It should be very clear by my social media activity as well as this blog that I am a West Ham fan. I’ve supported the hammers for as long as I can remember and when the new Premier League season kicks off this weekend it will be the start of my 17th season in a row as a season ticket holder. But there is one thing about following a professional football team. No one prepares you for the impact it can have on your mental wellbeing.
With the 2018/19 season set to kick off this weekend I wanted to write a post about the emotional impact attending West Ham games has had on me over the past 18 years, both positive and negative.
When writing a post like this one I think it’s equally as important to pay close attention to the positive emotional impact, after all, it is exactly that has kept me going back every season.
The Worst West Ham Game – West Ham 0-3 Burnley | 10th March 2018
A season and a half into the clubs life at the former London 2012 Olympic venue and it’s fair to say that there has been a large number of teething problems. On some occasions this has caused an unsettled atmosphere within the stadium and for this particular game against Burnley it turned toxic and ugly.
There was a large amount of frustration and upset aimed at the board in the 2018/19 season due to promises not being kept about taking the club to the next level which was the whole point of the stadium move. A move which many fans were unhappy about.
In a game that looked like it was heading for a 0-0 draw it took until the 66th minute for Burnley to break the deadlock and that’s where the game got ugly. Fans began to spill onto the pitch in a protest towards the board with many others trying to vent their anger at the board directly by throwing coins and shouting abuse towards them from the area in which I sit week in week out.
The toxic surroundings that filled the London Stadium caused some unsettlement amongst the players to which Burnley capitalised by scoring a second and third goal for good measure.
I was in such a foul and emotional mood for weeks after this game that I thought for a long time that I wasn’t going to renew for the first time in 16 years. I’d had enough. It quite simply wasn’t about the football anymore.
The Best West Ham Game – West Ham 3-2 Manchester United | 10th May 2016
Before I get into the details about this game I want to share a little story about the night of May 3rd 2016 when I was lucky enough to attend that seasons player awards. In that 2015/16 West Ham were blessed with the talent of Dimitri Payet who graced the Premier League with some outstanding performances and sensational goals which lead West Ham to their greatest ever season in the top flight of English football, and everyone wanted their picture with him at the end of season player awards.
Luckily for me my favourite player to ever wear a West Ham shirt is Central Defender Winston Reid, so that is who I wanted my photo with above all else. During his then six years at West Ham, Reid averaged one goal per season, and with just two games left of the 15/16 season he was yet to register one. During a little conversation I had with him I asked if he was saving one for the final game at the Boleyn Ground to which he replied, “I want to say yes but as long as I do my job at the back i’m sure the guys at the other end of the field will do theirs and we can give the stadium a memorable send off” after that we had a photo and I thanked him for his services to West Ham and a successful end to the season and next thing I knew it was seven days later and I was at the Boleyn Ground for the last ever game which was against Manchester United.
I had never been to a game like this before that night and I can already tell you now that I will never go to another like it. I got to the stadium 4 hours before kick off to take photos, see the players arrive and take in the surroundings that had given me so many amazing memories over the years knowing that it was going to give me just one more. But the one big thing I was thinking from the moment I woke up that day was how much I didn’t want to lose, we couldn’t sign off life at The Boleyn Ground with a loss, we just couldn’t.
The game started perfectly, West Ham were 1-0 up in the space of ten minutes and it stayed that way until the interval. We were halfway there. At this point the game wasn’t a classic, but it was a professional performance and we were winning like we deserved to be.
Just six minutes into the second half Manchester United scored with their first real sight at goal as they so often do, and twenty minutes later they were 1-2 up and for a moment I really began to think that we were going to lose and the entire evening would be ruined. However, just four minutes later, West Ham were level at 2-2 and another four minutes later were winning again courtesy of a goal, from who else, Winston Reid. Ten minutes later the game finished and West Ham signed off 112 years of history at The Boleyn Ground in some style and the last ever goal was scored by my favourite ever player. That is why I go to watch West Ham.
West Ham and I
By far my biggest hobby and something I miss desperately when the football season takes it’s summer break, but that’s not to say that it doesn’t have an effect on my mental wellbeing.
Going to watch a football team every week you do run the risk that the games might not go the way you want to or the way they should. Every team in the Premier League knows they’re going to win some games and lose some games over the course of the 38 games, that’s part of it. It’s like when you go to a music festival, I can recall countless times at Reading festivals over the years where a band I was looking forward to seeing turned out to be rubbish, you just have to move on and accept that these things happen.
Looking at the contrasting scenarios between the best and worst West Ham game that I mentioned earlier, they do have one very important similarity.
My mental state was determined by the atmosphere around me.
At the Burnley game the situation was about as far away from the reason I go to football as possible, as I said earlier, it wasn’t about the football, and that anger, depression and aggression from the 55000 spectators in the stadium filtered into the air and had the same affect on me.
Whereas the Manchester United game was a cause for celebration. We had just beaten Manchester United in a five goal thriller to bid farewell to what was a second home to so many, of course it was emotional, but it was impossible to be in a bad mood. It was a night that contained all of the ingredients into what makes English football the best in the world and it is a moment that will stay with me for the rest of my life.
Similarly, I think you can apply the atmosphere around you to the state of your mental wellbeing in most walks of life. It’s impossible to feel good in a toxic atmosphere. It’s all about finding that source of positivity that shines on your day to day life, from there everything falls together nicely, and you have the best seat in the house to get the most of it.