Friday, August 5

Olympian Hammers sprint to Europa win

Three men and a stadium
West Ham 3  NK Domzale 0 (Europa League)

Phew. I get the feeling this could work. The OS will never be as intimate as Upton Park, but Bubbles sounded great at the kick-off and once we've played a few games against the bigger clubs the ambience will grow. We could see the action pretty well from halfway back in the East Stand and while the fans are getting used to the OS, as are the players, there were signs of an atmosphere developing by the second half. 

The green plastic covering the athletics track is going to be replaced by AstroTurf — or possibly some leopardskin carpet from David Sullivan's gaff — and with 60,000 due for league games there should be a big noise. A comfortable 3-0 win against Domzale was as good a start to our new history as we could have hoped for.

My evening starts with a burrito in Westfield and then a circuitous trip to find Stratford International, which is basically next to where I’ve started out. Fraser and Lisa are waiting in the Tap East. Despite a large crowd the bar staff serve us quickly and we enjoy a swift drink of specially-named real ales such as East End Mild, Boleyn Bitter and Number Six Blonde. The Central it ain’t.

The trek down Stratford Walk is undeniably exciting. It feels like a cup final and we’re now playing at Wembley every week. Shouts of “Irons!” accompany the march of camera-wielding fans. Vending caravans line the route, though nothing as good as Ken’s Café, but Lisa dos spot a falafel outlet. The “West Ham United” name on the OS certainly looks impressive and the club has done a decent job with wraparound portraits of Mark Noble, Winston Reid and co on the stadium.

The programme selling needs a lot of work though. Huge queues have formed at every seller, at which point we’re met by Matt, who ever since the Wigan away debacle, has always ensured he gets a programme two hours before kick-off. After a twenty-minute wait I eventually get my souvenir edition from a vendor who’s running short of change, at which point Fraser quips could I go back and see if they’ve got Bournemouth from last season.

Entrance to the stadium is nice and speedy. Inside the gents a urinal is overflowing with someone quipping, “just like old times”. But it’s much easier to find a loo now and to get served at the refreshment kiosks. There’s an immediate sense of relief upon finding our seats that we can see the pitch and players, even if the dug-outs seem light years away on the far side and the pitch is much bigger than at the Boleyn.

Nigel’s eschewed the chance to see the spiritual home of Iron Maiden for a holiday, while Michael the Whovian is on thespian duties pronouncing that with Cresswell and Lanzini out we’re doomed, we’re all doomed. 

Alison and Scott from Maldon have made it to the seats behind us. Alison has had to remortgage her house to buy a stadium Coke, but despite some initial reservations about the sun in her eyes two hours before kick-off, admits that under May’s leadership we seem to have booked half-decent seats as we strive not to exit Europe.

After the interminable programme queue, it’s Bubbles time and the game kicks off almost immediately. West Ham make the perfect start after eight minutes when Valencia does well to run at the defence and get in a cross, Byram scuffs his shot towards goal and Cheikhou Kouyate backheels home before running to the new Bobby Moore Stand to celebrate. It's quite a shock to see a working scoreboard and a replay of the goal.

Domzale look a decent-ish side considering their resources, but Reece Oxford makes some timely interceptions at the back, Nordvelt looks more at home as a defensive midfielder and Feghouli (which is pronounced ‘Fehouli’ says my Algerian barber) is game on the right. Our full backs are getting forward well and from Antonio’s cross Andy Carroll cushions his header into the path of Kouyate who fires home his second. I text Michael the score and he says he never doubted Captain Bilic.

Quite a few “If you ’ate Tottenham stand up” chants go round the stadium as the crowd start to feel at home. At half-time we’re joined by Steve from Cornwall, who’s driven up to Ebbsfleet, then caught the train to the OS, and plans to drive home after the game. We admit he might be a full-timer.

I suggest that the London derbies will be a big test of the atmosphere. ‘We need to get Jermain Defoe here,” suggests Matt. “Or bring Paul Ince out of retirement.”

There’s a scare in the second half when Randolph has to save well from Crnic. But West Ham continue to press as Valencia and Feghouli both slice wide when clean through. The game is put to bed when Noble plays through Feghouli and this time the Algerian winger fires home with a crisp finish from the edge of the box. The winger kisses the turf and puts his shirt over his head, resulting in a booking from the jobsworth ref. Good celebration though, suggesting he might become a bit of a cult figure.

Huge gaps in the white seats appear in front of us as the game nears its end, which doesn’t look good, though perhaps the part-timers know something about the journey time to the tube. The Westfield route is closed and we’re directed past the shopping centre and then stand kettled in the train queue before a Blade Runner-style skyline, as a brief chant goes up of “We want the Boleyn back!"

Stewards with “stop” and “go signs ensure steady progess, though there’s another long wait on the bridge before we escape Steve McQueen-style to find the pubs in old Stratford. The Queen's Head is packed and the Secret Weapon denies us entry, so we opt for the Refreshment Room, which has three real ales and a decent beer garden. But it’s taken 35 minutes to get there and there surely has to be a quicker route. Perhaps we’ll experiment with Stratford International or Hackney Wick next time.

Almost forgotten in the history-making is that we’ve reached the next round of the Europa League, as Fraser reminisces about dodgy police in Sicily when we played at Palermo.

Club and fans are still adapting to the new stadium, but after such a quick turnaround from the athletics, this first night was a successful start to life at the London Stadium in front of a record 54,000 fans. Now it’s back on Sunday for Juventus. Irons!

PLAYER RATINGS: Randolph 6; Antonio 7, Oxford 6, Reid 6, Byram 6; Nordvelt 6, Noble 6, Kouyate 8 (Obiang 5), Feghouli 7 (Quina n/a); Carroll 6 (Fletcher n/a), Valencia 7.


Billy said...

Enjoyable article Pete, I think you captured the evening really well. The only thing I disagree with was the quality of Domzale, I thought they were a poor side and i think we would of conceded a couple of goals last night had they been more clinical.

The future looks promising though!

Pete May said...

Cheers Billy. I meant decent considering the level of their resources - we thought maybe the level of a poor Championship team. They did try to play a bit of football and kept going at least.

matt said...

Thought Domzale were nowhere near their standard of the second half of the first leg, possibly because Crnic, their best player who scored both goals then, was booked after 5 mins this time.
Good summary, but what happened to the old high-marking Pete May, the man who gave the captain of the Titanic 9.5 ("He did well until he hit that iceberg") and regularly gave Gustave Faubert 12 out of 10? Reece Oxford surely deserved 8, as did The Feg. I'd also like to put it on record that Enner played well.

mj said...

I'll be interested in how Boleyn bitter etc tastes on Sunday! Smoking in the gents at half time was a nice reminder of the old place! Didn't like the empty white seats opposite me for the second half. Might be more atmosphere with some away in the ground? How do they segregate the fans before the game, say for a London derby?

mj said...

I'll agree with 7 for Antonio, going forward, if you agree to a 4 for defending! Not his fault, he's not a right back, wasn't last season, isn't this season...if we don't get one, were going to let in a lot of goals down that side and Antonio will leave...

Pete May said...

I'll give you 10.5 out of 10 Matt for not giving the ref a hard time - though lucky you missed (due to work commitments) a very harsh booking for Enner. WiYes I think away fans will do the place god MJ, think Domzale's didn't even need a taxi.

Anonymous said...

Just read your season preview in the Guardian. Found it very informed and lively for the most part, but snorted coffee through my nose when I read the sentence: "Andy Carroll will get injured at some stage so a 15-goals-a-season striker needs to be signed."

Surely that should read, "Andy Carroll will be injured as usual so a 6-goals-a-season striker needs to be signed"?

Not trolling, just citing the stats.

matt said...

Slightly missing the point. If you look at the stats, Carroll would be expected to get 15 or so goals in a season if never get injured. So that needs to be replaced.