It’s a West Ham weekend folks. As well as Easter which means only one thing… (no not chocolate, well it might) I was talking about something more quintessentially Easter in the UK, engineering works on major national rail routes. Yay, so Megabus it is.
A blistering early start on Easter Saturday, this time joined by mum and dad. The power of football eh! The coach was insanely packed, the world and his wife having to use them since national rail’s impeccable timing. When you have been on as many coaches as I have in the last few months, you realise it takes a special breed to stomach the four and bit hour journey. Mostly it’s broke students and large families who have afford the more effective and more socially timed transport options, there are also the odd ducklings that make you go huh.
On this coach we were graced with one such duckling; Who firstly almost killed the coach handler with her HUGE suitcase, then fell asleep and started snoring VERY loudly. Finally, she almost got left at Watford Gap services when she ignored the drivers instructions that it was a driver change only, off she toddled into the service station. If it hadn’t been for us passengers she might still be there. It takes all kinds in this world.
For once there was no traffic in London and we actually made it on time. We could take a leisurely wander to Stratford for the West Ham men’s game. It was mummy dearest’s first time in the new ground, so she was more excited for that half of the weekend. Don’t worry fearless readers that opinion has since changed. (Father stayed in Ilford)
I on the other hand, was more excited for the Sunday fixture. Obviously. Well, to be honest, I was more excited about seeing the opposition number 9. Our opponents this Easter weekend were Birmingham City so it was a chance to see Ellen White play, although I got in serious trouble the last time I saw her play at club level. More on that later though, as I suppose I should talk about Saturday as I did bill this post as a West Ham double.
Olympic park still doesn’t feel like home to me. It doesn’t have the bite that Upton park once had. It doesn’t roar, make your heart sing, or strike fear into the soul of opposing teams. We did however at this game unveil our new carpet surround. Tottenham may have the Champions League, Arsenal might have the Europa League. But we have carpet, claret and blue carpet I don’t think you understand.
Though it is always good to see the boys play live, as we so infrequently get the opportunity but it’s just all a bit soulless. I mean I know it’s for growth but who we kidding we are West Ham! We wouldn’t know what to do with European football. Christ, we got into the Europa pre-qualifying rounds one season due to the fair play rule, scuppered our preseason so bad that the following season we had one of highest foul rates so that never happened again. On a sort of related note, I don’t half miss James Tomkins, hell of a defender.
I am confident Wolves will do better next season with 3 possible qualify rounds in July to make the Europa league proper. Did I mention my proof reader and lender of the laptop is a Wolves fan? He pays me to let him put in his witty comments, by pay I mean he doesn’t bitch when I bogart his laptop for blogging purposes.
I am not going to do a match review of the Leicester game if you want to know what happened there are numerous newspaper articles telling you. INSERT RANDOM ONE HERE.
Coming away from the match mum turns to me and echoes what I have been saying. The game itself was fun, however she did not like the London Stadium. I suppose if you there week in, week out you get used to it. Not for me I’m afraid.
After a very long journey back to Ilford which involved a TWENTY-FIVE MINUTE queue to get out of the bus station which meant the bus ran over time and had to turf us off in Manor Park. Seriously Stratford bus station has no system for buses at all, I have seen more order at a five year olds birthday party.
Back in Ilford we catch back up with Father dearest who had taken the opportunity to return to his East London roots. Nothing too sentimental just a trip to a Pie and Mash shop, where he tried to convince he had only had one pie one mash not his standard two. He would of got away with it to, if he hadn’t posted a picture on Facebook. Sorry dad not buying the I used a stock photo excuse.
Now the rest of us needed feeding so we braved Ilford high street. Which is an interesting if not overwhelming experience. If Ed thought Barking was bad, may he never grace Ilford on a Saturday. Suitably scarred by the experience we scuttled back to our hotel.
The following day was equally scorching and the merry band of Cokers head over to Romford. We had a lot of time to kill and on Easter Sunday, there was very little to do to kill said time. After marvelling how much it had changed since we left which took all of five minutes we had to think of something else to do. As we were deciding our fate for the next couple of hours. I saw a familiar face walking towards me carrying a well-known Seattle coffee chain cup. It did take me a minute but she recognised me right away.
’ Hello trouble’ she smiled
’Hi guys’ the California drawl very out of place in the Essex market town and pulled me into a bear hug. ’ are you down for the game’
It was our number 15 clearly getting a last-minute caffeine boost before the game.
I nod and point to the fact I am in fact wearing her shirt.
’ Excellent choice’ she laughs. We chat briefly before we continue on our separate ways. Now how often does that happen? That not only do you see one of your team, they actually stop and recognise you. Bri had however given us the inspiration of what to do next, we agreed to go get a caffeine boost of our own.
We still didn’t kill that much time and ended up getting to Rush Green early. First one’s in the gate, which meant my dad got to meet the ambiguous staff member who we all know and love. After a bit of gentle teasing of each other, they both started on me. Great it’s like having two dads exactly what I wanted. 😒
However one exciting piece of news was my mother has decided to become a season ticket holder next season. This is great for many reasons; One it means that I will actually have company on the road. Two and most importantly I will have someone to share my witty repertoire with rather than just in my head. I dunno if you quite know what you are in for mother.
It was absolutely sweltering out so my parents went to find the only pieces of shelter there is at Rush Green. I, the numpty, decided to stay outside with my West Ham family in the crazy heat. As we were so early they hadn’t even announced the squad list. Still hoping Birmingham’s number nine was going to get a look in. Though I had no idea if she was even here. Furiously checking twitter to see if anything had been released, not looking where I was going I bumped into a very tall man.
Not a very interesting exchange I hear you cry. Well when I finally looked up from my phone I recognised the man I had walked into was Ellen White’s husband. Good sign that she’s here then.
At this thrilling interlude, it is a good time as any to you the story of how Ellen White once got me in trouble.
Back when I was following Man City as I am doing with the Hammers I followed them home and away. One fairly easy away day is Birmingham City. A team that season Man City played twice in a very short period. Having beat them in the FA Cup match fairly comfortably surely City could do the same in the league game.
Two important things happened at this game;
One: it’s the game that I have been mistaken for the youngest I have been mistake which was 11. Upside to that I got in for free on their sister club program, the downside I was 26 at the time.
Two: Man City did not win thanks to two beauties scored by the aforementioned number 9. Both absolute screamers from outside the box which floated over Ellie Robuck’s head. I couldn’t help myself, after all Ellen is my favourite. I cheered for both goals which were against the team I was actually supporting. To say the atmosphere on the journey home was frosty was an understatement. What can I say they were good goals!
SIDE NOTE: I told this story to Gilly once who told me in no uncertain I was definitely not to do it as this game. Wouldn’t dream of it Gill, my love of West Ham our strips my love of Ellen. Just 😏.
We now go back to our scheduled programming of the game in hand. Everyone looks like they are suffering from heat exhaustion already but kick off is ago. ( this match report will be interrupted by guest appearances as I ended up talking to interesting people during the game.)
I don’t know if it was the heat was getting to West Ham but they were acting very cagey towards the Birmingham forwards. Within the first ten minutes, they had a shot from outside the area which thankfully Gilly, captain fantastic herself, managed to turn out of play. The resulting corner wasn’t dealt with fantastically with Moorhouse out of position, the ball fell to Claire Rafferty to punt it up field off the line.
That seemed to wake us up and for the next fifteen minutes it was an even match of end to end football, neither side making use of their chances.
We interrupt this fascinating report of the game to bring you this special bulletin. Well we don’t but it was at the point I spoke to my first special guest. We could see someone in a Birmingham City tracksuit walking around the pitch.
I turn to Mark who was standing beside me.
’ is that Rach Williams coming around.’
We both try and do the I am not staring but I totally am.
’ yup definitely Rach’
Rachel Williams is a former England and current Birmingham City legend, with brief spells at Chelsea and the now defunct Nott’s County. Probably best known for her friendship with Laura Bassett and for being a fearsome forward. However her season this year was cut short in a pre-season friendly when she tore her ACL. Having gone for a loose ball she overstretched, when she went to stand up she twisted her knee and something pinged. The something turned out to be the ACL.
She came over and chatted with us about her frustration at not being able to play and slow pace her recovery was taking. We briefly chatted about previous Birmingham manager Marc Skinner and his transfer to the United states as the new Orlando Pride coach. Marc it seems was well loved among the Birmingham girls and they were sad to see him go. Not the longest chat but I can confirm Rachel is super lovely.
FIRST HALF CONTINUED…
Our breakthrough came around 25 minutes into the first half. Kate Longhurst who was celebrating 100 appearances in the WSL pinged the ball across from the left flank, dipping perfectly for an aerial overhead kick by West Ham’s Canadian superstar Adriana Leon left of centre past Hannah Hampton’s outstretched hand. One of the best goals all season and we were on the up.
1-0 to the Hammers.
Our luck seemed to be on the up, we had more possession, more shots which we couldn’t quite put in the back of the net. A lovely run by our Number 8 Leanne slipped the ball past the Birmingham defence to Brianna our number 15, but she couldn’t quite pull the shot off. We were however snuffing any potential danger out quickly and even Ellen White’s energy seemed to be nullified.
Somehow we a had however angered the footballing gods and just before half time they began their retribution. A split second of madness changed the entire course of the game.
After a fleeting pause to deal with an injury to the Birmingham goalkeeper, they surged forward.. Moorhouse charged forward to stop the shot and caught the ball. Outside the area! By the look on her face Anna knew she had messed up.
We were down to ten and we had to regroup and bring on Becky Spencer, off came Brianna and on came our number one. The entire of ground seemed to be in shock. We couldn’t quite believe what had happened to get a Red Card in the Women’s game is rare. I mean Drew Spence has broken a few limbs and has only ever received a yellow as the highest punishment this season. As a fans it was like we had one collective thought what does this mean for FA Cup final? Becky is a cracking goalkeeper but Anna had pulled off some insane saves and had played every round so far.
The resulting free kick for Birmingham was at close range on the right hand side. Hayley Ladd stepped up and a simple swooping strike eluded Becky and we were back on level pegging.
There was only one topic of conversation with my West Ham crew, what does this mean for our final? All of us were furiously googling for previous incidents to give us an idea of punishment. Nothing was conclusive at all varying opinions and stories and rulings just added more to the confused soup of our conversations, my parents came and joined us in the heat to add to our discussion. I know its only football but it felt very life or death. Just before the teams came back out, the officials came out to do a last minute warm up. The referee in question came over to stretch and Geoff took it upon himself to be our spokesman.
‘ Here mate, you know…‘
The Ref looked up with a weary look on his face.
‘Are you asking me about the length of her ban, I have no idea what it’s going to be’
My mother was fuming at that response.
‘How can he be so irresponsible and dish out a card and not know the consequences’. We had no response for her. What it boiled down to was the reason the referee put down for the card. If he said it was a professional foul then it was one game which be Bristol the following week. However if it was the deliberate act of stopping a goal scoring opportunity then that was a three game ban and Anna’s season would come to a premature end. We were once again at the mercy of the man in black. ( No not Johnny Cash )
Our team dynamic was completely thrown off, we didn’t seem to know how to adapt our formation at first and it took a lot of quick thinking from Gilly, Brooke our number four and Raff to keep the game on an even keel. For the first 10 mins Birmingham had the lion shares of possession and it was a case of putting out fires rather than starting any sparks of our own. Hayley Ladd, Chloe Arthur and of course Ellen White were looking to punish us and capture on the golden opportunity they had been gifted.
INTERLUDE NUMBER TWO
This is now a good moment folks to talk about the other special guest that we spoke to on the terraces. A rather friendly man came over to talk to Mark, who has followed the national team for years and seems to know EVERYBODY. They chatted for a while before he introduced us to Jon who seemed to know a lot about the England set up and some of the Lionesses. Jon was excited to go to France even though it’s not guaranteed.
‘ Though based on her current performance, we should be well on the way’. He then shook our hands and went on his merry way. I look at Mark confused -my face saying the who the hell was that? Mark laughed.
‘That’s Jon White, Ellen’s dad’. Well there you go folks. You meet all sorts watching the women’s game.
SECOND HALF CONTINUED…
We seemed to get it together for the majority of the second half, frustrating the Birmingham forwards. In Ellen’s case quite audibly when she got flagged for handling the ball. She uttered a very loud COME ON !!! Which echoed around Rush Green which made us laugh from our end. We held on until the 75 minute when Chloe Arthur capitalised on an error by Becky Spencer and smashed home a shot at close range into the top right hand corner.
1-2 to the Blues.
Despite our best efforts that is how the game ended. Anna’s sending off through us out of shape and we never quite recovered. The other significant event was Kate Longhurst picked up another yellow card which meant she was suspended for the Bristol Game. Which is better than the final and it meant she go watch her sister run the London Marathon so a win win I suppose.
After the game I made a beeline for the players tunnel, this time not to talk to our girls. I had been saying all game that I wanted a picture with Ellen whilst I was in a West Ham shirt. While I was waiting I ended up speaking to more West Ham fans and managed to bargain the use of my Sharpie if they took my photo for me, after a while of waiting in trooped Ellen looking slightly weary.
‘Hey Ellen, Do you mind a quick photo even though I am oppo’
She laughed ‘ Yeah, your West Ham you’re alright’ We had a brief chat how I planned on getting her name on the back of my England shirt and we took quite a nice picture.
Once this was done I went and found my parents who were panicking we would not make out coach, I was quietly confident that we will be fine. As we have learnt dear readers I am not good at my directions and I was very wrong. So we had a backup plan of going through Marylebone to Birmingham and then back to Manchester that way. At an eye watering £44.00 each! So that Ellen White selfie cost us £132 as a family, I am sorry that happened however Mum and Dad I would do it all again and regret nothing 😉.
Next time it’s up at the crack of dawn to Bristol, where I watch the match on running track, I get to actually explore the city I am visiting and find out important things about our Captain fantastic.