A trip to the East End to watch West Ham v Chelsea was always a tasty affair.
A peculiar rivalry in some respects, but a rivalry never the less. As far as the supporters were concerned it was a clash of cultures. East meets West; chalk and cheese; the flashy Kings Road boys versus the ‘core blimey’ Cockneys.
In truth the rivalry had nothing much to do with football – the two clubs rarely competed with each other for trophies or vital league points. During the 1970s and 1980s it was more of a tear up than a knees up as rival ‘firms’ battled on the terraces and surrounding streets.
Strange though it may seem, I have some sympathy for West Ham supporters’ current predicament. They have had the heart and soul ripped out of their club and they are distinctly un-happy Hammers at the moment.
They have a fine history and culture of proper local support. They won a European trophy before Chelsea (and whisper it quietly, Liverpool). They will of course tell you that West Ham also won the World Cup in 1966 courtesy of the exploits of Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters. From a Chelsea perspective I will always be grateful for West Ham selling Chelsea our greatest ever player – Frank Lampard and one of my favourite players, Joe Cole.
READ MORE: Ronaldo wins fifth Ballon d’OR title
READ MORE: Coutinho opens door to January exit
READ MORE: Given wants Newcastle to sign Alexis
Historically, their support was born and bred in the community that housed their stadium, a small, old fashioned, intimidating and hostile place to go with passionate supporters who would let you know in no uncertain terms that you were unwelcome.
Much of that support has moved in an upwardly mobile direction out towards the greenery of Essex and away from the inner city of Green Street. Sadly it is not the only move they have had to contend with.
The demolition of West Ham’s spiritual home of Upton Park and re-location to the Olympic Stadium represents something of a modern football cautionary tale.
One would have thought that the joint ownership of West Ham by David Gold and David Sullivan would be most supporters dream team. English owners of an idiosyncratic English club and lifelong West Ham Fans – Gold was even brought up in Green Street.
But their aspirations for the club seem to have stretched well beyond the Hammers’ status. Uprooting the club from Upton Park and moving in to a 55,000 seater stadium was delivered on a promise of Champions’ League football and a passage to football’s elite.
The reality is that the ‘London Stadium’ as they have renamed it is just not suitable for football being an Athletics stadium. In order to fill it they have had to dilute the traditional fan base by offering cheap tickets to nomadic football fans and football tourists.
Rather than pushing for one of the Champions’ League places in the Premier League they find themselves languishing in 19th place, only one point from the bottom, having sacked cult hero Slaven Bilic as manager. The fact that they have replaced him with David Moyes, who is on the back of a string of managerial failures, will no doubt have added to the frothing at the mouth of many West Ham supporters.
It seems somewhat ironic that West Ham is owned by Gold and Sullivan who made their money from Anne Summers, Knickerbox and pornography because currently they appear to be a club that is ‘all fur coat and no knickers’. Having re-branded them as West Ham ‘London’ it is all flashy marketing; seduction with no substance; the main prize always tantalisingly out of reach.
All sympathy for them aside, it wouldn’t be a rivalry if I didn’t wish for more misery to be heaped up them by a rampant Chelsea come Saturday. But any Blues supporters expecting an easy game against them should think again.
This is a match that every Hammer will want to win. The form book might suggest a different outcome, but it would not be the first time this season or indeed in many others, that Chelsea have visited a lowly rival expecting an easy win only to return with their tail firmly between their legs.
Chelsea will therefore need to be on their mettle for this one. Chelsea endured a frustrating evening against Atletico Madrid on Tuesday where a 1-1 draw should have been a comfortable victory had their finishing matched their build up play.
It will also be interesting to see if and how Antonio Conte rotates the team, mindful of the exertions in the Champions League and the upcoming match against Huddersfield next Tuesday. Conte picked his first team, bar Marcos Alonso against Atletico but hopefully he will look to field a similarly strong XI on Saturday.
As well as Alonso’s return, a case could be made for Danny Drinkwater coming in for Tiemoue Bakayoko, but other than that I’d plump for the eleven that played in midweek.
With Man Utd playing Man City on Saturday, there is a chance that Chelsea can make ground on their main rivals for the title should they pick-up all three points against West Ham.
The omens are good. Chelsea have only lost two out of their last 11 Premier League matches away to West Ham. One being the 2-1 defeat in 2015, the season Jose Mourinho was sacked, and the other being the 3-1 defeat in 2012 which was the third match in Rafa Benitez’s unwelcome tenure.
David Chidgey @StamfordChidge
David Chidgey presents the award winning Chelsea FanCast podcast which can be heard live every Monday at 19.00 at mixlr.com/chelsea-fancast/ or downloaded from Acast, ITunes, Soundcloud or chelseafancast.com @ChelseaFanCast