For those stadium-bound, the Upton Park tube station is flocked with faithful fans, there is an air of mystery about the side and Hammers’ optimism mixed with subdued fear so intense you can smell it, before the smell of overcooked burgers snatches it like a United team in the dying embers of a game…
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Ok, this may just be my view of the opening day, but there is nothing that replaces the walk to Upton Park from the tube. Passing fans whose shirts bare the names of great Hammers past and present, from Bobby Moore to Andy Carroll; the shouts of “Over Land and Sea” and “Irons”; the passing comments to fellow fans of “if he starts that fat lump I ain’t comin’ next week!” No stadium that I have ever been to bonds you in a way that Upton Park brings together fans before you even take to your seats.
The time has come to wait in a (I hesitate to say line because it seems more of a bundle) to purchase an overpriced and cap-less lager, but it has never tasted so sweet. Sky Sports News is on the TVs and the fans look for any London club’s result to an early kick-off. Ironic cheers as Spurs draw to a middle table team at home puts the crowd in an upbeat mood. As you still try to get burger out of your teeth, the clock approaches 3 and it is time to take to your seat.
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As you find your gate and ascend the stairs, the luscious green grass comes into view. The virgin sight of the famous pitch before a Premier League ball has been kicked is a momentous occasion for any fan, whether it is your first game at Upton Park or your 50th year as a season ticket holder, the first sight of the pitch is a moment glued in your West Ham memory. The odd keyboard riff to the familiar song begins, arms aloft as bubbles fly from the machines. As the music cuts off, fortune is called out by 35,000 Hammers and the players occupy their positions. The crowd reaches a crescendo as we anticipate the beginning of the game. Eyes fall towards the ref, who checks the ‘keepers, the linesmen, then lifts the whistle to his mouth.
And so it begins.
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