Tales From The Game Of Four Penalties

West Ham United vs. Chelsea : 20 December 2009.

As we stumble towards the half-point in the season, what an amazing weekend.

What with both Liverpool and then Manchester United losing on Saturday, the Sunday game at West Ham was set up perfectly. A Chelsea win would solidify our lead at the top but also confine West Ham to bottom place. Too good to be true, eh?

My first concern as I awoke on Sunday morning was getting out of my Somerset village. I set off, rather gingerly, at 9am and made it over to collect Lord Parky at 9.40am The first hour was spent in a snow-dusted landscape, as I drove east. The Devizes duck pond was completely frozen. The swans and ducks must have been confused. As we headed through Savernake Forest, we encountered many “picture postcard” scenes. The sky above was clear and it was a truly gorgeous morning. It was a pleasure to be alive. We spoke about the madness of Mark Hughes losing his job at City. What a crazy decision. At a garage en route, I refuelled and we had to laugh at West Ham Dad and West Ham Kid who were buying some junk food for the trip to London. Dad was unshaven, tattooed and wearing some scabby jeans. Kid was dopey. Stereotypes for us all to admire.

I spoke to Parky about a book I had just purchased – “Mad For It” by Andy Mitten. This details various derby matches all over the world, mainly from a fan’s perspective, and looks to be a great read. He starts with Liverpool vs. Manchester United, but the book also encompasses a wide range of matches from Barca vs. Real, Boca Juniors vs. River Plate to Wolves vs. West Brom. It made me think about our rivals…and the fact that our natural “derby” against Fulham is hardly passionate, in the way that others are. For a derby to be genuine, the animosity has to go both ways. I’m sorry, but I can’t hate Fulham. Of course, in London, the biggest derby is the Arsenal vs. Spurs encounter. West Ham might say that their “derby” is Millwall, but this game is so infrequent as to be unworthy of the name. Where does that leave Chelsea? To be honest, I don’t really know. I still think our biggest London game is Spurs, even though they dislike Arsenal much much more.

Back in the early ‘eighties, Chelsea and West Ham were mired in division two and it felt like West Ham were suddenly our natural rivals, both sub Arsenal and Spurs, but with potential to be much bigger. In the past ten years, we have diverged!

Of course, in London we are spoilt for choice for geographical rivals. These rivals change through time, but I remember that in the 1988-89 season ( and this may surprise a few ) that our London league rival was only Crystal Palace. Believe it or not, in that one season, when Chelsea were in the second division, we played second best to seven other London teams ( Arsenal, Tottenham, West Ham, QPR, Wimbledon, Charlton and Millwall ) who were in the top division. Only twenty years ago, but we were the eighth best team in London.

How times change. And thank heavens they do.

At Reading services, we stopped for coffees and I heard from Kevin ( “Gromit” ) who was heading down to East London from Wolverhampton. He was running late, but we would meet up somewhere. We continued on, reaching London at 12.45pm. Rather than head over to meet the boys in Barking, Parky and myself dropped into The Goose for a burger and a pint. Just the business. We walked to West Brompton and boarded the district line train. Some 26 stops later, we arrived at a freezing Barking station at about 2.30pm. We joined up with Alan, Daryl, Gary and Whitey in The Spotted Dog, having just missed Cath and Dog. Just time for one pint and a few laughs…we weren’t wearing colours, so nobody sussed we were “the enemy.”

We took the five minute train journey back west to Upton Park, to be met outside by Walnuts, who had endured a horrendous train trip up from Brighton.

We quickly walked through the tight terraced streets, sliding on the ice, and were soon inside the packed away end.

I was in row H, just beyond the goal with a great view of the game. I noted the thin sliver of a crescent moon way up above the main stand. We stood the entire game. I spotted many empty seats in the top corners of both the home end and the main stand. In fact, the gate was a full two thousand below capacity…for a London “derby” – pathetic.

We began brightly but then seemed to lose momentum and West Ham got into the game, with ex-Chelsea midfielder Scott Parker increasingly involved. I was warned by a steward not to use my camera and Gary was also having a battle of wills with another steward about something or other. It was getting spiky and the steward was itching to get him nicked. Two Frank Lampard shots from distance and one from John Terry were our only chances of note. Kalou offered no threat at all.

In one notable moment, JT had to head clear as Cech remained routed to his line. JT had a word with Petr, while Frank shaped “ball” with his hands and gave him an old-fashioned look as if to say “make sure you bloody come next time.” From the resultant corner, Cech came and punched superbly away. Phew.

Then, a rash challenge from Ashley gifted them with a penalty which was converted.

Here we go again.

Just before the break, about twenty West Ham numpties in The Chicken Run serenaded us with “You’ve Got No History” which must surely go down as one of the most ridiculous songs ever. From West Ham! To be blunt, this song really annoys me anyway – it implies that a club’s “history” is solely dependent upon trophy success, whereas we all know that it’s to do with so much more than that.

Loyalty. Comradeship. Humour. Fraternity.

At the break, we mixed things up with two substitutions. Drogba and Kalou had been poor, but the service from midfield was very scant. To be fair, both Mikel and Sturridge did well in the second period.

With Robert Green but ten yards away, Gary was on form.

“You’d might as well put Hughie Green in goal – your rubbish!”

And he meant that most sincerely.

We got behind the team and they responded with an improved performance – or was it the other way around?

We enjoyed so much more of the ball as the game developed and it was great being able to see the movement and strength of our players from such close quarter. We tied to prise open their defence, but it wasn’t easy. Then, a challenge on Sturridge and we were overjoyed with the referee’s decision.

Frank steadied himself and despatched it.

Get in you beauty. Gary began winding up the steward, but it transpired he wasn’t a West Ham fan.

He was a Liverpool fan – even better! Much laughter.

We then turned around, only to see Frank taking another penalty. We had been oblivious to the re-take and I had to wonder if I was in a Groundhog Day loop.

He scored the retake and we yelled again.

We then turned around, only to see Frank taking another penalty. We had been oblivious to the re-take and I had to wonder if I was in a Groundhog Day loop.

He scored the retake and we yelled again.

This time – it counted!

Drogba narrowly missed from an angle and we sang for a winner. I felt sure we would score again, but despite more pressure, including a disappointing shot from Joe which blazed over, it stayed at 1-1.

Outside the packed away end, the weather was freezing. We marched back to the tube and were soon thawing out on the train. We chatted to three fellow Chelsea fans and we all agreed that this is turning out to be a poor season with United, Liverpool and us fighting to find the form of the recent past. Our form has suffered over the past three weeks, but the form of the other two teams mentioned seems more terminal.

Where will it end? Watch this space.

We dropped into Salvo’s for a warming coffee and I made good time on the M4. I got home at 10.40pm, just in time to switch on the TV and see the move which lead to our thrice-taken penalty. The “foul” on Daniel Sturridge?

Oh boy – we were lucky!

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