Fear and loathing of a Hammers fan

BOOK OF THE WEEK: An Irrational Hatred of Luton: A West Ham Fan's Story by Robert Banks (Independent UK Sports Publications, pounds 6.95)
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The Independent Online
It is an immutable law of the football terrace that the arbitrary and inexplicable has a tendency, given time, to reveal its own reason.

Football, rather football fandom, is like that and it is also the premise that lies at the heart of Robert Banks' compelling account of life as a West Ham obsessive.

That a lad from Beckenham, Kent, should have forged an allegiance with an enigmatic east London club does, at first glance, seems irrational. A claret and blue kit - which must rank alongside Norwich's canary yellow and green as a howler of sartorial inelegance combined with a propensity for favouring the underdog - however noble - barely seems reason enough to forge a life-long allegiance more enduring than mere personal relationships or employment prospects. Indeed, from such spurious impulses manifold rationales emerge, and then flower into beautiful grievances to be expressed loudly from the sanctuary of the football terrace or the comfort of the bar stool.

Banks' own pervading gripe is the eponymous demon: a modest Bedfordshire club for whom, surely, it is only possible for Watford supporters to feel any kind of enmity towards. Geography dictates that West Ham supporters enjoy a mutual antipathy with Millwall, or a deep resentment for the perennially unbeatable Spurs. But Banks has his own reasons for fearing Luton, and as the long years following West Ham's wildly fluctuating fortunes twist his romantic soul to that of the hard-bitten realist, they are reinforced with unerring regularity.

Loathing Luton Town Football Club - "the thing that I hate more than anything in the world - even lumpy custard" - is never going to be enough for the true football obsessive, however. Other demons emerge, fester and become things of joy themselves. How good it is to harbour resentment towards one's own players, too. So, the unfortunate Neil Orr and the myopic Alan McKnight are justly relived, are equally worthy of bile.

Banks (nickname "Barclays", of course) is a contributor to Over Land and Sea (a West Ham fanzine), and his laddish style, earthy wit and absolute refusal to have any truck with bullshit accords with a fanzine's view of the world: "The press have some wonderful euphemisms which they tend to use when they cannot bring themselves to write what they mean. Unfashionable means crap, Utility player means crap player. Mis-timed tackle means crap tackle. How many times have you seen a utility player playing for an unfashionable club mistiming a tackle?"

But above all Banks has a true appreciation of the West Ham supporter's eternal predicament: "Somewhere in a parallel universe there is another Robert Banks, who is a season ticket holder at Manchester United and is a highly successful novel writer and adored by everyone in the world, regardless of footballing, religious or racial denomination. But is he happy? You bet the hell he is"

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