Ground #: 164
Ground: Upton Park
Competition: Capital One Cup 2nd Round
Kick Off: 7:45pm
West Ham United 2
Vaz Te 42’, Morrison 46’
Cheltenham Town 1
Richards (pen) 56’
After coming up to 2 years living in London, there were only a few more professional football grounds still to see. Tottenham’s White Hart Lane might be done if they bother to offer tickers below £30 in the foreseeable future, while I might leave Barnet’s new Hive for a wee while. That just left Upton Park, standing in East London, before the Hammers move across to the Olympic Stadium (it seems) in 2016. When West Ham were drawn against Cheltenham Town in the League Cup and offered cheap tickets (you watching Spurs!?) I didn’t need asked.
West Ham is an area in the London Borough of Newsham. A settlement in the area named Ham was first recorded as Hamme in an Anglo-Saxon charter of 958 and then in the 1086 Domesday Book as Hame. The earliest recorded use of West Ham, as distinct from East Ham, is in 1186 as Westhamma. It is formed from Old English 'hamm' and means 'a dry area of land between rivers or marshland', referring the location of the settlement within boundaries formed by the rivers Lea, Thames and Roding and their marshes. West Ham was then formed around a large ancient parish in the Becontree hundred of Essex. Following the opening of Stratford station, the first railway station in the area, in 1839, the focus of activity shifted northwards towards the fast-expanding Stratford, with the original settlement diminishing in significance. In 1840 the parish was included in the Metropolitan Police District and soon after the built-up area of London had encompassed West Ham. The former county borough was merged with the adjacent County Borough of East Ham to form the new London Borough of Newham on 1 April 1965. Today, the area has been one of the most deprived in the country and as part of the New Deal for Communities programme it forms, with neighbouring Plaistow, a regeneration area, helped in part by the 2012 London Olympics which took place on its doorstep.
The earliest generally accepted incarnation of West Ham United was founded in 1895 as the Thames Ironworks team by foreman and local league referee Dave Taylor and owner Arnold Hills. The team played on a strictly amateur basis until 1898 when they entered the Southern League 2nd Division, where they won promotion to the 1st Division on the first attempt. The team initially played in full dark blue kits, as inspired by Mr. Hills, who had been an Oxford University "Blue", but changed in 1899 when they acquired their now traditional home kit combination of claret shirts and sky blue sleeves in a wager involving Aston Villa players, who were League Champions at the time. The club was relaunched in 1900 as West Ham United and moved to their current Boleyn Ground in Upton Park in 1904. After reaching the famous White Horse Final in the FA Cup in 1923 (they lost 2-0 to Bolton), the club settled into a position in the top two leagues, reaching the top flight again in 1958. The club enjoyed their greatest success under Ron Greenwood as they won the FA Cup and Cup Winners Cup during the mid 60’s before a large chunk of West Ham players made up the England 1966 World Cup squad. (I can’t remember how they did) After the glory days ended, the club did start to yo-yo between the two leagues again until 1993/94 when after promotion to the Premier League they appeared to have become a mainstay. Under Harry Redknapp they achieved some impressive league finishes, but when he was replaced in 2001, they started their slump again and have been relegated twice (and bounced back both times) before seemingly being back in the comfortable top flight clubs under current boss Sam Allardyce.
Although it apparently does not have long left, Upton Park is a classic ground. A short walk from Upton Park or East Ham stations (but not West Ham, funnily), the ground is dominated on the outside by the modern Alpari Stand. The largest single football stand in London, it was rebuilt in 2001 and features two large turrets on the outside that give it a grand view while walking past. The other three stands are a lot smaller and despite the recent(ish) modernisation works to the place, it does still feel slightly run down in parts, but this doesn’t detract from the overall feel of the place. The East Stand is the smallest one of the four, with it being only singled tiered and built in 1969 (although it was made all-seater later) and did contact the Hammer’s loud support, however they have now moved over sit near the away fans. The two stands behind the goals are also quite imposing (Bobby Moore and Trevor Brooking Stands) and the compact nature of Upton Park, surrounded by housing right around it, mean it’s a great place to watch football and for the big games, must have a good atmosphere.
The League Cup rarely brings in the “big games” anymore for the top flight clubs as most see it as a nuisance and extra games. For clubs out of the ivory tower though, the chance to play the big boys is one to enjoy and as much like Morecambe did against Newcastle, Cheltenham Town were right up for this one. Not fully packing out the away end, but bringing considerably more than they would for a league game, the Robins hadn’t started particularly well in League 2. Defeats to Chesterfield and Plymouth had been partially resolved with a win over non-league bound Accrington but a team who had been challenging for play-off positions in the past few seasons will want to do better. They had won a bizarre 1st Round tie at home to Crawley Town to set this game up, the furthest they had been in the competition since 2008/09. (When they had lost 3-2 to Stoke) West Ham had only played two league games in the build up to this, with a 2-0 home win against Cardiff City and a goalless draw at Newcastle to set them up nicely for this game. However with Big Sam making a number of changes, you just never knew. (You did, but you can still imagine)
Cheltenham’s tactic was clearly to get in the home side’s faces and disrupt their play. A tough tactic to get right against a side that play 3 leagues higher than you, but credit to the Robins, they got it spot on to begin with. With West Ham being hurried off the ball and playing like a team who rarely played together, the home fans began to get a bit edgy as Cheltenham were right in this. Goalscoring chances were fairly low however as Matt Taylor fired a free kick into Cheltenham’s goalie Scott Brown, while Matt Richards fired a Cheltenham free kick over the bar. As the half went on, the Robins began to push on a bit more as Razvan Rat and Adrian had to work hard at the back to stop them creating a clear cut chance. Sadly though, Cheltenham were undone just before half time. A foul on Ravel Morrison on the edge of the area brought the Hammers a free kick and up stepped Ricardo Vaz Te to smash the ball into the top corner. A shot out of the “you don’t save those” category, gave West Ham a lead a HT that looked very unlikely some 10 minutes earlier.
Clearly unhappy with the performance in the first half, Big Sam brought on Stewart Downing for Joe Cole and the Hammers seemed to have killed the game off instantly. Downing received the ball on the right and slipped it back to Morrison on the edge of the area. He easily skipped past one man before smashing the ball into the bottom corner. Barely a minute into the 2nd half, the Robins could really have been killed off as they let their heads drop and the Hammers looked to score more. Mohamed Diame fired a powerful shot over before both Vaz Te and Downing had headers that were just kept out. It looked like being one way traffic until Cheltenham then pulled one back amazingly. On a rare attack, the Hammers defence completely fell asleep to allow Sam Deering to nip in behind and poke the ball past Adrian. While Deering was then taken out, Rat got back to clear the ball off the line and to safety. However, the referee deemed that there had been no advantage and the penalty was given. I’d argue that Deering was unlikely to get to the ball anyway but I’m not a referee. Up stepped Richards to just stick the ball past Adrian and the Robins were right back in the game. You did expect there to be a big push from the away side now, however West Ham always looked more likely to score the next goal as Jack Collison forced a great save from Brown, while George McCartney hit the crossbar with a header. Cheltenham nearly inflicted an extra 30 minutes of pain on us when Ashley Vincent missed from 4 yards when he connected with a long throw, but they didn’t deserve to take the game to extra time and didn’t as West Ham went through to Round 3.
West Ham’s reward for this victory was a 3rd Round tie at home to Cardiff City which must have delighted the Met Police. This game was far from a classic and clearly not as good as the previous round’s tie I saw at Leyton Orient, but it was nice to finally get to see Upton Park. It hit home how daft some football pricing is now with adverts during the match publicising that I could see their next home game against footballing Gods, Stoke City, for £42. They lost that 1-0 in what sounds a classic to show Big Sam that they should have really signed a striker in the transfer window. Cheltenham carried on their good form too, getting hammered by Bury before holding Portsmouth to a draw as they struggle towards the lower ends of the league. Probably my only visit to Upton Park before they move to the Olympic Stadium and while it was average on the field, off the field it is a great venue and one that will be missed in 2016 when the Hammers decamp.
- Match: 5/10 (average for neutral)
- Value for money: 7/10 (good price for League Cup)
- Ground: 7/10 (can feel the history of the place)
- Atmosphere: 6/10 (was ok, away fans made a fair bit)
- Food: N/A – didn’t eat at ground, had classic pie and mash from Nathan’s Pie & Eels
- Programme: 4/10 (for one over £3 you’d think it was good, it wasn’t)
- Referee: Graham Scott – 6.5/10 (disagree on penalty, but sound on everything else)