The HamburgHammer Column
Another highly enthralling and exciting trip in the bag, with a lot of surprise experiences along the way. It was a trip where I hadn’t exactly overloaded my travel itinerary.
In fact nothing at all was scheduled in advance, apart from the home games against Chelsea and Arsenal of course, but other than that I was aware it was the busy Christmas period, so I knew my friends from the blog might not be able to be at my disposal 24/7 resulting in my having to improvise somewhat – but that led to some other good experiences, so it was eventually another worthwhile trip.
But let’s try to start, well, from the start. First day.
Friday, December 8th – Day of departure
Another early morning on the bus and tube to the airport. And the first scare of several to follow. Due to some family related health issues my nerves were playing tricks on me. So I briefly forgot my suitcase after I had just finished the security procedures at Hamburg airport. For five minutes I panicked, but got assisted brilliantly by airport staff and after retracing my steps I found my luggage sound and safe where I had left it. So I could board the flight to Heathrow on time, ready to start my trip.
The trip from Heathrow to Stratford is a lengthy one at the best of times. But if you get on the wrong DLR train on top of that it gets even worse. Still, I made it to my airbnb accommodation by way of Abbey Road Station (not the Beatles one though but the one in East London). My hosts were a lovely Colombian lady (sometimes hard to understand, especially as she sometimes was talking in Spanish to me for no apparent reason and with no regard to the fact I don’t speak or understand Spanish) and her husband whose parents were of West Indian heritage, but he was born and raised in Whitechapel, it doesn’t get more Cockney than that surely, we had some nice chats during my stay and he made me laugh after I talked to him about the Arsenal game the next morning.
I told him about the goalless draw and he asked when the replay would now take place, being unaware that there are no replays for draws in league fixtures.
Not a football fan then I suppose…:-))
I made use of the excellent transport links and took a bus to Upton Park, briefly mourned the vast emptiness that used to be the Boleyn Ground and got some grub.
As there were no customers in Nathan’s Pie&Mash Shop I decided to have some fish&chips at Ercan Fish Bar in the Barking Road before moving on to the Newham Bookshop.
As usual I was made to feel welcome with open arms, a cup of Rosie, mince pies and a good chat. Needless to say I returned the favour and got myself some West Ham and general football related books. I also filled out a petition card to the local MP to keep the statue at its current location.
I feel it belongs there and is one of the few remaining objects that remind us that West Ham United FC used to be such an important part of this neighbourhood.
If we want a statue there our board should commission a new one (can’t be costing the world) and put that at London Stadium, but not the original one.
Either way I returned to Stratford late afternoon for a quick “Welcome back to London” pint in a pub I passed on the way (I think it was the “Queen’s Head” on West Ham Lane) and then settled down in my room for the rest of the evening as I knew an early kickoff was awaiting the next day – and I wanted to be ready for that.
Saturday, December 9th – Matchday 1 – Chelsea at home
I didn’t expect anything from the two games I was going to attend. I fully expected zero points and two almighty drubbings. And even that was being optimistic in my book.
But I was looking forward to it anyway as it meant meeting some of my good friends from the blog again, in this instance BSB and Russ (still the original one).
As my lodging was en route they picked me up in Arthingworth Street (E15) and when I got into the motor I was greeted with a familiar tune.
Yes, the unofficial Hamburg anthem sung by Hans Albers, the one I had treated them with upon their arrival to my town. It was a nice touch although to be frank I would have prefered a London themed ditty like “London Calling”, “Streets of London” or “The Battle of Barking”. But you can’t have everything…;-))
After parking the car near the stadium we ventured into Stour Space where the Supporters Club has found its new home. I had recently become a member and was desperate to try it out and I found it to be pleasant and cosy enough, with a good group of fellow Hammers in there to share a pre-match drink and some banter before taking the short walk into the stadium.
Luckily enough I could sit with the gang again (BSB, Russ, VOR and Gramsci), so I had a reasonably decent view of our demolition of Chelsea, never in doubt that one!
I kept asking myself during the game: Where do those aliens actually live who abducted our team and replaced them with clones that could play organised and utterly professional football against one of the top sides in the country ?
We kept our shape, we kept a clean sheet, Adrian had a reasonably quiet 90 minutes and the outfield players all looked like they gave a monkey’s. That effort didn’t go unnoticed by the crowd who created a brilliant wall of noise at times, the rocking atmosphere we had been missing for so long. It’s still not a football stadium.
But that fact becomes far less important when the team are playing their collective guts out.
It was a pleasure seeing yet another of my customary 1:0 wins at London Stadium and just as lovely to meet HammersWest in person who had travelled all the way from her surely much warmer home base in California.
As nobody else had time and desire for a pub crawl I joined BSB at his little palace in Dagenham East where we settled down for some football watching, rabbitting on about football (and life) before ordering some giant pizzas to celebrate our win over Chelsea in style.
It had been a long day, but BSB was good enough to drive me “home” to Stratford later that evening which was obviously very kind. He’s a gentleman anyway, but I suppose our win had put him in a jolly good mood as well.
Sunday, December 10th
Essentially this was going to be a lazy Sunday as I couldn’t be bovvered to venture out on my own if I could avoid it and BSB once again offered his hospitality as there was a triple bill of football on the telly, and why not! First though it was a Full English for us at one of the best caffs the Enjoy Cafe in Dagenham.
I enjoyed my breakfast with a nice helping of bubble on the plate, despite initially not being entirely sure what it actually was.
Once again though my threadbare nerves were playing up as just before we left I couldn’t find my wallet. I knew that I had taken it to the cafe as I had been handing some money to BSB when we ordered our food.
I checked the usual pockets and went into full panic mode with BSB staying unbelievably calm. In my mind a terrible movie was being played out, with some geezer nicking my wallet from the table where I had left it unattended for a few seconds, containing not only my money and cash card, but also my ID.
The next stage of my inner movie saw me having to inactivate my cash card and go to the embassy to sort out new documents so I could actually get back on the plane and travel back to Hamburg. Still BSB remained totally calm, claiming he couldn’t imagine the wallet getting nicked just like that.
And then I found it, in a pocket of my jacket I never use. So why did I use it this time ? Well, we had switched tables just before our orders arrived and my jacket was hanging over the chair. So I suppose when I put the wallet back into the jacket I wasn’t actually wearing I must have used the nearest pocket which wasn’t the regular one.
Once my blood pressure had returned to customary levels we could settle down in BSB’s living room, enjoying a triple bill of football (including the brilliant personality analysis of Jose Mourinho from Oasis founder and Man City nut Noel Gallagher).
We could then enjoy his wife Karen’s famous chili con carne, BSB still claims it was beef, I reckon it was a concoction of squirrel, badger and peacock, but either way it was yummy and if it is yummy I will eat it…:-))
Monday, December 11th – Matchday cancelled
Bugger! If there was one game I had been looking forward to for this trip it was our U23’s game against their Spurs counterparts on Monday evening in that great little football ground in Dagenham, but the snow bomb that had exploded the previous day made sure the pitch was waterlogged and in no condition for the fixture to go ahead.
BSB gave me those news just as I had left Tate Britain. Yes, you read that correctly. Usually during my trips I don’t do touristy stuff in London anymore, but I made an exception this time as I didn’t want to stay in Stratford all day and as I am a massive fan of William Turner’s paintings I was keen to see some of them again, having last seen them probably ten years ago.
As museums tend to overwhelm me I joined two guided tours that gave me some nice insights and also pointed me to some of the many highlights in the gallery.
Did you know that Tate Britain was erected on the site of a former prison ? That Mr.Tate made his fortune from selling sugar to the world in large quantities ? And that William Turner bequeathed most of his paintings and sketches to the British nation rather than selling them so that normal folk can now marvel at them rather than just millionaires and posh people ? No ? Neither did I.
I had to improvise later on as the West Ham U23 game wasn’t on. So I grabbed a bite to eat in Stratford before going to see a film at Stratford East Picturehouse.
What film did I choose ? Well, I was feeling a bit lonely as a foreigner in London and I like my food, so I chose Paddington 2.
I could empathise with a peckish visitor in London and I was happy enough that the film was taking me to various locations in and around London (including a prison) and unsurprisingly food was again a major theme throughout. Just my kind of flick!
As it was an early evening showing it was a bit if a bizarre experience as I was watching the film in the company of just two other paying customers. At least that minimised the chances of somebody spoiling things for the rest by fiddling around with their smartphones all the time. Very enjoyable film. Money well spent. And I finally got to eat some popcorn in Stratford! I wouldn’t dream of buying the stuff when watching West Ham, but a cinema surely is the perfect environment for munching some popcorn!
Tuesday, December 12th
I returned to the arts again, having enjoyed myself so much the day before, so I started out in Tate Modern, being greeted in the giant turbine hall by grown up people swinging about on various swings, like on a playground. Apparently this is a statement from the artist how swinging can solve most of our current problems in the world, therefore some of the swings will soon be moved to various locations in London and Britain. Maybe if readers of this blog do some copious swinging it will help West Ham to stay up!
I cannot claim to be an expert on art, but I have to confess I struggle somewhat with modern art. Some of the stuff at Tate Modern looked right ridiculous, weird or even disturbing to me. Some of the items looked like my ten year old nephew might have done a better job. There was a thing called “Yellow Curve”, an oil painting that looked like a plain yellow triangular shape (which in fact wasn’t triangular, but that’s not the point). maybe I just don’t get it. Maybe there IS nothing to get actually. Maybe it’s just supposed to look nice on a wall. Which it kind of did.
I then got a message that Iron Liddy, Longtime Lurker and a surprise guest (or two) would be meeting me later that evening for a drink. That gave me the chance to return to Tate Britain first and do the guided tour of Turner I had missed the day before. It was highly entertaining (I bought three books on Turner alone from the museum shop afterwards) and after the tour I got chatting to the tour guide (who was obviously a big Turner fan too) who enquired if I had come to London just for the Turners.
When I told her i was there mainly for footballing reasons she asked what club I was supporting. When I told her West Ham she smiled and said her son was an Arsenal fan which added some personal spice for the derby the following day. As nice as that lady was and even though we both shared a fondness for certain paintings I wanted our boys to demolish her son’s team on the pitch of the London Stadium on Wednesday. But first it was off to my old stomping ground in Barking.
I had a drink or two with Liddy and the Lurker in The Barking Dog pub (which brought back some memories from when I was actually living there, in Barking that is, not in the pub!). It was great to see them again and they helped me to keep my chin up despite the already mentioned family issue of mine. Thanks for that guy and gal!
We then hopped on the District Line for the quick ride to Upminster where I could put another face to a name when Hugh Jardon joined our round in the pub.
To be followed by Mr.Lids shortly after who had just finished a his weekly dose of playing indoors three a side football.
We talked football and West Ham all evening and all had a jolly good time. I had the good fortune that the Lurker put me on the fast train to West Ham, so that I was back in Stratford in no time, ready for a good night’s sleep before another matchday!
Wednesday, December 13th – Matchday 2 – Arsenal at home
Yes, the night was a bit rough to be fair as I rarely drink more than two pints these days and it had been more than two the previous evening. So I didn’t venture out to Central London on my final full day in England, instead I began to pack my bags and lay low before it was time to walk over towards the stadium. This time I actually managed to find The Ribman (who had eluded me somehow at the Chelsea game) and I got my customary pork roll with hot sauce, of course we also shared some banter.
I told him that his stall was one of the few good things about the London Stadium and he just grinned at me. I suppose he hears that a lot!
Before kickoff I met briefly with some more regulars from on here, including Ray the Hammer, CRB, Irons1959 and his sister, AndyHammer (if I’m not mistaken) plus Dan Coker and his dad. Nice as usual, but unfortunately I couldn’t deliver another 1:0 home win. A goalless draw against Arsenal was another welcome result though, helping to consolidate our climb away from the relegation zone, so I was quite happy with that result under the circumstances.
After the game I quickly said Hello to the guys from West Ham Fan TV. It was interesting to see them doing all their reaction videos and fancams, also how they were interviewing their counterparts from Arsenal Fan TV and vice versa. It seemed like everyone was recording with their smartphones to create content for their individual channels on social media.
I walked back to Stratford Station with the lads and had a chat with one of their main presenters, Ryan Archer, who is a Canning Town boy, and as I have stayed in that area during a previous trip we had a chinwag about what Canning Town used to be like during his childhood, growing up there – and we also agreed that West Ham were looking as if they had now turned a corner and could steer their way to a midtable position.
The West Ham Fan TV crew is a good bunch and I can really recommend their stuff on Youtube. It’s an especially good watch for overseas supporters like me who can only attend so many games in person. Keep up the good work lads!
Thursday, December 14th – Day of return to Hamburg
Back to Heathrow Airport midday, killing time at the airport with the flight back being delayed for over an hour. Still, it was a very decent trip, albeit it a slightly different and improvised one this time. I still find myself enjoying going back to London immensely. It may not be the most beautiful place in the world or the best city to live in, but without a doubt it is probably the most interesting city there is.
As for West Ham ? Well, the matchday experience is beginning to grow on me. I still don’t like the stadium much, but I will continue to watch my beloved Hammers, if I can get a ticket. Not sure if I will buy another season ticket, I may just as well buy a club membership and buy single tickets if and when required.
Thank God our team is looking much better now and on course for staying up. Of course I would also watch us in the Championship. But staying in the Premier League will make my future trips slightly more appealing of course. COYI!