Thursday, 31 May 2012

We're The Famous West Ham and We Went To Wembley!

Its been well over a week, but i thought it was about time i got the experience down in a blog. Wembley Stadium, the home of English football, and for 90 odd minutes on Saturday 19th May, home to the dreams of 40,000 West Ham fans.

First, some background, this time last year the Hammers had been relegated from the Premier League after a dismal season, optimism wasn't great, but after a new gaffer was appointed in Big Sam & signings were made, we were one of the favourites for automatic promotion when May arrived this year. Obviously that wasn't to be, and the playoffs beckoned. After a 5-0 aggregate demolition of Cardiff, the first date at Wembley for West Ham was made since the League Cup final loss in 1981.

Now clearly i wasn't there in 1981, and i didn't get to Cardiff on our 3 recent appearances there, so i was hoping for a chance to experience what would obviously be a rare day for the club at the national stadium. Not being a season ticket holder or member worked against me though and i took it as a given i had failed to get a ticket. But a lifeline presented itself in the shape of a Facebook message from Mark, who i know online through his sister Adie (who i also met online, there's a pattern to my life here). Well Mark came through with a spare ticket, and i became i giggling little schoolkid at the prospect of going to Wembley to see West Ham!

The day arrived, and it started as it should of, with breakfast down kid local cafe at 8am! I had seen on Twitter that the Globe pub at Baker Street would be a meeting place for drinks before the game, so i promptly arrived at opening time (10am). Match tickets had to be shown to enter, but thanks to some sweettalking, i was in along with some fellow Twitter Hammers. Our group grew as the morning went on, and the atmosphere became electric at times. Every tourist bus that came past the pub was treated to renditions of Bubbles, or Stick ya blue flag up your arse. So polite eh!

Mark arrived around midday with my ticket, prompting much relief from myself! And after another drink it was time for the train journey to Wembley! The walk down Wembley way alongside so many Hammers was an experience all in itself, felt chills as the big arch approaches! Still a bit early for the game though, so we found a bit of greenery outside an old office block & sunk a few tins whilst catching up with more Hammers :-)

Then it really began, getting into the stadium and finding my seat, getting ready to see the teams come out, and singing Bubbles at the top of my voice. 40,000 Hammers were in our end of the stadium, and the noise was simply amazing. I can't remember every detail of the game, but i know it was tense! A quality goal from Cole sent us into jubilant screams & cheers, easing some fears and nerves!

The second half started with a gut punch as Blackpool equalised, and that led to a very tough end to the game. Both teams had chances, and honestly Blackpool were unlucky not to make the most of them. It was to be a Claret & Blue day though, as with 3 minutes left Vaz Te smashed in a rebound from Coles shot to give us the lead. Emotions were running high now, we were jumping around, screaming, cheering, and the kid in front of me was in tears of joy! Didn't take long for me to join him to be honest, as the final whistle went i had tears in my eyes, for the achievement of the club, for being there, and for a dearly missed friend who would have loved to have been a part of that moment.

After the presentation, the journey home began. I didn't care how long it took, i had a smile on my face and nobody could take that away from me. It had been West Hams first day at the new Wembley, and i had the honour and pleasure of being a part of it! A day that no Hammer there will ever forget, now bring on the Premiership!

Sunday, 6 May 2012

A Beachboy Review, (Concord Rangers, not the band)

Anyone who has read my previous blogs would know that I have more than a bit of love for my local non-league team Concord Rangers, and this past season was their second in the Ryman (Isthmian) Premier League. In previous blogs over the season I’ve mentioned the history of the club, and the rivalry with fellow Ryman League members Canvey Island FC. Well today I just want to go over the experience I’ve had as part of the club, and that’s a key thing to be honest, even as a fan I have felt part of the club!

The start of the season wasn’t great to be honest, after an excellent 2010/11 season debuting in the Ryman Premier, there was the worry of the second season slump that many promoted teams seem to encounter, and that’s throughout the league system. The Beachboys had to wait until their 10th league game for their first win of the season, this coming at the expense of Horsham, who were to go on to get relegated from the Ryman Premier.

The next victory came in the Essex Senior Cup, a competition that turned out to be a great ride for the Concord lads. The first victory was at home to Southend Manor, being the first home victory of the season in any competition. The cup competition was tough, as Concord were away in the next round to Chelmsford City, however on a Monday night in late November they secured their place in the next round with a 4-1 win. I was at the quarter final match just 5 days before Xmas against Grays, and it was a great night to be honest! Concord came away 3-2 winners at the end of it, after Grays put up a late fight, but this set up a semi-final encounter with Colchester United of League 1 in February. Utd put out a strong side, with a number of first team players, and it showed as they ended our cup run with a 4-0 victory. This was twice as heartbreaking as the winners of the other semi-final were local rivals Canvey Island, and an all-Island final would have been something to behold!

Anyway back to the league, and it was on a Saturday in mid-November when Concord picked up their first win of the season at home, scoring a late goal against Harrow Borough to win 1-0. Being there for the game was an experience I wont forget, with the goal going in and the sheer jubilation being expressed from the home dugout and those of us around it! Things then started to fall into place, with the Beachboys winning 6 of their next 8 matches to climb the form table and show some of the class that was on display last season.

Big home victories against Bury Town (4-2) and Horsham (5-0) kept the good run going as the second of the season derbies against Canvey Island began to approach on the horizon. A quick note about Horsham, at the time they were being managed by Hugo Langton and although the team were right near the bottom of the league, he was doing what he could to make sure they played football the right way, and he came across as a decent fella as well. He has since parted company with Horsham, and it was amazing to read what he went through there. Best of luck to him for the future.

Concord continued to be high up in the form table, closing in on Canvey Island and even for one week overtaking them in the league, however as Easter approached, it became clear that a decision as to the way the league would finish would happen in the derby. Now Concord had won the previous 3 encounters, 1-0, 4-0 and 2-0, maybe it was about time Canvey got something, and that they did as goals coming quickly after the start of each half gave them a 2-1 win. As gutting as this is to admit, the result seemed to end the Concord season. The playoffs were out of reach, and we went on to lose the following 4 games to finish the season in 14th.

I spent the final day of the season with the team on the coach trip to Wealdstone FC, and also was there for the presentation night that evening. I mentioned being part of the club, and if anything the last day of the season really hammered that home. A great day, even with a loss, but from the chairman, through the committee, the managers and players down to us fans, it’s a family atmosphere down there. I’m certainly looking forward to next season!

Season's Over, But Not Quite Finished

It’s that time of year when the football season comes to an explosive end, the cup finals are there to be enjoyed and the playoffs provide both excitement and tension in the lower leagues. You reflect on the ups, downs and floods of emotions that have come the way of the fans over the months since it all kicked off back in August. And that’s pretty much what I’m doing here, nothing too in depth, but enough to reflect how things have gone!

The Championship, the old 1st division, and the old 2nd division before that, this was where the Hammers would be playing their games after what can only be described as a disastrous relegation season the previous year. Big Sam Allardyce was brought in as the manager with the one objective simply being to get the team back up. A shake up of the team ensued, and optimism was actually fairly mild, at least from my perspective going into the season! And things didn’t start too well either, as we lost at home to Cardiff, which was a glimpse at how our home form would be over the year! Away form though, well that was a different story, with 1-0 and 4-0 victories away to Doncaster and Watford respectively, that highlighted the freedom that the team were to play with away from Upton Park.

The results were fairly varied though through the first half of the season, big wins at home to Blackpool & Leicester were negated by single goal losses to Ipswich, Burnley and early leaders Southampton. Cup runs were in my mind best to be avoided so that we could focus on the league, much like the old saying after any team gets knocked out of a cup! Thankfully the team must have felt the same way, as we didn’t last in either the League or FA cups for very long! November was a solid month so and solidified our place in the automatic promotion spots after 4 wins from 5.

Even though the next couple of months were fairly stressful for the Hammers faithful with inconsistent results both at home and away, we maintained our push for automatic promotion, at least which was until the month of March. Reading were a team on one hell of a run, they were slowly but surely getting good results, notching up points after points, and creeping up the table, but at this time they weren’t really on our radar. The thing that West Ham fans were worried about, and some were very angry about, was the run of 5 consecutive draws, 4 of which were 1-1!  It was then that Reading made their intentions known, taking 2nd in the league after beating us 4-2 at home and leaving us languishing in 3rd, destined for the playoffs if things didn’t turn around.

The run-in through April was full of pressure, but our destiny had been taken out of our hands by the events of March. Hoping for other teams to drop points is never a good thing to have to do to be honest! Reading kept up their good run of form, and managed to oust Southampton at the top of the league. Big moral-boosting victories against Barnsley and Brighton helped the league come down to the final day, with West Ham needing a Southampton loss and a victory against Hull to make the automatic promotion slot. We did our job by beating Hull 2-1, but Southampton thumped relegated Coventry to claim 2nd spot and condemn the Hammers to the tension and stress of the playoffs.

So, it’s nearly all over, just the playoffs to negotiate for the Hammers, and for Big Sam to fulfil his remit of getting us back up into the Premiership. Thursday was the first leg of the Playoff Semi-finals against Cardiff, and we played very well to walk away 2-0 winners in Wales. Now the focus turns to Monday afternoon and the home leg, the pressure is well and truly on! Wembley beckons for the winners, and a final match-up against either Blackpool or Birmingham.

Honestly, I may not have agreed with the tactics we’ve used at times throughout the season, or the substitutions or team line-ups. But I have to admit, when it’s counted we’ve picked up the results, and it’s better to be in the playoffs than not be even in with a chance at promotion. A possibility of 2 games left until the season truly ends for us, fingers are well and truly crossed! COYI!

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