Monday, February 15, 2010

A Photographic Tour of the West Ham Match Experience

OK, OK. Last post on this topic for a while, I promise. I just hated to see a set of photos go to waste. So, here's a trip in images through the West Ham match-day (or -night, in this case) experience. Descriptions follow the photos:
Call it the "Snow"-leyn ground. Light flakes fell over the Boleyn Ground as my friend and I arrived after a short walk down Green Street from the Upton Park tube station.
Street vendors sell loads of West Ham stuff outside the ground. We bought match programs from some enthusiastic young lads who were selling them with some help from their mother.
The West Ham Supporters Club was likely rocking before the game. All we saw was the outside.
Nathan's is a legendary spot for pre-match grub, but the line there was (as you can see) out the door. It must be the eels. We settled for a fried-chicken place that offered super-spicy chicken with a soggy crust. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't fried chicken the way I remember it from growing up in Texas. Even Colonel Sanders would have looked at this stuff with some confusion.
Now, the real fun begins. The Boleyn, on Barking Road, is a beautiful (and huge) Victorian pub. On match days, it's full of Hammers drinking, singing and getting ready to head to the ground in full voice. The atmosphere is tremendous. Wear claret and blue, and you're part of the family. Wear something else, and...well, you're probably just better off wearing claret and blue.
To the ground! We arrived early enough to take some photos and watch the place fill in. My friend barely recognized the place after a 25-year absence. The changes that have taken place in English football in that time could fill an entire blog, but suffice it to say that the Boleyn Ground doesn't look much at all the way it looked in 1985. I am, of course, the one in the picture, subtly dressed in tasteful West Ham gear...
The view from our seats in the East Stand Lower. The empty ground would fill soon enough...but it looks pretty good even without supporters. In the very top right of this photo (it's really hard to see) is a huge photo of club legend Bobby Moore that presides over each match. To the left of it is one of the ground's large TV screens.
The bowels of the East Stand are a bit primitive, but they do offer a bit of food and drink. There's no taking a pint up into the stadium, though; it's illegal to drink alcohol while watching a match at an English football stadium. (Or at least as far as I know, it is...there's a sign at the steps leading out to the seats that says, "It is an offence to take alcohol beyond this point.")
See what I mean?
Through the iron gates (which I just thought looked cool)...
And, after a few warm-ups for the players, it's time for team introductions and the emergence of the squads from the tunnel. They line up and get ready for...
Kickoff! The ground is full and absolutely rocking. The Birmingham supporters, sitting to our right in a perpendicular stand, are already in full voice. We're responding to drown them out...
COME ON YOU IRONS! "Bubbles" resonates around the ground.
West Ham, desperately needing a win, put plenty of pressure on the Birmingham goal in the first half.
Alessandro Diamanti sets up for a first-half free kick. Was it the free kick that provided the first goal? Actually, I don't think it was, but I' m not totally sure. Regardless, the free kick that did sting the net was a real beauty and happened right in front of us on the stroke of half time. The score was 1-0 to the Irons at the break.
Birmingham threw everything at us in the second half, but we soaked up the pressure. And when Carlton Cole scored from a Julien Faubert cross on 67 minutes (unfortunately, I can't find a clip of that one), the Birmingham supporters went quiet. "You're not singing anymore..." was one of the nicer refrains that rang out from West Ham supporters. The rest of the match was really a celebration--Birmingham never looked like scoring again.
The US's own Jonathan Spector replaced the hobbling Herita Ilunga at left back after half time and played a solid second half. That's Johnny Specs holding the ball and standing next to the linesman.
It's a touch fuzzy, but you might be able to make out the 2-0 scoreline near the top of this photo and just to the right of center. That's it--match over. A much-needed win for West Ham. "Bubbles" echoes around the ground one more time, and then we all head for the world's longest queue at the Upton Park tube station. Everything considered, the night could not have gone better. COYI!