Hammers lost their bottle - but it's been a fantastic season

Wow. We've been beaten twice, hailed as legends, fans branded as thugs and blown our chances of automatic European qualification...and it's down to Manchester United to save us. All I can say is, don't hold your breath folks.

If that isn't draining enough, the mind-numbing last half hour at Stoke has left me, and I am sure plenty of you out there, drained and crushed. And it's still been our best season in living memory--well, the last 23 years (I refuse point blank to use the term Premier League record).

Before I go any further, I must just say thanks to Slav and the team for their efforts this season, some wonderful, exciting football and a return to the style that we all wanted so much under Big Sam's era. The transformation has been amazing, as the records have tumbled.

But - and there's always a but isn't there? - it has taken me a while to get over what happened at Stoke, how on earth we threw away a match that we totally dominated. Three times as many chances, more possession, vastly more shots on target etc, etc. But we lost. Somehow it reminded me of the good old days under Ron Greenwood!

Stoke is not the place to be after a bad defeat. Access to and from the stadium is a joke, and we always seem to be left to walk back to the station because of the lack of transport. Well over an hour that took, and the trek did nothing for my mood.

Mind you, my lad, munching chips and marching behind me, amazingly refused to be downcast. It had been a brilliant season, he reckoned, and we had achieved so much and looked so good. Even his mates on text were saying the same...best season of their lives was the theme. And for the 30-somethings that they are, I can see the point.

My boy wasn't even born the last time we won something meaningful, although he was nearly there, my good lady being heavily pregnant at the time we beat Arsenal at Wembley in the 1980 Cup Final. So why have I felt so downbeat ever-since Stoke?

We were so close to something I have never seen, that is West Ham qualifying for Europe because of our league position. Not for when we have been runners-up in something or had less free kicks against us than someone else (what was that all about?)

And despite going ahead and strolling, it didn't happen. A poor, awkward Stoke side managed to score two of their three on-target chances. And that is the point, I suppose. Our expectation level had been built up so much, so much hype, so much chatter about the golden future, that when it all went pear-shaped, the pain is so much more.

In the end even a draw at Stoke wouldn't have been enough. So we now depend on a dysfunctional Manchester United to beat Crystal Palace, a result I would never normally wish for such is my inbuilt dislike of everything Man U.

This is a arrogant club who cannot get to matches on time, cannot make sure their ground is safe before they open the gates (what ever happened to the security sweep that should take place before games) and frankly, are not good enough these days to get into the Champions League any more. But their sense of entitlement is breathtaking and annoying.

Because of the delayed Bournemouth game, they now have a situation where they know they can only slightly improve their qualification round entry level for the Europa League if they beat Palace. They are already condemned to the lesser of the two UEFA competitions, something they would not have known on Sunday.

Palace are on a hiding to nothing, and they will throw everything they have at United. It could easily go pear-shaped again, so as I said, don't hold your breath.

And anyway, me and the lad decided on that tiring trek through the streets of downtown Stoke that we can do without all the hassle of Thursday-Sunday matches plus all the grief of difficult train journeys from the north at obscure times as well as all the usual family commitments that will be thrown into disarray by constant Sunday games. You can tell it wasn't the best stroll in the sun the pair of us have had!

And despite the fact that we managed to play like muppets and lost to Swansea, it had been such a good week thus far. The Swansea match provided a really good day out, the last Boleyn Saturday match in the sun, too.

We joined the thousands on the Bobby Moore statue, got our pictures taken and exchanged songs and banter with the vast crowds outside the Boleyn opposite. Not a hint of trouble, Swansea's coach was long into the club compound and there was nothing but good humour. No police horses, no kettling of Green Street top and bottom and no pictures being flashed world-wide of happy fans doing anything else but enjoy themselves.

Sadly not the same a few days later. I accept that there were more folk on the Barking Road ahead of the Manchester United game, but not that many more. What happened on Tuesday night was very different.

I have read thousands of words, found as much video of the incidents as is possible on YouTube, fanzine websites and Facebook, to realise this was not just a stereotypical football riot. Something more was afoot.

Firstly, lets just say that there is absolutely no excuse for throwing stuff at team coaches, however much people may felt they were maligned, provoked and let down by the Old Bill. All that distasteful business lasted about a couple of minutes, I have searched and can find only one image of a glass bottle being thrown. Despite the |Telegraph making a point of one glass being hurled(and highlighted)on their website. The rest looked like plastic water bottles and cans of cheap lager.(What a waste!)

Now those pictures flashed world-wide from the only big game being televised that night, seen by billions. The damage to our image was terrible. Something Lady B must have been fuming about after she has been polishing the brand name so vigorously these past few years.

I have seen it called lazy journalism...it was more easy journalism. The country, and some of the world's, top sports writers were assembled inside the Boleyn, none of them wanting to have to churn out so much stuff ahead of the game.

There were mitigating circumstances, and the Daily Mail--to their credit--did analyse this the day after, with a former colleague of mine, season ticket holder Lee Clayton, writing an excellent personal account of being kettled in the disgraceful scenes in Green Street.

But on the night, the mere fact that one of the world's biggest clubs had seen their coach bombarded with cans and bottles, was a big enough story in it's own right. Sadly, there is no getting away from that. Those maybe 40-50 or so "fans" on the corner of Green Street did nothing for our good name.

I have seen stories of how many West Ham fans tried to stop the flow of missiles, helped distressed locals --mums and kids-- away from the trouble. They are the real fans, people who care and have a heart and I praise them. Sadly, that didn't detract from the substance of the story.

The police have got a lot to answer for. Police horses charging into crowd on a London street is not on. The police did not manage or control the crowds, they did not escort United's coach or advise them of the potential problem. If they were coming from the docks area, why could they not have been re-routed via Stratford and East Ham to avoid the growing dangerous crush.

Man U's attitude, much the same as at Spurs recently, seemed to be, we will arrive when we want because we are Manchester United.

For a change I had arrived at the ground via East Ham and Wakefield Street, having gone one station more so that I could go to see my old fella's house in Caledon Road, the East Ham market my mum used to take me too, and then the last walk down Wakefield Street to the back of the Chicken Run that me and my dad used to take.

With no family left now in the area, it was probable the last time I would make those walks. It was just saying goodbye to the area. I am sure you all understand.

When I got to the Chicken Run, there was the usual dozens of police vans lined up with the usual bunch of coppers waiting to be deployed. We walked to the Tesco Express opposite Nathans on the Barking Road to buy a few beers, everywhere else was rammed, and many fans were removing booze from the shelves with industrial efficiency. But at that point there was no trouble, everybody was in a good mood. Until we saw that green flare go up near the statue.

Everybody around us made sure we walked the other way into the ground, away from trouble. People were arriving breathless and upset by the crush and what they had seen. The police behind the East stand, though were still sitting in their vans, having not been sent to manage the crowd on the Barking Road as would have seemed sensible.

What goes on inside the ground is the responsibility of the club, and someone may well want to ask about a few water bottles thrown at he irritatingly provocative David de Gea and the two morons that ran onto the pitch.

Everything outside is the responsibility of the police, the local authority and the courts. So all this nonsense from mischievous Spurs bloggers about points deductions is rubbish. I could ask, how many points should be deducted for stabbing rival fans on Tottenham High Road?

David Sullivan should have known better than let his annoyance at United's ridiculous late arrival get the better of him, by saying what he did on the radio. But I did feel a little sorry for him. He was trying to help radio and TV fill the 45 minutes delay, and produced a really impressive interview for Sky on the pitch with Graeme Souness and Jamie Redknapp. Our co-chairman came across really well.

Thankfully he apologised the following day and David Gold and Lady B were quick to condemn what had happened, with the world watching.

Nothing, though, could deter from the magnificent match, our best performance of the season and a fitting last senior match at the Boleyn.

Despite the criticism, the after-match farewell was also OK, given that it had been reduced in length by Man Utd's late arrival and the fireworks had to go off first to comply with the law that forbids them after 11.00pm. I felt Ben and Bianca kept things going well considering the pouring rain. Sad though that Billy Bonds had to turn round and go home because of the crowd problems.

And so to Stoke. So much expectation, hope and belief. In the end it was bitter failure despite being our best finishing position since 2002 and highest goals tally in those 23 years, plus the best points tally since 1999.

I cannot thank and praise the team enough. They have given us a magical season, and it will not be ruined by a few mindless people who threw stuff at the coach. But even then I will not be preached at on morality by granny fancier Wayne Rooney. Sometimes you cannot make it up.

And as for the attack on the coach, our friends at Manchester City from the Blue Moon Rising fanzine were quick to produce a video of Man Utd fans hurling bottles at a Man City coach recently. I believe the saying is "Let he without sin throw the first stone".

Or in this case, bottle.

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