Tuesday, 25th August 2009
With animosity going back almost 100 years when the dockers on the wrong side of the river scabbed on a strike, we have been at war with Millwall. Like me and the ex missus, if we donít spend too much time in each otherís company then things go quite swimmingly. Bring us together in a confined space though and itís gonna get messy.
It would appear that this rather simple truth is lost a bit on the football authorities and the Metropolitan Police. All they had to do was have a look at that hopeless piece of cinematography Green Street to understand that the very announcement of a West Ham/Millwall fixture would set the unofficial channels alive with plans for a meet.
This thing between us and Millwall may be a clichť but itís real. The tribal drums were beating from the beginning, yet no-one seemed to grasp what was bound to happen. Itís not clear how many police were on duty, but clearly it wasnít enough. The only tangible response seemed to be to limit the away tickets to 2,300. Smart move that Ė strand a load of Millwall outside the ground, when you had the whole of the Sir Trev to accommodate them and actually apply a bit of control.
The other obvious solution would have been to hold the game at 11 am on a weekend, but the nature of our ludicrously overloaded season meant that there was little scope for that.
In the end we werenít at a football match at all, so why pretend that a football match could take place? This was always going to be a violent communal gathering masquerading as a football match. Better maybe to have just got it out the way behind closed doors?
Rumble in the jungle
Arriving as I did in Priory Road about ten to eight via the alley by the bus station, I turned the corner with about ten fellow fans to see ourselves faced with about 300 Millwall on the rampage. This is one of those occasions where singing a jolly rendition of Bubbles is about as much on your mind as nipping down your local retail park to buy the new Spuds strip. Fortunately for my undoubtedly handsome features, plod tooled up were on hand doshing out the justice of the baton. Then someone decided that opening up the big exit gates was also a good idea to get the baying mob inside rather quicker than through the turnstiles.
The game was irrelevant in the context but letís just say that the first half was insipid with Millwall showing far more desire. It was Cole isolation syndrome again. I am beginning to wonder if our manager is overdoing his point about the need to sign a striker. He obviously thinks that our faceless and unwilling owners need to have an idiotís guide every game before the transfer window closes as to why a lone forward is not going to work. But shhhhhh donít tell Ďem that Iíve got a great young prospect on the bench.
The Millwall goal almost midway through the first half followed a needless giveaway in the middle of the park and then a throw in which the returning Gabbidon failed to deal with. By the way, Kovac is not pleasing on my eye Ė he seems to want too much time on the ball and you would have thought that he might have understood the need to play with a bit more urgency by now.
Our returning Galactico had a big shout for a penalty but the ref was not interested and this was followed by probably the only decent West Ham move of the half as Parker burst forward but fired a shot well over.
Zola decided at the start of the second half that the invisible Josh Payne should be replaced by his secret striker Zavon Hines. Maybe heíd contrived a way of concealing this substitution from our owners by sending a lapdancer into the Directorsí box as a distraction.
Cole began to look less like the bloke left on his own in the Lunar Module while Armstrong played golf on the moon.Things got better with lots of nice play between Junior and Zavon, the latter making a nice layoff to Jack Collison who struck the right hand upright just three minutes in.
I had mixed feelings about Collison playing so soon after his weekend tragedy. At the end of the day, itís his shout and we all deal with bereavement in different ways. Iím sure heís getting support from many quarters and it takes a lot of strength to deal with things like this. The problem is that he found himself later trying to get invading attendees (fans canít be the right term here) back into the stands. It wasnít what he needed to be doing and those that put him in that position have shown him contempt at a time when it was the last thing he needed.
Noublť came on and I had a second take as it looked to me for a fleeting moment that the great and much lamented Marc Vivien Foť had once again taken the pitch at the Boleyn Ground. It was a mirage generated by nostalgia for a cult hero of mine. Thereís a pub in Manchester that has a commemorative display of the great man and I have often sat with City fans reminiscing about the gentle man that was taken from us too young.
Things were stirring in the corner nearest the away support and you just knew that unpalatable scenes were about to unravel. Just as the stakes were raised with the hapless stewards in that corner of the ground, a goal by Stanislas with three minutes of ordinary time left sparked a pitch invasion at both ends.
The extra time that followed saw a battering of Millwall by an energised West Ham. They looked as if the energy had drained out of them, and a penalty followed after Cole set Hines free into the right side of the box and a sliding defender handled the ball whilst prone on the ground. Stanislas was the unlikely penalty taker but he slotted home after a slight feint sparking yet another pitch invasion.
Most of the Eaststanders around me had by now had enough of the self-indulgent invaders and were making it clear that they should get back in the stand. Iím not against pitch invasions and was on a pitch myself last year, but there is an etiquette for pitch invasions. I joined non-league Droylsdenís fans when they beat Chesterfield in the Cup after the game had ended. That is an acceptable pitch invasion. A giant-killing display of joy with no menacing overtones. Running on in the midst of a game where there has already been violent carnage is not an acceptable invasion and at one point fans near me began to wonder if the game would be abandoned.
Milwallís hearts were no longer in it and our youngsters were having a ball. If I had a double-take on Foť earlier I had a second one with the superb goal just past the 100 minute mark by Zavon. That was a Defoe-like finish.
The repercussions of this game will continue for some time. Itís been a thoroughly demoralising few days. Getting turned over by the mangy cockerel enemy on Sunday, the despicable attack on Calum Devonport, the terrible tragedy for Jack Collison and now this debacle of a football match. No wonder our gentleman manager looks and sounds shell-shocked by it all.
Those of us who love this club of ours and have its true interests at heart should be saying loud and clear that our values are those of Jack Collison not the pitch invaders from outer space. We should also pour cold water on the hysteria as well. It was bad, it was unacceptable but it was led by a minority. It was not done in the name of the thousands who follow the mighty Irons. The inquest has to get real as well about the fact that it could have been avoidable if the authorities had thought a bit more about how the two tribes could have been prevented from running through a set piece and highly predictable battle.
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Made a couple of decent stops, little chance with the goal.
Supplied the oh-so-important cross for the equalising goal. Maturing at right back.
Another chance to earn a bit more experience at left back.
Seemed to know what the game was all about.
Another step forward on the road to receovery.
Despite half a season here last term our Czech mate still appears to be coming to terms with the pace of the English game.
Played his part although found it tough going.
Seemingly overawed by the situation. He has better days to come.
Just for turning up.
Two goals that won the game. You can't ask for much more than that.
Worked tirelessly alone up front. Endured the kind of abuse from our guests that most had thought consigned to history.
(Replaced Payne, 46 mins) Bagged a goal of real quality. Again.
(Replaced Kovac, 62 mins) Keen to impress.
(Replaced Cole, 109 mins) Steadied the ship for the final few minutes.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Referee: Paul Taylor.
Man of the Match: Jack Collison.
West Ham United
Robert Green, Julien Faubert, Jonathan Spector, James Tomkins, Danny Gabbidon, Radoslav Kovac, Scott Parker, Josh Payne, Jack Collison, Junior Stanislas, Carlton Cole.
Goals: Junior Stanislas 87 Junior Stanislas 108 Zavon Hines 110 .
Booked: Danny Gabbidon 16 Scott Parker 69 Carlton Cole 83 Jack Collison 115 .
Sent off: None.
Forde, Dunne, Frampton, Martin, Smith, Hackett, Barron, Fuseini, Laird, Harris, Alexander.
Substitutes: Price (Martin 91), Grimes (Harris 99), Bolder (Alexander 99).
Subs not used: Sullivan.
Goals: Harris (26).
Booked: Frampton (6), Laird (40), Barron (104).
Sent Off: None.