The words below were in an email which was shown to me over lunch in Cardiff on the day of the FA Cup Final. I wasn't alone in having a tear in my eye after I had read it. It's written by a guy who, like me, belongs to the West Ham Internet mailing List, Don Perretta. Don, I salute you for summing up what it is like to support our team through thick and thin. I now challenge someone to write something similarly moving on what it's like to support the Conservatives!
In 1999 West Ham were chasing an Inter-toto place with a squad full of some of the best young players in the country. In many ways what has happened in the seven years since is a microcosm of the history of West Ham United Football Club. Up, down, delight, disappointment, great wins, horrendous defeats, excitement, misery, tension, boredom, great players, mediocre players, 'Brown Out', 'Good old Mr. Brown' (Ok - just joking on that last one) and then at the end, as if by magic, one of those days that make supporting West Ham the
defining life choice it undoubtedly is; a day you will remember for the rest of your life.
Liverpool v West Ham United in the FA Cup final! Sounds good doesn't it? And believe me, whatever happens on Saturday, it will be good. Being associated with West Ham means that whenever the good days arrive they will be enjoyed to the maximum because, if the East End teaches you nothing else, it sure as hell teaches you how to appreciate life's salad days; it also teaches you how to party.
Just being a part of the final game of the season day is a source of great pride and constant wonder. I'm still finding it hard to understand why the 'Wig and Pen' in Colchester has the Boleyn Castle and crossed irons painted onto its window and I have to pinch myself when I realise they are trying to pull punters in to watch...the 2006 FA Cup final.
Similarly, the Cup final advert on the BBC; tune in at 11am and get to see a day in the life of Nigel Reo-Coker; watch Marlon Harewood walk his dogs; see the players - yes OUR players - walk out to inspect the pitch. It's great - just great!
Don't bother explaining this to your Arse supporting work colleagues. Don't waste your time trying to get your feelings across to a ManUre fan. You have to support West Ham and have some affinity with the East End to understand what is going to happen on Saturday May 13th 2006.
I fancy West Ham to win on Saturday - there's a real 1980 feel about it - but even were we to lose, in a sense, it's a still a match we've already scored some sort of moral victory in. The Hammers are virtually everyone's favourite second team and it seems even the hardest heart is welcoming us back to the top table. There would inevitably be some anguish in defeat but nothing like we'd experience if it came at the hands of a London rival, a ManUre, or a mid-table side we'd already thumped this season. Playing Liverpool - the best team in Europe last season - adds a certain cachet to a footballing feast that the whole world watches.
West Ham and Liverpool, like Newcastle, are the last bastions of old-style working class football where heart, soul, passion and entertaining football mean more than corporate boxes and sponsoring the players' socks. Dump any of these teams in League One and they would all still be pulling in 30,000+ because the fabric of the club is based on the loyalty and love of the fan not the availability of a hotel room or a training facility. It's not a coincidence that these are the only three clubs in the Premier League was a 'proper' song for an anthem (Errrr...no! at the back there 'Good Old Arsenal' and 'Blue Is the Colour' do not count!).
In what has been a fantastic season for everyone associated with West Ham the final has thrown up a match that everyone can be proud to be involved in. We've had a fantastic run to the final with barely an easy tie along the way and we're in Cardiff on merit; we're also in Europe regardless and we can, hopefully, turn up and play the type of football for which we are rightly renowned and make the final a spectacle for all those watching around the world (although if it is a tedious 0-0 draw until the ball bounces off of Marlon's bum and into the Liverpool net in the 92nd minute well - then ces't la vie!).
For those of you who've seen this before then you know what to expect and just how great Saturday is going to be. Keep a place in your heart for those who were around for the last time but not with us now. Remember that this day, this club represents your community and your birthright. Stand tall; sing loud. For those of you who've not been this way before, remember every minute, be proud, be happy - and have a hankie ready for 'Abide with Me' - you may think you're a bit of a hard nut but you will need it.
If you have tears on Saturday prepare to shed them. Wherever you are going to watch the game; whoever you are with; whatever you do; enjoy the day - and believe!