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Sunday, 13th August 2000

West Ham United 1
Athletico Bilbao 2

by Richard Osbourne

I hadn't seen the ground since our last game against Leeds last season. With new ground developments, injured players healed, the youth getting older and two new signings of well tried and tested stars of the game, the anticipation of the pre-season game was immense. Apart from the port-a-cabin shop being removed, a lot of billboards and a large yellow crane, there wasn't really much to see; but who cares, I was there to see a friendly game of football between our beloved and Athletico Bilbao.

The ground was about 1/3 full with quite good humour flying about the place. Quite a few Spanish fans turned out and hats off to them. Everyone cheered the opposition which was nice and friendly for a change and the ceremonies started at about 3.00pm. So on with the show.

We lined up with obvious talent missing, but enough to keep us entertained. Shaka was between the sticks and a nice sight it was too. The back three consisted of Stimac, Margas and Potts. Wing backs we started with Winterburn who got a very warm reception and Charles. Midfield consisted of Carrick, Tricky Trev, and of course Dickie Boy. Up front yet another warm reception was made for Davor Suker, dubbed Sukerman by the billboards and our very own Frederick Kanoute.

At the kick off the game came alight. PDC was up to his trickery, went past two players laid a nice ball off to Kanoute who with blistering pace went by another defender, shimmied passed another only to be denied a shot from a sliding tackle just outside the six yard box. A nice cross came over with the defence beaten. At the far post Margas and Stimac went steaming on in together, clashed heads and the ball flew just the wrong side of the post.

Everyone was working hard; fighting back well into our own half and linked up with Kanoute very well. With those two up front wreaking havoc and PDC just behind being a magician with the ball. Free kicks on the edge of the 18 yard box were in abundance. Neither defence wanted anyone near the goal.

PDC hit the wall and Suker just lobbed it over the bar from our free kicks and the game was becoming very open. Flowing play up and down the field. And then it happened.

The Spanish prone to diving were not getting decisions their way. Tackles got harder and more rash with players getting hurt. The ref tried in vain to quieten the game down and stop tempers flaring after the first 35 minutes but to no avail. PDC was getting kicked all over the park, Kanoute was getting held back from any run he made, Tricky was in the thick of it all giving as good as he got. The friendly was becoming *very* unfriendly.

Stimac sent their number 17 crashing into the boards after a few rash challenges and that was then end. Tempers flared, PDC was pushing numerous Bilbao players and was even having a go at Tricky when he tried to intervene. Elsewhere scuffles had broken out whilst the game had stopped; at one point an entire mass of players swarmed around and it really looked like coming to blows. The ref ran off the pitch, which seemed the safest option to me. He then returned after speaking to Harry and obviously saying something like "Get that nightmare of a bloke Di Canio off this field and take that big lummox Stimac with him, or I'll have to get the cards flying". Half time was blown seconds after with tempers and confusion still reigning.

The second half saw a very subdued start by us shortly followed by a Bilbao goal. A neat corner stuck away with a nice header.

We made a plethora of substitutions. We had a young defender wearing the number 12 shirt (Mapeza) who was excellent. Very composed on the ball, great turn of pace, tackled, headed and defended really well. He reminded me of a young Foe but was good at defending not midfield.

Dicksy came on and to be honest looked like a fish out of water. He has lost his fitness and drive which did not seem a fitting end to a WH legend on his last game.

Suker made way for Kitson who got our goal mid way during the second half. A free kick (there seemed to be a lot of these) just outside the 18 yard box, crossed in and found Sicknote's bonce. We will no doubt not see him until Christmas complaining of a headache (only joshing).

Bilbao pulled ahead again just before full time with an identical goal to their first. In all the football was atrocious. Too many rash challenges and not enough of playing the game.

For me Man of The Match had to go to Messr Nigel Winterburn; I never thought I'd say that at Upton Park. His work rate was 100 percent, his challenges and distribution were excellent and even had a couple of attempts on goal. On the bright side, it was obvious that we missed Lampard, Rio, Cole and the Pearces. With the dynamic play from our front boys and things looking a lot more solid, things can only get better from here.

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