The HamburgHammer Column

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Now, that was a bit different. My trips always tend to consist of a combination of well practised routines and boxes to tick – this time some of these much cherished routines couldn’t be adhered to unfortunately (more of that further below), but the kind support and spontaneity of people from this blog who simply step up to the plate and deliver time and time again once again guaranteed it was a much cherished and valuable trip after all.

So, if you fancy it, step on and have a butcher’s at what this Kraut Hammer has been up to this time…

Thursday, February 28th

It was basically summer already already when I stepped on that plane very early in the morning at Hamburg Airport and the flight and subsequent transfer to Stratford proceeded without incident.

Irons1959 had kindly offered me the opportunity to stay at his place in Ilford again, so this time around I spent far more time on the Central Line rather than the District Line. Once I was in Ilford around 9am I gave poor 1959 a ring. I say poor because he had been travelling to the Man City game the night before and for obvious reasons hadn’t enjoyed a full night’s sleep when I rang him up, telling him I had arrived. Still, as in the following days, he was good as gold and was ready expecting me at his front door with a nice mug of tea and some first-hand reporting on West Ham’s performance.

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I then made my way to Newham Bookshop (one of those boxes to tick) as I was anxious to finally collect those books I had bought on my last trip shortly before Christmas but which got lost in the post somewhere along the way and never reached Hamburg in the first place. It wasn’t the three books pictured by the way that I picked up and I also found another one which should be a good read, a kind of autobiography by Billy Bragg. I got to know his music from watching West Ham in 1996 as his songs used to be played out over the tannoy during pre-match warmups.

The Newham Bookshop has been done up nicely now, it looks less cluttered but what’s more important is that the excellent staff are still there. They are great to have a chat with, but they also know what they’re doing in terms of recommending books. And the choice of interesting reading material is vast. They are in the running to become Independent Bookshop of the Year as they are among the London finalists already. If you go to their homepage there is a link where you can support them with your vote.
Again, I urge you to go there if you haven’t been yet (or your last time was a while ago). I know some people don’t read much, others do it by ordering stuff online or download books on e-readers. I am old-fashioned in the sense that I like to browse, I like to hold a book, to turn pages made of paper, the feel, the smell, maybe even the subconscious memory of reading tons of book as a kid. Anyway, it was a pleasure to see the Newham Bookshop still around, stronger than before and surely here to stay now for a long time.

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I later got in touch with Dawud who met me in Bow Road early evening to take me to his exhibition in a local library/cafe near the London Stadium. Of course I had seen most of the photos displayed there on this blog already, including the one showing me, the one with Liddy’s claret boots or the shouting lady with the long finger.
The photos were a nice backdrop for a fantastic conversation about Dawud’s talent for capturing great moments and moods on camera, how he does it, but also about West Ham in general and life itself. It was a lovely end to my first day back in London. But it had been a long day, I was cream crackered and needed some sleep. So it was an early night in Ilford.

Friday, March 1st

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This was going to be an exciting day because I was destined to meet Sir Trevor Brooking later, in person! But before that I had no other plans. Unfortunately this was my first WHTID trip where I didn’t get to meet Iron Liddy due to her feeling poorly unfortunately. Our meetings are always interesting and great fun, so of course I was disappointed I had to do without this time, Liddy, I hope you’re feeling better soon and we may meet again eventually.

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Again, Irons1959 came to the rescue. He suggested we could go to the Docklands area, have a nice riverside walk with views on both river and docks and we did just that, alighting at Pontoon Dock DLR Station.

He knew the area quite well as he had been looking at property around there in the recent past and I did totally get why. Being from Hamburg, I like salty air, blowing winds, riverside views and the odd ship coming into view.

So that was a lovely way to while away the hours. Later that afternoon I headed over to Dagenham where another event had been laid on with Hammers legends of the past.
And there are few legends at West Ham bigger than Sir Trevor Brooking…

I had some more time to kill, so headed over to the trusted Pipe Major pub, had a swift half of cider and read a bit more about Brexit in the paper I had bought. I was hoping the journos of the Daily Telegraph might enlighten me why Brexit is a brilliant idea after all, but I was none the wiser really after reading their opinion/comment section.

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Then it was over to Dagenham&Redbridge’s ground where the event was about to begin. We got in the drinks and our table was seating the most popular Kraut on this blog, Klopp-lookalike Ebi and his son Thomas, there was Russ, Safehands, VoR, BSB, Hugh Jardon (birthday boy!), CRB and the one and only Nigel Kahn. Oh, and the author of this column. It was the usual mix of stories of former players reminiscing about their first game, best goal, best player ever played with or against etc.
It was jolly little games, auctions and finally a Q&A session.

Positives ? Lovely pie and mash. Some good banter between Sir Trevor and presenter Tony Gale (Machine Gun Gale I like to call him due to his unrelenting and quickfire barrage of mocking remarks and punchlines).
Sir Trevor and Tony Cottee signing my West Ham legends poster was good. Having nice chats with the WHTID knights of our round table.

Negatives ? An unruly audience which got rowdier the longer the evening went and the more beers were consumed. People were talking in loud voices over the players trying to tell an anecdote, not giving a hoot if it might spoil things for others.

Boozed up twats were shouting in remarks or new questions while Sir Trevor was still in the middle of answering a previous one. It was highly disrespectful and I was both annoyed and ashamed by it.
Frankly, I was expecting better from West Ham fans, especially when it comes to how we treat proper club legends. Maybe not…or at least not today.
The day after would be different of course, honouring Billy Bonds with naming the most impressive looking stand in the stadium after him.

Thanks a lot to VoR who was kind enough to spare me the nightly bus ride through East London by offering me a seat in his motor, dropping me in Ilford near the doorstep of my Ilford guestroom in Irons1959’s house.

Saturday, March 2nd

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Late kickoff, so plenty of time. Certainly time enough to invite my host to a lovely fry-up in one of his local caffs and to watch the North London derby in a nearby pub afterwards.

It was genuinely the first time I was actively cheering an Arsenal goal!
I suppose any goal scored against Spurs is a good enough reason to cheer.
It was a nice warm-up for later, after the game finishing (with bloody Spurs equalising later unfortunately) I headed over to Stratford to meet in another pub with Safehands, VoR and two of his mates, one of whom was a Newcastle supporter. Still, no punches were thrown…LOL

We were heading over to the stadium a bit later than I would have wanted. As the ceremony of the opening of the new Billy Bonds stand was imminent, I sacrificed my beloved rib roll with hot sauce from The Ribman and went straight to my seat in 227, near the front of the upper tier in the Sir Trevor Brooking stand.

I didn’t actually get to see Bonds cutting the ribbon (the angle on the big screen didn’t show his hands and my view on Bonzo himself was obstructed by other people around him), but I could feel the collective emotion in the air, the outpouring of respect for probably the most revered player who ever wore the claret and blue of West Ham United.
I reckon there weren’t too many occasions in Bonzo’s life when he was shedding tears, this was definitely one. And I was proud that by accident I had picked this game to attend this glorious occasion in person.

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Oh yes, there was a game too that evening! I saw Declan Rice score his second goal and it happened right in front of me. I have to say that the view from my seat is beginning to grow on me. I usually don’t watch my football from behind a goal, but if it allows me to watch West Ham when I’m in London, I’m happy enough with that. The atmosphere ?
It very much depends on the performance, doesn’t it ? Which was similar at the Boleyn to be fair.

I am not a big fan of Stratford as a place though. It’s architecture, shopping center, winebars etc., it doesn’t do a lot for me or the matchday experience. And you could do so much more around the Olympic Park to enhance the atmosphere before and after the games. But I cannot knock the experience of watching the lads perform. Another win in the bag for me, my record at London Stadium still stands proud – only one defeat witnessed there in person for me so far. Just one draw, the rest all wins, lovely jubbly!

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After the game I found my way into the club shop (despite my vow never to set foot in there again until our current owners are gone). The place was absolutely heaving with punters, buying shirts, jackets, duvets and foam fingers. I had to buy a scarf, as requested by the Concordia groundskeeper and for myself I had chosen another West Ham themed coffee mug. They do very nice ones now, of selected players, with the club crest and national flag of said player in the background.

I first thought about taking the Declan Rice one, but once he moves to Man City or Barcelona one or two years from now, it would be hard for me to drink from that cup.
Jack Wilshere ? That mug looked nice too, but the shop staff were telling me that apparently the Wilshere mugs break easily…;-))
So I did in the end decide upon the Fabianski/Poland one. Not only because I have distant relations in Poland, but because Fabianski has probably been our most consistent performer this season. I already have about ten West Ham themed mugs at home, but what the heck! This one is a bloody nice addition.

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In order to celebrate our great win against Newcastle and also to thank Irons1959 for his hospitality I invited him to one of his favourite curry houses in Wanstead, a tiny corner shop basically with no more than 14 seats, but the food was lovely, especially the naan breads, although I never knew that Jalfrezi could be quite so hot. They didn’t do yoghurt-based drinks, so I had to ask for a glass of ice water to make the spicyness bearable. We arrived back at his place just in time to watch the highlights of our game again on Match of the Day. Overall, a very emotional but successful matchday!

Sunday, March 3rd

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This time I really was in limbo. You see, the Sunday routine for my trips to London, thanks to our most favourite cabbie BSB, used to be coming to his place, order a pizza, watch some football or cricket, chat away or do things in and around Dagenham. This time though he had to fulfill family duties, looking after his grandchildren.
So no trip on the District Line eastbound for me this time. BUT: Out of nowhere came the Longtime Lurker, offering me an escape route to Leigh-on-Sea.

Iron Liddy kindly passed my number on to the Lurker, he told me how to get there and one stop before Leigh-on-Sea he stepped onto the train to greet me. He lives locally and again I can totally see why he likes it there. In a way Leigh-on-Sea reminded me of places my family used to go on weekends when I was a kid, seaside towns with sweeping winds, seagulls dancing in the sky and nicking chips from unsuspecting humans, narrow streets of cobblestone winding their ways along the seafront, with pubs, shops and seafood restaurant and stalls lining the streets.

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The Lurker of course knew that I love my food. So he went and got us a sample platter of, wait for it, whelks, cockles and…..jellied eels!!!
My final box to tick in terms of London traditional food, the Marmite of the sea, the proverbial East London love it or hate it dish!

We were doing it in ascending order, starting with the potentially least challenging option, the cockles, moving up a level to the whelks before taking on the ultimate challenge of the jellied eels.

I passed every stage with flying colours. As a Hamburger I have eaten plenty of seafood in my time, even as a kid. There are few fruits of the oceans and rivers I haven’t tried. Any kind of seafood is usually a big hit with me. So while all three of the above dishes were unknown to me as of yet, I found them all pleasant enough.

Cockles don’t really have a distinctive taste, they have a slightly dodgy, soft texture and you only get a hint of saltiness from the sea. The whelks I found similar to mushrooms really, with a similarly chewy texture, but again a very mild, almost bland taste. You could still get a whiff of the salty seas it came from.

And then the jellied eels! Smoked eel is a very traditional food in Hamburg, we used to have it regularly on New Year’s Eve. The jellied version ? I’m not a big fan of jelly and I think they rather overdid it with the quantity of the jelly, but the eel itself was lovely, the little piece of fishbone was easy enough to tackle and remove.

Maybe the Lurker was hoping for me gagging, my face distorting in agony or repulsion, but it was none of the sort. Jellied eels will never be my favourite dish, but I would order them again in future.
It would be better though if they were removing half of the jelly. More eel, less jelly, then it might be a more appealing dish to more people.

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After that we had a few beers in the brilliant Crooked Billet pub, a perfect setting for some really interesting conversations with the Lurker on West Ham, Europe, Brexit and beautiful cities to visit. Hopefully the Lurker will find himself on a business call in Hamburg in the near future so I can return some of his very kind and generous hospitality.
Thanks Lurker for a brilliant afternoon in a wonderful setting. Back in Ilford storm Freya was beginning to cause havoc, but Irons1959 was already waiting for me with a most welcome hot mug of tea. Watching MotD2 I didn’t miss much by not watching the Liverpool derby…

Monday, March 4th

Usually I hate days of departure as I’m too anxious about potentially missing the flight, so I tend to not do any sightseeing on the final day. But thanks to Irons 1959 this time was different. He had told me the day before already that the Docklands Museum was well worth a visit and that’s where we went. Of course it’s too much information in there to digest in two hours or so, but the setting alone in an old warehouse with wooden beams and ceilings was magnificent.

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I come from a port town myself, so I have an affinity to all things maritime, the sea and the vessels that sail on it. As I also intend to bring my brother and nephew over to London eventually, I also immediately thought how this would be the kind of place for them too. Absolutely fascinating exhibitions in there although of course they couldn’t refrain from mentioning the war! Mind you, in Hamburg there are quite a few places too that do just that. Hamburg got flattened in the war too, you know…

Irons1959 then had an inkling he couldn’t send me on the way with an empty stomach, so he rustled up a quick lunch which was highly appreciated before dropping me off at Barkingside Station for the quick tube ride to Stratford before heading back to Stansted Airport. That flight back got very exciting/frightening when we were descending during the Hamburg approach, encountering strong winds, leading to the heaviest turbulences I have ever encountered on a flight before (was it storm Freya again ?).

The wings were moving heavily, the plane was bouncing and dipping unexpectedly like mad, it felt like riding the Nemesis in Alton Towers, only when you are on a Ryanair flight you have far less legroom than riding the Nemesis where your legs are dangling in the air freely. Still, we got down all in one piece and I got back home shortly after 11pm.
Although I was knackered I did watch the highlights of the Newcastle game again before hitting the pillow, dreaming of my next trip to London again. COYI!!!

As you may have guessed, my biggest gratitude this time belongs to Irons 1959 who provided accommodation, tea and toast in abundance (and other food) plus plenty of useful suggestions and historical background too. He, like others before him, has shown what the West Ham family is all about and I hope I can repay some of his kindness if he comes to my town (again) one day. And I also want to say Thank You to the Longtime Lurker too, that afternoon was an unexpected, but highly satisfying highlight of this trip which proves that sometimes the best experiences are those you don’t plan and organise but rather those where you improvise and go with the flow. Cheers mate!

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