West Ham are the best team in England….for 85 minutes

Do you know what happened at 3.15pm on Sunday 7th August 2011? Last time anyone on X-Factor was any good? Good shout but no. It was actually the last time West Ham lost in the nPower Championship. I can see you are more impressed with the X-Factor trivia aren’t you.

Since the defeat to Cardiff City West Ham had looked impressive in places, scoring four against Watford, Forest and Portsmouth, not conceding against Doncaster Rovers, Millwall and Peterborough United but then disappointing in the home draw against Leeds United, and of course THAT game versus Aldershot Town. The football, as predicted under Big Sam hasn’t been good on the eye but there is an argument to say “who cares” as long as in May we are celebrating a return to the land of milk and honey.

I hadn’t been for a few weeks, preferring my fix of entertainment at equally unbeaten Lewes where an afternoon out of football, some of the best beer in the world and a home-made pie weighed in at less than £15. A recent BBC Survey had revealed that a similar afternoon at Upton Park would cost £38.50. But tonight wasn’t one of those times – instead admission alone was a staggering £43. We were playing Ipswich Town for Christ Sake not Inter Milan!

Last week, after buying my ticket (my third game of the season bear in mind) I got an email from the club, using the same email address that I use to buy my tickets with. It had the usual waffle in it, but the core was as follows:

“To entice you back to the Boleyn, the club is offering you the opportunity to watch our fantastic clash with Ipswich for just £25 for adults and £15 for over 65’s. This is an exclusive offer which applies only to those who have not yet registered with us or have not bought a ticket for the two previous seasons or more. This offer is only available to those not registered on the club database or not having transacted for the previous two seasons. Details will be checked and verified and full details will be required for new supporters registering for the offer. This offer is not available to purchase online.”

I do not mind the club putting out special offers but do they realise the damage they do when they don’t check their facts. One of the main reasons why I moved my priorities to non league football was the way the club started treating fans with contempt and here was another slap in the face after paying £43 for a seat.

And what would I get for the same price as a return flight to Berlin? Apart from the flat beer and surly service at the bar it would be the chance to see some of the new signings. There is a lot of hope for Henri Lansbury but you just get the feeling that he would have more of a chance under Wenger if he wasn’t English. Bentley is Lee Sharpe mark II, and before too long I expect him to be hugging the touchline at Braintree Town. John Carew seemed like a great acquisition last month but still doesn’t seem to be getting a start.

Ipswich Town were the visitors for the latest installment of spin. A club which we have seem to have been galatically intertwined in the past few years. Two play off semi-final encounters, countless players passing each other on the A12 and of course the legend that was John Lyall moving to the Tractor Boys back in 1990 after he was scandalously sacked by West Ham. Quite a few fans would actually go as far as saying that the decision to get rid of Lyall was the turning point for the club and they have never been the same since.

West Ham United 0 Ipswich Town 1 – Upton Park – Tuesday 27th September 2011
On the 30th April 1986 West Ham lined up against Ipswich Town at Upton Park. It seems hard to believe that it was 25 years ago, and at the time West Ham were challenging for the title along with Liverpool and Everton. Due to a huge fixture pile up this was to be the Hammers ninth game of the month – a game every 3.5 days at the end of a long season. They were within three points of the top of the table in second place. The odds were stacked against them after Chelsea had taken all three points from Upton Park two weeks previously.

This defeat was a rare blip in the excellent home form that had seen thirteen wins from their previous fourteen including an 8-1 victory over Newcastle United. However, the 31,000 in the ground that night for the first time started to feel the nerves. The free-flowing football under Lyall failed to materialise and it took a Ray Stewart penalty to secure the three points.

Twenty five years later the atmosphere couldn’t be more different. Despite the third email of the week from West Ham encouraging me to “enjoy the atmosphere of football under lights at West Ham” it was neither atmospheric or for the most instance football.

“We really want to welcome you back to Upton Park so why not join us straight from work for an atmospheric night under the lights and the visit of the Tractor Boys? We hope to see you on Tuesday night.”

The empty seats certainly wont help build an atmosphere and for me the reason behind that is the cost. £43 is a huge amount in the current climate to spend on a Championship game. Of course I could have spent £99 (plus VAT of course) on a Champagne and seafood buffet (one glass and one prawn?) as well as a seat, or even a package that involved having a pie with BIG SAM. Does that mean BIG SAM has a pie with every fan who buys this package? Is this why the club have to refer to him as BIG SAM? Surely, they have a moral duty to improve the education of their younger fans by correctly referring to him as big Sam. Big Sam is marginally acceptable but why BIG SAM? He is 6 foot 3inches, which is above average for a UK male but still not in the league of a giant. What happens if he ends up managing in the NBA? Will he become AVERAGE SAM?

There were a few new faces in the team since I came to the Leeds match. David Bentley had joined on loan from Spurs. Bentley will always be joining clubs on loan. He is just one of those players. A Lee Sharpe for the new millennium. Apparently he played last night. Can’t say I noticed. And then there is young Henri Lansbury. You can tell he is an Arsenal player by the rash challenges and then the indignation that he had done anything wrong. He could (or even some may say should) have been sent off for two reckless challenges and was substituted late on. George McCartney was back for a second stint at the club. “Never go back they say” which of course doesn’t apply when you get more money than you had before.

And then we have Sam Baldock. I have to say I had never heard of him although I now understand he did good things in Milton Keynes, which in itself is a bit of a oxymoran. I still cannot fathom where he was supposed to be playing, or what value he added. I can only assume he was picked due to his first name. This isn’t being disrespectful to the young lad, but when you are just 5ft 7inches and the ball is constantly being hoofed up field then you aren’t going to see a lot of it!

There was an air of inevitability about the goal when it arrived in the final few minutes just like as my Nan used to say “if you play bingo win money” meaning the more times you do something, the luckier you get, or in West Ham’s case the unluckier you get. After all in five of the last six home games there had been an away goal this season. I did try to use my Blue Square Betting App to place an in-play bet on an Ipswich winner but football grounds still do not realise that people may actually want to use a mobile phone and consequently no provision is made (on the contrary most US stadiums offer FREE wi-fi). Lee Bowyer had already hit the post earlier in the game and he bounced quickest on an Ipswich shot that hit the upright and smashed the ball home. At first he failed to celebrate the goal against his old team but then it was a case of “Why the fuck not – they kept Kieron Dyer for nearly four years”.

There was a mass exodus as you can expect with people taking the opportunity to realign their neck muscles after watching the ball fly high in the air. I was pleased at the end to hear that Robert Green was made man of the match, and that underlines a fair reflection on the game.

My fellow fan Michael and I lamented for the days gone by, but we are realists. This season is all about getting out of the Championship and back to the promised land. As we left our seats in the Alpari Stand (OUR forex dealer apparently – which is handy to know as I still have $22 left from the US last week) we wandered down Green Street and mixed with the throng of disappointed fans. All the talk was of another “bloody Allardyce performance”. Times are tough at Upton Park. Still we had a slice of TFL to come as they managed to screw up the Tube on the way home (I should add that the Blackwall Tunnel was also closed southbound for “engineering” works – great planning guys) – getting in practice for next summer no doubt.

My good friend Mr Marber predicted the evening would end with me “bitter and full of rage after a bad game, rip off grub, grim defeat and huge traffic jam,”..He was wrong – I didn’t eat anything.

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