In Ken’s Café Jo, clearly enlivened by the earthy Whitstable air, is comparing West Ham to sex, saying it’s all foreplay and no climax. Hmm. Maybe it’s because I said we lacked penetration in the box…
Meanwhile a gentleman of the press is saying that Roy Keane has banned laughter at the Ipswich training ground — something we’ve achieved just through our start to the season. Nigel arrives and says that if we win 3-0 and Bolton lose then we go out of the bottom four, but if we lose 10-0 we have the same goal difference as Hull. Then Carol shouts at him for not saying ‘please’ when he asks for sugar, leaving our Statto suitably chastened.
Spector is in at right-back for Faubert and Franco replaces Diamanti. We almost concede in the first minute, but for the next 15 look up for a derby, Cole is fast and threatening and Collison has a goal disallowed for offside.
“We haven’t done badly so far,” I say, just as Sagna crosses and Robert Green inexplicably palms it on to Van Persie’s boot to make it 1-0 to the Arsenal. “Mystic May strikes again,” says Nigel.
Matt says that Lisa has found a web feed where she can watch the game live, but it’s a bit pixelated
Arsenal win a corner and Gallas outjumps a static Ilunga to head home. “We’re definitely looking a bit pixelated,” I tell Matt. “Does Lisa see lots of blurred claret and blue shapes chasing white shadows?”
It looks like we’re on for a morale-sapping drubbing at home. Arsenal haven’t even got their passing game together yet and we’ve gifted them two goals. Franco isn’t doing much, Green’s confidence has gone and Ilunga can’t find his form.
Nigel reads out Zola’s programme notes. “He says ‘We just need to focus and avoid the little mistakes’.”
“It’s the big mistakes we have a problem with,” quips Matt.
CQ sends Nigel a text saying “At least it won’t be 10-0”. Humiliatingly the Arsenal fans interrupt their anti-Adebayor chants to sing about how quiet it is as Upton Park.
At half time we discuss if we could beat a beachball. We conclude that we’d outpass it before shooting wildly at it and watching the ball rebound into our own net. We predict the full-time scores and most of the lads suggest three or four-nil to the Arsenal, although out of perverse hope I opt for 3-2 to West Ham as my kids go to school opposite the Emirates and I don’t want to have to explain a 5-0 home defeat.
Fabregas goes close and there’s only one possible winner. Zola brings on Diamanti and Hines for Franco and the jaded-looking Noble after 54 and 56 minutes. It’s a brave move to bring on strikers rather than try to keep the score down, but surely too late.
The shaven-headed and heavily-tattooed Diamanti has opted for the Dicksy geezerish look and thankfully for us, appears angry at being dropped. His first action is a fantastic reverse pass to Ilunga that the full back ruins with a poor cross. Then he shoots from distance. It’s wide but he’s trying to make things happen. Hines and Cole combine for Cole to volley wide. At last we’re having a go at Arsenal.
Hines runs at the Arsenal defence and wins a somewhat lucky free kick. Diamanti chips the ball beautifully over the wall, Mannone saves but palms the ball back towards the goal for Carlton Cole to head home. Yes! 1-2.
Suddenly we have new belief. The crowd is noisy again and there’s Bubbles and “Come on you Irons!” echoing around the stadium. Diamanti is at last looking like a £6 million player in the hole behind Cole and Hines.
Parker runs at the Arsenal defence and is surely brought down in the box but the ref says play on. But then Song hacks at Cole’s ankles and the big man goes down and YES! A penalty to West Ham.
We pray the Diamanti geezer’s not going to chip it again, but this time he blasts the ball home to cause raptures among the claret and blue hordes. You thought you had won you were wrong! Take that Wenger! You’re not singing anymore! WHO ARE YER! WHO ARE YER!
But the ref still tries to lose it for us, Fabregas brings down Parker who handballs as he falls. It’s a second booking and a ridiculous dismissal. Ten men with six minutes left. Come on You Irons… Don’t blow it now. Please. Think of my children, dear God, and Wrighty’s ads and George Graham’s bung and Wenger refusing to shake Pards’ hand.
Deep into added time they cross and sod it Van Persie heads into the net but no, Green produces a stupendous save with his lags, making amends for his earlier blunder. Kovac comes on to waste a few more seconds.
The whistle blows, Jeremy Nicholas plays Twist and Shout and it feels like a victory. We’ve taken a point from one of the big four and it might just be the turning point of our season.
The News of the World had a back page exclusive about a US consortium apparently trying to buy the Hammers. At first we assumed that North Bank Norman, now a Tae-kwondo magnate in San Francisco, was coming back to save us and install Clicker Bacon, Porky the Poet and Part-Time Percy as executive vice-chairmen.
But no, the consortium was fronted by one Jim Bowe, a Wall Street financier. Rather worryingly, today's Guardian says that Bowe has only been in his current job for a month at Intermarket, a Canary wharf based financial analysis company, and implies that the whole exercise was designed to get a bit of free publicity. And there's still no information who Bowe's mystery investors actually are.
Maybe Jim Bowen might be more likely to score a Bullseye?
"League Two side Cheltenham Town have placed manager Martin Allen on gardening leave.
Allen, 44, has been asked to stay away from Whaddon Road pending an investigation into an alleged incident at a nightclub."
According to today's Daily Mail it involved Mad Dog trying to jump a 16-person queue at the nightclub and allegedly "racially abusing a bouncer" at Thirteen Degrees nightclub.
The Mail also informs us: "Four months ago he was barred from The Salisbury after allegedly dancing with his shirt off before dropping his trousers and moving towards the dancefloor in front of shocked drinkers at the pub."
Think he might have just ruled himself out of ever getting a job at Upton Park...
After last season’s bank holiday fiasco involving an enforced change at Derby to wait for a one-carriage train to Stoke, it’s reassuring to find that the Virgin Pendolino only takes one hour and 20 minutes from London to Stoke. Indeed it's surprising we haven't been linked with Virgin Pendolino, whom Nani probably thinks is a chaste but speedy Italian midfielder.
There’s even time to check out some family history and visit the house my mum was born in. So it’s down the London Road and past the oatcake shop and chippy and the former pottery turned into a park. It’s quite a posh house for Stoke, in that it’s semi-detached and has a garden, rather than a yard. My grandfather was a regular at Stoke and today I’m meeting my mum’s cousin Terry for an expedition in to the Boothen End.
We’re fortified by several pints of “Peddy” (Marston’s Pedigree) in the The Gardeners Retreat, accompanied by City slickers Keith (a closet Port Vale fan) Darren, Mark, and 78-year-old Arsenal turned Stoke fan Vinny. The landlord Ken’s appears to be their version of Carol; they seem quite upset that at the bar he was sociable instead of his usual irascible self. Everyone is mystified why Tuncay can’t get in the side, although they say Etherington gets kicked out of games just like he did for us.
Nigel texts to say that he’s also in Staffordshire at Burton versus Barnet checking out the great Gary Breen in the Barnet defence.
Then it’s a walk down the canal past local sights such as the Incinerator Plant and on to the Britannia, built on the site of an old coal mine.
It’s a pleasure to be in a ground with a proper old-style atmosphere, and the choruses of Delilah and When the Reds go Marching In are certainly intimidating. There’s a bloke in front of us who says long rambling sentences in a thick Potteries accent and I can’t understand a word so I just nod a lot and try not to sound like a soft cockney bastard.
After 10 minutes we’re one down. Fuller backheels it into the path of Matty Etherington (remember him?) and Faubert brings him down for a penalty. It’s a rash challenge and another sign that Faubert is not a natural defender, Beattie pummels the ball into the roof of the net. A winger at right back? Why why why Clarke and Zola?
But slowly we come back into it. Upson receives a kick in the head fro Shawcross but recovers after treatment for a cut. Cole wins a corner and Sorenson hesitates and the unmarked Upson heads home.
The Stoke lads graciously admit that we’re the better team. We’re passing it around very nicely in midfield. Kovac looks very good against Stoke, getting his foot in and playing it simple to his fellow blonde Behrami. With Noble and Collison in support we’re putting together all the passing against the likes of the pedestrian Delap. But it’s no use if we can’t get the ball in the net.
After the break we continue to pass them to death. Diamanti wins a couple of free kicks and has a couple of speculative shots but you still wonder if he’s a show pony or a proper support striker. There are glimpses of ability but not enough to truly support Cole. A fine pass from Behrami puts Cole in on goal but the impressive Shawcross makes a fantastic saving tackle.
But sure enough it’s the direct approach that produces results after 68 minutes. Upson lunges for the ball and goes to ground as Fuller waltzes round him and down the right. Green parries the flying Potter’s shot but Beattie shows more desire than Faubert to get the ball and pokes it into the net, before celebrating in front of us by kicking the advertising hoardings.
“You can stick your fucking bubbles up your arse!” chorus the Stoke fans.
We continue to pass it around and Zola brings on Hines and Stanislas. It’s a great contest between Cole and Shawcross and generally Tomkins has played well at the back. As we’re about to pump a free kick into their box Upson is whacked in the face by Huth. All the officials miss what should have been a red card and a penalty.
Fuller makes another fine run down the right, beating Tomkins but crossing inaccurately. Franco comes on for a couple of minutes but we never really threaten to break down the door and forgive me Delilah, I just couldn't take any more.
I’m back at Euston by 7.20, which is almost quicker than going to WHU. Nigel texts to say that Breen’s Barnet have lost 2-0 and it should have been five. Matt texts to say not to worry we won't be playing Stoke next season unless we get them in the Cup.
So it’s another defeat and a rubbish start to the season. Fine points and second from bottom. But in some way’s today’s performance was encouraging in that we were the better footballing side and deserved a draw.
As Zola said afterwards, it was similar last season when we kept believing in the way we played and then the wins came. Yet it’s worrying that Upson is starting to make the odd mistake and we also need a defensively minded right-back and Diamanti or Hines to come good. But one day our passing game is going to come off and we’ll surely give someone a pasting. Although probably not Arsenal, our next opponents
West Ham striker attacked by bees… And a swarm welcome to Guillermo Franco, who played in Mexico's 4-1 won against El Salvador. The match was for halted for ten minutes after a swarm of bees took up residence in the El Salvador goal. Amazingly he avoided injury, almost a shame as it would have ranked right up there in the annals of bizarre Hammers injuries with Devonshire Flu and Steve Lomas injuring himself walking round Disneyland... Franco must pray we don't get drawn against the Bees or the Hornets in the Cup... Jest beehive, will ya.
Never thought I'd write this, but the person we're missing most is Lucas Neill. Maybe not the greatest defender ever, but he shouted a lot on the pitch and organised the rest of the defence. And if he couldn't tackle someone he'd stop them by any means necessary, giving away about three penalties a game that the refs never saw.
Plus he had that Aussie will to win. Faubert has done OK, but you sense he's too busy overlapping or thinking about Madam Bovary to dominate the defence. Yes, Neill was a greedy bastard wanting his 70k a week. But if we had any money, Lucas is one person we should have kept... instead he's now in Everton reserves.
Today's Mirror claims David Sullivan wants to buy us for a knock-down price as we owe "£45m to several different banks", "£19m to Sheffield United" and "£15m to other clubs" after signing players, and "the Hammers are also running at a loss of £20m this year after recording an operating loss of £33.6m for the financial year ending May 2008".
On the plus side we'd get Karren Brady, star of The Apprentice, and Sullivan does have a Chigwelll gaff with statues on the lawn, columns and thick carpets. And an endless supply of Daily Sport lovelies to keep Frank McAvennie happy...
It’s surely the first time “deforestation” has ever been mentioned in Ken’s Cafe. But it impresses my green missus. The two blokes on the table next to us are discussing carbon footprints and how it’s deforestation that is the real contributor to climate change.
“See I told you it was a ferment of intellectual debate in Ken’s before home games…” Blimey. There are geezers here who’ve seen The Age of Stupid without thinking it’s a movie about West Ham.
Our daughters Lola and Nell tuck into eggs chips and beans with salt and ketchup and white bread, while Nicola dreams of pumpkin seed salad. Nicola is berated by Carol for not buying her programme at the counter while I’m loudly denounced a “cheapskate” after asking for tap water to fill up our water bottle. I try to argue that we are saving plastic and carbon by refusing to buy bottled water, but Carol remains unconvinced.
Big Joe arrives in his tweed racing jacket, TV star Phill Jupitus pops in and Michelle, sister of Steve Rapport (ex North Bank Norman) discusses his progress with his San Francisco eco-home. By the end of lunch I’ve convinced Nicola that Ken’s is the hottest literary salon in London, the haunt of the modern Bloomsbury Set. Apart from when we play Millwall.
In the first half we play quite well. The passing is lively and we take a deserved lead when Faubert is hacked down by Hangerland. Diamanti whips in a wicked free kick and Carlton Cole outjumps the huge Hangerland to head into the top corner.
Tomkins then misses the target with a free header from Diamanti’s corner and Hines curls a shot just wide. Johnson pulls his shot wide when through for Fulham, but we appear to be in control after Dikgacoi is sent off for an off-the-ball bout of slapping and handbags with Scott Parker. Even West Ham will beat ten men, won’t they?
Maybe it’s the throaty-voiced US wrestler they bring on at half time to do some whooping for the Hammers that upsets the lads. We’re 30 seconds into the second half when Upson wrestles Kamara to the ground in the box and it’s a penalty for Fulham. Murphy scores and the scattered outpost of Fulham fans begin to sing “We’re by the far the greatest team the world has ever seen!” Which isn’t strictly true.
Our belief goes and simple passes go astray. Ten minute later Green flaps at a Fulham corner and misses, leaving Gera to prod home. There’s only one ‘F’ in Fulham.
Upson is looking unfit after his layoff as he fluffs a couple more challenges, while Ilunga looks like he’s carrying an injury too and is failing to overlap with his customary verve. Noble is jaded, Jiminez peripheral, Hines has disappeared and Diamanti tries too many tricks. Fulham appear to be playing against ten men.
“Fulham are poopsicles!” chants eight-year-old Nell. Her mum tries to convince her to adopt a more sporting outlook. Although in her defence, Fulham clearly are poopsicles.
Nell is hiding her head inside her hood and 11-year-old Lola asks “Why do they always attack from the wrong place” as we pump high balls towards towering defenders, always try one pass too many and never get to the byline.
Lisa, the vicar’s daughter in Matt’s seat is tempted to start swearing. Fraser maintains a Zen-like detachment through chanting an internal mantra of TV and Satellite Week listings.
“There’s too much passing… It’s too technical and not enough emotion,” suggests Nicola. “And why do they never attack on the left?” Sure enough Zola agrees with her and brings on Stanislas on the left and Behrami to beef up the midfield.
The changes make a difference. Behrami gives us some energy in midfield while Junior Stanislas is an outlet on the left and isn’t scared to shoot.
“If we could clone 11 Behramis we’d be fine,” suggests Lisa.
But it seems inevitable we’re going to lose as the part-timers head for the tube. I tell the kids to have faith, it’s never over until the fat bloke leaves, and others things I don’t really believe.
Four minutes of injury time. Come on you Irons! Stanislas shoots on the left, the ball takes a crazy deflection and veers into the net. Yes! It’s 2-2, but being West Ham we contrive to nearly ruin my kids' Academy day out again. Green rushes several acres out of his goal, loses the ball and loss the ball to Eddie Johnson, who looks certain to score, but ably held up by Upson before prodding lamely wide. Phew.
“Why was Robert Green trying to play on the pitch?” asks a bemused Nell.
At least we haven’t lost. We’ve played rubbish in the second half, but it’s the sort of game we’d have lost in the Roeder relegation season. I still think we’ll be OK if we keep the team together as the fixtures in the second half of the season are much kinder. Although on this evidence it’s starting to get worrying…
Interesting to see that Phil Brown and Hull City's players apparently talked a woman out of committing suicide as she was about to jump off the Humber Bridge.
Let's hope our lads don't ever go for a walk via the River Leato achieve what Phil Brown terms "clarity"… I've been tempted to jump off the Abbey Mills bridge myself, mumbling "Ferdinand, Lampard, Cole, Defoe, Johnson, Carrick…"
Nice to see Marlon Harewood score his first goal since April 2008 for Newcastle last night. Always had a soft spot for Marlon since the FA Cup semi-final winner against Boro and for the fact he described himself as "a kitchen fitter" when playing away and caught by the News of the World…