It’s up at six am to get the 7.45 am train from Paddington to Swansea, where several West Ham fans are already drinking cans of lager as we set off. The guard threatens to evict some smokers at Cardiff, but there’s good humoured banter with the Swansea fans who get on at Neath and we learn that the nickname the Jacks comes from Swansea Jack, the dog who saved 27 people from the docks and riverbanks in the 1930s. Though I'm sure a dog around the Thames Ironworks factory at Leamouth must have done something similar, saving all bar Millwall dockers.
Big Joe is at the station having travelled down from Shropshire and we meet Matt and Lisa at the ground. The Liberty is a functional white stadium in a retail park, similar to every other new ground. Though the service in the chippy outside is much quicker than anything experienced at West Ham.
The Swansea fans regale us with Land of My Fathers while the Irons fans respond with God Save the Queen and “We pay your Benefits!”
TAKING A LIBERTY
It’s a strange selection from Big Sam with Tomkins playing in midfield, when we’ve already signed Diame and Diarra to play that role. West Ham do reasonably well for the first 15 minutes with Diame prominent. Record signing Matt Jarvis gets a fine cross into the box that Nolan just fails to connect with. But Rangel is making some good runs behind McCartney and West Ham fail to respond after 20 minutes when the right back is again not picked up and fires in a low cross that squirms off Jaaskelainen’s elbow into the net. It’s a bad goalkeeping error. Jussi has been a great keeper at Bolton, but at 37 does he gave another season left in him?
A Villa fan has told Joe that James Collins “always has a mistake in him” and we find out what he means when the former Cardiff centre back plays a weak bobbling back pass that is easily intercepted by Michu who scores Swansea’s second. “We are top of the league!” chant the delirious home fans.
On the edge of his technical area the raging Big Sam looks like a low grade Mafiosi in his black shirt and claret tie and is regaled with chants from the Jacks’ fans of “You fat bastard!”
At least West Ham rally before the break. Collins’ up and under free kick is headed on by Cole and Jarvis swivels sharply to produce a fine save from Vorm. We gain a a corner and Carlton has a header cleared off the line.
Big Sam takes off Tomkins for Vaz Te at half-time and at least Ricardo gives us some dribbling ability up front. He wins a free kick that he fires low at Vorm for our only chance of the second period. Noble works hard as ever, but the second half is very worrying. We should do better against a Swansea side lacking last season's best players, Joe Allen and Scott Sinclair. While West Ham have a team of giants Swansea outpass us in midfield, inspired by the tiny Leon Britton, a former Hammers junior, Dyer and Routledge. Graham is regularly getting behind Collins, and our offside trap is somewhere east of Cardiff. Graham has a shot parried and then shoots wide after Demel fails to get tight. In fact both Demel and McCartney are struggling for pace on the flanks. Another fine passing move results in Swansea’s third, a right wing cross bundled home by Graham, who has lost Demel.
“Are you sleeping over there?” chant the home fans.
“Is it too early to say we’re too good to go down?” I ask Joe.
“We love our chairman!” chant the Swansea fans, ironically, at the away supporters.
“When did our season last end in August?” muses Big Joe.
Still, at least it’s a new ground. I blame the new away kit too. What has navy blue got to do with West Ham?
It’s a long trek past the Welsh hills as we walk back to town on the scenic trail that Lisa and Matt have discovered.
WE CAN DO MAGIK
We find some local real ale at Matt and Lisa’s hotel, the rather fine Tomos Watkins’ Magik Lagyr. The hotel is next to the Dylan Thomas Centre. Supporting West Ham would certainly have had the Welsh poet raging against the dying of the light and might possibly have resulted in him drinking even more Magik Lagyr than he did.
Joe and myself go gently into the night via a taxi to the station and a long journey home, though at least Joe’s got a Michael McIntyre gig in Cardiff to look forward to. Before the game Big Sam has warned that he doesn’t want West Ham to revert to being a soft touch away. We must beat Fulham now (and Crewe won’t be easy on this form) and it’s surely necessary to base the defence around Tomkins and play Vaz Te and possibly Maiga up front. We looked terribly slow in Wales, with Demel, McCartney and Collins all struggling for pace. Is Jarvis, a decent enough player, worth up to £10 million? Have we successfully replaced Robert Green? And where is the creativity in midfield? Big Sam has some decisions to make.