Monday, 3rd May 2010
This year's trip down and up the Thames was organised by our very own Romford who arrived with the good ship MV Valulla at Westminster Pier at the appointed time. I have to say that, at first glance, a brief look at the boat and a brief look at the number of people waiting on the pier suggested that the sailor to ship equation looked as if it could be a bit top heavy. I believe Admiral Romford had the same worry at first. However, as the pier emptied and the boat filled up, it became clear that, whilst it would be a bit busy, there would at least be room to swing a cat. If only one of us had thought to bring one.
The initial arrival prompted a mass attack on the bar which for those who enjoy a tot or two of grog at 10am was a bit worrying. However, the initial rush soon thinned out and the remainder of the trip found bar service easier than in most land-based hostelries I can think of. We got the ritual playing of Build Me Up Buttercup out of the way early on. It's not big, it's not clever and anyone who likes that particular song is officially stupid. A quiet word with the DJ whereby it was suggested that his next drink would be a gallon of Thames water promptly ruled out any repeat of the error.
Things took on a surreal turn very early on. Embarking on a circular route which involved heading downstream to start off with, as we passed St Paul's I spotted a nun. Then another. Then a dozen more. Hundreds of them. Running. Now either the bottle of Old Speckled Hen that I'd been given had gone into some form of secondary fermentation process thus doubling the alcohol content causing flashbacks of my being taught by Sister Assumpta back at St Thomas' in Grays all those years ago, or there really were a load of nuns on the run. Thankfully the rest of the crew had spotted the hurrying habits, though I'm not entirely sure the chants of get yer tits out for the lads and similar were entirely tasteful.
The music wasn't too bad even the hard of thinking had five minutes of garage to listen to before retiring downstairs to listen to the boat's engine. As the trip wore on and the beers slipped down, the sights to be seen got more and more weird. Admiral Romford amazed everyone by managing to carry two bottles of Magners, a bottle of Speckled Hen and three pints of lager back from the bar. However, on arrival with the drinks it became apparent that the Admiral had lightened his burden somewhat by tipping most of it down his front.
The four hours we were on the boat passed remarkably quickly and, aided by the well-known time-dilation effects of Speckled Hen, we arrived at Putney Bridge at what I was reliably informed was 2pm. I have to say that it was really nice of the Met to meet us as we disembarked, though the bloke in the van did seem slightly confused at my request for two choc-ices and a 99.
A brisk walk across the park later and we arrived at the ground. Team news was that it was much as you were really: Green, Faubert, Spector, Da Costa, Upson, Noble, Parker, Kovac, Behrami, Ilan, Cole.
You will appreciate that, the trade-off for the unorthodox mode of travel to this fixture is always going to be a reduction in the accuracy of the match reporting. Well you try breakfasting on Old Speckled Hen (Mrs Wreford, if you're reading this that's not a suggestion!). What I do remember of the first half is that it was a drab affair. We probably had more of the possession and both Noble and, bizarrely, Da Costa, pulled good saves out of Schwarzer, whilst Fulham's best chance came from a Dempsey effort that hit the top of the bar. The most amazing thing about the whole affair was how quiet the home support was. I mean, you've just made the first European final of your lives, against all odds, you'd think you'd be in some sort of celebratory mode wouldn't you? Amazingly there were dozens of empty seats and the full ones were about as noisy. A poor 45 minutes of football came to an end with the home side taking what was, in all honesty, an undeserved lead. Faubert lost Dempsey who cut inside and beat Green low down to the right. There was barely time to restart.
The home support did manage to raise a cheer during the interval though. Sadly it came with the news from Diddy David that Chelsea had beaten (or were beating) Liverpool. It must be nice to have two teams to support.
So to the second half. Well it had everything, stamina, passion and a never say die spirit all to rarely seen thse days. Sadly all that came from the 3,000 or so travelling supporters who, shortly after the commencement of hostilities on the pitch, started the Claret & Blue Army chant. This just seemed to get louder and louder without respite. On the pitch things weren't going too well. A shot that was destined for a throw-in went in off Cole to double Fulham's lead, not that you'd have noticed if you'd been outside listening.
Shortly after there were a couple of substitutions. Ilan and Faubert departed for Franco and Diamanti. The substitutions came as we had won a free kick on our left. Noble eventually took it and curled a ball into the box and Cole's angled run enabled him to glance home to reduce the deficit and increase the decibels in the away end.
It was difficult to concentrate on the game to be honest the combination of having stood for four hours on the boat plus the cold and damp weather was taking its toll on the dodgy knee and ankle that are the legacy of nearly 30 years of knocking about the nether regions of the Southern Amateur League. The combination of Speckled Hen and Spitfire was having a similar effect on the head. Then there was the dinghy. During the duller moments of this match and there were more than enough of these to go round those of us further backup the stand were continually distracted by the passage of a number of small yachting vessels crewed by people who actually enjoy being cold and wet. For fun. One of these provided the highlight of the afternoon by capsizing in precisely the area of the Thames between the stands viewable to the away support. This calamity plus the repeated unsuccessful attempts of the unfortunate Pugwash to right the upturned vessel caused much hilarity and the Claret & Blue Army chant was temporarily suspended for long enough to be replaced by a chant of going down, going down, going down. Still it could have been worse for not-quite-a-yachtman. Imagine the chants had he gone through the whole thing dressed as a nun.
On the pitch it was time for our own upturned dinghy moment. Jonathan Spector played the role of Uncle Albert as he first dithered then gave the ball away on the left hand side. Nevland played the ball across the box to give Okaka the easiest tap-in he'll probably ever have. Any celebrations by the home support were drowned out by the increased volume from the away end who,by now, were well into gallows humour territory. This was underlined by the brief change in chant to were gonna win 4-3.
There was still time for us to pull one back. A well-worked move saw Parker gain some space on the right. Parker pulled the ball back for Franco to sweep home from about 12 yards. The goal came in the 90th minute but there was barely enough time for the restart. The crowd departed to well- deserved applause from the players shame it wasn't the other way round really.
An invitation for a post-match pint that had seemed like such a good idea two hours previously now, in the light of sub-arctic temperatures and a head, knee and ankle all in need of ice packs meant that a nice easy journey home in a warm car was called for much gratitude therefore to Able Seawoman Upton Girlie for the land-based transport home.
This was one of those days where a great day out was spoilt by the football. There have been far too many of those this season and I for one will be quite happy to see the back of this one if only to give me some recovery time until the start of next season.
Final hats off to Admiral Romford for organising the flotilla just sort out better weather for next time squire I really don't fancy adding hypothermia to my knee and ankle problems!
Man of the match
The bloke on the dinghy. By far and away the most entertaining thing on display over the 90 minutes.
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Given no chance with any of the goals.
Not one of his better days largely anonymous going forward and went missing for their first.
A shocker really. Awful error for their third. I have a horrible feeling that he's saving his next good game for the World Cup.
I have a vague memory of him putting a first half header over. There again most of my memories of this match are vague.
Manuel Da Costa
I have a vague memory of a shot in the first half. There again...
Not as dominant as of late. Good part in the second goal.
Busy, mostly to little end though he set up the first and was involved in the move for the second.
I'm hard pushed to remember anything he did and not merely because it had been a long day!
Lots of running. None of it, as far as I can recall, dressed as a nun.
Another whose contribution was minimal.
Rotten luck for the og. Good finish for the goal. Not much else.
(Replaced Ilan, 61 mins) Good finish for the second, if not much else.
(Replaced Faubert, 61 mins) Fell over a few times that was it.
(Replaced Behrami, 82 mins) If he was brought on to provide width he failed to do so. There again he only had nine minutes plus stoppage to make a mark.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Luis Boa Morte
Did not play.
Referee: Andre Marriner.
Man of the Match: Mark Noble.
West Ham United
Robert Green, Julien Faubert, Jonathan Spector, Matthew Upson, Manuel Da Costa, Scott Parker, Mark Noble, Radoslav Kovac, Valon Behrami, Ilan, Carlton Cole.
Goals: Carlton Cole 62 Guillermo Franco 90 .
Sent Off: None sent off .
Schwarzer, Pantsil, Baird, Smalling, Konchesky, Riise, Greening, Dikgacoi, Davies, Dempsey, Nevland.
Substitutes: Okaka (Davies 70), Elm (Dempsey 85).
Subs not used: Zuhberbuhler, Kelly, Shorey, Etuhu, Gera.
Goals: Dempsey (45), Cole og (58), Okaka (79).
Sent Off: None.