West Ham musings by Pete May, author of Hammers in the Heart, West Ham:Irons in the Soul and Flying So High:West Ham's Cup Finals.
Tuesday, November 30
Sending out an SOS
West Ham 3 Wigan 1
We’re in Ken’s Café for the board’s designated “Save Our Season” match. Yes, we’re sending out an SOS, Abba style.
Match day announcer Jeremy Nicholas is preparing professionally over a fry up and reveals that Junior Stanislas is in the side and Wigan are bringing 152 fans, who presumably came in a taxi.
My lucky mascot daughters Lola and Nell are with me enjoying the chips and beans. My old school friend Alison and her 15-year-old son Scott are up from Maldon, wondering if Ken’s serves Maldon sea salt. Still, Scott seems happy enough with a huge special breakfast.
An interesting discussion ensues with Alison and Matt about whether the Upton Park crowd are partly to blame for the club’s demise. Alison suggests we’ve tried changing everything apart from the crowd and that ever since she’s been coming there’s been abuse of certain players. Matt agrees that we are a hard crowd to please and certainly in the early Pardew days the crowd would get on the team’s back if they’d gone a goal behind early on.
But conversely we’re also fantastic fans when we get behind the team. Although I do also wonder if we’re a bit like victims of domestic violence, blaming ourselves for our sufferings. West Ham… we were asking for it. An interesting topic, which shall be aired in the blog at greater length.
Inside the ground we learn that Tomkins in at centre back and Ilunga has been dropped. It feels more like a West Ham side with two Academy lads and two wingers in Barrera and Stanislas and Parker and Behrami in the middle. Carlton Cole has been dropped, presumably for saying we’re rubbish (which we were at Liverpool) in the Newham Recorder.
It’s cagey stuff early on, with Cleverley going close for Wigan. Nell asks why West Ham can’t score, and I explain how lack of confidence can affect a football side. But when Parker launches into two buccaneering tackles in the style of Billy Bonds we start to get going.
Lola picks out Behrami and Barrera as our best performers in the first half an hour and wonders why some of the fans give Barrera a hard time. Tomkins is playing well too, doing what a centre half should, nipping in to take the ball early off the Wigan forwards and tackling sharply.
In the 34th minute Jacobsen’s lobbed centre is headed on by Piquionne and Behrami nips between two dawdling defenders to score and run to the corner flag like a Swiss David Beckham.
“We’ve scored!” cheer Lola and Nell, jumping up and down and wearing the expressions of kids who’ve just seen Father Christmas arrive early. After enduring the Blackpool game they’d simply assumed that it was impossible we’d ever score again.
Nigel wonders if taking the lead so early was the worst thing that could possibly happen.
We start to play with belief. Stanislas has a great long distance shot tipped away by Al Habsi and from the corner the keeper produces a world class save from Piquionne’s header. It’s looking good, suddenly we have belief and a winger who shoots.
At half time we discover that Alison was in the loo when Behrami scored. “Can you go again in the second half?” ask Lola and Nell.
It’s interesting that they don’t see taking the lead as a potential problem, unlike their worn down seniors. So young and full of optimism.
Piquionne misses from eight yards early in the second half and you wonder if that will prove costly. But no. Mystic Matt and Mystic Morris are just saying that Obinna has had more shots than any other Premiership player (47) without scoring when Freddie Piquionne twists and turns in the Wigan box, finds Obinna on the left who takes a clever touch to shoot home off the post from an acute angle. Two-nil in our Cup Final.
Yes, it’s Vic there! He looks so startled that he forgets to do his triple somersault, but after the mob of celebrating players has cleared he points two fingers upwards as if thanking God for being an Iron.
Only this being West Ham we concede a penalty as Gabbidon trips the impressive Cleverley. Bizarrely, Wigan allow sub Boselli to take the penalty with his first kick of the game.
“You won’t beat England’s number 16 from there!” I declare. And sure enough Green makes a relatively easy save with his legs from a weak penalty. The crowd erupt.
We’re inspired by that and first to the loose balls. On 75 minutes Parker wins the ball in his own half, runs into the Wigan box, plays in Obinna and sprints for the return to fire into the net from close range. He runs to the Bobby Moore Stand clutching his shirt and shouting superhero things. It’s a great goal, cutting through the defence with the alacrity of a student scarpering from a police kettling operation.
“Daddy, we’ve got confidence!” says a disbelieving Nell.
“Our season is saved!” I declare.
“Don’t say that!” cry the others.
Sure enough just as we’re dreaming of a roasting (in the old fashioned sense), N’Zogbia cuts inside Gabbidon and another defender to find Cleverley, who curls a great shot into the top corner. There are five minutes left. Surely we can’t blow this?
“It’s your fault!” chorus Matt, Nigel and Fraser. I feel like sending out an SOS myself.
We look jittery. In stoppage time Obinna slices the ball, a Wigan player knocks it on and it falls to Moses who scores. But Mike Halsey’s disallowed it for offside, wrongly as it turns out looking at it on Match of the Day. Always said he was a great ref.
We play it in the corners and hold out. Our season is saved! Only it isn’t it seems, as Wolves have won and we’re still bottom. But to have lost would have left us way adrift. And for 85 minutes we’ve played well.
A perfect day is rounded of by a visit to the Who Shop on Barking Road with the girls and an after hours tour of the Who Museum, viewing the Tardis console, cybermats, cybermen, Yeti, Daleks and Tom Baker’s claret jacket. Perhaps it’s the Doctor who’s saved our souls. And I do think Avram Grant might one day have a role in the series…
We travel home on the tube dreaming of unusual things like goals, wingers, shots and victories. Not quite Escape to Victory, but if we treat every game as a Save Our Season match we might even stay up.