A View from NYC September 7, 2012

West Ham in the 1980-1981 season, dominated the old 2nd Division, finishing well ahead of Notts County in the race for promotion back to the 1st Division, and we had a great League Cup run too. In particular, the two semi-final games against Coventry City.

Tuesday, January 27th, 1981.
I was sitting in the back of a Ford Granda, four of us making the trip from Billericay to Highfield Road, Coventry’s ground back then. Nothing stands out about the trip, except the distance. I remember thinking that it was a long way to travel. Google Maps tells me that the distance was about 120 miles. Funny how the concept of distance and time changes. My oldest son went to college in Boston and played on the varsity hockey team for 4 years. For each home game, I would leave the NYC area about 2pm on a Friday, drive the 210 miles to the game, watch him play and most times, drive right back to NYC. A total of about 420 miles.
But I digress…………..

As soon as we parked and started walking to the ground, the police presence was evident, along with the very friendly Alsatians! Anyone wearing Claret and Blue was stewarded towards one end of the ground, and it turned out that in the first half we were behind the goal defended by Phil Parkes.  Now, I will argue with myself that my all-time favorite goalie is Mervyn Day, but Phil Parkes is a very close second – (BTW anyone else agree that as soon as Mervyn got married his game completely fell apart?).

The ground was full and the atmosphere electric. The ground was smaller than I expected and you really felt like you could reach out and touch the players. West Ham tempered the enthusiasm of the home crowd by scoring two goals, I think that David Cross had one and I’m hoping Paul Goddard had the other. The Coventry supporters all around our “pen” were so thrilled with the score line, that they started to pass some “presents” over the police lines to us. A bevy of coins, pens and batteries rained down upon us, while they gesticulated wildly with their middle finger. Oh what a rambunctious lot they were! All we could do was sing “Bubbles” as loud as possible and wave back!

Coventry slowly got back into the game, and at some point during the second half, they equalized. That goal took the steam out of our throaty roars, and it became obvious to every Hammers fan that Coventry was now the better side, and controlling the game.
The home crowd really got behind their team, they sensed that West Ham was vulnerable and Coventry poured on the pressure, and with the ground literally shaking, Coventry took a 3-2 lead. Everywhere I looked I saw supporters of the Sky Blues celebrating, while in our pen there was only grumbling and swearing. West Ham didn’t fold, in fact they got back into the game and with a few minutes remaining got a corner.

Now it was our turn to make some noise.

I think that it was a corner or a cross…as clear as day, I see David Cross rise above the defender and head the ball into the back of the net! GOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL!!!! Pandemonium broke out. Jump and scream; Jump and scream; repeat this until exhausted….a magical moment at Highfield Road, and we would go back to Upton Park 3-3. Maybe I was the last person to notice that the ball was not back at the center circle, in fact the entire West Ham team seemed to be collected around the referee, who had disallowed the goal. Gutted, collectively gutted. The proverbial, “let the air out of the balloon”. Need I go on?

Before I could really process what had just happened, the final whistle blew.
At that precise moment the mood in the “pen” turned nasty.

The frustration of watching a 2-0 lead, turn into a 3-2 deficit and then to have an injury time goal disallowed, was too much. What should have been an orderly exit from Highfield Road was now anything but.

Personally, I have never “lost it” at a West Ham game. However, as our collective group was being herded out, I came face to face with a policeman, who said something that pushed me over the edge. The crowd was moving, so when I reacted and lunged at him, he was about 6 feet away. I didn’t touch him, but his smirk told me everything I needed to know…I was in trouble. NOT Billy Hayes in Midnight Express kinda trouble, but I was a long way from Essex and home.
I had gone to the game with my girlfriend at the time, her brother and her father, who was about 6′ 6″. He must have been behind me, because I felt a hand grab the back of my jacket and literally lift me off the ground, and pull me away from the ‘situation’. The policeman faded away, as I was stumbling backwards, away from Highfield Road.
I’m not sure that I actually took a forward step on the journey back to the car, but during my “reverse trot”, the rational me returned and I was a little embarrassed by my behavior.

My Mea Culpa lasted the entire journey back to Essex, as every time I looked up from the back seat of the Granada, her father’s eyes stared back.

All in all, a very memorable night and the good news was that her father had tickets for the 2nd leg!

By the time this edition is published, September 11th will have come and gone.
As someone who worked in that area for many years, and knew people that perished on 9/11,
this time of year is always one of reflection and profound sadness.
#9/11/01 #NeverForget
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About Neil

Trying To Find The Spark Again To Write! View all posts by Neil

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