The HamburgHammer Column
This trip was necessary and long overdue – due to my only brother’s fight against the big C (and my mind being subsequently otherwise occupied) I had merely managed three games this season so far (Spurs, Chelsea and Arsenal), so I had to get my London fix once again. Of course when my Ryanair plane lost touch with German soil West Ham were already guaranteed their league status for next season, but that didn’t bother me. Maybe with the pressure off our team could play more freely and knock in a few goals to compensate for what had been a shockingly bad season for West Ham on various levels.
Friday, May 11th
This trip was to prove very unusual for the simple fact that our trusted cabbie BSB was on a well deserved holiday in Spain and as we usually meet up at least once when I’m over to revisit our usual Two Ronnies’ routine this time there was no trip for me to Dagenham. Instead I arrived with the early morning flight, finding myself in Stratford at the ungodly hour of 9am.
I couldn’t check in at my accommodation in Boleyn Road (!!!), Upton before noon, so had some serious time to kill.
Almost without thinking my way led me through the Gotham City themed film set called Stratford/Westfield towards the London Stadium. I had been in two minds about whether to renew or not. A proper internal fight of wills. There were good and bad points on both sides of the battlefield. I had spoken to BSB beforehand and finally his arguments resonated the most with me.
So I actually did it, I renewed my season ticket using my accumulated club cash in the process.
I wouldn’t want to miss out on watching any West Ham game of my choosing when making a trip back to London. I couldn’t really miss my regular, yet limited in number, matchdays watching the Hammers. Not necessarily because of our great football but for meeting friends on a matchday, sharing banter, food and drinks.
Yes, I know, I said I didn’t want to give the board any more money, but give me a break!
At least I haven’t bought any merchandise for a year now and the way I see it, my season ticket money doesn’t go to the Daves anyway, it’s representing in fact a small portion of Mark Noble’s or Declan Rice’s weekly wages…:-))
On it was then to my little room in Boleyn Road. The residential area it was in reminded me of the road where I used to live during my Barking days, so the size, state and outward appearance of most houses didn’t come as a shock to me.
What was a bit of a shock was seeing plenty of women in burkas, leaving only their eyes visible to the outside world. Those are a very rare sight even in Hamburg where we also have a sizeable percentage of Muslim people, but most Muslim ladies in Hamburg seem to be content with wearing headscarves. But anyway…
My first box to tick was my first (and final) visit to Nathans Pie&Mash shop in the Barking Road. Of course this is an institution for many West Ham fans and since I got introduced to my first pie and mash just two years ago (although one might think, gazing at my girth, that I must have had my first pie and mash as a toddler without ever looking back since) I needed to check out this place.
My verdict: Lovely people. Atmospheric decor with loads of references to West Ham. Decent pie, bland mash. But food wise no comparison to BSB’s place in Dagenham where the taste, portions and value for money are all better.
But I suppose with Nathans it was very much a traditional thing, you went to the game with your father or later your own kids and had pie and mash there before a game, as part of the ritual. I doubt too many people ever had a pie and mash there on non matchdays.
My visit to Newham Bookshop has now also become a personal ritual for every trip and once again the brilliant Vivian Archer and John Newman provided tea, book recommendations and lovely banter.
They also recommended a German themed pub on the other side of the river, but more of that later.
While still in Newham Bookshop I got a text message from Iron Liddy, leading to another chapter of what has become another much cherished ritual for me, having pizza with Liddy and Mr.Lids in their local branch of Pizza Express, so it was the District Line Eastbound for me later that evening.
As usual it was a fantastic evening, having our li’lle jokes (that’s little in received pronunciation folks!), chewing the fat about West Ham, life in general and also personal stuff, but time flew by (as it tends to do when you’re enjoying yourself) and we parted ways to meet again on matchday.
I can only thank Liddy and Mr.Lids again for their kind and over the top hospitality and try offering to repay them their courtesy once they finally find their way to my town – they will get the right royal red carpet treatment from me, you can be sure of that…
Saturday, May 12th
Our blog’s own Corkiron had recommended a breakfast cafe in Bethnal Green where I could tick my box of having at least one Full English – and so to Bethnal Green I went.
Of course I had heard all the stories about the Kray Twins growing up in the area and similar to Upton I found it a vibrant and diverse neighbourhood full of life, shops and market stalls, with surprisingly loads of pubs lining the Bethnal Green Road on both sides.
When I arrived at E Pellicci there was a queue outside and there still was one when I had finished my breakfast, always a good sign if people are willing to wait to get in.
I love family establishments like this and as I learned this place has been around since 1900, serving food and a heartfelt welcome to their customers, a tradition being passed on through the generations the latest of which was represented by a bubbly fellow called Nevio Jr.
Now this guy was not just a waiter, he was basically entertaining and conducting the whole neighbourhood audience with gestures and gazes that would have made Di Canio proud in his West Ham heyday, sharing little jokes and banter not only with the guests but also employees from nearby shops and stalls, or customers picking up takeaway orders. Coupled with some rare sunshine it made for what was almost a carnival atmosphere.
It was like a scene from the Notting Hill flick, I almost expected Hugh Grant to sit down at the adjoining table next, asking me to chuck him over the bottle of brown sauce.
Only when paying for my breakfast did both Nevio and I find out that this business transaction might never have happened under normal circumstances as he had strong Tottenham leanings with my being a Hammer obviously creating a certain tension in the air.
His professionalism won over though, so having cottoned on to the fact I was German he was cramming around in his brain for the only German phrase he knew and being of Italian heritage it wasn’t surprising to hear that this phrase was “Ich liebe Dich!” (I love you!). I shouted back “I wouldn’t go that far mate!” across the pavement before making my way back to the tube station.
Getting off at Vauxhall station, strolling alongside the Albert Embankment with views of Tate Britain and the Houses of Parliament, past a new development of luxury riverview flats called The Dumont (with sale prices for each unit probably approaching half the GNP of most African countries) I went to the pub that had been recommended to me in Newham Bookshop the day before.
“Zeitgeist” is located in a pub in Black Prince Road which used to be the Jolly Gardeners pub for 120 years.
Apparently Charlie Chaplin was one of the famous locals there; it is said his father was playing frequently on the house’s piano to entertain the local community.
Today the entertainment comes mainly in the form of Bundesliga football being shown on a big screen, German food staples like Schnitzels, Sausages and Flammkuchen (thin dough bread pizzas served with various toppings) and 16 (!!!) different German beers on draught.
I was scouting the premises for suitability for a special purpose.
Maybe this could be a lovely venue for a future informal meetup of WHTIDers, if some of you should be interested going there when I’m over next, at the very least it’s a bit different than other pubs and a jolly good laugh for sure.
Yes, it’s on the wrong side of the river, it’s full of Germans and you won’t get pints of Carling, Boddingtons Bitter, Spitfire Ale or Old Speckled Hen there.
But don’t be afraid, you won’t be surrounded by Krauts only, with no English being spoken at all, there are Brits drinking at that place as well and all the staff are British too, as far as I could tell…with the odd Aussie thrown in for good measure.
I watched (and suffered) the relegation of Hamburg SV on the big screen, sharing a table with a fellow Hamburger, a Moenchengladbach supporter and two Dortmund fans. The pub was packed solid when the games kicked off and they were showing the Bundesliga conference which is like Soccer Saturday but with live pictures, so they switch from one stadium to another whenever goals are scored or penalty shots have been awarded.
The reactions from the crowd were interesting. In most cases it was obvious which club they supported as different corners of the pub went berserk when certain teams scored. But the loudest cheers, unfortunately, came whenever goals were scored against Hamburg (or for relegation rival Wolfsburg) and also once the relegation was finally confirmed.
It didn’t come unexpected, but it hurt this proud Hamburg boy more than I had anticipated (and I don’t even support them), especially with those other fans in the pub rubbing it in with glee and mocking chants of “Cheerio!”.
I hope they will get treated with a bit more respect from rival fans should their own team ever find themselves in the unfortunate position of getting relegated.
I went back to Stratford, watched some of the Boro-Villa game to take my mind off relegation and turned in early as a busy matchday lay ahead…
Sunday, May 13th
MATCHDAY! Our own Russ phoned me up late morning about meeting up at Westfield which we did and I was relieved because he obviously knew the shortest way to the Supporters Club at Stour Space where we got ourselves match ready with a burger, chips and a cold hop-themed bevvy. We were then joined in quick succession by Hammers West (who had come all the way from California), Voice of Reason, Heedsy, Nigel Kahn and Sean Whetstone.
Plus the most popular German Hammer on WHTID these days, Ebi from near Cologne who now also qualifies as the more passionate German Hammer compared to me as he apparently saw 12 games in person this season, myself only clocking in with a measly four in total which makes me a glory hunter, armchair supporter, malcontent and keyboard warrior all rolled into one I suppose…;-))
Once arrived at the 238 steps on the concourse there was more banter before and after the game with Gramsci, AndyHammer, Dan and John Coker, Irons1959, Toronto Hammer and Dorset Lurker. I’m sure I have forgotten one or two, but as always it was great company and the perfect build-up towards kickoff (or setup for the post-match drinks).
No Hugill! Not even on the bench. Not only did that kill my predictor (at least I got the final score right), I was also genuinely hoping this guy would get a few minutes in this game. Still, it was obviously one of our better games, with some lovely free flowing football and three absolute peaches of a goal – all in one game.
This also helped to lift the general matchday atmosphere at the stadium and in my book it is the only way this stadium will ever develop into a decent home ground for us.
We need a team with quality players, performing in a way that gets the crowd going and off their seats time and time again. One thing that made me smile was the kids who were sitting around us, shouting all the way down over the gaps and the lower tier towards the pitch, they are like li’lle, sorry, little adults, aren’t they ?
Shouting “Book him ref!” or " Shoot the ball Mark Noble" with their high-pitched young voices. Brilliant!
A bittersweet moment was the (final?) appearance of the Ginger Pele, playing out the final few minutes of our season wearing the captain’s armband.
What a loyal and true servant to the club he’s been. Hopefully we will see him for at least one more season.
After the game, a group of us, including Mr.Lids who was looking as happy as a cat sunbathing on a milk float, congregated at the Heineken Bar for some end of season review banter. Personally, I had the pleasure of prolonging said banter in the company of Hammers West, Voice of Reason and Heedsy in The Crate (where I had to remove all my West Ham gear before being allowed in). Still, fantastic company, decent beer, great pizza with cheese and courgettes (another word I had to learn, in Germany we know them as Zucchini).
Monday, May 14th
Days of departure are always a bit crap. You usually spend too many hours twiddling your thumbs at the airport as you are too scared to do proper things in London for fear of missing your flight as a result of milling around in a museum, gallery or park, forgetting all about the time. Still, I went back to the Olympic Stadium once again, walking through the ever rising and already towering skyline of Gotham City, pardon me, I mean Stratford of course, sitting down on a bench in the Olympic Park, reminiscing about the Everton game, my season ticket renewal, my dear friends in England and our beloved club.
I got to think that while I will always struggle with the shape of the stadium and the distance between the fans and the pitch it’ll still be alright providing a matchday experience as long as our team play some nice passing and attacking football, scoring a few goals in the process. As it is, some people will never love or even like the stadium, others already are getting used to it, because, frankly, what’s the alternative here ? We already have kids in the stadium now who have never seen a game at the Boleyn Ground.
For them the London Stadium is the only West Ham ground they have ever known. It’s easier for them as you cannot miss what you never had in the first place.
Yes, I like clean toilets, a variety of food stalls and seats with plenty of legroom all of which a modern stadium brings.
But as a football fan I also like football stadiums which afford the opportunity to be close to the pitch and feel connected to the game and the players.
Many of you will have passed the advertising hoarding as you enter the Olympic Park via Westfield. It showcases the various events at the London Stadium which are supposed to draw the punters in. I was intrigued by the West Ham section, with a picture of Antonio and Sam Byram locked in a goal celebration (joined by Edimilson Fernandes I believe).
I wrote it down in full, so I could quote it to you word by word, let’s see what you think:
“WEST HAM UNITED F.C. – West Ham take on a host of Premier League rivals at the London Stadium as they attempt to climb the table. See the stars of the Premier League battle it out on the pitch with both teams going for the win in these top-notch clashes.”
Interesting to note the advert says West Ham United FC, not West Ham London. Also the statement seems to veer from the realistic, to the optimistic towards the downright bizarre (as marketing or PR campaigns have a tendency to do). For sure West Ham have much better hope of climbing the table than actually challenging for trophies.
Both teams going for the win ? A nice thought, but how realistic is that when you watch Premier League games in general ?
Top-notch clashes ? Again: It may be the Premier League but I have seen plenty of games already at the LS that were anything but top notch, like boring as hell 1:0 wins against Burnley or Hull.
Still, as one season goes into the archives with another one looming large, with a transfer window and the World Cup to entertain us all in between, I am sure it will be yet another rollercoaster of emotions at this basket case of a club we all love so dearly. I’m already looking forward to whatever games I shall be able to make next season.
Thanks again to all of you for putting up with my ramblings and special kudos to those of you looking after me again in such a lovely and kind fashion!
(You know who you are!)
As a consequence I don’t even mind getting taken the mickey out of time and time again – I wouldn’t have it any other way! Onwards and upwards! COYI!!!
PS: Hamburg football update:
So you already know that HSV got relegated and you probably also know St.Pauli have escaped relegation which means both will meet in the famous and feisty Hamburg derby twice next season in Bundesliga 2. The local fuzz are already busy cursing their luck!
Concordia have failed to win promotion and will finish the season in midtable (7th or 8th).
Cordi’s U23s have been promoted as Champions, same as the Concordia Ladies team.
Another local club I sometimes watch because their ground is in walking distance to my flat, TSV Wandsetal, have also been promoted as Champions.