A non-fiction work about my journeys around various football grounds over the years
Before I begin, let me tell you a bit about myself. My name is Joe Smith, I'm 16 and I've lived in south Essex all my life. I'm currently attending The Billericay 6th Form, studying Sociology, Psychology and English, and I love comedy and metal music. But above all, I am a football fanatic. I live for the game, (and my beloved West Ham) I'm lost without it and it's very rare for me to go a day without an in-depth conversation on the "Beautiful Game". I'd like to think I see the sport in a different light to many others. In my view, it's about more than just goals. It's about the passion, both on the pitch and in the stands. It's about the determination shown by each of the 22 players on the pitch, and the journey they've all gone through in order to live their childhood dreams of becoming a professional footballer. Yes, people can claim the passion is creeping out of the game, there is no loyalty now, that players now care only about the money, not the sport. To a degree, I suppose this is correct. There's no way players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Craig Bellamy have moved around so often simply for a "new challenge" (an often cited reason for players leaving clubs) ; in reality, it is obviously the large wad of cash waved in their faces that has tempted them to move on to pastures new. However, this is not the whole story. For every Ibrahimovic, there is a Jamie Carragher, a player so loyal that the mere mention of leaving his beloved Liverpool would no doubt irritate him. For every Craig Bellamy, there is a Francesco Totti, a player who would bleed the scarlet and orange of AS Roma if you cut him. Yes, these loyal types are a dying breed, but they are by no means consigned to the past, with a new generation of such players including Danielle De Rossi, also of AS Roma, West Ham United's Mark Noble and Iker Casillas of Real Madrid, to name but a few. The point I'm trying to make, with all this, is that football still is an amazing game. The sheer unpredictability of it all, which attracted me initially, remains, and is still rife in the game. One game comes to mind, when I think of ways to justify this claim. West Ham United v Tottenham Hotspur, 4h March 2007. I'll set the scene. West Ham, having a nightmare season, really needed to win this game. They were rooted to the bottom of the league, with time running out on their campaign. The signings that had caused seismic waves across the football world at the start of the season seemed to have been a disaster. The Hammers had somehow managed to acquire Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano, two world class players, however Tevez had not scored thus far in the season, whilst Mascherano had been offloaded again in January after making only five appearances, one of these notable for him inexplicably being bitten on the shoulder by Jermain Defoe. Now was the time for a result. And it was looking so good, to begin with. Mark Noble scored a great goal, followed an amazing free kick by Carlos Tevez, after which he jumped into the crowd, jubilated at having broken his Hammers deadlock, the fans crowding around him in an almost dream-like state of ecstasy. 2-0 up at half-time, West Ham were looking good, and the fans were daring to dream that perhaps this game would be the one to turn around their season. However, such is the nature of football, the atmosphere did not remain the same for long. Back came Tottenham, with Defoe scoring a penalty in the 51st minute, then a Teemu Tainio strike on 62 minutes. It was now 2-2, and West Ham were desperately hoping they could hold on for a point. They really needed it. In the 85th minute, however, the game changed again. Bobby Zamora fired home for West Ham, and the fans were going absolutely crazy. I was watching on TV with my family, and the noise was like nothing I'd ever heard in my living room. Brilliant. Everyone was so happy. Now, the wait. The long, agonising wait till the final whistle. Those final five minutes (plus stoppage time, of course) seemed an eternity. We had to win now. Surely. No. The 89th minute came, and Dimitar Berbatov curved in a delicious free-kick that poor Paul Konchesky on the line could only knock into his own goal. 3-3. The tension was absolutely unbearable. Every West Ham fan around was begging the boys to hold out for the point. Into injury time, and Tottenham were right on us. All over us, and the nerves couldn't take it much longer. The 4th minute of injury time came, and Zamora had the ball on the edge of the Spurs box. Now, I, at the time an enthusiastic 10 year-old, was hoping that maybe Bobby could score, win us the game, and it would all be okay. He was tackled. As soon as he lost that ball, I had a feeling something bad might happen. Tottenham quickly worked the ball forward, and before anyone knew what was happening, they were at the half-way line with three of them against the solitary Paul Konchesky. Defoe dribbled on, and Konch was with him. Defoe had to be brought down, Paul had to take one for the team, take out Defoe and accept the inevitable red card. But he didn't, he stayed alongside Defoe until he reached the edge of the box. Defoe shot, and the claret and blue world held its breath; Rob Green in goal made a great save! Life was good! But then, the horrible realisation dawned. The ball was loose in the West Ham box with an open goal. And there he was; The daunting figure of Tottenham right-back Paul Stalteri was there. We hoped. We prayed. Please, Paul, sky it! Miss it! No such luck. The ball was thumped into the net. And that was it. Game over. Tottenham had won 4-3, and every West Ham fan watching was in tears. We all knew what this meant. Relegation surely beckoned now. As I went to bed that night, I was as sad as I remember ever being. As was every other Hammer. We'd been involved in possibly the best Premier League game of all time, but that didn't matter. It was the end of the world. As it turned out, it wasn't. West Ham bounced back after that, went on a fantastic run of form and narrowly stayed up. This is how unpredictable the game is. What that tale goes to prove, is that football brings out the emotion, the passion, in everyone. That's why I love it. Now, you may wonder, what is the point of this book? Well, I'll tell you. I've been to countless football games in my 16 years. Definitely hundreds, maybe over a thousand. In every division from the Premier League down to the Conference South, many other regional divisions in England and Scotland, plus game in Rome and many, many cup ties. And on these journeys, I've had some unforgettable experiences. I don't know how many teams I've seen, but pretty much every one of them has offered up something unique. A West Ham fan from birth, due to my whole family supporting them, I've been to less Hammers games than I would have liked. Partially due to ticket prices, but I've seen some breathtaking games at other grounds. Other teams I follow include; Sunderland, Heart of Midlothian, Southend United, Ross County, Southend Manor, AS Roma, Billericay Town and East Thurrock United. There are probably more, I lose track. There are various reasons for why I follow each of these outfits, which will be explained in due course. So yeah. Over the following pages, I'm going to share with you the best games I've ever been to. There have been absolutely loads, so there must be something in here you'll find interesting. It gets better after this, honest.