The Cockney clichés still ring true at West Ham. Visitors to London seeking an authentic, old-fashioned English atmosphere – largely working-class, rowdy, funny, passionate and still with a genuine ‘edge’ – should take in a matchday at Upton Park.
Fans of the Hammers expect their football played in an entertaining manner, largely harking back to the memory of some excellent teams in the 1960s and 1970s – including the 1965 Cup Winners' Cup-winning side famously containing Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters, who the year later helped England win the World Cup.
But while Upton Park may have been the ‘Academy of Football’ back then, the Hammers haven't been immune to dropping out of the top division. In the last half-century they've dipped out four times, only to return each time within three seasons. They last resurfaced in 2005 and have hardly stormed the Premier League since, with three mid-table finishes and three relegation battles.
There hasn’t been much to cheer about for the loyal crowd of late. Visitors from abroad are more likely to learn some industrial-strength new swearwords these days than to enjoy victorious renditions of the Irons anthem “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” – although it’s always fun to watch an 18-stone skinhead crooning about blowing pretty bubbles in the air.
But West Ham certainly have spirit, and throughout their topsy-turvy history have produced fine ball-playing prospects – Trevor Brooking, Alan Devonshire, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole, Michael Carrick, Rio Ferdinand – while mounting some notable cup runs. They won the FA Cup in 1964, 1975 and 1980, and were runners-up in 2006.
Of the current side, captain Matthew Upson and midfielder Scott Parker epitomise the bulldog spirit that the supporters here love, while Carlton Cole, Robert Green, Kieron Dyer, Danny Gabbidon and Mark Noble are all British players with valuable skills. Whether it’s enough to keep the famous old side in the top flight remains to be seen.
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Like many clubs, West Ham are pondering the possibility of a new home. Discussions are still ongoing about occupying the spanking new Olympic Stadium in Stratford once the 2012 games are over. Failing that, the East Stand may be expanded to increase capacity from the current 35,303 to 40,000.
In the meantime, visitors can savour Upton Park (officially known as the Boleyn Ground), West Ham’s home since 1904, which generates a mighty atmosphere that can still become a little bit scary when London rivals like Chelsea and Tottenham visit – and is best avoided altogether if Millwall ever roll across the Thames for one of the most hateful and hooliganism-ridden derbies in Europe.
Pop E13 9AZ in your sat-nav and pray for a parking space. From the north, you’ll need M1-A1 – off at Junction 2/3. Join the A406 North and continue east for 17 miles until A214. Turn right into Barking Road and continue for two miles. From the west, try M4, A406 North Circular Road eastbound. Stay on this road for 26 miles until the junction with the A214 Barking Road. Then as north. From the south, go M3/ M25 (Junction 2). Continue for 10 miles until you reach Junction 15, then hit the M4. Then as route from west. From the east: M11 onto the A406 at Junction 4 for 4 miles until the junction with the A214 Barking Road. Then as route for north.
On the Tube, it's a sight easier: just get off at Upton Park on the District Line. Nine different bus lines also run to the stadium.
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