West Ham Fan: Dorchester Town Rekindled My Love For Football
“Are we close Dad?”
“Just one more stop Cal”
“NEXT STOP UPTON PARK”
Looking back at that moment nearly 14 years ago, I still fondly remember setting foot on Upton Park tube station for the first time. Walking slowly hand in hand with my Dad up the steps through the ticket barrier and being promptly turned right looking a long road. I now know it as Green Street.
Truth be told I didn’t have a clue where Upton Park was at that moment. My Dad popped me on his shoulders and told me to look for the floodlights. It took me a millisecond to find the structure in the distance. We started our march down to the ground, I got a burger from Kens Café and a programme (one of those that fitted inside my Dad’s back pocket, not one of these A4 magazines clubs insist on producing). Then we got to the gates, now this was before we built the Rio (Alpari Stand) with those terrible plastic turrets that make the place look like Legoland rather than a football stadium. I was greeted by a portacabin otherwise known as our club shop. Imagine that now - one, solitude portacabin selling all your clubs merchandise, not a built in ‘MEGA store’.
The game itself was played against Derby County and we won 5-1. I missed the first goal as everyone was standing and I couldn’t see. My Dad had to stand me up on the seat so I could peer over those in front. The smell of cigarette smoke and beer is one I won't forget, some of the language and strange rhyming slang was something I hadn’t come across before and even though I wasn’t particularly sure what it all meant I loved it. I was hooked.
Fast forward 13 years one month and two days and I am stood in Wembley. Watching West Ham battle it out with Blackpoolf or the last remaining spot in the Barclays all singing and all dancing Premier League. I went mental when Vaz Te screamed in the winner, a Hibs reject giving me a feeling I hadn’t quite felt before. For the week after that game I was on a total high, and then the realisation started to sink in. I wasn’t going to get to visit grounds like Selhurst Park, London Road, and Bloomfield Road, ticket prices would be almost doubling and I had more chance of bedding Pamela Anderson than seeing West Ham kick off at 3pm on a Saturday on consecutive weekends.
For the first time in my life I became a bit disillusioned with football, I watched the Euros as millions of others did but I didn’t particularly enjoy it. The whole Olympic Stadium debate continued to rumble on and it just got to a point where, if I heard David Gold saying that a move would start West Ham on the path to becoming a major force in Europe I would pull my hair out. I had quite simply had enough. My love of West Ham hadn’t shrunk, I mean they have and will always remain in my blood. My Great Grandfather worked in the Thames Ironworks and his father before him. Its just now I have got to a point in my life where I realise the true value of money. Paying over 50p a minute for some games really hit home, it is a lot of money, especially when my monthly earnings like thousands of others aren’t anything to write home about. At the end of the day football is a form of entertainment and the last time I went to the cinema I wasn’t charged £50 to see a feature length film.
I popped down to Dorchester at the start of September to see a good mate. On the Saturday we went to watch Dorchester Town V Chelmsford City, Blue Square South. As soon as I went to pay I was pleasantly surprised, £5 entrance fee which I thought was incredibly good. We then went into a very nice little stadium bar, £2.50 for a pint of ale and your usual crisps and sweets which were reasonably priced. One thing that amused me was when I had to nip to the bogs and whilst I was losing about a gallons worth of Magners two players from Chelmsford came in for their pre-match pee. I mean can you imagine Carlton Cole standing beside you in The Bobby Moore Lower five minutes before kick off? The bar bell went to signal the teams were on their way out but unlike the top divisions you can take your pint out with you. It was then I thought back to the last game of football I had gone too, The Play Off Final. For a ticket and a pint (I don’t even know if you can call it a pint, flat Carlsberg that wasn’t even filled to the top) it came to £73.50. Yes there is a considerable difference between The Avenue Stadium and Wembley, but I couldn’t help but admire these new surroundings I found myself in.
The game wasn’t a classic by any stretch of the imagination, but I was pleasantly surprised by the standard. Dorchester were very easy on the eye (they recently just missed out on a third round tie in the FA Cup after losing to Luton 2-1 away) and won the game 1-0 thanks to a lovely finish after some decent one touch passing. As the game finished and I went back to the stadium bar the players came in and mixed with the fans, obviously not a huge thing but it is a nice thing to do especially for younger children getting a chance of a picture with their heroes.
The whole experience reignited my love for football when my passion seemed to be dwindling. I don’t know what it was, the fact that the players didn’t feel the need to take a dive, or that you could swap ends at half time so you were still being shot into as it were, or maybe it simply was because it was priced fairly that it gave me a feeling I hadn’t quite had for some considerable time.
I still go to West Ham when I can afford it, but with us being named as preferred bidders for the Olympic Stadium I feel that my love for club is being severely tested. Anyway I will leave that debate for another day.