Poolboy and I found ourselves staying overnight in London the day before we were eurostar-ing it to Bruges the week before last. As a Burnley fan I thought it was only fair to take Poolboy (and his London-based chum and employee of mine, Lawyer) along to the FA Cup game that they had against West Ham that evening – a payment in kind for him coming to Belgium with me (along with other payments, but of course. I’m not an unkind boss. Ask him, he’ll tell you. It’s a pleasure to be with Dr Sparkles)
I hadn’t been to Upton Park (confusingly known also as The Boleyn Ground) before, nor had I really ever ventured into the East End of London, so I was unsure what treats awaited me. Being an adorer of West Ham fan and all around cheeky-chappie Danny Dyer I knew that if all West Ham fans were like him I was in for a treat indeed…
Dusk in East London is an interesting experience for a doctor, nay a woman, who is used to the finer things in life. After a quick drop into a Ladbrokes (where I was the only female, not to mention the only person, in there who had seen the better side of a bar of Jo Malone soap in the past week) courtesy of Poolboy, it was time to make our way down Green Street towards the ground. Food was first on the agenda and I was hoping to relive the cheese hotdog experience of Watford the week prior. A stop at a hot food stall and a hotdog (of the non-cheese variety) filled to the brim with fried onions, mustard and ketchup (the only right and fashionable choice for sauces on a dog, darlings) in my hand I was ready.
The hotdog was not good. Or at least it was not as good as the legendary hotdog that I had in Watford. Thus far, the Watford experience was proving to be a better one…
A huge building rose into the darkness in front of me. Upton Park. Home of West Ham (for now. I shan’t go into where they probably are going in this article as I don’t want to anger the Hammer fans). Wow. It is a far bigger stadium than any I have been to in a while, and I was impressed. Unfortunately by spirits were dampened somewhat at that moment when Poolboy received a call from Lawyer saying that he couldn't attend the game. This worried me somewhat – I needed two men to protect me as Chauffeurs mafia connections had not come through for us this time and we would have to purchase our tickets like everyone else (shocking treatment of a wag, I know sweeties, I felt the pain).
Bravely facing the fear
It would seem that my worry was to be uncalled for dear readers. On entering the ground I saw a sight that brought tears of joy to my eyes – the car park was full of rather beautiful (and terribly, terribly expensive) cars – it was like coming home. I knew at that point that if the top dogs at West Ham had such good taste (and so much money) that I would be in good hands during my time at Upton Park.
Flash cars. Nice...
I wasn’t wrong.
Poolboy and I secured tickets directly behind the goal in The Sir Trevor Brooking Stand and had a great view of the Burnley goalkeepers warming up. The Beast was in particularly good form, bantering with fans from both West Ham and Burnley alike, and kicking balls into the faces of young boys who were giving him (as the East End boys put it) some mouth. It was a glorious sight to behold.
Several other things were glorious about Upton Park. Firstly, their top-notch hot chocolate. Secondly, the fans. Yes sugarplums, the West Ham fans are a handsome bunch. Some of them need a de-chaving (light grey tracksuits to a football match darlings? Really?) and a little trip down to Pep Guardiola’s tailor, but on the whole there was a sea of hotness around me. Perhaps my penchant for Danny Dyer swayed me somewhat, but their cheeky faces and their dulcet East End tones did something for me. And that something was good.
Something else was different about this ground and these fans, in comparison to my fun time at Vicarage Road. The singing. It started with haunting shouts of the word ‘Irons’ reverberating and echoing around the ground, from one fan to another until everyone was shouting it together in a beautiful display of solidarity and melded into more complex numbers… I have never heard such a plethora of interesting chants and songs in my life. Some a little distasteful (how on earth they could tell that poor girl had chlamydia from where they were sitting I do not know. I wouldn’t want to make that diagnosis without the correct medical test,) some amusing and some downright rude. But fun nonetheless. The one that made me smile the most was when they started to chant at the Burnley away fans ‘we pay your benefits’. I rolled my eyes to the heavens at that – with the amount of tax that I have to pay on my wages, it’s me who pays everyone’s benefits.
The game commenced. West Ham were shooting towards the goal in front of us and there was a buzz in the air as West Ham signing Thomas Hitzlsperger was making his debut (the warming presence of a top notch German footballer, who was introduced to the roaring 24488-strong crowd as ‘Der Hammer’, didn’t put off some of the Irons fans singing interesting songs about RAF bombers mind you. Tactful).
The first part of the first half was fairly uneventful, and West Ham and Burnley appeared to be evenly matched. That was until Der Hammer scored a blinding goal 28 minutes in. The West Ham fans stopped their teasing of (Fat?) Frank Lampard via song and started singing something about blowing bubbles. Said bubbles even appeared, which were very pretty indeed as they floated up into the chilly East London air.
Half time came and went with more interesting chants, more hot chocolate and a mild scuffle as some West Ham fans managed to throw something into the Burnley fans, sparking off a small amount of crowd trouble. It was cold, but the atmosphere was warm as the fans sung and danced around us. Personally, I thought that Burnley might get back into the game…
The second half proved me wrong. Carlton Cole scored at The Bobby Moore Stand end twice in as many minutes (at 48 and 50) with right-back Reid scoring his debut goal for the club and totting the score up to 4-0 to the home side on 59 minutes. The West Ham fans sung more, my favourites this time being ‘Carlton Cole’ to the tune of ’Gold’ by 80’s-greats Spandeau Ballet and the less-cerebral ‘let’s go fucking mental’ after the 3rd and 4th went in. I also find it hard to believe that all of Burnley is a caravan site, but if the chants were anything to go by, all the Burnley fans live caravans, so maybe it’s true? Poolboy subsequently told me this was their attempt at being humorous. Oh dear.
Fans. Going fucking mental.
Burnley favourite J.Rod got one back for The Clarets on 70 minutes (a good goal not at all assisted by a mistake between Bridge and Green) but it was already all over. The last goal came at 90 minutes when Sears slotted one in to make it end 5-1 to West Ham. The fans, once more, started going fucking mental…
As we left the ground that cold, late Monday evening I was filled with a sense of happiness. Upton Park is a great ground (despite the poor hotdog offerings) and the fans made me feel very welcome. The fact that they were attractive didn’t go down to badly with me either. As with Vicarage Road, I feel I will be back, but more for the football and less for the food…