Paul Konchesky used to hang out on the North Bank at Upton Park with his mum to watch West Ham as a child – now he manages the women’s team.
He was a men’s season ticket holder and came home and back – when he could persuade his mother – and dreamed of one day wearing the shirt as a player.
This came true in 2005 when Konchesky signed for the club and made 59 appearances at the back.
Now, 15 years after leaving West Ham as a player, he has ambitions to lift the club up the Women’s Super League table.
‘I never looked back’
Konchesky, 41, has always had a strong female presence in football with the support of his mother.
While gaining coaching experience at West Ham’s boys’ academy, Konchesky often watched the women’s team practice.
He eventually joined the WSL in 2021, working as an assistant manager alongside former boss Olli Harder.
“My mum was a big part of my career. She’s a huge football fan so obviously that means a lot to me,” Konchesky told BBC Sport.
“When I came back here to work at the academy, the women’s team was always around us. It was always nice to watch them play and train, but to be part of it with Olli [Harder] was great – and I never looked back.”
Konchesky’s pride in leading a side in West Ham colors is clear. He was born in east London, down the road from where the women’s side play their home matches at the Chigwell Construction Stadium in Dagenham & Redbridge.
“West Ham were my growing team. I went to games every week. I have fond memories of that time – I loved it,” he added.
“Those memories change when you grow up and start playing. I’ve always supported West Ham and wanted them to succeed, but when you play against them it’s quite difficult.
“When I came back here in 2005 it meant everything to me. I played in the FA Cup final for my beloved club in 2006.
“Life goes on after that, and now I’ve come back to lead the women’s team and that’s a huge part of me. I want to do well for myself and for the football club.”
“They want to learn from me”
Konchesky said player ability had “increased dramatically” since he first got involved in the WSL over a year ago.
He’s still learning the league in his role as manager, but the players are getting used to his style.
“I like to handle women the way I would have liked to be handled when I was a player,” Konchesky said.
“I took a lot of former managers of mine who were really good and tried to put that into me and how I wanted to lead this team.
“If I need to be more upbeat or put more pressure on them to know I’m not messing around, they know. When I step in, the girls listen and want to learn from me.
“I think I get a lot of respect while playing and my career speaks for itself. That they respect me is good, but I have to respect them too, and I do – a lot. I think that they need, I can help them.”
“The gap is not as big as people think”
West Ham have been successful under ex-boss Harder, finishing sixth in the WSL with their most points in 2021-22 ahead of the New Zealand manager resigned in May.
They continued their upward trajectory with Konchesky, sitting in fifth place with five wins in their first 10 matches this season.
And Konchesky believes his side have shown they can compete on the pitch against what are widely regarded as the top four clubs – Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United.
“I learned that the gap at the top might not be as big as people think. The players are fitter, stronger and there are smart footballers in the WSL,” Konchesky said. .
“The goal is to try and close the gap. We know there is a top three or four. When I say the gap is closing, I mean in games in general. We stay in games with the biggest clubs.
When asked how he would describe his team’s style, Konchesky said they played “on the front foot” and showed determination.
“We have made our home a fortress. It is difficult for teams to come to our house and win. Even when we leave we know we can compete,” he added.
“Enthusiasm and a desire to win games – rather than sit around – is what my team has shown.”
So what does the East London man want to achieve with West Ham?
“Every year we want to improve,” he said. “I want to earn silverware.”