Sunday, 23rd April 2006
8.10am Hither Green Station
I board a train where I am somewhat disturbed to be greeted by the sight of a number of “comedy” ostriches. These are, of course, marathon runners being “wacky and zany”. I note that, with the exception of Ricky Gervais in “The Office”, comedy ostriches are not, and never have been funny and I make a mental note that in the event that I ever run the marathon, I shall not do so wearing a comedy ostrich costume. I later make a more sensible note not to run the marathon at all if I can help it.
9.15 am Stratford Station
I arrive following a strange journey surrounded by comedy ostriches. Note to marathon runners. Comedy ostriches aren’t funny (Ricky Gervais in “The Office” being the only exception to this rule). Greatest Cockney Rip Off, Rio, Atters, Big George and Chalks all turn up on time. Even the notoriously “late for everything” Lost Hammer gets there on time. As does Goes To Eleven who arrives with a box full of programmes for the match, including a rather splendid little article on page 61. All 12 of us are there.
The only thing missing is the limo we’ve hired for the day. A small but vital point really. GCRO phones the driver only to be informed that the limo has broken down somewhere between Eastbourne and civilisation. The driver cheerfully informs GCRO that he’ll be with us by 11.30. 12.00 at the latest. One-ish tops – call it two to be on the safe side. Sensibly we decide on alternative arrangements and Rio, Lost Hammer, Atters and I head off for Dagenham where Atters’ Dad has bravely agreed to lend us his car.
Finally on the way I receive a succession of text messages and phone calls all gloating at our transport predicament. The phone calls all consist of me saying “hello” and being greeted with raucous laughter from those who are already halfway up the M1. We see a succession of limos on said motorway all of which we would quite happily destroy single handed but for the lack of a heat-seeking missile option on that year’s Laguna. We settle for giving the drivers a withering look as we pass.
We arrive in the general area of Aston and, given that I’ve had one look at the map three days ago, I am more surprised than anyone when my navigational skills take us straight to the Bartons Arms – though my cry of “am I a genius or what?” fools nobody. Goes To Eleven hands over the programmes, which include a rather splendid article on page 61 that make the programme worth every penny of the fiver I haven’t paid. I elect to put them in the boot of the car rather than carry them around all afternoon, though I keep one on me in case autograph hunters recognise the author of the article on page 61 and want me to sign anything. This decision has the added benefit of meaning that I miss the ritual playing of “Build Me Up Buttercup” – the musical equivalent of the marathon running comedy ostriches.
We are joined by the lovely Margot and Paul who are fortunate to arrive just as we are getting served – we’ve been there an hour and haven’t yet managed to get served in a pub that seems to have been taken by surprise that anyone booking their function room might want to actually have a beer at the same time. Romford has a new phone. He can’t get it to work so, as usual, I end up clearing out the message box for him.
I chat with the Marlon Harewood Fan Club, none of whom ask for my autograph despite the splendid article on page 61. I expect they just haven’t got around to reading it yet.
The Marlon Harewood Fan Club – Be Very Afraid…..
Romford appears upset about something. It appears (and pay attention this gets complicated) that he thought he had two tickets and gave one to the chap known as 3times. It turns out that he only had one ticket all the time so he had to ask 3times for the original ticket back. Romford is therefore genuinely upset that he has a ticket. Or, more accurately, he is upset that his mate hasn’t got one. 3times for his part takes it all in good humour.
Romford, the lovely Superfreak and I get the world’s most expensive cab to the ground. We agree to meet up after the match by a burger van outside the ground where Romford cheers himself up by calming down a disagreement between a couple of supporters over who was first in the queue for some salmonella in a bap.
Milling around the area under the stand I remember that I haven’t eaten, having, having arrived too late to take advantage of the grub provided at the Bartons. I therefore purchase a lightly baked armadillo containing some unidentifiable brown stuff heated to temperatures only encountered on the surface of the sun (or “Pastie” as it is described on the menu).
I then bump into website boss Up The Junction who, a mere nine months late, presents me with the legendary long lost kumb.com pin badge. No doubt there’ll be a new design along soon and I’ll look sooooooo passé wearing it. I casually mention the splendid article on page 61 of the official programme and UtJ appears impressed – though this is more due to the fact that the website gets a plug.
I then bump into fellow media tart Skerrit who informs me that he spent the night in the same hotel as referee Mike Riley. Skerrit tells me that he told Riley at breakfast that he wanted “none of his usual rubbish” during the match. We chat about our media careers and I casually mention the splendid article on page 61 of the official programme. Skerrit pretends not to be impressed but I note he doesn’t have to pretend too hard.
The teams take the field. The announcer plays “Bubbles” which is sung with vigour. Boro don’t have a traditional song as such, though in recent years they have adopted the habit of playing Perfecto Allstars’ “Reach Up” (a 90’s reworking by “superstar DJ” Paul Oakenfold of Pigbag’s 80’s hit “Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag” music fans). Being an unsophisticated lot the Boro’ fans don’t like their afternoons to be burdened by anything as complicated as lyrics. “Dur dur dur dur, dur dur dur dur” they sing. I notice a fair few Hammers joining in as well in an exercise known as “taking the p*ss”.
The minute’s silence for John Lyall turns into a chant of “Johnny Lyall’s claret and blue army”. Whilst I acknowledge the sentiment behind the chant I think, on balance, I’d have preferred the silence but that’s just a personal view. Either way ref Riley misses the point completely and blows his whistle after barely 20 seconds, thus proving that he hadn’t listened to a word that Skerrit had been saying over the Weetabix earlier in the morning.
The match starts. There are a lot of spaces in the Boro’ section of the ground. Rumours of 3,000 unsold tickets appear to be about right though you wouldn’t have noticed it much if you’d been watching on the box as the bulk of the absentees seemed to be in the upper tier of the stand occupied by the tv cameras.
“There’s someone sitting there mate”
The game itself is, well, dire really. Boro’s 3-5-2 seems to confuse us a bit and, though they never really look like scoring. Shaka gets caught alarmingly in no man’s land though Yakubu makes a mess of things and his eventual cross is headed at Collins by our old mate “Bambi” Hasselbaink when he probably had time to fashion a shot.
Shaka then takes two goes to gather a Rochemback shot from the edge of the box. Matty then loses possession but Downing’s shot is blocked and easily saved low by Shaka. NRC picks up an early but deserved yellow for a lunge on Downing. The resulting free-kick is awful – hit straight against the wall.
Reo-Coker is then brought down on the break and is justifiably upset that Boateng escapes the same punishment that NRC had been given. Instead Riley decides that NRC needs a speaking to. Skerrit, if you’re reading this please don’t talk to referees again at breakfast – it just makes them worse.
We hit the bar from a corner though Riley has imagined some non-existent offence and blows for a free kick, something he repeats when Hasselbaink throws himself to the floor a few minutes later. Hilariously Riley makes himself look even dafter than normal by pacing out the ten yards only to discover that the wall was back far enough anyway. Just to add to the comedy, Hasselbaink stays on his feet long enough to hit the ball straight at the wall.
The major talking point of a disappointing first half comes on 36 minutes. Ashton goes up for a high ball with Schwarzer in the Boro’ goal. It’s an innocuous challenge – indeed probably identical to many that Quedrue went into on Ashton over the afternoon. Unfortunately for the Boro’ ‘keeper the impact comes at an angle awkward enough to give him a suspected fractured cheekbone and, after lengthy treatment it is decided that Jones the sub will be required. Another Boro’ injury means 5 minutes of added time which passes fairly uneventfully.
Boro’ start the second half brightly but Rochemback makes a complete pig’s ear of a promising position. Rochemback then sticks his arm into NRC’s face a couple of times to pick up a yellow. Though nothing comes the free kick it marks the start of a decent spell of pressure from us for the first time in the match, much of it from the left hand side, though the final ball is still tantalisingly missing.
Harewood wins a ball in the air but his effort from distance goes high and wide. Ashton hits the bar from Yossi’s corner. Matty shoots low but without conviction from another Yossi short corner. A Mullins effort from distance deflects for another corner from which Ashton’s header is dealt with comfortably by the sub ‘keeper. It is clear that we’ve upped the tempo and NRC’s effort from distance is only a yard wide. Suspiciously, Boateng gains his side a breather by picking up another “injury”.
Fortified by the rest Boro’ come back into the game and Hasselbaink gains another free-kick by falling backwards into Gabbidon. Downing’s effort is the worst free-kick so far of an increasingly poor bunch. Ashton then chests down a cross and is just beaten to the loose ball by Jones. It’s a free-kick but cynically Quedrue gets Ashton booked by his hysterical reaction . Tellingly the keeper had no problem with the challenge and Riley opts to ignore “French Frank’s” somewhat John Inman-esque pushes into the chest of any Hammer within mincing distance. Poor refereeing again, especially in view of Yakubu’s wild unpunished lunge at Yossi 30 seconds later.
Shaka makes a comfortable save from distance and I start to think about the possibility of extra time and the wisdom of going for a blood pressure test later in the week. I talk to Irritating Bloke. He suggests that Bobby ought to replace Marlon who appears to be getting little change at the moment. I disagree and I point out he’s causing all sorts of problems for Boro’ and, furthermore, I suggest that he’s still capable of turning the game. Just for once in my life I am marvellously, gloriously, magnificently right.
A long ball from the back is headed down by Ashton into the path of Harewood who takes one touch before blasting his shot past Jones. It’s mayhem. Grown men are hugging each other. Pardew does a strange dance which suggests he might want to invest in a tube of “Preparation H”. Harewood takes his shirt off. Thankfully FIFA are aware of this major problem in world football and have decreed that to do so is a cautionable offence. Riley doesn’t disappoint but at least has the good grace to look embarrassed by having to show the yellow. Me? I mentally thank Sepp Blatter who, my lawyers tell me, is in no way corrupt, for having the bravery and courage to tackle this evil that purveys the game though I’m sure the Marlon Harewood Fan Club might disagree with me.
At this point we realise that, with no stadium clock, none of us know how long is left. After some debate we decide it’s about 15 minutes to go. With 7 left the team sits back. Hasselbaink is upended by Ginge just outside the box. Riley gets it right for once and Ginge is yellowed (if you see what I mean). Quedrue hits the free-kick well for once but Shaka saves well. Zamora replaces Deano and Marlon drops back. Matty’s cross gets tipped over but nothing comes of the corner.
A nod back finds Yakubu who gives it an air shot and Maccarone shoots over. 10k replaces Matty again. Pinball is played with a long throw and Hasselbaink makes the most of minimal contact to win another free kick. Downing’s effort is marvellously, gloriously and comprehensively awful. Riley adds 5 minutes. Watches stop and even go backwards. Especially Riley’s.
Boro’ start giving the ball away. Yossi’s promising run ends with a shot from NRC that goes harmlessly wide. With a minute left the ball finds his way through to Riggott in acres of space on the six yard box. He screws his shot marvellously, gloriously and comprehensively wide. Riley blows shortly after and we are there. Grown men have tears in their eyes. Pardew shoots off down the tunnel, presumably in search of some Preparation H. Marlon does that silly dance and, though it’s far from being my favourite song (only a few places up from “Build Me Up Buttercup” if truth be told) the Status Quo cover version of “Rocking All Over The World” is sung with gusto, though I draw the line at “Hi Ho Silver Lining”.
Having hugged everyone within 100 yards at least once (twice if they’re female) and dried up the eyes which are still suffering from my getting shampoo in them twelve hours previously (that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it) I retire to the salmonella bar where I am joined by the lovely Superfreak. We finally discover that Romford has legged it back to the Bartons without waiting – though attempts to discover his whereabouts by phoning him fail due to the fact that I’m not stood next to him to answer it for him. Eventually someone phones someone who happens to be next to him and we locate the big fellah.
After the match Rio and Atters could hardly contain their emotions
Though I could quite easily murder twelve or so pints Atters decides to make a quick exit and we head off home. I nod off with contented dreams of Cardiff and surprise the lovely girlfriend by arriving back home really sober.
Thanks to all the guys and gals who made the day possible, especially Atters’ Dad for the loan of the motor and Atters for all the driving.
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Some uncertain handling early on. Kicking not at its best but saved well when Boro’ finally got a free-kick on target.
They targeted him in the absence of much protection from Yossi but he coped quite well.
Good and solid defensively. Got into some promising positions going forward but the final ball was lacking.
Another good battling performance. Stuck close to his man and restricted Boro’ to efforts from distance.
Most improved Hammer anyone? Hasselbaink & co got little change out of Ginge.
Defended the space in front of the back four with his usual diligence.
Battled gamely throughout. Came close to scoring.
Came into the game a lot more in the second half after a patchy opening 45.
A few good runs formed part of an “in and out” game for Matty.
Caused constant problems for the Boro’ defence. Magnificent finish for the goal.
A constant thorn in the side of the Boro’ defence. Great set up header for the goal.
(Replaced Ashton, 85) Some intelligent running as the clock went down.
(Replaced Etherington, 89) Spent injury time getting behind the ball.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Man of the Match: Marlon Harewood.
West Ham United
Shaka Hislop, Anton Ferdinand, Paul Konchesky, Danny Gabbidon, James Collins, Hayden Mullins, Nigel Reo-Coker, Yossi Benayoun, Matthew Etherington, Marlon Harewood, Dean Ashton.
Goals: Marlon Harewood 78 .
Booked: Nigel Reo-Coker 19 Dean Ashton 68 Marlon Harewood 80 James Collins 83 .
Sent Off: None. .
Schwarzer, Parnaby, Queudrue, Riggott, Southgate, Taylor, George Boateng, Downing, Rochemback, Yakubu, Hasselbaink.
Substitutes: Jones (Schwarzer 42), Parlour (Rochemback 75), Maccarone (Taylor 80).
Subs not used: Ehiogu, Bates.
Booked: Rochemback (47), Maccarone (82).
Sent Off: None.