Thursday, May 5

Bunch of Legends at Upton Park

A Vicar's Son writes…

England 2 Germany 7

The long goodbye to the Boleyn continued with the strangest game I've seen for a long time, as an England "Legends" team takes on a German one in a match to celebrate West Ham winning the World Cup 50 years ago. 

I meet Mike in Ken's Cafe with his friends Charlie, Nick and Georgina, where Carol drops the bombshell news that Ken himself will attend. In 49 years of feeding numerous hungry Hammers just round the corner from the ground, having opened the year after West Ham won the World Cup, he's only ever been once. Carol thinks he saw a Russian team, suggesting it may have been the famous 4-1 defeat against Dynamo Tbilisi in the Cup Winner's Cup in 1981 — considered one of the best-ever performances by a visiting team. Billy has got him a ticket for this one, so he can join the 17,707-strong crowd.

Mike has already cleaned the club shop of all merchandise, and has finished his big breakfast so early we have time for a cheeky drink in the Boleyn before the game. We also tried to change our tickets, which were allocated at random and are right next to our season ticket seats. We try to change them for an unfamiliar stand, but fail.

The game starts with some familiar former Hammers on the pitch - Rio, Oh Teddy Teddy, Trevor Sinclair, David James and Dean Ashton, who all played in Mark Noble's testimonial, along with the uncapped Anton Ferdinand. Peter Beardsley, Darren Anderton, Graeme Le Saux and Steve Howey also start, along with somewhere called Wingrove, who we believe is a freestyler. He is young and quick, but we don't see any tekkers from here, and he's clearly not a proper footballer.

The Germans, meanwhile, definitely are. They look younger, fitter and much thinner, and some, such as the nominal right back Balitsch, are still playing, while Odonkor, the 11, is just 32, after retiring early through injury. They are also highly competitive, especially captain Michael Ballack, who approaches it like the World Cup Final he played, arguing with ref Dermot Gallagher, organising his team and taking it very seriously indeed. 

For England, Sheringham's touch is still impeccable, and Anderton is playing well, but the Ferdinands and James are soon under siege. In Noble's testimonial, the first-teamers took it easy, but here, the Germans seem to have only one gear. Jens Lehmann still looks like he could play in the Premier League, and saved everything, while Jens Nowotny marshalled the defence. Balitsch sprinted about 90 yards to notch the first, Marko Rehmer got a second and Balitsch a third. Ashton tried a Van Basten style volley that flew over, but England were finding it tough. At half time it was 3 0, and I quipped that I thought it was all over.

By this time, England gaffer Ray Winstone had began making substitutions, with Lee Mack replacing Le Saux, and Jeff Brazier Howey. Meanwhile John Moncur came on, the announcer suggesting he was winning his first cap, and put in a few trademark late tackles, which upset Ballack no end. 

In the second half, things became very strange. England fielded actors Damien Lewis and Mark Strong, comedian Jack Whitehall, another competition winner and a competition winner, among others. Germany brought on Oliver Neuville, who scored in goals in both the 2002 and 2006 World Cups, and Dieter Eilts, who won Euro '96. Their one concession was a ski jumper, but even he has played semi-pro football. 

If you've ever wondered who would win in a clash between Angus Deayton and a battle hardened ex-Bundesliga stalwart, you now have an answer. And it is not the ageing TV presenter. Meanwhile Germany kept scoring. So no change there, then. Odonkor headed the fourth, and Marco Reich, who played for Derby, Palace and Walsall among others, got numbers five and six. Beardsley now went in goal, in tribute to his role when Alvin Martin scored a hat-trick of penalties against three different keepers including Beardsley, in an 8-0 win over Newcastle. 

Ballack went off, and Germany finally eased up, allowing Ben Cohen to score a couple. Fitting, as his uncle George played right back in the 1966 triumph. Russell Howard was among other comedians said to be playing by this stage, along with Jon Richardson and the lesser known Jack Barry, but I don't know if they really were. Spencer Owen also appeared (me neither) when we'd have been better off with Michael. By now, the Germans had throttled right back, but Neuville still scored a final goal to make it 7-2. 

As Lewis gave pitchside interviews, and Ballack accepted a large trophy, we headed to the Central to make sense of it all. After a couple of bottles of Newcastle Brown, it was no clearer. I headed home to discover that Leicester had won the Premier League. A bizarre end to a baffling day.

No comments: