The trip to London had already been planned before West Ham drew Sheffield United at home in the League Cup. I had pencilled in trips to Oxford United and Ebbsfleet before choosing which match to attend on the Tuesday night nearer the time. In an ideal world, Bolton would have drawn Leyton Orient or West Ham away from home, but we ended up facing Crewe. After getting over this disappointment there were a few possibilities with the likes of Brentford and Charlton being at home, but I opted to visit the Hammers as their Upton Park home is another ground which soon will be no longer with us.
The club are of course just a couple of seasons away from moving to the Olympic Stadium in Stratford, which coincidentally was where I was staying for the weekend. I had views of Leyton Orient’s ground from one side of the hotel and the Olympic Stadium on the other side.
After spending the day in the hotel room whilst my sister and mum went out shopping I managed to convince the younger Gibbo to come along to the match with me. I think she only wanted to go so she could see Jussi Jaaskelainen and Sam Allardyce… more or less the same reason that I was going. There was also Kevin Nolan. King Kevin himself. I had dug out my 2007 Bolton home shirt that has his name on the back. Granted, it was a little tight but I felt such an occasion warranted the effort. It was typical that he wouldn’t be featuring.
Other than the plethora of former Wanderers now at Upton Park, what made this fixture even more inviting was the recent history between the Hammers and the Blades. In 2006, West Ham somehow pulled off the signings of Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano, who have since gone on to play for Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Barcelona and Juventus between them. Tevez’s goals in particular practically kept the Hammers in the Premier League while Sheffield ended up being relegated on the final day of the season at home to Wigan. It then transpired that there were some issues regarding third party ownership when Tevez was signed for the London club. Rather than having points deducted from that crucial campaign – in turn saving the Blades – the Hammers were just fined £5.5 million.
The case rumbled on with Sheffield demanding compensation of up to £45 million citing profit losses and a drop in gates following two relegations. The clubs reached an agreement where West Ham would fork out £20 million to Sheffield, with the final payment arriving just over a year ago.
We left the hotel room and walked a matter of seconds to reach the DLR station at Stratford. From there it was down a couple of stops to West Ham where we then changed on to the District Line and headed on to Upton Park. The street stalls were all selling Carlos Tevez masks and flags and the home fans seemed split in opinion as to whether this was a good thing. In other news, my sister was asking me where the Green Street Elite were and insisted on repeating the phrase “Hello, is that West Ham?” following a recent BBC Three documentary which filmed the Manchester City firm attempting to arrange a meet up with the West Ham firm in the outskirts of Stockport.
There was a large queue at the Ticket Office with many of the home fans opting to book tickets in advance, picking them up on the night. I was tempted to do this, but thought it would make more sense to just pay on the turnstile which worked out well. We walked around the perimeter of the ground before choosing to sit in the top of the Bobby Moore Stand, more for the name than anything.
Opposite was the Sir Trevor Brooking Stand which was built in 1995 to replace the North Bank terrace. The stand is comprised of two tiers and the away fans are always housed at this end of the ground. The Alpari Stand is the most modern at the Boleyn Ground having been opened by the Queen back in 2001. It holds 15,000 spectators and holds a hotel alongside boardrooms and executive areas. The oldest and smallest end of the ground is the East Stand which was built in 1969. West Ham have called Upton Park their home since 1904, nine years after the club’s formation as Thames Ironwork FC.
The last few matches that I had been to had been pretty boring. I seem to reach a period during each season where the quality of football is poor, the experience is dull and I have to get myself along to another match to try and get back into the swing of things. This game was another one which failed to impress as it dragged on all night, until it was decided on penalties.
Speaking to some of the Sheffield fans on Twitter they expected a large travelling contingency from Yorkshire for this match as it was the first meeting between the two sides since the Tevez saga. A total of 1,385 Blades fans made the trip to the capital to see their side match a team two divisions above them in the pyramid.
Teddy Sheringham was on the pitch pre-match helping to warm the players up. I had seen his son Charlie play for Ebbsfleet the day before at Ebbsfleet and he had a truly awful afternoon in front of goal. I was hoping Teddy could get more out of the Hammers players otherwise it would be a long night.
Enner Valencia was making his first start for the Hammers following his summer move from Mexico after he impressed for Ecuador in the World Cup. He had a decent run on eight minutes, but the Sheffield defence dealt with him before former Wigan Athletic midfielder Mohamed Diame headed well wide. Diame is another player I have a soft spot for following his time up here in the North West.
The away side themselves came close when Jose Baxter and Marc McNulty linked. Baxter threaded through to McNulty who bared down on goal. Defender Winston Reid was forced to make a crucial block before Crafg Alcock fired wide from the resulting corner.
Spurred on by a home crowd, Sam Allardyce’s side then piled the pressure on Sheffield. In the space of 14 first-half minutes, goalkeeper Mark Howard was forced into saves from Enner Valencia, Mohamed Diame, Ravel Morrison and Reece Burke.
The pressure paid off on 40 minutes when Diego Poyet crossed from the right and it was met by the head of Diafro Sakho. It was a lead which the Hammers took into the half time interval. It wasn’t just the players who were given brief respite; the fans momentarily paused their abuse towards each other to catch their breaths.
Sheffield had the first opportunity of the second half when Bob Harris stole the ball off Diame and played it out with to Ryan Flynn. The left wing cross went towards McNulty who couldn’t get enough on his header to test the mighty Jussi Jaasklelainen.
It was a sign of things to come and the Blades were level on 58 minutes. Another cross from Harris to McNulty saw the ball hit the left leg of Winston Reid which took it past Jaaskelainen. The goal pumped up the visitors and they looked the most likely to grab a second as the match progressed.
Ricardo Vaz Te – who I will always remember for scoring a last minute equaliser for Bolton in the UEFA Cup at Guimaraes – soon started making his presence known and he forced a good save out of Howard with a stinging effort.
As the final ten minutes approached Alcock headed over for Sheffield before Howard was in action again, this time keeping out Stewart Downing. Mauro Zarate and Valencia also had opportunities to win the match for West Ham, but it went to extra time much to the disappointed of us two who really wanted to get back to the hotel for some sleep.
Valencia had another chance on 98 minutes and then local lad Mark Noble tried his luck from distance. In truth, neither side looked like they wanted to win the match and penalties were the outcome.
Both sides converted their first four spot kicks before Valencia saw his effort saved by Howard. It was then down to Michael Doyle to win the match for the Blades and he successfully slotted past Jaaskelainen. As the home fans around us slammed down their seats and stomped out of the ground, the lot from Yorkshire at the other end of the ground were having the time of their lives.
We walked back down Green Street towards Upton Park train station where we cunningly managed to jump the long queue. I saw two Sheffield United fans having the barrier opened for them by police and we swiftly followed on behind them. The two officers stopped us in our tracks and I asked “Can we not go through with them, no?” in a strong Yorkshire accent. You see, I had been practising my Yorkshire accent ahead of moving to York in a couple of weeks time. The officer on the left was convinced, asking us if we were Sheffield fans. I of course said yes and we were allowed through. Our cover was blown though when they saw us swiping our Oyster Cards just a few metres into the building. I don’t think they were that bothered anyway, they just wanted to get all Northerners out of the vicinity.
A quick change at West Ham, then back on the DLR to Stratford and we were back at the hotel room. The kettle had already been boiled – probably at the end of the 90 minutes as it took so long to make a brew with a travel kettle – and I enjoyed a nice cup of tea in bed. I was pretty pleased with myself as I had finally ticked Upton Park off my list after threatening to do so on many occasions. Engineering works had always halted my plans to follow Bolton or Wigan down to this part of London. Unfortunately it’s probably the last time I’ll see the ground at Upton Park as the club will be blowing bubbles in Stratford when they move there in 600 days.
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 213 miles
- ADMISSION: £10 as a student
- PROGRAMME PRICE: £3.50