The Long Good Friday part 2

“Dickie Bird, Michael Parkinson, Mick McCarthy…your boys took a hell of a beating tonight.”

To me nothing sums up life in a Northern Town than watching football in Barnsley. The name itself has to be uttered with a Yorkshire tint in your voice and you cannot leave the town without sampling some Northern hospitality. It is smack bang in the middle of Yorkshire, and fiercely proud of its traditions.

The town is not just famous for being the birth place of England’s finest umpire (Bird), finest chat show host (Parkinson) and er, the second Englishman to manage the Republic of Ireland (McCarthy). It is the scene of one of the most iconic British films of all time – Kes. The youth of today have missed out on a rite of passage by not being made to watch this classic film in school. I can still remember those lessons near the end of term when the TV/Video trolley would be wheeled in and the teacher would make a big song a dance about the mystery of what was about to be shown (invariably it would be a double maths or english lesson so that they could make up our school reports and thus get down the pub at 3.30pm on the final day of term). It was always Kes though (although once or twice it was Woody Allen’s The Sleeper but only once we were all 16 and could be exposed to the “Orgasmatron”).

And there is only one scene that you need to know from that film. Brian Glover’s football match…

And from one football mastermind to another….Sam Allardyce. “At times this season we have played like Swansea“…That is quite a quote for any manager to compare their team’s play to the free-flowing attacking style of the Premier League newboys, but to come from Sam Allardyce it takes some believing. When certain fans publicly questioned his comments, he apparently said “All fans talk bollocks”.  Nothing like making yourself popular then Sam. Quite when we have played with the ball on the ground is a mystery to West Ham fans across the planet. Frankly, some of the recent home performances against the likes of Doncaster Rovers, Crystal Palace and Middlesborough have been classic displays of “Big Sam”. Despite the club having six forwards on the books, goals have been hard to come by, probably because the ball is hoofed up the pitch to players who cannot control it. Last Saturday in the game that was hyped as the “promotion showdown” West Ham lost 4-2 at home to Reading. Sam’s veiled comments this week have suggested that it has been the negative reaction of the fans rather than his tactics that has led to the poor home form. Tactical genius or what? In the four games we have played against the top two this season the Hammers have taken just one point.

But it has been the form on the road that has still given hope that an immediate return to the land of milk and honey was possible. Impressive wins on the road against teams around the play offs such as Cardiff City, Blackpool, Hull City and MIddlesborough had been tempered with the lack lustre home form that had seen just one win in the last seven at Upton Park. But here was a chance to get the show back on the road with a trip up the M1 to Barnsley.

Barnsley are a second tier team. Nobody can ever argue with this fact. They have played over 1,000 games at this level, more than any other club. In their 105 year history they have spent 74 seasons in the “second” division. They have gone down more than they have gone up, but for one season they dined at the top table of English football. Back on the 9th August 1997 they walked out at Oakwell to make their Premier League debuts against…West Ham United. After their opening forty five minutes of Premier League action they were 1-0 up thanks to a goal from Neil Redfern in the 9th minute. But West Ham bounced back with goals from John Hartson and Frank Lampard in front of 19,000 fans.

Barnsley’s top flight life was to be short lived. Heavy defeats to Arsenal (5-0), Chelsea (6-0) and Manchester United (7-0) underlined how difficult it was at the top level, although they did win away at Anfield when beating Liverpool actually meant something. Relegation was confirmed in April although they were ninety minutes away from a return in 2000 when they lost 4-2 to Ipswich Town in the Play Off final. Since then, it has mostly been life in the Championship.

Since then many managers have come and many have gone (ten in fact) trying to bring the dream back. This season it has been simply a “Barnsley” season. Almost safe already from relegation but no chance of a play off spot, they lost top scorer Ricardo Vaz Tê to West Ham in January and consequently the goals have dried up.

This was going to be my second game of the day – A Championship filling around my Rugby League sandwich. After heading across from supporting the London Skolars at Doncaster I would be heading straight after this down the lanes of South Yorkshire to Wakefield for their local derby against Castleford. But for now I was settled in the East Stand Upper Tier, ready (hopefully) to see the West Ham on the road form (although the last time I said that we then lost to Derby County).

Barnsley 0 West Ham 4 – Oakwell – Friday 6th April 2012
Will the real West Ham please stand up? It is almost impossible to know which West Ham will turn up on a weekly basis, but after 35 minutes of this game it was obvious that the team who still believe they can gain automatic promotion had put their big headphones on and got on the bus up the M1.  This was possibly one of the easiest games West Ham had faced this season, being rarely challenged by a team who are woefully short of goals and confidence.

The game was only six minutes old before Nolan gave West Ham the lead.  The home players, manager and fans claimed the West Ham captain was offside when he tapped home a Taylor corner (see what you think to the left).  The perfect start.

One of the major issues that the West Ham fans have levelled at Allardyce this season is his constant tinkering with the starting XI.  Whilst this was true for this game, the move of playing a midfield three of O’Neill, Nolan and Noble was simply stifling the life out of a Barnsley team very early in the game.  The ball was often played to the feet of both Vaz Tê and Nicky Maynard and it was the centre forward who doubled the Hammers lead in the 22nd minute when nobody failed to close Maynard down and he was allowed to run, and run and run before shooting low into the corner of the net. “We play on the floor, we play on the floor.  We are West Ham, we play on the floor”.

Just over ten minutes later and the game is over.  Barnsley’s keeper Button goes walkabout and despite beating Nicky Maynard with some fancy footwork his clearance goes straight to Mark Noble and he lobs the ball back into an empty net from the corner of the area with a fantastic strike.  “We talk bollocks, we talk bollocks, we are West Ham, we talk bollocks”.

The referee brought an end to the torment and the fans reminded Allardyce again about the fact they talked bollocks but he didn’t even acknowledge them.  He is a big man, after all.

The second half starts with the Yorkshire rain falling on my head in the (exposed) East Stand.  I am told by the Fullers back at Northern HQ that BBC keep giving me a close up, and every time I appear to be on my iPhone. In truth I am struggling for some words to describe some of the excellent passing (on the floor and to feet) that the Hammers are displaying.  A fourth is never far away and in the 54th minute former home favourite Vaz Tê gets the goal that his performance deserves when he clinically finished from close range after the keeper can only parry a shot.  Three minutes later it could have been five when Maynard’s shot from distance hits the bar and bounces back into play.

The fourth goal starts a congo in the West Ham end.  Soon the line is a couple of hundred strong and with no room left to conga the stewards are forced to break up the fun.  “We dance when we want, we dance when we want.  We are West Ham, we will dance when we want”.  Not to be left out the Barnsley fans start their own at the far end and gain a large round of applause from the Hammers.

The West Ham substitutions take the sting out of the game and it winds down slowly.  With five minutes left it appears as if there has been a fire drill as few home fans are still in the ground. When in Rome and all that so I made my way out and back on the road for the Long Good Friday part 3.

After Reading’s win earlier in the day, West Ham answered their critics with a display of patience passing football.  There can be few onlookers who can argue that this wasn’t a vintage West Ham performance – perhaps the fans were right all along, eh Sam?

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