Sat down in a quaint Spanish bar in a North Mallorcan bay, the beginning of the football season should have tasted sweeter than the Havana I was sipping on. The last time I wrote for you lot I was musing on the apocalypse of West Ham United; the fall from the Promised Land into the N-Power owned 2nd tier of English football.
In the Ancient Greek definition of the word apocalypse is as much an end as it is a new beginning; a sense of salvation; a fresh start. As it turned out we are still in apocalypse; and the chance of salvation cannot veritably come until there is a return to the Premier League. Until that day comes, the four horsemen shall loom over Upton Park, and in that vein they haunted my belovèd Old Boltonians earlier today.
We entered the match with a point to prove, and predictions to live up to – every man and his mother had foreseen nothing short of promotion for the Hammers. After all, we had the best team any Championship side could boast this season, and that was in spite of the fear of departure of our best players, and alas this morning’s registration at Upton Park would have gone; Parker? Yes sir. Noble? Yes sir. Green? Yes sir. Cole? … yeah whatever.
We weren’t without hindrance, however. Our 20-odd-thousand supporters looked to be drowned out by the whole of Wales, as 20 Cardiff bhoyos made the journey to East London. Then there was the worryingly sharp looking Freddie Piquionne, who had lost his long braids for a shorter haircut. I feared a Samson-esque effect on his football before remembering that Samson was strong before he cut his hair, whereas Piq was a lazy, lanky, self-lamenter before losing his barnet. Perhaps, therefore the opposite would be true.
I mean; it’s the Championship, don’t the players turn up stinking of booze and try to squeeze into shirts two sizes too small?
Watching Gabby Logan open BBC’s coverage outside a Green Street pub, I half expected to see the players stumble out and stagger towards the Boleyn. I mean; it’s the Championship, don’t the players turn up stinking of booze, try to squeeze into shirts two sizes too small, do some keep-ups in the car park to warm-up, then proceed to play 90-minutes of low-level football in the pouring rain? It appeared I was wrong – it didn’t start raining till the 2nd fourty-five.
We started the match brightly, with the central-midfield trio of Nolan, Noble and Parker settling naturally into each other’s company, leading to early domination. We played with energy and inspiration in the opening stages; we played with no fear of relegation, there were few long balls – it was as if Big Sam had toned up and got a tan during the pre-season period (he had done neither) and we played football the West Ham way. This culminated in the trickery of an often injured Joey O’Brien leading to a chance falling to the feet of new skipper Kevin Nolan, slotted home the drop goal – 3-0 to England.
After that bad joke, the game settled until the suffix ‘gate’ made its return once more, as Anthony Gerrard seemed to grope the scrotal area of centre-half James Tomkins in an incident that will go down in history as Cockgate, which indeed gave ‘N-Power’ a post-watershed meaning. After this incident, Cardiff enjoyed some possession which resulted in Kenny ‘Elmur Fudd’ Miller moaning to Howard Webb like a school girl.
Half time came; I moved bars and had a G&T in front of me as Webb declared the 2nd half open for play. After a rather flat beginning, Matty Taylor ignited a flame in the 59th minute as his 25-yard piledriver was just turned round the post. Instead of the forest fire I hoped to be ignited, it was metaphorically more one of those floating scented candles that was lit, and inevitably dwindled as Cardiff increasingly looked more and more dangerous on the counter-attack. West Ham didn’t stop coming at Cardiff, however, as Piq shattered the post after a Taylor delivery, before Tomkins was denied a headed chance in just a moment of an otherwise accomplished display from Cardiff’s shot-stopper David Marshall.
We were playing well, perhaps undeservedly without a lead as the 4th official revealed the 3 added minutes. It seemed as if we had moved on, become better, would-be promotion certainties. All this came crashing down as it often does in the 91st minute as Elmur Fudd controlled well and struck the ball through the gasping hands of Robert Green.
I had believed we were a better team, I thought for all that relegation had taken away, the one thing I would benefit from would be less pain. Old habits die hard, however, and the air of helplessness in clutch situation stills hangs over East London.
This isn’t the Premier League, this isn’t Match of the Day and Football First and the Badge on the Arm and FA Cup byes and Old Trafford, The Emirates and Anfield away days. This is the Championship, and this is where fairy tales don’t exist.
Click here for more Football and Sport stories
Click here to follow Sabotage Times on Twitter
Click here to follow Sabotage Times on Facebook