kicks or getting to see Di Canio causing mayhem on and off the field.
Additionally, I would be lying if I denied that the supporters’ reputation as being ‘pwopa nawty’ didn’t sway me somewhat.
Even in the absolute disaster of a season we had prior to our downfall under the inept former manager Avram Grant, priceless moments emerged.
It’s hard to look past the 4-0 victory over Manchester United on a snowy night in East London as the highlight of our relegation campaign, with our unlikely hero Jonathon Spector grabbing a brace and Victor Obinna providing all four assists.
Rivalling it was possibly the win which gave us a false dawn, as Super Scotty Parker and Demba Ba led us to defeating Liverpool, with Carlton Cole dumping Martin Škrtel in a heap to slot the goal that wrapped up the points.
Of course, taking four points off Spurs didn’t go unnoticed in an otherwise long and depressing season.
Painful though it may be at times, I wouldn’t trade my West Ham for any other club.
I may not have been born in East London, but if you cut me open I’d bleed claret and blue all the same.
By Daniel Sloan