Ah is that a strange dummy sat on top of an ATV on top of 18 wheeler? Do I spy the Bescot stadium? That’s right we are back on the road – and the dreaded M6 no less. Preseason has fallen upon us and for West Ham, most of our friendlies have been played behind closed doors and the season starts next week. It has been a short off-season this year, although my withdrawal symptoms are as strong as ever. I mean, the World Cup filled a little of that gap but nobody is quite like my girls.

However, there is one important difference in my adventures this season. I am no longer a lone ranger, a one-woman crusader, the single nutter on the bus. For France brought a rather beautiful change in my life, in the form of my new girlfriend Kate. We met in the most romantic city of Paris, at a watching party for France vs Norway and the rest as they say is history.

Both southerners in the north, we had been circling each other for a while it seems, with many near misses at gigs, football matches and just Mancunian life. Meeting at the World Cup was important as it answers the one question everyone – and I mean EVERYONE – has asked since;

Does she like Women’s football? Or are you going to have cut down on your footballing?

Dear readers, I would never compromise like that! …And also she is totally down. A former Man City fan (well she will be by the end of the season), Kate has not only agreed to go all games with me but also do all the driving. Result! Fewer Megabuses for me. In celebration of this development we will have a new feature on the blog – the how-Claret-is-Kate scale. But more of that later.

We start at a more respectable 9am instead of the usual eye-watering 5am. I am loving this deal already. With our packed lunch (no more double hash brown bagels for me) and an eclectic mix of songs on our driving playlist, we were off.

All was going swimmingly, so swimmingly readers I thought I would have nothing to tell you. Would my new relationship status, whilst making me extraordinarily happy, make me a very dull writer? I mean Kate must be slightly insane to agree but she’s not methadone lady level of crazy. A refresher for anyone who has forgot

Fear, not loyal readers as one of our scheduled stops was at a service station which had just been infiltrated by a coach party. You could hear the moaning from the other side of the service station before you saw the twin-set-and-pearls set. Just buying a coffee was a palaver, with the two in front of me firstly not deciding what queue they wanted to be in. Then tripping over my feet and glaring at such an affront when I was minding my own business. The pièce de résistance was hearing one of them demanding more coffee in her latte. No pleasantries or manners from these women, just a short harsh bark of COFFEE. Kind of made me miss the Megabus. I mean, we get all sorts of fruits and nuts on there but at least they are polite.

After being shocked by such behaviour, we made a quick getaway to try and find a more calm, serene and accepting space. Kate decided to take me on a whistle-stop tour of her home town. Great, except Kate is from LUTON. So much for that then. [Look, I showed you the nice bits. There were trees! – Kate] Actually after a quite glorious detour, we finally made it to Rush Green. It was like I had never been away. To be honest I felt like a bit of a celebrity, being welcomed back by all staff members, laughing that here I was back for another season.

Finally, in the ground, we went to find Ed who was very excited to have been given permission by the club to use his proper camera. Which in turn made me excited as it meant photos I could steal. A total win-win situation in my book. Ed just rolled his eyes and told me to take what I needed as usual – he loves me really, folks. I will tell you what I am not loving mind is the instant pick-on-Allie relationship Ed and Kate built. This is not what I expect from my girlfriend and my photographer/sometimes train buddy/only Chelsea fan I can really stomach. (Rich you don’t count as your main team is the mighty Wolves.) In somewhat of a huff I went in search of Miles. Miles is one of the assistant coaches who I become quite friendly with last season. In fact, it was him that told the staff and team what a dedicated follower I was. I credit him for allowing me to create such a relationship with the club as a whole.

I find Miles down by the hoardings as he was getting ready to take his place on the bench.

“Think you can get away with not saying hello?”

He looks and smiled giving me a hug.

“Surprised you made the trip down” I give him a look. Laughing, he hugs me goodbye as I wish him luck.

Back to the two chuckle brothers [Do I get to be Barry? – Kate] who seemed have bonded far too quickly for my liking, I take my place to watch the match.

FIRST HALF

We came bursting straight out the gate, our new attack looking fearsome against an unsure Tottenham defence. Our new number nine Martha Thomas was absolute fire cutting through the middle and linking perfectly with Adriana Leon on wing. It was one of the most confident performances I had seen the team play, we certainly could hear Spurs’ Gemma Davison getting rattled.

All of our summer signings were chomping at the bit to make an impression. The first one to do so was Jacynta (yes I am copping out of her surname) our Australian wonderkid slid through their midfield like a hot knife through butter. There must be something about wearing the number 15 at our gaff. Having been Bri Visalli’s number last year, she was certainly our little dynamo.

Another stand out was our new second keeper (Anna has been promoted quite rightly to the number one both in theoretical placing and her physical number). Courtney Brosnan is a young, hungry keeper who whilst she wasn’t troubled much in the first half, kept composed to make some beautiful saves.

The breakthrough came on the 23rd minute with a lovely piece of interplay between Thomas and midfielder Tess Middag.  Middag was supposed to be one of our big hitters last season, but unfortunately an ACL tear on international duty put paid to her starting last season. Having her fit and healthy means we now have a more definitive midfield. Holding up play, Middag floated the ball down the middle of the pitch and Thomas found herself on the edge of the box to curl a right-hand shot under the keeper.

1-0 to the cockney girls.

After that we kept getting stronger and had the majority of the possession, our plays quick and slick but we just couldn’t quite crack the defence again.

Towards the end of the half Tottenham had their first real chance of the day. Lucy Quinn, Tottenham’s new export from Birmingham, cut past our defence but ended up skying the final shot. With that the ref blew for half time.

HALF TIME

It was at this point Emma rocked up to join us having been caught up in weekend traffic. Emma was not as enamoured by our performance as I was. The team looked too leggy according to this one. I, on the other hand, was eager for the new season to start, encouraged by what I had seen. Emma also joined the ‘Let’s mock Allie club’. Why am I friends with these people again? I miss Mrs. Raff, she would have defended me.

Ed decided he wanted to move round to the other side of the ground, for lighting or angles or some such. We all trooped around with him, with only minor complaining. As we wandered a familiar face was coming to towards us, well two familiar faces. The Kmita twins, Mollie and Rosie, had come down on their weekend off to see their old club. After quick chat and hug we left them be, though this blogger would like to take a moment to wish Rosie the best of luck for her season with the Bees.

SECOND HALF

With the game underway and a change of goalkeeper, West Ham almost lost the lead from the off, with Quinn mirroring her action from the last half. This was quickly collected into the safe hands of Anna Moorehouse.

We immediately countered with Leon running down the wing but her attack was snuffed out by the Spurs defender Siri Worm with a fearsome tackle. Leon continued to look our biggest threat up front, finding herself one-on-one with the keeper. However, overexertion meant she toppled herself before she could get a shot off.

We were eventually made to pay for the shots we didn’t take. At 81 minutes a miscommunication between Moorhouse and the back three lead to a scrappy goal for the North London club.

1-1

This was then further exploited by Tottenham, whose own player named Leon found a hole and exploited a weak link in our backline and squeezed a low shot which escaped Anna’s outstretched hand.

1-2

That’s where it ended folks, a loss snatched out of the jaws of victory. We all finished sort of feeling so slightly mopey.

However, I had a mission given to me by the footballing gods. One reason I managed to convince Kate to reconsider her Manchester City support (which was just a marriage of convenience anyway; a sensible enough choice for a new football fan who only lives 3 miles from the Etihad) was because of our captain Gilly. For our captain is better than yours, which is true for all clubs to be fair. To quote Kate: “I would follow Gilly Flaherty into battle”. The devotion was strong. [Look, here’s the thing. Come the revolution we’re gonna need strong leaders and my gut tells me Gilly would rise to the challenge. – Kate]

My birthday present this year had been a new away shirt with Flaherty 5 on the back, which had been my end of the bargain I had made with Gill last season. So I had to show off and make Kate blush. Two birds, one stone. We made our way to our captain and she smiled when she saw me and gave me a hug.

She turned to Kate and stuck out a hand.
“So you’re Kate, the one I have to say hi to.” So yeah, I might have had a word with her before this meeting. Kate to her credit did manage to get through this meeting with dignity intact. Yes, before people ask, I did tell Gilly about Kate’s militaristic statement towards her. As anyone who’s read my previous blogs will know, I am a bit of a git.

After having got the standard player-pointing-at-my-back photo, we bid Gilly adieu.

Knowing what a long drive we had back, we took only a brief rest break in the Club house. As standard, we caught up with the Longhursts as well as Julia our number 10, who spent most of the game as a ball girl. Clearly, the ambiguous staff member was right there is no age limit on the job. Find previous post here  Also see a picture here

As I stood nursing my drink, I hear a little shriek and Alisha Lehman, our number 7, come rushing forward to give me a hug. She turned me around and lightly slapped me on the shoulder.

“What did you do?” The Swiss International’s eyes narrowed at me.

I look confused. What had I done?

“Your shirt, Why is it a number 5?”
I laugh at the realisation of what she means.

“Should it be a number 7?” She nods empathically and won’t let me leave until I agree upon my home shirt being her.

With that we bid our farewells and head back on the not so lonesome road.

How-Claret-Is-Kate Scale: Still doesn’t know the words to blowing bubbles but conceded the team are good eggs.

Next time, We head back to Borehamwod to take on the Champions and I will be attempting to seize control of the road tunes [You get control of the road tunes when you learn to drive – Kate]. Wish me luck!!!

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