It’s different up west. Walking from Fulham Broadway it’s lunch at Pret a Manger instead of Ken’s Café and bistros instead of Belly Busters. At the Local Hero cafe Matt and Lisa are asked by a woman to look after her handbag while she goes to the loo. Now that wouldn't happen in Green Street.
Through leafy village-like streets we find the Cottage pub. Inside they take credit cards, it’s safe to wear your colours and Fulham fans politely make room for you at the bar. Fraser, Matt, Lisa, Nigel, Jo and Mike and two of Fraser’s Fulham mates are all here as we discuss the possibilities of Zamora, Konchesky, Paintsil and Bullard scoring against us (near to certain) over a civilised pint of London Pride.
A gentle amble to the ground past the “Neutral section” of the Putney Road stand (is there such thing as a neutral football fan?) and we take our seats, which are practically in the Thames. The river looks glorious in the sunlight and there’s always the prospect of watching the boats go by should we be crap.
“Shame the boat race isn’t on,” I muse.
“No, the same two teams get to the final every year,” says Nigel.
Zamora and Paintsil receive applause and songs from the away fans. Despite the Sheffield United judgment our fans give constant spirited support, as always.
For the first 40 minutes Fulham have the better of it as we give away a series of free kicks around our box. Davies volleys wide, and Green saves well from Bullard before being clattered by Paintsil, who is suddenly abused by the fans who thought he was better than Kaka a few minutes earlier. Zamora puts a header wide, thankfully looking more like the inconsistent finisher we sold.
Andy Johnson lunges in studs first at Ilunga and is lucky to only receive a yellow card. Parker and Noble are working tremendously hard in the middle but we’re creating little. Carlton Cole meanwhile is constantly controlling the ball but running into trouble.
“When he was arrested was it for performing an endless three-point turn?” I ask.
“We’ve got Craig Bellamy!” sing our fans as our Welsh irritant warms up.
“Not for long we haven’t,” suggests Matt, “he’s hardly ever played for us.”
Just as we’re saying we’d be happy to get to half time at 0-0 we score. Having been clattered in the right by Konchesky, Etherington recovers to sprint down the right, an area he hasn’t been seen in since the days of the Domesday Book. Incredibly he crosses with his right foot, Schwarzer can’t hold it and the ball falls to Carlton Cole to wallop home.
“Let’s raise a glass to Carlton Cole!” suggests Matt.
“Always believe in Carlton Cole!” sing the 2500-strong Spandeau Ballet revivalist contingent.
“Now would be good time to score another,” says Mystic Fraser, and 20 seconds later we do. Noble plays a through ball, the Fulham defence scarpers and the rejuvenated Matty Etherington bats the keeper to slot home his second goal in a week. And then Johnson gets sent off for his second yellow card and surely even we can’t blow this?
In the second half Fulham fight back, despite being down to ten men, and as ever we struggle to keep a 2-0 lead. Neill handles in the box and Murphy makes it 2-1.
But we are still playing some good attacking football and have numerous chances to finish Fulham off. Ilunga, looking strong and a real find at left back, produces a good save from Schwarzer.
Nigel receives a text saying that Paul Newman has died. We wonder if Hayden Mullins will come on as a midfield Hustler and if Al Fayed will show us the Colour of Money.
Etherington makes a great run down the left only to slice the ball into the side netting causing the vicar’s son by me to curse “How many f**king chances do we need? That was a pile of dog poo Etherington!”
Substitute Bellamy puts a volley over an open goal, Carlton Cole, having a great second half, has another shot saved and then Behrami, looking stronger and fitter as the game goes on, is the latest Iron to go close.
There’s still time for Zamora to not connect with an inviting free kick and Bullard to place an injury-time free-kick into the wall.
At last the whistle blows and it’s three points and stuff those litigious whingers from Sheffield. Tottenham are going toxic, Arsenal are about to lose to Hull and we’re up to fifth. And once we’re in the Champions League we’ll easily raise that £30 million.
Another day another disaster. Carlton Cole has been arrested for drink-driving, being stopped by the Old Bill on Tuesday night at 4.30am, just three days after Zola was talking about him playing for England.
Zola claims that Cole is now a different, more mature player to the one he was at Chelsea, but that he will “have to learn to look after his body”. And also, presumably, that drink-driving risks killing innocent people.
Meanwhile Dean Ashton, having injured himself in training on Zola's first day, is now having an operation on his dodgy ankle. It’s interesting that one of the “sources” close to the club dissed Curbs to the press for wanting to accept Spurs’ £18 million offer for Ashton. He’s a great player, but maybe Curbishley realised his fitness was more of an issue than we thought.
Oh, and Sheffield United players might also sue us for loss of earnings on top of the £30 million the club wants. Zola is right when he says that not even Maradona could win a game on his own and such rulings endanger the future of all competitive sport.
But perhaps strength comes through adversity. As Nietzsche, whoever he played for, once said: “What doesn’t kill me only makes me stronger.”
We are West Ham and we’ve been through the dark days at Rotherham. We came back to reach the Premiership and the Cup Final and we can do so again.
At times like this it’s appropriate to draw consolation from the greatest ever Doctor Who story Genesis of the Daleks:
“We are entombed but we live on! This is only the beginning! We will prepare! We will grow stronger! When the time is right we will emerge and take our rightful place as the supreme power in the Universe!!!”
And maybe even make the fourth round of the Carling Cup.
Very West Ham. Two seasons on, an obscure independent tribunal has decided to rule in favour of Sheffield United over the Carlos Tevez affair and it might cost us a mere £30 million in compensation.
You do wonder why we didn’t go to court over this as we have a strong case. The Premiership punished us with a £5 million fine, so surely any fault is theirs? You also wonder why Terry Brown and Paul Aldridge have not been called to give public evidence and why Tevez’ then-owner, Kia Joorabchian, is still apparently advising West Ham over transfers and indeed criticizing Curbs’ transfer record after the man has resigned.
And how can a tribunal rule that Tevez was worth an extra three points? Martin Samuel has written an excellent piece in today's Times on the absurdity of lawyers (the panel was former MCC president Lord Griffiths, Sir Anthony Colman, a former High Court judge, and Robert Englehart QC) predicting the results of football matches. It was 20 odd games before Tevez scored for West Ham! Sheffield’s argument seems to be based on the fact that Marlon Harewood would not have been as good as Tevez... which a good brief could surely demolish as Marlon scored 16 goals the previous season compared to Tevez’ seven.
And anyway, it could be argued that it was the inspired performances of Hayden Mullins that really kept us up. And what about Christian Dailly who was so good that several thousand Hammers fans were offering him sexual relations with their spouses? ("Oh Cristian Dailly, you are the love of my life, oh Christian Dailly you can shag my wife!") Tevez never received that kind of offer.
Another point is that none of the people involved are now at the club — bar chief executive Scott Duxbury whom the Daily Mail claims gave "oral assurances" to Joorabchian's representatives that the third party agreement was still in place, despite the club saying it had been ripped up. This claim is denied by the club. Yet it’s the fans that will, as always, be penalized. And then to have to suffer Neil Warnock being sanctimonious…
We’ve lost £30 million and we’re out of the Carling Cup. Oh well, another day at West Ham. And we thought this season might be boring.
At least the Carling Cup defeat was softened by beer, white wine and a stuffed pepper thanks to our party (Iain, Alastair, Jo, Mike and Matt) blagging a box at Watford. You do have to wear a suit, but a nice touch is the fact they ring a bell for the start of each half as if it’s the theatre.
Among the prawn sandwich set we accosted England goalkeeping coach Ray Clemence, there to watch Watford’s Scott Loach, and explained to him and his Missus why Robert Green should be his number one. So expect Greeny to be an England fixture from now on.
Also observed in the boardroom was ex-Hammers chairman Terry Brown, the man in charge when we signed Tevez and Mascherano. A somewhat surprising day on which to appear in public.
It was a typical early round Carling Cup fixture. Our away support was as ever excellent, but vast sections of the ground were empty. Lastuvka made a fantastic one-handed save and looked a solid keeper until his misjudging of a cross caused Mullins’ own goal. Watford’s young side competed better than we did and dived into tackles and their winger Lionel Ainsworth looked a player with a big future. Boa Morte was terrible again, Sears still looks lightweight and Di Michele anonymous apart from one dribble to set up Noble for a shot that was well saved.
We improved when Parker came on, Lopez curled in some dangerous crosses, Etherington missed a free header, Faubert hit a free kick just over and Matty Upson hit the bar. But as the home end chanted “Yellow Army!” and “Premiership — you’re having a laugh!” and “Premiership — you fucked it up!” the inevitable happened and we lost to lower league opposition.
We retreated through the gloom to Watford Junction station with 10-year-old Watford fans chanting “Where’s your sponsor gone?’ at us.
Out of another trophy and thoroughly embarrassed to lose to the somewhat effete-sounding Yellow Army, aka the Golden Boys. We were not the only people going up the Junction — it might be the club as well.
“We’re all going on an XL holiday/ let’s get stranded for a week or two!” sang the chirpy Geordies on the District line. Followed by “You’re not flying anymore!” in the ground.
There’s no fanfare for Zola as we come on the pitch, but the applause seems warm enough. From the kick-off it’s apparent that he has new ideas. He’s dropped the Head on a Stick and plays Neill at centre back, where he looks much better. Faubert plays at right-back and Etherington and Di Michele float behind Carlton Cole. Cole beats a defender for speed and surges on goal as if inspired by Zola’s advice to learn from Maradona (ok lads, maybe not the handballs, drugs or chat shows).
“One Mike Ashley! There’s only one Mike Ashley!” chant the Bobby More Stand followed by “Where’s your Keegan gone?”
As seems obligatory at home matches we go 2-0 up. The Newcastle defence looks petrified by Cole’s muscular interventions. Di Michele lopes in a deflected shot and then has a shot saved by Given before chipping the ball over the prostrate Colocinni and volleying in a Di Canio-esque finish. He over-elaborates at times and can be selfish, but on this evidence he has the class to become an Upton Park favourite.
"Down with the Tottenham! You're going down with the Tottenham!" we chant.
“We don’t even have a song for Zola yet…” muses Matt.
“What about ‘Hello hello Zola’ by the Kinks?” I suggest.
“Followed by ‘We’ve got Carlton Cola’, adds Matt.
“And Julien Faubert…’ I finish. Right, that’s the song sorted.
Early in the second half Newcastle have more possession. To the amusement of Nigel, Mystic Matt sighs “We’re not playing well we don’t deserve to be leading,” seconds before Cole plays a superb through ball to Di Michele who crosses for Etherington — relishing his now floating role and, ahem, taking a gamble in the box — to stroke home.
The Newcastle fans are regaled with choruses of “Three–nil to the Cockney Mafia!” and the superb cockney humour of “Your messiah is a c••t!”
The open midfield makes the game seem like a throwback to the 1970s. Di Michele misses a great chance to get his hat-trick, but this being West Ham, we let Owen score with a fine finish and then Duff has a shot saved by Green. Matt starts talking about the Wimbledon and WBA games (3-0up, 4-3 down). But then Boa Morte comes on (yes, Zola is a Boa Selector) and blazes over before missing a one-on-one.
There’s a full-house, sunshine and warm applause. The DJ plays Golden Years by Bowie as we leave, which seems a little over-optimistic. But just as long as we play Newcastle every week we should be fine.
As capitalism and WHU sponsor XL collapses under the weight of its own internal contradictions (and Dean Ashton's thighs) tens of thousands of West Ham fans remain stranded miles from their promised destination of the Champions League.
"I wanted to visit Barcelona and Madrid, but all I've been offered is a trip to an Icelandic biscuit factory," said one angry fan.
Meanwhile West Ham claims that the use of a pioneering Zola-powered vehicle will still propel Hammers fans towards a European tour.
But City experts fear that the club has over-exposed itself in the sub-prime player market and traded it too many derivatives from Newcastle. Will the government step in? Or will West Ham have to merge with Chelsea — a process that some analyists believe has already begun.
Good to see that Gianfranco Zola’s first job at the club was to find his mum’s old claret curtains from the attic and hastily get out the Singer sewing machine to patch over our XL logo. Still, I expect there’s a deal with Lehman coming up.
With rare rays of sunlight illuminating the metropolis, my Saturday afternoon involved a family trip to a previously undiscovered section of Hampstead Heath. We ambled past previously undiscovered ponds and woods towards Golders Green, before ending the afternoon with a pint of Autumn Gold in the Spaniards Inn. There was always the temptation to text someone for the score, but somehow I knew it might intrude horribly upon our bucolic ramblings.
But upon returning home and turning on Setanta Sports News, there it was. “Bastards! Stupid stupid Bastards!” I exclaimed in the manner of Michael Palin in Ripping Yarns. Somehow the West Ham diehard knows that a 3-2 defeat at WBA must have involved a late goal and an injury to Deano. While Bobby Zamora suddenly looks England class at Fulham.
The evidence on Match of the Day suggests a great game but three defensive blunders from the Irons, although it looked like Green played the ball first for the penalty. Upson lost Morrison for the first and Albion’s winner involved the Hammers defence leaving a space wider than Mike Ashley’s vacant seat. Our back four, minus Ferdinand and McCartney, parted with the alacrity of bankers in search of a redundancy cheque. At least Curbs knew how to close out a game.
We shouldn’t be losing to newly promoted sides, but on the positive side we came back to take the lead, scored from a corner again and Di Michele and Parker missed great chances. New left-back Ilunga was said to have had a sound debut too.
And so young Kevin Keen, aged 16, has played one, lost one. Now it’s over to Zola and Steve Clarke, who’s cost us another £1 million in compensation just to replace Mervyn Day. Hopefully Clarke was the backroom genius who made Mourinho look so good and at least he’s not Dennis Wise.
One final thought. If it wasn’t for the collapse of XL we might have been able to buy Newcastle as our feeder club.
The appointment of Gianfranco Zola is a huge gamble. He was a fantastic player but as the cliché goes, great players don’t make great managers. It’s significant that the likes of Wenger, Benitez, Mourinho and Ferguson were all average or worse players.
So far Zola has only worked as an assistant to the Italian under-21 side. At least Curbishley could point to 15 years of relative success at Charlton. Admittedly the likes of Gareth Southgate can enter management in the Premiership without previous experience, but then Southgate has a chairman who is prepared to take a long-term view and not panic at the first run of poor results.
It’s also a little worrying when John Terry describes Zola as the nicest man in football, as is the fact that Zola himself appears to one day want to manage Chelsea: "Let us put it this way - one day I would like to be good enough to manage Chelsea. It is in my heart."
Was he just an easy choice because he is a star name and happy to have less than absolute control over who comes and goes from the club? I hope not. Zola is certainly making the right noises about playing attacking football and his upbeat manner will be a welcome contrast to the seemingly perpetually moribund Curbs.
One hopeful sign is that billionaire owner Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson might be more willing to release funds to someone he trusts. He was clearly exasperated by the huge salaries of the Magnusson/Curbishley era and a “source” has told the BBC: “It is down to Gianluca Nani and Scott Duxbury to prove they can effectively manage the transfer budget and wage bill before Mr Gudmundsson starts to invest heavily in players again.”
Yet this regime’s record with managers points to short-termism. (Will Hutton wrote an excellent piece in the Observer highlighting this problem with the new breed of mega-rich owners.)
Pardew was sacked in panic after four games under Eggert, before the transfer window had opened. Curbishley kept us up, consolidated the club’s position but was then forced into walking after just three games this season, with the club fifth and the injured players finally returning. We’ve overspent and then overcompensated and have failed to achieve any continuity of management.
We can only hope that Zola energy proves to be the answer to the perpetual climate change at Upton Park.
West Ham's sponsor XL has gone into administration (in fact we have the anti-Midas touch, on our pre-season US tour the airline went bust too).
We understand that XL's plan to have all West Ham fans wearing XL shirts backfired disastrously when Dean Ashton stopped ordering pizzas from Domino's on the advice of nutritionist Dr Capello.
The credit crunch has also affected the WHU fan base and reduced waistlines, with Ken's Cafe reporting a significant decline in gross domestic product thanks to fewer full-fried breakfasts being served to the increasingly svelte literati types dining out on the vinyl tables and demanding frites lightly drizzled with ketchup.
Belly Busters burger bar also reports a decline in the so-called jelly belly ripple effect among fans in nylon replica shirts. Even celebrity fan Phill Jupitus is said to suffering from deflation.
West Ham’s Matthew Upson inspired England to a memorable 4-1 win in Croatia last night. With England looking shaky at 4-1 up against ten men and surely about to lose-5-4 in injury time, Upson emerged from the bench in the 89th minute to lead a heroic rearguard action and win a throw-in. West Ham rejects David James, Rio Ferdinand, Joe Cole and Frank Lampard also played and some kid from Arsenal scored a hat-trick.
What’s happening on Planet Irons? We’ve signed Uruguayan left back and free agent Walter Lopez, thus circumnavigating the transfer deadline. He’ll also be the first Wally to play for West Ham since the days of Steve ‘Wally’ Walford.
Lopez says that back in South America he “watched the Premier League all the time” and was “very happy (to) get to play for West Ham”. So we can assume, that like Segei Rebrov, he's a lifelong Hammers fan having grown up watching the great Trevor Morley as a kid. In fact Matt says that back home “whenever WHU were playing he’d always set the Montevideo”.
Fraser’s bagged some Fulham away tickets for the hefty sum of 48 quid apiece. He suggests “We can each recoup this by betting two pound each on Paolo Di Canio at 25 to 1 with Paddy Power to be next West Ham manager. Barrack Obama is 5,000 to 1 if you really fancy a flutter.” Personally I think Sarah Palin might be in with a chance — a rifle on the training ground might be just the motivation the lads require.
And as for our managerial vacancy? It seems like it’s going to be Gianfranco Zola, one of the few players to ever look up to Dennis Wise. At least the quality of candidates has been high, with Bilic, Donadoni, Houllier, Collins and Laudrup all in contention.
The only way having Gianluca Nani as a director of football is ever going to work is if the manager trusts him to sign players. So it makes sense to hire a fellow Italian who might have a footballing rapport with him.
Apparently Paolo di Canio might be involved too, and he’s been in the Sun still saying that his West Ham shirt is “like a second skin”. My West Ham shirt is like a second skin too, albeit one suffering from psoriasis.
If it is Emile Zola as boss, then along with Gustave Flaubert providing a sentimental education on the right wing, we are well on the way to assembling the greatest collection of French writers in Premiership history. All we need is Maupassant in midfield to complete the set.
And if it all goes wrong we can always recall our own great English writer from ’86, Alan Dickens.
George McCartney has told the BBC: "I have seen on the West Ham website I handed in a written transfer request. I never did anything of the sort. It was purely a family issue and I never handed in a written transfer request. The state that the club's in at the minute they are just trying to cover their tracks with the supporters."
Was McCartney a paperback writer? Did he ask for a ticket to ride? Oh won't you please help me...
Applications are invited for the post of West Ham United Team Manager:
The applicant must have proven abilities in:
Delivering positive outcomes on the football pitch while outsourcing defenders.
Arguing with at least one temperamental first team star after every home match.
Explaining to the press that: “We are a bit thin on the ground” or “down to the bare bones”.
Perusing copies of Nuts and Zoo outside the treatment room.
Facilitating and taking an active role in negotiations for bulk orders of Domino’s pizzas.
Carrying takeaway cups of Rosie Lea from Ken’s Café to the Director’s Lounge.
Knowledge of dressing room banter would be advantageous, as would taking the piss out of various players’ “gear” and anyone who is “having himself”.
An ability to negotiate football transfers will not be necessary.
West Ham is an equal opportunities employer and does not discriminate on the grounds of race, gender, religion, disability or footballing competence. Although that chippy bloke from Newcastle would be wasting his time.
Please apply in writing to West Ham United FC, The Boleyn Stadium, Green Street, London, E13 9RA.
So the Sun has Paolo Di Canio lined up for a return to Upton Park and getting the training running on time. As Di Canio’s an avid reader of Mussolini biographies his strong leadership might be interesting.
Obviously we’d have to invade the footballing equivalent of Abyssinia to restore nationalist fervour among the masses – maybe we could annex Leyton Orient or Dagenham and Redbridge? Or failing that Canvey Island? The players would be told that their West Ham shirt was a second skin and Paolo could substitute himself from the bench in disgust after a poor performance.
Although considering Curbs’ comments on “ a breach of trust and confidence” over sales, you wonder if any manager will want to work at a club where they don’t control transfers. Paolo would be shoving the board over within minutes before threatening to feed them to his piranhas.
Just when we thought Newcastle had the monopoly on boardroom farces, Alan Curbishley has resigned with the Irons fifth in the Premier League. The sale of Ferdinand and McCartney appears to have been the catalyst.
What is Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson and his board up to? We need to trim the squad, but not through flogging our only left back. Clearly all has not been well with Curbs installed favourite for the chop at the start of the season, despite finishing tenth last time round. Selective leaks from inside sources have appeared in the press, and today’s Independent reports that Curbishley clashed with captain Lucas Neill after Saturday’s over Blackburn, with Neill demanding more leadership from Curbs.
Last week the Indie also claimed that Slaven Bilic was lined up to replace Curbs and quoted boardroom sources as being unhappy with his “negative” attitude and “demeanour”, as well as his purchase of a team of injured stars and lack of expertise in the foreign market.
Curbishley has clearly retained his mental balance through stoicism, never overreacting to victory or defeat and you have to admire the way he’s insisted “I’m a big boy, I can take it” when criticised this season. Yet that phlegmatic approach has alienated him from some fans and it seems the board. At West Ham we demand passion. It’s why Alan Pardew finally grew to be loved, after the Pardew shuffle against Middlesbrough in the FA Cup and the Wenger handshake spat.
Yet it’s impossible to knock what Curbs has achieved so far. The Great Escape was unparalleled in Premiership history and tenth last season despite a huge casualty list was impressive. He made some bad buys, such as Freddie and Kieron Dyer, yet at times this season, with Bellamy, Parker and Ashton fit, it’s looked like a top eight team has started to gel.
West Ham. There used to be a football club over there. Pardew should never have been sacked by Eggert and Curbishley deserved another season at least. Keegan shouldn’t be getting humiliated at Newcastle and Avram Grant was sacked for being a penalty kick away from winning the Champions League. We used to be different. A club that never sacked managers. But that’s what happens when football clubs become the trophy brand of billionaires.
West Ham United Football Club can confirm that discussions are ongoing between the Board and Pete May.
Both the Club and Pete would like to reiterate that Pete remains a fan, although sometines it's bloody difficult. He has not resigned nor has he been sacked, as has been confirmed in respective statements made by Pete and West Ham United Football Club
Car keys, mobile, wallet, cheque book, packet of Eggert’s old biscuits, hang on, there’s something I’ve forgotten, yes, that’s it, we’ve signed two players. Oh well, better put it on the club web site. Only at West Ham could we create our own late transfer window. It emerges that we’ve signed Italian international forward David Di Michele and Congolese left back Herita Ilunga on loan for the rest of the season.
The WHU web explained: “The club recognises the lateness of this announcement but certain formalities including the release of international transfer certificates had to be completed.”
So they forgot to tell anyone until the day after deadline day just to torture us with the image of Luis Boa Morte as emergency left back.
Nice to know that according to Wikipedia, in March 2007, Di Michele was accused and found guilty of illegal betting and received a three month ban from Serie A – a man who likes a punt might have got on well with Teddy Sheringham and Roy Carroll. If he was in the Palermo side that beat us then he’s surely half decent. And at least we’ve now found a left back — even if he was probably purchased from The Pound Shop at 11.59 on deadline day.
“They’re doing what? They’re selling McCartney! Why?” My agent David Luxton (that’s literary not footie) might have just told me that Abu Dhabi billionaires have bought Man City and they’ve bid £34 million for Berbatov on deadline day and plan to capture Robinho changing forever the face of English football, but all that registers in my cranium is that George McCartney has travelled across the universe to Sunderland. May all the cloggings of Repka be unleashed on whoever is responsible.
It could be argued it’s more important to keep McCartney than Ashton or Ferdinand, as we only have one left back at the club. Now we have none. Was he sold over Curbs’ head? To lose Konchesky was unfortunate but to lose Konchesky and McCartney and miss out on Shorey looks like carelessness. Now it seems that McCartney’s wife was homesick. Surely we could have done a deal where we’d let him go in January once we signed a replacement? And I thought he’d divorced Heather anyway. Or is it a cover for an enforced fire sale? Playing half a season without a left back is madness. It all reminds me of Labour in the 1990s. Perhaps we've abandoned all concepts of anything leftish, and will now be playing a Right Back and a New Right Back in the slightly the other side of right position.
And what of my McCartney puns? No more McCartney to give us wings. Should we just let it be? Never again will I be able to fantasise about a suspended McCartney going AWOL and inspiring a headline of “Banned – on the run”. No doubt in January he’ll be replaced by Norwegian wood.
Ferdinand has gone to the Mackems for £8 million, but West Ham and Ken's Cafe endures. Ken’s is so hot that the doughty Carol has given up serving behind the counter. Even the loyal denizens of Green Street are finding the prospect of fried food too much in the unexpected humidity.
My Blackburn-supporting mate Scott has been and gone, possibly the only sociology lecturer ever to explore the greasy paradigm of Ken’s Café.
So it’s into the West Stand where Matt and Fraser are feeling smug having loyally watched the Macclesfield match, unlike myself and part-timer Nigel, who refused to fly back from Canada.
It’s the same line-up as against Man City. Early on Behrami is dispossessed on the goal-line and Rovers nearly score, but then, bizarrely, we’re two up, just like in the Wigan match. Davenport heads home Faubert’s corner, prompting Matt’s partner Lisa to text him with the missive “Head on a stick!”.
Then Noble plays a great ball out to Gustave Faubert, takes the return and his cross come shot creeps in off Samba, under pressure from Ashton.
It’s great for Curbishley, who’s endured headlines such as the Mirror’s “Hammered Curbs to fight on” after the extra-time win over mighty Macclesfield. Yu wouldn’t have thought we’d won a football match. A crisis after three games surely belongs to the realm of Alastair Darling-like pessimism. The Chancellor would propably say that this is the worst West Ham side for 60 years, although they have been the victims of outside forces.
In the excitement we’ve almost forgotten about Ince, before an obligatory chant of “Judas, Judas what’s the score?” “Don’t worry lads, we haven’t lost a game where we’ve gone 2-0 up all season,” I say. But then, just like in the Wigan game, our knees go all trembly. Behrami’s dodgy clearance is miscued by Parker and Roberts turns Davenport far too easily to score. Then Rovers have what seems an onside goal disallowed.
In the second half there’s yet more Blackburn pressure. Santa Cruz is substituted, at least allowing me to suggest, to groans, that “Santa Cruz isn’t coming to town”.
Cole handles a direct free kick and it’s a penalty, but England’s number six makes his usual fine save from the Roberts weak spot kick. Then Green saves brilliantly from Emerton’s free header. We’ll be lucky to snatch a point.
Curbs brings on McCartney for Faubert, one of our better players, switches Behrami to the right of midfield and Neill to right back. We’re all baffled by this, but then suddenly Curbs appears to be a tactical genius. Behrami looks a different player in midfield, Neill is much more at home at right-back, and with McCartney on the whole side looks better balanced.
Bellamy replaces Ashton, and quickly fires a volley of abuse at the ref to earn a booking. Then a proper volley produces a fantastic save from Robinson, who seconds later makes another great stop from the hard working Cole. What a great match it’s proving to be.
In injury time a long clearance finds Bellars’ outpacing the Rovers defence and firing a half-volley of sumptious arrogance past Mr Robinson. Blimey. And now we’re stroking the ball around to cries of ‘Ole!” from the crowd. Behrami slips his way to the byline pulls it back for Parker to cross and Cole to prod home for a deserved goal. Eight goals in two days...
On the way to East Ham station there’s that excited buzz from the fans that hasn’t been heard at Upton Park for a good six months. There have been signs of optmism; Noble played like he owed us for the Man City debacle, Etherington was more like the old Matty on the left, Cole unsettled their back line all afternoon and Davenport, apart from a mistake for their goal, has won everything in the air. We’re fourth! Crisis, what crisis?