Thursday, November 10, 2022

Hello, is that West Ham?

I sent my mate Trevor a message a couple of weeks ago fearing the worst over the rail strikes and backing out of a trip to London for the League Cup game against West Ham at the London Stadium. Having slept on it I then sent another - 'I'm coming down for West Ham, life's too short'. We haven't seen each other for ages, to reminisce on Sunday football at Wormwood Scrubs, great awaydays and tours to Devon. Our mate Martin's funeral in Ireland being one poignant occasion before we all got told to stay at home.

Come what may, I was going. Even though the rail strike was off, Avanti Trains are hideously unreliable but I decided to embrace the challenge. 

I was so glad I did.

Seeing friends in the old familiar bonding environment of a Rovers away match in London was special. Meeting their friends, their sons and other friends' sons was an added bonus.

Some things change though - it used to be a bit of a standing joke that wherever the Rovers were playing in London and the south, the London branch would somehow conspire to find the worst possible place to meet. It was the kind of 90s education that gave me a unique insight on life and rough pubs. 

Meeting for artisan pizza and craft ale in a microbrewery in hipster Hackney Wick wouldn't have been part of the old plan. 

I also avoided shabby Avanti and entered London via Reading, Paddington and the spectacular new Elizabeth Line, zooming over to Stratford in no time at all. 

My hopes and expectations of the match were to not get humiliated like we did last time we played the Hammers in a cup competition. I think taking the lead, giving it a right good go, and bringing our Chilean wonderkid on for a late equaliser, then winning on penalties smashed all expectations. It was nail-biting at times seeing them playing out from the back, but truth be told JDT is deadly serious about what he wants the whole squad to do. The project.

I thought there was much about this new ground to be impressed by, but it's nowhere near as good as the new Spurs stadium. The stewarding was terrible. I had a backpack that they didn't even look at, though I offered, and I got a full-body search. It was obviously going to be a smaller crowd, so why not create a bit of space between the away fans and the West Ham schooligans who think Green Street is an instruction manual? Maybe a Rovers fan wouldn't have had his head cut open by a flying object if common sense had been applied. They've got a real problem there, but all we got was blocked entrances, no stewarding of seating and a bit of a shambles.

It was a visit to ground number 77 of the current 92 and the 169th venue I've watched football on.

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