My name is James Murray and I am delighted to have joined West Ham Matters, where I will be hoping to bring you a solid range of content over the next few weeks and months. As a sort of introduction for myself to the site, I thought it would be fitting for me to tell you about my journey as a Hammer. Here is my story.

I am not what many would class as a typical West Ham supporter, really. You are probably not going to like this, but I am actually a northerner, from Scunthorpe – a small town in North Lincolnshire. I know what you are probably thinking here, that I am not a real supporter but, I promise, I will prove my loyalty to the club throughout this piece.

So, why West Ham? Well, ever since ’66, when the Irons essentially won the World Cup for England, my dad began supporting the club. He was only young at the time, so Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters became immediate heroes of his – and from that moment onwards – he has been an avid fan of this great club.

Then, just like every father obsessed with football tries to do, he passed the claret and blue baton on to me. I now live in London and, after three years of being on the season ticket waiting list, I finally got offered one and will be present at every game in the East Stand next season. Now, let’s jump back to where it all began for me.

The early days 

My first ever football match came at the age of four, on April 13, 1998, at Hillsborough. I don’t really remember much of the game itself, but the Hammers drew 1-1 with Sheffield Wednesday. Israeli midfielder Eyal Berkovic put the Irons 1-0 up early on before Jim Magilton equalised in the second-half for Wednesday, who was assisted by none other than Paulo Di Canio. We will let him off for that, I guess.

My earliest memory, where I do properly remember the game that is, was in 1999 against FC Metz, in the Intertoto Cup. I think this one is imprinted on my mind because of how tense the game and atmosphere was. We lost 1-0. My dad is always really mad after a defeat at home, considering it’s a 200-mile drive to get there. I also remember watching the away leg. We were in a bar in Mallorca, where there was one other West Ham fan – and we actually won. After the game, I probably thought “this is the start of many more trophies to come.” How wrong I would have been.

I was also fortunate to be present for two of the most memorable Premier League moments, both of which involved Di Canio. The first of which was that incredible volley against Wimbledon, in March 2000. How ridiculous was that goal? We were fortunate to have seats in the West Stand that day, right behind Paulo, so we had a perfect view. I could watch that goal over and over and it would never get old.

I know you want to see it again, so here you go:

The second moment came towards the end of 2000, where the Italian displayed unbelievable sportsmanship against Everton. Remember that one? With the game level at 1-1, with just minutes to spare, the ball came in towards Di Canio who then picked the ball out of the air and pointed towards the Everton ‘keeper who was out of his box and injured on the floor. I must admit, I don’t have a completely clear image of this in my head, but when do you ever get a clear view in that Goodison away end? I do remember the fans’ reactions, though. My dad and a number of fellow Irons’ around me, were furious that he didn’t just put it in the net and win the game. That has always stuck with me.

Best moments as a Hammer 

I have seen West Ham play at Macclesfield Town, Celtic Park and Wembley, but coming up with my best moments as an Irons fan, has not been easy. Although there hasn’t been a number of triumphs over the last 20 years or so, here are a few of my best moments.

At the top of the list is the 2005 Championship play-off final victory over Preston North End. After being at the Millenium Stadium the previous year for the demoralising defeat against Crystal Palace (more on that later), this was a memorable day. Just like most play-off final matches, it was tense, exciting and beyond nerve-wracking. The rewards are so high and defeat is unbearable. Look at Preston, for example – they have bounced around ever since that loss. I am not sure how we would’ve rallied once again, had we not got over the line that day. So, thank you, Bobby (Zamora), you legend.

I was also there for the play-off final victory over Blackpool in 2012. It was special to see the Hammers at Wembley, something I had never had a chance to witness before. We actually struggled to get tickets for this game, so it was a bonus to be there. My dad got his hands on two tickets in the stands and one in Club Wembley. With my little brother only young at the time and my dad driving, I was given the ticket in the box, which included unlimited food and drink. Being 18 at the time, I loved it. I was incredibly confident going into the game, but it was a hard-fought battle. I put a bet on 2-1, Carlton Cole to score first – and the big man delivered. It was an amazing day in Club Wembley, but next time, I will definitely be in the stands.

Another one of my favourite games most people probably won’t class it as being memorable. It was an FA Cup quarter-final replay away at Manchester City in 2006. I think this one sticks with me because it was a game where Dean Ashton scored twice, to endear himself to the Irons’ fans. It was also big for me because of the fact that I have seen us lose so many times at City over the years and it was a huge victory on our route to the FA Cup final.

The first season under Bilic was absolutely fantastic, from start to finish. How good were we that campaign? I felt like we could beat anyone that year – and I’m glad we gave the Boleyn the send-off it deserved. My last game there was against Manchester United, but unfortunately, it wasn’t the 3-2 victory in the final game at the old stadium – it was the FA Cup loss a couple of weeks previous to that. However, I’m glad I got to go to the final FA Cup game at the ground – I loved that place.

One final special moment for me that I am going to share came at Middlesbrough, on the last game of the 00/01 season. We lost the game 2-1, but when the players came over to the fans at the end, Shaka Hislop gave me one of his gloves. That meant a lot to me and it still does now. The glove was about as big as my seven-year-old arm at the time and seems just as big now.

Worst moments as a Hammer 

You will probably know that there have been an awful lot of disappointing moments throughout the last few years as a West Ham fan, but rather than putting too much of a downer on this post by mentioning them all, here are a few of my worst moments.

The play-off final defeat against Crystal Palace ranks as my worst experience as a Hammer. I had never been subjected to a loss of this magnitude before and it really hurt. Seeing Neil Shipperley fire home the winner and watch the Palace fans celebrate their promotion to the Premier League was unbearable. Although had I got a ticket to the FA Cup final at the Millenium just a couple of years later, then that would have probably ranked higher than the play-off final loss. Bloody Lionel Scaloni.

I’m sure many of you, although you have pushed it to the back of your mind, can probably remember the 7-1 pummeling at the hands of Blackburn. Unfortunately for me, I was at Ewood Park that day, and I can’t escape the memories. It was goal, after goal, after goal. How embarrassing. I just can’t get my head around how the squad we had in 2001, was subjected to a defeat like that. In terms of the worst performances, that was the worst – and I have seen a lot of those.

Another one of my most disappointing days as a Hammer was the 4-3 defeat to Spurs, where they scored a last-minute winner on the counter. It was an enthralling game, but everyone was absolutely gutted after that. It just had to be Spurs, didn’t it? At least we have had a pretty good record against them since then.

I don’t suppose you remember the week, four years ago, when we lost 5-0 to Nottingham Forest on Sunday and then 6-0 to City just three days later? I do. I was at both of those games. That was probably my worst week as a West Ham fan – it couldn’t really get any worse. I remember when we were four-nil down at City, the Irons’ fans, in typical fashion, started singing “you’re just a s*** Notts Forest”. Another classic song from the Hammers’ faithful that night was “we all dream of a team of Roger Johnson’s.” Classic.

Strangest match

This game could have quite easily have gone in the category as one of my worst matches. It was a 4-1 loss against Millwall, at the Den. It was a really strange match, in which the football turned into a bit of a sideshow. On top of Millwall’s four goals, they also missed two penalties. We had tickets on the front row and I got asked at half-time if I wanted to go and take a penalty at the Millwall end. My response? Absolutely no way. I immediately turned down the opportunity through fear of going near the home crowd (I was ten). It kicked off big style in the second-half, with fans and horses entering the field. It was bedlam.

After the game, all the West Ham fans were held in a pen outside of the ground for around two hours, before everyone, no matter where you were parked, was escorted back to East London on the train. A weird day.

Favourite players in claret and blue 

This one is quite tough. Over the years, I have had a number of players’ names on the back of my Hammers shirts. I even considered getting ‘Teddy’ once, after my dad was reluctant to pay a pound a letter for me to get Sheringham printed on one of my shirts. I loved the likes of Di Canio, Freddie Kanouté, Joe Cole, the list is endless.

However, I have two main favourites throughout my time as a West Ham fan. The first of which, despite his career being cut short during it’s prime, is Dean Ashton. He was a pleasure to watch, as he bullied and hassled defenders, whilst being extremely dangerous in front of goal. If only we had the chance to see more of him. My favourite ever player, though, is Scottie Parker. Parker could and did do everything; he was an absolute dream of a player to have on your side. I loved watching him play and I still have great respect for him now, even if he did leave us to join Spurs.

So, there it is – my West Ham story. There have been a number of ups and downs over the years, but after a very successful pre-season of business so far, I am highly optimistic for the season ahead. Let’s get behind Pellegrini and the exciting squad he is putting together. COYI!