The Diary

14 September 2008: Boing, Boing - Hammers Hammered!

Three luvverly points, and every single one coming home to Mum for dinner! At last! It?s sure been a long time in the making, especially after going so close at Bolton the other weekend, then ending up with just the solitary point to show for our Herculean efforts at the Reebok - so, well done Mogga and his merry men for not only putting yesterday?s opponents to the sword so effectively, applying the necessary coup de grace with all due aplomb, even if it was a tad late in the day.

You only need look at the current Prem table to see the real magnitude of our Saturday triumph; yesterday morning, the Hammers were riding high in sixth place, while we Prem newbies once more dwelt within horribly familiar surroundings ? bottom place. Not a des. res. by any means, you?ll readily concede, and all the more reason for handing over the keys to the incoming tenants, Spurs, at lightning speed.

West Ham? If I were one of their lot, I?d be expressing very grave concerns for their traditional footballing ethos by now: after watching them spend the entire 90 minutes performing what I can only call an elongated clog-dance, and the ball getting chucked in as an afterthought, cynicism found in me a most receptive host.

A long, long time ago, when the Earth was young, and dinosaurs ruled the planet, the Upton Park mob basked happily in the journalistic warmth of what multitudes of scribblers, both tabloid and broadsheet, used to call an ?Academy Of Football?. With Bobby Moore orchestrating things on the field of play, and non-stop entertainment their ?signature dish?, games involving us and the East London side were never dull, that?s for sure.

And that?s the principal reason why I found their repeatedly cynical antics against our lot so awful to watch: a bit like seeing the intellect and personality of a much-loved grandparent affected by Alzheimer?s Disease descend into violence, if you like. Put your ear to the ground right now, and you?ll just about discern the sound of their World Cup-winning late skipper corkscrewing right through to Australia. And that?s without the Hammers having the unholy trinity of Bellamy, Dyer and Bowyer - erm ? ?gracing? their side.

As for their next gaffer, Gianfranco Zola ? was it REALLY 16 cameras, all with long lenses attached, I counted right in front of me as we awaited the emergence of both sets of players from the tunnel? ? he?ll sure have his work cut out trying to transform their current thuggish mindset into something more in keeping with Hammers tradition.

But the day had hardly started in promising manner, I have to say. Strike One? As the weather had been so lousy, of late, I?d decided to prepare a casserole beforehand, then bung it into our slow cooker: leaving it chuntering to itself all afternoon would ensure it was done to a turn when we finally arrived home. Come 11.20 (we usually leave for the ground around twelve midday), I decided to get the culinary show on the road. Just a matter of shoving a couple of chicken portions, with a few veggies to keep them company, into the pot, closely followed by a goodly volume of chicken stock. Easy, or what?

But Idiot Features had misjudged the prep time, hadn?t she? Come ten to twelve, our kitchen bore an uncomfortably close resemblance to the set of ?Ready Steady Cook!?, with muggins playing the role of chef (think ?Gordon Ramsay having a particularly unpleasant Tourette?s Moment? and you?ve got it), and a hastily-roped-in hubby doing the ?celebrity assistant? imitation! His speed peeling those spuds knew no bounds; hell, had he seen it, the celebrated Professor Stephen Hawkings would have immediately declared his efforts a gross infringement of relativity theory.

And in case anyone?s wondering, the errant black hole predicted to follow the start-up of the Large Hadron Collider decided to do a left when it reached Switzerland, then ended up in our kitchen. Well, that?s how it felt to me, as I tried valiantly to make time bend and warp in the manner of Albert Einstein!

My second error? Ties in with the first, really; one of getting the weather completely wrong. So much so, I opted to wear a thick jumper to the game, with a Mogga-style Albion coat for backup. Needless to say that by the time we arrived at the Hawthorns Hotel, I was sweating buckets. Oh ? and my back was playing up something rotten, a legacy of problems I?d encountered during the recent bad weather. It would have a knock-on effect, too: on our return after the game, I had no choice but to pop those painkiller pills in quantity ? and, as is usual with these things, I kept falling asleep, hence the very late arrival (for me!) of this piece.

But back to The Hawthorns Hotel?.. Not many punters present when we arrived, but shortly after we?d taken our seats, our peace was well and truly shattered by the arrival of the Lewis clan. And The Noise?s eldest had some important news to impart unto us. No, she wasn?t pregnant, she?d just purchased a car. A very bold move, that, considering she?s still yet to achieve a full licence. Carly being about 17, and a learner, still, the insurance alone must have been horrendous.

For future reference, any Baggie people with homes near The Potteries, the vehicle in question?s a black Fiat Punto, around ten years old. Just keep that in mind when you find yourself being wheeled into Casualty! Remember that hackneyed government slogan of the Sixties, all you old farts out there? ?KEEP DEATH OFF THE ROAD!? was the watch cry, back then. Too bloody right, I say, especially in the Stoke area!

Nattering to our chum as Liverpool proceeded to stick it up Man United in delightful fashion in full view of the football-loving public, I then discovered that there was more than a remote possibility of yer man being made redundant from Wedgwoods, the caring employers The Noise currently works (slaves?) for.

That, plus the deficiencies of our defence ? multitudinous prior to yesterday?s game, ?tis true ? being catalogued in minute detail. And I also learned quite a lot about the vagaries of trying to get car insurance at a ?competitive rate? for a 17 year-old learner driver. No wonder I thought I saw several strips of flayed lip fly away from his face, as he went into conversational overdrive. Seriously, though, his employers, having shown impeccable timing, as ever, anticipate giving those affected the bad news around the Christmas period.

Equally seriously, if you?re self-employed, live in the Stoke area, and know you?ll shortly need someone who?s reliable and hard-working, you could do far worse than bear The Noise in mind. And, should you be in the ?people business?, even better; if nothing else, our chum sure has the gift of the gab, and would prove a positive asset when it comes to cheering people up.

As we went to take our seats in a by-now sun-sparkled Hawthorns, and nicely in time to hear both teams announced by that idiot-boy of a PA bloke, one mystery of massive proportions stuck out like a sore thumb ? well, for me, it did. Why no Ish Miller, either on the pitch or on the bench? Mogga?s explanation, on the club website, I find somewhat strange, and very vague. What are we to make of ?a niggling shin/knee injury? for Heaven?s sake? Not that it mattered when push came to shove, fortunately enough: in fact, given the lad?s current inability to put cast-iron chances away, you might want to regard it as a positive.

Other team changes? The lad Olsson finally came to know what football, played Albion/Mogga-style, was all about, and Hoefkens came in from the cold, both Baggies replacing little wounded soldiers Meite and Looney. And there were changes up front, too, Roman Bednar (who potted two for the reserves recently) and Chris Brunt replacing the aforementioned Miller, now in dry dock for repairs, and Kim, a late return from international duties ensuring a bench berth only for this one. As for the visitors, they plumped for Herita Llunga and Luis Boa Morte (aka ?Boa Constrictor? by regular readers of this column) at the expense of Mesrs. Faubert and Etherington.

Warm was the temperature, as was the mood of our followers, a plethora of (advert free, still ? whoopee!) stripey home shirts making for a wonderfully colourful panorama in those stands as we kicked off in brilliant sunshine. (See, I told you I?d got the weather wrong!) Curiously enough, West Ham didn?t have one either: not surprising, really, given the fact that their shirts normally bore the name of failed airline and holiday firm XL! Oh, whoops.

That delightfully summery weather must have exerted a particularly beneficial influence upon our finest very quickly indeed, because it only too about three minutes or so for Morrison to find the back of the net courtesy a cross of sublime proportions from Valero, leaving Supermarket Man with a copper-bottomed chance of potting the black with his nut, which he did in venomous style . Much in the way of triumphal noise from the Smethwick End groundlings, as he did so, mostly involving a particularly lusty rendition of the 23rd Psalm. Knowing our defensive frailties all too well, ?Im Indoors and this column could only hope and pray we could see out the remainder of the game with Carson?s goal netting left in virginal condition.

That early strike certainly unleashed a Hammers backlash, the magnitude of which saw our defence creaking at the seams. Mind you, it didn?t help to see that very same rearguard behaving as if they were a registered charity. Unfortunately, ?bargain-basement sale? might serve as a better descriptor, given the cheap way in which we constantly lost possession. Hammers might not have been the best side in the Prem, but they certainly gave ours grief for a goodly few minutes after that Morrison opener.

Leon Barnett easily wins my ?When can I throttle him, Mogga?? award for this week: having thought he?d left those suicidal tendencies of his well and truly behind in the Championship, his brace of schoolboy errors nearly led to West Ham smash-and-grabbing an equaliser. Mind you, going by the thunderous look upon our leader?s face when both gaffes took place in front of us, I?d have to join the queue!

Fair play, though ? somehow, we did weather the storm, and, better still, then switched from ?defence? to ?attack?. Putting together some delightful ?pass and move? stuff, it was then our finest?s turn to have their opponents floundering on the ropes. First of all, Bednar missed a chance he?d have lapped up like gravy last season, then Morrison, carving up the Hammers defence in a manner suggestive of a top Michelin-starred chef, put Koren through for a one-on-one with opposing keeper Green, but the latter managed to stop the shot before the damage was done.

And it certainly wasn?t Barnett?s day: not only was his defensive display less than memorable, he also contrived to hit the side-netting following a Baggies corner. Poor John Homer. God knows what his blood pressure reading was by that stage in the proceedings; you could almost see that column of mercury so beloved of GPs the world over reaching his eyeballs, then flashing ?DANGER?! And the Bloke In Front Of Me wasn?t much better; not too long after the Barnett fiasco, he was heard to wail, ?We shoulda bin cowin ? three up afower now!? (Translation provided on request?)

But as we all know from bitter previous experience, the worst thing you can do in this league is squander chances. The profligates always pay, which proved to be the case when, with just under 30 minutes gone, our lead disappeared in a puff of new-blown bubbles. Shocking defending, mind, their lad Noble, totally unmarked, could have paused for a nifty swig of pop and still put the ball away. It had been coming, mind, not long before they restored parity, we?d had a narrow let-off when Boa Constrictor had dallied too long on a shot, and Hoefkens had then put the lad off, the rebound falling to another Hammer but only ending up in Row Z.

Not long after that, the game then took a horribly familiar course. Just five minutes after that, following what amounted to an all-out attack on our goalmouth, they managed to take the lead, via an almost point-blank shot from Neil. Much delight in the away end, their one-tune-only followers somehow conjuring up a rare burst of choral originality, viz: ?Boing, Boing, you?re goin?\ down?? Blimey, that must have taxed their brain cell.

For a moment, it looked very much as if we?d end up swamped by their attacking efforts, but salvation came just five minutes later, and in what some might call controversial circumstances. Following an Albion corner, their keeper was penalized for impeding Barnett (clearly, the ref wasn?t aware of our hero?s infuriating and erratic form, then!). Watching Match Of The Day later that night, I?d say that Green did fingertip the ball, but to me, he?d made a grab for our lad?s ankle as well, which made the penalty decision bang to rights, on the balance of things.

Up stepped Bednar to claim his moment of glory. How utterly shot would his confidence be, I wondered: being banished to the stiffs for loss of form, of late, wouldn?t have helped. Even my other half loudly lamented his lack of faith in the lad?s abilities to the world at large. But I needn?t have worried: up he stepped, plonked the ball right on the spot, then turned to give it one mother of a wallop. 2-2, then, and coming from behind, too. Cue gleeful choruses of ?Boing, Boing!? from the Smethwick, still stung by the away support?s mockery of our unique battle cry. We?d been handed a second chance, and unfairly, some might say. But they all count, of course: now, could we go on to do one better than a solitary point?

It certainly looked sweaty for the remainder of the half, and Carson found himself in great demand, as he endeavoured ? brilliantly, as it turned out ? to keep West Ham at bay. But merciful respite came in the form of the ref?s whistle for half-time, praise the Lord. While Mogga rallied his troops in the dressing room, and Kevin Keen did similar in theirs, I subjected ?Im Indoors to a succession of puns, all on the theme of a bloke called Cannon, whose presence somewhere was requested via the tannoy. (I?ll leave it for you to work out the gruesome details!) Suffice it to say that by the time I?d finished, he was a broken man!

And another thing. Why, oh why, was the wasp ever put on this world? Despite having studied biology to quite an advanced level, I still can?t visualize a beneficial ecological role for those loathsome insects. Yesterday, we were constantly plagued by the little stripy sods, and none more so than during the break. Trouble is, I have a genuine, full-blown, wasp phobia; when confronted by one, my immediate reaction is to run for the hills, which isn?t easy when sat in a crowded stand, and with a game going full-blast! The worst bit came when I saw one of the sods crawling up the back of a bloke?s neck. It really made my flesh creep something ?orrid. Had that been me, they?d have had to treat me for galloping hysteria, no question about it.

But back to the football?.. The resumption of active service saw our attacking ethos swiftly come into play; clearly, our leader had told them to go out with all guns blazing in the direction of the visitors. Firstly, Bednar went close, courtesy Robbo, of all people, and almost struck oil the second time of asking after Greening had turned supplier. Had their defender not nipped in smartish to whip the ball from Bednar?s feet, the visitors might have found themselves in arrears far sooner than they eventually did.

A couple of Hammers chances apart (and a lusty burst from the Smethwick of ?You?ve only got one song!? closely followed by their followers? unusually witty reply of ?You?ve only got one Boing!?) it was pretty much all Albion. But still no winner, so Mogga rang the chances, come the 65th minute. Off went Valero and Morrison, and on came Luke Moore and Kim. That seemed to galvanise things considerably, especially given the fact we?d actually changed to what was, in effect, a 4-4-2 formation. Hammers, for their part, let loose Faubert upon an unsuspecting public, their own sacrificial lamb being Behrami.

As per both the Everton and Bolton games, you were always left with the feeling a successful strike wasn?t all that far away. The only thing we could do was persevere, which we did, to great effect. But not so great for the BIFOM, whose agonised cries loudly reverberated throughout the entire stand on those occasions when we did come under pressure! How he suffers for the Baggies!

But everything comes to those who wait. As it did with around ten minutes to go, just seconds after we?d weathered the blast of a Hammers corner. We cleared it, then sent Robbo haring away down the pitch, where he eventually set up Chris Brunt to apply the killer blow. Great rejoicing in the Brummie, naturally enough, and even more in the Halfords! Blimey, and after all the rude things I?d said about him earlier in the game!

There then ensued scenes highly reminiscent of The Alamo ? no, not the car rental people, the Davy Crockett one - as our finest contrived to keep the Hammers out, and give their gaffer the three-pointer he so badly craved. Thank whatever deity you worship that Carson was on top form towards the end, one save of world-beating class keeping the visitors from grabbing an unjust draw.

Four minutes of injury time to play, broken up by the removal of Bednar in exchange for Cech: as the seconds ticked away, a brief glimpse of Mogga doing India-rubber man impersonations, bouncing up and down in the technical area in a most alarming manner. And no wonder; just seconds before, the Hammers somehow managed to spurn an absolute sitter. Cue for the BIFOM/Homer Show to get jointly into gear once more, via anguished cries of ?KEEP THE BALL!? followed, equally swiftly (and confusingly?), by those of ?MOVE IT!?

Thus perished the eardrums of those unfortunates with no choice whatsoever but to sit in close proximity to our dynamic duo. Coo, John?s chum?s face wasn?t half red. A stroke waiting to happen, in fact. I?d have hated to see his blood pressure reading right then; life insurers wouldn?t have touched him, with even a whole boatload of bargepoles at their disposal!

But we weren?t about to argue: after more than the allotted four minutes of sheer agony, the ref drew a close to the proceedings. Whoopee! A win, at last, and one thoroughly deserved, too. Sure, it was a struggle getting back to the car after the game ? we?d parked up on Telford Way again, close to the East End curry emporium ? my back was in agony, my poor sweat glands going at Warp Factor Ten, near enough. But by jingo it was worth it!


Hands up all those old fogeys that remember the following ditty: ?We?ll drink a drink, a drink, a drink to Astle The King, The King, The King/Saviour of the Albion team/For he?s the greatest centre-forward/That the world has ever seen?.??

Not exactly stunning prose, the Brummie?s late sixties rip-off of The Scaffold hit ?Lily The Pink?, but it sure kept us entertained whenever Jeff scored, which was often, of course. And just a bit of Liverpudlian nonsense made into a novelty Christmas hit for the aforementioned group, so I?d thought. Until now, that is, for when I was idly searching through a book on the history of medicine, the other day, I happened to come across a mention of the lady in question in a chapter discussing itinerant purveyors of dodgy medicine.

Her real name? Lydia Pinkham, and she flogged ?Vegetable Compound?, not the ?medicinal? variety mentioned by Mike McGear and Co. Her main claim to fame? Residing in Lynn, Massachusetts, and reaching the age of 54 in 1873, she became what was thought to be America?s first ever female millionaire, a feat achieved courtesy her famed product, which was found, upon proper scientific investigation, doing sod-all to cure disease, but going down well enough with the locals nevertheless!

AND ANOTHER THING?. Behold the new entrepreneurial Deano! Our former organizer-in-chief of end-of-season themed away trips has now come up with a pretty lucrative sideline. Albion-themed fridge magnets, three for a fiver, and selling like hot cakes the last time I saw him in action in the Hawthorns Hotel, yesterday. Being an absolute sucker for such things, I bought the obligatory three for a fiver (although the lad does sell them singly, should you so desire), mine being a picture of The King, one of Cyrille, with a team pic of our celebrant Championship-winning side at QPR making the third. And there?s more to come, I?m assured. Mind you, I didn?t go nearly as mad as The Fart, who snapped up one of everything Deano had on display within milliseconds of being shown ?em!

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT?. A Baggie chap called ?Kev The Nail?, to be precise, the pair of us encountering him when idly sauntering around the Welsh answer to the Black Country Museum last Sunday afternoon. Not that we?d tell him from Adam, under normal circumstances, but when you?re wandering around the interior of a ?typical Welsh cottage? and the bloke stood right next to you starts nattering in pure Black Country to his missus about ?not enough fish fryers in the cowin? place?, then your ears are bound to prick up, aren?t they? The best bit? He and John Homer are mates, apparently. My God ? I?ve just had an apocalyptic vision of the pair of them working in tandem at the aforementioned museum, dubious jokes and all. AARGH!

And a belated name-check for Steve Russell and his missus Sylvia, the two lovely people sitting in the seat in front of myself and The Fart on our way back from Bolton, just the other week. Former GD readers, also followers of this blog, they happened to mention they were shortly going to Poland, to watch some speedway, apparently. I wonder how they got on?

 - Glynis Wright

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