When I look back at the West Ham games that I’ve attended over the past twelve years or so, two fixtures immediately spring back to me as being the most iconic. The 2012 Play-off final against Blackpool, and the final game at Upton Park. Ricardo Vaz Tê’s Wembley heroics – as spectacular as they were – simply cannot compare to the night we bid farewell to the Boleyn Ground. Everything about that night at Upton Park was truly spectacular.
Manchester United were not meant to be the final visitors to our old home, that prestige was meant for Swansea, who we hosted the previous Saturday. The winding fortunes of the FA Cup meant that the Manchester United game was to be rearranged for three days later. In retrospect it was a saving grace: West Ham’s 4-1 defeat against Swansea could not have been any less fitting an occasion to be Upton Park’s swansong.
The game and atmosphere that followed fall into an altogether different category
The Manchester United game could not have been any more different. Being a 7:45 kick-off, fans had been in the area for hours, leading to the Manchester United team bus getting stuck in the street, and then subsequently pelted by West Ham fans. The assault on Manchester United’s bus is not one of the proudest moments of the club’s history, but the game and atmosphere that followed fall into an altogether different category.
West Ham United versus Manchester United was played in the most electric atmosphere I have witnessed. Goosebump inducing.
West Ham went into the game in contention for a first top seven finish (and potential Europa League qualification) in 14 years; a lot was riding on the game without the fact that it was the last match to be played at the 112-year old ground. It was the perfect send off.
Sometimes teams’ final match at their iconic old grounds do not live up to expectation
West Ham took the lead 1-0 early-on through Diafra Sakho, before a brace from Martial put West Ham on the backfoot. It looked like West Ham’s last game at the Boleyn would end in defeat, until two goals in four minutes from Michail Antonio and Winston Reid gave West Ham what proved to be an unassailable lead. Cue Martin Tyler’s iconic “Reid all about it” moment.
Sometimes teams’ final match at their iconic old grounds do not live up to expectation; Manchester City springs to mind in this, with their last game at Maine Road petering out in a 1-0 defeat to Southampton. After so much history, you want the ending to be as good as everything that came before it.
After the incredible game, it was time to truly send-off Upton Park in style. The ceremony began with speeches by former players, which were followed by video clips looking back through the greatest moments that had graced Upton Park over a century of football.
So much happened in West Ham’s corner of East London, from players as iconic as Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst calling it their home, to finishing third in 1986, to being the area where the World Cup was won, with all the goals coming from West Ham players and 3 out of the starting 11 being West Ham as well (if anyone asks me who won the World Cup in 1966, I don’t say England, I say West Ham).
Now that West Ham has departed the area many of these businesses have been vanquished by market forces
The ground truly was spectacular. It had everything you wanted in a football stadium: an electric atmosphere, fans close to the pitch, a full-house every match and fans who truly loved going there for every single game. It created a community in a small part of East London; with pubs, chippies, local shops and everything else in-between all relying on West Ham to be able to survive.
Now that West Ham has departed the area, in favour of a trendier postcode in Stratford, many of these businesses have been vanquished by market forces. As sad as that is, it was inevitable; it has happened countless times before. I try not to think about the negative impact of our move to the London Stadium; I try to remember the countless memories made at Upton Park, about the amazing matches seen, of which our victory against Manchester United was the best.
Upton Park really was a wonderful place to watch football, and this topsy-turvy game could not have provided a better send-off to this magnificent old ground.