West Ham United v Chelsea
Sunday 1st March 2008, 4pm
I always enjoy visiting Upton Park as my team (Chelsea) usually puts on a good performance. For our visit on 2nd March 2008, we hadn't managed to get tickets as they went very quickly but luckily blagged a couple on the morning of the match from people who couldn't make it for one reason or another. Result!
Being lazy so-and-sos, we got to our seats just as the PA was blaring out "Bubbles". Great seats this time, ten rows back, slap behind the goal. Not that we needed them as our entire end stood for 90 minutes – so did the Hammers to our right. I must say that the grounds and the stewards in London seem to be a bit more relaxed about standing during games recently, especially in the ends and for big games. This is to be commended in my view; it leads to less antagonism, a much better atmosphere and those who really want to sit down during the game tend to sit along the sides anyway. Long may this practice continue. The clubs in the North East (esp. Middlesbrough and Newcastle) seem to be an exception to this for some reason with some pretty heavy handed stewarding but I digress. . .
The rest of the ground is quite impressive now, with the exception of the old East Stand but with the exception of Man Utd and Arsenal now, most grounds have at least one naff looking stand. The West stand is massive – if the rest of the ground was to be developed along the same lines it would be a magnificent stadium.
The back end of the Centenary Stand where one can obtain beer and burgers etc is rather cramped indeed, especially at half time when half the away end is having a knees-up/sing-song. Still, all good fun and somehow adds to the atmosphere in this writer's opinion.
The beer is expensive (£3.30? for Carlsberg) and the burger was literally one burger between two dry bits of bun but we were starving and they didn't have anything else. Not particularly bothered; if we wanted great cuisine, we would have eaten before the game outside of the stadium - the only stadium I can ever remember having food that I would actually want to purchase is Cardiff's Millennium Stadium. The rest of them seem intent on ripping the fans off (home and away) for expensive, sub-standard fare. Which is why most sensible fans don't eat inside the ground. Corporate hospitality is another thing entirely and I can vouch for some very nice grub at White Hart Lane but that's another story.
From previous experience, getting the tube at Upton Park can be quite a traumatic experience, with huge queues. We usually walk the twenty minutes to Plaistow and pick the tube up there to return to town. We had even less trouble getting back on Sunday because of the gradual dispersal of the home faithful. Back in the pub at London Bridge by quarter to six with no trouble at all.
Like many a football fan these days I actually prefer going away to playing at home. Varied grounds, different pubs and cities and a more up-for-it support. West Ham was no exception: stand and sing for 90 minutes, win 4-0. Love it.
Jon T (Chelsea ST, MHL)
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