Monday, January 26

My garden shed is bigger than this!

Hartlepool 0 West Ham 2

We’re on the 7.57am train from Kings Cross to Hartlepool and four West Ham geezers are drinking the first of many cans of Strongbow. Big Joe and myself pretend to be Michael Caine in Get Carter and make do with croissants coffee and the Guardian in the hope we’ll still be awake at kick-off. Soon after 11 we’re discovering it’s looking grim up north, as smoking chemical works of Middlesbrough appear on the horizon along with landfill sites and recycling plants full of scrap metal.

It’s a clear, crisp and cold day in Hartlepool and we have more than an hour before the kick off. The masts of HMS Trincomalee dominate the town. “Ah, that must be the club galleon,” I muse, wondering why we’ve ditched the executive coach to sail up the coast.

Rather than dine in the giant Morrisons by the Victoria Park ground we head past McDonald’s and Burger King towards the historic quayside. Here there’s a street of Georgian houses and by the Hartlepool Museum stands HMS Trincomalee, “Europe’s oldest warship afloat”.

“Sixty per cent of HMS Trincomalee is still original,” says the literature, suggesting that the other 40 per cent is from Homebase.

We explore lots of nautical exhibits in the museum. “But they don’t mention the monkey anywhere!” says an indignant Joe. The locals are apparently still in denial about their most famous moment when they hanged a monkey in the mistaken belief it was a Frenchman.

We have panini and soup on board a nautical version of Ken’s Café, the PSS Wingfield Castle, a restored paddle steamer from 1934 as a video details “Defending Hartlepool in the Great War.”

“Would anyone really have wanted to take Hartlepool?” asks Joe.

Then it’s on to the ground and into the tiny Rink End. A couple of blokes in Superman costumes pose with H’Angus the Monkey by the turnstiles.

“You’re in block E but you’ll have no chance of finding your seats lads, “ says an overwhelmed steward.

The 914 Irons fans in the 6,849 crowd are underwhelmed by the stadium’s four tiny stands. “Small club in Scotland, you’re just a small club in Scotland!” they sing.

We’re worried by the non-appearance of Upson and even more worried by the playing of Rolf Harris’ s Two Little Boys over the PA.

We find seats in front of a bloke in a monkey mask and watch as Hartlepool cause problems on Ilunga’s flank. But we put together some passing moves in midfield, although we’re hampered by a lack of width and the fact that Faubert is having a bit of a mare at right-back. Collins and Tomkins are solid at the back and slowly Parker starts to control the midfield.

The game livens up after Carlton goes for a loose ball with their keeper and the Pool players steam in, with Ilunga joining in to protect Carlton in a bout of handbags right in front of us. Cole and Ilunga are booked while their belligerent number five escapes punishment and the Rink End breaks into a chorus of "Always believe in Carlton Cole!".

But we gain momentum and after a neat one-two between Di Michele and Ilunga Behrami finds space to poke the ball into the net just before half-time.

“Behrami army!” we chant.

A hopeful punt is then handballed and the ref awards us a penalty. Noble slams the ball home and looks like he still enjoys celebrating with the fans.

“We’re on the march with Zola’s army, we’re all going to Wemberlee!” sing the Irons fans.

During the interval I send texts to Nigel and Matt suggesting a Cup Final breakfast in Kew. They say the handball, was outside the box, but who cares, our name is on the Cup.

We control much of the second half and the West Ham fans amuse themselves with a chorus of: “My garden shed is bigger than this! It’s got a door and a window! My garden shed is bigger than this!”

Green produces a fantastic save from a header and Cole hits the post when through. The PA announces that there will be no trains to London after 6pm, presumably to prevent us meeting Millwall fans coming back from Hull.

“Out of the shithole! We’re going out of the shithole!” chant the Hammers fans.

It’s never over until the monkey leaves, and we can see the geezer in a monkey mask making for the exits as the games enters stoppage time. The whistle blows, and as Two Little Boys plays again we head back to the station behind the Strongbow drinkers who are somehow still standing up.

The police stand in front of groups of lairy locals outside Idols bar as we enter the station which has no café and no electronic signage before escaping to Northallerton. Job done, we’ve won with no monkeying around.

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