Football: Fan's eye view West Ham, A frustrating mixture of despair and elation

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WHEN PAOLO Di Canio signed for West Ham, all those years of loyal support had been rewarded. The time had come to break out the bubbly. Harry Redknapp had gone Italian. Our childhood dreams had come true. Yeah, right.

I first started supporting the Hammers when football programmes were 10p and Boney M were cultural icons. Supporting them - like loving dodgy bands - is a way of life, an emotional attachment. Suffering, elation, despair and pessimism are part of East End vocabulary, and if trophies rewarded perennial under-achievement then there's little we wouldn't have won.

Still, the attachment is genetic - my uncle and grandfather had been masochists before me - and despite the fact that the Boleyn Ground terraces were like cold graveyards or amusement arcades, there were morsels of comfort. A 2-0 defeat by Orient on Boxing Day always seemed to be followed up by a 1-0 cup victory against Aston Villa. That's the way it was in those days.

The departure of Ron Greenwood as manager in 1977 threatened years of barrenness and mediocrity. The following season we were relegated to the old Second Division and I was heartbroken. I was in tears for days. I wrote a jazz song called "The dog's dead, my woman's gone and the house is falling down, but I didn't care until this happened." I didn't actually, but you can see my point. After 20 or so glorious years as top dogs in the East End, relegation was unthinkable. Ahead lay months visiting footling hotbeds like Grimsby, Bristol Rovers and Watford. And to think, this was club who had provided the backbone of England's 1966 World Cup team.

Strangely, my best memories can be still traced to those halcyon days of the late Seventies. Alan Devonshire, that darting and dashing mid fielder who ran and ran. And then ran some more. Now there was a player. And Frank Lampard, an overlapping full-back with thighs like tree trunks. Not that I looked at his thighs a lot, but you notice these things. And Tony Cottee and Frank McAvennie, and, and... and then there was Trevor.

Oh, Trevor. Idolised and drooled over as if he were a Bay City Roller. All pin-stripe elegance and gentility, Trevor was everything I looked for in a sportsman. You wouldn't find Trevor pushing a referee with a double-handed shove. Oh no. He shaped our world, he was the centre of our universe.

In that 1980 FA Cup final victory against Arsenal, we, the unfancied Second Division boys, beat the mighty Arsenal. The proletariat had got one over the bourgeoisie. Brooking's headed Cup final winner was happiness incarnate on a hot May afternoon. I felt as though I'd just listened to a heavenly piece of jazz, climbed a mountain and run a marathon. It was drama, theatre and sheer poetry.

Another memorable moment was a match against Ipswich. It was the season we finished in our highest position (third). With Liverpool and Everton also in the running, we finished that last game with a 2-1 victory over the Suffolk country bumpkins. There was sheer jubilation. Supporters flooded onto the pitch, breaking through the barriers and running straight for the centre circle. We might have finished below two others, but when the manager, John Lyall, and players gathered in the directors' box, you'd have thought West Ham were world champions.

So what does the future hold? Is the future at Upton Park all about Di Canio, Marc-Vivien Foe, Eyal Berkovic or even the return of Marco Boogers from his caravan in the Netherlands? I suppose it is, and we'll get to used to it. Any old Iron and all that.

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