Match Report

NEWS UPDATE: West Ham will play Romanian side Astra Giurgiu in the Europa League play-off round on 18 & 25 August. You may recall we went out to them at the same stage last season.

So, I woke up like a kid on Christmas morning. “Mummy, mummy, is it time to go to West Ham yet?” Then five minutes later. “Can we go yet?” And then at just after 3 I got into the car and headed for East London. A friend of mine has a business right opposite the OS so I invited him to join me. He hadn’t been to a football match since he was 7 years old, so I relished the prospect of converting him into a West Ham fan, especially when he told me his wife supports Tottenham. So I parked at his place, right next to the River Lea and we headed over the bridge.

I had only been to the OS once before, on the Saturday night (four years ago tomorrow, actually) that Mo Farah, Greg Rutherford and Jessica Ennis won gold. It’s a night I will never forget. (Read about it HERE). I remember thinking then that it would be a great home for West Ham, but of course until you see it in its transformed state you could never be 100% confident that it would work as a football stadium.

From the outside it really is impressive. Although the panels aren’t all in place, and neither are the two screens which form part of what was to be a full scale digitical wrap, it really does appear quite imposing. There are lots of rather generic catering outlets around the perimeter, together with programme sellers. Even though we had arrived reasonably early the queues were all very long. I didn’t buy a programme since I remember being told that you get a free programme as part of the 1966 seat package. I should have known better. There was no programme on the seat. Anyway, I digress.

All entrances to the stadium had full scale bag searches, but that worked fairly smoothly. The turnstiles were very state of the art and there we were. We were in! The toilets are certainly a contrast with Upton Park. There are loads of them – especially for women – but they are laid out very oddly. The catering units inside the stadium were reasonably plentiful but they were chronically understaffed, and staffed by people who’d clearly never worked in such an environment. There were also quite a few individual stand alone outlets just selling water, coke, crisps and maltesers/minstrels. I bought a bottle of water, crisps and a bag of minstrels. £7.30. I suppose I didn’t expect any different. At the end of the match all the outlets outside the stadium were still open, without the large queues.

And so at about 6.45 we made our way up the steps of block 235 in the East Stand (opposite the dugouts) to enter the arena itself. My first impression was ‘wow’. In fact, I think I said it out loud. You cannot fail to be impressed by the vastness of it. My seats are in the front row (31) of the upper tier, a little bit to the left of the half way line. I call it the ‘Royal Box’.

I’m going to be honest here, and say that the seats a bit further away from the pitch than I had anticipated. At Upton Park I was in row X (ie Row 23), so I suppose I didn’t expect too much difference. But the running track really does impact on this. However, the fact that it’s a bigger pitch means that at that height you have a wonderful perspective. It’s actually no further than the view from the Directors’ Box at Upton Park.

There’s plenty of legroom and the seats are comfortable, although given they are supposed to be padded there could be a bit more padding! I introduced myself to the two people beside me, Adrian and Joe – father and son. There seem to be some nice people around us. It’s a wonderful view as you look around the stadium. There’s a bit of Wembley about it, as well as a slight whiff of an American football stadium. It could not be more different to Upton Park, but it was always going to be that way. As the stadium started to fill I up I wondered what the atmosphere would be like once the game got going.

I have to say that when the teams walked out and ‘Bubbles’ started my eyes became a bit moist. Fifty odd thousand people were belting it out and it was just as good as I remember it being at the old place. Brilliant. Indeed, whenever a song really caught on, the whole stadium was rocking. I wonder what it felt like from the players’ viewpoint. Having said that, there were long periods of the game where it went a bit ‘Emirates’. But let’s face it, there were periods like that at Upton Park in recent years too.

As the sky got darker the floodlights came into their own – brilliantly designed and stunningly beautiful. Night games are really going to be special here, albeit in a different way to Upton Park.

Turning to the game, the much bigger pitch (both in width and length) really seemed to suit our style of play. Noble really thrived on it and he sprayed the ball around as if he had been playing on it for his entire career. We got off to a cracking start when Cheik Kouyate seemed to backheel the ball past the Domzale goalkeeper from the edge of the six yard box after some excellent work from Enner Valencia. Eighteen minutes later he bagged a second and was unlucky not to have had a hattrick. What a first game for him at the OS. Enner Valencia had one of his best ever games for us, proving to be a very tricky customer down the left. But in front of goal he was his usual profligate self. He too could have had more than one goal. Elsewhere up front, Andy Carroll held the ball up well but never really threatened in front of goal. I really think he needs a smaller player to play alongside him. There are rumours this morning that the Bacca deal is now back on and it is that sort of player who could prove to be a great partner for Andy Carroll.

Sofiane Fehouli had an impressive first half, although he faded a little in the second. He had five one on one’s with the goalkeeper, but only managed to convert the fifth, which he did in some style. I think he could turn out to be a firm fan favourite, but you have to wonder if he can really displace Lanzini as a first choice pick.

I thought Havad Nordtweit had a great game, playing just in front of the back four. He won a lot of 50-50 balls and passed the ball really well. And the whole of the back four played well too, although admittedly they didn’t have too much to deal with. Having said that, Domzale had a few chances but each of them was snuffed out by some brilliantly well-timed challenges and tackles by Reece Oxford. He and Winston Reid looked as if they had been partnering each other for donkeys’ years. On this performance Oxford will be difficult to dislodge. If Collins and Ogbonna were in the crowd last night they will have been rather worried. Antonio looked safer at right back than he has in pre-season, but his best moments were when he rampaged down the wing.

So overall, this was a really good performance. None of the players had a bad game, and many of them had very good games. For me Reece Oxford was man of the match, but there were several contenders for that accolade.

Marks out of Ten
Randolph 7, Oxford 8, Reid 7, Byram 7, Antonio 7, Nordtweit 7, Noble 7, Kouyate 8, Carroll 6, Sofiane 7, Valencia 8.

PS My tickets for the Juventus match have still not arrived. I booked them three or four weeks ago. How difficult is it for Ticketmaster to post out tickets? They do it every day for hundreds of events. It’s a complete shambles that this process has been managed so terribly. I emailed the head of the ticket office three days ago. I haven’t even had the courtesy of a reply. I refuse to spent hours on a phone line which many people have said has cost them the best part of £40. If the tickets don’t arrive today or tomorrow I will expect a refund.

UPDATE: Sean Whetstone writes about his experience at the OS HERE. He seems even more impressed than I was!