Saturday, 29th March 2008
I meet up with Romford and Gent and Burgy. As ever Romford and Gent are bickering like a couple who have been married for 40 years. Also as ever Romford has the front seat and, with it, control of the CD player. This means an endless succession of 80s tracks each untouched by guitars or any form of human percussion. Each track sounds like a poor man’s version of the previous one that wasn’t any good in the first place.
Tired after a week’s travelling to, from in and around Ireland, I fall asleep rather than listen to yet another Luther bloody Vandross track. I awake temporarily to let Gent know that a) 80’s cop show Juliet Bravo didn’t have a spin-off series b) that the programme he was thinking of was The Gentle Touch out of which came C.A.T.S. Eyes, and c) it would be a good idea to move over to the left hand lane if he wanted to join the M11.
A succession of roadworks and traffic jams puts us behind Romford’s schedule which optimistically had us arriving at Hartlepool at 3.00pm. We arrive at about 4.00pm, a mere 15 minutes after Romford’s phone call to Deano saying we were only “5 minutes away”. This is a Romford “5 minutes” which can mean anything between 10 minutes and two hours. Romford denies ever having been involved in the design of those signs that claim to tell you how long it is to the next tube train, but you can see where they got their ideas from.
On arrival at the Grand Hotel Hartlepool the reception CD player is playing “Moondance” by Van Morrison. We find Deano, Kath and a few others already at the bar. We are joined by a young lady with what my seafaring relatives would probably refer to as a “Spectacular Superstructure” who doesn’t hesitate to inform us that it’s her 20th birthday. The older lags amongst us recognise a blatant and unsubtle hint that she wants one of us to buy her a drink.
The younger ones, hypnotised by the area below her neck, buy her a drink anyway – though it’s possible that this is one of the leftovers from the weird electronic lucky dip system that gives you double rations if you’re lucky. Other prizes include a free round. If you’re unlucky you may end up paying full price or, worse still, “winning” a round of shots of some unidentified but nevertheless disgusting green liquid. We are unfortunate enough to win the shots and decide that in future we’d be willing to pay double to avoid them.
Joined by that fine fellow Taff, we walk into town all starving. Unusually for a group of five people we all agree instantly that a good hearty Italian meal is what we all need. On being told that there isn’t a table available for 90 minutes the group of five all instantly agree that a Thai was what we really meant and we end up in a Thai restaurant run, in true global village style, by Bulgarians. Duly fed, we return and Gent emerges from the shower bemoaning the fact that the thing seems to have two settings. Hot and thermonuclear. Strangely it works perfectly for me.
Dumping the room key at reception, where Van Morrison’s “Moondance” is playing, we start off on a bar-crawl. First port of call is a place called Bar 1. Not “All Bar One” note, just Bar 1. This is probably because that is the approximate number of people in the place. We stay for a couple before crossing the road to a place called Loons. As far as I’m concerned this is a lot more promising, it looks livelier and the sound of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” is pumping out from the sound system. Could it be that, after all these years of away trips, Romford is finally to lead us into a club that plays half-decent music?
Alas the arrival of the very next track – The Nolans’ “I’m In The Mood For Dancing” – puts paid to that (admittedly optimistic) hope. From then on it’s standard fare – imagine the worst wedding disco ever. One admittedly attractive woman comes over and dances near us. She is not as subtle as the woman in the hotel bar and simply instructs Romford to “buy me a drink”. Romford’s response is inaudible but obviously diplomatic as the woman instantly dances at one of the younger ones who, aided by her friend, she proceeds to take for copious amounts of alcohol before departing having allowed him to have got as far as a traveller from Terminal 5.
We move on, unfortunately just after the playing of Build Me Up B*ttercup. We move on to The Wonky Donkey, a bar containing three customers, all female and all just about to leave. Still at least we can say we went to a bar called the Wonkey Donkey:
The Wonkey Donkey
Unable to stand the excitement of the Wonkey Donkey once the three female customers had left we move on to the Nexus bar which, we were assured by the staff at the Wonkey Donkey was possibly “even livelier”. We walk in and find a bar with precisely zero customers. As ever we order a drink anyway and discover the place is actually heaving – in a downstairs area the other side of the bogs. There are some sights to be seen, some pleasant others less so. I think it’s fair to say that whatever problems this part of the world has had to deal with over the years, an epidemic of anorexia isn’t one of them.
Somewhere between the ground floor and basement we have lost Burgy. Burgy rings Romford blissfully unaware of the fact that, even if he knew how to answer this week’s new ‘phone, he probably wouldn’t bother. Of all the sights to be seen two stick in the mind. One is a woman who looks just like Garth out of Wayne’s World only drunk. The second is a horrific-looking woman who has clearly made her outfit out of some dyed-black lace curtains. One of our party describes this apparition as “stunning”. This comes as a major surprise to the rest of us for whom the brewery hasn’t been made that is big enough to provide beer goggles of sufficient power to promote this thing from “avoid at all costs” to merely “avoid”.
We return to the hotel bar having failed to find Burgy. Romford eventually answers the increasingly desperate calls from the dance floor to let the waif and stray know that we have returned to base. The final item of freakery is a woman sat opposite us in the hotel bar who is picking absent-mindedly at a lump of chewing gum on the sole of her shoe. Then eating it. I decide that this is one sight too many and retire early ish, picking up my room key from reception, where Van Morrison’s “Moondance” is on the CD player. I am hardly woken at all by the return to the room of Gent a couple of hours later.
The sun rises in the East. At 6am I realise that our room faces East and that I didn‘t draw the blackout curtain. Thus, on a weekend with one of the wettest weather forecasts ever, I am awoken by bright and glorious sunshine. A little later Gent wakes up and informs me that about this time on a Saturday his wife normally makes him a nice cup of tea. I recognise a blatant and unsubtle hint that my tea-making services are required and ignore it – pointing out that at this time of a Saturday morning my other half normally wakes me with a nice kiss and cuddle so we are both likely to be disappointed. Gent concedes the point and gets his own tea whilst I have a shower of perfect temperature.
We leave the room key at reception just as the CD player is switched on and the unmistakable sound of ”Moondance” by Van Morrison issues forth from the speakers. A brisk constitutional later we get the train to Hartlepool. I say “train”, it was more of the bus on train wheels that passes for a train in these parts. It not having occurred to the local train company that a few people might be travelling to and from either Hartlepool (who were at home to Swansea) or Sunderland on a matchday, the so-called train was jam-packed. It was with some relief therefore that we arrived at Sunderland.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: they’re a bit strange the Sunderland lot. You or I would normally go to a pub before a match, get yourself nicely settled and enjoy a beer or two. Not this lot. We meet up with Randle and his mates who, as happened the last time I was there, seemed to have some allergy to staying in the same pub for more than a pint. Which is fine if you happen to be going to places that are fairly empty. What seemed really stupid was to leave a perfectly good pub that was half empty to go to one that was rammed. We eventually found a bar/club that was identical to one next door only empty. We stayed there.
Romford finally found a bar he didn’t want to drink in
Of course the previously glorious sunshine that had woken me up had gone and had been replaced by cold, wet North-Eastern rain as we commence the 5 minute (Romford minutes – it was nearer 20 in real time) walk to the ground. Team news arrives and yet again injuries have hit. No Upson and no Sears. Sears appears to have caught the groin injury epidemic that seems to be spreading about the Chadwell Heath area in the same way as anorexia hasn’t in Hartlepool. We line-up thus: Green, Neill, McCartney, Ferdinand, Spector, Ljungberg, Noble, Mullins, Parker, Ashton, Cole.
We start brightly enough and with about ten on the clock Cole wins the ball in midfield and feeds Parker who finds Ashton on the left-hand side of the box. Ashton opens up his bodyshape and hits a curving dipping shot that bothers the metalwork. A few minutes later we go one up, a Ljungberg shot taking a deflection after a Cole pass sets the Swede up. The opposition haven’t got much in the way of tactics and Spector and Ferdinand seem to be coping ok with the aerial threat of Jones. So it’s a surprise that Jones scores with his feet from a couple of yards out. It looks offside but the linesman who has had a shocker all day is unlikely to give it even if it were 10 yards off. The lino is the bloke who gave the infamous “not across the line” goal up at Blackburn last season and he has spent most of the afternoon trying to make up for it, most often by awarding corners when goal kicks were actually due.
We still look the better side and the lead is nearly restored when Cole cuts in on the left and aims a curler at the top corner, Gordon pulls off a fine save and we go into the interval all square.
At half-time I get a phone call from Romford who informs me that he has a pint waiting for me on the concourse. Whilst normally this would be a most welcome state of affairs, I have one problem with this. The Stadium Of Light is home to a bizarre freak of physics. It is the only football ground in the world that is a good 20 degrees colder on the inside. Thus a pint of freezing cold lager is about as welcome as a box set of CDs containing nothing but remixes of Build Me Up B*ttercup. I elect to watch the second half from one of the spare seats near to Romford & Gent in front of a few rows of blue-tracksuited Japanese footballers who watch the match in stunned silence which may have all or nothing to do with Romford’s tactful comments on the subject of Pearl Harbour.
There is more injury news at the start of the second. Linda has picked up a knock and does not reappear. Neill moves over to replace him whilst Paintsil comes on on the right. The changes have had an adverse affect on the side and we defend deeper and deeper as the home side push forward in search of the winner that will ease their relegation hopes. Sunderland do, however, have one slight problem: they are not very good. Pass after pass goes astray or into touch. Sunderland do have an early chance when Collins’ effort from a corner is smuggled off the line by Neill but Green deals comfortably with the few efforts that are off target. Ashton is fouled in a dangerous position but hopes of a decent free-kick are dashed by the linesman’s flag, the lino having been unable to spot any of the three Sunderland defenders who were keeping the striker onside.
We were overdue an injury and with little more than an hour gone Cole limps off to be replaced by Solano. Solano is roundly booed by the home support, the presence of Scott Parker having somehow eluded their attention for the previous 60 minutes. Things improved slightly and we go a whole ten minutes without an injury. Paintsil is then laid out cold by a collision with Spector. Disgracefully, ref Marriner allows play to carry on for a while despite the standing orders given to referees on head injuries. We later hear that the Ghanaian is concussed. Tompkins comes on and Neill moves back to right back. To add injury to injury a Ljungberg run down the right comes to a premature end as he clutches the back of his thigh. It is obvious that this is a hamstring well and truly gone. Obvious that is to all but the home support who, in a display of mass football ignorance on a scale seldom seen outside Stamford Bridge, boo the Swede. They do not twig that this might just be a season-ending injury even when the stretcher appears and we go down to 10 for the closing period.
On 81 minutes they have a golden opportunity to win the match when a cross from the left is missed by the defence and Murphy sticks the ball over the bar when it must have been easier to score.
The 4th official holds up the board showing 5 minutes of stoppage time will be added and it is 4.48pm by the stadium clock as the timer clicks to 90 minutes. The clock shows 4.54pm as Ferdinand’s headed clearance falls to Reid who buries the volley. I’ve seen a number of different accounts of how long over the five minutes the goal was scored – most of those minute by minute report things you read list it as 90 minutes +6.20. Now I know that the five minutes figure shown is a minimum figure but to find another 1 minute 20 seconds is baffling, especially when no significant stoppage occurs in the 5 minutes already allotted. It seems likely that the ref has simply forgotten to look at his watch, a suspicion that is heightened as a further 20 seconds are played in an apparent effort by the ref to make it look as if it was planned all along. Either that or he was working on a “Romford” five minutes.
We adjourn to the local Deaf Club for a pint grateful that the drawn haggard and worried looking faces belong to the home support and not to us. Thankfully the ref’s error won’t affect us but one or two of Sunderland’s relegation rivals might be a bit put out by the result. We say goodbye to Burgy who is going home via Newcastle thus saving us the bother of losing him later that evening. Our journey home takes forever as our bus on tracks is delayed by a spot of bother on the London-bound Great Central service ahead of us.
When we finally get back to Hartlepool we decide against a big meal out on the grounds that one Bulgarian Thai is more than enough for any weekend, though personally I quite fancied a Bolivian Italian myself. I elect for a quiet evening myself. After a quick wash and brush-up and pausing only to pose for a photograph supposedly destined to appear in the local paper, we end up in Bar 1 which is a lot busier than it had been the previous couple of nights. Saturday seems to be Hen Party night in Hartlepool. We play Hen Party bingo, a game which I win by becoming the first to spot the standard trilogy of Policewomen, Bunny Girls and unconvincing schoolgirls.
Having ticked those off the list I stick to my plan of retiring earlyish and leave Romford, Gent and Taff to do the rounds. I manage to avoid most of predatory gangs of women that seem to have been let out for the evening. A couple of fright-sights at the bus-stop mumble something in that incomprehensible North East dialect that probably means that they want me to buy them a drink or twenty. Somehow I am able to resist this “offer” and I manage to run the gauntlet back to the hotel without further incident. I pick up my key from reception where Van Morrison’s “Moondance” is playing and fall asleep in front of the box.
My slumber is interrupted by the sound of Gent arriving back into the room. He has apparently been trying to get into the room for a good 30 minutes but the door entry system has left him baffled. Now when I say door entry system, we are not talking one of these hi-tech electronic credit card-type things, we are talking a key. It functions thus: you put the key in the door, turn it and the door opens. This simple task has baffled Gent, so much so that he has to get the receptionist, who patiently takes time out from listening to “Moondance” by Van Morrison to explain it to him. Armed with his new-found door-opening skills, Gent proceeds to open the door. And close it. And open it. And close it. For the next 30 minutes the door is opened and closed as Gent marvels at the simplicity of it all. Then the door closes but doesn’t re-open. Gent has returned to the bar to tell everyone of his new discovery. I decide that if he can’t work it out on his return that’s his problem.
After an hour less sleep than usual thanks to the clock-change we arise for breakfast. My shower is of perfect temperature. Gent has as much luck with the shower as he does with the door and emerges freezing. Gent doesn’t so much eat his breakfast as cut it up into little bits and re-arrange it on the plate. We check out at reception where Van Morrison’s “Moondance” is playing. I ask the receptionist whether she ever gets fed up with “Moondance” by Van Morrison. She replies that she’d never noticed it before. The song finishes and, like Gent trying a hotel bedroom door, it starts again.
We take a slight detour on the way home to visit the ship with the hanging monkey that, according to Romford, used to be berthed in the marina. It isn’t there anymore so we set off down the A19. The music is a lot better on the way home as I get the chance to use the new FM transmitter for the MP3 player and I while away the journey home by adjusting Romford’s mobile phone for BST. I set it up so that it will auto-correct when the clocks go back in the autumn, though the chance of Romford actually using this phone by then are virtually zero. Romford relates the best chat-up line from the previous night. A woman who had had a drink spilt down her front offered the following gem: “see that wet patch – you should see my mate’s”. Clearly my decision to have an early night was a wise one.
The journey back is uneventful and I even get to make amends to the nation of Japan for Romford’s earlier “Pearl Harbour” comments by directing a few tourists towards London Bridge. As ever this was a splendid weekend – bar the football. Thanks as usual to Romford for the organisation, Gent for all the driving, Taff and Burgy for the company, the Grand Hotel, and finally the people of Sunderland and Hartlepool for the beers and laughs.
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A fine game. Commanding in the air and safe on the ground. Some dodgy kicks though.
One decent goal-line clearance but not helped by his having to change position every few mins.
Was doing ok until the knock that saw him miss the second half.
Battled away in the air bit it was his 97th minute header that set up the winner. We need Upson back alongside him.
Again tried his best but still doesn’t look to be an automatic choice when all are fit.
Another one who worked very hard but occasionally let himself down with his distribution.
A lot of hard work, often undone by a tendency to unnecessarily turn back into trouble.
Caused a few problems in the first half before injury curtailed both his match and, probably, his season.
When he was on the ball he looked class. Unfortunately we didn’t give him enough of the ball.
One decent effort but didn’t look 100% fit throughout. Very harshly booked yet again – you do wonder why referees seem to target him.
Led the line well but was a virtual passenger towards the end as another knock took its toll.
(replaced McCartney, 46) Didn’t look too comfortable before having to go off with concussion.
(replaced Cole, 65) Some clever stuff in the few minutes after he came on but the rearguard action meant that he was bypassed for much of the second half.
(replaced Spector, 74) Did ok under the circumstances. Appeared to actually relish the defensive battle.
Did not play.
Luis Boa Morte
Did not play.
Man of the Match: Robert Green.
West Ham United
Robert Green, Lucas Neill, George McCartney, Anton Ferdinand, Jonathan Spector, Hayden Mullins, Scott Parker, Freddie Ljungberg, Mark Noble, Carlton Cole, Dean Ashton.
Goals: Freddie Ljungberg 18 .
Booked: Carlton Cole 24 .
Sent off: None.
Gordon, Bardsley, Evans, Whitehead, Nosworthy, Collins, Evans, Reid, Richardson, Chopra, Jones.
Substitutes: Edwards (Richardson 70), Leadbitter (Chopra 71), O'Donovan (Murphy 81).
Subs not used: Fulop, Yorke.
Goals: Jones (28), Reid (90+6).
Booked: Reid (32).
Sent Off: None sent off..