The queues at Ken’s Café are stretching out into Green Street. Luckily my old pal Alison O’Brien (no relation to Joey although her sister Roz does live next to the Basildon golf course where James Tomkins plays) and 16-year-old son Scott are up from Maldon and Scott queues for egg, chips and beans two slices and a mug of tea on my behalf, restoring my faith in young people's community spirit.
Nigel and Matt arrive with the news that Nigel is ahead in the office trivia quiz and Matt has seen Dave Gilmour at an outdoor performance of Shakespeare, which presumably left the Pink Floyd man’s posterior comfortably numb. Oh and Mystic May prophesises a nervy 1-0 win.
Upton Park is full with 34,700 fans brought in by the sensible policy of pricing tickets at £15 and £5 for kids (though if we’re in the spirit of Scrooge us season ticket holders have still paid £40 plus).
WE WANT POTTSY ON THE PITCH!
For a few minutes everyone apart from Fraser misses the fact that Danny Potts is playing at left-back. Faye has injured himself in the warm up and George McCartney has moved to centre back, with young Daniel, as Big Sam refers to him, coming in for his debut. It’s an emotional moment for Nigel, who has long maintained that Pottsy senior is the greatest player ever to grace the claret and blue.
“That’s 400 appearances for the Potts family,” says Nigel, referring to the fact that the legendary Steve Potts made only 399 appearances for the Irons, before being cruelly left on the bench by Glenn Roeder in his final game against Bolton.
We really are down to what Harry Redknapp would term the bare bones. O’Brien and Collison are suspended and Faye, Reid, Demel, Taylor, Bentley and Baldock are all still injured. John Carew who's unfitter than me and you, can hardly run with a back problem. Carlton Cole doesn’t look completely fit either.
PAPA OOM MOW MOW
We get the ideal start after six minutes when Papa Bouba Diop meets Mark Noble’s corner to head West Ham into the lead. It’s Papa’s first goal in English football for six years.
Barnsley look a reasonable mid-table side and with Vaz Te prominent, force Green to make a good low save, before poking a one on one wide.
But our makeshift side creates several chances, with Noble taking responsibility in midfield and Faubert dangerous on the right. Freddie Piquionne has what seems a certain penalty turned down and then Carlton Cole produces great feet in the box to beat two defenders and round the keeper before poking wide. Young Danny Potts is steady on his debut and makes a couple of decent crosses.
The best moment of the first half is when Nigel falls for my comment that Barnsley may go out of business before the return game on April 7. He needs just that one trip to Oakwell to complete his set of 92 grounds and the look of panic on his face is worth the price of admission alone.
At half-time the fact Montenegro is on the bench inspires us to try to think of other West Ham players who have countries as names. My brilliant call is Pat Holland. For the second half Nigel has us naming the England Players named after London boroughs (Alex Stepney, Bobby Charlton, George Eastham, etc) which probably says something about our struggle to hold on for a 1-0 win.
THE CAT CREPT IN
At the start of the second half a cat runs on to loud cheers, outpacing even Alan ‘Whippet’ Taylor and disappearing into the Alpari Stand, possibly having seen a fox in the box. That’s another feline mess at West Ham. Robert Green then makes a save that is better than anything from Peter ‘The Cat’ Bonetti, brilliantly getting down to his line to stop Edwards' header, which looks a certain goal.
Cole and Sears fail to shoot when well placed. Carew has to go off to be replaced by Freddie Sears and even Faubert gets injured and is replaced by Lansbury.
Danny Potts is clattered late by a Barnsley defender and Nigel nearly rushes on to the pitch in protest. Big Sam reacts in a similar fashion and is then sent off for kicking a water bottle after Freddie Sears races into the box with the speed of a kid opening his advent calendar, only to fall in the box and spark a penalty claim.
Pottsy recovers to make some good clearances to Cole and we end the game with a back four of Lansbury, McCartney, Tomkins and Potts. People will say it’s only Barnsley, but with our small squad it’s still a performance of some character to hold out for the win.
After the game we rush off to find the special bar (the Demba Bar?) open to season ticket holders that the club has emailed us about. Will David Sullivan be behind the bar serving real ale and Karren Brady leading a Christmas knees-up? We expect a private room but instead find it’s a bog standard bar in the draughty Alpari concourse selling rubbish beer with three people there. So it’s off to the Central instead.
Southampton draw the next day so we’re only one point behind the leaders. A nervy win, but in the circumstances it’s a great three points.