‘In my book, Stockport go into the fixture as big favourites’

The Hammers have had a tough time of getting rid of smaller sides in the FA Cup

When the fixture list is released there are a few things I invariably do.  

The first few are related to looking at that list to see if we have any games scheduled on important family events such as birthdays and anniversaries. 

I then plot each game onto my planner. Home games are the easy ones as I tend to never miss one of those even when scheduled midweek. 

As for away games it’s also a simple process, East Anglia and Newcastle are too far but all the rest are carefully planned in. 

With that all planned in there suddenly appears two dates in January which look initially free. But then it dawns on me that those two dates are in place for the third and fourth round of the FA Cup.

Although there are those two free days in January the second date pales into insignificance due to an event that occurs in December and that event is the FA Cup third round draw. 

This is a draw that sets the heart racing and when watching live always fills me with trepidation.

Invariably West Ham’s ball always stays in the pot until late into the draw and with each Premier League team receiving news of who they are playing.

I sit watching the left hand column on my television screen begin to fill with the teams that are still left to be drawn and often that column is full of teams from the lower reaches of the football pyramid. 

I begin to get sweaty palms each and every time a non-league team is drawn at home and wait with trepidation to see if we are the unlucky ones to be drawn against them. 

Please let us get a Southampton or a Aston Villa and not a Hereford or a Kidderminster, even though they would be local for me. 

And then it happens as it did this time around we get drawn to play a non-league side, in this case Stockport Country and I try to look on the positive side and that at least its not at home and at least its without fans. 

It could have been worse and we could have had a home draw in front of a packed rented stadium, the television stations would have loved that one.

That’s the problem with being a West Ham supporter, we have a history of being on the end of repeated cup upsets, and it’s pretty clear that if a non-league team could choose a Premier League side to play we would be high on their wish list.

My first memory of our cup disasters goes all the way back to February 1972 when I had not even reached my teenage years. 

I had yet to see my chosen team live. In those days a trip to London was just too far from rural Wales but we had been drawn against Hereford in the fourth round of the cup. 

This was the Hereford team who had beaten Newcastle in the third round and were flying high.

According to the media West Ham seemed to be next on the hit list. For me that belief was irrelevant as it was an opportunity to see my team play just 22 miles from my home. 

In those days we didn’t even have a home telephone so it was a case of going to the local phone box with my Dad and to try and get through to the ticket office. 

I think the phone box even had A and B buttons, I bet the younger generation are lost with that statement. 

But despite trying we failed to get tickets and I didn’t have to endure a 0-0 draw, at least we won the replay. 

However I had another opportunity just two years later when once again we were drawn once more against the ‘Bulls’. 

Again this was a fourth round game. Things had changed as Hereford was a league side by then and West Ham had been drawn at home but once again we drew the game thanks to a late Pat Holland equaliser. 

This set up a return leg back in Hereford. This time we actually had a phone installed at home albeit a party line, yet another thing that may confuse some, but the result was the same as I failed to get a ticket and failed to see Hereford get a deserved 2-1 victory, giant killing job accomplished.

I had to wait several years before I finally had another opportunity to see my beloved Hammers take on a side local to me. 

This time it was Newport County in the third round of the cup. This time it was not the telephone network that prevented me getting a ticket it was that dreaded four letter word: work. 

I was working part time while studying for my A levels and my boss refused me the day off, how lucky was I? 

A capacity crowd of just over 14,000 witnessed West Ham’s defeat to fourth division County at Somerton Park, now a housing estate, and once again we were part of a highlight reel for years to come.

With school, university and then work taking its toll on my West Ham following I was fortunate to miss out on our FA Cup defeats in those intervening years. 

I was lucky to miss out on those defeats to mighty Wrexham in 1981 and again in 1997. I had finally got to a few games albeit away from home but finally I made my way for my very first home game at the Boleyn, now like Somerton Park also a housing estate. 

That game was against Emley of the Northern Counties League and the darlings of Sky Sports who had picked up on their cup run. 

The game occurred on January 3, 1998, yes I had left it that late, I finally found myself in the East Stand at the Boleyn soaking up the atmosphere. 

My first visit couldn’t have had a better start as thanks to Frank Lampard we were one nil up after just the fourth minute. 

But then we turned in our usual cup performances against lower league sides. As the heavens opened and the rain blew into the East Stand, giving me a right soaking, Emley scored an equaliser and we huffed and puffed until Hartson got us a late winner to save our blushes. 

I was not put off and became a regular for the rest of that season before becoming a season ticket holder just a year later.

Our last few years have not been great. We have lost to the might of Wigan, AFC Wimbledon and West Brom all from leagues below us. 

That AFC Wimbledon game was probably the icing on the cake for us Hammers – an embarrassment of the highest order. 

But at least we had an opportunity to redeem ourselves just a year later against Slaven Bilic and Championship side West Brom, a game I was lucky to miss and a game it seems that we struggled to get a shot on target. 

And so as that draw was made a few weeks ago I was hoping for one of the big boys, one of those teams which we traditionally up our game for, but we drew Stockport, now not even in the football league. 

We have history with Stockport County. We have played them 14 times and have only beaten them four times. 

Those of us of a certain age will remember the game in 1996 in the League Cup which gave us the opportunity to gain revenge for our defeat in that competition in 1972. 

Once again as is the case with West Ham, we failed to take advantage of a home draw and had to travel up north to the ground surrounded by railway lines and the Mersey for a replay which thanks to an Iain Dowie fantastically taken own goal we ended up losing. 

I now look at our third round game this year with trepidation and one which I see us as the underdogs.

I guess it’s part of our history that even a sixth placed West Ham team including Bobby Moore, Martin Peters, Geoff Hurst along with Billy Bonds and Trevor Brooking lost out to lowly Division Three Mansfield Town back in 1968. 

It’s part of the West Ham make up. But don’t give me that line, it’s the romance of the cup. 

For us older Hammers it’s a very stressful time and one in which we do not take a fourth round game in late January for granted.

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