diamond geezer

 Sunday, May 14, 2006

Hammered!

The FA Cup's not come to East London for years, not since West Ham won it back in 1980. Yesterday afternoon, just for a couple of hours, it looked like it might be coming back.

For those West Ham supporters who weren't able to make the trip to Cardiff (which would be most of them), the next best option was to head down to Upton Park and drink themselves silly in front of a big screen. And so they came, by the trainful, thronging down Green Street and the Barking Road to enjoy their moment in the limelight. The claret and blue army were here well before kick-off, gorging on pie and chips, downing several pre-match pints or just wandering down the street with big grins on their faces. The strains of "I'm forever blowing bubbles" could be heard blaring out from at least three pubs in the local area, usually with drunken accompaniment. Kerbside stalls were busy selling possibly-genuine purply-blue clothing to passers by, while hawkers flogged long fluffy coloured things on sticks to younger supporters for 50p. Some children had the team's logo painted on their face - good preparation for a few years' time when they get those hammers tattooed into their forearm just like Dad.

We'd not have won the World Cup in 1966 without West Ham, and a bronze statue at the foot of Green Street remembers key players from that legendary team. That's England captain Bobby Moore up there holding the Jules Rimet trophy, himself being held aloft by Ray Wilson, Martin Peters and hat-trick scorer Geoff Hurst. The statue's become a favourite meeting point for fans, or just somewhere to sit down with a fag and a can or three of lager. It's a charming addition to the area, and a reminder of the football club's importance to the local neighbourhood over the last 100 years.

Upton Park's seen many changes since 1966. Green Street has become the heart of Newham's thriving Asian community, its shops and cafes offering much more than just a taste of the East. On non-match days elegant saris are more popular than football scarves, and spicy samosas outsell jellied eels several times over. The street's also famous for its jewellery, more handmade class than bling, and the Boleyn Cinema screens all the latest Bollywood hits. For many (but not all) of today's local residents, football exists only in some alien non-intersecting universe. I suspect a large proportion of yesterday's claret and blue crowds had travelled in from boroughs further east, and from southern Essex, summoned back to their footballing roots like spawning salmon.

I left the fans to their drinking and boundless optimism before the Cup Final kicked off. How they must have cheered when West Ham took what looked like an unassailable lead. How they must have shuddered when Liverpool came back to equalise, twice. How they must have despaired as both teams limped feebly into extra time deadlock. And how utterly utterly dejected they must have felt to lose out in a desperate penalty shootout. West Ham should have won, obviously, as every fan will have been telling the bottom of a glass ever since Liverpool's final lucky save. Football's like that, it's a bloody unfair game unless you win. And there's always next time.

FA Cup Winners: 1964, 1975, 1980
Runners-up: 1923, 2006


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