‘He seems pretty sensible and I agree with most of what he says,’ Jim wrote, ‘Don’t know yet whether many West Ham fans have picked up that lots of other supporters now dislike them a bit more than they used to – which is a shame because I’ve always thought of them as a proper club with good fans.’
Jim’s point, and the occasion of Sunderland’s first visit to the little-loved London Stadium, seemed a good excuse to hark back six years to a piece by Pete Sixsmith, prior to a game at Upton Park …
Once upon a time, I considered living and working in London. In the 1970s, the leftward leaning ILEA was offering houses, cars and probably caviar and champagne for any teachers brave enough to face the capital’s schools.
I seriously considered it and decided that if I did take the plunge, I would watch West Ham as my “London” team. They were similar to Sunderland – a working class club, although without the history and tradition that attached itself to Roker Park.
Unfortunately for the gilded youth of Ferryhill, Co Durham, I never took up the offer, and Upton Park has only benefited from my company a dozen or so times. I have seen a few decent games there – a cracking 3-3 draw in the late 70s springs to mind, as do a number of limp defeats and a wonderful win, of which more later.
But one game I did not see was the one on October 19 1968.
Of course, it was never an 8-0 defeat. Geoff Hurst (a man with a history of dubious goals) had punched the first one in with the aplomb of Muhammad Ali dispatching Brian London.
Monty and his fellow defenders were so demoralised and shocked by this blatant cheating that they took the moral high ground and refused to participate in the game. It shows how poor the Hammers were as they failed to score more than eight.
Alan Brown was our manager that day and, as a member of Moral Rearmament, a title that says it all, he clearly believed cheating was wrong. This attitude permeated through to the players, hence a number of bottom third finishes in his second time at Sunderland, culminating in a second relegation for the club in 1970.
In 1968, as a callow schoolboy at Bishop Auckland Grammar School (aka as The Eton of County Durham), my paper round money did not quite stretch to regular trips to the Smoke. That Saturday afternoon, I contented myself with watching Leeholme Juniors and catching Sunderland updates on the radio of my father’s Mark 2 Cortina.
No 5 Live or Radio Newcastle in those days, so when the final score came through at 4.42 (games finished early then), I was driving along Leeholme Road. The shock was so great that the Cortina almost ended up in the Co-op window.
The shame was considerable for a few days, particularly as the Mags were going quite well, and I was ribbed at school by both fellow pupils and teachers, who realised that they had a serious case of Football Obsession in their classrooms. But I got over it, eventually, and revenge was sweet one April night in 2005.
That was the night when goals from Julio Arca and Stephen Elliott won the Coca Cola Championship for us and led to grumbling of such a massive extent that I thought an earthquake was about to strike the East End.
We had already been promoted while the ‘Ammers were very close to dropping out of the play offs. Their manager, Alan Pardew, was under serious pressure from fans who believed that the Academy, as they styled it, had an absolute right to be in the Premier League.
I wangled a place on a school trip to London and went to the game with a Sunderland supporting colleague who had little experience of away games. We kept schtum on the train out and more so on the way back, letting out a huge roar as we returned to our luxury accommodation in Sussex Gardens well after midnight.
It was a very interesting evening. Marlon Harewood kept falling down in the penalty box before he eventually squeezed one past a very impressive Ben Alnwick on the stroke of half time. Then, Julio and Elliott notched two beauties and the crowd turned on Pardew, as they may well turn on Sullivan and Gold if there is a repeat result on Saturday.
Now, as the Old Teachers’ Home beckons, I have no thoughts about becoming a surrogate ‘Ammer. Should I ever have the misfortune to have to relocate to the Great Wen (Boris Johnson et al), my team of choice would probably be Fulham; safe, comfortable, undoubtedly middle class and ideal for an old middle class fart like moi.