I love these trips and always check the itinerary to make sure it says "Full Breakfast." Yep there it was for Saturday and Sunday morning. I sent off the cheque immediately. What is it about a big hotel breakfast? I guess it's the plate-piled-high temptation; shall I have two eggs or one, scrambled or fried, (I like scrambled and put a big dollop on top of two slices of toast, buttered of course), then around the eggs and toast I pile up all the rest. But there are more decisions; how many rashers of bacon, two sausages or three, and a big helping of fried tomatoes. Oh, and the toast; toast for the scrambled eggs, and then toast with marmalade and a big pot of coffee. Mrs T always wants me to start with a bowl of fruit. Fruit is supposed to be good for you. Well, I'm 65 and usually avoid the stuff and seem to be OK without it. Tomato juice is the nearest I get, or fruit cake, or grapes - but with grapes I need cheese - and biscuits - and butter of course packed with delicious cholesterol.
Conversation on the coach, Joyce and Stefan brewing up, centred on how well we were doing so far but that at least a point was needed at West Ham. It moved to the Irish lads we have signed and was Billy Bingham involved in them. Difficult we thought, as he lives in Southport. Next question - should we sign Nugent permanently? Opinions were evenly divided between those who said he hadn't done enough, to those who said: well how can he if he only comes off the bench for 20 minutes a game. And anyway in those cameo performances, hasn't he done enough with his impact to warrant being signed. On top of that was the argument that IF we stay up then we need a squad where players of his calibre are there on the bench to come on when needed. But then of course the big question - how on earth could we sign a player on £25k a week - allegedly? We talked about Brendan Flood and his book and his prospects for a business recovery - not rosy we surmised - unless his bouncebackability levels are way above average. We talked about Jimmy Mac and who a testimonial game might be against at the end of the season. If it is a BIG club the costs of staging it use up all the money made. If it is against a small club, and there is a smaller attendance, there is paradoxically a better chance of a decent profit; why not a Northern Ireland club, Glentoran, seemed to be the consensus. And the topic of ground improvements cropped up. Stay up and the plans might be brought out of mothballs. New dressing rooms will certainly have to be built said the Premier League. The days of everyone piling in one big communal bath and fumbling for the soap are over. Premier players need individual baths, Premier mirrors, expensive hair shampoo, and hair dryers, oh and a safe for all that bling they wear. But gold taps are probably a "no" we decided, not something we could envisage Chairman Barry allowing. Our new dressing rooms could be the Ryanair of the football world. Why not? In the away dressing rooms count seats and hooks as optional - if the buggers want them, let 'em pay extra.
It was destination Thistle Hotel, Euston, with a central location ideal for Regents Park, London Zoo, Lords Cricket Museum, Madame Tussauds or shopping on Oxford Street, said the itinerary. Mrs T read the list. It was no contest. Oxford Street it was - I couldn't persuade her it was miles away and that St Pancras was nearer and the fancy Champagne Bar they have there that goes the length of one of the platforms. What I also wanted to do, as well as quaff champagne (cheapest they have) at St Pancras, was find one of the famed Pie and Mash caffs allegedly to be found in the football ground district. A request on the West Ham Mad website for details regarding local caffs produced quite a bit of info. "On the main road you can't miss it, get there early and join the queue." "Nathans in Barking Road… book early and Duncan's the one opposite the Upton Park tube."
Apparently in the whole of London there are less than 80 remaining. Décor is, was, basic, tiled walls and wooden benches. Like all traditions they are apparently fast disappearing, or trying to become more upmarket and touristy. Rather like David Attenborough seeks vanishing animal species, I wanted to find a rare Pie and Mash joint before they vanish forever. Pie and Mash, along with stewed eels, was of course the traditional fayre of the London working class particularly in south and East London. The pie, being mutton, and the mash was cheap. A sort of parsley sauce was spread around it instead of gravy, they call it Licker, and traditionally this was made from the water used in the stewing of the eels (I feel ill already). When last heard there were still Pie and Mash shops in Bow, Peckham, Walworth and Broadway Market, even some in Norf London but true Eastenders view these with deep distaste. Newer variations of pie include fruit. God forbid, is nothing sacred?
Traditionally the East End is associated with: the Kray twins, talking funny, propping up the bar at the Queen Vic, going darn the market, extravagant funerals, Barbara Windsor, dodgy geezers, the afore-mentioned Pie and Mash shops, shouting, Alf Garnett, getting blathered on a Saturday night, fighting, and going to Margate or hop picking in the summer (or whenever it is they go). The last punch-up of any significance was this season when Millwall descended on the Boleyn Ground and the two sets of supporters enjoyed themselves royally having a right old punch-up in a manner not seen since the good old 70s. And if any East Enders are upset by this summary of their life-style, I bet they have an equally stereo-typed view of us lot from Burnleh. Meanwhile you can get Pie and Mash delivered from eelhouse.co.uk and believe it or not there is a Pie and Mash Club pie-n-mash.com
West Ham United - is it Upton Park or The Boleyn Ground? According to Simon Inglis (Football Grounds of Great Britain) it is the Boleyn Ground. First of all they are not called 'The Hammers' because they come from West Ham. It is because the hammers are a symbol of the tools of the shipyards and the East End docks from where the club originated. Next, Upton Park is the name of the area in which the ground is situated. The name of the ground, the Boleyn Ground, comes from the name of a house that was there that dated back to the days of Henry V111. The house was named after Anne Boleyn, his second wife, and the first to 'ave er 'ead cut orf. When 'Enry was miffed wiv 'is wives, ee didn't muck abart. Who says history is boring? Built in 1544, the house stood until the 1950s and as the house had two prominent turrets it was called Boleyn Castle.
WEST HAM 5 BURNLEY 3: A mix of the fabulous and the farcical said Lineker on MOTD. It pretty well summed things up in this crazy game. The coach arrived with minutes to spare at the ground. No time to find a pie and mash shop, and anyway the High Street seemed to consist only of an endless line of takeaways and fast-food joints ranging from Chinese to kebabs, from Noodles to fish and chips. The 40 of us dashed up to the turnstiles there to be fed through them like meat through a mincer at breakneck speed, by blokes in yellow jackets, the smallest of whom seemed to be about 6' 6", I swear one of these guys was Frank Bruno. The day was dry thank goodness, except for the goals that rained in on the Burnley goal in a spell of soccer suicide by the Clarets that left us wondering if we too, like Wigan supporters, would be given our money back by the players. There was a moment when all of us thought West Ham would score 9. In truth it was surreal.
This was a game of three halves. In the first, Burnley were bright, inventive; dominant and could have been two up. Carlisle's header was cleared off the line. That half ended when Elliott upended somebody for a soft free kick. The game was turned on its head. The kick was taken quickly by Parker who put on a virtuoso performance, and totally against the run of play Burnley were 0 - 1 down, courtesy of one, unwell, switched-off defender. From thereon it was embarrassing as the middle half of the game began and before we knew it we were three goals down. "Dozy defending" said the bloke on Sports Report. As the goals went in; fingers pointed at individuals until at last Coyle made the changes that everyone near where I was standing knew should have been made at half time. Jordan, who had a nightmare game, Blake who had barely featured, Alexander run off his feet in midfield by Parker, all replaced, and Elliott by now was wide right, and Eagles wide left. Thus began the third half and we began to play like we know we can. Now it was us scoring three, tearing into them, with West Ham damned relieved when the whistle went. Another ten minutes to play and this could well have been a 5 - 5 draw.
How do you score three goals and still lose embarrassingly? If Jordan and Alexander were not 100% fit why did they play? This division is cruel at the best of times even when you are 100% fit. Why did Jensen rashly take out the player for the second penalty when the forward and ball were going wide and heading nowhere? Where was the cover on the line when Jensen blocked one shot but made a hash of the second to give away an earlier goal? Did the referee seem just a tad generous towards West Ham on occasions? Why were changes not made at half time at 0 - 3 down? We can ask questions like this till the cows come home, but none of them mask the awfulness of that middle half when we were all over the place and you wondered if some players were thinking about what to buy the wife for Christmas rather than what they should have been doing on the pitch. Elliott meanwhile, who really does need to step up a gear away from home, blazed over the bar with the score at 0 - 1; his best work was when he was moved wide right. Funnily enough, before we knew that Jordan had been poorly, Mrs T commented during the game that he was playing like someone who wasn't quite with it, as if he were ill. She watches 'House' all the time and knows about these things.
At the end we looked so much better with Eagles wide left and Elliott wide right plus a twin strike force of two mobile forwards in the middle. You do begin to wonder if our two senior citizens Blake and Alexander are being caught out by the pace of the Premiership. We love them both but is it time for younger, fresher legs? What was also abundantly clear is that any side to be competitive at this level needs a midfielder of the calibre and tenacity of Parker who covered every inch of the ground and was simply outstanding from start to finish. In him, West Ham had one player who had the game of a lifetime and what a difference it made. On the other hand they had another player, Luis Jimenez, with a hairstyle so gruesome and a colour scheme so ghastly there is no way he should be allowed out in daylight. Do blokes like this never look at themselves in a mirror? Do they not know what utter prats they look? To make matters worse - he scored.
Of course if you let five goals in, two from free kicks and two from penalties, you deserve to lose, and yet, we came away almost laughing at the daftness of it all, having seen three quality goals of our own in the third half. It was like winning and losing at the same time. All three were class goals from great moves. The Clarets support was as terrific as West Ham's was woeful. It was a privilege to be part of them. Eagles and Fletcher ran West Ham ragged for the last 25 minutes; they had us on our feet roaring at the unlikely anticipation of some miracle draw. Nugent could have two during his spell on the pitch. And how interesting that we were all allowed to stand for the whole of the game, no haranguing from fussy, jobsworth stewards. But where were the police when you need them as an abusive, aggressive drunk tried to get on the coach as we waited to get away afterwards. Our three brave lads at the front, Barry, Dave the driver and Stefan turfed him off. I say 'lads' mischievously, their average age is 65.
Home on Sunday was via Kempton Park. There were several firsts for me - and I don't mean winners. This was a first time I have ever eaten chicken noodles at a racetrack. The first time I have seen rain so heavy and horizontal that the seagulls wore wellies, the first time I personally saw my money go in a bookie's holiday fund. As the sky went blacker and blacker, the most beautiful rainbow appeared sharp and crystal clear. The bookie I was betting with grinned. "My bank's at the end of that rainbow," he said. Once I got the hang of losing money the time passed quite agreeably. We used the bookies standing outside in the rain, much more fun, all of them slowly turning blue in the cold and monsoon rain. At least we could dash indoors between each race for a quick warm. Those jockeys earned their money as they resembled drowned rats perched on their saddles. I don't know if horses can feel rain… I've never asked one… but I'll hazard a guess they'd have been happier tucking into hay and mash in a warm stable. Still it was good fun and Mrs T had two winners and three places. Too late I noticed that Keiron Fallon was one of the jockeys and my limited knowledge of racing had me thinking he was a top bloke. The tannoy said he had four winners. So I backed him. Guess what - he lost the one I backed. The bookie gave me a wry smile and happily pocketed the next two-pound coin I gave him. Yep I was boldy betting £2 a race. I don't muck about. No point going to the races if you're not prepared to splash out.
Anyway next up Portsmouth. With my luck, do I bet £2 on Portsmouth to win or £2 on Burnley? Whichever one I bet on, with my track record, I will surely lose. £2 to win on Portsmouth it is then.