Ground hopping: Wembley 19th May 2012 Football League Championship Playoffs–Blackpool v West Ham United

For the 2nd time in 2 years, I had the chance to go to the game that is called the richest game in football. The playoff final for the last promotion place to the Premiership is said to be worth somewhere between £85 and £100 million to the winners. Quite some prize isn’t it?

The game was between West Ham and Blackpool, neither of which teams I support. Wet Sham, sorry West Ham are the nearest team to where I live, but I’m no fan of theirs. The reason I went was my cousin Chris was coming over from Ireland to go to the game. Chris has lived in Ireland for the last 30 years, so things like electricity and trains are new to him- only joking Chris.

As well as Chris coming over, Michelle was coming down for the weekend, so she was dragged kicking and screaming to the game. We had arranged to meet Chris at Wembley as he was determined to soak up the atmosphere. Michelle and I had better ways to pass the time on a Saturday morning.

By the time Michelle and I arrived at Liverpool Street station, it was packed with West Ham fans going to the game. Many had been drinking heavily and the station was littered with discarded empty beer cans. There were so many going to Wembley that the Underground station had to be closed intermittently to ease the over crowding. There was a strange atmosphere at the station, it was a mixture of anticipation, excitement and an air of danger and menace. It was a strange atmosphere.

We got a tube to Baker Street and changed there for a tube to Wembley. To say it was rather full was an understatement- typical on a Wembley match day. The carriage we were in was full of West Ham fans in good humour singing the only song West Ham fans know – “I’m forever blowing bubbles”. For a club with 40,000 fans at Wembley and a long history, you’d have thought they might have more than one song.

Coming out of Wembley Park Tube station is the best sight in football. The sight of Wembley Way thronged with football fans.

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Reaching the top of Wembley Way, we made our way to the Bobby Moore Statute outside the ground where we met my cousin. Bobby Moore, obviously being West Ham’s most famous son as well as the only Englishman to lift the football World Cup. The sigh of father’s and son’s there of both teams, taking pictures in front of the statute was a change from the ominous air of tension and threat emanating from a small contingent of the West Ham fans. Blackpool fans on the other hand were there as family days out, with lots of multi generational groups from parents, children, grand parents and even great grandparents.

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Getting into the ground and the first shock of the day, the stewards were actually friendly and helpful. They will no doubt be sacked for this! I had walked into the ground with a bottle of water in my hand. instead of confiscating the bottle, the stewards handed me a plastic pint glass to pour the water into! I’ve never encountered this helpfulness before.

Up to level five and our seats. Looking round the ground, it appeared that Blackpool had not sold out their allocation. There were several thousand seats empty in the Blackpool end. West Ham, not surprisingly had sold all their 40,000 tickets.

The game itself started off slowly, with early on Blackpool having a couple of chances before West Ham gradually took control and it came as no surprise that after 35 minutes West Ham took the lead. This provoked sporadic violence throughout the Blackpool end as West Ham fans in their celebrated the goal.

I can understand why West Ham fans would buy the tickets in the Blackpool end if they could not get them in their own end, but given the 10,000 or so empty seats, one can only wonder why the West Ham fans did not choose to sit away from the Blackpool fans and again, the over the top celebrations by West Ham fans in the Blackpool end could only be designed to provoke reaction. It made for an uncomfortable atmosphere for the rest of the half as fights broke out all across the end. I understand the West ham fans continued to cause trouble under the stand on the concourse. There are a number of clips of trouble on You tube already of this.

Half time entertainment for me was provided by the drunk Blackpool fan stood/ slumped/ falling in front of us. He probably won’t remember much about his day at Wembley apart from his fall down the steps when he hit his head on the concrete. Too be honest, he probably should have been removed from the ground for his own safety, but the stewards were seemingly incapable of doing anything, even after he fell down the steps and was lying dazed on the ground. It begs the question as to what the stewards were employed to do? They failed to deal with the violence, they failed to deal with  the drunk or get him medical help, they did not even know where the seats on our tickets were.

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The 2nd half produced some better football from Blackpool, starting with a goal 1 minute into the 2nd half by Tom Ince, the son of former West Ham  player Paul Ince. For 30+ minutes, Blackpool were on top and its only as a result of poor finishing and bad luck that they did not score again. The inevitable happened, West Ham took the game to Blackpool in the last few minutes and Richard Vaz Te scored 2 minutes from time to win the game for West Ham.

The only surprise at the end of the game was that Carlton Cole did not get man of the match, he was outstanding for West Ham.

Time to leave Wembley and head off for a swift beer before heading home. The walk from the stadium to the tbe stadium was spoilt by West Ham fans deliberately goading and provoking a response from Blackpool fans. Quite why these neanderthals were not in the ground celebrating their team’s win and watching them lift the trophy is probably a good answer to the sort of “fan” they really are.

We decided the thing to do to get a beer would be head back to Hamilton Hall at Liverpool Street for a pint, but owing to the behaviour of the West Ham fans before the game, the bar was closed on police advice until around 8pm. So we headed back to Ilford and found a little Irish Bar – Jonjos where we had a quick pint or 4 whilst the Lenister v Ulster Heineken Cup final was on the TV. We then went to the Great Spoon of Ilford for a last beer or was that another 4 whilst watching Chelsea win the European Champions Cup. We finally made it home around 00:30 – not bad considering we left Wembley at 16:50 and were only having one beer on the way home. At least tea was waiting when we got home- a pre prepared chilli to heat up and eat.

Waking up on Sunday morning, I learned that trains out of Liverpool St on the Saturday night had been disrupted owing to disorder at Chadwell Heath. could this have been from West Ham fans? I’ll leave you to decide on that.

Wembley Stadium is somewhere I have now been to at least 6 times since it was rebuilt. The stadium itself seems to get better and better. Sadly the transport situation does not match the quality of the stadium itself.