Sunday, 31st October 2004
Way Out West ...
I arrive at Paddington Station – traditional gateway to the West. Having booked my ticket online, I need to find a “fastticket” machine from which to collect the relevant travel documents. They don't exactly go out of their way to advertise the location of these machines but I eventually find one. I follow the instructions and I am issued with my ticket. Or should that be tickets. The machine produces no fewer than EIGHT pieces of card including three covered in what appear to be hieroglyphics. Confused, I adjourn to the bar where I am greeted by Romford, Deano & Lee. Romford is pleased to see me if only because it means that if his mobile 'phone rings there will be someone available to tell him what button to press to answer the call.
We are aware that the journey will have to be completed by coach – heavy storms having washed away a part of the track between Exeter and Plymouth. However, Romford has good news – we're being allowed to get the train departing an hour earlier. The one problem is Lost Hammer. There is no sign of him and Romford has his train ticket. Eventually Romford tracks the missing traveller down to High Street Kensington. It appears that Lost Hammer's idea of a direct route between Fenchurch Street and Paddington is to go the long way round the Circle Line. Not for Lost Hammer such new-fangled concepts as the Bakerloo Line, or even the quick way round the Circle Line. In view of the fact that LH is unlikely to be able to find something as far away from Essex as Plymouth unaided, we elect to wait for him. Thankfully he arrives in time for the earlier train. As we board I make a mental note to pitch a new idea to the BBC for a Michael Palin-style travel programme - “Across London The Awkward Way”.
The journey proceeds uneventfully until somewhere the other side of Westbury, where the train stops. For ages. We are treated to a succession of increasingly despair-filled announcements from the “train manager” who informs us that “Network Rail are playing a blinder today”. The crew sent to repair the failed points up ahead of us haven't brought the stuff needed to make the points work so we settle in for the duration. Romford tries to relieve the boredom by chatting to the young Japanese lady sat opposite, who he christened “Tora, Tora, Tora”. She smiles politely at us despite Romford's references to Pearl Harbour & Burma.
The crew finally repair the stuck point and we move off. Attempts to play cards are thwarted by the fact that no two of our party know the same game. I quietly attempt to invent a game using the hieroglyphics cards dispensed by the ticket machines but fail dismally.
On arrival, Deano suggests hanging around at Tiverton, finding a pub and getting a later coach from there to Plymouth. Unfortunately, when we arrive it turns out that the station is Tiverton Parkway, the Parkway suffix being added in the vain hope that someone might be fooled into thinking that the station is in fact anywhere near Tiverton. It isn't. The station, in fact, isn't near anywhere. Joined by Alf Garnett's (Ex) Missus, who was probably lucky to have been sat up the other end of the train from us, we therefore decide to board the coach. Romford is our coach-spotting expert and probably told me what make of coach it was that we were boarding, He usually does. I probably just forgot I expect.
The coach journey is unspeakably horrible. Not because of the driver's skills, but because of his choice of music. Mariah Carey. A whole album. The woman has a screeching voice that operates on a similar frequency to that employed by dog whistles. No wonder EMI paid her millions to go away. I decide to stick the portable jukebox on to drown out the caterwauling. As we enter Plymouth I press the “random” button in the hope of listening to some suitably stirring music forgetting that the last recording made had been last week's post match press conference. I therefore arrive at Plymouth Station in a coach to a backing track comprised of the dulcet Scottish tones of Gillingham assistant boss John Gorman. He has a sore throat. He still sounds better than Mariah Carey.
We arrive at the hotel on foot. Attempts to get a cab driver to take us fail since the only cabbie present won't take any passengers without a phone call. Peferably two weeks in advance, with all passengers supplying written references. Cabs, it appears, are something of a problem in Plymouth and the local paper had a major article on the issue, on the page opposite their big story of the week “Do you have a favourite tree”?
The hotel turns out to be just a few minutes away anyway. Romford has booked us in as a wedding party. We discover there is a real wedding party staying as well. Romford concocts an elaborate cover story involving his brother. As a result Romford and I somehow get a room upgrade to one with a stunning view of the local Salvation Army hostel. I make a mental note of the hostel's location in case of emergency.
The team are staying in the same hotel as us. Alan Pardew greets us with a smile and an “evening lads”. There's a glimmer of recognition in his eyes as he recognises the idiot who stuck his hand up at the press conference when he asked for volunteers to play at centre-half against Chelsea. I decide that this isn't the time to tell him about my bad knee – he's probably got enough to worry about without having to concern himself as to whether or not Davenport is up to the job of replacing me.
We locate a restaurant called The Lanterns – a Greek steakhouse type place. Romford & I order a mezze between us. Romford proudly announces that he eats anything – except seafood & mushrooms, to which he is allergic. The first dishes of the mezze arrive. Whitebait, calimari, prawns, taramasalata and tuna. Romford asks if any of the dishes are seafood-free. The waiter proudly announces that there will be some mushrooms along in a minute. Thankfully the main course part of the meal is suitably meat-packed, though there is enough meat in Deano's suspiciously large T-bone steak to feed us all in case of emergency.
Gent arrives. He has drawn the short straw and is sharing a room with the increasingly intoxicated Lost Hammer. We troop off to a club on Union Street by the name of Reflex – sort of a younger sibling of Flares with 80's music. Romford dances with a Marine. Thankfully they take women these days.
Is that all?
LH's behaviour is now giving cause for concern. He borrows the camera for a few minutes and returns it with a selection of shots of the backs of peoples' heads and the floor. He appears to be dancing but this just turns out to be his way of standing up in time to the music. As the evening wears on he becomes increasingly liable to facing a charge of “Dancing In A Manner Likely To Cause a Breach of the Peace”. We leave the club at around half-midnight. Gent, Chevvy, Rich and, somehow, LH head off towards another club. Myself, Deano & Romford decide on a nightcap in the hotel bar. We walk back pausing only to take directions from two ladies who turn down our offer of a drink in the bar. Just as well. The hotel bar closes at 1am. We barely have enough time to down our nightcap before having to retire for the evening.
Saturday 29 October
Feeling remarkably well I venture into the breakfast room. Although I am greeted by the strains – and boy is that word accurate – of Mariah Carey playing over the hotel PA, I am relieved to discover that this is only one track on an otherwise inoffensive compilation.
I am given the table next to Steve Lomas's. At this point I can present a world exclusive for KUMB. Our skipper has hot milk on his breakfast cereal. As usual KUMB goes in where others fear to tread to bring you cutting edge information from the heart of the club.
After our breakfasts Romford and I decide to take a constitutional. We head down through the newer part of the town towards the Hoe. Architecturally speaking, the new part isn't much to write home about though this is understandable since the area suffered extensively at the hands of the Luftwaffe. The post-war rebuild took place during a period when concrete was king. The city is justifiably proud of it's maritime heritage, though if I had ever served on HMS Plymouth, I'd be a little put out by the cardboard cut out that serves as the city's tribute:
The Hoe is different. It is dominated by a lighthouse and a splendid War Memorial which reminds me that, shamefully, I haven't bought a poppy yet. It is the area where Sir Francis Drake is supposed to have finished his game of bowls before going on to inflict an aggregate victory over Spain in Euro1588. Truth was that he only had time to play the bowls because he was waiting for his cab to turn up. We walk back through the Barbican area where we find a few specialist shops, including the following which, for some reason, put me in mind of a certain penalty-missing ex-Hammer now plying his trade in Chelsea's midfield.
Who ate all the pies?
We return to the hotel where we find someone has deposited a corpse in the breakfast room. The corpse turns out to be LH who, surprisingly, has piled his breakfast plate high. Less surprisingly, he seems unable to consume any of the food. We hold a mirror up to his face and it mists up, thus proving that he is alive, if only just:
A corpse, yesterday
We are joined by Alf Garnett's (Ex) Missus who, sensibly, is staying in a different hotel to the rest of us, presumably on the grounds of taste. Our numbers are also bolstered by the arrival of Bonehead and his lovely young lady whose name I always find it impossible to remember. Sorry about that! The somewhat less attractive but still nonetheless welcome Rio B also arrived. We set off in the general direction of Home Park. The directions given include the phrase “up the hill through the park”. On arrival at the end of the street we discover that the hill in question is a bit on the steep side. The grass is not so much growing on it as clinging on for dear life. We eventually make it to the top with only a few stops to take on oxygen.
So to the wedding. Er, match. My knee having failed to survive the trip up the north face of the Eiger, Davenport returned from injury whilst Bywater replaced Walker between the sticks giving the following starting line-up: Bywater, Mullins, Brevett, Repka, Davenport, Fletcher, Etherington, Reo-Coker, Lomas, Harewood, Zamora.
The game was scrappy from start to finish. Plymouth's route one game forced some early corners but, one early shot into the side netting from the home side apart, clear cut chances were at a premium. The best efforts came from set pieces with Davenport going close from headers. The flow of the game was not helped by the antics of the three officials who somehow contrived to make a complete hash of just about every decision. Typical of the sort of stuff we've come to expect from these idiots came halfway through the first half when a flowing move that started with Reo-Coker saw Etherington's cross put away by Harewood. It was an excellent move that was probably the only decent bit of football in the whole match. It was also given offside. Although impossible to call from behind the opposite goal it came as no surprise when the usual half time reports from home informed us that the replays shown to the radio guys suggested that the decision was yet another terrible decision.
We did, however, take the lead just before half time. Mullins & Zamora combined and Bobby's cross found Lomas who, fortified by two poached eggs for breakfast (another KUMB exclusive folks), placed a glancing header in at the far post. It was a bit strange really. At half time we were 1-0 up in a game in which, though we had scored two good goals, scarcely deserved any.
The second half saw more of the same. Plymouth's main threat came from set piece moves which, thanks to a combination of clumsy defending and dreadful refereeing, were increasing in frequency. Bywater made two identical saves from headers, tipping the ball over the bar on each occasion.
Up the other end we were becoming increasingly frustrated at the antics of the linesman. Typical decisions included giving Harewood offside from a back pass and the awarding of a goal kick from a ball that had taken a 90 degree diversion off a defender's foot. The best one of all came from a ball played into Zamora's feet. The defender had one arm around Zamora's neck and his other hand had a large chunk of Zamora's shirt. Incredibly the assistant idiot gave a free kick indicating Zamora had pulled the defender's shirt - a physical impossibility without 8ft long quadruple-jointed arms. Incredible stuff even by the scandalously low standards in this league. All three officials really ought to consider their futures in the game – they simply weren't up to the job. If they need new careers I understand Plymouth could do with a cabbie or two.
With the home side gaining free kicks with increasing regularity, it was inevitable that the equaliser would come from such a source. A free kick given for some unknown reason was taken some 30 odd yards out. Wotton hit it past the two-man wall. Bywater got a hand to it but could only divert the shot into the roof of the net.
Plymouth finished the match the stronger of the two sides but the aerial bombardment failed to pay dividends and the game ended, much to the relief of my neck muscles.
I am herded away from the city centre by a collection of humourless officers of the Devon & Cornwall constabulary. When we are finally released into civilisation it is on the far side of the ground from that which we had approached. I walk in the general direction of where I believe the city centre to be, assisted by the fact that it is quite sunny enabling me to head in a general southerly direction. At one point I check my bearings with a police officer who helpfully tells me to “push off”.
After an age walking through Plymouth's side streets – both the city's cabs now requiring biometric tests and DNA samples six months in advance before deigning to pick up anyone off the street – I finally arrive back at the hotel with my knee swelling up to be greeted by some more police who appear to be videoing people who are committing the terrible crime of wanting to watch a football match.
On arrival in the hotel bar I am greeted by the sight of a very drunk Scotsman in a Rangers orange away shirt, a shirt of such violent loudness that it would even have drowned out the voice of Mariah Carey had she been singing. The Scotsman is not a happy drunk. He realises he is in the company of what is now a large number of West Ham fans and launches into an incomprehensible tirade of which Rab C Nesbitt would have been proud. At least you could watch Rab C with the help of ceefax subtitles. No such joy with this chap. The only non-4-letter word that I can make out is M*llwall. His wife looks as tough as old boots as well. Unsurprisingly, he is ejected from the bar. He causes a bit of a fuss outside and the police finally find something useful to do by carting him off.
The food vote goes the way of a Chinese and, an unexpected vacancy for a cab having appeared, we end up in a restaurant by the name of the Crystal Dragon, minus Lost Hammer who decides that Gourmet Night at the local KFC is the order of the day. The Chinese is a good choice. We eventually settle on a couple of the set menus. Romford declares how much he is looking forward to the meal. The meal arrives promptly and contains dishes comprising prawns, mushrooms or a combination of the two. There are, however, enough dishes without quite so much seafood or fungus in them to keep the big man happy and we eat royally well at a bargain price. The Crystal Dragon – KUMB recommended.
We return to the hotel to get changed for our night out. All except Lee who only has one pair of shoes with him – a pair of trainers. This turns out not to be a problem – indeed he seems overdressed by the standards of Plymouth. We meet up with LH who informs us that by having a Chinese meal we have missed out on a real treat at the KFC where the gravy was particularly good that night. I make a mental note to tell the editor that, if the position of KUMB's Restaurant Critic ever becomes available under no circumstances should LH be offered the job.
We are joined for the evening's entertainment by Monkey Hanger and we proceed to the Barbican area where we end up in the Quay Club. There are some horrible sights to be seen but I am reliably informed that they always dress that way, not just on Halloween. We suffer two early casualties, Romford who pleads fatigue after the first pub, and AG(E)M who leaves after a few bottles of something that looks like but tastes entirely unlike Smirnoff Ice. I'll admit that I'm not the greatest fan of clubs. The Quay Club isn't too bad however as such places go. I am however knackered. The knee is giving me a lot of aggro, and my only painkillers are back at the hotel. Unfortunately there are two women talking Rich between me and the door. One of these seems intent on making me stay. I finally escape when they decide that I am a “lightweight”. I take this for the compliment it undoubtedly isn't and escape unharmed.
I join the queue at the cab rank.
Still in the cab rank, I chat to the middle-aged couple ahead of me in the queue. It appears that they met in the queue several years ago when they were still teenagers. I decide that I'd rather risk the knee than have to listen to the rubbish being spoken by the little group behind me. It is difficult to tell if they were students or simply naturally irritating of their own accord but I don't hang around to find out. I end up back at the hotel in time to complete my duties as Personal Assistant to Romford by changing the clock on his mobile phone, a task I know full well that will otherwise be beyond him resulting in inaccurate timekeeping until the clocks go forward in the Spring. My good deed for the day accomplished, I immediately fall asleep, grateful for the extra hour in bed.
Sunday 31 October
Quite quiet really – the trains are on time and, the track having been repaired, there is no need to resort to coaches playing Mariah Carey. We even nearly arrive on time at Paddington. In fact no problems at all until Lewisham where engineering works mean I have to get a cab. At least I can get one this time! Another smashing weekend although the football wasn't of the greatest order. Thanks go out to AG(E)M, Deano, Lee, Lost Weekend, er, I mean, Hammer, Monkey Hanger, Bone & Mrs Head, Rio B, Gent, Monkey Hanger, Chevvy, Rich, and last but not least Sir Romford for coming up trumps on the hotel front once more. Cheers gang.
* Want to submit your match reports to KUMB.com? More details here ...
A couple of good tip overs in the second half. Might have done a little better with the goal.
Ok sort of game. Distribution occasionally suspect.
A bit of a 'mare for Rufus. When Plymouth were not using the aerial ball, most of our problems came from his wing.
A bit of a battle with the Plymouth attack. Did ok without ever looking entirely comfortable.
Another battle – though at times he also looked like our best attacker.
Mr “Two Poached Eggs” took his goal well and got through a lot of running without stamping his authority on the match.
A bit of an off-day really. Failed to make his usual impact.
A few decent tackles but the effect was spoilt by some wayward passing.
Made a few good runs – one in the second half ended up with him being unceremoniously upended.
Got little help from the officials and faded as the game wore on.
A lot of running for little reward.
(Replaced Zamora, 87) Given three minutes at the end when the match was all but dead.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Did not play.
Man of the Match: tbc.
West Ham United
Goals: Steve Lomas 43
Booked: Bobby Zamora 19 Marlon Harewood 71 .
Sent Off: None sent off. .
Larrieu, Worrell, Doumbe, Coughlan, Gilbert, Norris, Friio, Hodges, Makel, Crawford, Evans.
Substitutes: Wotton (Hodges 74), Milne (Crawford 82).
Subs not used: Lowndes, Lasley, Adams.
Goals: Wotton (76).
Booked: Norris (26), Worrell (38), Hodges (58).
Sent Off: None sent off..