Result: West Ham United 0-1 West Bromwich Albion (FA Cup 4th Round)
Venue: London Olympic Stadium (Saturday 25th January 2020, 3pm)
An agonising choice had to be made for my 4th Round – and likely final – FA Cup game of the season. Ok, maybe it wasn’t quite so agonising. Whatever the case, the big club-appeasing 5th Round midweek switch and the ever lessening reputation of the competition in these higher levels meant I was looking for a good bargain to tick off a new ground somewhere and it quickly became a toss up between the Olympic Stadium or St. James’ Park; the United of West Ham or Newcastle. Eventually (and taking into account the seemingly overwhelming underwhelming reviews about West Ham’s newer home), the site of numerous magic moments back in 2012 ran out and, ticket bought, I was off to the East End’s “Hammers” for the second time in the FA Cup, having visited the Boleyn for their victory over Wolves, in the ground’s final months.
Winning out on the probability that St. James’ would be pretty sparsely attended (I was wrong, though did skip a 0-0!) and the fact I’d already registered, so didn’t have to go through that rigmarole again, I caught the 10am train from Manchester, though not without some chaos early on, a Northern train left a little EARLY (God, I can’t believe it either) and in missing it, a taxi had to be arranged to get me to Piccadilly in time for said service down to Euston. All went smoothly from that point though and I was soon popping over to St. Pancras – or Pancreas as someone on the train named it – for a connection over to Stratford. However, nowhere had it stated I couldn’t use the travelcard on the quick service and, having had to return back down to the ticket office, I duly missed my planned one, only to thankfully discover the next train was only seven minutes afterwards. Ah, the joys of the capital’s public transport.
I still arrived into the International station for around 12.30pm and after getting my bearings at the top of the large escalators connecting the platforms to the concourse area, I cut through the dominating Westgate shopping centre and popped into a bar named the Cow for a first drink and to come up with some kind of plan to take in the main stretch of Stratford’s pubs too. With the Cow offering standing room only (though with some swift service and polite people actually not pushing in line), I finished off my plastic glass-filling Amstel (£5.45) before continuing around towards the bus stop crescent area and down a sizeable flight of steps and towards the Stratford cinema building, complete with some striking décor. A short distance further along the road stands the area’s Wetherspoon’s offering, though I did decide to leave it for the moment and opted for the Sportsman to be next-up instead. As it turned out, I wouldn’t be away from it for long! The Sportsman was another popular option for the punters, though I was in desperate need to add to my blood alcohol levels, having had to pass a guy “relieving himself” against a bin in the middle of the street – a sight I never needed to see. Alas, I did and a pint of Heineken (£4.45) would do for now!
As it turned out, my plans would require the ‘Spoons to be next up, and not wishing to spend much more time than I needed to in ticking it off, I plumped for a bottle of Sol (£3.25) before returning back towards the church, though this time made my way across the road on the other side of it, where I would find the King Edward VI which, according to the plaque on the wall was once named the “King of Prussia”, before it changed to become a bit more patriotic! Whatever the case, this was by far the most characterful pub I visited, wooden beams adorned the vast majority of what was also stated to be one of the oldest pubs in Stratford, and I enjoyed my Heineken (£4.35) in here whilst watching many people come and go past the window on their chosen routes to the ground.
Stratford is a district in the East End of London, within the London Borough of Newham and includes the areas of Maryland, East Village, Mill Meads, West Ham, Forest Gate and Stratford City. Historically a hamlet in the ancient parish and, latterly, county borough of West Ham – this itself became the western half of the modern borough in Greater London in 1965. Stratford grew in significance due to its location upon the Roman road from Aldgate to Colchester, which crossed the River Lea here and later spawned a “Bow Bridge”, built on the order of Matilda, wife of Henry I, who apparently encountered difficulties in crossing by boat. It gains its name from Strætforda, meaning “ford on a Roman road”, and is formed from the Old English words for ‘street’ and ‘ford’, with the initial crossing lying somewhere near the high street. West Ham was noted in an Anglo-Saxon charter of 958 as “Hamme” and later the Domesday Book as “Hame”, both derived from the Old English ‘hamm’, meaning “a dry area between rivers or marshlands”. First made distinct from East Ham in 1186 as Westhamma, it is possible the split came from population growth and economic expansion. It also took in the adjoining hamlet of Upton as it continued to grow.
Indeed, the district of Old Ford (now in Tower Hamlets) is named after this, whilst Bow, the original name for Stratford, also got its name from this and many suffixes were utilised to identify the location of each settlement – Old Ford to the west, Estratford to the East, whilst Statford Hamme alluded to the location of this area within the borough of West Ham, with Abbei Stratford – the Cistercian abbey – also being named. Stretford Langthorne was named after, of all things, a distinctive tree, and was mentioned in a 958AD charter. Following the building of the aforementioned Bow Bridge, the link to Barking Abbey continued with a causeway through the marshes, and this run is now occupied by Stratford’s High Street. Sometime afterwards, western Stratford gained the suffix “atte-bow” (at the Bow), before simplifying this to just “Bow”, whilst the eastern part of town dropped its own suffix, Langthorne, becoming just “Stratford”. The bridge was eventually demolished in the 19th century – not a bad effort.
The abbey at West Ham became one of the most wealthy in the country, and thus remained in situ through to the dissolution by Henry VIII in 1538. Nothing remains standing on the site nowadays, although some apparent parts remain within West Ham’s All Saints Church. The industrialisation of Stratford began slowly, before reflecting many other areas in accelerating through the Victorian-era, growing from its original potato-growing-centric agricultural and rich retreat beginnings, into a porcelain-making stronghold, before the Metropolitan Act and creation of the nearby Royal Docks and introduction of the railways led to massive growth in pharmaceuticals, chemicals and the making of processed foods, with more harmful factories prohibited from opening in built-up areas – thus moving to the riverside. This rapid growth gave Stratford (and West Ham) the nickname of “London over the border”, although growth in slums, illness and sewer issues came as part of the parcel. In later parts of the Victorian-era, Stratford became a major transport hub, with omnibuses and coaches (for a time steam coaches) regularly running through to and from East Anglia, to the capital.
The addition of small wharves and docklands on the Lea added to traffic from 1820, though the opening of the Royal Victoria Dock in 1855 greatly accelerated Stratford’s importance in the transportation of goods and manufacturing. The later Royal Group of Docks was, at one time, the largest area of impounded water in the world. Stratford station opened in 1838 for the Eastern Counties Railway and the Northern and Eastern Railway later added their own line to link up with the ECR here too, whilst a large Great Eastern works depot was built on the site now taken up by the International station; a plaque commemorates this and a steam locomotive named “Robert” stands guard at Stratford station. The town that grew up immediately nearby became known as Hudson Town, after “The Railway King” (yes, really), George Hudson. However, he was soon caught up in bribery and fraud and the area was named Stratford New Town instead. You couldn’t write it. In later years, the area struggled, with the docks closing during the 1960’s and the larger de-industrialisation of the area as a whole, whilst the Westfield shopping centre was built in an attempt to offset these closures, whilst the Olympic Park and immediate surroundings brought further regeneration.
Notable people from the area include numerous footballers, including Albert Barrett (Leytonstone, Fulham, Southampton, England), both Jim Barrett’s (West Ham), Phil Brignull (West Ham, AFC Bournemouth, Cardiff City, Newport County), Stan Earle (West Ham, Arsenal, Clapton Orient), Alf Noakes (West Ham, Postsmouth, Crystal Palace), Leo Fortune-West (Gillingham, Brentford, Cardiff City, Doncaster Rovers, Cambridge Utd), Peter Grotier (West Ham), David Webb (QPR, Leicester City, AFC Bournemouth, Southampton, Derby County, Chelsea, Leyton Orient), Garry Poole (Cambridge Utd, Barnet, Southend Utd, Birmingham City, Charlton Athletic and Terry Scales (Brentford). In other fields, alumni include noted poet G. M. Hopkins, fashion designer Alexander McQueen, presenter Stephen Mulhern, Olympic and World Champion 400m runner Christine Ohuruogu, The Saturdays’ Vanessa White, Small Faces’ Jimmy Winston and film director (and more) Bryan Forbes. West Ham has given birth to a large number of sporting faces, including the likes of Lennox Lewis, Ted Fenton, Mark Noble, Alan Curbishley, Chris Hughton, Sol Campbell, Tony Cottee, Ronnie Irani, Rob Lee and late World Cup winner, Martin Peters. Also, singers and actors David Essex and Leon Greene can call West Ham home, as could Sir Joseph Lister – a pioneer of penicillin.
Next up was the Olde Black Bull a little further on, but with time against me and having heard some people had come across some pretty sizeable delays in getting into the ground, I chose a second bottle of Sol (£3.50) to play it safe before heading for the ground. Bypassing the nearby Carpenter’s Arms en route, a few chants began to emanate from a small tunnel as the ground and that abomination of a tower came into view. Though to be fair, it doesn’t seem all so bad in the flesh….or should that be steel (or whatever variant it’s made from)? Anyway, after purchasing a fully-fledged programme for £3.50, I joined the queue headed for the tents where the checks to get into the ground’s concourse were being made. I had just approached a break in the fence when the stewards seemed to have opened the extra lane on the side for all to use and as soon as some Hammers fans began to take use of said uncoupling, I thought it’d be rude not to fit in!
I’m not sure I really gained all too much, though it did seem a little easier to get through in this line than the smaller ones to the right and I was soon approaching the gates to the Queen Elizabeth II park’s focal point. To be fair, there was a fair bit of West Ham paraphernalia about that made it seem as much a home as they can possibly do. I say this, as I’ve read some saying it’s really bare and there’s no food trucks etc. around outside the ground. Well, I certainly saw a few. Yes, perhaps not as many as stand around the more traditional grounds of the country, though certainly not noticeable in comparison to many I’ve visited. What I do have to say is, from my Boleyn visit, the duo of crowds and traffic wasn’t working too well and it was quite obvious that, as sad as it was, the change had to come. The lack of overall colour is something that I can agree on though, as there is still an overwhelming “corporate white” scheme maintained around the area.
Back onto the task at hand, and after a few pics and a gander at the neighbouring community ground, I headed in via a brief stop for a steak pie (card only, so watch out) before making my way up into the seats. I was located in the lower tier which was unexpected, as I had thought the £10 tickets were only for the upper parts of the ground, but I wasn’t complaining as, by many accounts, the views aren’t too great up there. No problems from my viewpoint though and the ground was surprisingly full which also surprised the United fan who took up the seat next to me and who, for reasons only beknownst to him, conversed with me for the majority of the ninety. It’s nice when that goes on, and it’s happened at both of the Hammers’ homes now too.
The ground itself is spacious and wide-ranging, which is to be expected considering its previous (and ongoing) use as an athletics stadium. Because of this, though, the stadium has character to it that many new-builds lack, the familiar inverted triangular floodlights surround the stands, which themselves are all a similar size. The seats are nice and comfortable too, which is decent, and large screens populate each end of the ground, whilst the dugouts sit about a half-mile from the technical areas that Slaven Bilic and David Moyes would be making use of (or not in the latter’s case). Incidentally, my Boleyn Ground FA Cup tie saw Bilic still in charge of the Hammers, whilst Moyes….well, I wasn’t a “Moyes Out” United fan at the time – though I am now and he’s been gone six years. That’s the ground (plus a bit of extra nonsense) and here’s the story of West Ham United….
The earliest accepted date for the foundation of West Ham United Football Club is 1895, when Thames Ironworks came into being – with the company going on to be the largest and final surviving shipbuilders on the river. As the works team, the Ironworks side played largely amateur football from their founding through their first year, and won their first silverware by lifting a local competition, fittingly named the West Ham Charity Cup, before going on to take the London League title in 1897 and after joining the Southern League, subsequently turned professional a year later. Promoted at the first attempt as Division 2 champions, the club’s first Division One campaign wasn’t a successful one, with the Ironworks ending up bottom, though they would soon see fortunes take an upturn.
The club looked to establish themselves in the Southern League after defeating Fulham in a relegation play-off and changed to their current colours (from Oxford Uni blue) in 1899. However, the Ironworks pulled funding shortly afterwards and the club disbanded, only to be reformed in short order under the name West Ham United. Adding a Western League side to their portfolio in 1901, this United team won the league’s Division 1B in 1907 and also defeated 1A champs Fulham to take the overall champions honour. Afterwards, United moved from Plaistow to a pitch in Upton Park, a site which would grow into becoming the Boleyn Ground. Their first game at the Boleyn was a 3-0 triumph over a rival ironworks-centric side, Millwall. During WWI, West Ham continued to play, competing in the London Combination, which they won in 1917, whilst they also won the 1940 London War Cup within the conflict of WWII.
Post-war, West Ham joined the Football League’s Second Division and were promoted to Division 1 in 1923, a year which also saw them reach the first FA Cup final to plbe played at the original “Empire Stadium”, Wembley. They would eventually lose out, 2-0, to Bolton Wanderers, in what would become known as the infamous “White Horse Final”. United remained in the Division One from their promotion through to 1932, when they were relegated back to Division 2, where they would go on to spend the majority of the next three decades, winning only the Southern Floodlit Cup of 1956, plus adding smaller honours in the form of three Essex Professional Cups and two London Challenge Cup (won a total of nine times spanning 1925-’69). However, things would soon change, as the 1960’s saw the Hammers enter their golden age.
Under the captaincy of Bobby Moore, West Ham won the 1964 FA Cup and the subsequent European Cup Winners Cup and shared the Charity Shield, prior to, of course, leading England to their first (or second if you want to count West Auckland) World Cup triumph, alongside teammates, hat-trick hero, Geoff Hurst and the late Martin Peters. A second FA Cup was won in 1975, though this time the Hammers missed on the Cup Winners Cup, in the final, to Anderlecht. Things soon fell away for United and they were relegated in 1978, although they returned to FA Cup glory just two years later in beating Arsenal and were promoted back to the top-tier the next season. They went on to finish in the top ten for each of the next three seasons, recording their best league finish in the process – third – in 1986.
Again, things would go sour soon after a cup win and relegation came around once more in 1989, though the club was only absent from Division One for two years, returning in 1991. After Billy Bonds’ failed bond scheme (yes, really), an immediate drop back was suffered, though they achieved the runners-up placing in Division One the next year to get back to English football’s top table, but this time it was in the Premier League. Remaining here through the new millennium, the club won everyone’s favourite competition, the Intertoto Cup, in 1999. However, after Glenn Roeder’s illness, a run which saw United hardly suffer defeat wasn’t enough to save them from the 2002 drop zone. They would return via victory over Preston North End in the 2005 play-off final and took part in the somewhat legendary Cup final against Liverpool the next year, who would eventually win out on penalties after a 3-3 draw. With this final appearance, United reached the UEFA Cup for the second time (the first being after their Intertoto triumph). Following the Carlos Tevez/Javier Mascherano scandal, West Ham would remain in the Premier League ranks through to 2011, when, despite reaching the League Cup semi-finals (a feat repeated in 2014), they went down to the Championship for the second time.
Returning through the play-offs at the first attempt, the Hammers signed a 99-year lease deal for the Olympic Stadium, consigning the Boleyn to the annuals of history. Again qualifying for the Europa League by virtue of the Fair Play award, West Ham bid farewell to their old home with a record-breaking year, which ended with a 7th placed finish, although did feature defeat in the FA Cup final of 2016 and saw THE Pardew dance. Their tenure at the Olympic Stadium started poorly, with Slaven Bilic ousted in short time and David Moyes installed for the first time. He didn’t last long. Ah. Former Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini was installed as his replacement, guiding the club to 10th in 2018-’19, though an ordinary start to this campaign saw his time up too and Moyes return to the club.
The game got underway with the visitors on top early on, and it was little surprise when they struck within the first ten minutes of play. After Kyle Edwards had forced returning Hammers ‘keeper Darren Randolph into a low stop, Conor Townsend would go one better and fire across Randolph and into the bottom corner, ensuring that the Baggies fans were bouncing early. West Ham’s struggles continued, with the likes of Fabián Balbuena and Manuel Lanzini struggling to find any kind of rhythm, and they almost went two behind, when the impressive Filip Krovinovic headed narrowly off target.
Declan Rice was the first Hammer to have a glimpse of goal, his shot flashing wide of the upright, prior to Krovinovic again going close down the other end, as both sides traded chances. Charlie Austin headed just wide for the visitors around five minutes before the break, before West Ham’s stand-out first-half performer (despite that not being worth all that much, all things considered), Rice, again went close to levelling the scores, only to again miss the target. Half-time arrived with the visitors holding their one-goal advantage fairly comfortably, whilst the hosts looked toothless in attack.
Following a half-time break – the highlight of which was the appearance of Boiler Man and his mascot race thrashing at the hands of Hammerhead (who provided the only claret and blue victory in these parts) – we were back in action, with Moyes having made a triple substitution from the off. At just one-nil down, this did seem quite the overreaction, even if the side were pretty awful and taking into account changes of formation and tactics. Anyhow, having shot his load (dear God; what an awful, awful thought), and despite the directness brought to the side by Michail Antonio, the hosts continued to struggle creatively, whilst West Brom continued threatening to add to their scoring tally.
Krovinovic, Austin and Chris Brunt all saw chances come-and-go, as they looked to sow up their place in the fifth round draw, before West Ham finally began to look as though they may just grab a leveller – Sébastian Haller and Albian Ajeti firing and heading efforts just wide of the Jonathan Bond guarded goal. Then, with 18 minutes to play, they looked to have been thrown a lifeline as Semi Ajayi was dismissed for a second yellow card, a move which saw Krovinovic sacrificed in the name of defence!
However, the Hammers continued to avoid the target like it had some sort of plague, and after each of Lanzini, Mark Noble and Angelo Ogbonna had all found the expanse of space behind Bond’s goal, rather than working him, Issa Diop finally made Bond work, the Baggies stopper keeping him out, following a decent Noble corner. Lanzini and even veteran Pablo Zabaleta had half-chances as the clock ran down to the ninety mark, but it was Rice who could (and perhaps should) have grabbed West Ham an undeserved second bite of the cherry. First, a low drive was kept out by the underworked Bond prior to the defensive-midfielder then seeing his second attempt kept out as it headed towards the roof of the net.
A little late, yet totally fabricated drama popped up during stoppage time, when VAR was called upon to judge upon a highly optimistic penalty shout, before Noble summed up his side’s performance, when shooting over from a good position, in the last meaningful action of the game. Full-time, 0-1 and the visitors were in the hat for the next round; their fans celebrations being counteracted by boos from around the stadium – a far cry from the glory moments of its past.
Post-match, I returned from whence I came, and took the police-guarded route back to the centre of town, though they do check you are going that way and not missing the station! Eventually back around the church, I popped into the craft-beer-centric Abbey Tap for a pint of the fine Lilley’s Mango Cider (£4.30), before undertaking my final planned leg to visit the Boleyn Tavern – which I’d missed out on first time around – on account of the fact that 1. I didn’t drink all that much back then, 2. It was one of (if not THE) first long-distance trip I’d done alone, and 3. It was bloody packed. I missed out the Carpenter’s again, as nothing would stop me this time I thought. I boarded the service to Upton Park along with a number of transport police, and I disembarked with no trouble and a nice half-hour until the direct underground service back to Euston Square. But as you all know by now, if you’re a regular in these parts that is, things don’t go that way for me….usually down to my awful directional sense. After walking for a good ten minutes, I reckoned something was up; it should have taken half that! Yes, I’d gone the wrong way. Classic Manchopper – and I had blown my chance to visit for the second time! Maybe when someone takes up tenancy at the Community ground, it will be third-time lucky….
Back on my planned tube train, I was at Euston Square in around 40 minutes and with just enough time for a swift one in the Doric Arch to quench my thirst and quell my disappointment. Frontier is always good for this; I bloody love the stuff. The train journey back was made easily and with little issue and I woke up an hour into the journey, having had no recollection of actually nodding off – so that was a nice surprise. Misfortune struck again back in Manchester, as the Piccadilly Tap’s staffing numbers meant I was there for a good ten minutes without being served and had to leave for the bus home before getting my mitts on anything. I did get to meet a dog called Maggie though, so it wasn’t all bad, I suppose.
That ends the day and another month passes by towards a year without a nil-nil. I’ve gone mighty close on a few occasions though and both the last two games could’ve easily ended up that way too, had it not been for that one net-rippling moment of glory (sorry home fans, but I’m taking anything I can at the moment!). In my humble opinion, the Olympic Stadium isn’t as bad as some of the horror stories make it out to be. Yes, it is not Upton Park, but it never will be. None of the new grounds are anywhere close to their foremothers. There may be one or two exceptions, yes, but they’re very thin on the ground. Having said that, if I did have to go week-in, week-out, I would likely be of a different view. Even more so when you bring Moyes-ball into the equation. I enjoyed visiting Stratford (barring bin-gate) and I will finally get the Boleyn Tavern done at some point, fate being kind. I hope. Maybe. Probably not. Anyway, that’s that and a return down to the less-beaten track, the plan being an effectual Division 13 clash – though another queen does feature along the way….
Value For Money: 5