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Coca Cola Championship
Monday, 30th May 2005

Preston North End 0
West Ham United 1

by Gordon Thrower

From Portman Road to the Millennium Stadium.

Play-Off Final Diary

Thursday 19 May

I arrive home at 1.00am from the Ipswich away match. It’s been a long day since my current work commitments mean getting up at 5.30am. However the adrenal glands are working overtime and sleep is not an option. For the first time since qualification I have a look at my match programmes and the official site to see what I have to do to ensure a ticket. Up to now I haven’t wanted to tempt fate. The good news is that under the automatic away ticket scheme I have to do precisely nothing – the second best result of the evening.

Friday 20 – Saturday 21 May

There are times one is grateful that one’s lovely girlfriend has a Mum who lives in South Wales. This is one of them. Arrangements to spend the weekend in the land of the incomprehensible are sorted and I can now relax safe in the knowledge that I have a ticket and somewhere to stay pre-match.

Maltese Hammer, who, as his name suggests, these days lives in Snaresbrook, is not so lucky as his ticket is by no means assured. Undaunted, he decides to book a day trip to Cardiff whether he has a ticket or not. This process involves us swapping an ever increasing number of emails. MH has put my name in his diary under the heading of “Computer Consultant” on the grounds that I once helped him to find the on-off switch on his laptop. At this point I discover that he also has me listed under “Travel Agent” as I am asked a variety of questions concerning the merits of “National Express” v “First Great Western”.

Sunday 23 May

The deadline for season ticket holders and members having elapsed, I decide to monitor the official site for signs that any unsold tickets will be offered to season ticket holders. The plan pays dividends and I am able to obtain a coveted ticket. I call MH to give him the good news. He is so pleased I suspect that I will find it difficult to convince him when it’s my round on Monday. I decide not to try, just to be on the safe side. Bizarrely MH now seems to have added my name to the “Fashion Consultant” section of his diary as I receive an email asking what he should wear to the final. As anyone who knows me will attest, this is somewhat akin to asking Dawn French for slimming tips. I decide that the euphoria of getting a ticket has gone to the poor chap’s head and manfully resist the temptation to tell him that we’ll all be wearing dayglo string vests.

Tuesday 24 May

I return home from work to discover that three of the four tickets for which I am responsible have arrived. The fourth ticket is being delivered elsewhere and a quick phonecall to the lovely Margot confirms that we have a full set. One less thing to worry about!
Saturday 29 May-Sunday 30 May

Having spent the week refusing to discuss the match on the grounds that I’ll jinx things if I do, the lovely girlfriend and I head off to the Welsh border village of Hay-On-Wye to stay with her Mum. I leave a message for the other moderators that we’re leaving early to “make Hay while the sun shines”

Monday 31 May

The big day arrives. I am dropped off by the lovely girlfriend at Hereford station just in time to see a train depart. While I wait for the next one I take a picture of the station sign and send it as a picture message to my Geordie mate with the caption “Saw This & Thought Of You”. His reply is a text message “Two words – and they’re not good luck”!

About 50 Preston supporters get on at Abergavenny. They seem convinced that a 3-0 victory is theirs for the taking. This is not jokey talk, this seems to be a genuine belief on their part based on the fact that they did the double over us in what the Americans like to refer to as the “regular season”. I say nothing and just remind myself that it’s us that are supposed to be the arrogant ones. On arrival at Cardiff Central the confidence drains visibly from the faces of the Preston fans as they see the assembled throng of Hammers on the main street. As little Wesley put it “Daddy it’s all Claret & Blue”

I arrive at the Walkabout where I’m greeted by KUMB’s own tourist consultant Chevvy. Chevvy has done a marvellous job of sorting out the music and DVDs being played at the venue. Maltese Hammer arrives. He is soberly dressed. Somehow, he manages to find the loo without assistance before going for a wander around Cardiff to soak up the atmosphere. I am expecting a text message saying that he is lost before the afternoon is out.

I receive a phone call from KUMB interviewee and all-round top bloke Kriss Akabusi. I can’t hear him so I pop outside. I receive an almighty slap on the back. I turn to remonstrate only to discover that it is the man himself! We have a brief chat before he goes back to rejoin his daughter at a more child-friendly location. I quietly hope that the players are half as up for it as Kriss definitely is.

Various moderators, including Lost Hammer, Bonehead, Rio, Amsterhammer and head honcho Up The Junction arrive at different times. I am pleased to note that despite what must have been unbearable temptation, none of them actually hit me for the pun about making Hay while the sun shines, though I decide it’s probably wise not to raise the matter myself just in case. I find myself sat on the stage next to a lovely young lady who nearly falls off, being rescued by my timely intervention. “You nearly overbalanced there” I accurately, if somewhat dully remark. She smiles sweetly and asks if I think its because she’s top heavy. I remark that she looks perfectly balanced to me, though I make a point of spending some time considering the issue. I am pleased to note that, despite what must have been unbearable temptation, she doesn’t actually hit me, though I decide not to risk looking for too much longer in case her rather large boyfriend takes exception.

The area by the stage has now turned into KUMB corner. I inform Jen and AGXM about the weird dream I had experienced a few nights previously. They look alarmed until I tell them that the dream was quite innocent, though I’m sure that those who analyse these things will be able to read something strange into the fact that the aforementioned dream involved them trying to sell me an antique watch.

The atmosphere in the Walkabout heats up as the music improves. Classics from Reef, The Jam, The Beatles and the wonderful “Closing Time” mix of “Bubbles” all make an impact. I am also pleased to note that the DJ, who is not averse to playing a song more than once if it is popular, does not play bloody Build Me Up Buttercup at all. I take this to be a good omen, though such is the superstition involved with big matches, I am forced to concede that I’d probably have taken it as some sort of omen if the DJ had actually played what is after all – and I’ll accept no argument here – officially the world’s worst song ever.

After a brief interlude in another city centre bar during which Amsterhammer, Trifecta and I go in a fruitless search for Northern Paulo I adjourn to the stadium for the match. I am pleased to note that the away season ticket holders have been located in their usual places and that I am sat next to Irritating Bloke (only a nickname – he’s actually ok in reality) as usual. I also note that fellow KUMBers Chim, Kev, and Lost Hammer are in the row behind me.

Well you’ve all seen the match by now so a detailed report on the next 90 minutes would be superfluous. Suffice to say that it’s all a bit of a blur. We start brightly and have what looks a decent shout for a penalty turned down. Newton combines marvellously with Repka whose shot from a narrow angle cannons off the outside of a post, thus denying us possibly our last chance of seeing what Tomas would ever do should he actually score. Mullins picks up a yellow for what we know not. Preston, for their part, have a couple of splendidly-worked set pieces that Anton and Elliott defend well. Our own attempt at an intricate free-kick of our own ends only in embarrassment as Matty and Marlon decide to recreate a scene from the halcyon days of the Keystone Cops. Matty nearly makes amends when played in by Zamora who is holding the ball up well. Matty’s shot is turned over by Nash.

After a bare minute of stoppage time the half comes to an end. The lovely Margot phones me and informs me that the good shout for a penalty was stonewall, cast iron, no question. On my way to test the Millennium Stadium’s facilities I note that the executive box occupied by Wanstead, Sicknote, Sam and family is only a few rows behind me. Sicknote informs me that, having seen the replay on the box’s telly, the good shout for the penalty was definitely NOT a penalty. I try to estimate whether the lovely Margot is likely to be more sober than Sicknote but decide it would be a close run thing even if I were actually in a position myself to judge sobriety in others.

The second half starts and I notice the Preston supporters making some noise for the first time. Elliott plays the ball off a forward. It is an obvious goal kick. Ref Riley awards a corner and the Preston support start banging those plastic things together. The cross comes across and 10K heads off the line with Jimmy stranded. We go up the other end and Marlon shoots. Nash saves but the ball comes out to Bobby. Bobby shoots and the ball is cleared off the line by Mawhiney. The ball rebounds to Marlon whose shot is eventually saved by Nash. It is a moment that has 34,000 holding their heads with the collective single thought that this might have been the moment that we blew it. Thankfully we were wrong.

A ball is played out from the back to Bobby who, continuing his good form of the first half, holds the ball up well and brings Matty into play. Batty heads off towards the byline and pulls the ball back away from goal. Bobby’s finish won’t be the cleanest strike he’ll ever have but he puts it inside the far post well beyond Nash’s dive. We go nuts. I hug the lovely young lady next to me. I hug Irritating Bloke. This isn’t quite as much fun so I hug the lovely young lady again. I am pleased to note that, despite what must have been unbearable temptation, her boyfriend doesn’t actually hit me. I hug Chim, Lost Hammer, Kev and fellow Internet Hammer Chris, but elect not to go back for a third hug from the lovely young lady in case her boyfriend succumbs to what must have been the unbearable temptation to hit me.

I think of my Dad watching at home who would have been nodding his approval of some good old fashioned wing-play. It is true that a defender well-placed to cut out the cross slipped at the vital moment. It is also true that this will often happen when the ball is cut back as defenders have to change direction at pace. I also remember the amount of diving that our opponents got through in the league match at our place so I look on the defender’s slip as a nice example of poetic justice.

Shortly after we nearly double the lead when Bobby is totally unmarked in the centre. Unfortunately he gets under the header and it goes over. It is another moment that has 34,000 holding their heads with the collective single thought that this might have been the moment that we blew it. Thankfully we are wrong again.

Preston have to go forward and they create a couple of half chances – a shot straight down Walker’s throat and another screwed wide. There are substitutions. The tiring Zamora departs to be replaced by Dailly. This prompts much concern from those around me. 10K goes off for Noble. Then comes the moment of sheer horror without which, lets face it, no West Ham match is really complete. A high and hopeful ball is played into the box. Jimmy comes a hell of a long way to claim it and as he lands his momentum carries him out of the box. He lands horribly and it is immediately apparent that the injury is serious, though this doesn’t prevent a Preston forward – Nugent?- unsportingly trying to take a quick free-kick whilst Jimmy is in agony on the ground.

Bywater is summoned from the corner where he has been warming up. It’s hardly ideal that his first action will be to face a free-kick. The kick is a good one but Bywater is equal to it and, although there is the slightest of spills, he is quick to snuff out any hope of a rebound. It is another moment that has 30,000 holding their heads with the collective single thought that this might have been the moment that they blew it. These were Preston fans and, thankfully they are right.

We go into stoppage time and there is to be 7 minutes. The fact that, given Jimmy’s injury, this is probably about right, doesn’t make it any less nerve-racking. In retrospect the seven minutes pass fairly comfortably but at the time it doesn’t feel that way. Finally in the 8th minute Riley decides enough is enough and blows the sweetest whistle any of us will ever hear, and, in another of those nice little coincidences, we end our stint in the second tier in the same manner as we began it with a win against Preston.

We go nuts. I hug the lovely young lady next to me. I hug Irritating Bloke. This still isn’t quite as much fun so I hug the lovely young lady again. I am again pleased to note that, despite what must have been unbearable temptation, her boyfriend doesn’t actually hit me. This is because he is hugging me. I hug Chim, Lost Hammer, Kev and fellow Internet Hammer Chris. I decide that I couldn’t give a monkey’s whether or not the lovely young lady’s boyfriend is likely to succumb to what must have been the unbearable temptation to hit me and go back for another hug.

Grown men are crying. Not me. My tears are totally the result of contact lens equipment malfunction and I will not enter into further debate on the issue. The presentation takes place and I rather optimistically attempt to video the proceedings. I get some fairly good if somewhat unsteady shots before a sea of arms and flags go up in front of me. We are all emotionally drained. The players go and do a half lap of honour in front of the West Ham end. It would be pointless going up the other end as the Preston lot have, not surprisingly, left. I think back to last season and nearly feel sorry for them. Then I think of the lot that boarded the train at Abergavenny and the feeling passes.

The on-pitch celebrations complete I blag my way into Wanstead’s hospitality suite where I hug Wanstead, Sicknote, Sam, Sam’s lovely wife and daughters. Not having eaten all day I do my best to ensure that there is little wastage of the food, not to mention the post-match bubbly and I watch the TV interviews. The stragglers dotted around the suites treat the now-empty stadium to a rendition of “10 Men Couldn’t Carry Lampard”, though my personal favourite is the guy who starts chanting “Where Are Ya?” at the banks of empty seats.

Back to the city centre where I am reunited with Maltese Hammer. We hug eachother. After a swift pint and a short detour to get some painkillers for my now-aching head we go home, Or rather we try to go home. The combined efforts of First Great Western Trains and South West Trains beggar belief. An already-full Paddington train arrives. Hundreds pile on but there is little chance of our joining them. Since the next London train isn’t for another 90 minutes, we board the 7.30 Bristol train with the intention of changing at Bristol for London. Fine plan though this is we are thwarted by a fault on the train. Of course since we are all football fans, nobody deems us worthy of being party to this small piece of information and we sit on the train for nearly an hour before anyone bothers to let us know what’s happening. We eventually get to Bristol where we have another long wait for a Paddington train. It is already full on arrival but we manage to find a square inch or two between the coaches to stand on. At Bath an American family are horrified to discover that they will have to share Guantanamo Bay –style conditions with “soccer” fans. The Mother aggressively barges Maltese Hammer out of the way as she boards the train giving the excuse that she is merely “protecting her little girl.” Since the “little” girl in question has clearly been taking slimming tips from Dawn French, this comment is, frankly laughable. Despite unbearable temptation, I somehow refrain from suggesting that the mother might better protect her “little” girl by feeding her something other than burgers for a while.

The Americans are engaged in conversation by a Hammer called Joe who, it is fair to say, is somewhat refreshed. He informs them that promotion means £30,000,000 to the club. He deems this figure to be so important that he repeats it. Almost incessantly. Eventually he asks what the Americans were doing in the UK. On being informed that the family have been visiting Bath for the weekend, Joe imparts a piece of tourist information the likes of which Chevvy would have been proud. “Bath? You don’t wanna go there. You wanna go to Dagenham”.

The trip home eventually takes something around six hours in unspeakably awful conditions and I roll in about 1.20am, exhausted but happy.

This being the last match report of the season it would be amiss of me to end without a list of thank-you’s, especially to all those with whom I have travelled to away matches. In no particular order, hats off to Romford, Maltese, Irritating Bloke, the Lovely Margot, the lovely Jen, the lovely AGXM, the lovely Northern Bird, Sam and his lovely family, Trevor & Alan (no not THAT Trevor & Alan), Sicknote, Bonehead, UTJ, Kriss A, Peter Stewart, the lovely Milly and the lovely Pat in the press lounge, Chevvy, Gent, Chim, Paddy The Greek, Lost Hammer, Stockwell Pete, Rio and Wanstead. To anyone I’ve forgotten sorry.

Final special mention must go to the lovely girlfriend for putting up with all the football related stuff with good humour above & beyond the call of duty. You now have my undivided attention. Until August.

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Player Ratings

Jimmy Walker
Not overly tested but the incident in which he got injured could so easily have cost us dear.


Tomas Repka
So farewell then Tomas. Finished with the sort of disciplined performance that we know he is capable of. If only that shot had gone in!


Chris Powell
The veteran put in another accomplished effort and seemed to love every minute.


Elliott Ward
Another decent show. Pundits always used to say “football’s all about partnerships”. Whether or not you believe this adage, it cannot be denied that the emergence of the Ward/Ferdinand pairing has been a major influence on the latter half of the season.


Anton Ferdinand
Must be looking forward to waving his medal at big brother when next they meet. Must be a strong candidate for most improved player.


Nigel Reo-Coker
Got through a prodigious amount of work though there was the odd misplaced pass from time to time but generally sound.


Hayden Mullins
Another strong outing in his proper position though it could be said he was lucky to stay on the pitch. I’ve seen others walk for what he did when fouled by O’Neil. Notably Repka.


Matthew Etherington
As ever this season he drifted in and out of the game but when he was in he always looked dangerous. Clever cut back for the goal and there was some good link-up play with Zamora throughout.


Shaun Newton
Another who ran his legs off and the clearance off the line was magnificent.


Bobby Zamora
I’m made up for the lad. Confidence is everything in Bobby’s game and here we saw a player in form and he knew it. Held the ball up superbly and was always looking to bring the support players from midfield into play. We’ll forgive him the missed header that made us endure seven of the longest minutes we’ll ever experience just this once!


Marlon Harewood
Was a constant thorn in the side of the Preston defence without ever quite dominating them totally.


Substitutes


Christian Dailly
(Replaced Zamora, 74) Won just about everything he went for in the few minutes he was on.


Mark Noble
(Replaced Newton, 82) Came on as a fresh pair of legs for 10K late on. Not enough time to exert a major influence.


Stephen Bywater
(Replaced Walker, 87) Got an unexpected outing due to Jimmy’s injury. Coped well with the resulting free-kick which was as hard as it got for him.


Carl Fletcher
Did not play.


Teddy Sheringham
Did not play.



Match Facts

Referee: M.Riley.

Attendance: 70275.

Man of the Match: Bobby Zamora.

West Ham United

Goals: Bobby Zamora 57                  

Booked: Hayden Mullins 28 Jimmy Walker 87        .

Sent Off: None sent off.     .

Preston North End

Nash, Mawene, Davis, Lucketti, Hill, O'Neil, Sedgwick, McKenna, Lewis, Nugent, Cresswell.

Substitutes: Agyemag (Sedgwick 71), Etuhu (O'Neil 81), Alexander (Mawene 87).

Subs not used: Ward, Broomes.

Goals: .

Booked: Hill (31), Mawene (62).

Sent Off: None sent off..

 
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