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Nationwide Division One
Sunday, 9th May 2004

Wigan Athletic 1
West Ham United 1

by Gordon Thrower

11.30 pm Thursday ... Receive desperate phonecall from Sicknote who is due to overnight at Gnome Towers in advance of the early trip to Stansted.

It seems he is trapped in the Catford one way system. Remembering advice given by Douglas Adams, I suggest going round and round until he achieves Escape Velocity. Failing that turning left after the lights ought to do the trick. Eventually the plumber arrives by virtue of driving round until he sees me standing outside my front door and, after attempting to charge me £150 for the call out (a misunderstanding blamed on “force of habit”) he crashes out for the early start.

Friday

Goes To Eleven arrives at Gnome Towers bang on time, having eschewed the Sicknote theory of navigation in favour of actually consulting a map. A hassle free drive up to the airport is assured by not allowing Sicknote to navigate and we are joined by Alf Garnett's Missus for the now traditional KUMB pre-flight vodkas at 5.50am – according to the time shown on the digital photo of the event. Sicknote escapes an excess baggage charge despite having a holdall full of “whufcuk – on loan to the nationwide” t-shirts to get rid of, a project he hopes to accomplish before the league changes its name or we get promoted. Thankfully for our livers the flight is unusually on time and we touch down on the runway (the bit with slightly less grass on it) at Blackpool “International” Airport 15 minutes ahead of schedule.

Our rooms at the hotel not being ready we walk about for a bit. Decide to go up the Blackpool Tower. Note price - £10. Decide not to go up Blackpool Tower since resulting view is likely to be of nothing more spectacular than Blackpool.

10.00am. For some reason the Sun Inn opens at this time – possibly because nobody would go in there if anywhere else were open. We are joined by the remainder of the Romford tours party who have come by road, at which point Agadoo replaces Guns N' Roses on the jukebox prompting a mass exodus to the Dutton Arms. We all laugh at the back of Lost Hammer's shirt which carries an hilarious scorch mark where he tried to press back the letter “Y” from “Connolly” which had fallen off. This prompts chants of “Irons” from those present. On arrival at the Dutton we meet some women from Manchester who don't appear to have gone home since we were last there back in August. The look on the faces of some of our party as we bump into these, er, old “friends” is priceless.

Sadly I manage to get a bit of grit or something underneath my contact lens and decide to retire hurt for the afternoon and catch up on a bit of kip back at the hotel. Am awoken half an hour later by a mobile call from room-mate Sicknote, whose navigational skills have ensured that he has got lost between reception and the second floor. Eventually the plumber arrives by virtue of walking round until he sees me standing outside the door and, after attempting to charge me £150 for the call out (a misunderstanding blamed on “force of habit”) we both crash out, waking up in time for dinner. Unlike GTE whose alarm call fails to materialise. The chef, whose hat is taller than she is, brings him a sandwich and some chips and helpfully explains that “this is your knife and fork” and “this is a chip” before tucking a napkin under GTE's chin.

And so to Flares, one of a nationwide chain of bars with a loose 60's/70's theme. At 11.30pm precisely comes the moment I've been dreading as the DJ announces the playing of “Build Me Up Buttercup” “going out especially for Gnome”. Thank you so very much Northern Bird. You shouldn't have. GTE, Sicknote & Northern Bird order drinks in goldfish bowls but unsportingly decline to down them in one. As the combined effects of a lack of sleep, an afternoon in the Dutton and the sore eye begin to catch up on me I decide to return to the hotel. A lack of pen and paper means that I have to risk leaving Sicknote without a map of how to get back. I pause for a swift nightcap in the hotel bar where a strange middle-aged woman whose taste in polyester must cause her no end of problems with static electricity asks me if I am Brian. Having ascertained that I'm not she proceeds to ask several other people the same question with no joy. Although tempted by sheer curiosity to find out what will happen if she ever does find someone called Brian to speak to, I decide that, on reflection I actually don't care and I return to the room.

4.00am. The good news is that Sicknote has managed to find the room without my having to stand outside it and I avoid incurring a call out charge by feigning sleep. The bad news that, having spent a few hours in Flares, he is singing a selection of cheesy 70's disco hits as he gets ready for bed. Having gone through Kool & The Gang's “Celebrate” and “Ladies' Night” whilst brushing his teeth he moves on to Ottowan as he collapses into bed. “D-I-S-C-” he sings, lapsing into unconsciousness before reaching the letter “O”, for which small mercy I am eternally grateful.

Saturday

Having had a relatively quiet night I am the first of our party to get to breakfast where, surrounded by elderly guests most of whom are wearing polyester, I manage to feel both young and over-dressed at the same time.

I spend some time listening to the unintentionally hilarious sub-Alan Partridge presenter on the local radio station who proudly informs us that he is actually the voice over artist behind the station announcements at Birmingham New Street, where he'll be putting in a personal appearance to sign autographs next week. I expect they'll be laying on a special train to carry fans from Blackpool.

At this point I remember that I've promised the lovely If Not Why Not to bring her “something nice” as a present from Blackpool. This is a major challenge in a town where the two most tasteful shops are Argos and Ann Summers. However, not being able to resist a challenge I set off into town to try to locate a suitable pressie. It starts to rain. Big time. It's cold and bloody wet with a northerly wind that cuts through like a knife. The sacrifices one makes. Having failed dismally with the present hunting mission I decide to return the Dutton to meet up with the rest of the party and watch Man Utd v Chelsea. En route the rain gets so bad I'm forced to take shelter in a pub where I'm served by a barmaid that looks worryingly like my ex-wife. However, for all my ex's crimes against humanity (and believe me there were many) she at least never committed the sin of calling me “Duck”.

We watch the match – we try hard to feign interest but eventually the lure of the quiz machine proves too great for AGM, GTE & myself and we have a fairly successful run before cashing in in order to get another round in. Deano's voice finally gives out, much to everyone's relief – not least Kath who is relieved to hear everyone else speak since it proves that she hasn't gone deaf.

After dinner I decide to have an hour's kip. Unfortunately this turns into three hours and it isn't until nearly midnight that we arrive at Flares. Even more unfortunately this is still just in time to hear Build me Up Buttercup. We also discover that Flares' attention to 70's detail extends to the attitude of their bouncers towards the paying customer. GTE attempts to take a photo of the gang on his way back from the gents only to be told in no uncertain terms that he will not be allowed to pause on the stairs to do so. I'm sure that underneath all the bouncer's muscle and stubble there was probably a really nice woman trying to get out.

Having observed Kev's complete lack of quality control in his choice of women, we are treated to the sight of GCRO (or Mr Rip-Off as he is registered in the hotel) using his charm on some of the over 60's back in the hotel. I've heard some bloody awful chat up lines in my time – used most of them as well. However, GCRO's use of the phrase “got any socks?” as an introductory gambit will baffle me until I die. Perhaps it's some sort of geriatric code. Anyway GCRO seems to have developed a strange liking for Werthers Originals since arriving in Blackpool.

Lost Hammer arrives. God alone knows how since he appears incapable of standing up and thinking at the same time. He is blissfully unaware of this and launches into a very unsteady version of “Bubbles” before forgetting both lyrics and melody shortly after the “fortune's always hiding” bit. Deano tries to tell me a joke. With no voice he attempts to mime it, which is probably a hell of a lot funnier than the joke itself. On reflection I begin to wish that it had been Lost Hammer's voice that had gone as he suddenly remembers the lyrics if not the tune to the rest of “Bubbles”. I decide to retire to bed before anyone comes in and asks if I'm Brian.

Sunday

Matchday commences with another listen to local radio where the news programme starts with some heavily portentious music – think News At Ten but more serious. Item one on the news is that the Blackpool Fun Run is occurring today. Events in Iraq come in about 4th item in. Richie's check-out takes longer than usual as, having tried out three rooms before finding one with a nice enough colour carpet for him, adjustments to the final bill were necessary – Liam also having incurred a sizeable bill for phone calls the new code for Brentwood apparently being 0898.

Having failed dismally to find a nice present for the girlfriend the previous day – and having nearly picked up hypothermia in trying - I decide to treat her to a limited edition “whufcuk on loan to the nationwide” t shirt. I know – I spoil that woman! These shirts are available from Sicknote and he'll deliver them to your home for only £5 plus a £150 call out charge – but you might have to wait outside your front door.

Romford has arranged transport for those of us not on his minibus – we have a few seats on a coach leaving from the Savoy up the other end of town. The coach driver has three tapes. One of these is a Best of Thin Lizzy tape that's so warped that the long note held by Gary Moore during “Parisian Walkways” lasts almost the whole journey into Wigan. By the time we get to the JJB stadium it's about 12.30 and, with a 1pm kick-off looming there's no time to get a beer. Wigan, who have sold around 8,000 tickets to Hammers fans, seem surprised that we've actually turned up as they sell out of programmes in our stand. This worries me as we always seem to struggle when I don't get a programme. We are treated to some bloke singing “Perfect Moment, a song of such ghastliness Lost Hammer is forced to lose his lunch. Several times.

AP has decided against messing with a wining side which means that there are no immediate returns for Connolly and Repka to first team action. In amongst the various permutations that will see Wigan qualify, the only scenario that will see them reach the play-offs without relying on other results is a 4-0 win. This shows, as we are put on the back foot right from the start. Bywater is alert enough to make excellent saves from Ellington and ex-hammer Bullard and, although the 8,000 Hammers fans, with the possible exceptions of Deano & Lost Hammer, are in fine voice, it is a nervous display both on and off the pitch. Ferdinand is a particular worry and on 15 minutes he nearly causes us all heart failure by failing to deal with a hopeful long pass. This lets in Teale but Bywater saves both the shot and a complete overwhelming of the local coronary unit.
I'm now worrying. We're not passing the ball and, being West Ham we could quite easily blow this. The rugby league season has started so the grass on the pitch is as long as that on the runway at Blackpool Airport, prompting several players to fall over as they are upended by some Japanese soldiers hiding out in the undergrowth under the impression that the World War II is still in progress. Somehow, against the run of play we create a good chance. We gain a throw on the right. Mullins receives a yellow card for deciding to leave the throw to Lomas. Ridiculous. The throw comes across, Hutch flicks on and Harewood pulls an excellent save out of Filan.

This is not enough to make me relax and my fears are confirmed when Ellington's shot is blocked but lands in the path of Roberts whose volley gives Bywater no chance and Wigan a deserved lead. As the news filters through that Palace have yet to con the ref at Coventry and are therefore losing 2-0, the Wigan fans start their celebrations.

Half time and I've promised to text my chum Margot who is away working with the score except I've left my mobile phone in the coach. I feel a bit rotten about this and spend the remaining 45 minutes worrying about if she has access to a radio. Whether or not Wigan have access to a radio they don't seem as fired up in the second half and we start to play a bit ourselves. Ten minutes in and Connolly comes on for Hutch who has had little joy on the right. Almost immediately we nearly equalise as Connollly feeds Etherington who plays a ball across goal. Zamora is only denied by a last ditch block by De Vos. A corner is headed on by Dailly and Harewood's header is headed off the line by Eaden.

Up the other end Mahon wriggles his way into the box and Bywater is the coolest man in the ground as he somehow manages to clear a two foot back pass away for a corner. However we're playing a lot better than in the first half – not difficult granted – and are creating chances. Another flowing move finds Zamora who catches his volley too well prompting another fine save out of Filan. This proves to be Zamora's last move as Deane replaces him. A few minutes later with both sides now seemingly going through to the play offs, Reo-Coker replaces the tiring Etherington. With 89 minutes on the stadium clock Reo Coker is upended. Carrick's perfect cross to the far post is met by Deane whose header silences the home support.

I try to feel sorry for the Wigan supporters but I'm too busy laughing as the final whistle goes. On my way out I bump into Peterborough Iron & Michelle. PI is modelling a “whufcuk on loan to the Nationwide” t shirt which we agree is excellent value and would make an ideal present for a lovely girlfriend. We return to Blackpool with the Savoy boys and, the weather having taken a turn for the better, we sit outside the Dutton with beers and ice creams before returning to Blackpool Airport. The flight home is livened up by the sight of 20 odd Hammers all doing the safety instruction mime in perfect synchronisation with the stewardess who is oblivious to the cause of all the laughter.

An uneventful journey home ends with me collapsing through exhaustion on the settee with GTE heading off in the direction of the Oval and Sicknote heading for the Catford one way system. If you're in that area and you see a white plumbers' van circling forlornly round please feel free to point him at one of the exits – who knows you may even get a free “whufcuk on loan to the nationwide” T shirt for your efforts.

Overall this was another splendid weekend in the North West and thanks are due to the following: Goes To Eleven for chauffeuring services above & beyond the call of duty, Alf Garnett's Missus for good company and quiz machine fun, Sicknote for being an entertaining room-mate and for the loan of the toothpaste, Northern Bird & Adam (although NB gets deducted a point for the Buttercup incident!), Kev for reminding me that it's quality not quantity that really counts, Chim & Mrs Chim for entering into the spirit of the weekend, Deano for losing his voice, the Savoy boys for letting us hitch a lift to the match on their coach and for amusing stories of West Brom supporters (Boing Boing Bop!), Lost Hammer for his Shaun Of The Dead impersonations, GCRO, for services to Help the Aged, Upton O'Good for the beers. If I've missed anyone out – sorry!

Finally the KUMB gold award with bar and oak leaf cluster goes to Romford for once more organising a superb away trip under some pretty trying circumstances. Hat doffed and respect due. Thank you sir. Hopefully this time next year we'll be sitting in the sunshine outside the Balmer Lawn before a premiership match at St Mary's!

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Player Ratings

Stephen Bywater
Some fine saves kept us in the game in the first half when the 4-0 disaster scoreline might have been on.


Anton Ferdinand
Had a shocker of a first 25 minutes when he seemed to display an almost total lack of awareness of what was going on around him. However he did eventually improve.


Hayden Mullins
Having a run at right back which is good for his consistency. Picked up a ridiculous caution.


Christian Dailly
Fairly solid display although prone to choosing the wrong option when playing the ball out from the back, especially in the first half.


Andy Melville
Beginning to grow in the role as he gets an extended run following Repka's suspension.


Michael Carrick
Quiet first half, better in the second. Very worrying retro-mullet haircut continues to cause concern.


Steve Lomas
His improved second half performance allowed Carrick greater influence after the interval.


Matthew Etherington
Like Hutch he was largely ignored by the long ball tactic but came into the game a lot more in the second half and was the creator of a number of chances.


Bobby Zamora
Not a great first half but the change of tactics in the second period brought him into the game in a manner more suited to his abilities and he got into some good positions before his substitution.


Marlon Harewood
Continues to infuriate and delight in equal amounts. Sometimes won't chase easy balls then he goes and charges down the most hopeless of lost causes. Might have won it at the death with a couple of strong runs down the right.


Don Hutchison
Toiled and tried to get things going during the first period but was largely by-passed by the tactic of playing the ball long to Zamora and Harewood.


Substitutes


David Connolly
(Replaced Hutchison, 56) His introduction turned the game back in our favour. Held the ball up well and brought others into play in a manner that neither Zamora nor Harewood had been able to do up to that point.


Brian Deane
(Replaced Zamora, 73) Didn't get overly involved but his far post header was a fine example of the art.


Nigel Reo-Coker
(Replaced Etherington, 84) A couple of good runs including that which led to the free-kick that provided the equaliser.


Pavel Srnicek
Did not play.


Tomas Repka
Did not play.



Match Facts

Referee: R.Pearson.

Attendance: 20069.

Man of the Match: David Connolly.

West Ham United

Goals: Brian Deane 90                  

Booked: Hayden Mullins 28          .

Sent Off: None sent off.     .

Wigan Athletic

Filan, Eaden, De Vos, Breckin, Baines, Bullard, Farrelly, Mahon, Ellington, Teale, Roberts.

Substitutes: McMillan (Mahon), Jarrett (Farrelly), Liddell (Roberts).

Subs not used: Walsh, Mitchell.

Goals: Roberts (34).

Booked: Baines (73).

Sent Off: None sent off..

 
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