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Film Review: Iron Men

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Last season, after 112 years, West Ham played their final game at the Boleyn Ground. Now making a home at the modern and spacious Olympic Stadium, fans' feelings have been mixed as the club’s history came under threat.

Iron Men is a new documentary about West Ham’s seismic change, their character as a club, their rich history and their bright future.

Featuring extended interviews with Mark Noble, Slaven Bilić and a presenting role for Ray Winstone alongside the heartfelt stories of countless fans, Iron Men aims to capture the heart of West Ham football club.

“Nothing’s sacred anymore,” remarks Winstone in an opening scene and the film sets off on that trajectory, initially covering the poignant separation of the club from their historic ground. While the documentary starts as a eulogy for Upton Park it moves on to capture something much more human.

West Ham’s Croatian manager, Slaven Bilić, says West Ham is “a club that is like one big family” and that theme of family and community within the club is central to Iron Men. While it’s a little cliché the documentary goes some way to backing up Bilić’s claim. For instance Iron Men shows us that Bilić and club captain Mark Noble shake the hands of every player and staff member, every day, when arriving at the Hammer’s training ground. “It takes me about twenty minutes,” laughs Noble.

The club is definitely full of mixed feelings on the move itself: Mark Noble says “it’s gonna be strange,” whilst West Ham co-Chairman David Sullivan argues that “It has to be done. It’s not gonna completely change the whole finances of the club but what it does is it grows your fan-base… we’re taking the armchair supporters and making them real supporters”.

He also notes the Olympic Stadiums draw for foreign players, arguing that the Olympic Stadium is more fitting for a ‘top six’ club, where Upton Park provided more of a mid-table impression to incoming overseas players. Noble too concedes the necessity of the move though, and concludes, “let’s move on together”.

The documentary offers candid moments with the likes of Bilić and Noble that are hard to come by in other media. Premier League footballers and managers are notoriously guarded in performance-centric interviews, so a more personal window into the league is welcome.

Equally interesting though is the insight into the lives of fans affected by the club’s move. Mabel Arnold, a 100-year-old, life-long West Ham fan as well as the self-proclaimed ‘West Ham Rib Man’ and the editor of fanzine Over Land and Sea, all feature.

While it has its tragic moments, as fans reflect on the loss of Upton Park’s history, Iron Men is ultimately a tribute to the character of the club. As the Hammers move into a new era for the team Iron Men tells the story of that change and how it has deeply affected the lives of so many people. It’s a football documentary that transcends football and a great watch; it’s also surprisingly emotional in places.

Iron Men is released digitally on the 3rd March and on DVD 6th March.  

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