Let me take you back to the summer of 2002. West Ham had just had a great season with Fortress Upton Park ensuring a seventh place finish and optimism was high for the forthcoming campaign.
I had never been able Tales from the sandpit Words: Andrew Hosie 26 BLOWING BUBBLES to afford a season ticket before but with a bit of gentle coercion from a work colleague and mate, we made the July trip to the Boleyn to book our seats for what we expected to be a fantastic nine months ahead. The World Cup was fresh in our minds and football fever was high pitched.
Roll on to January 2003 and the season could be described in one word – wretched. West Ham had managed two league wins, both away, and suffered a home defeat to Oldham in the League Cup; I’d witnessed dire performances each home match including a complete capitulation to 4-0 at half time against Leeds. No plaudits about the second half comeback could appease the sense of despair on that day.
Then the misery of having to spend Christmas at the Grandparents that year was compounded by the team only managing to garner two points from two must-win home matches on the 21st and 26th. Remarkably we had managed to get past Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup third round but any hopes of a good run to take our minds off our league predicament were all but scuppered when fate conspired to draw us away against Manchester United in round four.
However, me and my Upton Park buddy, Neil, decided we’d use this match to make our way to our first away fixture outside London as season ticket holders. It was also decided we’d make a weekend of it – a tradition of many away matches becoming ‘making a weekend of it’ started with this game. The omens leading up to that match weren’t good; if anything West Ham were contriving to perform even worse in the New Year – the midweek fixture before the FA Cup match had seen us lose 4-2 to Charlton and I think the South East Londoners were still feeling a bit of New Year generosity because they scored our two goals for us.
Also in the run up to the weekend we had to suffer constant goading from Mark Chapman – the BBC one, not the one who bumped off John Lennon – who was a work colleague of ours at the time and a major Man United fan. Still, what was important was to enjoy the weekend – drive up north, find our hotel, make our way to Old Trafford and then drink Manchester dry.
After an uneventful drive and finding the somewhat Victorian hotel easily – memories of dark red, dingy, narrow corridors and musty old high ceilinged rooms on this one – we made our way on the train to Old Trafford. Things started badly and then went downhill fast – Manchester United had already made it through to one final that season and were clearly hungry to make it to another one. Although it was an all Premier League FA Cup match on paper it might as well have been Premier League v Conference.
Not to cause too much distress but this, in a nutshell, is how it went that day –
• 8 mins: Giggs slots home the opener • 29 mins: Giggs’ shot deflects in off Breen • 49 mins: Van Nistelrooy fires home the third • 50 mins: Phil Neville joins in the goal scoring • 58 mins: Van Nistelrooy strikes again • 70 mins: Sub Solskjaer completes the rout
It could have been a lot more and it was little consolation that we should have a penalty in the dying minutes. What was great consolation that day though was the great camaraderie of the West Ham travelling support who decided to turn the humiliation into something of a party in the freezing cold northwest on a late January afternoon.
There’s something oddly comforting and genuinely uplifting when four thousand Hammers fans start a marathon Hokey Cokey singalong complete with all the actions – it must have started at around the 50 minute mark and did not let up. Yep, when your team’s being basically ripped to shreds on the pitch it seems almost sick to carry on watching the slaughter so best to be entertained elsewhere and try to get some sort of money’s worth.
Infact when the final whistle went it was so surreal it was like the match hadn’t actually happened at all. It could have been 1-0 it could have been 2, the fact is we didn’t care that is was SIX. The point was that it was a weekend away from home; it was a weekend to enjoy and a weekend to party – and so we did, mixing it up in a variety of biker bars, chain pubs and shopping centre nightspots (you know the place). Then back to our Victorian hotel which by that time I was convinced had to be a brothel – Well, it had all the hallmarks. So roll on Old Trafford next Wednesday night and those who are heading there enjoy the ride whatever the scoreline.