West Ham 2 Middlesbrough 1
Ken’s Café is free of fry-ups at 3.30 pm on Sunday as we experience yet another kick-off time. DC arrives and then glides away to the Doctor Martens, while Matt and Lisa listen to cheers from the pub as Millwall lose to Scunthorpe. Big Phill is regaling us with tales of giving that Brian Dear and Paul Brush a lift home in the back of his cab after the End of season Gala Evening.
Boro need to win to have any hope of staying up. We have to win to finish either ninth or tenth. We have an ambient end-of-season feel to our game, but at least Cole is back up front and Zola has dropped both Di Michele and Tristan in favour of a five-man midfield.
Johnson fires over from a good position for Boro and inspires chants of “That’s why you’re going down!” Upson does well as Boro press without really threatening. Junior hits the bar with a deflected effort for WHU. Then on 33 minutes Luis Boa Morte plays a great ball through to Herita who crosses for Carlton Cole to slide the ball in to the net.
Boro come into it after the break and inevitably score. Tuncay is allowed the freedom of our area to pass to O’Neil who scores from an angle. But just to prove why they’re rubbish, Middlesbrough let us straight back. Junior Stanislas does well to shoot from the edge of the box but Bates allows his shot to squirm over the line.
“Down with the Geordies! We’re going down with the Geordies!” chant the admirably humorous Boro fans.
Luis Boa Morte has a storming game, winning tackles and running at the Boro defence, being rewarded with his own song from the Bobby Moore Stand. Who’d ever have thought it?
For the last 15 minutes Tristan and Di Michele come on to give us their full repertoire of badly weighted passes and stupid dribbles. “How shit is that? It’s like watching Laurel and Hardy!” rages the vicar’s son beside me. Kieron Dyer makes a couple of runs into their box and looks as knackered as the break-dancing 73-year-old on Britain’s Got Talent. Gav texts to ask us our orders for the Central. We wondeer if he'll be able to sit there alone with five pints, or if it will be like Poo Bear and the honey. The ground breaks into end-of-season choruses of Bubbles and "West Ham 'til I Die!"
We win and Boro go down. Their players collapse. Jeremy Nicholas plays Heroes, two clowns gather in the crowd beside the pitch (Are they Diego and David in disguise?) and it’s announced after the Doris award goes to Junior that Scott Parker is the official Hammer of the Year. Zola who's only five foot three and comes from Italy gives a speech with a feedback-inducing microphone and the lads parade around the stadium.
“It’s more a trudge of honour than a lap,” says Matt as the lads shuffle around the pitch accompanied by a banner and numerous injured stars in suits.
“We’re up a place from last season. That means we’ll win the Premier League in 2018,” I suggest to Fraser.
We adjourn to the blitz-themed beer garden at the Central where Gavin is getting the drinks in. We meet a Welsh Iron from the Valleys who now lives in Poland, over for the match. Matt presents Fraser with a designer cigar. We reflect on the likelihood of Nigel Quashie turning up in a Chadwell Heath broom cupboard over the close season. We’ve come a long way, from knowing what Dean Ashton looked like in August to relegating Boro and finishing ninth, while losing an owner, manager and sponsor. That’s good enough for us.
3 days ago