Wednesday, February 10

We get knocked down…

Burnley 2 West Ham 1

If Portsmouth go out of business and we lose the four points we’ve won against them, we’re bottom of the league. The Saturday papers aren’t very reassuring as we travel from Euston to Preston. Our away crew consists of Mike, Jo and 15-year old Isabelle who’s doing her maths GCSE homework — lots of complicated stuff about dividing Kieron Dyer’s appearances by his salary and transfer fee.

We agree broadly with the Davids’ cost cutting, although Jo suggests that Sullivan and Gold “look like they should be fronting a country and western tribute group”.

Matt and Lisa are staying at an eco-hotel in Hebden Bridge and have been looking at vegan shoe shops and then Sylvia Plath’s grave to get in the mood for West Ham away. That Ted Hughes was the John Terry of his day according to many feminists, playing away from home but never stripped of his poet laureate title. Matt texts to wonder if Plath’s novel The Bell Jar might have been an oblique reference to Craig Bellamy and Ted Hughes’ The Iron Man might have been about Billy Bonds.

We manage to meet Shropshire Iron Big Joe at Preston and make the local train to Burnley Manchester Road. We follow the crowd from the station towards the ground. "Hey lads, there’s a really friendly pub round the corner where there’s no problem for away fans. Have a good game!” says a chirpy Burnley fan. What, friendly away fans? Having seen Green Street you do wonder if the pub might be full of Burnley’s equivalent to the ICF about to set about us with clogs.

But no, the Ministry of Ale is full of the finest ales known to humanity and rival fans chat at the bar. It’s even got its own micro-brewery. Matt and Lisa find it too and we think that CAMRA member Gavin, if he were here, would surely never leave.

We take our wooden seats in the David Fishwick Stand. It’s a nice compact ground and you can see hills and terraced streets outside. The Clarets and the Irons emerge accompanied by I Get Knocked Down and I Get Up Again.

We start slowly and Burnley are closing down fast in midfield. Bikey is putting himself about and only Parker is having a decent game in midfield. “There’s only three of you singing!” chant the Burnley fans, who are then serenaded with a chorus of “Cos I’m a Northern Bastard!”.

Then on 14 minutes Upson misses a routine punt upfield by Fox and Nugent nips in to lob Robert Green and do a strange clucking chicken dance in front of the Burnley fans.

Slowly we improve. Faubert has several crosses that come to nothing and McCarthy puts a chance wide. Then Parker makes a fine run and plays in McCarthy whose shot is heading for the net until Cort clears off the line.

It’s like pre-Hillsborough days at half-time in the heaving concourse below the stand, as too many fans surge towards the one loo and others grope for plastic bottles of Carlsberg and northern pies and gruel.

We look much more purposeful after the restart with Mido on for the injured McCarthy. Collison is having a bad time though and stupidly gives away a foul on the edge of our area. Burnley’s new signing Fox curls the goal of a lifetime into the top corner and runs into the embrace of Brian Laws. The PA plays an annoying burst of Tom Hark.

At least we respond. The players seem angry and we batter their goal for the rest of the second half.

Parker drives the side forward from midfield and capitalizing on Carlton Cole’s layoff looks certain to score only for Jensen to pull off a fantastic save. Mido then blasts narrowly wide. Carlton Cole has a goal disallowed when he pokes home from near the goalline.

Stanislas comes on for Collison and on 77 minutes Ilan replaces Noble.Faubert has the beating of Fox and plays in a couple of brilliant crosses. Spector is playing well too, and Stanislas is a real threat on the left wing, even if he does have to keep crossing on his right foot. Mido (he only earns one grand) puts himself about well and looks hungrier than a footballer at a French lingerie models’ convention.

“We deserve something from this,” mutters Big Joe, who won’t be dancing in the streets of Shrewsbury tonight. “How many saves has Green had to make?”

We are playing with three strikers and it’s refreshing to see options and competition up front. Stanislas hits the post with an almost identical free kick to the one from which Fox scored. Spector makes a great run down the left to play the ball into the middle, Mido hits the ball against the keeper and Ilan, on for just three minutes slots the rebound into the top corner. Ilan then has a header saved by Jensen after a flurry of WHU corners.

And then in the last minute Stanislas crosses and Mido pokes the ball against the post, Ilan misses the rebound and the Egyptian has his head in his hands and we’ve sodding lost.

The whistle blows and we walk along the ring roads to the station. On the local line there isn’t a train until 5.57. It’s too much for one geezer in a white hoodie and sporting more rings than J R Tolkein. “I’m stuck in a f**king shithole, we’ve lost to a f**king shithole team, waiting for a f**king shithole train… f**king toytown f**king Noddy trains!” he rages in a Taurete syndrome cameo surely destined to one day be played by Steven Berkoff.

“That’s your review sorted out!” suggests Big Joe.

“I detect a sense of irony that the industrial revolution started here,” reflects Jo.

Meanwhile two middle-aged Burnley ladies stand in front of us muttering that “I'm only three rows from that Alistair Campbell with his Gola trainers and his big black coat…”

Finally the Toy Town train arrives and we stock up with sandwiches and crisps and Snickers bars at Preston and head back to London. A text arrives from Matt and Lisa saying that they are still in the Ministry Of Ale. We’ve been knocked down but we get up again. They have a lager drink they have a cider drink. When they return to Hebden Bridge they should at least be inspired to write some mournful poetry.

We’re back at Euston by 9.30 where several Fulham fans have had a sniff of the barmaid’s apron and are repeatedly singing “Fulham boys are on the piss again!” Odd what a 0-0 draw at Bolton can do.

I return home and tell Her Indoors that there were a lot of positives to be taken and that sometimes unlucky away defeats can offer a strange kind of hope.

“That’s what Napoleon said,” she answers. Short man in military jacket seeks to prevent the inevitable Waterloo… No, absolutely no parallels there at all. The way we played in the second half I still think we’ll be all right. Although if we don't beat Brum, Hull or Bolton then do please whack me round the head with a copy of the Daily Sport.

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