As West Ham visit the Etihad Stadium today (27th February 2021) to face Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City in the Premier League I thought I’d take a look at the special relationship between the fans of the two clubs.
Both City and West Ham fans have a shared understanding of football history, status and achievements with supporters aware of their club’s traditions, rivalries and shared history. The two clubs’ roots are very much based around hardworking working class areas of their cities with the supporters of both the Hammers and the Blues coming traditionally from the working classes. In recent years an analysis of the original shareholders at the majority of Football League clubs identified that by 1900 City’s shareholders came mostly from the working class – a larger percentage than at any club other than West Ham who had a slightly higher percentage. This demonstrates that those who owned both City and West Ham were representative of the fans on the terraces and that these clubs were similarly organised and run. As a result of this both clubs were representative of their communities in ways in which their nearest local rivals were not at the time.
Both clubs have enjoyed stylish, attractive football over the years with a belief that the game should be an entertainment. The roots of this go back decades at both clubs with West Ham’s Ted Fenton and Ron Greenwood influencing men such as Malcolm Allison and John Bond who managed the Blues.
Recently, City fans have been delighted to see Manuel Pellegrini and Pablo Zabaleta become Hammers following a line that includes other popular Blues such as Ian Bishop and Trevor Morley.
The support both clubs have received has varied at times but what is abundantly clear is that they have remained the most loyal in the country regardless of League status. West Ham, like City, have never been the worst supported club in their division (both United and Arsenal have!) and West Ham’s attendances over the decades have been fairly consistent, never dipping below 16,000. Recent years have of course seen both City and West Ham eclipse previous record average attendances thanks to the larger capacity of their current homes.
Successes and Struggles
Although West Ham did not become a League side until 1919 (City joined the League as Ardwick in 1892), the Hammers didn’t waste much time in progressing, reaching Division One and their first FA Cup final in 1923. The 1960s was a glorious period for West Ham – as it was with City – winning their first European trophy, the ECWC, in 1965. City won the same trophy in 1970 meaning that the Hammers were the second English team to win a major UEFA trophy and City were the fourth (For those wondering – the Fairs Cup was not a UEFA tournament and its entry requirements were not based on performance at times).
Of course both teams have had periods of struggle, ensuring that when success is achieved the fans of both clubs do not take this for granted. The great Malcolm Allison, a former Hammer & Blue, once told me in an interview that it’s important to “celebrate each success as if it’s your first, because it could well be your last.” Although he was perceived as a boastful character at times his philosophy, gained through his experiences at West Ham as a player, is one both sets of fans seem to agree with.
Celebrating the title – 2014
We must not forget how gracious and sporting the majority of West Ham fans were in 2014 when City became champions of England, securing their first ever league and cup double. That day the Blues beat the Hammers 2-0 with goals from Nasri (39) and Kompany (49). Manuel Pellegrini’s City were applauded and congratulated extensively that day – something that hasn’t happened with the fans of some other clubs when City have won the title.
The “You’ll be back” Game
The biggest demonstration of the special relationship between the fans of the two clubs came in May 1987. City were relegated after a 2-0 defeat at West Ham. At the end of the game City supporters and West Ham fans climbed over the fences and onto the pitch. Some thought that the two sets of supporters were about to confront each other, but the fans knew differently. The Hammers began chanting “You’ll be back” and both groups swapped scarves and souvenirs on the pitch. It was the kind of moment that should have been widely reported in the media but at the time focus tended to be on hooliganism and confrontation rather than the positives of football support. City had been relegated, but their supporters did not seek revenge. The West Ham fans could have ridiculed, but they didn’t. If only those condemning football fans at the time could have seen the two sets of loyal supporters genuinely appreciating and understanding each other.
The relationship between the fans of the two clubs is not something that is widely discussed or promoted but it is something that has endured. City fans have never forgotten the ‘You’ll be back’ game and in recent years, as others have unfairly mocked both sets of fans, the supporters of both the Blues and the Hammers seem to understand and respect each other. Inevitably, there will always be banter during a game but outside of the match the mutual recognition and respect always seems to win through.
To many West Ham are the City of the South – a proud football club with a great history and heritage, combined with a loyal and passionate fanbase.
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