So there we are last Sunday, Tim and Finn and Greg and Russ and Edward and Ken and the bloke next to Ken (more of whom anon) and meself, bubbles floating past us amid the arctic tundra of Stratford, writes Enda McEvoy
The east London one, that is, not the one on the Avon.
It is freezing, the 2012 Olympic Stadium is in the middle of nowhere and there’s barely a purveyor of pie ‘n’ mash to be seen. The walk down Green Street to the Boleyn Ground it ain’t and never will be again. There used to be a football club there: nobody ever doubted that. Is there a football club in West Ham’s new home? It is arguable.
Despite the recent unrest the atmosphere is less toxic than I’d expected, largely because the visitors are Manchester City. Not even the most diehard Hammer is expecting anything but an away win, probably by a large margin.
Someone mentions that David Moyes has had his team training without the ball in preparation for the game on the basis that they’re not going to be seeing a lot of it once the whistle blows.
The gang I’m with are East Stand season-ticket holders. If you want to try visualising it on TV we’re near the far corner flag at the left-hand goal, about a third of the way up. It’s a good view. The view from behind the goals, with the running track and a tarpaulin-covered chunk of the former Olympic infield in the way, is not a good view.
We’re perfectly positioned, then, for City’s first two goals. Leroy Sané via a deflection off Patrice Evra for the opener, with the second taking no fewer than three deflections.
A person of a charitable disposition might attribute the goals to misfortune. What cannot be attributed to misfortune is West Ham’s sloppiness in possession.
On the rare occasions that City give away the ball they have it handed straight back to them. The hosts’ first touch is abysmal; their second touch, as Tim observes acidly, “is a tackle”. They really have trained without the ball.
One’s heart goes out to Ireland’s Declan Rice, a boy tasked with doing not so much a man’s job as two men’s jobs, given that on one side of him he has Pablo Zabaleta (aged 33) and on the other Patrice Evra (aged 36). Speedsters both.
At another club Rice would have been taken out of the firing line for his own protection by now. Not at West Ham. Their transfer policy – and maybe the very term “transfer policy” gives it altogether too much credence – precludes it.
Entering the last ten minutes it’s 4-1 to the new champions, with both sides visibly going through the motions. Gradually the crowd’s torpor curdles into frustration – on Match of the Day 2 Alan Shearer will accused West Ham of “robbing their fans” - and the bloke beside Ken comes to life.
First: “You fackin’ useless ......!”
Not very polite, but would that the men in claret and blue had displayed such righteous indignation.
Next: “If West Ham don’t spend the most of any club this summer on transfers I’ll be out marching with a placard.”
Good luck with that one, mate.
Then: “We’d better not concede again. City could easily score two goals before the end.”
The man has a point. West Ham started the afternoon with a goal difference of -21. Right now they’re on -24, with Swansea City on -25 and Huddersfield on -29.
The relegation battle may yet go to the final day of the season and it may yet be decided on goal difference.
And West Ham are not out of the mire yet, although fortunately City are unable to work up sufficient interest to shoot these jellied eels in a barrel and wreak further havoc on the goal difference.
It finishes 4-1 and the crowd drift away listlessly. So much for the hype that the matchday experience at the London Stadium would entail spending time there before and after the game.
How did it all go so wrong? How did West Ham get from Mark Noble’s statement after the last match at the Boleyn Ground – “This club ain’t run like a circus any more, it’s run like a proper football club” – to this?
There are myriad contributory factors. Tim obligingly runs through a few of them.
The inevitable difficulty of leaving a grand old ground, exacerbated by the fact that West Ham’s relatively successful farewell season at the Boleyn gave rise to a feeling that something had been left behind.
The marketing hyperbole about the alleged wonders of the new venue, complete with the patently nonsensical claim that the seats would be “as close to the pitch as they were at Upton Park”.
The promise that the move would “take the club to the next level” quickly proving hollow: witness two poor seasons and the current flirtation with relegation.
The loss of Dmitri Payet, the club’s one standout performer. The dross purchased in return.
The directors, particularly Karren Brady, who doesn’t mention West Ham on her Twitter biography. And on and on and on.
West Ham are away to Leicester City today. Let’s hope Moyes had them using a ball during the week.
A programme worth keeping
The earliest extant programme for a hurling match at Croke Park went up for sale the other day. Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers of Castlecomer were offering a natty, rose-coloured eight-pager from 1913, the first 15-a-side All-Ireland final.
The guide price of €1,000-€1,500 proved an underestimate. The programme was sold for €2,100.
This small news item is interesting, because it came in the same week news emerged across the water that the traditional match programme may be going the way of the dodo and the maximum wage. Several lower-division clubs say they can’t afford the print cost and want the requirement to produce a programme dispensed with, given the easy access to team information on social media.
Hurrah, then, for Mansfield Town, who are determined to stick to their principles and to hell with the cost issue.
“We’d always have a programme, because it’s a voice from the club to the fans and it’s something some people keep religiously,” according to the Stags’ chief executive Carolyn Radford.
“It’s part of the fabric of the club and an important piece of memorabilia, a collector’s item. I know we’re moving more online, but it’s different having something to hold.”
Anoraks are by nature quiet, self-effacing types. That doesn’t mean there’s not millions of us... ahem, I mean them out there. Carolyn Radford does not underestimate either their number or their power.
Good for her.
Heroes and villains
Stairway to Heaven
Nina Carberry and Katie Walsh: Two truly inspirational mná na hÉireann
Hell in a handcart
Sven Ulreich and Radja Nainggolan: Sometimes doing the simple thing isn’t as easy as it seems. Even at this level
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