Bobby turns out the lights – where did 112 years go?



By Tom Atherton

Sound’s kind of strange, right? Our home of 112 years, where has all that time gone? The whole of my twenty years as a Hammer I’ve had major ups and major downs, but the last moment of that 112 year history was spent in pure ecstasy.

I’ve been lying to myself for weeks, trying to put off the final matches as they came by slowly. First we had Crystal Palace, then Arsenal and Manchester United and let’s be honest times were nervous. We left the F.A Cup far too early in my opinion and slowly I began to think that this famous old ground might not get the send-off it deserved after all.

Watford felt like a given but then to lose to Swansea the way in which we did last Saturday and the manner in which it happened made me have major doubts about tonight’s proceedings.

All day I was sat at my desk as the hours ticked slowly by, hours felt like minutes, minutes like seconds and by the time lunchtime came my stomach was twitching, I could hardly eat. Five o’clock came around and suddenly twitches broke into a nervous sweat and by the time seven o’clock had arrived and word had come of the delay I was a wreck.

It was in those moments however that I had time to reflect, time to reflect on my first journey to ‘Upton Park’ aged just six years old. Newcastle United came on Sunday 23rd 2001, it was the first time I’d heard the names ‘Alan Shearer’ and ‘Bobby Robson’ mentioned, and begun to understand the expectations that lay on a football team such as the Magpies. Throughout my excitement and overawing sense of emotion during the day we actually won the game 3-0, goals from Thomas Repka, Don Hutchinson and Paulo Di Canio sealed an emphatic win.

But one thing has always stuck with me; my father would always tell me you won’t understand it until you experience it, you will never understand the highs and the lows and the raw emotion until you become a part of it. I used to laugh at the time but now I look back and think, wow. He was right.

The first time I ever heard ‘Bubbles’ ring around our old ground it consumed my whole being, and for the first time in a long time that same emotion I felt nearly fifteen years ago came flooding back to me tonight, I stood with my arms aloft with a tear in my eye singing loud and proud like I’ve always done.

I’ve never heard an atmosphere so loud in all my life, and suddenly all those nerves and all the twitches I felt were gone and I knew we were about to witness something special.

The game didn’t disappoint, Winston Reid heading home a brilliant cross from Dimitri Payet sealed the perfect ending and a fitting send-off that the Boleyn thoroughly deserved. After the game had finished the ceremony began, led by Ben Shephard we honoured some of the late, great, past and present players to ever don the claret and blue shirt including the past winners of ‘Hammer of the Year’. A terrific light show, fireworks and videos of historic moments encapsulated what this famous old club is all about and gave it one last final bang on its way out.

In the final moments Mark Noble said something in his interview which will stick with me forever, I thought it to be very poignant: “This isn’t a football club, I’ve said it before, it’s a family”.

I hope one day when I’m older I’ll stand in my Dad’s shoes telling my children about the times I’ve witnessed and share with them the emotion I once had all those years ago. Yes it may not be at the Boleyn and we’ll have moved onto pastures new. But one thing is for sure, this football club, these amazing fans and that amazing feeling will never leave you and that’s something you and only you alone can cherish and hold close to your heart.

For one final time, Bobby Moore climbed down the famous steps and turned out the lights on one very emotional evening and an emotional 112 years, it was farewell from Bobby and farewell Boleyn.

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Hugh Southon is a lifelong Iron and the founding editor of ClaretandHugh. He is a national newspaper journalist of many years experience and was Bobby Moore's 'ghost' writer during the great man's lifetime. He describes ClaretandHugh as "the Hammers daily newspaper!"

Follow on Twitter @hughsouthon