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Sunday, 13th August 2000

West Ham United 2
Athletico Bilbao 1

by Graeme Howlett

Today was a tale of two occasions. On the one hand there was Julian's swansong, and on the other a fairly serious pre-season workout. So it's perhaps only fair to report on the afternoons events as two seperate occasions.

On the game: Taking Julian's appearance out of the equation, the game was a serious test for both sides approaching the forthcoming season. Not a lot was known about the visitors - they're hardly one of the glamour clubs of Spanish football after all - despite fielding one or two Spanish internationals.

One of the first things you notice is that the Bilbao side consists only of Spanish players. Even further, they only consist of Spanish players from the Basque region. I can't think of any other team this side of Celtic's European Cup winning squad of 1967 who have adhered to this kind of home grown policy with any kind of success. But success Bilbao have certainly enjoyed - regulars in the top six of the Primera Liga of late, only narrowly missing out on the championship three seasons ago.

The Hammers went into the game missing Lampard and Ferdinand, with Joey Cole also a somewhat surprising omission. Let's hope there's nothing sinister behind that.

It was the first chance for many fans to see the new signings in action. Nigel Winterburn and Davor Suker were introduced to the crowd before kick off (we'd already met Freddy before). Despite the reservations of many Winterburn turned out to be one of our better performers on the day, offering a Julianesque performance to the delight of the Boleyn faithful.

The game itself was hardly played at a frenetic pace; neither side wanted to risk an injury this close to the start of the season; blood and thunder it was not.

Well, not in the first half an hour anyway. Then things started to get interesting. A succession of niggly fouls - admittedly by both sides - saw the game turn ugly. This resulted in a free for all inside the Bilbao half. Stimac and Di Canio both threw (and landed) punches on opposition chins, and for a moment anarchy ruled as there were little pockets of action everywhere. The referee, who was quite clearly unable to control the situation decided to call for the removal of the main perpetrators - Di Canio, Stimac and Bilbao's Etxeberria, much to Di Canio's - and Harry Redknapp's - disgust. Di Canio eventually walked to tumultuous applause before throwing his captains armband to the floor in disgust. Still, the crowd loved it all - maybe we were getting our 25 quids worth after all.

No goals at the break; the second half was brought to life by the arrival of the hero Dicks, who settled into one of the three centre back spots, with Steve Potts moving up into midfield.

But almost immediately the Spanish took the lead. I can't give you much information as I was still making my way back from the bar at this point. Suffice to say they scored from a corner.

Dicks nearly brought the house down when a 20 yard free-kick curled round the wall and looked to be heading for the top corner, but Bilbao's keeper Aranzubia has obviously forgotten to read the script and saved well to the disappointment of all.

Paul Kitson, the forgotten man of Upton Park levelled the scores shortly after his introduction in place of Davor Suker. A Sinclair free kick found Kitson at the back door and he nodded home off the far post.

But with seconds remaining Bilbao scored the decisive goal. Yet another corner produced havoc in the Hammers box and Yeste stole in to nod home the winner.

It wasn't all gloom and doom; there were still some notable individual performances. Nigel Winterburn immediately endeared himself to the crowd with a Dicks like performance - he threw himself into every challenge and looked fit as a fiddle, belying his age.

Freddy Kanoute was also outstanding - twisting and turning defenders, with the occasional nutmeg for good measure, he was the chief tormentor. I can't wait to see him play this season.

Michael Carrick also played well. So strong for such a young lad, his intelligent play led to many a Hammers move. Never too clever (like Joe Cole sometimes), just did the simple stuff - to great effect.

We also saw a glimpse of Norman Mapeza in the second half. The Zimbabwean international captain certainly looked accomplished with the ball at his feet, but I felt that he lost too many aerial challenges. One for Harry to mull over.

So all in all a good workout, but certainly room for improvement.

Team: Hislop, Winterburn, Charles, Stimac, Potts, Margas, Carrick, Sinclair, Di Canio, Kanoute, Suker

Subs: Dicks (Di Canio), Mapeza (Stimac), Kitson (Suker), Defoe (Kanoute), Jorge (Charles), Ferrante (Dicks)

Referee: Barry Knight

Attendance: 14,224

On Julian: To be honest, we all would have turned up today even if we'd been playing Accrington Stanley. It wasn't about the game, it was about paying tribute to one of the greatest players we've ever had the pleasure to witness.

My worst fears were confirmed upon arrival in my seat in the Chicken Run. Looking around I'd guess there were no more than 15,000 in the ground - a direct result of the organising committee's decision to charge 25 across the board to get in. It was a bad decision (as we've said for weeks on kumb); the ground could - and should have been full for the great mans send off.

That aside, we were granted a last glimpse of the Terminator when the players came out for the second half. There he was - in the claret and blue once again - and to be honest not looking an awful lot different to the last time. Head freshly shaven, shirt outside the shorts, this was Dicksy as we'll all remember him.

He'd said previously that he'd play for no more than 20 minutes, as the old knee couldn't take much more than that. In the end he was on for nearly 30, and when Dicksy left the field there wasn't a bum left on seat as he received a richly deserved standing ovation.

The only thing missing was the archetypal crunching tackle. Every time a Bilbao player came near Dicksy with the ball the crowd were urging him to get stuck in - but Julian is obviously far wiser than he may have been in previous years. Still, that left foot was as sweet as ever, and several sixty yard passes found their man as they always did.

So Julian - thanks for the memories. There'll never be another quite like you, that's for sure.

"Bring Dicksy and Bonzo back, unstoppable!"
Alan Hicks

"I thought it was yesterday again...I can't believe I won't see you play (football anyway) anymore...just 'thanks mate' doesn't seem enough!...."

"Dicksy - thanks so much for all the memories you gave to us. Who can forget all those crunching tackles and that sweet left foot of yours. Players of your calibre, commitment and loyalty are a rarity these days. You're a living legend. I, and I'm sure every Hammers fan, wish you the best of luck in your golfing career. Knowing your attitude and application you will be as successful a golfer as you were a footballer.

"Thank you for everything you have done for us. Don't forget - come back and see us regularly, you will get the biggest cheer of the day!"
Sally Newbury

"Julian - thanks for the memories, you brought a lot of joy, not just to the Boleyn faithful, but to Hammers fans all around the world. All the best."
Robin Burt (Los Angeles)

"Dicksy, you're the man."
Paul Ryan

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