Tag Archives: Eastenders

West Ham Farewell Party Confirms the Love For Elland Road   –   by Rob Atkinson

Elland Road

Elland Road, THE place of worship for thousands

Just nine days short of 480 years since another Boleyn met her end, on a Tower Green scaffold one sad Tudor morning, the curtain finally fell on West Ham United’s Boleyn Ground last night. It was the climax of 112 years of East End football history, fittingly topped off with a thrilling late victory and then the obligatory lasers and fireworks – spectacular high jinks, warming the cockles before the cold reality of the bulldozers moving in to do their grim work. 

Poor little Queen Anne was snuffed out by a French swordsman imported specially for the occasion by her kindly husband King Henry VIII. One swing of that fine blade left la Boleyn shorter by a head – and it was deadly twin thrusts from another Frenchman that could have cut short the farewell celebrations at the Boleyn Ground. West Ham had taken an early lead, but two goals from French prodigy Martial threatened rudely to poop the Hammers’ party. Fortunately, not least for this hardly unbiased viewer, the Irons roared back with two late goals to secure victory and put the Champions League hopes of Manchester’s finest back in their own hands. What a game, what a night. But then, chillingly, comes the bleak reality of the following day.

Watching such a thrilling match and then such an emotional farewell event had me wondering how those Hammers fans were feeling as the night and the occasion went by. There must surely have been a slightly unreal air about the place. Is this really the last time? Is this familiar old place really going to be torn down pitilessly, along with all the memories of good times and bad? Those questions must inevitably have gone through thousands of baffled, barely believing cockney minds. 

I have my own recollections of the Boleyn Ground – or Upton Park, as it was also known. Only a few, but marked each time by a Leeds United win, which obviously makes for good memories. And enough of those memories to make the place quite familiar to me. So even I can hardly credit the fact that, so soon, it will all be gone. But if I had to guess, based on my own forty-odd years of football fandom, just how those West Ham fans were feeling last night, I’d wager there was a lot of sadness and a sea of tears after the jubilation of victory, as the loss of a beloved place of worship started to sink in. And, I ask you, how on earth must they be feeling this morning?

It’s a bit hard to put myself in their shoes. The nearest comparison I can make is that last occasion, before the suits brought in the seats, standing on the Kop terraces against the Wendies. That was emotional enough. I literally can hardly imagine how I would feel if Elland Road itself – my second and spiritual home since 1975 – was condemned to be rased to the ground. Words would not be able to express the awful emptiness I would feel, the nightmare sensation of being cast out of my comfort zone, never to return. It came close enough – too close for comfort – to actually happening, with a firm proposal to relocate put to the vote in the 90s. For me, it didn’t really hit home or seem real at that time. I truly know that now.

I know it, because of what I saw in the coverage of the Boleyn’s last game. Because it’s a stadium I’m familiar with, I was suddenly forced to contemplate the same grisly fate befalling Elland Road. It’s a simply horrible thought. It certainly gave me nightmares and, this morning, I really feel for those displaced, dispossessed Hammers fans. 

Some will point to the grandeur of their new surroundings at the Olympic Stadium. Well, whatever floats your boat. And there’s the small matter of 52,000 season tickets sold already ahead of the next campaign. The Hammers are moving up to a different level, it’s a whole new ball game now. So it may well be. But is it worth it? Well, you could rebuild the Bernebeu or the Camp Nou in Roundhay Park and, for me, the answer would still be no.

It’s a bit different for us. We’ve been the best, on more than one occasion, and we’ve sustained that excellence at a fortress called Elland Road. So much of what Leeds United have achieved is part of the concrete, the steel, even the hallowed turf of that venerable old stadium. Maybe it would have been harder for us than it’s turning out to be for those Hammers who said “goodbye” last night. But honestly, I doubt it. I think it’s going to be very hard indeed on those fans, once the dust has settled. 

All I can say for myself is that last night reinforced for me the emotional pull of Elland Road, the fundamental attachment I so strongly feel for the place. I’m quite certain that the same is true for thousands of other Leeds fans. Perhaps it takes being a spectator at an event like last night to really bring home what being at home is actually all about. And what losing that home would heart-breakingly mean.

Hammers fans still have their memories; they’ll still be able to replay the mind’s eye video of countless great matches and famous victories. But the place where all those things happened will soon be dust, and there’s an awful finality to that. When the place is gone, the memories will be harder to put into their proper setting. Even ghosts need a place to float around in.

Every time I see Elland Road, a thousand precious memories become real again for me – some pretty bad ones too, make no mistake. But they’re all part of that fund of recollection any football fan builds up, and they’re inextricably linked with that loveable ramshackle old stadium, with its incongruously shiny newer bits. Even they’ve been with us over a quarter of the club’s lifetime. I love every inch of the place, down to the last rivet and the smallest blade of grass. Part of my life would be gone, if I had to go through what the Hammers fans went through last night. What they’re only starting to get used to this morning. 

Congratulations to West Ham, on a fine victory and a fitting way to mark the end of an era. I’m really pleased for you – and yet I’m sorry for you too. God knows I’d love the experience again, of beating that lot and reducing them to misery. I’ve always loved that. But – at the cost of a large chunk of my soul? I think not. I really think not. 

Advertisements

As West Ham Say Goodbye to Upton Park, Memories of a Leeds Fan – by Rob Atkinson

wright hammer

Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Happy Wright

Tonight we bid a sad farewell to Upton Park, or the Boleyn Ground, long-time home of Olympic Stadium-bound West Ham United. The ‘Ammers, as they’re known locally, have usually been obliging victims for Leeds United teams of most eras, and were particularly notable as lenders of a helping hand towards the end of our title run-in of 1992, when they defeated Man U in a game that turned Alex Ferguson the deepest shade of exasperated purple I’ve ever seen. So it’s fitting, as another proper London football ground bites the dust, that I should write a little about the ‘Appy ‘Ammers; some of my fondest memories are of victories there, particularly this MayDay romp in 1999.

It was an encounter, played out in front of a packed Boleyn Ground crowd of 25997, that found Leeds United in a rich run of form; ten games unbeaten since an early February reverse to Newcastle at Elland Road, after which they had reeled off seven consecutive league victories followed by three draws on the trot. The Whites’ determination to get back to winning ways after those six dropped points was exemplified by the fastest possible start.  A mere twenty seconds had ticked by when the ball nestled in the West Ham net, put there emphatically by the ebullient Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink who ran at a retreating Neil Ruddock before finishing neatly with a left-foot shot past Shaka Hislop. And then the game went ever so slightly mad.

Jimmy’s goal apart, the first quarter of an hour had seen both sides engaging in tackles which tended on the thuggish side of enthusiastic. West Ham’s Eyal Berkovic was a victim early on, and Lee Bowyer was on the end of a clattering as the home side sought revenge. Then Ian Wright, no stranger to controversy and the disciplinary attentions of referees, led with his elbow when challenging for a high ball, and copped for a yellow card that looked a lot more justified than the second yellow he got after only 15 minutes, following an altercation with Ian Harte, Harte, Harte. So Wright was on his way back to the stand after a mere quarter of an hour, loudly protesting the injustice of the case and hell-bent, as it turned out, on venting his frustrations on the décor in the ref’s room. 

For the next half-hour, leading up to the interval, Leeds proceeded to make a one man advantage look anything but as West Ham pressed them back, causing panic in the away defence as the promptings of Berkovic and Paolo di Canio created some decent chances to possibly level the game. Leeds had managed to be distinctly the poorer side in that opening 45 minutes, and yet – as if to prove once again what a daft game football can be – they hit West Ham with a sucker punch in first half stoppage time. David Batty appeared to have committed a foul in midfield which might well have justified a booking had the ref not totally ignored it and waved for play to continue. Harry Kewell duly obliged, picking the ball up wide on the left and mesmerising the overstretched Hammers defence before cutting the ball back from the by-line for Alan Smith to convert gleefully.

2-0 then at half time and – for once – it had pretty much all gone Leeds’ way. We had been outplayed for most of the game so far, but were somehow two goals and one man to the good; courtesy, it has to be said, of some not exactly even-handed refereeing.

The second half began much as most of the first had been spent, with Leeds on the back foot and defending precariously. Straight away, the dangerous Berkovic bamboozled Jonathan Woodgate, turning him inside out before supplying di Canio with the perfect chance to pull a goal back. 2-1 to the visitors then, but the balance of the play had been with West Ham, and maybe now the momentum was theirs too. None of us could feel over-confident despite a man and a goal advantage, because all of us could recall Leeds blowing such enviable positions many times in the past.

This time, though – for once – we were not to be let down. A rare defensive slip just after the hour from the otherwise excellent Marc-Vivien Foé saw Hasselbaink sprint clear to round Hislop, who then brought him down. Penalty to Leeds and, despite the presence of defensive cover, Hislop was sent off. It was a slightly unfortunate second red card for West Ham, who felt compelled to replace Berkovic with reserve keeper Craig Forrest as the calamities mounted for the home team. Forrest’s first act was to pick Harte’s penalty out of the back of the net, and Leeds were 3-1 up and cruising against 9 men. Foé, we will remember, sadly died four years later at the tragically young age of 28, from an unsuspected heart condition whilst representing his country in the FIFA Confederations Cup.

Now at last Leeds started to dominate as a two-man advantage would suggest they should. The best goal of the game arrived on 78 minutes, Bowyer hitting an unstoppable right-footed shot from twenty-five yards, which curved slightly as it found the corner of Forrest’s net.  Just a minute later, Alf-Inge Haaland sprinted on to a Hasselbaink pass into a massive amount of space on the right hand side. Unchallenged, he was able to advance into the penalty area and beat Forrest with an accurate shot just inside the far post.

The eight outfield players in claret and blue were clearly finding the pace too hot, and suddenly there was room aplenty all over the pitch for Leeds to exploit, and exploit it they did.  Aided by the fact that the Hammers – to their eternal credit – were still trying to attack Leeds in spite of their depleted resources, Leeds were granted the licence to ping the ball about, always able to find a man or two in space, making the tired home players work overtime to chase possession as the Upton Park faithful bayed their hate at the referee. Truth to tell, we could easily empathise with the ‘Arrassed ‘Ammers; far too many times down the years we’d been in their shoes, watching impotently enraged as some git of a ref casually destroyed our afternoon. It was somewhat bizarre to watch the situation unfold in reverse – but what the hell. We made hay while the sun was shining, and happily the team was doing the same.

The game had long been over as a contest and, at 5-1 up with no credible opposition to deal with, Leeds seemed intent solely on playing out time. Smith still managed to miss a passable chance to make it 6-1 and Clyde Wijnhard contrived to get himself booked, eliciting maliciously ironic chants of “Who’s the bastard in the black” from the jubilant Leeds fans, who displayed an ironic gallows humour not altogether appreciated by the home supporters. Finally, hothead Irons defender Steve Lomas allowed his mounting frustration to get the better of him, launching an agricultural challenge in the direction of Harte and duly collecting his marching orders to reduce the hapless, helpless Hammers to eight at the death.

It had been a strange game, a romp for the Whites on the face of it – judging by the lop-sided score line anyway. But it had never been quite like that; not that our awareness of having been outplayed for long stretches diluted our joy one tiny bit. It’s a sad fact that 5-1 away wins do not come along very often, and we enjoyed this one to the full. We enjoyed it for the whole of the slightly perilous walk back to the tube station, and we were still enjoying it when we beheld the distinctly pissed-off figure of Leslie Grantham heading down the stairway to the platform where we were celebrating noisily. Leslie Grantham, soap-opera legend as Eastenders arch-villain Dirty Den; Leslie Grantham who had done serious time for killing a German taxi-driver; Leslie Grantham, Hammers fanatic, who – despite being accompanied by his two young boys – bore a grim aspect which looked rather as if he wouldn’t mind adding a couple of Leeds fans to that record.

Tactful and understanding to the last of private grief, we wisely kept our distance and refrained from seeking autographs. It had been a memorably bizarre day for Leeds United and an equally happy summer evening awaited us in the sinful fleshpots of London, crap, watery cockney beer and semi-hostile natives notwithstanding.

Dirty Den 1, Dirty Leeds 5.

BBC: ‘Eastenders’ Goes For Cockney Cred by Introducing Man U Family – by Rob Atkinson

Mr Harris and his ex-pug wife

Cockney reds, Mr. Reg “Prawn Baron” Harris and his ex-pug wife, Frankie Knuckles

Any soap-addicted Leeds United fan will be able to recall the most legendary reference to football in the BBC’s flagship offering, Eastenders. Saying farewell to a departing character bound for a new life “Ap Norf” in Leeds, Mark Fowler (played by Grange Hill‘s Tucker Jenkins) extolled the sporting virtues of West Yorkshire’s Number One city. “They’ve got a good football team!” he enthused, raising a glass in the Queen Vic and causing manly chests all over the Broad Acres to swell still further with justified pride. After all, at that time, the “good team” thing wasn’t even an exaggeration, as David O’Leary modestly watched “moy babies” take all comers apart with consummate ease. It was all a long, long time ago.

Now, though, as part of its quest to bring maximum realism even to its soap opera output – and building on the recent publicity surrounding the Eastenders’ 30th anniversary – the BBC has announced it will be introducing a family of Man U fans to Albert Square. It’s a move some regard as long overdue, reasoning that it’s impossible accurately to reflect life in the capital without a proliferation of glory-hunting, armchair-dwelling, plastic “cockney reds” skulking around every corner, tragically clad in the latest tacky 4th away strip. The Eastenders production office has promised us a family who will breezily reinforce all of those too-true stereotypes that make Man U the club we all just love to hate – even now that they’re crap.

The head of the family, a retired East-End boxer named Frankie “Knuckles” Kray, rules her household with an iron fist inside a chain-mail glove. No stranger to violence, she can be relied upon regularly to engage in some aggro in the Queen Vic, claiming afterwards that it was Leeds fans on the way back from Chelsea. Frankie is 46 and started supporting Man U as long ago as 1993. She is already on her fourth armchair.

Her common-law husband, Reg Harris, has also been a Man U fan since 1993, prior to which he had supported Liverpool from afar, only defecting when they “turned rabbish, squire, and stopped winning nuffink.” He is buoyed up in his change of allegiance by the fact that his hero, Zoe Ball, did exactly the same thing in order to revive a flagging career. Reg, who is in the Norwegian prawns import racket, says that supporting Man U has had a similarly positive effect on his own fortunes. He now supplies the executive boxes at the Theatre of Hollow Myths, and names Roy Keane as his least favourite player ever. He has never been to a football match, believing that he needs an up-to-date passport to venture north of Watford.

There are two children in the Kray/Harris family, Ryan and Eric. The lads were born in 2000 and 2009 respectively (coincidentally, nine months after each of the Pride of Devon‘s two most recent Champions League flukes). Both boys are fiercely proud and lifelong Man U fans who are now seriously considering defecting to Chelsea to avoid being ribbed and tweaked at school. Most of their mates have already switched clubs since Sir Taggart retired, and the lads now find themselves frustrated in their instinctive glory-hunting tendencies and laughed at by the teachers. Despite such ideological doubts, however, both are still forced by their parents to sleep in branded Cantona Kung-Fu pyjamas and, emotionally scarred, have been in touch with the NSPCC twice about this. Ryan, the elder brother, has been force-fed Quorn since he was weaned and is consequently bow-legged and afflicted with boils, wind and close-set eyes.

The BBC are certain that the introduction of this family, with all of its obvious tragicomic potential, is a sure-fire ratings winner. “We expect to consolidate our pre-eminent viewing figures position in London and the Home Counties,” said a Corporation spokesperson, “as well as making inroads in the West Country and Devon/Cornwall. We may even pick up the odd viewer in the North…” he speculated, feverishly, as he checked the JICTAR figures on his iPhone.

Dirty “Den” Watts, erstwhile West Ham supporter, is dead. Twice.

 

Little Hammer FOUND!! But Where WAS HammersFan aka HF?? – by Rob Atkinson

The Bitch is back...

The Bitch is back…

Some of us in the blogging world have been concerned for the safety of this HF lad, despite the fact that he was always an irritating and yet consistent pain in the arse for fans of the clubs he obsessed over.  Leeds United (of course) was the jewel in his blogging crown; not content with his alleged West Ham blog “The Game’s Gone Crazy”, he operated a supplementary effort called – wait for it – “The Game’s Gone Crazier”, where he made weak jokes at the expense of football clubs that he, as a Hammers fan, felt threatened or diminished by.

But there’d been no word from him since February.  Not a peep.  Had he got a job, or a girlfriend – or was it something more sinister than that? What had happened to him?  Had he simply grown up?

But now he’s back, and as drearily predictable as ever.  Still – I’m glad no misfortune had overtaken him.  You’d have thought that, as with banging your head against a brick wall, it’d be nice when it stops. But that long, echoing silence was perturbing.  There was this sneaking worry that, against all parental advice, he’d gone along with a dodgy geezer from Plaistow to see some puppies, and had had his innocence cruelly snatched from him.

He’s actually a bit vague as to where he’s really been all this time; there’s just a couple of weak and unconvincing excuses relating to his alleged first love West ‘Am and also to his undoubted obsession Leeds United (inevitably the subject of his comeback piece).  So: does anybody have any idea what really happened? Was it something to do with juvenile court, or has he been busy knocking doors for the UKIP Youth?  Had he, perhaps, been abducted by illegal aliens and incarcerated somewhere near the New Den?  Or had he just been cheeky to a teacher or a constable – and had his dongle taken off him for the duration?

I’ll be going back to ignoring his drivel now I know he’s still alive and dicking. But curiosity compels me to try and clear up this mystery of what caused his long silence.  Can any ‘Appy ‘Ammer shed some light?

Memory Match No. 6: West Ham 1, Leeds United 5 – 1.5.1999

It’s about time this Memory Match series featured loveable, chirpy cockneys West Ham United, usually obliging victims for Leeds teams of most eras, and notable as lenders of a helping hand towards the end of the title run-in of 1992 when they defeated Man U in a game that turned Alex Ferguson the deepest shade of exasperated purple I’ve ever seen. It’s fitting that I should write a little about the ‘Appy ‘Ammers; at least one irritatingly chirpy blog which claims to support them spends most of its time obsessing over our own beloved United, so perhaps here I can redress the balance a little.

Image

Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink

This Mayday fixture in front of a packed Boleyn Ground crowd of 25997 found Leeds United in a rich run of form, ten games unbeaten since an early February reverse to Newcastle at Elland Road, after which they had reeled off seven consecutive league victories followed by three draws on the trot. The Whites’ determination to get back to winning ways after those six dropped points was exemplified by the fastest possible start. A mere twenty seconds had ticked by when the ball nestled in the West Ham net, put there emphatically by the ebullient Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink who ran at a retreating Neil Ruddock before finishing neatly with a left-foot shot past Shaka Hislop.

And then the game went ever so slightly mad.

Jimmy’s goal apart, the opening sallies had seen both sides engaging in tackles which verged on the thuggish side of enthusiastic. West Ham’s Eyal Berkovic was a victim early on, and Lee Bowyer was on the end of a clattering as the home side sought revenge. Then Ian Wright, no stranger to controversy and the disciplinary attentions of referees, led with his elbow when challenging for a high ball, and copped for a yellow card that looked a lot more justified than the second yellow he got after only 15 minutes, following an altercation with Ian Harte, Harte, Harte. So Wright was on his way back to the stand after a mere quarter of an hour, loudly protesting the injustice of the case and hell-bent, as it turned out, on venting his frustrations on the décor of the ref’s room.

For the next half-hour, leading up to the interval, Leeds proceeded to make a one man advantage look anything but as West Ham pressed them back, causing panic in the away defence as the promptings of Berkovic and Paolo di Canio created some decent chances to possibly level the game. Leeds had managed to be distinctly the poorer side in that first half, and yet – as if to prove once again what a daft game football can be – they hit West Ham with a sucker punch in stoppage time. David Batty appeared to have committed a foul in midfield which might well have justified a booking had the ref not totally ignored it and waved for play to continue. Harry Kewell obliged, picking the ball up wide on the left and mesmerising the overstretched Hammers defence before cutting the ball back from the by-line for Alan Smith to convert gleefully. 2-0 at half time and – for once – it had pretty much all gone Leeds’ way. They had been outplayed for most of the first forty-five minutes, but were somehow two goals and one man to the good; courtesy, it has to be said, of some not exactly even-handed refereeing.

The second half began much as most of the first had been spent, with Leeds on the back foot and defending precariously. Straight away, the dangerous Berkovic bamboozled Jonathan Woodgate, turning him inside out before supplying di Canio with the perfect chance to pull a goal back. 2-1 to the visitors then, but the balance of the play had been with West Ham, and maybe now the momentum was theirs too. None of us could feel over-confident despite a man and a goal advantage, because all of us could recall Leeds blowing such enviable positions many times in the past. This time, for once, we were not to be let down. A rare defensive slip just after the hour from the otherwise excellent Marc-Vivien Foé saw Hasselbaink sprint clear to round Hislop, who then brought him down. Penalty to Leeds and, despite the presence of defensive cover, Hislop was sent off. It was a slightly unfortunate second red card for West Ham, who felt compelled to replace star man Berkovic with reserve keeper Craig Forrest as the calamities mounted for the home team. Forrest’s first act was to pick Harte’s penalty out of the back of the net, and Leeds were 3-1 up and cruising against 9 men. Foé, we will remember, sadly died four years later at the tragically young age of 28, from an unsuspected heart condition whilst representing his country in the FIFA Confederations Cup.

Image

Alf-Inge Haaland

Now at last Leeds started to dominate as a two-man advantage would suggest they should. The best goal of the game arrived on 78 minutes, Bowyer hitting an unstoppable right-footed shot from twenty-five yards, which curved slightly as it found the corner of Forrest’s net. Just a minute later, Alf-Inge Haaland sprinted on to a Hasselbaink pass into a massive amount of space on the right hand side. Unchallenged, he was able to advance into the penalty area and beat Forrest with an accurate shot just inside the far post.

The eight outfield players in claret and blue were clearly finding the pace too hot, and suddenly there was room aplenty all over the pitch for Leeds to exploit, and exploit it they did. Aided by the fact that the Hammers – to their eternal credit – were still trying to attack Leeds in spite of their depleted resources, our heroes were granted the licence to ping the ball about as they pleased, always able to find a man or two in space, making the tired home players work overtime to chase possession as the Upton Park faithful bayed their hate at the referee. Truth to tell, we could easily empathise with the ‘Arrassed ‘Ammers; far too many times down the years had we been in their shoes, watching impotently enraged as some git of a ref casually destroyed our afternoon. It was somewhat bizarre to watch the situation unfold in reverse – but what the hell. We made hay while the sun was shining, and happily the team was doing the same.

The game had long been over as a contest and, at 5-1 up with no credible opposition to deal with, Leeds seemed intent solely on playing out time. Smith still managed to miss a passable chance to make it 6-1 and Clyde Wijnhard contrived to get himself booked, eliciting gleefully ironic chants of “Who’s the bastard in the black” from the jubilant Leeds fans, displaying a gallows humour not altogether appreciated by the home supporters. Finally, hothead Irons defender Steve Lomas allowed his mounting frustration to get the better of him, launching an agricultural challenge in the direction of Harte and duly collecting his marching orders to reduce the hapless, helpless Hammers to eight at the death.

Image

Dirty Den

It had been a strange game, a romp for the Whites on the face of it – judging by the lop-sided score line anyway. But it had never been quite like that; not that our awareness of having been outplayed for long stretches diluted our joy one tiny bit. 5-1 away wins do not come along every day, and we enjoyed this one to the full. We enjoyed it for the whole of the slightly perilous walk back to the tube station, and we were still enjoying it when we beheld the distinctly pissed-off figure of Leslie Grantham heading down the stairway to the platform where we were celebrating noisily. Leslie Grantham, soap-opera legend as Eastenders’ Dirty Den, Leslie Grantham who had done time for killing a German taxi-driver, Leslie Grantham, Hammers fanatic, who – despite being accompanied by his two young boys – bore a grim aspect which looked rather as if he wouldn’t mind adding a couple of Leeds fans to that record.

Tactful and understanding to the last of private grief, we wisely kept our distance and refrained from seeking autographs. It had been a memorably bizarre day for Leeds United and an equally happy summer evening awaited us in the sinful fleshpots of London, crap cockney beer and semi-hostile natives notwithstanding. Dirty Den 1, Dirty Leeds 5.

Next: Memory Match No. 7: Blackburn Rovers 3, Leeds United 4. Another game to give the lie to those who insist that George Graham’s reign at Elland Road was dour and colourless. This televised match at Ewood Park was a real roller-coaster affair, punctuated with some great goals.