Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl)
Fri 11 April 2008

My First Match

Before we get on with the following article, a quick apology for the lack of new stuff going on this week. My excuse is that I've been on a hastily-organised holiday of sorts in the west of England in a place called Mere. It has few distinguishing features except for the fact that it's probably the last place in Britain to acknowledge the existence of the Internet.

I was staying in a cottage that has no connection to the World Wide Web, the nearest open wi-fi network was about five miles away and the only access I had to my blogsite was via a PC situated in a small local library 100 yards away from our holiday home. They allowed casual web surfers like me one hour to find out whatever you could from the outside world before cutting off my access (painful if you're not ready for it) and that was about it.

So here I am, just back from my holiday, uploading my first article for almost a week, and I hope you enjoy it accordingly. Now I'm back from The Land The Internet Forgot, you should find I'm a lot more prolific than I have been in the days to come.


One memory that many of us seem to share with great affection is that of the first football match we ever went to. I'd like those of you visiting SPAOTP to tell myself and the rest of the audience about your memories if you'd care to, but in the meantime let me tell you mine.

The first football match I ever went to was between my favourite team, West Ham United, and Orient (often, as now, known as Leyton Orient) on Saturday, December 26th 1980. I was nine years old and West Ham were playing in the old Second Division. The former was something I'd experience only once in my life, the latter would happen all too regularly for my own personal liking.

The opportunity to go and watch The Hammers for the first time came about when my aunt Sylv suggested it'd be a good idea for her son (my cousin and fellow West Ham supporter) Keith to take me along to see a game at Upton Park as that was where he chose to spend many of his Saturday afternoons anyway.

There was also the added exciting bonus of sleeping over at Sylv's house that same night before returning to my family home the following morning. As you may agree, the prospect of spending the night in someone else's house when you're only nine is about as exhilarating as it gets, so I didn't need to be asked twice on this one.

And then came the big day. I didn't live very far away from Sylv and Keith so I arrived at their house in next to no time that Saturday lunchtime. After a quick hello and goodbye, Keith and I jumped on a bus (I think it was the number 5 but it's both difficult to remember and largely irrelevant) and before long we were walking along Green Street near the Boleyn Ground.

I seem to recall we arrived a little early - probably just before 2 o'clock, but Keith suggested we get our tickets, go through the turnstiles and find our place on the near-empty terraces. And yes, it was terraces in those days. None of this new-fangled all-seater business. You stood on the concrete steps like the 30,000-odd other fans and that was about all the luxury you were afforded.

Anyway, the rest of the afternoon was a bit of a blur. The fans started to arrive the nearer we got to kick-off (a tradition that continues to this day, I can confirm) but the wait seemed to be endless. One welcome distraction, however, came when I looked up at the commentary box behind me and spotted Brian Moore.

Moore was the number 1 commentator on ITV back then and remained in that key position until his death in 2003. Renowned for his balding pate and his friendly, reverential commentary, Moore could often be seen up in his crow's nest at Upton Park surveying the action down below. The ITV cameras often visited West Ham's ground - more, I suspect because it wasn't far away from their studios on the South Bank of the Thames than because West Ham were anything approaching a top side of that era.

Anyway, the thought that West Ham v Orient would be featuring on 'The Big Match' that evening added an extra frisson of excitement to the proceedings, and when West Ham went on to win 3-1, you could be certain that I'd be staying up until 10.30 that night to watch the highlights of the self same match.

And therein lies another difference to the football of today. Back then, us Brits weren't spoon-fed wall-to-wall coverage of every goal from every game on TV. You had one 'highlights' show on a Saturday night or a Sunday afternoon and nothing else. They'd show the goals and best bits from three games and not all of those were from the top flight, so if your team wasn't featured, you were out of luck. But anyway, that's another story for another time...

Back to the plot. Keith and I got home from the match, me with my programme rolled up under my arm and a broad smile all over my face. We had our evening meal, talked all night about the game and before you knew it, it was 10.30 and ITV were showing my first ever match in highlight form all over again. It was a strange experience, seeing a game on TV I'd attend only hours earlier, but it nicely rounded off an exciting day that still lives with me as I approach my 37th birthday.

Upton Park was a different place then. It had a certain bleakness about it, but there was some good football played at the time and the players who ran out onto the pitch in their claret-and-blue shirts were, for someone of my age, legends in their own small way. Though I've seen many games at Upton Park since then, I'll never forget the first time I walked through the turnstiles and saw football 'in the flesh'. It was December 26th 1980, West Ham were playing Orient and it was a day to be frozen in my consciousness until the day I die.

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