The queue in Ken’s Café is stretching way out into Green Street. Clearly after a Christmas of excess West Ham fans are detoxing with some healthy eating. There’s a full crew present, Big Joe, Big Tone, Big Phill, Tiny Tim, Michelle, Little Jo, Mike, Matt, Nigel (finally back from his dinner party), Carolyn and Lisa, who delays our exit by ordering special chips lightly drizzled with cheese served by a Christmas Carol.
Davenport is dropped, rather unfairly, for Collins, while Neill and Noble are injured and Bellamy suspended. And worryingly Zola has once again proved himself a Boa selector.
Was the Portsmouth Boxing Day win an aberration? It seems so when the unmarked Faye heads in from a corner after four minutes. “Why Why Delilah?” sing the noisy Potters fans followed by “You’ve only got one song!” and “Where’s your money gone?” They make throw-in gestures whenever Delap fires one of his missiles, but generally Collins and Upson cope with them.
At least we create a procession of chances. Collison breaks down the left wing and crosses for Cole to stab wide when he should probably have scored.
Griffin nearly heads into his own net from Behrami's centre, Upson heads wide and Boa Morte who is having a fine game for once, plays a great ball in to Ilunga who crosses into the box only for the ball to be scrambled away. Di Michele produces a great piece of Di-Canio-esque ball-juggling to cross for Cole to head wastefully way over the bar. And that’s after Zola has worked with him all week on his finishing. Before that his headers must have been going over the stand.
At half-time we wonder if Freddie should come on. “He’ll run around a lot because of all the chocolates he’s eaten around the Christmas tree,” suggests Lisa.
Finally we score. Carlton Cole is blocked by Andy Griffin but turns away from the prone Potter and fire a fine shot into the corner. “Always believe in Carlton Cole!” declares Matt. Then as Stoke prepare to kick off there’s a hilarious altercation. Fuller slaps Griffin and is red-carded. More a case of ‘Why Why Why Ricardo?’
“That must make Dyer and Bowyer feel quite nostalgic,” I suggest.
“Down with the Tottenham! You’re going down with the Tottenham!” chant the Bobby Moore Stand.
Cole has now scored in two successive games and it’s an important moment for him, since he’s never scored five league goals in a season before. He’s kept going despite missing two first-half chances.
Predictably enough we struggle against a side trying to beat itself. Boa Morte has a shot cleared off the line and Cole fires in a couple of confident looking shots against a team of slappers. But every cross seems to come from Faubert who fires then in the general direction of the Channel.
But then on 88 minutes Cole turns and shoots in the box, the ball deflects of substitute Diego Tristan and into the net. Even we survive four minutes of injury time against ten men. Six points over Christmas! Although obviously they we may yet need to get to 40 points before selling the entire side on January 30.
We’re tenth. The fans are so ecstatic that the Black Lion in Plaistow is too full to enter. So we travel home on the tube wondering if we can still catch Aston Villa.
And it came to pass that the Men of Iron waged war against the Arsenal Donkey in the Mouth of Ports. And a great multitude had gathered upon the park at Fratton to witness the works of the Men of Iron.
And the mother of St Matthew prayed for the Men of Iron. The Lord heard her prayer and gave strength to King Zola when the Crowing Cockerel offered thirty pieces of silver for Bellers.
But the first blow was struck by the Donkey’s man Beladj and the multitude asked ‘Oh Lord, why hast thou forsaken us?’
The Lord heard their words and respondeth: ‘O ye of little faith, he that is last will later be first. Believe in the work of Zola and thy hopes will live eternally.’
And the word of the Lord was true. Jack the son of Colin smote the ball into the net of Men of Ports and verily there was much rejoicing.
But the sons of the claret and blue were still to be tested when the sinner in black decreed a penalty to the Mouth of Ports. And it came to pass that Judas was to strike the ball towards the holy goal. But the Lord filled the heart of Judas with fear of Robert the keeper of the net. And Judas struck the ball wide and the multitude maketh much amusement of the sinner’s shame.
And then the Lord said, ‘Verily I will restore sight to Carlton in front of the net’. And it came to pass that Jack the Son of Colin smote the ball against the post of the Men of Mouth of Ports. And Carlton struck the ball into an empty net and the multitude were astonished and declared ‘Lord almighty, it is a miracle’.
And the Lord infused Bellers with a spirit of fire and he smote the Men of Ports twice more and the Donkey was downcast.
The multitude were amazed and beckoned to their partners to join the hokey cokey. And the Lord looked upon his work and saw that it was good.
And when the wise men of the blog cometh home he calleth together his friends and neighbours saying unto them rejoice with me and have a right old cockney knees-up. It is meet that we should make merry and be glad.
The 5.30 kick-off leaves time for a visit to both the Newham Bookshop and Ken’s Café, where both Phill Jupitus and Hattie Haydridge from Red Dwarf are sitting in the green room, supping tea among the brown sauce bottles. At the counter the missus phones just as Carol is demanding to know my order and for a moment there’s a terrible dilemma as to who should take precedence.
Meanwhile Matt and Lisa announce, “Nigel is at a dinner party in Isleworth, although it’s not the sort of thing he’d like to see ridiculed in a blog”. And this after missing the Spurs game to be in a spa hotel.
The first half is a cracking match. Bellamy has rediscovered his pace and races clear early on to force a good save from Friedel. Davenport heads over from a corner. “That’s why you’re going down!” sing the Brummie contingent.
Agbonlahor then skins Neill to set up Sidwell for a chance he scuffs under pressure from Upson. Then Scott Parker makes a terrible back pass and Young bends the ball round Green and Davenport on the line to hit the post. Then Barry claims Neill gas held him back in the box.
But against one of the current big four we come back strongly. Bellamy makes a fine break and almost finds Cole in the areas, only for Carlton to fall over. Neill plays Bellers in down the line and he accelerates to pit in a low cross which Davies hits towards his own goal only for Friedel to make another fine save.
Behrami tests Friedel with a fizzing 30-yard shot (who doesn’t he do it more often?) and then Green makes a splendid double stop from Milner and Barry just before half-time. Matt texts Nigel to ask how the prawn cocktails are going down at Abigail’s Party. He texts back, claiming to be in a pub that is being smashed up by the Kew Garden Hammers.
In the East Stand we’re happy with the performance and discuss our options. Why isn’t Freddie Sears on the bench, we wonder?
“He’s a bit over-excited before Christmas,” suggests Fraser. “Yes, he was very disappointed with the Wolverhampton Lapland. He’s not in the right metal condition for the game,” adds Matt.
As for finances, we have that sussed. “Just give all the money to Etherington, only don’t let him place the best himself. As he’s not very good at winning.”
As for Carlton Cole’s new five-year contract: “It feels like a life sentence,” suggests Lisa. “With no chance of parole,” I add.
The second half sees 25 minutes of sustained WHU pressure. Neill, by now having a fine match, crosses for Cole to head a glorious chance over. Even Match of the Day calls it “a very bad miss”.
Matt is losing patience with our build up as Bowyer, able to shoot, tries to play in someone else. “Too f***ing intricate! Just f***ing shoot!” he bellows.
Then Bellamy wriggles down the left and plays the ball in to Cole who this time does well to poke the ball towards Friedel, who this time saves with his legs. We have several corners followed by headers wide of their goal. Nigel Reo Coker comes on to choruses of “F*** off Reo-Coker!” from the Bobby Moore Stand. It looks like we’re never going to score. But even a point would be good against Villa.
Only then Collison plays the ball behind sub Bowyer on the edge of Villa’s box and they break swiftly. Milner, on the edge of our area crosses, it deflects off Lucas Neill’s knee and lopes freakishly into our top corner of our net. Sod it. It’s probably been our best performance of the season.
There’s still time for a free kick to fall to Davenport in the box, only he fires the bal too high at Friedel, who makes another good save, A Michael Owen would have kept it low in the corner.
Despite four minutes of added time we slump to another undeserved home defeat. Unlike Nigel, now no doubt on the brandy and discussing rugger in Isleworth, we didn’t get our just desserts.
Returning from our wedding anniversary trip to Winchester, it seems helpful to offer to take the bags home while Nicola picks up the kids. I just happen to be back by 4pm and there’s Chelsea v West Ham live on Sky in the Auld Triangle.
Interesting midfield selection from Zola. Faubert has been dropped after the Spurs debacle, Behrami is on the left and Collison and Noble return alongside Parker. I sit alone in the lounge bar with a pint of Guinness and a packet of Tayto crisps, anticipating a drubbing.
Davenport is in for the injured Collins. “We score four whenever ‘head on a stick’ plays,” I text to Matt and Nigel, remembering his role in the drubbing of Blackburn.
Zola receives the expected ovation from the Chelski fans. Lampard and Cole combine for Joey to go close, but Chelsea aren’t creating chances. After 25 minutes it’s looking optimistic and remember even Newcastle drew at the Bridge. Parker is winning every tackle and Collison looks energetic and neat. Behrami is everywhere on the left and Noble has improved our midfield workrate.
No-one’s made a save yet. Then on 33 minutes Noble chases a throw-in, charges the ball down and goes past Terry, who is claiming for hands even though Nobes used his shoulder. Noble plays the ball back to Bellamy who controls it on his chest and fires a great half-volley into the corner. Goal! I leap up with my arms in the air before realising I’m on my own. Still, it’s just what we and Bellers’ need.
Drogba comes on in the second half, which is ominous. Sure enough Lampard and Drogba play a neat interchange and play in the spinning Anelka, who pokes the ball through Green’s legs. 1-1 after 53 minutes.
We immediately attack and after Bellamy’s cross from the goal line, Carlton Cole takes an air shot when surely he should have made it 2-1. We’re giving this a real go. That’s better. Carlton turns on the edge of the box and sends a shot fizzing wide.
Chelsea come back. Ilunga makes a great tackle to deny Joe Cole. Lampard has a tame shot saved. Green makes a sharp save to beat away Drogba’s volley. Kalou volleys over. Upson and Davenport are immense at the back and Parker is still chasing everything.
Kerry and Mark from Islington’s Green Living Centre arrive unexpectedly in the pub. Basildon has just been announced to be the least green place in Britain according to a survey in the Observer, and I confirm their view about Essex men. “Yes, local collective food, communal gardening co-ops, erm, no not there! God we’re never going to hold out!”
My pal Nick, listening on the radio, sends me a text: “West Ham will not be able to defend like this for another half-hour — BBC”. Cheers, mate. Green then makes a mistake; he palms Lampard's corner towards his own goal, but the tireless Parker is on the goal-line to head it up on to the bar and away. The ball is instantly returned, but this time Green makes a fantastic flying stop from Alex’s header. You can hear ‘Bubbles’ on the tele.
There’s still time for a Lampard penalty claim. Neill sticks a leg out and withdraws it, with Big Fat Frank going over. Thankfully ref Mike Riley ignores him.
There’s bloody five minutes of Ferguson time. But then in the 92nd minute Behrami breaks confidently, plays the ball into Carlton Cole who’s clean through to win the game only, aaargh, he’s shot tamely at Cech. “Not up to it,” texts Nigel and you have to agree. Cole works tremendously hard, but he’s a Championship striker, at this level he gets three or four a season which isn’t good enough. We need Ashton back.
The whistle blows. “Phew” texts Nigel. It’s a great point and we could have won. What’s encouraging after the Spurs game is that Zola has won the tactics game. We’ve played a deep back four, denying Anelka any running space, and kept a bank of four across the midfield. The whole side has played well. Maybe our season turns here.
Two cars are overturned in separate accidents, one possibly fatal, near the Bow flyover on the way to Upton Park. DC is driving, picking up Alastair and myself. He’s left it late and now we’re marooned in tailbacks.
We arrive at 7.55 and jog from Plashett Road to the stadium. Alastair is moving quicker than Dean Ashton, but DC stops for some chips, and then moves on to Ken’s Café where his mate hasn’t turned up to collect a spare ticket. The night hasn’t started well.
I’m in my seat with only one and a half minutes gone, but Tottenham have already missed a good chance by then. Harry has received a mixed reception. Part-timer Nigel is missing, inexplicably spending his birthday with his his wife in a spa hotel in Dorset rather than E13. Oh, and we have a new sponsor, a betting company called SBO-BET.com. Just the thing for Matty Etherington.
"They get most of the players wages already," suggests Fraser.
We play some pretty passing football in the first half but never look anywhere near scoring. A Bellamy shot well wide is our best effort. Spurs go closest when Lennon crosses and Pavlyuchenko fires against a post.
“Faubert would have put that it in,” quips Matt.
In the second half we start to drop off even more. Modric looks dangerous in the hole and Lennon’s pace is troubling Ilunga. The crowd do their best with a rousing “Claret and blue army”. But Spurs threaten even more and lok a good passing side under Redknapp. Then King rises above two defenders to nod Lennon’s cross down into the ground and up over Green. Bloody Tottenham. “One-nil in your cup final!” chant the away fans.
You can’t see us scoring. Zola brings on Noble and Di Michele. Carlton Cole is having one of those games where his headers go everywhere but to a man.
“It’s like watching Dowie and his threepenny bit head again,” I groan.
We have a good penalty shout for handball, but it’s ignored. We need a little bit of route one, anything to test the dodgy Gomez. We look like a side that’s totally shot. Football purity is one thing, but Curbishley could gather points.
Matt ups the swearing quotient in a desperate bid for an equaliser. “Di Michele is having a mare. He’s wearing the wrong ****ing boots! What's the point in bringing on Tristan for eight minutes? He's got no idea!"”
Then in the 88th minute Gomez of all people makes a superb double save from Neill and Di Michele. Spurs go straight down the other end and score through a long distance effort from O’Hara. Game over.We've scored three goals in nine games.
On the way home in DC’s car, with Alastair and Jo, DC is tirading from his driver’s seat: “Where is the creative player who can change the game for us? You name a top ten side and they have one. We don’t.” He’ll be phoning up Talk Sport next.
We start to talk about our injured players. Ashton, Dyer, Gabbidon, et al. “It’s like the old print industry. There’ll be players on our books that everyone will have forgotten about, signing on as Mickey Mouse,” says Jo. I imagine someone opening a cupboard and finding Danny Gabbidon or Luis Boa Morte still there in 30 years time. Their sons will probably be guaranteed a job on our treatment table too.
It’s been a bad evening, ending with more jams in Dalston. And West Ham too appear to be gridlocked.
Herita Illunga has not said that West ham is a second rate club, he said "second tier" but his French was mistranslated, so we still love him. As his splendid blog (http://heritailunga.blogspot.com/), apparently written by his missus, put it:
"Is it possible to doubt of Herita happiness in West Ham…"
"The interview of Herita for football365.fr (French website) aroused strong passions !!!!! Herita received a lot of reactions from fans. Two of them took the article in the wrong way."
"It seems that there is a little confusion between what is written and what should be understood. If you go through the article you will understand that Herita is really happy to be in West Ham and that he WISH TO SIGN HERE as a permanent. As he also said in the interview West Ham is a big club with real history, fans and values. And that is what he repeats constantly since he arrived in this fantastic club."
“I’ll be watching on Setanta thinking of you as we go 0-4 down at half-time,” I tell Big Joe who’s travelling to Anfield in the hope of seeing us get our first win there since 1963, back in the days when the Beatles were a support act.
Matt, Nigel and Fraser are watching the gamer in our lucky Covent Garden pub. I’m booked to play for my pub quiz team, so plan to watch the first half at home and then, secure in the knowledge we’re losing, head off to the pub.
It’s the normal one-way traffic at Anfield. Hypia goes close with a couple of headers but Liverpool look strangely pedestrian, unable to get to the byline and cross the ball into the danger areas. Neill looks steady and Upson and Collins are continuing their fine form of late. Then, just before half time, incredibly, Craig Bellamy races unopposed down the left and fizzes a 30-yard shot on to the inside of the post. Sod it. This being West Ham we might win and I won’t be watching.
I head for the Faltering Fullback, not named after a West Ham defender, as far as I know. At least the game is on in one bar, but we’re at a table in the TV-less middle bar. So in between identifying song lyrics and the first World Cup Final to be decided on penalties as well as who plays at Blundell Park, I’m rushing into the other bar every time here’s a big "Oooh!". Green has just made a fantastic save from Benayoun.
Then, stunningly, Carlton Cole puts a header from a corner just wide. Quite a few Hammers fans are in the bar upping the noise quotient. The ref gives two dodgy offsides against Carlton when he’s through. We surely can’t win this, can we? Then there’s the biggest groan of the evening as Boa Morte is played in and fires widely wide... He’s only been on the pitch for two minutes.
We come fourth in the quiz, just outside the money, so our dreams of going professional will have to wait. And then comes the text from Big Joe: “If only the dead snake could shoot straight.” Three clean sheets in a row, where once our defence looked as dodgy as Roy Keane’s beard. We’ve held the new league leaders. In fact we gave them one hell of a 0-0 beating. Time for another pint of London Pride. Top four here we come.