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Boleyn Ground
West Ham United v  Barnsley
FA Cup 3rd Round,
Saturday 3rd January 2009, 3pm
By Ian Dexter
(Neutral fan)

1. Why you were looking forward to going to the ground (or not as the case may be):

My friend and I have a regular tradition of taking in a 3rd round tie in the FA Cup, and usually alternate between London, where he lives, and the West Midlands, where I live. This year we planned a London fixture but I lazily left off booking tickets until the last minute, so decided on Leyton Orient vs Sheffield Utd. Coming out of the Tube to meet my brother (also coming along) at his flat in Shoreditch, we found out that Orient had been postponed because of a frozen pitch. Cue my friend’s flash decision to try for tickets on the gate at Upton Park, and off we went. By the time we were on the Tube again, I was really looking forward to visiting a different London ground and our unexpected change of plan.

2. How easy was your journey/finding the ground/car parking?

There were apparently engineering works on the District Line, so we travelled to Stratford on the Central Line and caught a 104 bus from the station to the ground. This service runs all the way to Upton Park, but Green Street was so crowded that we got off and walked the last part of the journey.

3. What you did before the game pub/chippy.... home fans friendly?

We were still concerned that there would not be tickets available for the game, and a possible pie and mash alternative plan was hatched just in case. However, on chatting to a steward at the ground we found that we could pay £20 on the gate for seats in the Dr. Marten’s (West) Stand. There was some decent banter between home fans and some Barnsley fans heading for the away turnstiles (top female programme seller giving lip from a ladder, which I thought was great), but it was all in good fun. West Ham fans seemed a decent lot, and made us feel welcome as honorary Hammers for the afternoon.

4.What you thought on seeing the ground, first impressions of away end then other sides of the ground?

Due to our visit to the Boleyn being unplanned, we sat in the home end, but the away fans from Barnsley were in good voice over in their section, which was pretty modern and seemed to be a good spot. The Dr. Martens (West) stand is huge, but although we were sat quite near the back (the legendary Row Z!) the view of the playing action was superb. No pillars anywhere in the ground to spoil your view, and the Bobby Moore Stand in particular looked to be of a very good standard. During dramatic stages of the game fans behind us drummed on the corrugated iron surface of the stand wall, creating a serious racket. The sound of 26,000 Cockneys giving it large on I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles was also pretty spectacular.

5. Comment on the game itself, atmosphere, stewards, pies, toilets etc.

Can’t really comment on the away stewarding, but in the home end everything was fine – those I did speak to were very helpful. The police seemed to be keeping a close eye on the Barnsley fans, and we did see one being ejected (followed by his missus, his mother and his kids – very embarrassing) for some reason. The game was good for the Hammers, and they had plenty of opportunity to pass the ball about, scoring from a free kick in the 10th minute to send the West Stand mental. A later, probably undeserved, penalty saw West Ham take a 2-0 lead into the break.

This is where the problems began. I’m fond of a pie, and so are my friend and my brother. So we joined the refreshment queue on the pretty fair-sized concourse. Unfortunately, we found the least competent refreshment queue in East London. When we finally got to the front, when the game had kicked off again, there was no hot food left, and my friend got the last cup of tea in the stand. How can a Premier League ground run out of hot drinks? Some Hammers fans were seriously angry, and things got a bit heated (but not the drinks). I went back to my seat, pieless and disappointed (ahh)!

The second half motored along merrily, with West Ham taking their eye off the game for periods and allowing Barnsley to get themselves back into contention with some good runs and shots on goal. However, with just over 20 minutes to go, Cole put West Ham 3 up and the Dr. Martens rattled again to ‘3-0, to the Cockney Boys’. From there on a number of home fans started to trickle out, and eventually it was all over with a fine win for the Hammers. Another quick blast of ‘…Bubbles’ and we were off out.

6. Comment on getting away from the ground after the game:

Previous reviewers are absolutely right – it is incredibly difficult to get back on to the Tube at Upton Park after the game, and the queue is ridiculously long. We walked to the end of it, gave up, doubled back to Green Street and got back on a 104 bus to Stratford, which despite the post-match crowds actually moved much more quickly than it had been able to on the way to the game. 8 stops on the Central Line and 20 minutes later, and we were in the pub in Holborn.

7. Summary of overall thoughts of the day out:

It really was a good day out up at West Ham in the end, all the better for being unplanned and that little bit crazy. There are problems getting to and from the ground, but if you’re a little bit imaginative (and don’t mind exploring the area on the bus) you can get in and away quite easily. There was a good atmosphere for the Cup game, which might be a bit different for Premier League needle matches, but I’d happily go back to the Boleyn Ground again. Just as long as they sort out the refreshments and buy some more pies!

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