It is only fitting that my season begins properly at Borehamwood, as it was at this fixture last year that I first fell in love with my girls in claret and blue. As with last week my trusty sidekick, driver and all-round good egg girlfriend Kate is with me. Having recovered from meeting Gilly last week, she is ready for the most important derby this weekend ;).
However, my footballing week actually began slightly earlier when I entered enemy territory. Manchester City announced a meet and greet for their new signings, which included the G.O.A.T. Ellen White. As dedicated followers of this blog will know, my dedication to Old Chalky knows no bounds. You can read how costly my last meeting was here.
So there was no question that I was going to go to this thing. Even if I wasn’t that fussed about the other four new signings. Just like the old days, I bombed it out of work like a bat out of Hell to the Etihad. Due to its awkward timing, it wasn’t very full so I got a chance to have a proper chat. I was wearing a t-shirt a friend had designed for me for the world cup, based on my most commonly-used phrase during the Men’s World Cup; “There is only one England Number Nine and it ain’t Harry Flipping Kane.” Except I might not have used the word flipping. The fact she was number 18 this campaign does not matter. As another friend once said that means she’s doubly good, right?
So here I was standing with the Man City hardcore, wondering what I was doing there and would I get lynched. However, I had an ally in my old Man City mucker, Sal. She is the one who christened me Sav and we love her very dearly. Well, we did until she decided to give me a taste of my own medicine.
After the brief show-and-tell of the new players and the ego-boosting of how they are going to win the league, they decided the players would walk around rather than the standard sit behind a table and pose awkwardly. Waiting for my turn slightly impatiently, I leave Sally talking to the new Portuguese forward Matilde to go find Ellen. She smiles when she sees me; I’m not sure if that is because she recognised me or because her media training is just that good.
“So I am being a bit cheeky as I am not really a Man City fan.” I flash her my new piece of ink. “I’m hammer like you. However, I had to show you my shirt, that I had made.”
She laughs “Yeah I saw that on Twitter during the World cup.”
“Well I wanted you to see it as it’s because of you I got my missus. She saw the shirt thought it was funny and came over and said hi. Rest is history.”
She looks at Kate and smirks. “Because she knew who I was, you thought safe bet?” Kate laughed and nodded, I got my photo and that was that.
Or so I thought.
Sal had been gabbing to Mathilde so long she had missed Ellen when she was talking to me, so we dutifully wandered around to where Ellen had got to. After their photo, Sal started to chew Ellen’s ear off about the impending derby.
Ellen nodded with Sal’s assessment of derby nerves. “Yeah I mean, I’m a West Ham fan, but I get it.”
Sal looks confused “You’re a hammer, I didn’t know that.”
“Yeah Sal, why do you think she’s my favourite?” I poke her jokingly.
Sal then takes great pleasure in being a little git. She looks Ellen up and down and remarks. “Really Sav, I’m pretty sure it was another reason you liked Ellen.”
Now at this, I went beet red, Ellen threw her head back in a cackle and Sally looked very pleased.
I mumbled “I have a girlfriend now, you’ll get me in trouble.”
Ellen laughed again and clapped me on the shoulder. I just ran away.
Back to my people and back to the claret and blue, much less embarrassing. Leaving at the luxurious time of half nine this week, I rather am getting used to this ‘having actual sleep on a weekend’ lark. I dunno how I am going to cope in a couple of weeks’ time when Kate has the audacity to be working during the grudge match against Tottenham. People who have missed my Megabus exploits will no doubt be in for a treat.
All was heading swimmingly until we made our first pitstop. I had been asked to send pictures of me for a project I am working on with Liverpool John Moores Uni (all will be revealed later on that one.) I made the mistake of asking my creative girlfriend to take them for me. I thought it would be a quick snap on the phone and we are done.
Oh, how wrong I was dear readers. After a kerfuffle with a memory card, I find myself being posed, placed and in some cases prodded [Loving prods only – Kate] in order to get the right shot. They actually turned out quite nice, though I do believe you can see resignation and impatience in my eyes. You be the judge.
Finally, we were on the move and bombing it down the motorway like a bat at of hell. If a bat out of hell was concerned about the average speed checks on the M6. We were finally going through the villages of Hertfordshire to get to Borehamwood. Much prettier than the Mill Hill Thameslink route. We drive past a tiny station called Radlett and I look slightly confused.
“Wait where are we, I thought we had passed Luton.” Kate nods to the affirmative. I was very puzzled. Clearly finding the expression on my face amusing, Kate began grinning at me.
“Luton is before Radlett on the train line, thought you knew that, rail connoisseur.” Referring to my old occupation as booker of train tickets for the philanthropists and the scholarly.
“Look I know the rail network inside out, I can get you from A to B even if you have to go via C. Do I know what order they go in, no of course not.”
Finally, at Borehamwood I had a new logistical problem, I had never encountered before. A full car park! Like…what is this madness? I get to the ground, I walk in. What do you mean we have to leave this hunk of metal somewhere safe?
A quick map search provided a car park not too far away which Kate let me direct her to. Clearly, folks, she did not do the precursory pre-dating internet stalking to know I can’t navigate my way out of a paper bag.
“You need the last exit…nope I didn’t mean that one.”
Kate glares at me. “It’s really obvious that you don’t drive.”
Finally all parked up, we rock up and head towards the mass of West Ham flags as the teams began lining up.
It was never going to be easy against the reigning champions. However, we came out guns blazing from the get-go, with new signing Martha Thomas already frustrating the Arsenal wingers from her first touch of the ball. So much so that Viktoria Schnaderbeck receives a yellow within the first two minutes of play.
After the initial surprise at our energy, Arsenal seemed to be setting the pace, settling into the game well with 7 shots on goal in as many minutes. The champions were showing their quality. Finally, Beth Mead broke through with a rocket shot from the right flank. No keeper in the world could’ve stopped that, except maybe Hope Solo back in the day.
1-0 to the Gunners.
We seemed to droop after this, disheartened to have conceded so quickly. Our pace dropped back and we seemed to get sloppy in our passing in our defence. Our outfield players were more than holding their own though, despite some very odd positioning, particularly Kate Longhurst. For a midfielder, she seemed to be very far away from well middle. Oops. Mr. Beard playing about again.
We were keeping the majority of the posession but we couldn’t quite get the shots off. Thomas had a very near chance assisted by Kenza Dali who in turn squeezed the ball the wrong side of the post moments later.
Once again, we were frustrating the Arsenal team into making silly mistakes and bad fouls. Leonie Maier picked up a yellow for going after Dri Leon our number 20. However once again this frustration spurred Arsenal on, showing why they won last season. With half time approaching, Arsenal chipped another forward and past our keeper Courtney’s hand; a first goal for the new Dutch International Jill Roord.
2-0 to the champions.
It appears that the lack of play from our defenders was frustrating our forwards and just before the whistle Leon was booked for a bad foul on an oncoming Arsenal attacker.
“Despite the fact we’re losing, I think we’re doing alright” I say brightly to the gang. I get looks of disdain. Ok, just me the eternal optimist.
Rachel, a Gooner and a friend from my travels following the England squad, appears by my side as if by magic. She slings her arm around me and smiles, “Alright? Found any more players I don’t actually know you want me to introduce you to?”
“Still not forgiven me, Rach?”
Let me explain, dear readers. Gather around for storytime. A long time ago (well, this summer) in a far off land (well, Le Havre in France) after a tremendous battle (well, England had just beaten Argentina at the World Cup).
At the bar was Rachel Brown Finnis, ex England number one, who was buying a round for a rather massive group of people.
Our Rachel looked over and muttered to us “Ah Finnis! She yelled at me once when I was standing behind her goal. Actually I believe it was ‘I don’t want this Riff Raff behind my goal’.”
My eyes lit up “Ah mate, that’s a brilliant story, you just have to tell her that.”
Our Rachel looks at me like I have grown an extra head. “I am going nowhere near her. She is scary.”
A lot of back and forth goes on between us and after I got her a light from a rather bemused French Man when (my thank-you was a very gruff Cockney “Cheers, mate”) I had finally convinced her to talk to Finnis.
Rachel (the famous one) ended up being lovely and was slightly mortified when Our Rachel told her story. We had a great time with Brown Finnis and when we left we Our Rachel was only slightly shaky. I’m blaming the 8% she was drinking.
Our catch-up lasted all of half-time and we were ready to go for the second half.
I can honestly say this second half of football was the best football I had watched West Ham play ever. Clearly, Matt Beard’s half time talk had lit fireworks under the team.
The second half we dominated in position and skill. We ran rings around the Arsenal defence (apart from Jen Beattie, apparently we didn’t want to go anywhere near her). [She is very tall and very Scottish, I’d be scared to get too close to be fair – Kate]
Martha Thomas had two shots denied before the breakthrough happened. A foul by Beth Mead led to a free kick on the right flank. Erin Simon swung the ball in and it reached Martha for a power header down into the bottom right-hand corner.
2-1. Game on.
However, nothing further came of the opportunities that were gifted to us, including a completely open goal as the Arsenal goalkeeper decided to go walkabout during a goal clearance. Frustration was growing amongst the hammers, resulting in Jacynta getting a yellow card for a nasty tackle on Kim little.
Our last attempt was a free-kick right on the edge of the box due to an Arsenal back pass. Even then we could only manage to scrap it wide.
So it ends there; a narrow defeat to the current champions. However, the progress we have made since last season is astounding. We played them three times last year and conceded four goals against them each game.
It’s funny how exactly the same result can feel so different. Last week the 2-1 loss against Tottenham was a defeat snatched from the jaws of victory. This one felt like true progress.
With that we headed off back up the M6 to find what delicacies we could find in the various Welcome Breaks, Motos and Roadchefs on our way.
Next week it’s the first home game of the season, Mum is back for the ride and so is one Miss Bri Visalli.
How-Claret-Is-Kate Scale: Has set her lock screen to a photo of Gilly Flaherty
[FYI, if you want to know anything about our relationship, Allie told me this was the most romantic thing I’ve ever done. – Kate]