West Ham United vs. Chelsea : 20 August 2023
There were several instances during the build-up to our game against West Ham at the London Stadium where I told my match-day companions that I fancied us to win. And I honestly believed it. Despite me venturing to the Stratford wastelands on six previous occasions and not seeing a single Chelsea victory, after the pleasing performance against Liverpool I sensed a few reasons to be cheerful. I couldn’t have been the only one.
My week had been busy from a footballing perspective. There were two Frome Town away games, encompassing two new grounds, on the Tuesday and Saturday, and both were enjoyable.
I drove down to Salisbury on the Tuesday after work and met up with Salisbury Steve for the league game against newly-promoted Bemerton Heath Harlequins. I loved their neat ground with a decent clubhouse behind one goal and tall yew trees on two of the remaining three sides. Despite going ahead, Frome Town contrived to get two players sent off and eventually lost 1-3.
On the Saturday morning, it was an early start for me – to avoid holiday traffic – as I drove the 170 miles down to Falmouth in Cornwall. I set off at 6am and arrived at 10am for the second preliminary round of the FA Cup and a match against Falmouth Town. This was another excellent ground, with a bona fide terrace behind one goal and seats set upon a slope along one side. There was even a noisy home support, including a section called “F Troop” involving banners, flags, a music system and even a bloke in a Pikachu body suit – don’t ask – but despite all this, Frome Town carved out a fine 6-2 win.
I got back from Falmouth at 9.30pm on Saturday night. I was up again at 6.30am to head up to London. Over the weekend, I would end up driving 560 miles for football. It’s my life.
I had picked up PD, Simon and Parky by 8.30am and we were parked at Barons Court by 10.30am.
At last we were able to enjoy a decent pre-match prior to a West Ham away game. All the others had been early kick-offs or evening games. Here was the chance to relax. We headed to London Bridge, just as the women’s World Cup Final was kicking-off. There was a vague plan to catch a bit of the game but none of us were too bothered.
I hadn’t seen a single kick of the men’s World Cup in Qatar, and – thus far – I had not seen a single kick of the women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand either. International football isn’t my thing for reasons that I can’t be arsed to list.
As we changed trains at Green Park, Parky realised that he had left his match ticket in my car so he had to back-track.
Simon, PD and I ploughed on regardless. We walked from London Bridge to Tower Bridge Road and made our first stop of our pre-match on both banks of the River Thames. I had visited M. Manze once before, and I had promised the lads a visit on one of our wanders around London on a subsequent match day. This establishment, which dates from 1892, serves up traditional pie and mash, and is much-revered. It reminds me of the very first pie and mash shop that I visited on the North End Road before the famous 5-0 Leeds United game in April 1984. I was with PD then, too.
All three of us opted for double pie and double mash, served with the famous parsley-decorated green liquor, and splashed with copious amounts of white pepper and chilli vinegar. It’s a London staple, not found elsewhere in the UK. The food didn’t touch the sides. We sat at old wooden benches and ate in glorious silence. We heard that Spain were 1-0 up down under. Replenished, we left the green and white tiled interior and caught a bus to Canada Water. From here, an overground train to Wapping, which – er – went under the Thames.
From here, we walked up to a famous old pub, The Prospect Of Whitby, which has been on “the list” for a while. This is a glorious pub, and acted as our base camp. Not long after the first drinks were ordered, Parky joined us. In Sydney, the score had stayed 1-0 to Spain. We had not seen a single kick of the game.
It was time to relax. This boozer abuts onto the River Thames. There are stone floors, wooden beams, terraces, a beer garden, history everywhere. Out in the river, a noose hangs from a gibbet, a memory of the days of yore when pirates were put to their death on this site.
There were drinks and laughs.
Simon told of how his grandson is named Enzo – not because of our Argentinian midfielder – and he had recently bought him an Enzo shirt.
This was such a fine time.
“Do we have to go to the game?”
I could have stayed there all day.
A Chelsea fan who lived locally arrived to give Simon a spare ticket, and we were then able to move on to the next pub. Wapping, once an area of trade and warehouses, was yuppified in the ‘eighties, with conversions taking place everywhere. Nowadays, the place reeks of wealth. On the walk between pubs, we spotted Porsches and Mercs parked on the cobbled streets. There is a distinct air of fine living in the shadows underneath the converted warehouses. I saw a couple of people with West Ham shirts. This wasn’t classic Cockney territory like Mile End, Poplar or Plaistow, but as good as it gets in modern day London.
We dipped into the second pub, “The Town Of Ramsgate”, and this was another Thames-side pub with a terrace abutting the river and access to the shingled reach below. It was another winner. We made plans to return. There are three other pubs close by.
At about 3.15pm, Simon booked an Uber and we were soon on our way to the game. The London Stadium was less than three miles away. We could relax.
“Been a great pre-match, boys. Was even better when Parky fucked off for ninety minutes.”
“I still fancy us to win today.”
Halfway to our destination, I continued on :
“Tell you what, it makes a nice change to get to an away game early. No rush. Fed up of arriving late. Glad we have grown out of that habit.”
With that, Doctor Uber took a wrong turn and we found ourselves on a road headed for the Blackwall Tunnel.
Helpless, we peered out as the car was swept under the river, unable to deviate. We did a U-turn past the O2, then swung north once again. Thankfully, we arrived at Pudding Mill Lane at just after 4pm. Outside, the heat was suddenly blistering, away from the cool shadows of Wapping. After two bag searches, we were in the away end at 4.15pm.
Parky and I joined up with Alan, Gary and John in the fourth row of the upper section. Simon was twenty rows behind us. PD was adrift in the lower tier.
Prior to the teams entering the pitch, a large mosaic was displayed in the East Stand depicting the Europa Conference trophy that West Ham stumbled upon last season.
West Ham in a virtually all claret kit, Chelsea in blue / blue / white.
Alas, we were missing Reece James, so Malo adjusted into the right wing-back berth.
Disasi – Silva – Colwill
Gusto – Gallagher – Enzo – Chukwuemeka – Chilwell
Jackson – Sterling
Bloody hell, Kurt Zouma was captain of West Ham, alongside Emerson Palmieri, another ex-Chelsea player. There were familiar names in the home side. Simon had warned that Michail Antonio always seemed to perform against us.
At 4.30pm, the game began. It doesn’t always happen at West Ham, but this looked like a virtual full house. I couldn’t spot many empty seats anywhere. Gulp.
As always, we attacked the far end, the Bobby Moore Stand, in the first-half. It’s a little ironic that West Ham have switched from a very tight ground at Upton Park in favour of a wide-open elliptical set-up at London Stadium, whereas we have gone from a sprawling oval of the old Stamford Bridge to the tight stands of the new Stamford Bridge. I wasn’t sure if those Chelsea fans in the lower tier, nearer the action but with poor sightlines, were better positioned than those in the upper tier, with a better overall view but so damned far from the pitch. We were right in the middle, above the claret-coloured void. Perhaps we had the best view of the two, a compromise.
On the pitch, a middling opening, and not a great deal of noise from any section.
The home team attacked and won a corner which Robert Sanchez took care of. Soon after, the former Southampton player James Ward-Prowse, sent in another lofted corner, and as the ball dropped I was unfortunate enough to catch the moment that Nayef Aguerd out-muscled one or two of our players to head home.
I turned to John : “didn’t even make it difficult for him to jump.”
We dominated the possession but I noted a lack of movement up front. In the stands, all was quiet. How was it possible for over 62,000 to make so little noise?
Gradually, we improved.
Nicolas Jackson’s involvement increased and there were a couple of half-chances. On twenty-seven minutes, Ben Chilwell’s cross was cleared but the ball fell to Carney Chukwuemeka. His sway and shimmy lost his marker and as the ball was worked to his right foot, he curled a shot that Alphonse Areola was unable to reach.
Carney made him look like a proper tit.
The Chelsea crowd celebrated, as did the scorer who reeled away with a jump towards the home fans in the corner.
A rare West Ham attack resulted in a shot from Lucas Paqueta that bounced up off a post down below us.
There had been a shout for a Chelsea penalty after Jackson was sent sprawling but VAR had noted an offside. When Raheem Sterling squirmed into space on the edge of the box, Tomas Soucek hacked at him, and there was no VAR to save the home team.
We watched as Enzo stood and faced off against Areola. It was a weak penalty and the ‘keeper was easily able to save to his right.
In the closing minutes of the first-half, Chukwuemeka was injured and was stretchered off.
With Sterling running at pace against a worried defence, and with able support from Jackson and Chukwuemeka, we had played some decent stuff in that first-half. At the half-time break, everyone around me was positive.
“All us really.”
The first song aired by the PA at the break was “Radio Ga Ga” by Queen, probably my most loathed band of all time. I thought to myself “that has no right to be played at a football game” and I fucked off to the gents.
As I descended the stairs down to the airy concourse, I was reminded of how away games these days are populated by a greater number of lads – mainly lads – in their twenties than in previous years. Not that it needs stating every game, but I also noted how the vast majority of our away support eschew club colours of any description. This was brought home to me when a couple in their forties passed me. Both of them were wearing Chelsea shirts and, to be frank, they really stuck out. All around me, behind me by the bar, grouped at the base of the stairs, chatting and laughing, were lads – mainly lads – dressed in anything but Chelsea gear.
Plain T-shirts, polos, shorts, jeans, trainers.
Lyle & Scott, Lacoste, CP, Boss, Barbour, Fila, Fred Perry, Weekend Offender, Pretty Green, Moncler, Baslager, Adidas, Nike, Aquascutum, Puma, Paul & Shark, Armani, Ralph Lauren.
I often wonder what goes through the mind of Randy and Brandy from Badgercrack, Nebraska when they show up at a Chelsea away game with full shirt / cap / scarf Holy Trinity and find themselves in a sea of lime, lavender, coral, mint, navy, peach, beige, cerise, black, grey and white.
The West Ham DJ had redeemed themselves. The last song of the break was “Born Slippy” by Underworld, with hints of Hibs Casuals and a working class culture.
Mykhailo Mudryk replaced the unfortunate Chukwuemeka.
Last season, we eked out a 1-1 draw under a grey sky in Stratford. There were white fluffy crowds amid a blue sky on this Sunday in August. The second-half began.
Whereas I stood throughout the first-half, as were those near me, I noted that many were sat as the game recommenced. I sat too, and hated myself for it. I felt that this was a sure sign that we weren’t up for it. There was no noise to speak of.
Bloody modern football.
Soon in to the restart, the ball stood up nicely for Said Benrahma on a break but the effort went wide. Just after, a long ball caught our defence out. We seemed too square, too high, almost as if the menacing Antonio was himself the last man. He raced away past Levi Colwill and shot low past the dive of Sanchez, a hideously perfect finish. Now the home fans roared.
But oh their “Champions Of Europe” chant.
It’s beyond parody really.
And no, they are not even being ironic.
When we twice won the Europa League, we would never have dared sing that.
Fuck me, if West Ham are champions of Europe in 2023, then that means that the Brotherhood Of Man were the best band throughout Europe in 1976.
Sorry Led Zeppelin, sorry Fleetwood Mac, sorry Abba, sorry Rolling Stones, sorry Thin Lizzy, sorry Sex Pistols.
Save all your kisses for me, West Ham.
The second-half really disappointed. In the first-half, there was at least intent and cohesion. The second period just got worse and worse.
I compared notes with John.
“The only time we win here, I had to work.”
“Like me at United. Been there fourteen times. Not seen us win.”
We toiled but it was terrible to watch.
Malo Gusto made an absolutely sublime last ditch tackle when a one-on-one break reached the point of no return.
Sadly, Enzo was a poor shadow of the man who played so formidably against Liverpool.
On the hour, Mauricio Pochettino replaced Chilwell with new signing Moises Caicedo. We switched to four at the back with Caicedo bolstering the midfield.
Goal-scorer Aguerd was then booked for the second time and was sent off on sixty-eight minutes. Our attacking play was disjointed. We were afraid to shoot. Sterling dithered on more than one occasion. Mudryk had pace but no end product. More substitutions.
Noni Madueke for Gallagher.
Mason Burstow for Gusto.
A debut and thus a very proud moment for my mate Andy, who coached Burstow at a club in Kent for a while.
Mudryk was pitiful. One shot of his, after arriving late at the far post, was volleyed so far into the air that it spent ages coming back down to Earth, and when it did, it didn’t even go off for a corner.
This was horrible.
Quite bizarrely, I was aware that a young lad, maybe in his late teens, who was sat to my immediate left did not utter one word the entire game. Not one word; no word of encouragement, no comments, certainly no songs of support.
Can anyone fucking explain that to me?
Madueke showed some intent and was almost rewarded when a shot was deflected on the base of Areola’s post.
With hundreds of Chelsea leaving before the end, a rash challenge by debutant Caicedo resulted in Paqueta scoring from the spot.
West Ham United 3 Chelsea 1.
So, seven visits to the London Stadium, and still no wins.
Shall I stay at home next season?
We made our way back to Pudding Mill Lane and caught the first of three trains to take us back to Barons Court. On the second one, a Jubilee Line train, the announcer stated that “this train will terminate at Wembley Park.”
I turned to the boys and said “I don’t think our season will.”
We had crossed the River Thames six times during the day and we were at last on our way out west.
I eventually reached home at 10.30pm.
This, of course, was a disappointing performance bit I genuinely think that I – and many others – immediately found ourselves getting overly upset with a few negatives.
It was, after all, only our second league game of the season.
Next up is a Friday night match at home to Luton Town.
See you there.