Playing West Ham: we’ve been hammered, hampered….and ever so happy

Maybe it’s just that I’ve seen us play them so often. But games against West Ham always bring a stream of memories to mind.

One match at Upton Park that I didn’t see, I am relieved to say, was the one that finished West Ham 8 Sunderland 0, Geoff Hurst scoring six. If you are 39 today, you are just two days short of sharing your birthdate with the occasion of that slightly uneven contest. Correct me on that if you have historical records showing we were a shade unlucky.

At least they don’t make ’em like that any more, do they?

Hammers Just looked at Hammers Mad, an unofficial site, and totted up the predictions streaming in from their supporters.

You don’t expect massive objectivity on partisan sites – Salut! Sunderland apart, of course – but before we get to the noble, dissenting voice of HappyHammers4Eva, let me tell you that on a quiet day off in Abu Dhabi, I counted 16 Hammers plumping for 2-0, 15 for 2-1, 11 for 3-1, nine for 1-0, four for 3-0, three for 4-1 and one for 3-2. No, they aren’t away wins.

Eva, bless her soul in a way I don’t bless quite all Hammers fans’ souls (though that’s another story), thinks we’ll win 2-1, citing “too many injuries”.

Apart from a couple of 1-1 predictions, we are otherwise written off, even if one 1-0 advocate worried that it was going to be a “scrappy, boring, hideous” affair and a cocky 4-1 merchant seemed to make winning the tomorrow’s rugby World Cup final a pre-condition for a home win.

Sunday is not – yet – a make-or-break moment of our season, but it is one of the games where, if we have even mid-table ambitions, we’d expect to do more than just put up a good show and lose. Not, in other words, another Man Utd or Arsenal.

But there have been make-or-breakers against the Irons. I remember driving up to Sunderland from Bristol, where I was then living, for our last home game of the 1979-80 season, delayed for a few days by the Hammers’ FA Cup winning exploits. We needed to win or draw to go up, and I promised my wife a meal at what was then one of the North East’s best Indian restaurants if we made it, while suggesting a Wimpy beforehand just in case.

The place was packed out. We were jammed into the Clock Stand paddock and West Ham started as if they were going to spoil the party, until Cummins and Arnott saw us home. My wife was so disturbed by all the jumping and jostling after the first goal that she thought the repeat performance all a bit unnecessary.

Then there was the away match that might have seen us go top of the Premiership, eight years ago. Despite the highly dubious sending off of Steve Bould, SuperKev’s goal kept us ahead until the last minute. Dichio, who should already have put it beyond doubt, with a chance my cat would have converted, unforgivably lost possession and Sinclair equalised.

We finished seventh top, and it was against West ham that SK grabbed his 30th goal of the season before going off to the Keegan-enforced oblivion of the Euro 2000 England subs’ bench.

Other games home and away against WHU also mattered. The terrific 2-1 win, with Alnwick in superb form, to clinch the Nationwide Championship in 2005. Bad defeats at the Sol, once in the FA Cup and once when Steve Caldwell was wrongly sent off.

But my own best visit to Upton Park was when we played not the Hammers but Charlton, during the work on the new Valley. It was just before Marco’s departure for Palace, but his hat trick helped us cruise to a 4-1 win. “He’s got the touch of a walrus,” a policeman near me kept saying, to his own excessive amusement.

It would be on the optimistic side, and 1-2 Eva would be crying “give-’em-an-inch-and-they-want-a-mile”. But how nice it would be to record that sort of away win on Sunday – whatever happens at the Stade de France.

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