Playing Away With Ein Bisschen Vorsprung Durch Technik
Guest Post by John Bayfield
Up to the end of 1980 my away day record for West Ham games was P7 W0 D2 L5 F4 A15. On the law of averages I would have expected (or hoped for) a win sooner rather than later. The second and final Triumph TR7 trip on my Irons away trips was to see if the Hammers could go home with all the points from Meadow Lane, home of the Football Leagues oldest club, Notts County on 17th January 1981. As usual our fans were in good voice. Even more so after Pat Holland gave us the lead and we should have gone in at the break well ahead but Don Masson’s midfield performance inspired the midlands club to draw the Division 2 clash 1-1. Unfortunately Holland got injured whilst scoring and never played in the first team again. The only triumph I saw was written on the front of my car. Team; Parkes, Stewart, Brush, Bonds, Martin, Devonshire, Holland, Goddard, Cross, Brooking and Pike. Sub; Allen. No wins from eight.
After selling the TR7, I bought what was to be my favourite car. I ventured into the Vorsprung Durch Technik world, a first generation silver VW Scirocco 1.6 GLS. Like Parkes it handled well most of the time. Like Brooking it went smoothly along. Like Cottee it went up the gears nicely. Like Repka it managed a few ‘mishaps’. It was a while before it ventured out to see the Irons on the road though. And what a debut! February 18th 1984, I drove my highway star to St Andrews for an FA Cup 5th round match against Birmingham City. I was feeling quite confident for our progress to the sixth round, standing in the away end and full of hope. Lots of noise from the travelling fans as you would expect.
Great atmosphere from kick off and through the game. Until the hosts scored the first goal. Then the second. Then the third. A couple of pitch invasions didn’t help either even though the fences around the edge was to keep fans off the pitch. Another 3-0 defeat, not even a consolation goal. Bit of Groundhog Day creeping in. We had to stay where we were well after the finish, bottles being heard smashing behind our stand. Not such a great atmosphere at full time. Another below par day out on and off the pitch. For my ninth game on the trot winless the team was Parkes, Stewart, Lampard, Brush, Orr, Walford, Dickens, Barnes, Cottee, Swindlehurst and Allen. Sub; Bonds.
That was to be the only Hammers game for the Scirocco. It was very reluctantly sold as it went to get our first house deposit for a mortgage of which I remind my wife frequently. So finances dictated a smaller motor, the piggy bank was raided and the odd bit of change that fell out went on a British Leyland Mini mark 3 1000cc which (sort of) graced the drive. No West Ham games home or away for my little tin box on wheels. If I bought a Dinky car that might have had more style to it. The big elastic band to make the car go would only turn enough rotations to get me to the shop at the top of the road let alone east London. The Mini was very Marco Boogers, erratic, a bit rusty and as reliable as Joey Beauchamp. I think it reached 57mph once but that was downhill. Eventually a newer vehicular monster arrived and but not the ZZ Top car, The Eliminator, as I had once hoped for. But it was still black, a Fiat Uno 1.1 model with red go-faster stripes but as with the stripes on the TR7 I wasn’t going to get fooled with that one again. The Fiat wasn’t exactly life in the fast lane but it took me for a journey up the A1 to Sheffield again for the FA Cup quarter final tie at Hillsborough on March 12th 1986. West Ham didn’t really get into gear until we were 2-0 down and Tony Cottee’s very well taken goal after good team work pulled one back. As much as we battled well, the Owls put the brakes on and parked the bus. All the ‘torque’ afterwards was what might have been. Ten attempts, no Churchill V-sign for the home journey. Team; Parkes, Stewart, Parris, Gale, Martin, Devonshire, Ward, Dickens, McAvennie, Cottee and Pike. Sub; Orr.Saturday, May 3rd 1986 and it’s the boys of ’86 at The Hawthorns playing West Brom in an attempt to win our first Division 1 league title. A very significant away day for all of us but slightly different for me. McAvennie, Cottee and Stewart making the visiting support very proud in a great 3-2 away victory. In the build up to the afternoon I was very excited, nervous, trying to keep calm, looking smart, clean shaven and dressed for the occasion as best I could. But no, I wasn’t in the west midlands. And I wasn’t driving any car. I was about to enter a fine old Bentley with my wife to head for our wedding reception when a guest approached me and said ‘West Ham won 3-2’ and in almost the same breath ’ but Liverpool won 1-0’. The Reds took the title. Gutted doesn’t even come close. The Bentleys journey was of mixed emotions. We won away on my wedding day but lost out on a chance of history as well. That 10 minute ride left me a bit deflated. Even an away win ended in disappointment, whatever type of car I was travelling in at the time.
I really fancied a white car next up, the idea was to put two subtle thin looking stripes along it, one each of claret and blue similar to our away strip a few seasons back. ‘Don’t like them. White cars always get dirtier quicker’ replied my better half/boss. That’s not always true I thought. Phil Parkes talked off an away game where the boys played in a white strip at Leicester and lost on a muddy pitch but Tony Cottee’s kit stayed pristine clean for the whole game.’ He came off cleaner than he went on’ laughed our £565,000 goalkeeping giant. The rest of the team who had put in a shift and a half and got back to the dressing room covered in dirt, weren’t very impressed with Tone and told him so afterwards but not quite using the Queen’s English. But it proved white doesn’t always get dirty!
So the Fiat Uno was exchanged for another Italian, a metallic light blue Fiat Tipo. The flip up glass sunroof though couldn’t always hold out the rain, leaking quite often thus reminding me of some previous dodgy defensive displays. Preparing for my longest drive yet, I thought my James May/Captain Slow approach which I had used until then had to end so I got into a Damon Hill mental mode and it was Go-Go-Go from the green traffic light as our latest travel beast went up to Liverpool in 1993. For a weekend birthday treat, I had managed to get tickets for a first visit to Anfield for our Premier League encounter on 6th November. The Hammers who had only won four league games from the previous thirteen since season start, played well enough but second half goals from Nigel Clough and an Alvin Martin own goal ensured my record of not seeing a Hammers away win for the eleventh consecutive game carried on. Team; Miklosko, Breacker, Martin, Potts, Burrows, Marsh, Butler, Bishop, Holmes, Morley and Chapman.
After an extended sojourn from away trips whilst bringing up our little juniors, I still managed a few Upton Park clashes. I finally found my away day wheels on fire again, with a Chelsea workmate of mine (Pete, my manager) who had tickets for the Premier League game at Stamford Bridge on April 23rd, 2011. Although a staunch Blues fan, Pete always said he felt like the Hammers were his and many others second team which surprised me. Partly from the 1966 World Cup win connections but also from the playing style that had built up through the Greenwood/Lyall years. We may not win as much as some so called ‘bigger’ clubs but generally the football has been enjoyable to watch with exception to any Lou Macari game. (In my mind he was never a West Ham manager). Stamford Bridge had changed vastly since my previous visit 32 years back when to be honest it was a bit of a dump bar a large stand. Maybe, just maybe, I might get that first win on the road. Our latest family car a Vauxhall Zafira did the honours. As it turned out my seat was a few yards from our supporters so that help pep me up before kick off. Young Frank put Chelsea one up by half time then sub Robbie Keane missed a sitter early in the second half for an equaliser. Up until then Fernando Torres hadn’t scored for the Blues after his mega money transfer from Liverpool three months earlier. So it had to be against us. After 13 games and no goals, he duly obliged in our 3-0 defeat. Team; Green, Jacobsen, Gabbidon, Da Costa, Bridge, Spector, Noble, Hitzelsperger, Sears, Ba, Cole. Subs; Keane, Piquionne and Obinna. Felt like I was running on empty.
One final chance for the Zafira and currently my most ‘recent’ trip away was a second visit to Norwich on September 15th 2012 in the Premier League. A Norwich fan I know couldn’t make the game so I got offered the seats. Only problem was they were in the Barclays End Stand in the middle of the home support. I took my youngest son with me, hoping it may change my luck. Anything to get the monkey off my back. Norwich fans are generally better than most so I didn’t get too much stick. Norwich had Robert Snodgrass playing for them and loanee striker and future England captain Harry Kane who came on for them and caused a few problems. Kane could have wrapped it up for the canaries in the last minute but Jussi Jaaskelainen made the save. In a decent game Carlton Cole had a goal bound header cleared off the line but Jussi was the busier of the two keepers. We could have won it but surprise surprise we didn’t.
No more away excursions since then but my latest Dagenham Dustbin may yet be the lucky one. On the road following West Ham United is rarely a smooth one but can be very enjoyable as columns written on this site in recent times have shown. Some of you have seen many, many more away games than me so you know what it’s like, good, bad or complete disaster. My current magical (tragical?) mystery tour of competitive away match day statistics are; Played 13 Won 0 Drew 4 Lost 9 Goals; For 6 Against 26. That digit after the ‘Won’ has been niggling away at me whilst writing this piece. Looking at those statistics, it doesn’t make great reading. The equivalent of a third of a season’s games spread just over three decades but somewhere along the line I will get to see the boys win on the road before the wheels finally fall off. Happy travels all.