Now here was a turn up for the books. Me, in London, on a Tuesday? Well too bloomin’ right. And lo and behold not just one game this week, but TWO! First up was a trip up the M11 to watch the mighty Rooks trying to extend their 3 match unbeaten run under Tim O’Shea at Bishop’s Stortford and then just 24 hours later I was making my long heralded return to Upton Park to see Giggles Grant’s team take on West Brom.
Confidence was obviously high in the Rooks camp after their biggest, in fact, only away win of the season at Weston-super-Mare on Saturday. The team had discovered a hard belly, being prepared to fight to the death for their points. Exactly what the team had lacked in previous seasons, but a little over the top after mass brawls against Bromley, Dartford and Weston had resulted in two red cards and countless bookings.
Fixtures sometimes seem to conspire against teams, and after the longest away trip of the season to Weston on Saturday, Lewes headed north up the M11 for the 3rd longest road trip just 72 hours later. Despite it being a cold and wet Tuesday night, the number of Rooks who arrived at Woodside Park was surprisingly high. Of course the board were well represented with Mr Marber, Mr Williams, Mr Leith and Mr Dobres all wearing their colours and joining the dozen or so hard core regulars – well they could hardly all fit into Stortford’s compact and bejous boardroom at the same time.
A quick turn around at TBIR towers, and a dream journey saw me pull up in the car park in Woodside Park less than an hour later. I headed into the bar and found the Lewes Lunatic Fringe propping up the bar along with Chairman Ibbo, complete with his mysterious Chairman’s bag (similar to Danny Last’s Non League Bag but with added cigars and fine wine).
Bishop’s Stortford 1 Lewes 0 – Woodside Park – Tuesday 9th November 2010
Last season when Lewes came to the furthest corner of Hertfordshire the home fans generated some real noise and passion. Bash the Bishop, a member of the clergy who had a big drum and wasn’t afraid to use it, generated some real noise for the “Blue Brazil” but it was sadly lacking tonight. A quick count of the crowd saw varying numbers close but ultimately under 200 (later “official” figures suggested it was 268 although I am sure you cannot count the players as part of the crowd) which was very disappointing. The draw of Lewes at home on a Tuesday night in November obviously didn’t match an evening of Australian Masterchef – what is wrong with people today.
The Lewes players looked fit. Not in a FHM Swimwear special way but in an energetic way. They used the ball well, with Murphy in his fancy dan boots providing some tricks down the left. And it was the youngster who came closest to opening the scoring when his well struck free kick hit the foot of the post and rebounded too quickly for Hutchinson to take advantage of, before Hutchinson then saw his header well saved by the Stortford keeper.
The response from the LLF was a Marber inspired rendition of “We are Community, I’ve got all my members with me” to the tune of We are Family, although the take up rate was rather muted. Seconds left in the half and a rare slip in the Lewes defence saw a Stortford forward through on goal. Winterton tried to push him wide but clearly took him out. With the home crowd baying for a red it was with relief (and some laughter) that the referee produced a yellow for the keeper. And of course just to rub salt in the Stortford wounds, he proceeded to save the resulting penalty.
The second half was a battle of attrition with both teams flirting around the edge of the area. Lewes’s new secret weapon, the “Rory Delap” throw in of Porter caused a few problems but not enough to really worry the Stortford keeper. Twenty odd minutes to go and a rare mix up in the Lewes defence saw Hutchinson dawdle, Winterton hesitate and Stortford’s Duane Jackson pounce to score the only goal of the game.
Defeat is not a word in O’Shea’s vocabulary at Lewes and so there would be no beer stops on the way home tonight, which meant that Deaks and Dave had no intention of travelling back on the team coach, opting for Fuller taxi’s back to Bromley. 47 miles in 45 minutes is standard at 10pm around London right? Hmm let’s travel forward 24 hours and see.
It seems so simple to travel 8 miles by train in the rush hour, pick up my car and drive 8 miles in a different direction to watch West Ham right? Wrong. This week was the first time in about a year I had had the pleasure of South Eastern as my method of transport to and from work. I left the office 15 minutes early and arrived at London Bridge awaiting a train. Now trains to TBIR towers run every 15 minutes maximum from one particular platform. But not tonight. South Eastern decided to play a game of Mike Reid’s Runaround, sending us up and down stairs in the hope we could actually get on a train. An hour later, and numerous “legs” of the game and I was eventually on a train. Thanks to all South Eastern staff for their great sense of humour and customer focus.
CMF had prepared her famous pulled pork which was conveniently stuffed in a roll and then with Lolly in tow we headed back out. Twenty four hours earlier I had sailed up the A102 through Blackwall Tunnel without even breaking. Tonight it was gridlocked, and the irony of being stuck next to a sign saying that the southbound tunnel would be shut from 9pm tonight was not lost on most fans trying to get to the game.
West Ham United 2 West Bromwich Albion 2 – Upton Park – 10th November 2010
We only arrived 10 minutes late, but by the look of the thousands of empty seats around the stadium, we were not the only ones. Apparently the West Brom team had only arrived at 7pm, and I wonder if Di Mattao had at any point thought about going to the pub instead as the West Ham fans had. The good news was that Kieron Dyer was playing – slowly recouping that ridiculous fee we paid for a player who has never played 90 minutes in a West Ham shirt in the 3 plus years he has been at the club.
With Giggles Grant standing motionless on the side of the pitch as if auditioning for a role as toad in Wind in the Willows his confidence and motivation exuded onto the pitch and the team simply did not get out of first gear. All bar Scott Parker. He must be so pissed off week in week out that he is the only one player trying. “We only have one man, we only have one man” sang the fans in the Bobby Moore Lower. How right they were.
West Brom of course took the lead. They had wasted a number of clear chances before Boa Morte tried to stick both hands down the shorts of a West Brom player in the area and the referee deemed that was simply a step too far. Yellow for the inept Portuguese player. penalty for the Baggies, and of course 30 seconds later one goal up.
So did the West Ham heads go down? Of course they did. Grant reacted by pushing his hands in his pockets further, which must have been a sign for Parker to go into over drive as he stepped up the pace and it was no surprise when he smashed one in from 25 yards just before half time to level the scores.
Had I missed the thrill, the buzz, the love of Upton Park? Not really and the ear splitting sound of the constant loop of trying to encourage us to buy last season’s highlights DVD was accompanied by a large metal object scraping a barrel. The language hadn’t improved of course, but that goes with the territory of seeing a team worse than Glenn Roeder’s relegation side.
Then something strange happened at the start of the second half. For about 15 minutes we started playing well. We created a few chances – nothing too much but enough to downgrade the comments from “C@unt” to “tw@t” at least. Then a moment of magic, one that was almost worth the £6m West Ham paid for Dyer in August 2007. A one two with Cole on the edge of the box and a push in the back saw Dyer on the floor and the referee pointing to the spot. Nobody wanted to take the penalty, and with Piquionne the last man holding the ball in a football version of musical chairs he languidly stepped up and hit a weak penalty down the middle to completely fox the West Brom keeper.
Could we hold onto a lead? Well actually we looked for about five minutes like we may increase it, but then we returned to earth with a large bump. West Brom worked a corner well and when the ball came back out to Chris Brunt who sent over a perfect cross for the unmarked Ibanez to head home.
West Brom could have won it near the end but Green was alert to a couple of half chances. But it was a thoroughly disappointing evening. Two points from winnable games at home versus Fulham, Bolton Wanderers, Newcastle United and now the Baggies is completely unacceptable. However, Grant sees things a different way:-
The spirit of team is very good, it’s more frustrating that we’re bottom of the league but the spirit is good.
“We’re trying to play positive football. We keep doing what we need to do and we don’t win – we don’t like it but at the end of the day, the wins will come.”
When exactly Avram? We are now essentially a third of the way through the season. We have 8 points. That my friend is relegation material. Yes we have played Arsenal, Man Utd and Chelsea and got nothing, but so have Wolves and they are above us.
What could make the evening worse? Well what about a 90 minute journey home due to the tunnel closure? Sure, no problems. Serves me right for wanting to spend a week in England I suppose.