West Ham United 1 Burnley 0 (14/12/16).
I had been waiting several months to do this trip. It’s not easy to get in these days as home fans who are not season ticket holders have to go into a ballot for the chance to see a game. I was not willing to go down that route so joined the Burnley ticket line instead. My reckoning was that Burnley would not take 3,000 fans down to London midweek the week before Christmas. I know at least one other groundhopper who had the same idea as me. Unfortunately they moved the match from the original Tuesday 13th December to the next day as West Ham had been playing the previous Sunday. I had my hotel and train ticket all booked up for the Tuesday. Instead I had to buy another train ticket and book another hotel so managed to attend Enfield on the Tuesday night. It was another new ground to visit so I could not grumble. I got a ticked through Burnley without any problem.
For the second night running I was at a ground with the name of the present Queen behind it. Last night at Enfield it was the Queen Elizabeth II stadium and tonight it was the turn of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. My digs/hotel was in Mile End only one stop from Stratford railway which is the nearest train/underground for the stadium.
I arrived and I was in the stadium an hour before kick off so as to avoid the crowds. I do not usually do this but it was a change to my unusual routine and the ground remained fairly sparse until about 5 minutes before kick off when everyone seemed to pile into the stadium. I was not expecting to see many Burnley supporters but they actually had a good turnout but certainly did not fill the away end.
The new ground is a bit of an oddity. There were large gaps in various parts of the ground from the top tier down to the bottom tier. Not all around the ground but in large areas of it. It was as if the ground was originally been used for other purposes and reconverted for football. That is because it was in fact just that which makes the ground it is today. It was used for the Olympics in 2012 and a number of football clubs put bids in for its use. Tottenham Hotspur and Orient failed where West Ham won the outcome.
It was a bright and noisy arena with the huge number of Pa systems surrounding the whole ground above your head. The lights were excellent and the pitch looked second to none. I was in the away end and the Burnley fans were seemed to have been spilt it two. One in the front section by pitchside and the seats went back, with a big gap in between, was the rest of the away section. I was right beside the no-mans land area. Seats that were unused and covered with claret tarpaulin separating the rival fans from fighting each other. It certainly stopped any physical fights but was not a deterrent from physical gestures, eyeballing each other, name calling, indications to come and have a go if your hard enough with arms outstretched and fingers saying come on then and the inevitable chant of “you dirty Northern bastards”. After a pleasant trip to Enfield last night it was back to Premier/football league normality and all the unsavoury trimmings that go with it at times. Never mind the £30 ticket to get in, the £3.50 programme and the ridiculous costs of a beer and a pie. I decided to go tee total for the evening and resist the temptation to have anything to eat. With my athletic physique I can afford to lose a few pounds.
Away from Home this season Burnley have a woeful form. Only one point sustained and one goal scored away from Turf Moor. For West Ham it’s not much better. Only two league wins at home and the Hammers are still below Burnley in the league. West Ham had not won a Premier league game in their last 7 matches. It was never destined to be a Premier league match to remember and it turned out that way as well.
The teams came out with the theme Tune “I am forever blowing bubbles “etc blasting out the PA system complete with bubble making machines in a couple of areas of the ground. Getting the atmosphere going in a new stadium is difficult from the former grounds. Fans are spread out and you cannot dictate where you want to sit or stand. Consequently those vocal fans can never congregate fully together. It’s the same for any club with a new stadium.
The game never lived up to an all time classic. Andy Carrol came into his first game since August and indeed got the man of the match award. West Ham had the better first half and got a penalty at the end of the first 45 minutes. Mark Noble took the penalty but was saved by Tom Heaton. Well not really saved as he could not hold on to the ball and Noble followed up the score on the rebound. That goal was enough to decide the game. Burnley away form is dreadful and they will possibly soon be in another relegation survival battle. Saying that what do you expect when the Lancashire club of the lowest priced squad put together in the Premiership?
I left about a minute before the final whistle and a few West ham fans were making some pathetic comments in my direction. I chose to fully ignore anything that was said. As I came out of the ground the way i arrived to the ground was totally blocked off and away fans had to take another path to the station. It was a bit bizarre as the route eventually merged with the West ham fans anyway. After a walk of 15 minutes the whole crowd had gone around in circles and was hardly any further away from the ground than when it started. I was the most extraordinary route I had ever taken from a football ground.
Unless Blyth Spartans draw West Ham away in the FA cup this is likely to be the first and possibly last trip to this ground. So that’s me up to date to every football league ground in England and Scotland. Well it is until the next new football league ground opens. Whoever that might be.