It isn't often that you get offered a chance to do something really fun for someone, knowing that they will get such a kick out of it. When life presents you with an opportunity like that, I think you owe it to yourself just to grab it. And so it was with the tickets I managed to find for my cousin Sco for last night's English Premier League Game, West Ham United v West Bromwich Albion.
It was the first time I'd seen S&C since they returned to London as a stopover on what I'd definitely call their 'European Odyssey'. With their new friend L in tow, the guys came to meet me at The Walkabout - chosen by yours truly because it was the closest pub I could find to the Tube station, and far enough away from the destructive/passionate student protesters that had taken over the City Centre late yesterday afternoon.
We had a bit of a catch up over a cold drink and I got to hear about some of their favourite places - and foods - along the way (who knew that Poland made great kebabs - or kebabs at all, come to think of it?!). I loved the stories of S&C's overnight visit to the winery that S's ancestors started - such lovely hospitality from relatives he'd never met before. Oh and apparently the wine was pretty good too.
Dashing next door to Temple tube station, we jumped on the eastbound District (green) line bound for Upton Park. I have no idea where Upton Park is, other than on the Tube map, so I'm so glad that the 45-minute Tube ride was uneventful and we got to the station safely. As we collected more and more passengers, we started to see supporters sporting the West Ham colours (blue and claret). I was wearing pale blue socks, and I remember feeling quite disappointed - and possibly a bit surprised - that they were the only pale blue items in my three suitcases! I pretty much knew I didn't have anything claret-coloured, since I don't think anyone other than West Ham supporters really knows what colour claret is anyway.
Alighting the Tube at Upton Park station we allowed ourselves to get swept along in the crowd in the general direction of the Boelyn Ground, West Ham United's home stadium. The air last night was pretty cold, and getting colder by the minute, so we paused en route and picked up some hot chips & burgers to munch along the way.
Two minutes later we were at the venue and I picked up our tickets. The ticket window dude assured me that our tickets were great - right in the thick of all the singing and chanting. Little did I truly realise how cool the tickets REALLY were. We were in row D (4 rows from the front), right behind the goals! Sco was delirious at how great our seats were, and for the first 10 minutes we could only marvel at our good fortune to secure such great tickets less than 48 hours before the start of the match. In what weird universe does THAT normally happen?!
The game started and for the 90 minutes that followed, I had no idea what was going on. Soccer/Football is not a game I've ever followed, owing in large part to an involuntary biological resistance to understanding the offside rule - though my boss maintains that this phenomenon is unique to females (!).
We were sitting with the home side fans, so we quickly learned the team's song - "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles". If you ask me, it's a bit of a girly song for such a ragtag bunch of East London blokes, but nobody asked me really. I loved the energy and enthusiasm of each team's supporters when their boys were doing well, and I loved the way that the supporters heckled each other when fortunes were reversed. One chant that was particularly easy to learn goes "Your support, your support, your support is s**t". Beautiful in its simplicity, no?
First West Brom scored (Boo!), then we scored (hurrah!); then we scored again (Hell yeah!); then West Brom scored again (Nooooo!). Scores were tied at the end of the game and everything kind of fizzed from there - lots of head shaking and downcast expressions, and we left the stadium to shiver out in the cold streets.
Getting home was a bit of an adventure, as return journeys so often are with me. In the interests of public safety, the transport geniuses in London had closed the Upton Park station during the game - so the stadium announcer suggested we should find alternate routes home. I didn't even understand the route we took to get there, so what hope did we have?!
It took the combined brain power of the four of us to make sense of the buses on the main street outside the stadium and we soon found ourselves aboard some bus or other en route to the remote northeast of the London Tube map (Zone 1,000,000 or something), but ultimately the bus announced the Tube station I'd been hoping to find - and we jumped off the bus. Somewhat serendipitously, it turned out that the Tube station was serviced by just the right Tube line that we needed to get us back to our respective lodgings so we relaxed into our seats and reflected on the great game experience we'd just shared.
Even though I came away from the game with about as much football knowledge as I'd always had, I still loved it. S&C reckon I need to get to a Chelsea game next and as they are currently on top of the football ladder, I think they will be quite an impressive team to watch. More songs and more chanting? I can deal with that.