Hammers fans say farewell to Upton Park

West Ham flags at Upton Park Image copyright Marcus Drinkwater

A number of Premier League teams have now moved from a stadium that had been their home for many decades, and West Ham United played their last game at the Boleyn Ground, often referred to as at Upton Park, at the end of last season.

The club's first game at their new home, the Olympic Stadium, in Stratford, east London, is the second leg of their Europa League qualifying third-round tie against NK Domzale on 4 August.

Meanwhile, their home of 112 years will be replaced by new developments, changing the area for ever.

Marcus Drinkwater is a lifelong fan of the Hammers, having fallen under their spell while cheering them on from the terraces alongside his father.

Yet Drinkwater is only 22, so his first memories of Upton Park are from the early part of this century.

"The Hammers were playing Ipswich Town and Paolo Di Canio scored, removed his shirt and celebrated along the East Stand," says Drinkwater.

"One thing that really captured my attention was not the football, but the fans.

"When they would sing, 'I'm forever blowing bubbles,' the stadium was lifted, it's almost otherworldly.

"There is energy in and around that stadium like no other, like an electricity in the air before kick-off."

Image copyright Marcus Drinkwater

So when it was announced that West Ham were to leave Upton Park, Drinkwater set about documenting their last season from the point of view of the fans.

His aim was to create what he describes as a historical document, something people could look back on to see how it used to be, before the rebranding of the team.

"Although many were sad that they would be leaving a place West Ham called its home for over 100 Years, there was a strong sense of optimism for the future of the club in the top flight of English football," says Drinkwater.

"It is a sad thought that many of the local shops in the area that give the place such character will suffer as a result.

Image copyright Marcus Drinkwater
Image copyright Marcus Drinkwater

"To me, documentary photography is a slow process and can be quite intrusive.

"It is as much about observing, learning, researching and communicating as it is about taking photographs.

"I think a lot of photographers concentrate so much on taking photographs, they forget what their subject is.

Image copyright Marcus Drinkwater

"When I first started the project, I went to the first few home games without my camera.

"I wanted to concentrate on getting to know the area and the people that flocked there in their thousands to watch the game.

"I would drink in the Working Men's Club and watch the match with boys from the estate on Boleyn Road on a garage roof overlooking a corner of the Bobby Moore Stand.

Image copyright Marcus Drinkwater

"I wanted to try to get to know the people as best I could, so that when it did come to me eventually taking their photograph, there would be no tension or mistrust.

"I think it is immediately visible in pictures when the photographer has not gone to that initial effort of bonding with his or her subject.

"It is important to bear in mind that people are giving you a lot when they let you take their portrait.

"A camera covers your face and acts as barrier between you and the sitter, which is something about photography that I have never liked, and I think it is important to make that moment as comfortable as possible.

"Something that shocked me at first was the growing enthusiasm for the move to Stratford.

"I believe now that change should be embraced and West Ham should look forward with high hopes for the future, but also look back at the days of Upton Park and never forget where they have come from, as it is a place that had helped define them over the last century."

Image copyright Marcus Drinkwater
Image copyright Marcus Drinkwater

The project is called 112 Years, and Drinkwater has produced the work in the shape of a match-day programme. You can see more of his work at www.marcusdrinkwater.com.