Shards of light in East and West London

I recently wrote about the ‘science’ of following a football team in fairly broad and holistic terms; in fact it was probably sociological more than anything else but essentially it was trying to look at it as a sidekick to everyday life. Personally, I like the idea of everyday life being a sidekick to football but perhaps we’ll not go there as that is probably more than a given for many writers and readers on this site. The undercurrent to it all was the fact that as an escape from modern life, everything about it gets amplified in our heads. This is just generally and not the circus that surrounds the Premier League.

There was not meant to be any follow-up to it but a recent visit to London got me thinking a bit. As a bit of a ground anorak I like to take in different grounds and West Ham’s move from Upton Park a year or so back meant that their Friday night fixture with Leicester was an opportunity to visit the London Stadium. Tourist alert, yikes!

This would be an interesting one as it would be new and controversial manager David Moyes’ first home game as leader of the pack. I don’t generally watch football matches live unless my club or international team is involved so I was not ‘working’ so to speak. Various folk don’t understand that turn of phrase but I would like to think most surrounding here do, in that I wasn’t emotionally involved. What would be interesting for me would be the level of support for him and the team from the unsettled East End masses.

It is fair to say that they are not happy with a lot of things which have been well chronicled. Results certainly, style of football, ground move, loss of the unique Green Street atmosphere, frustration with the board etc…I think covers a fair whack of current grievances. From a distance it seemed that they were generally accepting that a change of manager was needed but there were huge reservations as to David Moyes being the right man.

I’m thinking here that many would surmise that he had huge shoes to fill in Salford and that foreign management is not always a wise career move. That sentiment could well have been extended to Sunderland, where playing eleven disciples fed on fish and loaves with Judas Iscariot as sub would even have tested Mr. J Christ’s managerial abilities. That might all have been ok except for his negative comment at the beginning of the season suggesting Sunderland had no hope. That was the big ‘no no’ and on top of being a hard – nosed dour Scot in the East End, this meant that it could be an interesting welcome.

His first match away to Watford was notable for excessive ferrous displeasure mainly against the board and many were expecting Stratford to be a lava- spilling dome for the game v Leicester. The lack of spite and vitriol was the key take – away for this writer even when Leicester went ahead very early on. West Ham equalised just before half- time and many have written about the supportive noise in the second half being the loudest and most voluble since the move from Newham.

I was pleasantly pleased and a little surprised. It was very uplifting to hear and see it as my removed and bottom line on it was that the team badly needed that support. I was pleased that the fans concentrated on the important issues right there and then to be all Noel Gallagher about it. It helped the team and it helped the manager.

I reflected on this turn up as I went to watch the son play in a Combined Counties League game in West London the following afternoon. North Greenford United were playing Farnham Town in a league game just off the Central line. My general experience of lower league football is a lot of noise with eleven managers on the pitch and an even louder one off the pitch but not a lot of sense being uttered. That’s fine, it goes with the territory and there you go.

Again I was off duty though obviously filial obligations had me on one side of the fence. I was very conscious though of the range of the games – Premiership giants West Ham United sky – beamed across the world and honest to goodness Greenford watched by fifty odd and Ted the dog. Once again I was to be pleasantly surprised in a way I was not expecting. Greenford had their goalkeeper sent off in the first five minutes but before that I had noticed how he had rolled the ball out to his defenders to start play every time he could.

What was interesting was that this continued after the sending off. Refreshing stuff. Ten men proved no handicap as they eventually tore into a two goal lead. Throughout all this the team by and large kept the ball on the deck and continued to play it out on the ground from the defenders. Every now and then this way of playing meant losing the ball in dangerous areas. Did this encourage a barrage of abuse from the lower league version of Pep Guardiola. Not a bit of it. This was seriously interesting territory.

It was not a case either of Farnham being a substantially weaker team either. They were properly competitive but did perhaps lack the creativity and ball retention of the Greenford midfield. But that was it. Greenford held their nerve and way of playing to win the game 2-1 and I was hooked.

Now there is no deep link between either two matches other than positive enlightenment that I wasn’t really expecting. I did wonder a little bit about another team from the eastern end of their city – Glentoran, in Belfast who some have likened to West Ham fans with regards to expectations and demands from their team. But I did think that like life, fans can decide to be as happy or supportive as they choose to be and I’ll include team mates and managers in this as they still inhabit the general ‘supportive’ bubble.

Somewhere deep in the individual and collective, people have had a proper and serious deep think about their approach to these respective situations in the form of these matches. The second match attitude clearly happens regularly but certainly the first was more considered and immediate, but the result is the same in that the positive was being mined to the extent that my eye brows did a Roger Moore. Like I say, no great point or message to this but it didn’t half make me reflect. I suppose it made me consider the word support in greater detail as in……is the team there for your benefit or are you there for theirs?

All wistful stuff but I just thought it needed an airing. Good luck to both teams for the rest of the season.