May, 2018

Original article posted on Knees Up Mother Brown.

I will admit, I had been avoiding going to the new stadium; I haven’t quite let go of Upton Park, a stadium I had been visiting for 35 years, so a trip to the Olympic Stadium would’ve felt a bit like cheating on the wife. Not that I’m troubled by that strife, but still. However, a confluence of events on Sunday 13th May 2018 was conspiring to my breaking my duck at the Everton game that afternoon. First, a young friend of my 13 and 11-year old daughters plays for Brighton Under 11s, and on that morning, they were playing West Ham in Hainault. Secondly, my eldest daughter, who, following a few visits to Upton Park a while back, had become an ardent Hammer, was threatening to support her now hometown club, Brighton. Eek! I needed to exterminate that threat! Thirdly, I hadn’t seen my Goddaughter, who lives in Wanstead, for a while and it was about time I put that right. Fourthly, it was only Everton, so there was a chance West Ham might even win. Finally, West Ham was safe from the spectre of relegation, so there was the potential for a carnival atmosphere. The only problem was that I didn’t have a ticket.

“What do you mean I don’t have a previous history?” I asked the girl at the end of the phone line at the West Ham ticket office. “I went to Upton Park for 35 years! I was a bloody season ticket holder! And my daughters think Andy Carrol is God after they saw him score twice against the Arse in a 3-3 draw a few years back!” “Sorry Sir, but you and your daughters need to have gone to a game at the Olympic Stadium,” came the reply. “But how can I go to a game at the Olympic Stadium if the only way I can go to a game at the Olympic Stadium is if I’ve been to a game at the Olympic Stadium?” I pleaded, incredulous at the chicken and egg scenario presented to me. “Do you know anyone who’s a season ticket holder?” suggested the girl. “Aha!” I exclaimed, “so you’re telling me that if you have a ticket already, you can buy a ticket?” I asked, relieved by the possibility of a silly bureaucratic loophole that I might be able to climb through. “That’s right, sir” replied the girl at the ticket office. “Awesome! Thanks! I’m on it already…” I told her, promptly hanging up, to, er, get on it.

“Alright, Seany!” I breezed at my Goddaughter’s Uncle, who had been woken up by my phone call. His half grunt, half “Hello geez’!” didn’t suggest he minded. Much. “Listen, mate, I have an emergency,” I told him. “Kyra reckons I forced her to support West Ham. She reckons she wants to support Brighton instead. I need to get her back to a West Ham game before the rot sets in!” “God! Mate, yeah, you do! We can’t have that Brighton nonsense!” Sean agreed. “The problem is,” I continued, “I’ve just spoken to the West Ham ticket office. You wouldn’t believe this, but you can’t buy a ticket unless you’ve already bought a ticket.” I could gauge Sean’s puzzlement, but then it dawned on him: “Yeah, that sounds like the sort of bollox West Ham would dream up. How can I help?” “Well, the thing is, since you have a season ticket, you’ve already bought a ticket…” Sean cut me off: “Mate, leave it with me,” he reassured, “I’ll get onto the ticket office right now…” And lo the God of all things related to ticketing at major sporting events and West Ham United; ten minutes later, I was the proud owner of three tickets to West Ham v Everton. Boom! Loopholes R Us!

We arrived in Hainault about 15 minutes before Ronnie was about to kick off for Brighton Under 11s. A couple of West Ham stewards helped me park, and the Claret and Blue branding made me think this was a slicker operation than the usual ramshackle nonsense I had expected. The pitches were even decent, too - somehow, I wouldn’t have been surprised if the kids were forced to play on the awful council pitches you find across the country. “Alright, Ronnie!” I shouted, undoubtedly embarrassing the lad, who was busy performing more tricks with the ball than I’d ever learned. I was impressed; it was the first time I had seen him play and I wasn’t sure whether I was about to witness a bunch of young boys herd around the ball like a pack of rats, or a decent game of football. Judging by Ronnie’s prowess with the ball, it was going to be the latter. Indeed, that proved to be the case; unfortunately, most of the latter came from Brighton. Naturally, I was a bit torn, due to my being a Hammer but also being personally acquainted with Brighton’s centre midfield dynamo, Ronnie. Besides, I was stood with Ronnie’s dad. However, secretly, I was hoping to witness a very promising display from the West Ham boys. Indeed, one or two of the lads were excellent, but when I tell you that the final result was 9-0 to Brighton, well, you can gather that, collectively, they were a bit embarrassing. Worse, was it wasn’t just the scoreline that was bad. Get this - when one of the West Ham kids got injured, the West Ham trainer had to borrow an ice pack from the Brighton staff! Unbelievable! When the West Ham lads were getting a bit discouraged (at or around the 3-0 mark), I couldn’t hear much enthusiasm from the West Ham side. Indeed, when one of the West Ham lads began to get a bit disgruntled, it was his dad who had to encourage him; the West Ham staff were silent. And whereas the Brighton team formed a tight huddle at the end of the game, before walking over to their family and friends and clapping them for their support, there was none of that from West Ham. Instead - they all sloped off, arguing. Now, if I had a lad who had the choice between the two clubs and I witnessed that debacle, I know where I’d want my boy to play, and it wouldn’t be West Ham. That’s a shame.

The silver lining was that the girls were pleased to see their friend do so well for Brighton, and the A12 back to Wanstead was remarkably clear. We jumped on the Central Line at around 1:30, and ten minutes later, we were in Stratford. I’d read plenty of disgruntled reports about the hassle getting to and from Stratford station to the stadium, so I was pleasantly surprised when it took us a hassle-free 15 minutes to make that journey. It turns out that ticket collection is, helpfully, at the other side of the stadium from the Main Ticket office, so I called Sean and told him to meet us elsewhere from where he had expected - at the North Ticket office. Seany soon arrived, and after he’d given the girls and me our tickets, I gave him a man-sized man hug for sorting that out for us. We then made our way through the turnstiles guarding K Block. Inside the stadium, the first thing I noticed was that I was able to go the toilet without wading through a river of suspicious looking fluids. The second thing I noticed was that I was able to buy the girls drinks without needing to elbow anyone out of the way. The third thing I noticed was that our seats, behind the righthand corner flag in front of the home end, were much closer to the pitch than I’d been lead to believe. The fourth thing I noticed was Kyra stood on her seat singing Bubbles. Brighton my arse! My only criticism was that it was difficult to hear what fans across the other side of the stadium were singing. But when EVERYONE started singing, the atmosphere was brilliant. Overall, I was impressed.

And thankfully, Everton lived up to my expectations of being shit. Better was that West Ham looked great going forward; I have never seen Mark Noble play so well! I suppose we looked a bit shaky at the back and only kept it to one thanks to the heroics of the Legend that is Adrian, who Moyes had rightly restored between the sticks. Our lack of pace at fullback was tangible, but overall, I was impressed by the flair displayed by West Ham. I hear rumours that David Moyes isn’t getting the Managers job permanently, but judging by that display, I reckon that’d be a huge mistake. Besides, when I was a kid, we backed our manager through thick and thin, because he was considered a member of the family, inducted in the ‘West Ham Way’. I realise times have changed, but I loved that about our club. It would be an act of class if we rewarded Moyes with a similar amount of loyalty. Oh, wait; the Dildo Brothers….

After the game, I bought a t-shirt from the West Ham store, then walked back to Stratford station. There were none of the hour-long queues of Upton Park, and we were back in Wanstead by 5:40, and sat with my Goddaughter eating at a Thai in Leytonstone by 6:30. Afterwards, I began the drive back to Brighton by blasting out West Side Boys, by the Cockney Rejects. Then I handed over DJ responsibilities to Kyra, who entertained us with, amongst others, Coldplay, U2 and Snow Patrol. We arrived back in Brighton singing the White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army.

“Don’t worry, Dad, I’m a West Ham fan really,” Kyra confided. Success! What a day! And now I’ve broken my duck at the Olympic Stadium and been suitably impressed, I’m pretty sure the girls and I will once again be regularly cheering on West Ham. That’s if I can persuade the ticket office I now have a history…