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Boleyn Ground
West Ham United v  Ipswich Town
Championship League
Tuesday September 27th 2011, 7.45pm
By Tim Sansom
(Ipswich Town fan)

1. Why were you looking forward to going to the ground?

For a variety of reasons, I was looking forward to visiting Upton Park on this Tuesday evening. I had finally got the opportunity to look at Ipswich with all of their various new players that had been signed in the summer. I wanted to see a game at a ground, where I knew that there would be some atmosphere, a fan base that would be passionate about their football, and try to introduce a work colleague and an old university mate about the Ipswich Town FC side of my life.

Both of these colleagues were West Ham friends. The work colleague spent a large period of his life in east London, whilst a certain part of the university mate’s life was spent along the Thames Estuary in West Ham territory. The university mate is also a spitting image of West Ham legend, Alan Devonshire, which makes a more convincing look when he wears his West Ham shirts. Both colleagues knew their football although had the facial expressions of accepting that ‘Tim was going off on one,’ as I was becoming increasing excited on our never ending District Line journey into east London.
2. How easy was your journey/ finding the ground/ car parking?
... and it really did seem to be never ending on this underground line. I had the mistaken impression that Upton Park would only be a couple of stops along from Aldgate East. There would be no need to take advantage of the increasingly available seats as passengers trudged away into the station dusk. However, more stations seemed to come and go. At one point I whimpered whether we could walk from Bromley by Bow to Upton Park. Abrupt and despairing shakes of the heads, was the response. The September sun set and after a number of unannounced stops in gloomy embankments, we arrived at Upton Park station.

The station platform was crammed with West Ham fans. In a very British manner, we trooped into the outside streets where a mass of people seemed to be going in a mass of different directions. The streets were mostly lined with takeaways, barber shops, corner shops, and impromptu fast food vans flipping burgers and tossing chips in bubbling fat. It was the most atmospheric entrance to a football ground that I have encountered for many a year. However, the fans were mostly home fans. I was not wearing my team colours and I do not think that Ipswich have a particular potent history with West Ham anyway. If you following a club that has had some notable ‘history’ at Upton Park, I would suggest that you exercise some caution. 

As we walked toward the ground, I sense that my colleagues were becoming misty eyed about the area. It felt as if I was filming a Who do you think you are? Documentary, and that we were on a spiritual ‘journey’ back to their childhood. I was desperate to find some Ipswich fans and the away end entrance to enter the ground and get a sense of the Upton Park atmosphere. We ended up at the front of the stadium surrounded by endless walking queues of West Ham fans, a TV truck, and a Metropolitan police lorry that housed some majestic, although slightly bored, horses. There was still no sign of the away end. I also have no idea where you could park, if you were coming to Upton Park by car. I would recommend some sort of park and ride arrangement at a key station around East London such as Upminster, but I did start to wonder whether Upton Park was easily accessible for the sheer numbers of demanding football fans in 2011.

After consultation with a helpful steward, we had to turn back on ourselves and head back towards the Upton Park underground station. We had to head down Tudor Road, past some houses whose seemed resigned to the fact that it was another match day. After turning right at the bottom of the road, and following a rather eerie footpath to some tower blocks, you come across the away end surrounded by friendly stewards, but uncompromising in their approach.  I had a bag search and a general search of my body, which seems to becoming increasingly common at football matches, making me feel that it was 1981 or 1971, rather than 2011. The game had started by the time that we had taken our seats virtually behind the goal line, and to the left of the standard TV shot of the Upton Park pitch.

3. What did you think when seeing the ground/ first impressions of away end then other sides of the ground?

Like most grounds that I have visited, Upton Park seemed to be a lot bigger in ‘real life’ rather than via the lens of the TV camera. The atmosphere was certainly there, although my West Ham colleagues suggested that it seemed quieter compared to their previous visits. By being in direct line of the goal meant that some of my view was covered by goal nets.

I was also beside the branded covering that separated the Town fans with the home support. There was a long line of the police officers and stewards, who were carefully watching every single move of both sets of supporters. In some ways, it seemed a bit excessive, although I suppose that I was thankful for their presence at the end when a number of home fans seemed to be spoiling for a fight at the end of the game. However, as an away fan at Upton Park, you will be extremely close to the action, and when the ball comes at you from a wayward shot, you will soon get to know when you should duck.
4. Comment on the game itself

This game appeared to be one of the key Championship games on that Tuesday night, and if you read the post-match reaction, you could be forgiven for thinking that it was a comprehensive Ipswich victory. I would love to believe that this was the case, but in many ways, Ipswich were playing their ‘classic’ passing game across the pitch. It was easy on the eye, but there was not much of a final product.

West Ham played very full on style of football that created some chances that were particularly evident in the first half. The Hammers seemed to loose a bit of fire as the second half of the game, and were felled by a last minute goal by Lee Bowyer. The general noise around the away end meant that I did not hear the various boos and cat calls that were being directed at the man from Canning Town. Ipswich fans vented their anger at Robert Green, who seemed in control of the Hammer’s goal, despite the various cat calls and boos behind his goal. There was an interesting sub plot when Green ran out of water. A servant from the bench ran around the water to give Green’s desired H20, much to the merriment of the Ipswich faithful.

The tale of Green’s water enlivened a generally dull second half, where I began to be more interested in the adverts that were being projected on to the stadium screens. The general line, which is often said about the Championship, is that the league is unpredictable and very difficult to get out of. That might be the case but the football is often not especially easy on the eye, and increasingly frustrating on certain occasions. With the lack of a real final Ipswich product for most of the game until the 89th minute, and West Ham’s endeavour but lack of variety, it was not the greatest game that I have ever watched in my life. However, three points did drop into the lap of my beloved team, so I guess that I can not complain.

5. Comment on getting away from the ground

I needed to go through a period of gloating, much to the anger of my two colleagues. The university mate was particularly frustrated with the end result, and I was trying to provide suitable rational therapy with a croaky voice, but a smile on my face. I could not entirely argue with what my friend was saying, but facts were facts. Underneath, I was desiring to say ‘we won live with it,’ but in the spirit of friendship, I found myself trying to behave like a UN diplomat. However, when I proclaimed that the ‘next step was the Premiership,’ the statement was met with icy silence.

Soon our attention turned to how we were going to get back into central London, and the streets had turned into their random state of affairs, with people swarming in all direction like demented bees. The away support had generally disappeared into thin air, and a long and snaking queue had built up outside Upton Park underground station. The queue seemed to go on for ever, and it was difficult to wonder whether you would reach an underground train before Tuesday turned into Wednesday.

A collective decision, and a bit of mobile phone GPS, caused us to walk to Plaistow underground station, which is the next stop along the line from Upton Park towards London. There was a fair amount of people who had done the same, but if you walk to the end of the platform at Plaistow, it is probable that you will find some space on the train. You need to know where you are going because many roads around this part of London, seemed to look the same. However, try and keep the underground line on the right hand side of you then you have a sporting chance to find this station, which seems like a village halt, amongst the urban sprawl. We found ourselves at Victoria within about fifteen to twenty minutes, but the whole ‘getting away’ experience had taken about an hour and twenty minutes.
6. Summary of overall thoughts of the day out

I enjoyed my visit to Upton Park. Brought up in Essex meant that I met a number of West Ham fans during my schooling. A warm fuzzy mix of 1966, Bobby Moore, Brooking, Dicks, Moncur, Di Canio, Redknapp ,mixed with a bit of Steptoe and Son, meant that I have always had a positive attitude to West Ham. Tables do not lie, but it is a shame to see West Ham in the Championship at this present time, at a stadium that is steeped in memories and character.

Upton Park is a welcome antidote to the identikit concrete bowls that have begun to dominate towns and cities up and down the country. A bit more signage, and a transport system that could control the amount of fans that come to games could improve a trip into East London, but time moves on, and new stadiums are being built. Whatever happens in the future, I would hope that the West Ham passion and footballing endeavour does not collapse when the bricks are demolished on this stadium with character.

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