Tuesday 11 December 2018

West Ham bid fond farewell to Upton Park after 2,398 matches on Tuesday night

West Ham are preparing to say goodbye to Upton Park
West Ham are preparing to say goodbye to Upton Park

West Ham will bid a fond farewell to Upton Park after they host Manchester United on Tuesday night.

After 2,398 matches over 112 years the curtain will come down on the Boleyn Ground as the Hammers prepare for their move to the Olympic Stadium next season.

The switch to Stratford is undoubtedly a major step forward for the East End club but there will still be mixed emotions, from players and fans alike, at leaving their spiritual home.

The ground played host to Bobby Moore's debut. It gave us the Hammers' other two World Cup heroes, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters. It witnessed two double hat-tricks; from Vic Watson, in 1929, and Hurst nearly 40 years later. It saw Alvin Martin score a hat-trick against three different goalkeepers.

It was home to the artistry of Trevor Brooking, the battling of Billy Bonds, the darting runs of Alan Devonshire, the goals of Tony Cottee and Frank McAvennie. It survived a World War Two bomb. It survived Paolo Di Canio.

It was the home of the chicken run, an infamous section of the East Stand where the crowd were so close to the pitch they could almost give the opposition winger a clip round the ear.

It winced at the fearsome penalty taking of Ray Stewart and Julian Dicks. It gasped at Di Canio's volley. It cheered promotion. It sighed at relegation. It roared with defiance at denying Manchester United the title. It spat venom whenever Tottenham or Millwall paid a visit.

"What makes it so special? The atmosphere, the closeness of the fans, the history," said local lad and current captain Mark Noble.

"I've played in both atmospheres. West Ham fans will let you know when they are not happy, let me tell you that.

"It's just the way they are, they are passionate.The players know how much it means to these fans.

"To be honest, I thrive off it. I understand it. I have supported the club. I do support the club.

"We are a family, we all stick together and go with the rough and the smooth."

A giant picture of Moore, West Ham's favourite son who sadly died 23 years ago, adorns the stand which bears his name.

At the other end the figure of Brooking, the elegant midfielder, the ultimate one-club player, is pictured alongside the Sir Trevor Brooking Stand.

Like most, the man who made 643 appearances in the claret and blue looks to the future with a mixture of excitement and trepidation.

"From a nostalgia point of view it's Upton Park and me," said Brooking. " You remember Upton Park, singing 'Bubbles', and in the stand at the far side you would take a throw-in two steps from the fans.

"The chicken run was an awesome place. You'd get a lot of encouragement - or something else if things weren't going so well."

Surely that famous atmosphere can only be diluted at the new place? Some of the seats are so far from the pitch that if you wanted to let a player know how he was doing you'd be better off sending him a postcard.

Yet, as anyone present when Mo Farah rounded that final bend on Super Saturday will attest, the Olympic Stadium can still crank up the volume.

"I went to a Rugby World Cup match there and I thought it was a good experience," added Brooking. "There were 50,000 fans in there and they made a good noise.

"You are slightly detached on the side where the teams come out, but knowing the West Ham fans, they will still make a decent noise.

"They will find a way of recreating that atmosphere and hopefully it will create that new bit of history."

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