It’s heartening to hear that the world of football is queuing up to help Paul Gascoigne as he faces a new set of demons in his battle to beat the booze.
I’m not interested enough in our national side to ever buy tickets for Wembley, so the only time I saw Gazza in the flesh was in the colours of Newcastle and our old friends from Tottenham. Long-suffering Hammers will recall he always seemed to play well at the Boleyn Ground. One particular game that stands out is against Spurs the week before Christmas in the disastrous relegation season of 1988/89. We were awful – he was terrific.
Spurs won 2-0 at a canter with Gascoigne at the centre of everything. But what really sticks in my mind is not so much the match itself, but the finest piece of analysis I have heard before or since. No, it wasn’t on Match of the Day. This clinically brilliant piece of punditry came from an old boy sitting behind me and my wife in the West Stand – and it has shaped our thinking ever since.
It’s half time in a game we are clearly destined to lose when Waldorf turns to Statler and announces that he is far from impressed with what he’s watching. In fact, he has some quite trenchant views about the capabilities of our brave lads. In front of me, I have the programme that lists the players who represented my beloved West Ham United that day. And before I give you Mr Waldorf’s opinions of those warriors, which I can remember word for word, let me give you a flavour of Hammer as it was back then. It cost me £1.25. The cover features Alan Devonshire , complete with a very dodgy moustache and an Avco shirt, doing his best to avoid having lumps kicked out of him by Sheffield Wednesday, who we’d played the previous week.
Manager John Lyall concedes that we could have done with the extra two points in the 0-0 draw against Wednesday, but remains optimistic even though we are second from bottom – and that because of goal difference rather than a greater number of points than Newcastle. Norwich are top of the table. Coventry are third. And Millwall are fifth. Millwall! How shocking is that? There are much nicer photographs of a very young Paul Gascoigne, and a very old Phil Parkes.
Big Phil, in fact has been profiled as Hammer of the Week, even though he isn’t actually playing this Saturday. At 38, his knees weren’t all they should be – but that didn’t stop him turning out in the Guinness Soccer Sixes in Manchester, at which we did rather well. Six-a-side soccer, it seems, was about to become all the rage. Wonder what happened to that? Page 7 is a particularly good read; along with a couple of very upbeat letters predicting an imminent improvement in our fortunes, there is Crocker’s Corner, which records that West Ham’s contribution to Children in Need that year was £800.
A few pages on and you will find details of ticket prices for the forthcoming thirdround FA Cup tie against Arsenal (which we would draw 2-2, with the Gooners’ goals coming from Paul Merson). Season ticket holders were asked to apply using Voucher F, paying punters could get in for as little as a fiver. There were season tickets to be had, as well. The best seats in the house could be purchased for £63. And if you wanted to see out the rest of that miserable season standing on the East Terrace – aka the Chicken Run – you could do so for just £35.
Yep, I said standing – you could do it quite legitimately back then. And if this offer weren’t tempting enough, they were prepared to throw in a free bottle of wine as well. I think that’s a nice touch although, admittedly it wouldn’t have gone far if your dinner guests had included Gazza and Merse. Fascinating though all this is, the real story lies on the back page, which is where we find the two teams being discussed in the row behind. Specifically the team in claret and blue. “Bloody West Ham – nothing but hasbeens and w*****s,” is Waldorf’s verdict.
“How d’you mean?” asks Statler. It’s a question I’m keen to hear answered myself. Waldorf then goes through the team, one by one, and makes his case. McKnight – w****r. Potts – w****r. Parris – w****r. Gale – has-been. Martin – has-been. Devonshire – has-been. Brady – has-been. Kelly – w****r. Rosenoir – w****r. Dickens – w****r. And all this in a calm, measured tone that brooked no argument.
The only one who escaped his forensic analysis was a certain Paul Ince, who our resident expert conceded was a decent player, and therefore wouldn’t be at the club much longer. How right he turned out to be. Try as I might, I couldn’t fault his assessment. It’s stood the test of time, too – try it yourself and you’ll find that when we have more hasbeens and w****r than Paul Inces, we are headed for the rocks. Sadly, not all West Ham supporters are as rational, particularly while watching games against Spurs.
It’s no secret that we don’t like Tottenham. But that’s no excuse for the antisemitic filth that spews from the mouths of a moronic minority of our supporters. And it’s time it stopped. When my son was still at junior school I took him and a friend of his to a sixth-round Cup tie against the Lilywhites. My lad’s mate was a Spurs fan, but he hadn’t seen them play very often – if at all. It was certainly his first away game.
. We sat in the East Stand Upper, generally considered to be one of the most civilised parts of Upton Park. Yet some of the people around us defied Darwin’s theory of evolution; mentally, at least, they had barely emerged from the primordial slime. One guy, in particular, was so full of hatred his eyes were practically popping out of his head every time a Spurs player had the audacity to touch the ball.
Only he was one of those supporters who can’t actually bring himself to use the word “Spurs” – they were the “Yids”. And he was very keen that others should stand up to demonstrate they too hated these sons of Solomon such as Ledley King, Les Ferdinand and Luke Young. Earlier this season, at White Hart Lane, the game was marred by anti-semitic chants and singing from a small – very small – section of the West Ham end. There was talk of lifetime bans for anyone identified taking part. Personally, I hope they catch the lot of them and ensure they never get in to see a game again.