West Ham 2 Blackpool 1 (Play-off Final)
We’re so nervous about getting to Wembley on time and not losing the tickets that we arrive at Wembley Park at 12.30. Still there’s time to queue up for a £6 programme and then buy a £10 flag for my daughters Lola and Nell, though you do get a few bubbles jar with every purchase. Then it’s on to the Bobby Moore Statue to meet Nigel and CQ, Michael and Fraser, while Matt and Lisa stake out a greasy spoon and Big Joe's still on the rattler having spent too long in The George at Marylebone. We’re in the Club Wembley section of the stadium by 2pm, which is fairly genteel. Nigel has a £6 designer Lincolnshire sausage, and we buy a pre-match bottle of Carlsberg, as Wembley, like The Central, remains a real-ale free zone.
The West Ham section is heaving and there's a beach ball bouncing around. While the Blackpool has 12,000 empty seats in the upper tiers. Kevin Nolan's family alone could have taken that many seats.
At the kick–off I’m not feeling too nervous. That soon changes in the first fifteen minutes. Dobbie brushes past Matt Taylor to force a good low save from Rob Green in the third minute. Matt Phillips drifts through the centre of our defence for a one-on-one chance only to shoot tamely at Green. Then Demel loses the ball in calamitous fashion to let in Matt Phillips who curls a shot just wide of the post. We’re looking terribly nervous; Demel doesn’t appear to be fully fit, Reid is having a bit of a ’mare, Collison takes a long time to get into the game, and the mobile Ince and Matt Phillips have the beating of our full-backs. We wonder if that’s Matt we can hear shouting expletives at our defence. We wonder why Faye isn’t on the bench as at least he\d offer some stability.
But slowly we settle. Vaz Te shoots into the side netting after a good lay-off by Cole, when he should have probably scored. It looks like we’ve come through it on 35 minutes when Matt Taylor plays in a perfect cross from the left and Carlton Cole gets behind Evatt to control brilliantly and fire into the roof of the net. Then Vaz Te pokes a reasonable chance wide after a fine pass by O'Neil and West Ham win a flurry of corners late on. We hold the lead at half-time and will surely go on to respect the 1-0.
ALWAYS BELIEVE IN CARLTON COLE
Half-time seems to last only ten minutes and most of the crowd are still in the bar as three minutes into the second half. Ironically we’re undone by a long ball from Phillips as Ince gets beyond Matt Taylor and the covering Reid and connects to poke the ball past Green. Undone by the son of Judas. We can see those “Ince Perfect” headlines. We’ve been undone by a side who can’t sell out their end.
“You’re not singing anymore!” chants the wall of orange (with several bricks missing) to our right.
“Daddy, are West Ham going to lose?” asks a nervous Nell. I’m wondering if I should apologise to my daughters for making them support West Ham and enduring a lifetime of misery.
Blackpool have the better of the second half. At least we improve a bit defensively when McCartney comes on for O’Neil and Taylor movers into midfield, and Faubert replaces Demel. “Our whole season rests on Gustave Faubert…” I remark to Nigel. The Frenchman finds Carlton Cole, who has a turn and shot excellently saved by Gilks, but it’s a rare foray.
Taylor has to clear off the line from Baptiste and then Dobbie goes all house elf, scuffing wide a superb chance that Kevin Phillips would surely have buried. Then Nobes has to clear off the line from a corner. Collison replies with a shot over the bar. It seems like we’re only just into the second half, but there’s 70 minutes on the scoreboard, and now 80. “We are Bobby Moore’s claret and blue army!” chant the Hammers fans, trying to rally the side. And then "My name is Ludek Miklosko!" It’s going as quickly as that horrible play-off final loss to Palace. Oh God, I can see a late Blackpool winner coming and Ian Holloway going mental. A bloke in front of us stands up and hollers a two minute rant of swear words at the team, which is educational for the kids. “He must be a vicar’s son like Matt, or possibly a vicar,” suggests Nigel.
VAZ TE PARTY
Vaz Te can’t do anything right and I say to Nigel and CQ we need Nolan to suddenly produce one of his goals after drifting out of the game. Sure enough McCartney puts in a great cross and Kevin hits the bar with a superb volley. Is that our last chance? Oh God, extra time and then penalties.
But there’s 87 minutes gone as the ball comes to Nolan on the left. He cuts inside and crosses low into the box. Carlton Cole controls and pulls the ball past a defender and just as the keeper tries to smother it, he pokes the ball out of his hands and back to Vaz Te who is surely going to hit the bar or hoof it into the stand, but now it’s in the roof of the net and the West Ham end is exploding with joy and relief and we’re hugging each other and waving flags and wondering if this is our Man City moment. Ricardo whips off his shirt and struts in front of the West Ham fans.
Big Sam chews his thousandth piece of gum. The West Ham fans suggest that we go effing mental. There’s four minutes of injury time to endure and the ball fizzes agonisingly across our box. And CC gets hold of it up front and we manage to keep it in the corners and then survive a dubious penalty appeal and it’s over! “Promoted to the Premier League are West Ham United!” announces the PA. “Never in (much) doubt,” I suggest.
“You know, I think I might renew my season ticket,” suggests Nigel.
HI HO CLARET AND BLUE LINING
Kevin Nolan walks up about 10,000 steps to collect the trophy wearing a claret and blue scarf and “Nothing Beats Being Back” t-shirt. Karen Brady is kissing David Gold and Big Sam. David Sullivan appears to be wiping away a tear, or is he just thinking of all those contracts that go back to Premier League wages? Nolan lifts the trophy as Paradise by Coldplay plays over the PA. My daughters are seeing West Ham win a trophy and the players get a medal each at Wembley. This only happens once every 32 years. Nell blows bubbles, Lola waves the chequered claret and blue flag.
There’s even a chant of “Allardyce! Allardyce” from behind us. And Big Sam is actually smiling. Whatever you think of the man he's given us our first Wembley win in 31 years. The lads run on to the pitch. Vaz Te dances, Carlton Cole, who’s had a great game, dons a claret and blue wig and Big Sam gives an interview where he says, in a manner strangely reminiscent of Windsor Davies in It Ain't Half Hot Mum, that James Tomkins is the most handsome centre half in the league. Fine pair of shoulders there son, show 'em off. Nigel starts to do his headbanging routine to Hi Ho Silver Lining, Rocking All Over The World and We Are The Champions and my daughters are singing along to Twist and Shout and then another chorus of Bubbles. Is Jeremy Nicholas on the PA? All we need is the Cockney Rejects now.
"Will we be able to buy Scott Parker back now?" asks Nell, and I tell her that it's certainly possible he might want to move to a club with a more realistic chance of making the Champions League than Spurs. That's if he could get into our side.
Nicola answers my texts to say the champagne is on ice back at home. We meet Matt, Lisa, Fraser, Michael and co at the Bobby Moore statue, and someone has draped a Hammers scarf around Bobby’s neck. We find a dodgy pub near the ground where Fraser and CQ smoke cigars and nell and Lola find live moths eating the carpet, then enjoy a chorus of "Ricardo Vaz Te… he scores when he likes" from the Irons fans at Marylebone and watching northerners try to use Oyster cards at a packed Baker Street. We come home for champagne in the kitchen and Bubbles and Viva Bobby Moore on the CD player, ignoring some minor game going on in Munch. There’s only one game that matters today. We are Premier League, I said we are Premier League!