Wednesday, May 11

Winston wins it in (almost) perfect Boleyn send-off

The last supper in Ken's Cafe
West Ham 3 Manchester United 2

So it’s one last trip on the Hammersmith and City line to Upton Park. Green Street is full of fans with cameras during my walk to the Newham Bookshop at 5pm. A large crowd of fans are singing “We’ve Got Payet” round the World Cup statue and the word is they’ve been drinking since noon. Vivian and John are dispensing bottles of pale ale to the favoured. I sign two of my books for one of the Belgian Irons, a lecturer called Ivan from Antwerp. Then a fan from Sweden says he’s enjoyed them too and my suggestion is that Britain must surely remain in the EU to maintain these Newham/Europe links.

It’s on to Ken’s Café for a final egg chips and beans, bread and butter and cup of tea. Michael has decided to add some literal colour to the blog by dying his hair claret and blue. Even more controversially, he’s wearing a shirt with Jonathan Spector’s name on the back (which is liked by Mrs Spector on twitter). Matt’s there minus his unlucky Dukla Prague away shirt but in an early 1960s WHU top, along with claret-clad Lisa, who’s got a ticket from DC (who stops to eat, so momentous is the occasion). Nigel is in his claret-hooped away shirt for “the London derby” against MUFC. Big Joe arrives with Candy on a romantic dinner date while Phill Jupitus eats one last isotonic liver, bacon and mash, scarpering before Carol sees that he’s not finished his mash. As we leave for the match Carol dispenses kisses to us all.

Spector at the feast
Walking past the bus station to the East Stand Matt and Nigel recycle their papers behind the away coaches and in a middle-class fan dilemma wonder where the recycling facilities will be at Stratford.

Inside the East Stand we find free t-shirts, wrist bands and flag cards on our seats. Though Fraser refuses to compromise his mid-period Dexys look by wearing the shirt over his caret and blue neckerchief.

News come through that the kick-off has been postponed until 8.30pm because the Man United coach has been bottled. Lisa, in the Alpari, texts to say that it’s chaos in Green Street. I start to envisage FA bans and playing behind closed doors at the OS next season. The coach attack is inexcusable and stupid and is surely the result of people without tickets drinking all day; though as David Sullivan says, why couldn’t United have arrived earlier instead of close to 7pm? Everyone knew there would be huge crowds and traffic congestion. It also seems the police have lost control of the large numbers of fans. The bottle throwing is deplorable, but an early arrival would have minimised the security risks. My MUFC friend Robert texts to ask if it’s an ICF reunion.

Is it Javier Margas?
So the DJ has another 45 minutes to fill, which tests his CD box, though Nigel is pleased when Iron Man by Black Sabbath comes on, presumably borrowed from Slaven’s personal collection. We get My Way with a video, but no sign of Fraser’s legendary version of Bubbles by Frank Sinatra.

The sister of the bloke from the Treasury in front of us asks for a picture and reveals that we are known as ‘The Philosophers’ to her party. Must be Matt’s Socratic dialogues on Mark Clattenburg.

A brass band makes a reappearance at Upton Park for the first time since the 1970s (my dad would have enjoyed that) and plays a moving Abide With Me as pictures of our late stars are flashed up.

Lisa's view from the Alpari Stand
At kick-off there’s a hugely emotional Bubbles with the crowd divided into claret and blue blocks through wearing the free t-shirts. The misty, damp night adds to the atmosphere. It’s the loudest I’ve heard a West Ham crowd, beating the atmosphere of Ipswich in the Play-off semi-final and the Cup Winners ‘ Cup game against Eintracht Frankfurt.

Suddenly a football match breaks out. West Ham show all the verve and commitment they were lacking against Swansea. Kouyate has a great game as a defensive shield with Noble more advanced. The Boleyn erupts after ten minutes as Cresswell finds Lanzini on the left and his pull-back is slotted into the corner by Sakho, with the aid of a deflection off Blind. “DIAFRA SAKHO HE SCORES WHEN HE WANTS!” roars the entire stadium.

The geezer behind us is an old school fan wanting Bonzo to effing well sort out Rooney, before politely asking Michael why he’s wearing a Spector shirt. Wayne Rooney also gets taunted about grandmothers.

West Ham have two good chances as Andy Carroll goes through in a one on one only to see his shot saved by De Gea and Payet curls a good chance wide. At half-time we wonder if not getting the second might be costly.

Down in the concourse Michael the Whovian finally gains courage (fortified by a few beers in the Boleyn) to ask for a photograph with actor Donald Sumpter, aka Lord High President of the Time Lords and also a young captain in The Sea Devils. Donald obliges. It doesn’t get better than this.

United appear galvanised in the second half and begin well. The Bobby Moore Stand refuse to give the ball back to De Gea and the delay seems to affect West Ham’s concentration. Mata skips past Ogbonna in the box and crosses for Martial to equalise. De Gea celebrates and gets a water bottle thrown at him and a not very witty East End chorus of “You Spanish c***!”

Carroll has a header cleared off the line but after 72 minutes United appear to have won it as Martial runs at Reid and scores from a seemingly impossible angle, beating Randolph at his near post.

But the crowd respond with a deep-throated roar of “Come on you Irons!” Sinews are strained, Mark Noble is everywhere and some kind of psycho-kinetic vortex, possibly inspired by Donald Sumpter, is sucking the ball towards the United goal.

Mystic Matt is just saying that Antonio doesn’t get headers anymore. Dimitri Payet hits a free kick into the wall, but given a second chance from the rebound he chips a lovely ball into the box for Antonio to rise and power a header into the top of the net and Upton Park erupts once more.

Should we respect the point? Surely it can’t be a Hollywood ending? But there are seemingly higher powers at work here, and not just Andy Carroll.

Noble is hacked down again and from Payet’s free-kick Winston Reid heads into the net as De Gea gets a hand to it prevent a goal. Winston runs for the corner as there’s another mass outpouring of elation among the claret and blue hordes. Who put the ball in the Mancs' net? Winston, Winston Reid. 

West Ham threaten a fourth as the whole ground wills the Hammers home. We survive four minutes of added time and tumultuous cheers at the whistle nearly bring down the East Stand earlier than scheduled. We go sixth, which has been almost forgotten amid the mayhem.

Phew. Not much colour for the blog there. The players return for a lap of honour complete with Adrian holding his baby and lots of mini Dimitris. Then it’s Twist and Shout and Hi Ho Silver Lining as a stage is erected, possibly for Two Bob Ray from the Central.


In a way, after an evening like that, I’d just like the game itself to stand as a memorial to the Boleyn.

But after Sugar Hut-style lights, flames and fireworks the closing ceremony begins, compered by Sky Sports’ Bianca Westwood and Ben Shephard, though it should have been Jeremy Nicholas. Bianca talks to Carlton Cole and Marlon Harwood who both get some songs from the stands, but it’s all a bit long and doesn’t finish until 11.30pm.

The videos and taxis (was Alan Dickens driving one?) bringing in the former Hammers stars aren’t really necessary and perhaps they should just have stuck to Brooking, Di Canio, Martin Peters and Mark Noble. Bizarrely there’s no mention of Geoff Hurst either and Bonzo can’t make it, though Nigel gives Pottsy a standing ovation.

Still, Paolo gets it right by mentioning loyalty and passion and Mark Noble gets huge cheers for declaring: “I've got my family here, I mean every West Ham fan out there when I say my family. Thanks to every single one of you.”

The evening ends with the Cockney Rejects performing Bubbles. Just as well that they don’t do West Side Boys or War on the Terraces after the coach incident.

As the lights go out, announcing “Mr Moon has left the stadium” is a lovely touch at the end.

Everyone has to rush for the last tube at 11.30pm so no lingering last looks at Boleyn… We take one last visit to the Gents and ponder nicking the “no solid objects in the urinal” sign, but think better of it. Fraser and Michael, in a triumph of optimism over experience, venture off to see if the Central is open. I walk to East Ham with Nigel and Matt, where we get one of the  last trains.

It’s a shame that a few Herberts outside will get all the headlines, but inside the stadium it’s been a fitting tribute; exciting, exhausting, intimidating and thoroughly nerve-shredding. At 1 o'clock I finally make it home, and deprived of a last dodgy beer at the Central, break out a Bowmore whisky and toast our old friend — the Boleyn Ground.

PLAYER RATINGS: Randolph 6; Antonio 8, Ogbonna 7, Cresswell 7; Payet 8 (Valencia n/a), Lanzini 7 (Obiang 6), Kouyate 8, Noble 9; Sakho 8 (Tomkins n/a), Carroll 8.


mj said...

A fine resume of last night. We walked from the black lion and so missed the coach fracas, but the turnstiles weren't open any earlier, so lots of people were milling about...also the pubs were packed by lunchtime. That said, inside the stadium it was a great evening. Winston heading and De Gea failing to keep the ball out, will live long in the memory...

Pete May said...

Yes, why they didn't let people in earlier was a mystery. And surely predictable that lots of people would turn up without tickets to go to the pubs. But as you say, the game will live on for all the right reasons...

Mac said...

Lovely piece, Pete, very evocative. I was one of those without a ticket, but wanted to be there, so made my way down Green Street to the Boleyn after work to find the party (and drinking) in full swing. But have to say I did find the police's tactics of horse charges to break up the crowd all a bit heavy-handed and unnecessary.

Watched the game standing in a packed to the rafters Queen's and despite the police closing the bar down before half-time, it was all rather majestic, a fittingly old school way to sign-off from the old stadium. Took me right back to the days of the North Bank. Everything about it exactly how football used to be before all-seaters took over. Reminded me of the '86 Ipswich game and the utter bedlam and jubilation that followed each of the goals.

It's rare that any sporting occasion these days ever seems to live up to expectations, to hype, to the script. But last night's more than did. No limp defeat, (thank goodness for the Swansea game, perhaps) or tepid draw for us. This was your nailed on, typical West Ham, take us right to the wire, performance. And just as it should have been. A truly memorable night. And from what I've seen and heard of the after match 'spectacular', in many ways I'm glad I wasn't there. The win, who it was against, and the effort required in getting it, was, for me, the perfect ending. Here's to pastures new. COYI

Nicola Baird said...

I read it all and found your piece v moving: it's the end of a big chunk of so many Hammers' fans lives - and also the beginning... But I am shocked by Mac above saying that the police were charging the crowd with a horse/horses. Good luck at the new stadium. Nicola

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Pete May said...

Glad you enjoyed it in the Queens, Mac. Must have been heaving. It was indeed an old school atmosphere and Swansea perhaps did us a favour ending any complacency. With hindsight surprising that Green Street wasn't closed to traffic…

And glad you enjoyed the post Nicola!

Anonymous said...

Finally got home at 11.30 last night (Wed). As you say, that was a (virtually) perfect script. Still buzzing. See you next year! Steve F.

matt said...

Philosophers? Us? Do they mean the old school geezer behind us, as he seemed very keen on Immanuel Kant?

Good report Pete; not keen on this idea of having another final match next month, though