The HamburgHammer Column

Since I only flew back to Hamburg late on Monday evening, opening my front door at 11 pm my column arrives with a bit of a delay. Sorry about that, it’s just that I can’t be arsed to bring my laptop over for the long weekends in London and it’s rather tedious typing down these articles on a tablet, so on the four or five occasions a season I am actually at a West Ham game in person I’m afraid you will have to keep some patience with me. I also will not discuss the safety of Bilic’s position again on here or go into too much detail about the Spurs game in terms of the football.

This is not a match report in the classical sense of the word, this is my personal travel diary (also my food blog…LOL), with plenty of name dropping, so if you’re expecting tactical debates or yearn for the latest West Ham related transfer rumours in this article, it ain’t gonna happen (unless in the comments below maybe), so this is your chance to run away quickly! Chop chop! Now!

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Oh, you’re still here ? Great! So here it goes: This was a rather unusual trip for a number of reasons. I only watched one game of football in four days. I didn’t meet BSB once. I had no pie and mash. And the whole weekend basically flew by me with no precise scheduling or forward planning involved on my part whatsoever. Very un-German, I know. Once again though, and this was exactly like what happened on previous trips of mine, I was saved by the good as gold West Ham family.

This time it is mainly our own Irons1959 I have to thank for his East London hospitality as not only did he allow me to crash on his sofa in Ilford for three nights in a row, he also stepped up magnificently when the unofficial meetup after the game didn’t quite materialise and also when BSB couldn’t work his usual miracles as a perfect host as unfortunately he was otherwise occupied over the weekend – more of that further down.

My streak is finally over. All those 1:0 home wins I witnessed at the London Stadium (four in total) couldn’t last forever. And like my dreams and all that. It had to end someday, and Spurs (it had to be them of course) finally bursted my bubbles.
Those merchant bankers!

But let’s start at the beginning…

FRIDAY, September 22nd

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It has become the norm for me that I still get far too excited prior to my West Ham weekend trips to get any sleep at all the night before, oh I try of course, but after turning around in bed for the 200th time I give up eventually, put the kettle on, say a little Thank You that it wasn’t my flight to Stansted that was cancelled at short notice by Ryanair to then head towards the nearest bus stop at about 4:20 am.
It’s not my best time of day but I prefer the early morning flight as it gives me nearly an additional full day in London.

Once at the airport I usually take joy from watching the people who have paid extra for the privilege of priority boarding, but who still leave Hamburg in the same airplane as me at the same ungodly hour and not one minute earlier.

But I digress. It has become another sort of routine for me to get involved in football related chat with the airport security staff or the border control employees at Stansted airport. Usually this gets triggered by my wearing of a West Ham themed shirt, jacket or hat. This time though my West Ham crest was obscured by a neutral jacket, still I was approached by a female police officer in a High Vis jacket a minute AFTER I had already presented my ID and given my purpose for entry into the UK to the officer at the border control desk.

Was it just a spot check with myself as the random target ? Or did my early morning boat send out vibes I could be up to no good ? I explained I was over mainly for the football, the West Ham-Spurs derby to be precise and when the fuzz began interrogating me about my leanings for the game I grew slightly nervous.

What if the lady copper was a Spurs fan ? Was I in danger of being refused entry to the green and pleasant land on the grounds of being a Kraut Hammer?
Luckily not, I was finally getting the signal to pass, not before being told though that West Ham were currently struggling mightily. The Old Bill, your friend and helper, you can always expect a word of encouragement from them…;-)

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After that little encounter I found myself in Gants Hill/Ilford in no time where I was picked up by my host for the trip, Irons1959. We quickly sat down for a late Full English before I was welcomed to his abode and impressive collection of car porn as he called his various piles of vintage high value car mags.
Irons1959 knows for sure all about driving a nice Porsche, I on the other side am happy enough if I don’t break down with my Ford Fiesta…:-))

Off it was noonish to Newham Bookshop for a brief chat with Vivian Archer who immediately clocked and remembered me the moment I walked through the door, all after meeting her just once before during a previous visit in December, incredible!

We briefly mourned the bizarre empty space that used to be The Boleyn Ground just around the corner and I picked up my customary three books (always including one new addition to my West Ham themed collection, my claret and blue porn so to speak) before reluctantly leaving, otherwise I would have had to buy myself another suitcase first as I am always in danger of bringing home far too many books from that wonderful shop. If you haven’t been there yet, go! If you have, go again soon!

This is a Millwall pub you say ? Right, you go first, I'll watch your back!

Next destination was Tower Hill, my meeting point arranged by the wonderful Iron Liddy and so we set off on our “Guided Walk of the wrong side of the River Thames“ in glorious sunshine, it was like walking along the harbourfront of Santa Cruz de Tenerife!

We started out in front of what Liddy advertised as a prominent Millwall fans’ pub.
While I initially toyed with the idea of walking in, standing on the nearest desk and singing Bubbles from the top of my lungs I felt this might have cut our afternoon walk somewhat short, so I behaved and was than led into the glorious maze of Borough Market, one of the oldest markets in London and a goldmine for a food fanatic such as me.

We even found a stall with Croatian delights and we toyed with the idea of buying Slaven a little present. Then again we weren’t quite sure what to get him.
What if the gaffer has a cheese allergy ? Or maybe doesn’t like plum brandy, even if it comes from familiar shores ?

So, what do you do when you saunter in the sunshine, feel a bit peckish, and find yourself surrounded by tables filled with stinking cheese, fancy salami from France and fruit jam from Italy ? Easy.

You agree to try some oysters again, yes, those raw slimily weird seafoody things the last of which you tried 28 years ago and found absolutely horrible, both in taste and texture.

But when in London…

To be fair, I found the oysters a lot more appealing this time around. Then again I was quite hungry at that point anyway and once the oysters were swimming again, this time in half a pint of cider buried in my tummy, both Liddy and I were replenished enough to continue what she kept calling a stroll but what I was soon refering to as The South London Half Marathon.

I was destined to continue to feel the fallout from this trek in the coming days, with blistered feet and aching calf muscles but according to my drill instructor from Upminster it was, and I quote “just a little exercise. It is good for you!”
It certainly was a day when I burned far more calories by walking than I put back in by munching away on food later.

Mind you, the walk with its riverviews was utterly beautiful though, the weather was incredible, we passed numerous bridges and also the famous Globe Theatre (which gave me some horrible flashbacks of the time I was doing my A-levels in English when us poor Kraut scholars had to crawl and bite our way through Mr.Shakespeare’s Othello in his bloody native Olde English tongue) plus an open air book market where Lids picked up a vintage edition of a book she reckoned to be worth a lot more than the price she had paid while I to my disappointment was talked out of buying a coffee-table book showing black and white pics of a scantily clad Geri “Ginger Spice“ Halliwell in her younger days. (Not so much talked out of it, but frowned out of it, if you’re getting my drift…;-))

Slightly disgruntled I made my way back towards Tower Bridge, Geri-less, but there was no time to mope for long as we then met up with Mr.L at St Katharine Docks for a swift pint in the nearby Dickens Inn pub before then retiring for the rest of the evening to a French restaurant. Yes, it was a debut for this German sausage muncher, my first taste of French food (unless you count baguette and camembert cheese), but it was delightful enough and once again we found proof that a) it is a small world and b) you are never far away from a fellow West Ham fan.

While I was showing Liddy a book about the Boleyn Ground I had bought in Newham earlier, one of the geezers in suit and tie from the adjacent table named Budge got all excited, asking if we were West Ham fans and when we affirmed that to be the case we were straight into all kinds of footballing conversations about games and players from days gone by and the upcoming game too.

Turned out he and his company are corporate season ticket holders at West Ham and if it wasn’t just the wine talking he promised to fix me up with a ticket if I ever fancied watching another away game this season. I certainly wouldn’t mind taking up that offer in 2018. It was a fantastic end to an eventful day and I thoroughly enjoyed the company of Liddy and Mr.L.

It was my own fault I later exposed my worn out feet to some more unwanted mileage by taking a wrong turn from Gants Hill initially before finally finding the road I was looking for and hitting the sack/sofa way past midnight.

SATURDAY, September 23rd – MATCHDAY

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Not too much rest was to be had of course as it was an early kickoff for Spurs. Irons1959 took me to a cafe in Stratford where I briefly met his sister who comes all the way from Wales to the games, but the staff in that caff were all over the place that morning, confusing and forgetting orders, so I basically had to eat my egg and bacon sandwich on the go while briskly walking towards the London Stadium in order to meet The Original Russ who was already waiting at the aptly named H post, with my season ticket in hand. Oh, how I have missed you! (The ticket, not Russ!)

After ticking a box the day before I had never even known existed with that French restaurant, here at the stadium there was a box I absolutely had to tick, had wanted to tick for a year now, a local delicacy I was desperate to try and a man I was eager to meet. I had heard loads of stories and good things about the famous Rib Man from West Ham, Mark Gevaux, and of course his highly recommended Rib Rolls.

I had also seen his entertaining contribution in a German cookery show and of course his appearance in the Iron Men film about our final season at The Boleyn.

Honest, it wasn't me on my own - but I helped a little...

As the man was incredibly busy behind his stall on matchday I could only briefly introduce myself, telling him about my column on the blog and my pleasure to finally meet him and try his famous rolls. He smiled, shook my hand and said he hoped I liked his stuff. And indeed it was among the best football related food I ever had, but boy, that “Holy F*** Hot Sauce” has its name for a good reason, when eating my roll I was adding numerous other creative expletives in both English and German, but once I could breathe again properly I was finally ready to watch my first game of the season.

I met the usual suspects again at the foot of the stairs at 238, Russ of course, The Voice of Reason and later also Dan Coker. As BSB couldn’t make the game I had the pleasure of watching the game from his seat, wedged between the footballing brains that are Russ and The Voice of Reason. Wave after wave of tactical suggestions, formation debates, performance verdicts and manager assessments washed over me, but at the end of the 90 minutes plus injury time a thrilling derby ended in defeat.

I hate losing against Spurs. Let me rephrase that. I hate losing against any team. Period. But in this case I was thoroughly entertained by a game that had everything, goals, drama, incidents and a great and inspiring fightback. I truly think Spurs were lucky in the end to hold onto their lead.

One thing though: Why is it so difficult to place enough ballboys all around the pitch, every 20 meters or so, preferably kids who actually are excited about what they’re doing, to make sure the ball gets back into play after five seconds rather than 20 ?

After the game Liddy briefly joined our group, my kind host Irons1959 as well and then I was approached by a stout guy, looking in my direction, saying to his little boy “Yeah, could be him!” Once I saw the camera dangling around his neck it was obvious that this was our very own blog photographer, the one and only Dawud Marsh. We had a quick chat, exchanging some ideas for future photoshoots and then he started snapping away, none of our group was safe from his lenses.

It became apparent fairly quickly though that the unofficial meet up wasn’t going to happen as most people either had other things to do or wanted to return home as quickly as possible after our derby defeat. Not Irons1959 though. He saved my blushes by taking me to Whitechapel and there, on Jack The Ripper’s manor, we found a nice pub first and an even nicer Pakistani restaurant later (another first for me as I had never tried Pakistani cuisine before).

Not only was the food really excellent (I got my customary curry of course), Irons1959 also met one of his former pupils there who was working at the restaurant which was a nice touch of course, adding to the good atmosphere during our meal.

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We then returned to Ilford, totally knackered, and I was more than happy that I could give my feet some rest and my eyes some Match of the Day Premier League highlights. Watching our game again on the custard and jelly it has to be said that the atmosphere came across as really excellent at times, the noise was incredible.

Which doesn’t mean that it’s a great matchday experience when you are IN that stadium. I still think the pitch is too far away. And I doubt I will ever quite get used to that.

SUNDAY, September 24th

I had been hoping BSB would call me up to give me a meeting place and time as he had done at every other visit of mine so far, but alas, this time it simply wasn’t possible. BSB phoned, explained and promised we would make up for it next time.

So who should step in and turn a potentially boring day into a great one ? Irons1959, my fellow (Half-) German from Ilford. As the weather was fantastic yet again we were driving in his car to the Royal Docks, a nice area with character and great views of the Docklands skyline, a symphony of wind and water, just as we like it here in Hamburg.

We were browsing around the neighbourhood and admiring some of the quite upmarket flats that are on offer along the waterline there. I certainly wouldn’t decline if someone offered my a flat in one of those former warehouses and I wouldn’t even care if my view was partly obscured by a nostalgic grey crane guarding the living room window.

We settled down with a Chinese Take Away in Ilford in front of the telly as it was general election day in Germany and we were shocked to hear about the right wing Alternative fuer Deutschland claiming third spot with 13.3% of the votes, gaining them 94 seats in parliament. Needless to say we both had a a few things to say about all this, what with Irons1959 having worked as a history teacher for many years. A bit of a dampener to an otherwise lovely day.

MONDAY, September 25th – Back to Hamburg

Final days of a trip are always a bit of a bummer and a waste. In the back of your mind there’s always the worry about getting to the airport on time and having the actual flight done and over with. Irons1959 had builders in the house, but he still was kind enough to let me stay in his living room for a few more hours, allowing me to browse the WHTID blog, read up on the German general election and yes, also Concordia (not much to report there, the game of the first team was postponed same as the second team’s fixture (not because of my travels though, that’s just a coincidence!), so I actually didn’t miss any Cordi action while I was away).

Oh yes, there was yet another first on a West Ham trip for me. I didn’t go to the club shop and I didn’t spend a penny on merchandise. And neither do I intend to do so again in the future. As long as that kind of money mainly goes into the Sullivan&Gold interest fund generated on the back of the loans kindly provided to the club by our esteemed owners, I choose not to add any club shirts, scarves, hats or coffee mugs to my already substantial collection.

And of course I couldn’t leave Stansted airport with another little football debate. After taking off my belt, shoes and West Ham jacket at the security check in the staff member checking out my tray just grinned at me, shook his head and said “It’s not your fault you support the wrong team!” I immediately went into “You want some ? I’ll give it ya!” mode, asking who he supported then.

“Spurs” he beamed. Of course! Had to be one of them. I told him he should count himself lucky his beloved superstar team didn’t throw away a three goal lead on Saturday. But I left it at that as the queue behind me was getting slightly itchy at that point.

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This latest edition of “War and Peace” is nearing it’s conclusion. It was a very different trip for the reasons I tried to explain, but still a fantastic experience made possible once again by so many members of the WHTID family. Special kudos to Liddy for the exercise (my feet are still shaking at the mention of your name!), to Irons1959 of course, my kind host from Ilford who bent over backwards to make sure I had a good time and also to Dawud Marsh for some great pictures done at the stadium.

Hope to see you all again soon for my next game! COYI!