Thursday, April 28

The final Final at Upton Park…

A Vicar's Son writes…

West Ham 1 Hull City 0

On a bitterly cold Monday night more than 10,000 fans watched West Ham's most important Academy game since the 1999 FA Youth Cup final v Coventry, which starred Joe Cole and Michael Carrick. The crowd for the first leg of the Development Squad Final against Hull was big enough to persuade Ken's Cafe to open and to delay the Tubes enough that I missed kick off. 

Just like Cole's precocious skills shone in 1999, this time young Norwegian Martin Samuelson took centre stage. Technically he was dazzling, beating opponents with ease, although he still needs to work on his passing. He seems to have toughened up during a loan at Peterborough, and could play a key role in next year's Olympic Stadium debut season.  

With Bradford City loanee Josh Cullen back for this game, and first teamer Sam Byram at right back the Hammers played some fine one touch football that had the young crowd squealing with delight.  But after coming close several times Hull ended the half better, and Swiss keeper Raphael Spiegel made one terrific save. 

I spent half time failing to buy a programme or a much needed cup of tea, before an evenly contested second half.  West Ham's best move of the game ended with a great chance for Canadian international Doneil Henry, who finished like a centre half and scuffed it wide. 

Hull were causing problems for a defence well marshalled by captain Reece Oxford. A triple substitution saw the departure of Jamal Hector — Ingram, with Bermudan Djair Parfitt - Williams returning after nearly three months out injured.  And he made the breakthrough when Hull's keeper dropped the ball under pressure at a last minute free kick, scrambling home before taking his shirt off during wild celebrations, earning an inevitable booking.  There was just time for Cullen to almost chip the keeper from the halfway line - the linesman was so far away he didn't spot a fine save and gave a goal kick.

So the fans went home happy from what for most will be their last game at the Boleyn and West Ham will be confident of finishing the job next Wednesday. 

Samuelson, Oxford, the number 10 Marcus Browne and Parfitt-Williams look real talents and Reece Burke, on loan at Bradford where he was player of the year, is also a real prospect.  There's nothing Hammers fans like more than players from the Academy making the first team. The last golden generation, led by Cole and Carrick, were sold cheap in a relegation fire sale. This time, the next generation will surely stick around to help the push towards the Champions League. 

Nobes for Mayor of London?

Interesting piece in the Property section of Tuesday's Evening Standard reveals that Mark Noble, Bobby Zamora and Rio Ferdinand, who all grew up on council estates, have teamed up to support social housing. The trio have formed the Legacy Foundation which aims to encourage developers to build communities of mixed private rented and public housing. There will also be a heavy sport input with facilities provided on the estates to keep kids occupied during the after school period of 3-6pm. Nobes recalls moving house seven times in four years when he was growing up in social housing in Newham and all three seem to be genuinely interested in the project rather than simply fronting it. Is it too late to vote for Mark Noble as Mayor of London?

Saturday, April 23

A brief history of Ken's Cafe

Ken and Carol Lucas have been running Ken's Cafe for 49 years. Here they tell Pete May about their Boleyn memories… and the good news is they're staying open after the Hammers' move to Stratford.

Ken’s Café is a pre-match institution at West Ham. On match days the queues stretch through the door and out into Green Street. Ken’s is only the size of a normal two-up two-down Green Street house, but it fits in a tremendous number of customers around its Formica-covered tables.

Behind the counter is Carol in her apron, dispensing strong tea from an urn and numbered tickets for each food order, sharing jokes and shouting for someone to get more cups (the staff include three generations of her family). Hundreds of fans all get fed on time. Instead of on overpriced stadium pie or hot dog, you can still get egg, chips and beans with two slices and a cup of tea for less than a fiver.

Ken and Carol Lucas have plenty of stories to tell.  Ken emerges from his kitchen to make a rare appearance in the café itself and makes himself a coffee, joining Carol and myself at a table. Did they ever get used to get any footballers in?

FRANK LAMPARD'S SAUSAGE SANDWICH 
“Frank Lampard Senior used to have a business two doors away and he’d sneak in for his sausage sandwich with masses of brown sauce,” remembers Carol.

“I put a load of brown sauce on it, he said ‘it ain’t enough’, I said ‘just have the bottle!’” adds Ken, who cooks all the food in the kitchen at the back of the café aided by his daughter Sarah Jane.

“We had half the team in here… Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst… a lot of the youngsters come in the old days. But they’re prima donnas now aren’t they, with their tinted windows, not signing autographs like in the old days,” says Carol. Though Carlton Cole did come in more recently. “It made my grandson Billy’s day and though he wasn’t meant to eat it, Carlton mullered his bacon sandwich!”

Ken and Carol celebrate their 50th anniversary
The good news is that the cafe is staying open next season after the Irons move to Stratford. “No we are not closing down!” emphasises Carol. “We’ll just potter along, as long as we get to the end of the week with enough to cover us.”

Ken, who recently turned 80, owns the café outright, so fans will still be able to get their pre-match grub in Green Street before taking a bus or taxi to Stratford.

Carol, who is a few years younger than Ken, but never seems to age, was originally from Slough and Ken from Streatham. They met at the Southend Kursaal when Carol was on the coach and Ken was riding his motorbike. After accepting a ride home on Ken’s bike Carol was in trouble with her parents, but romance quickly blossomed.

Having been a cook in the Army, Ken was working as a lorry driver, but fancied opening a café. In 1967, two years after marrying Carol he looked over number 467 Green Street. “I parked my lorry outside. The law come in and said you’ve got to move your lorry there’s a match on in two hours.  I didn’t even know West Ham was here!” recalls Ken.

When Ken and Carol took over the premises it was an amusement arcade. They still live upstairs and four of their children were born there. Ken kept a few machines in the café, though this lead to problems with, what he terms, “a few Herberts from Canning Town.”

ROCKERS, SHOTGUNS AND SYNAGOGUES 
“We had all the rockers in here and all the mods went to a place in Plaistow,” remembers Carol. “I told them we can’t have German helmets in here, it’s a Jewish area!”

“One of them came in with a shotgun. I said I’m not having that in here!” laughs Ken. “ You see ’em now and they’re all granddads. When I say ‘do you remember the shotgun?’ they go, ‘sshhh!’”

Back in the 1960s and 1970s Ken’s Cafe did an unlikely trade selling bacon sandwiches to Rabbis from the nearby Synagogue. “It was a very Jewish area when we moved here,” says Carol. “The market was mainly Jewish and next door was a Jewish lady selling materials. The rabbis would sneak in, and him next door, every time his wife went to the warehouse, he’d say, ‘quick Ken, get me a sandwich!’”

But it was the football trade that really helped the café prosper. Ken and Carol are proud of the fact that customers on match days are usually served within 20 minutes and nothing is cooked until it’s ordered. “Keep the fat hot!” is Ken’s sage advice for feeding industrial quantities of chips to hungry fans.

They’ve had the odd mishap though, such as the time a fryer broke down and, “the time the electric went off, so we did it by candle light but we still fed ‘em!”

POLICE AND TEA LEAVES
Ken and Carol are happy to serve fans of any hue, though if there’s any aggravation it’s normally Carol who sorts it out. “I can shout them out, because they’re not likely to hit a woman,” explains Carol. “But the worst football fan was a woman in in her 80s, quiet as a mouse. Then one person came in wearing another team’s colours and she was like a volcano. The most she ever managed was three games before we threw her out again.”

Even the police used to like a secret cuppa round the back. “In came one of the chiefs saying ‘have you got any of my officers in there?” I said ‘no’ and he looked in the kitchen, but we had eight of them in the scullery at the back!” laughs Carol.

Over the years, the café’s displays of replica guns on the walls have caused some talking points. “This girl said, ‘are them guns real?’ I said, ‘yes’, the only thing you’ve got to do is don’t slam the door when you leave.’ She flew out of here!” chuckles Ken. “The law came in and he said ‘I’ve got to have you about these guns’ until I told him they were plastic.  We did have one of them nicked once and about a month later the bank was robbed!”

Ken’s Café has had its share of well-known customers such as Never Mind The Buzzcocks’ Phill Jupitus and Ken Livingstone when he was running for Mayor. “Ken’s alright, though I don’t like his politics. He saw the sign at the front and said, ‘my cafe!’ We’ve had EastEnders stars too and Iain Dale from LBC. I’m dreadful for names I just see faces,” says Carol. “What I like is the celebrities are just like any other punter. They queue up, they don’t expect special treatment. They’re not here as celebrities they just want to be one of the punters. So I won’t let anyone molest them.’’

Other memorable moments at Ken’s include a car swerving in Green Street and coming through the front window some ten years ago. “I was sitting here doing my books and crash, a car come in. The whole side of the shop come down. I got a new front out of him though,” says Ken. The Cafe has also had a window smashed by an irate window cleaner who had a grudge against the previous owner and was once burned down— but only on celluloid, when it was used as a film set.

FAMOUS THROUGHOUT THE UK
Thanks to their match-day regulars Ken and Carol have been recognised in unusual places. Ken recalls: “We were at Center Parcs in Nottingham and this big bunch of Herberts came over. I said ‘watch it’ but as they got nearer they said “Ken’s Café!! How are yer!” What a relief! We were at the Isle of Wight in a chip shop late at night and the guy says, “I’ve seen you before in Ken’s Café!”

There was talk of a committee being formed to help local businesses move to Stratford, but little came of it. They remain sceptical about West Ham’s move to Stratford and Carol bemoans the flat prices of the planned development of the Boleyn Ground. “It’s rock bottom for housing in this borough, you get five families in some houses, so there should be more social housing when it’s developed.”

The area is changing, but Ken’s Café today is pretty much the same as it’s always been and that’s part of its charm and why authentic cafes are back in fashion. Ken and Carol seem genuinely happy in their work and will carry on. It’s a proper caff and they’re a culinary treasure.


“They won’t give us that fifth star for food because they want lighting and marble floors and posh chairs and a toilet,” says Carol. “But people are fed up with Costa Coffee and all this espresso double this double that. We won’t change!” And none of their customers would ever want them to.

Pete May's memories of West Ham's final season at Upton Park will be appearing in a forthcoming e-book Goodbye To Boleyn.

Thursday, April 21

Noble effort sees off depleted Watford

West Ham United 3 Watford 1

Michael the Whovian has pre-ordered his big breakfast through Lisa as we join the Ken’s Café queue. Nigel’s running late at the office and Matt is working. Statto Lisa reveals that Andy Carroll’s penalty at Leicester was our first away penalty for five years. Meanwhile Carol’s grandson Billy is very impressed with seeing Ken’s Café on BT Sport.

After the food arrives Carol leaves her till and sits down next to Michael, declaring affectionately, “You really love your big breakfasts don’t you?” Michael says he doesn’t have them at home, (where it’s presumably only Ottolenghi salads) which is why they’re such a treat. In more culinary confessions Lisa reveals that when her family moved from Manchester to the south her mum finally got rid of their chip pan.

In the East Stand we’re joined by Fraser who’s just won second prize in a short story competition, but has forgotten his laptop so he can’t turn out today’s 2300 words in the Central.

It’s good to see Diafra Sakho back in what may be our strongest side. Watford play a very weakened XI with one eye on the weekend’s FA Cup semi-final, though we do get to see Valon Behrami back at the Boleyn.

DER DER DER DER DER — ANDY CARROLL!
West Ham take the lead after 11 minutes when Payet lofts a precise ball over the Watford defence and Andy Carroll prods home with his left foot. That’s Carroll’s sixth goal in six games and his ninth of the season. If he can score a few more in the remaining four games he’ll give Roy Hodgson something to think about.

Nigel arrives after the goal, just as Watford have a decent spell and Adrian has to make a smart stop from Jurado. But West Ham’s nerves are settled on half time when ref Mike Dean awards a softish penalty, ruling that Kouyate was held down as he jumped in the box. Mark Noble does the rest. It's also great to have a minute's applause for Dylan Tombides during the half, on the second anniversary of his death.

At half time Michael spots actor Donald Sumpter, aka the Lord President of the High Council of Time Lords, though we think he might be avoiding his Whovian stalkers.


BEST REF OF THE SEASON 
We get another penalty as Antonio, celebrating the 400th anniversary of the birth of Shakespeare, surges between three defenders and is pulled down. Noble puts it straight down the middle and scores. Gomes might have saved two penalties from Berahino in his last game, but not from Nobes.

It’s a strange game and has more of the air of a testimonial as Lanzini misses a great chance and West Ham try to walk the ball into the net. “Maybe Adrian will run down the pitch and score,” suggests Lisa.

West Ham look tired and it’s a mystery why Bilic doesn’t bring on some fresh legs earlier as Watford pull back a goal through a fine hooked effort from Prodl. Cresswell and Payet try their best to create a fourth as the game looks like ending in an easy home win. The Bobby Moore Stand go their their greatest hits of Ludek Miklosko and Christian Dailly ditties. In the last minute Watford earn a penalty for an innocuous looking challenge by Ogbonna. Troy Deeney takes but Adrian saves to great cheers. And there’s still time for Watford’s Amrabat to be sent off after a second yellow card.

RESPECTING THE PINT 
So it’s off to the Central after a welcome three points. That was our 15th home game without defeat, a Premier League record. “Just when we’ve finally turned Upton Park into a Fortress we’re moving,” muses Fraser.

Nigel’s been to see former Status Quo drummer John Coghlan at the Half Moon in Putney, and has missed the blog revelation that Michael plans to dye his hair claret and blur for the Man United game. He’s less impressed with Michael’s proposed Marc Almond musical. So I suggest an Andy Carroll musical, with drama, injury, romance with Billi, goals and pink bedrooms, though Michael thinks it might need a good understudy in the event of injury.

The loud music comes on as the dodgy dvd seller does her rounds and we head home. “That’s out last ever victory against a team from the south,” muses Nigel as walk past the fine old vista of a floodlit Boleyn Ground viewed from Barking Road.

A welcome win after four draws, even if Man United and Liverpool have both won. But West Ham have a five-point lead over Southampton and can now really make a bid to finish in the top six.


PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 6; Antonio 7, Ogbonna 6, Reid 6, Cresswell 6; Kouyate 6, Noble 7, Lanzini 6, Payet 7 (Collins n/a); Sakho 6 (Moses 6), Carroll 7 (Emenike n/a).

Tuesday, April 19

Time to end wrestling in the box?

One thing Jonathan Moss got right at Leicester was awarding West Ham a penalty for Morgan's pulling of Winston Reid. Every corner saw a tremendous amount of grappling in the box and Moss clearly gave the penalty because, even though such holding happens all the time, he had specifically warned Huth, Morgan and co seconds before. 

West Ham could have been penalised at times too. In some ways it was encouraging to watch Angelo Ogbonna match Huth in the dark arts of holding and tugging (he did learn his trade in Italy after all) as West Ham were clearly not going to be intimidated by Robert Huth's gamesmanship. But on a couple of occasions Ogbonna too could have given away a penalty, particularly when he held down Huth in added time. 

Apparently there was much less pulling going on at the Stoke v Spurs game last night after the publicity Moss's decision received, so perhaps at the start of next season the FA should insist that any player holding at a corner will concede a penalty. Once three or four penalties are awarded in a game the defenders would surely stop and we'd see a fair jumping contest between attackers and defenders rather than WWE wrestling. 

Monday, April 18

Hammers denied by dodgy penalty at the last but still stop Vardy's party

Our north/south/west London Hammers Firm arriving at the King Power
Leicester City 2 West Ham United 2

It’s an early start at 8.45am in the Holloway Road as Nigel and myself are picked up by Gavin and his mate David, who’s driving to the match. In a bid to provide some colour for this blog Gavin is wearing his revolutionary hardwearing slippers to the match, which are very comfortable, if not as intimidating as DMs should we meet any Leicester hoolies. Nigel’s been to see Stevenage versus Newport the previous day and got a new Panini sticker album, while Gav was spotting hipsters at Dulwich Hamlet versus Lewes.

We have a good journey and arrive in Leicester two hours before kick off. We park in Hazel Road, as Nigel points out the useful fact that all the local roads around the old Filbert Street area are named after nuts, and that Filbert is actually a type of nut too. Though Brazil Street wasn’t named after Alan Brazil.

We manage to park for a fiver and then Nigel tries to take is in to the Leicester Tigers rugby ground. After reorienting, we find the King Power Stadium and have a slap-up lunch of omelette, chips and beans at the café in the nearby Morrisons.

THEY ARE THE CHAMPIONS? 
We walk to the stadium past stalls selling scarves reading “Leicester: Fearless Champions” and remark that West Ham fans would never, ever, tempt fate by such presumptuousness.

Inside the King Power the home fans are busy chanting “We’re Leicester City we’re top of the league!” as the West Ham corner responds with “We’ve got Payet!”

One minute into the game West Ham win a free kick. Payet drops the ball on to Kouyate’s head and Schmeichel makes a fantastic save to top the ball on to the post. It rolls along the line on to the other post and back into the keeper’s arms.

Huth goes close with a header but it’s mainly West Ham attacking for the first 15 minutes. But that’s when Leicester are at their most dangerous. From a West Ham corner, Schmeichel’s quick throw finds Mahrez on the right. He passes inside to Kante and the midfielder plays a fine ball through to Vardy, who has outpaced Antonio and Ogbonna and takes one touch before slotting a great finish into the corner.

“Jamie Vardy’s having a party!” chant the home fans.

JAMIE VARDY'S HAVING A SHOWER! 

It’s 1-0 at half-time and Gavin points out no less a figure than Marlon Harewood wearing a blue hoodie in the away end. Best West Ham legend spot since we once saw Trevor Morley and Ian Bishop among the away fans at Arsenal.

With Huth and Morgan looking strong at the back you’d predict the usual 1-0 Leicester win as the second half begins. Vardy just fails to connect with Okazaki’s cross, but with Carroll on for Obiang West Ham are offering more attacking threat. The game changes on 56 minutes. Vardy tangles with Ogbonna in the West Ham box and goes down. Ref Jonathan Moss gives Vardy a second yellow card for simulation and he’s off. Replays show only mild contact with Ogbonna and Vardy throwing his legs towards Angelo. Looks like a dive to me and a correct decision.

“Jamie Vardy’s having a shower!” chant the Hammers’ fans.

With Lanzini on for Noble West Ham start to dominate against ten men. Winston Reid flicks the ball against the outside of the post with a clever flick from Payet’s cross. But Huth is heading everything that moves and it looks likes Leicester will hold out.

 But when West Ham win a corner with seven minutes left, Moss gives Huth and Morgan a lecture on grappling in the box. Morgan pulls back Winston Reid and the ref awards a spot kick, as Leicester fans throw their silly paper clappers on to the pitch in protest. Andy Carroll calmly dispatches the penalty to start his own party.

Two minutes later Antonio does brilliantly to skip around two defenders and get in a cross. The ball is half headed clear but Croswell sends an unstoppable half-volley into the top of the net. What a goal.

AARON'S AIM IS TRUE
“1-0 and you fucked it up!” chant the West Ham fans, followed by the not very witty but certainly concise, “You’re fucking shit, you’re fucking shit!”

Are we at last heading for a win? It seems so as Referee Moss ignores a penalty appeal as Ogbonna holds down Huth in the box (though both sides have been doing this all game). We’re into the fourth minute of added time as Nigel rages at Valencia for losing possession instead of hoofing the ball downfield. Schlupp is running into the edge of the box and tumbles after an innocuous challenge from Andy Carroll. Big Andy should have jockeyed him rather than tried to play the ball, but it was never a penalty and the ref appears to have been swayed by the ire of the crowd at his earlier spot kick. Ulloa calmly slots home to send the home fans into massive celebrations.

“2-1 and you fucked it up!” chant the Leicester fans as the whistle blows, before both sets of drained supporters join in some anti-Tottenham chants.

A cracking game, even if it ended in the usual dodgy decision going against the Irons. The consolation is that at least we haven’t won the title for Spurs and I’ve been proud of the way West Ham wanted to get something from this match after the disappointment of the Man United game.

TWO-TWO IN YOUR CUP FINAL 
We head off to The Counting House, which serves IPA and London Glory ales. A Leicester fan tells us they’d have settled for top half at the stat of the season and has some interesting stories about Alan Birchenall. When has asks Gavin to name a Leicester full-back who played for England he’s astonished when Gavin gets Steve Whitworth — “Brilliant! Steve Whitworth! Fooking Statto!”

We receive a number of texts from a tired Matt who’s been on the night shift and can imagine his fingers angrily pounding the phone as he rages against Leicester for only having one shot, Valencia for giving the ball away and former Culture Club drummer Jonathan Moss for being rubbish.

The Leicester fans are still chanting they’re top of the league. The West Ham fans’ chant of “Leicester’s a shithole I wanna go home!” is answered with “Fuck off to your tower blocks!” We retreat to David’s VW Golf and head back down the M1, having a vey long wait for a coffee at the services and listening to lots of angry Hammers fans phoning up Ian Wright and Kelly Cates.

At least Leicester haven’t done the double over us and we’ve got a point at the likely champions — although it should have been three.


PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 6; Antonio 7, Reid 7, Ogbonna 6, Cresswell 7; Noble 5 (Lanzini 6), Kouyate 6, Payet 7, Obiang 5 (Carroll 6), Moses 5 (Valencia 5); Emenike 5.