Filed: Tuesday, 21st September 1999
By: Alison Leahy
"Let the rhythm start to play, dance with me, make me sway" the sound of teenage pop pervades the still autumnal night and reinforces my theory of the parallels between dance and football. Even the News of the Screws is in on the deal and reported last weekend that dance instructor Mileva Drljaca has been employed by Newcastle United, amongst others, to jazz up training routines. Apparently Alan Shearer could only lift his leg a short distance but now he can he can pull it up past his hips. "Well hell-ooooooh" (in my best Lesley Philips purr).
Watford home, Osijek home, Everton away, Coventry away, Osijek away, Arsenal home, Bournemouth home, Middlesborough away.
On pitch a small army of Cherries in green strips hasn't heard the news and is fully engaged in a more traditional meander with cones. Their fans are packed into the Centenary Lower and are keeping themselves amused with assorted beach balls. The Hammers' seating has plenty of gaps and a midweek suit-grey sheen. The match day mascot appears to faint and is immediately surrounded by a gaggle of concerned first team players - smart kid. The Bournemouth lads huddle and our fears of a prolonged hakka are allayed when the number 2 seems to find his lens. The mascot leaves the pitch waving to the Directors' Box "I'm alright honest, now I have your attention will you sign me up?" - obviously a star in the making...
Rio's back and Joe Cole is in the starting line up, cool. Rob Harris is reffing - not so cool. Cole starts well providing crosses in from the left and right and tracking back as far as the Bournemouth penalty area. He's getting a lot of attention from number 3, Warren, nevertheless within ten minutes he executes a sublime back heel on his blind side to England's Trevor Sinclair and runs on for the return ball.
We're silent except for the occasional shout to exotically named players in broad cockney, "Well run back Vivi-ennnn", "Nice one Eeeeegor". The first half features much lackadaisical passing and ball watching from West Ham. At 25 minutes our goal is under siege from corners and attacking runs, we look decidedly frail.
Di Canio knows it's going badly and has taken to hitting the pitch when his poetic moves don't come off. He trains long and hard and naturally expects more than this from himself. Harry paints a picture of a perfectionist, a man whose social life consists of sleeping and cooking pasta. His lucky charms, the back to front shorts and the tattoo of an eagle carrying an Italian flag are of little influence tonight.
Both Paolo and the new West Ham fitness coach, Arnaldo Longaretti, advocate a pasta-based Mediterranean diet. This is in line with the recommendations from Lancaster Gate that called for spaghetti and toast before world cup games; and opposite to the French who feasted on platefuls of spuds before the final. The world champs swear by their Roi Eduards with the option of another boiled one at half time. Mmmm yummy. Of course Razor thought they said puds and has one steaming ready for the break.
We're all still very quiet. Meanwhile the Centenary Lower is filled with an impressive rendition of "Bournemouth till I die". It takes a chorus of "You're supposed to be at home" to elicit "Who the fucking hell are you?" - beach ball frenzy. Shaka balls out Rio after a particularly slack back-pass-non-event-type-thang, he's looking a bit rusty. Half time and the honours are about even but Bournemouth just tip the scales with their sheer determination.
Having proven himself on duties behind the Adriatic curtain Captain Stimac is in command for the evening. The self-proclaimed king of spies successfully transmitted Croatian secrets from behind Osijek lines only to be caught in a counter espionage move between the club and UEFA. All Romania assignments and travel papers are cancelled. Despite the revelations he still admits to covert communications at least twice a day with field agent Davor Suker.
Word's out that UEFA have the ground under audio surveillance. Our bashful silence is explained. The referee and his assistants sport ear pieces and scrambling microphones. The premiership's only female assistant referee has already fallen victim to the technology when she assisted Rob Harris at the Villa-Liverpool game recently. She was subjected to a piercing scream, which damaged her inner ear and effected her balance. Blimey, what did she do to deserve that - called an offside the 'wrong' way or maybe it's because she has baps?
Second half, the Bournemouth number 2, Young is flying - he's everywhere. I'm mightily impressed and it's not just because he looks like a 40s matinee idol and that his hair remains brylecream perfect throughout the match. Their subs warm up in front of me dressed in black all-in-one romper suits, the like of which hasn't been seen at Upton Park since Abou wore one for the Coca Cola Cup fixtures in 1997-8. He'd just hotfooted it from Africa and was yet to acclimatise - is it really that warm in Bournemouth I wonder? Mental note to visit Harry's seaside restaurant and find out for myself.
Wanchope flies in with an over exuberant tackle and for some bizarre reason decides to walk back to face up to the player and give him what looks like a Glasgow kiss. He's not on good form tonight, he seems to move in slow motion and half a yard off the pace.
Twenty minutes into the second half the tide has turned and we unleash a veritable onslaught on their goal. A series of corners sponsored by SMC Investments Ltd is ended by a Keller goal into the top left corner. It changes the shape of the game and it's soundtrack to "You're not singing anymore".
Joey breaks on the right from a Shaka throw out and he runs the length of the pitch with the ball. Wanchope impresses with an uncharacteristic show of speed down the left flank ready for a cross - it's a very convincing Carl Lewis impression leaving his bambi alter ego trailing in the dust. Unfortunately Joe is tripped before he can cross or shoot. But minutes later he passes a ball up field to Di Canio who passes to Wanchope in the box who knocks the ball down to Lampard. Frankie spins 270 degrees in front of goal and puts the ball away. 2-0. That's more like it boys.
There's a substitution from the Cherries and they bring on Willie Huck (with a slient F) to much mirth. Wanchope has to deal with continuous baiting from the Bournemouth fans. They fail to return two match balls and in the end one of them is led away by stewards. Wanchope then makes another careless sliding tackle from behind and immediately Di Canio runs to Rob Harris with hands clutched in mock prayer. Wanchope is lucky not to be shown the red - the referee continues to have a good game. Harry wisely subs Wanchope and he waves to the Centenary Lower as he saunters to an early bath. Although Wanchope never looks like he contributes much to the game the whole dynamic up front changes whenever he is subbed. Our options look more limited and the movement decreases.
Bournemouth never give up and maintain the pressure to the end. Scott Mean looks strong and had a couple of shots on goal saved by Shaka and the woodwork. Towards the final whistle Razor makes a spectacular sliding tackle on Mean which takes them both over the sideline. They exchange some banter and Razor taps him playfully on his arse as he runs away. With almost the final touch of the ball, Robinson clips the woodwork again in what has become the story of the Cherries' match.
At home I catch the highlights on the Des Lynam Sports Network. Joe Cole is interviewed after the match and stripped bare of his sublime ball skills there is nothing to distinguish him from the thousands of other boyish teenagers with football idols. "Do ya know what I mean? I showed everyone I can get back and tackle *and* do the party tricks...
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