Monday, May 08, 2006

my troubled romance with west ham

They say you don't choose your side; your side chooses you. An accident of geography, maybe: if your dad had taken a job in a different town you'd be wearing different colors. Or an uncle swept you at a vulnerable age halfway across the country to watch two equally mysterious teams at battle and one stood out in sharper focus, like the gods were saying, "Look! Your destiny."

For me it was a series of dreams in which I was walking the streets of east London and happened upon Upton Park, people crowding into it, excitement in the air. The sky was always grey. Sometimes I'd wake then; sometimes I'd get in the gate. The one time I made it into the stands Brendan Gleeson spilled Guinness on me, a not altogether unpleasant experience. In the dreams I never did see any football, but when I began watching in waking life (when my friends finally got cable, I mean), it was the claret and blue that drew me.

I knew names like Bobby Moore and Phil Parkes but when I saw my first Hammers match I didn't know the current squad. I was a clean slate. Clean enough that because Roy Carroll played well that day and I haven't seen him since he lives in my mind as a worthwhile keeper, and I am genuinely bemused at near universal opinion to the contrary.

It was at Upton, that game, and against Fulham, and a strange and beautiful thing happened. I no longer have the tape, but in my memory it was no more than eight or nine minutes into play when Anton Ferdinand scored one of the most poetic goals I've ever seen. "A full swivel," the announcer called it. It was an impossible strike. He was facing the wrong way, defenders on all sides. The ball came in at an awkward angle, he met it with the inside of his boot and swept it in a circle and hard against the back of the net, a thing of unspeakable beauty. Not long after, Benayoun made his own intricate and lovely score, and thus began my dark and nervous love affair.

The season is done. Ferdinand, who I thought would be a continuing revelation of grace and power (is that so much to ask?) expands into Olympian grandeur occasionally with vast wastelands of lazy and routine playing in between. Harewood, for all his glorious strength, is a shameless dive-taker. I have come to depend mightily on Konchesky, but he scares the crap out of me. I think if I said "the Beautiful Game" to Mullins and Scaloni they would turn on me stony and cynical eyes. Watching Ashton take out Boro's keeper in the FA Cup semifinal, then very nearly take out his backup half an hour on, poisoned the sweetness of the ensuing victory, turned it acrid in my mouth.

My Irons are ruthless in their pursuit of the win. They will stop at nothing, and the strategy is working well for them. In short, my boys are thugs, and it is only their raggedy grace and moments of boyish glee which keep me happy while I'm under their thrall.

Those things, and Benayoun.

He has, over the season, become the crux of the matter, the man in whom my best dreams live. He is generous; his passion for the game is obvious and stubborn; his footwork is lovely to behold. Reo-Coker and Harewood and Ashton are neon and flash and I love them in spite of myself, but it is when Benayoun gains possession that I am most raptly fixated, and my soul goes still and quiet with the prospect of a beautiful play.

1 comment:

Chigger Christ said...

Ah yes. I became a lifelong A's fan because the first game i ever saw on TV had the A's squaring off with the Red Sox, and I loved that the A's had a pitcher named Vida Blue, and their florid green-and-gold uniforms stole my heart forever, in spite of them losing to the Sox and consequently the 1975 AL pennant.