January 10, 2015


Why success does not sit well with West Ham United fans (Jacob Steinberg, 9 January 2015, The Guardian)

A strange thing happened this week. Usually when I say I support West Ham United, people smile sympathetically, pat me on the back and tell me with forced cheeriness to keep my chin up. Then they look away, unable to meet my gaze for a moment longer, or comprehend the ineffable sadness of my situation.

Those with no interest in football have a slightly different approach. They regard me with a mixture of horrified fascination and amusement, in the way the Boggs family peered at Edward Scissorhands when he sat at the dinner table for the first time, and always ask the same questions. Why West Ham? Why not someone good? What position are they anyway? Fourteenth? In the Premier League? Well done to you!

This week, however, the response changed when I admitted I support West Ham. Instead of finding myself on the end of a heartfelt hug from a stranger, I was agreeing with his assertion that I must be very happy indeed. "Yes," I replied, my voice a little uncertain. "I suppose I am - happy."

Surely I am not the only West Ham fan troubled by the idea of happiness, even though it has been a long time coming. Look through the crowd at Upton Park and you will see facial expressions that have been set to perma-frown after years of watching teams led by managerial titans such as Glenn Roeder and Avram Grant. I have been in the away end when we were 2-0 down to Rotherham United on a freezing December afternoon and a man who looked like Peter Griffin spent the entire game venting his fury at Alan Pardew. I have seen two relegations and a Neil Shipperley winner against us in the play-off final.

We travelled to Cardiff in a limousine that day, the driver left the engine on during the match and the battery was flat when we returned. At least the Crystal Palace supporters had a good laugh at our expense.

My fondest memory of last season was not the three wins over Tottenham Hotspur or Sam Allardyce out-tacticking José Mourinho, but a stoic though doomed 70-yard run by James Tomkins during a dismal 0-0 draw with Sunderland. It yielded a throw-in and Tomkins received a standing ovation; I swear I saw someone throw claret and blue confetti in the air.

Now West Ham are playing good football and challenging for Europe I am supposed to be happy but I am uncomfortable. Football supporters are not meant to enjoy themselves, it is not part of their DNA. They are in their element when they are moaning, because there is nothing to sink your teeth into when your team play well, it is much better if they spend 90 minutes displaying the imagination of a wet towel. Then you can whinge for hours in the pub afterwards.

That anger is always bubbling away under the surface and it re-emerged when West Ham drew 1-1 with West Bromwich Albion on New Year's Day. It was a gloriously unfair reaction, but that cacophony of boos was music to my ears. Finally, after all the ironic chants about playing Barcelona that greeted West Ham's ascent into the top four, Upton Park sounded like Upton Park again. It was our first chance to have a good boo since August and it was cleansing - any doctor will tell you it is not healthy for a supporter to keep that bottled up.

Similarly, ideologues of both stripes depend for much of their identity on the notion that they are waging a lonely fight against the establishment, so they suffer horrible psychic dislication when they win power and become the establishment.  It's why the Right hates the Heritage health plan and standardized testing so much and why the Left despises Hillary and the UR.  They want someone hopless like Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders.  40% in the 2016 presidential would be like balm to their wounds, as relegation would heal the Hammer fans.

Posted by at January 10, 2015 12:29 PM

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