West Ham United v Everton FC, Upton Park, London, December 1998
We digress from the world of music to my other spectatorish love & past time - el sporto! Now, I like all sport; I can couch potato with the best of them. I love cricket and rugby the most, and my time in the UK seriously took my All Black Fever to a new level, from where it has never ever retreated. However, 1998 marked the beginning of my life as a Hammer. Taken along by a mate’s English beau, and his Dad, this was to be an eye opener and an addictive first taste of Premiership football, something you only ever saw on telly in NZ. Going out to Upton Park on the tube that day, I couldn't believe the buzz and crowd size making their way out there… for a club game?! There was some chanting, and a lot of banter on the District Line train, but coming up out of the tube to police crowd control, being marshalled along a specific path for home fans, and seeing mounted police about was incredible. I was wondering what the hell was supposed to happen that warranted all this. Si & Pete didn't bat an eyelid, while my jaw was returning to the Southern Hemisphere. We headed to Upton Park the long way, couple of pints on the way, as they were trying to get me a bit of an inspection lap of the ground, to see how these clubs just squat in amongst residential areas, and we ended up round the back, coming in off Priory Road because we were in the cheaper home seats of the Centennial Stand, behind the goal. On the day the Hammers won 2-1, so I was off to a good start with my allegiance. I think I was lucky to start following them at this point because they had some great homegrown players, and a real crop of characters & club favourites: Shaka Hislop, Rio Ferdinand, Julian Dicks, Frank Lampard, Steve Lomas, Trevor Sinclair, Eyal Berkovic, Joh Hartson... even Iain Wright was playing for them at that stage. And strangely, Slavan Bilic (Croatian Hammers star) was playing for the opposition that day. An amazing experience to go to a Premiership match, and experience that intense proximity the crowd has to the pitch, the singing, the barracking. It is a sporting event where the supporters are connected to the players & the pitch, not like New Zealand where our large, and often round, dual-code sports grounds disconnect fans from the game with excessive distance. And the there's our need to play Blur's 'Song 2' after each try. I was hooked that day at Upton Park. West Ham became my team in an era when Man U were doing trebles, the Arsenal were playing beautiful football, Leeds' young team were tearing it up. I could have climbed off the boat and hitched myself to a hotter club… but I liked West Ham: the team and their fans. And amazingly, 16 years later, I am off to see the Hammers play in my town, Wellington, New Zealand, this Saturday. I guess fortune's not hiding anymore! A musical tip? Has to be On-U Sound's Barmy Army track 'Billy Bonds MBE' that features the Hammers fans singing 'I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles'.