You don’t want to mess with a West Ham sup­porter

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FOOTBALL -

WEST HAM ver­sus Mill­wall, the fix­ture ev­ery mounted po­lice­man dreads to see on the English foot­ball cal­en­dar.

A cock­tail of two sets of volatile fans, hard men from east Lon­don meet­ing hard men from south Lon­don. Think Vin­nie Jones in Lock, Stock and Two Smok­ing Bar­rels and mul­ti­ply by 1,000.

Lit­tle won­der then that the mid­week Car­ling Cup match es­ca­lated into vi­o­lence. Some­where among all the fight­ing by hooli­gans who hide be­hind the word “sup­port­ers”, West Ham ac­tu­ally pro­gressed to the next round, though only af­ter a cou­ple of pitch in­va­sions and gen­eral may­hem.

The one sav­ing grace is that the two clubs don’t play in the same divi­sion so, bar­ring them be­ing paired to­gether in the FA Cup, po­lice can go back to their wives and kids.

Let me say though that Up­ton Park is an in­tim­i­dat­ing place to visit – and I have been there, as a Chelsea fan, on many oc­ca­sions.

Rule num­ber one is travel with a group of fel­low fans.

Rule num­ber two is get off the un­der­ground tube, hav­ing boarded at Ful­ham Broad­way, at Whitechapel and go into the Blind Beg­gar pub for a toi­let break. This is 16 stops af­ter first get­ting on the District Line and head­ing east across the city. At Whitechapel you will know you are on the wrong side of town; it was the “lo­cal” to the in­fa­mous Kray twins.

Rule num­ber three is board again and get off an­other seven stops down the line.

Rule num­ber four is never go into the first pub you see. You will be looking for trou­ble, and trou­ble will find you. I once made this mis­take and, de­spite the fact that my win­ter jacket was zipped right up to the neck, thus hid­ing the blue Chelsea shirt, I was spot­ted as an in­truder. “You’d bet­ter get out of here, quickly,” my mate ad­vised. I lis­tened.

Rule num­ber five is if you sup­port a side other than West Ham, never take up the of­fer of a ticket in the home stand.

I did this, just the once, mind you, and it was the most sur­real ex­pe­ri­ence. Seated among the Up­ton Park faith­ful, the Chelsea fans were on the left of us, chant­ing at us. This sec­tion then started re­turn­ing the chants, “Stick the blue flag up your arse” be­ing the most taste­ful. Then, the Ham­mers scored and the crowd erupted. My in­stant re­ac­tion was to put my head in my hands, un­til I no­ticed I was be­ing watched. Up I jumped to “cel­e­brate” the goal. Then, Chelsea equalised. I leapt up, again the odd one out. I swore, as if to chas­tise the Ham­mers de­fence. I sat down again, and watched the Blues fans bounc­ing around. It was like hav­ing a si­lent or­gasm.

When it came time to leave, I walked down the road, past the “home” pub and into the “away” pub. When more Chelsea sk­in­heads and hard men came into the pub I felt safe. Strength in num­bers and all that. And af­ter­wards it was the long way home.

You don’t want to mess with a West Ham sup­porter. Un­less you hap­pen to come from Mill­wall, that is.

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