Result: West Ham United 1-0 Wolverhampton Wanderers (FA Cup Third Round)
Venue: The Boleyn Ground (Saturday 9th January 2016, 3pm)
A delay in getting this one out there due to unforeseen ‘being half dead-ness’, but all is well now, so here we go. Our story begins ten days earlier….
After pre-planning this game almost as soon as it was drawn out of the hat and acting upon prior ideas of heading down to West Ham for the third round if they got a home tie. They did as Wolves were picked as the visitors and come the morning of the 9th January, I was sitting in a rather empty Virgin Pendolino carriage destined for London Euston. I was pretty sure I should have had a table both there and back too, but none was forthcoming and I can’t complain as my memory isn’t playing ball on this one. Ah well, at least I had a seat.
Before long the Virgin was rolling out of Manchester Piccadilly on its way to its Northern-only stops of Stockport, Macclesfield and Stoke. This made for a good smooth journey, because as soon as Stoke passed to the rear it was plain sailing through to London, where we arrived pretty much right on time. Sadly, I’d undersold myself time-wise on this journey, but I had given myself time for at least one pre-match beverage near the ground, so after a five minute walk over to Euston Square underground station I should have been in possession of a Travelcard quickly. But, oh no…
The ticket machine here did not want to relinquish its tickets and thus I had to chase down the guy on duty there to help me operate the damn thing. As it only took coins, I had to pay by card and only would it accept it, it transpired, once you had removed your hand from the card, not withstanding the fact you had to put your PIN in the thing anyway to purchase it. So, after such a trivial thing had cost me 10 minutes, I was now even more pushed for time. Luckily, some boisterous Wolves fans helped me to figure the right train and I was soon on the way on the Hammersmith & City line over towards East Ham station, where I’d been tipped to use over the ground-neighbouring Upton Park, due to station usage on the day being manic (I was later to get an insight just how true this was!).
After a further 35 minute trip over towards the ground, I eventually disembarked at East Ham after most of the train had got off at the prior stop to ensure I knew where exactly I was headed after the game, so I didn’t do my usual party trick and get lost as my return train from Euston was at 6.20, so not too much time to manoeuvre. Upon exiting the station, what struck me was the, ethnic, feel to the area. It was something akin to a smaller Levenshulme (for those local to me), but it was less so the closer you got to the Boleyn, which popped into view after I’d walked back on myself slightly. After joining the crowds making their way down the main road, the castle-turret façade of the ground loomed into view. After doing a quick couple of exterior shots and buying one of West Ham’s vintage-themed programmes for £3.50(they’re based on prior issues against clubs they are facing), I headed for the Boleyn which had been championed prior.
I entered the Boleyn, saw it was packed and quickly exited through the far end, having been buffeted and deafened in equal measure by those already in residence. It was all in good spirits, though and looks a brilliant place to be in pre-match. Obviously, it won’t be an experience to be had for too much longer. On this I have to say that the pre-match crowds make it quite clear why the ground move needs to happen and quick. It’s just not suitable any more, with pedestrians in the open roads etc. As for me, with the Boleyn a no go, it was off to the ground and, more specifically, the East Stand Upper where I’d find my seat.
Upon arriving at the turnstile, the security guy was doing two bags and another wasn’t doing much. I awaited them finishing up with the bags and waited with mine ready to be searched. And I waited. And I waited. Then I went in. Good job I didn’t have any “items” in there eh? Ticket scanned, I was into the concourse and I headed straight for the refreshment bar where I picked up a steak pie for the fairly priced £3.50, before I headed up into the stand itself and soaked in the atmosphere of a pre-game Boleyn.
The Boleyn itself is certainly a ground with a certain charm to it. It’s new(er) build stands all fit well together (though it probably looks better from my viewpoint in the ’60’s-era stand). The Main Stand towers above the rest of the ground, with the twin “Sir Trevor Brooking” and “Sir Bobby Moore” stands sitting behind both goals respectively. The smaller East Stand sits backing onto residential areas thus, I suspect, stopping it being built upon any further, sort of akin to Manchester United’s railway restricted South Stand. The pitch, of course, looked in pristine condition due to it’s army of 370* groundsmen. As for the history of West Ham United? Well look no further…. (*number may be inflated.)
The club was founded in 1895 as Thames Ironworks’ factory side, before becoming West Ham United in 1900. After initially competing in the London League (won in 1897), they turned pro in 1888 and competed in the Southern League, being promoted from Division 2 at the first attempt. After moving to the Boleyn in 1904 and joining the Western League, the club won this league in 1907 and then joined the Football League Division 2 in 1919 and were subsequently promoted to Division 1 in 1924. The previous season saw the Hammers compete in the first FA Cup final to be played at Wembley Stadium.
After relegation in 1932, 1940 saw West Ham win the inaugural Football League War Cup, before winning the 1964 FA Cup and the 1965 European Cup Winners Cup. The England 1966 World Cup Winning squad had a large influence from the club, with the likes of captain Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst coming from the club to play vital roles in the success. The “Champions” statue commemorating the trio stands across from the Boleyn pub, along with Everton’s Ray Wilson.
1975 saw a second Cup success, but the club lost out in the Cup Winners’ Cup Final in 1976 and were relegated back to Division 2 in 1978, though a third FA Cup arrived in 1980. This is notable as the Hammers became the last side since that tie to win the trophy from outside the top division.
Promoted back into Division 1 in 1981, their next top-flight tenure lasted until 1989, when relegation followed once more, but they bounced back two years later. However, their stint lasted a further season before the drop arrived again, but 1993 saw West Ham promoted to the Premiership for the first time. The last silverware for the club came in 1999, in the shape of the Intertoto Cup, the best cup ever competed for. This last statement may be opinion…
Relegation in 2003 ended a decade-long stint and after coming close at the end of their first season, losing in the play-off final, the Hammers were promoted again in 2005 via the same method. After losing the 2006 Cup final to Liverpool on penalties, the club avoided relegation the next season after the shenanigans of the Carlos Tevez & Javier Mascherano signings. Tevez, of course, scored on the final day at Old Trafford to keep the Hammers up, before moving to the side he’d just beaten.
2011 saw the Irons relegated once more, but their stay in the second tier was only another brief one as they beat Blackpool in the following year’s play-off final. 2013 saw the club secure a 99-year lease on the Olympic Stadium, which is to be used from the start of the 2016-’17 season, with the club departing the Boleyn at the end of this current season. Last time out, the Hammers recorded a 12th place finish, with Slaven Bilic taking charge for this year onwards.
After the bubble machines were powered up and the Hammers fans broke into their famed song, the game got underway and….well….the teams really shouldn’t have bothered with the first half. It was dire, with only Carl Jenkinson’s rasping drive being tipped over by Carl Ikeme being the notable action. As such, I shall explain the pie to you. It was a pukka pie and it had pastry on the outer part and steak filling it. It came in a foil tin and even came in cellophane wrapping! I know, I know, take a breath. Oh, 0-0 at half-time by the way.
The second half began and proceeded as the first, with very little happening on the pitch, especially from those in gold, though the Wolves fans kept up a great atmosphere all game and it was a shame they had very little to cheer. After a worrying moment saw Bjorn Sigurdarson (the man who’d replaced AFC Bournemouth-bound Benik Afobe in the Wolves line-up) go down with an innocuous looking injury.
My picture taking had appeared to have gained the interest of the lady sitting next to me who enquired if I was Wolves fan. I assured her and any others who may have been thinking the same that I indeed wasn’t and that I was a home-inclined neutral, here for the ground. “Not missing much then!” was the reply to this and it was hard to argue really. As the clock ticked down and time edged away, it looked as though my 0-0 run was ending.
After “Mr Moon” had done his usual trick and entered and left the stadium within five minutes, prompting the Wolves fans to chant “Who the fuckin’ hell are you?!”, with West Ham pushing on hard with the likes of Andy Carroll and especially Dimitri Payet providing a real threat to the visitors defence. Payet showed touches of his class, including one flick in front of me which provided real excitement, but it was Carroll who’d have a big hand in the goal, eventually controlling the ball and feeding Nikica Jelavic to half-volley across Ikeme and send the home fans mad. I’d say it was harsh on Wolves, but they were so negative I can’t bring myself to!
The six minutes of injury time came and went without any real alarm, though sub Adam Le Fondre came fairly close to levelling, but it wasn’t to be and the Hammers avoided an upset to progress into the fourth round of the cup. I headed up towards Upton Park station to see what the situation was and it turned out the fans were being funnelled down a small service street, right to the far end, then back on themselves on the other side of the barrier to the station. It looked like utter madness and none that I was getting involved with. I had to get a quick jog on to get to East Ham again but I got there easily, despite heading to the wrong platform initially. Dear me.
So, slightly wet thanks to the captial’s drizzly late Saturday evening weather, I boarded the tube and grabbed one of the remaining seats on the packed train back towards the city centre. Half of the train I was on disembarked at West Ham station having already been warned that there was a large crowd there from the previous train. It appears that West Ham became the centre of the world that Saturday evening!
Eventually, I arrived back into Euston Square (about 14 stops from East Ham) and the short walk back over to a largely police protected Euston was undertaken, with me taking my seat on my train back to Manchester about 15 minutes prior to departure. For what turned out to be a fully dry trip, the day couldn’t have gone much better, though I could have done without the jog through the drizzle! My programme provided a good companion for the first hour of the trip back and definitely helped pass the time, as the United-Sheffield United game wasn’t helping much!
After arriving back into a very wet, miserable north, I finally got back into Manchester 5 minutes earlier than scheduled, meaning that I was easily in time for a connector over to Oxford Road and a train an hour earlier than I was expecting to catch and as such my trip to the Boleyn Ground was done. It’s nice and sad in equal measure to think that its one done that will soon be off the map, especially one that’s played host to some of the biggest names the footballing world (and especially this country) has ever seen. But, it’s forwards for West Ham and the Olympic Stadium is calling…
Game: 4- Poor game, but at least the quality is good.
Ground: 8- One I like, maybe its the rose tinted glasses though?
Fans: 8- I found them very friendly and showed good support in the second half.
Food: 6- Pie was standard issue.
Programme: 7- Good read, nice retro look too.
Value For Money: 10- Cheaper ticket for a ground soon to be gone means it had to be 10!