Oh West Ham we love you. Despte you making us tear our hair out, despite you being the most wonderful but frustrating team, we still come back for more. And today showed both sides of West Ham, but who cares? We are Premier League, I say we are Premier League! And there were many times today when I thought that wasn’t going to to happen. And if were honest, we could so easily have lost today. You could say that class showed in the end, and you might have a point, but at times in this game, Blackpool were all over us, especially the middle period of the second half. At times they cut through our defence like butter, but we survived. Indeed, shortly after Carlton Cole’s opener, Vaz Te had a good chance to put us two up. His shot went slightly wide of the post. If that had gone in, I suspect we’d have chalked up another hatful. But credit to Blackpool, they fought and fought and they nearly did us over.
My day started at my parents’ home at Ashdon, near Saffron Walden. I got up and instantly felt nervous. Four of us were going – my Blackpool supporting Dad and another friend of his, Dennis Peach, who’s also a Blackpool supporter – and a Hammers supporting schoolfriend of mine, John Bidwell. We’d booked a car to pick us up at 10. It turned out to be a Skoda. Great. Just what I always wanted to travel to Wembley in. And the driver decided to go the scenic route. Even greater. We had arranged to meet some other friends under the Bobby Moore statue at 11.45. It soon became clear that would be an ambitious target. Not only had we got a driver whose familiarity with SatNav proved illusory, but he hadn’t got a clue where to go when we actually had the Wembley Arc in our sights. My Dad is 82 so I needed to get as close to the stadium as possible as he’s not so sharp on his pins. Eventually we got there, and my bloodpressure was racing. I managed not to quite tell the driver what I thought, sorely tempted though I was. Manners won out in the end.
We slowly made our way up to the statue, my Dad having to climb countless steps to do so. We then made our way up to the Club Wembley area- thankfully via escalators. My Dad hadn’t been to Wembley since 1948 and his eyes were on stalks. I had only been to a concert in the new Wembey. Before we went into the Arc restaurant to eat, we took a peek at tthe pitch. It looked perfect. I have to say the food wasn’t worth the price, but it was nice to be able to relax before going to our seats. We decided to forego the half time drinks and stay in our seats. We were about the only ones to do so! Most of the people near us weren’t even back for the Blackpool goal. But I am getting ahead of myself.
The first twenty minutes didn’t see a single free kick given. Blackpool probably had the better of that period, mainly because we weren’t getting stuck in. Indeed, I don’t recall a single West Ham shot, while Blackpool had a couple of good chances. I began to get nervous, mainly because we normally start so strongly. Nothing was happening in midfield and we just couldn’t get our passing game together. But we started to improve and had a succession of corners. Cole started to impose himself on the game and it was he who scored the opener after a wonderfully flighted ball into the box which Cole chested down and volleyed into the net. It reminded me a little of David Platt’s goal against Belgium in the 1990 World Cup. A few minutes later Vaz Te slid the ball wide when it looked easier to score. Half time. 10. We were feeling slightly lucky to be ahead.
By this time West Ham fans were in full voice. Even in the Blackpool end, where I was, there were loads of West Ham fans. What a shame (and a scandal) it was that there were so many empty seats in the Blackpool end. That should never happen again.
Only three minutes into the second half and Cole gave the ball on the half way line and Thomas Ince (so of Paul) ran into the penalty area and slotted the ball home diagonally past Rob Green. Terrible defending. Ince got loads of boos, which I thought was a bit off. It’s not justified to visit the sins of the father on his son, but there you go. This started a purple patch for Blackpool and they could easily have had a couple more goals. But they didn’t and that’s the main thing. We weathered a prolonged storm and it was only when we reached the 70th minute that we gradually got back into it. I looked at the clock.Eighty One minutes. “If we get one now, we’ll win this,” I thought to mysef, having previously been convinced that Blackpool were going to win through. Julien Faubert hit a screamer of a volley which hit the bar. Come on You Irons, And then he did it. Ricardo Vaz Te hit a rebound high into the net and that was it. Apart from a very marginal penalty appeal, Blackpool never looked like scoring. We did the professional thing and kept the ball well. Eventually, after a totally unjusified 4 minutes of injury time the whistle went, and the party started. Winning promotion via the playoffs probably means more than automatic promotion. Neither Reading nor Southampton had a party like ours in full view of a national TV audience, let alone in front of 78,000 people. It really did feel like winning the cup. Carlton Cole reacted like he won the lottery – and perhaps he has. It clearly meant a lot to him. After the presentations, he led the jollifications on the pitch. Onne slightly jarring note was the way Ricardo Vaz Te didn’t join in and headed straight down the tunnel on his own. I’m not quite sure what to read into that. The other players stayed on the pitch for a good 20 minutes after he disappeared.
By this stage I had shouted myself hoarse, which is not a good thing when you have to present a three hour radio show in the morning. Anyway, we went back to the resturant for a few drinks and a bit more food before I managed to have a very loud disagreement with a Jobsworh Wembley steward who wouldn’t let us eave the stadium on the same level as the Bobby Moore statue. I explained that I couldn’t expect my 82 year old Dad to walk up two lots of very long stairs again. He still wouldn’t open the door and let us out, so I am afraid the Dale temper was on full display. An unpleasant end to a fantastic Wembley experience. We eventually got to the waiting car and I waived off my Dad and his friends back to Essex, while I queued for the tube to get into central London.
And of course there are now so many questions. What effect will our promotion have on our planned Olympic Stadium move? Which players will leave? Who will Sam want to sign? How much are season tickets going to rise to? All those questions are for the next few weeks. For now, let’s bask in the glory of today and revel in the victory. But let’s also empathise with Blackpool. They have the makings of a really good team. They play great football and they gave us a real game today.