Stop! Hammer Time

Paul Ince is a Hammer (if only just), John Lyall has been given the boot and my nymphomanic cum psychopath missus is on the warpath. All in a day's work for a West Ham fan in the late 80s.
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Devil Woman. . . West Ham United 3 Plymouth Argyle 2 – 26.8.89

At last the West Ham board showed a bit of initiative. While John Lyall was busy preparing for the new season in the second division, by polishing his fishing reels, the West Ham board sacked him. It was a difficult piece of news for everyone to believe. After all, John Lyall had been at the club for more than just a few years. John Lyall was West Ham United. The account of his dismissal in his book, Just Like My Dreams, is very moving, and one has sympathy for him in the way it was handled, but then, when you’ve gotta go. . .

What was even more difficult to understand was the choice of successor. Lou Macari had been successful in guiding Swindon Town out of the fourth division, and then the third, and had made them a very successful second division side. That was hardly a qualification, in my book, to make him the manager of West Ham United. Swindon were notorious for using the long ball, and we all groaned when we realised the prospect of long ball tactics at the Academy. The board were quick to make the point that Macari had only used such tactics at Swindon because of the quality of players available to him. If he’d had players who could play the ball along the floor, then he would have done. I was still to be convinced.

Paul Ince was turning into a prize twat. He had been photographed wearing a Manchester United shirt, and had made it clear that he wanted to leave the club. It just so happened that Manchester United were interested. What a coincidence. This incident angered us all so much that it rankles with us to this day, perhaps now even more so than it did at the time, seeing all the success he has had has made us very jealous. I am happy to admit that I hate the jumped up little shit, who ought to remember from time to time who gave him his success in the first place and show a little respect. Lesson over. It seemed that Macari knew how to handle him, anyway. He played in Alan Devonshire’s testimonial game at Upton Park, a 3–1 win over Crystal Palace, and in the opening game of the 1989–90 season at Stoke City. Kevin Keen scored in a 1–1 draw. That was Ince’s last appearance in a West Ham shirt.

Macari stated that he only wanted players to play for West Ham who really wanted to. In fact, players who would die for West Ham. This later turned out not to be true, as he repeatedly played Mark Ward despite the fact he was also desperate to get away. Still, at the time it made a refreshing change from John Lyall’s ‘wait and see’ attitude. It seemed that at last we had a manager with balls, someone who would crawl over broken glass with his flies undone for the cause. Someone who would get results – first time.

"Paul Ince was turning into a prize twat. He'd been photographed wearing a Man U shirt, and made it clear he wanted to leave the club. It just so happened that Manchester United were interested. What a coincidence."

Karen wanted results, too. My new fiancée was unimpressed with the fact that I occasionally felt the desire to go home. I couldn’t understand why she didn’t want to go home more often, but then, I had not experienced her family background. Whenever I was there, her stepfather was a perfect gentleman, and her mother made such a fuss it was untrue. I began to wonder if Karen had been lying to me, but the more I thought about it, the more I could see how the problems might have arisen. I managed to persuade her to come home with me on August 23rd, instead of going to see West Ham play Bradford City at Upton Park. I felt very bitter about this, as I was missing our first home match under Lou Macari just so I could do something I ought to have been able to do any time I wanted. Still, I was in love. The following Saturday. I had been allowed to borrow Stain Tooth’s East Terrace season ticket, and fully intended to see the game against Plymouth Argyle.

You see, the thing about Karen was, it was all or nothing. When she was in a good mood, you were made to feel like a million dollars, and she would play out any fantasy you might have had in order to please you. On one occasion, I remember her cooking me a superb dinner, then disappearing upstairs for a while, returning dressed in her old school uniform, including hockey skirt, stockings and suspenders, and demanding that I make love to her there and then on the kitchen table. On another occasion, she came to meet me in the office on a Sunday afternoon. I was alone in the office and gave her the guided tour, showing her the computer room and the downstairs kitchen area. She insisted on giving the most amazing blow job while the office door was wide open and anyone could have walked in. That was the kind of girl she was – impulsive and with a four wheel sex drive.

On the down side, when she was angry, she could out-sulk anyone, and make you feel like a rapist, child molester and murderer all rolled into one. It didn’t need to be anything major to flick her mental switch, either. Merely putting a beer can in the wrong bin could spell disaster. But I loved her. That Saturday morning I was in trouble. I had asked her why she never told me when she had an orgasm, and she said it was because I was never in the room at the time. Not only that, but I had committed the cardinal sin of sticking up for one of her female friends who she was doing a character assassination on; something she enjoyed doing very much. My defending of the poor girl obviously meant that I was either having an affair with her, or had done in the past, or I fancied her something rotten. None of this was true, I just like to see justice done. I’d had enough. I walked out of the door and went to collect Stain Tooth’s season ticket, losing myself in West Ham for the afternoon, and not caring what Karen was getting up to.

"When she was angry, she could out-sulk anyone, and make you feel like a rapist, child molester and murderer all rolled into one. It didn’t need to be anything major to flick her mental switch, either. Merely putting a beer can in the wrong bin could spell disaster."

The game was superb. West Ham were playing very well, and Lou Macari’s first signing, Martin Allen, looked a good prospect. The move down a division was bringing out the best in David Kelly. He looked twice the player in the second division than he did in the first. He had a goal disallowed before putting us into the lead. It was a very wet and warm day, the rain was driving hard into our faces on the East Terrace, but we didn’t care. Shortly after the start of the second half, Martin Allen scored. Plymouth pulled one back before Kelly had another one disallowed, then Mark Ward set up Kevin Keen for a third. Although Plymouth pulled another one back, it was never going to be enough.

Perhaps this second division lark wouldn’t be so bad after all, I thought to myself as I left the ground. At least we will be winning more often than we lose. I didn’t much care about the fact that we wouldn’t be playing the likes of Liverpool, ManchesterUnited and Tottenham. At that time, I would rather see us beat Oldham Athletic than lose to Liverpool, and there were always cup nights to look forward to seeing the big teams again. Perhaps the only reason that I thought this was that the crowd had not been affected by the drop in status. Indeed, the average crowd had risen slightly on the previous season. Obviously income from TV and sponsorship was going to be affected, but I saw no reason why a spell in the second division should not be a good thing.

I tentatively let myself back into the house and called out to see if Karen was in. As I walked into the bedroom, she was waiting for me, in bed wearing a brand new item of sexy lingerie she had been out and bought that afternoon. ‘Well,’ she said, ‘what do you think?’ I took off my soaking jacket and took a good look at the tempting silky underwear. ‘You want my honest opinion?’ I asked. ‘Of course.’ She nodded. ‘I think Kelly should have had a hat-trick.’

Extract from Robert Banks' book 'An Irrational Hatred of Luton'.

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