Wednesday, February 18

Nearly Reach the Sky by Brian Willams

West Ham fans still despairing after the West Brom debacle could do worse that read Brian Williams’ new book Nearly Reach the Sky. At school his West Ham bag was regularly sabotaged by rival fans placing bits of paper inside it reading, “Mansfield 3 West Ham 0” and later “Hereford 2 West Ham 1.”

Williams’ book is a bit like a trip to his favourite pub the Black Lion with a typical West Ham fan. Rather than deal with the seasons chronologically, it’s a conversation that veers from Di Canio's volley and Mannygate to Tony Gale getting sent off in the 1990 FA Cup semi-final and back again to Paul Ince scoring twice against the mighty Liverpool and Jonathan Spector playing like Pele against Man United in one of our great victories under the lights.

Brian advocates a new ‘Hacketts’ scale of refereeing ineptitude and rather sensibly suggests some statues of unsung heroes to go alongside Moore, Hurst and Peters at the Olympic Stadium. Namely Dave Bickles (the young centre half who played alongside Bobby Moore in our 1963 win at Anfield), Patsy Holland, Hayden Mullins, Tony Gale, Steve Potts and his father-in-law Sid. Though personally I’d like to see Christian Dailly included with his curly hair too.

Nearly Reach The Sky is packed with familiar stories that will delight Irons’ fans: the joys of keeping quiet on the Kop and Arsenal North Bank; the classic games Williams managed to miss through the wrong choice of girlfriend; sitting at a game with a real-life Mr Moon; his worst ever X1; an irrational dislike of Oxford United and the fan who divided one of John Lyall’s later teams into a comprehensively scientific list of "wankers" and "has-beens."

And like most of us he detects an almost sublime element of uselessness in some of West Ham’s worst performances: “Tomas Repka was having a dream of a game, only it was the sort of dream that ends with a screaming fit and a pool of icy perspiration in which the tormented soul who’s having it is left to quiver with fear at the horrors that have just been dredged up from the deepest darkest levels of the subconscious mind.”

Williams also provides a proper definition of the West Ham Way, a paean to Trevor Brooking, a rather moving letter to the heroic Billy Bonds and descriptions of our FA and World Cup wins. Plus a sense of sadness for what we are about to lose at the Boleyn Ground and the terrible thought that Terminator burgers in Priory Road will soon be no more.

Nearly Reach The Sky is a great read, capturing much of the hope, despair and bemusement of being a West Ham fan.

Nearly Reach The Sky:A Farewell to Upton Park is published by Biteback, £12.99. Brian Williams will be signing copies at the Newham Bookshop before and after the Crystal Palace match on February 28.

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