Our new series, ‘Over Land and Seas’, we interview a number of overseas Hammers to get their view point on the club, how they became a fan in the first place along with their favourite experiences!
How did you get in contact with West Ham?
It was when I visited London for the first time in my life with my family. Since I can remember, I have always been interested in football. I also watched the Premier League regularly, but didn’t really have a favourite team. Unfortunately we could not visit a game while being there, so I wanted to visit at least all the football stadiums of London. We started our tour at West Ham. This club gained my attention after the FA-Cup final 2006.
The first game I was around was against Arsenal. I wasn’t able to attend the match, but I was there before the game and the atmosphere was stunning. No comparison to Austria, where I have already visited a lot of football games. Everyone we spoke to was really nice and friendly. What I adored was the entrance of the main stand with the two towers. Before we left I bought a kit as remembrance.
After that journey I began to read and find out more about this club and the players. I started watching some games and got more and more excited. It was a totally new experience to watch games from more of an underdog club, which I loved. There was something special about West Ham and with time I became a passionate fan.
Can you tell me about your first experience with West Ham?
The first big and dramatic experience was the FA-Cup final 2006 against Liverpool. This was before I visited London. I supported West Ham in this game since I did not like Liverpool very much and always had a thing for smaller, but traditional clubs such as West Ham. This event sparked my interest in the club.
Have you ever visited a game at the Boleyn? Or are you planning to?
Unfortunately not, but I am planning to do so in February. It is the last season at our Boleyn Ground, so that is a must for me!
Is there a fan club in your country? If so, what is it like? Are there Meetups to watch the game in your town?
Yes, there is a fan club called “Austrian Irons”. I am not a member of this fan club yet but on some days, when the match is broadcasted on TV, there are meet-ups in a pub, ran by a West Ham fan here in Vienna.
How do people experience football in your region/country, and what do you think the big difference is with English football fans?
Since some Austrian clubs also have a big tradition, there are a lot of football fans in Austria proportional to our population. Of course Austrian football is irrelevant in comparison to other European leagues, but the big teams here (Austria Wien, Rapid Wien, Sturm Graz, etc.) have a big fan base. Like in every other country the real fans love their club and follow them everywhere. The big difference to English football is the attendance in the stadium. It is no problem to get a ticket for any game. Most of the time you can even get one just before kick-off because the games here are hardly sold out. Maybe that is due to rather costly ticket prices in contrast to the quality of our league.
The Austrian support is ultra-style with big flags and banners and sometimes pyro, despite this being forbidden. Every big club has a ‘capo’ that tells the stand what to chant during the match. Often there are also big tifosis before the game organised and made by the fan clubs. Not every big fan lives the ultra-style but the ultra-fanclubs “control” the stand, organise fan-material, away-journeys and set the support, so they are respected by everyone.
How do you feel about the move from the Boleyn to the OS?
At first I was really sad and upset because I love the Boleyn Ground. It is such a special stadium and has been our home for over a century. It has its own unique atmosphere and is simply a big part of West Ham.
I’d rather have only 35.000 seats in a great stadium instead of 54.000 in an ordinary modern one. But I can understand the club owners: it is a big chance for the club and the next step if we want to move on to become an even bigger club. I have already seen some images and plans of the new OS and have to say I am surprised. It is going to be a really nice place for our team and the responsible ones at the club have done their very best to give us a stadium that West Ham deserves.
West Ham is always looking for improvements, is there a specific player (or even better: a talent) from your nation/competition that you think West Ham should sign. If so: why?
This is really hard to answer because most of our Austrian talents go to Germany very early and play for their development squads. Those staying in Austria and even play in the first team are hard to compare with others because the level of the Premier League is worlds apart from our league. So it is not easy to say if a specific player that shines here could be beneficial to West Ham. But there are lots of Austrians who play in the German Bundesliga (or in other European top-flights) and also for our national team who could be capable of playing in the Premier League.
For example: Julian Baumgartlinger, Zlatko Junuzovic, Aleksandar Dragovic or Martin Harnik. One of our biggest talents – Kevin Wimmer – just went from Cologne to Spurs this summer. In our top league in Austria I don’t see someone who could directly improve West Ham right now.
What is your favourite West Ham moment? Can you describe it, how it made you feel, what rushed through your mind?
That was definitely the play-off final 2012 against Blackpool! Better to say Vaz Té’s winner! I did not even think once of losing this game. Then Vaz Té scored this absolute beauty and all of Wembley went mental. I thought: “Yes! This is it, we’re back!” This moment will forever stay in my mind and still gives me goosebumps when I watch it or even think about it. The moment I watched it live I cried of joy! I can’t tell how often I have watched it since then.
Mark Noble lifting the trophy into the air, his big smile and relief is just close behind. My absolute favourite player!