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.
Wednesday, December 1
Spector at the feast
West Ham 4 Man United 0 (Carling Cup)
There’s despair in Ken’s Café as the team comes through — Faubert, Kovac, Spector, Ben Haim… “All the players you don’t want to see,” someone suggests.
Still, there’s a good atmosphere in a sold-out snowswept Upton Park and the pressure for league points is off. Manchester United play Fletcher and Anderson plus nine squad players, but it’s still a strong side with the likes of the £7 million Hernandez, £10 million Chris Smalling, Ryan Giggs, Jonny Evans, John O’Shea and Rafael da Silva playing.
Early on Green makes a great save to push Obertan’s shot on to the post and the same player drives wide a few minutes later.
But we quickly start to get into our passing game and amazingly the Hammers look more up for it than United.
Spector is neat and incisive in the holding role but suddenly runs at the melting United defence. He’s blocked and the ball falls to Obinna who whacks it home via a deflection.
“West Ham’s first goal was scored by Victor Obinaaaaa!” hollers announcer Jeremy Nicholas. But after the United players protest, the bullied Mark Clattenberg consults his linesman and rules that Specs was offside. Maybe it’s going to be night of ‘what ifs”.
But still we surge forward with Obinna teasing Rafael, Boa constricting the midfield and even Kovac looking good.
On 22 minutes Obinna lofts the ball into the box and there’s Specs with a diving header t put us ahead. We frantically consult our mental databases and realise that’s his first ever goal for West Ham in 128 games.
“United should never have sold Specs!” I declare.
“We’ve founds Specs’ position!” adds Lisa. No wonder he was a bit rubbish at left back when he’s actually a rampaging playmaker. What tactical genius from Grant. How will Scotty Parker ever get back in the team?
And what’s this? After 37 minutes Spector surges through the United midfield like a reincarnated Trevor Brooking, finds Victor whose shot is blocked, the ball rebounds to the Yankee superhero and he rounds the keeper to slam the ball into the net and run to the adoring crowd.
Blimey. Get on to Roberto Mancini right away and he’ll surely buy Specs for £24 million.
On the way to the game I’ve been reading the chapter on the Total Football of the 1970s Dutch side in Jonathan Wilson’s Inverting the Pyramid. Only we’re seeing Total Football recreated by West Ham with Jonathan Spector in the Johan Cruyff role.
Something must be wrong here. As Scotty on Star Trek said, “Ye cannae change the laws of physics” — apart from at Upton Park. The morning Guardian has published ten questions that science still has to answer, like what existed before the big bang. The one they’ve omitted though is how did Jonathan Spector become a creative genius.
We go into half time 2-0 up and disbelieving as we shelter in multi-layers in the bowels of the East Stand.
“United just can’t cope with our strength in depth…” I suggest.
Although we know that United will be given the hairdryer and surely play better in the second half.
But no, 11 minutes after the break Victor Obinna is absolutely terrorizing Rafael Da Silva. He gives the full back more twisted blood as he produces a perfect cross for a suddenly hungry Carlton Cole to beat Evans in the air and powerfully head home.
Surely this can’t be happening. It can’t get any better, can it? It can, on 66 minutes it’s Vic there again, tormenting Rafael’s brother Fabio Da Silva this time, and finding Carlton, who turns Evans with embarrassing ease and slides the ball home. Just after we were saying that he’s never scored two goals in a match in his career.
“I’ve seen two bits of West Ham history!” declares a disbelieving Lisa.
“Let’s go f**king mental!” chant the snowy legions in the Bobby Moore Stand.
There’s a premature “We’re all going to Wem-ber-lee!” but who cares. It’s followed by “Your support is f**king shit!” aimed at the diminishing ranks of United fans and “Can we play you every week?” and “You only live next door!”
At 4-0 I’m suddenly overwhelmed by a surge of fear. There’s 24 minutes left plus added time. What if we blow it and United produce one of their greatest ever comebacks to draw 4-4 and win it on penalties?
It’s still all the Irons though. Sub Zavon Hines is pushed over in the box and Mr Clattenberg denies us a blatant penalty.
But with ten minutes to go I start to believe that we might at least draw. Just as lomg as we don't bring Manny Omoynimni on. With five minutes to go I’m confident enough to text my daughter Lola the score. And with three minutes to go it’s time to tell the others that we’ve saved our season. Again.
The crowd roars out "Fergie, Fergie what's the score?" and Bubbles as the whistle blows and it’s Hi Ho Silver Lining on the tannoy. We never doubted you Avram. Or Jonathan or Radoslav or Julien. The dejected Alex Ferguson looks like a garden gnome in his red hat while someone has put a West Ham scarf around Avram Grant’s neck. He looks marginally less moribund than usual as the records tumble. United's first defeat of the season. United’s biggest defeat since 2001. Our first League Cup semi-final since 1990. Our biggest win over United since 1930. Our finest League Cup win since beating Liverpool 4-1 in 1989 (best not mention we went down that season too).
It’s a shame the game won’t count for Nigel as he’s arrived too late to get a programme. We find the Central is closed due to its proximity to the United coaches so head to the Castle, while Nigel desperately tracks down a programme, possibly through steaming into the United coach and mugging an elderly Mancunian.
My inbox has gone crazy. “Unbelievable… oh my God!… Roz is in bar with Frank McAvennie and Tony Cottee, she’s a bit drunk… wow amazing!…wahoo!…are you in heaven?…our reserves are more magnificent than their reserves… winners! back of the net!… how did West Ham manage that?…wow brilliant…”
We take off our layers in the Castle and sit in stunned disbelief. A;though thee is a rumour that Fergie has decided to have the game postponed retrospectively. As we discover that we’ve actually won because Fraser has trimmed his beard and is wearing his lucky red shoes.
“Imagine what we would have done to them if we’d played our first team,” says Nigel. “Of course it’s a given we’ll lose at Sunderland…”
But frankly who cares. We’ve humiliated a Manchester United side. Let’s go f**king mental. Or at least stick around for a second pint. The cold outside can’t touch us because we’re walking in a Spector wonderland.