You always remember your first time.
I was not a little boy, I was a 26 year old Canadian going to his first Premier League game. I had seen numerous games on television throughout my life, but because of factors such as school, work and money I was never able to attend a game in person. But as all those factors aligned in December 2006 I decided to head across the pond and catch my first ever Premier League game in person.
Being Canadian it is pretty easy if I wanted to attend a sporting event in person. I could buy tickets in advance, or I could be really adventurous and buy tickets the day of the event from a scalper for a ridiculously inflated price. After doing research I discovered (as many already know) that teams do not put tickets for every game of the season on sale at the same time. Premier League teams pro-rating tickets based on opponent is also something that is not done in North America, you pay the same no matter who you are going to watch. This may seem like overkill to everyone who experiences this on a yearly basis, but for me it was quite the process.
I was going to stay in London for a couple of reasons. The main one is that I was going to get a free place to stay in the Shepherd's Bush area but also in the 2006-07 season there were lots of Premier League teams in London. So after all my research I was able to get a single game ticket on Sunday December 17, 2006 to watch West Ham host Manchester United at Upton Park. I was overjoyed.
I arrived in London on an early Friday morning after an overnight flight from Toronto, and was in zombie mode as I made my way from Heathrow to Shepherd's Bush. Already having the ticket delivered to my friend's house I wanted to make sure that I knew how to get to Upton Park so I decided to make my way out there on the tube as to not have any problems come Sunday.
After arriving at Upton Park and following the signs directing me to the park down Green Street, I immediately thought I was lost. The reason being is that in North America rarely is the stadium in a neighbourhood. They are usually in big built up areas where there are restaurants, bars and hotels to attract outsiders, not on streets where people actually live. Then out of nowhere stood Upton Park. This football ground shoehorned right in the middle of East London, it was pretty surreal. Being a Liverpool fan I was definitely a West Ham supporter for the game against United and decided to show my support by purchasing a home kit.
Sunday arrives and I am very excited before the match. A common practice in North America is to have a couple of drinks before the game as to save money on the outrageous cost of beer at the stadium, but at the time in London I was able to drink not only on the street but the tube, so I popped over to a local Off-License and grabbed four tall cans for the journey. Starting my journey at Shepherd's Bush I grabbed the Central Line out to Mile End where I was able to transfer to the District Line. The trip to Mile End was rather uneventful and as I waited on the platform to change trains I was not prepared for what was to happen when that District Line train approached
I had to cram myself in with tons of Hammers' fans already half in the bag singing on the way to the game. There was cheering, chanting and a general excitement for a Sunday afternoon game against Manchester United, and who could blame them. I then followed the mob to the game not knowing a word of what was being said and was also quite suprised to just see the volume of people walking down Green Street towards the game. Some drinking in their front garden with friends, some waving scarves above their head and then like me there were those just heading to the game.
I had a seat very high up in the Alpari Stand in the corner near the Bobby Moore stand. Not the greatest view, but I did not care I was at my first ever Premier League game. There was a lot of buzz in the matchday program as this was Alan Curbishley's first game in charge of West Ham, since the firing of Alan Pardew. There was one issue that I wanted to make sure did not happen and that was a goalless draw. I cannot impact this myself, but I came to see at least one goal live, so if that was not going to happen then Ladbrokes were going to make me some money back. I remember paying 5 pounds for my bet on a goalless draw. I cannot remember what the odds were, but I figured that if someone scored then I would be fine losing a fiver.
One thing caught my attention more than anything else during this game, and that was the skill of Cristiano Ronaldo. He was still young and not ready to step up as one of the premier players in the world yet, but watching him with the ball was just incredible. He was able to beat West Ham players down the pitch, while dribbling. If you have not seen Ronaldo play in person it is quite the site.
My recollections of the game are not crystal clear but I do remember that West Ham were prepared to play United and gave them quite a game. Both teams had their chances, but Nigel Reo-Coker's chance on a pass from Marlon Harewood was the only chance that mattered. Reo-Coker's goal sent Upton Park into a fantastic eruption and you would have thought it was the goal that won West Ham the title.
The goal ended up being the only one that evening and one of the reason's I love the Premier League is the passion shown by fans. Hammers fans lined the streets after the game cheering and singing with such joy and excitement that I never get to see during a regular season game at any sport here in Toronto, except for maybe Toronto FC. The post game celebrations spilled out on to the streets and it was such a site to behold I grabbed a burger from a vendor and just enjoyed the party. I am not sure if this is the case at all grounds around England, or just at West Ham games, or whether it was beating United, or a combination of all three.
I can still feel the energy when I think back on that day and will remember it fondly. For me I cannot make it over in the winter time to England as much as I would like but hopefully everyone who live across the pond realize that live English football is a fantastic site to witness live.