HALCYON DIGEST: West Ham away, September 1991

As far as I was concerned West Ham had always played at Upton Park.

That’s where commentators back then said they played, Shoot! magazine and my football year book said the same. It was only in the years leading up to West Ham moving to the London Stadium that the moniker of the Boleyn Ground seemed to emerge across the media. It turned out that it was called the Boleyn Ground all along but it picked up the Upton Park name as fans from early on were using the name of the area it was situated and the nearby tube station – both called Upton Park – rather than the more formal name. Mystery solved.

Anyway, I set off for our fixture at Upton Park, sorry, the Boleyn Ground, on my regular ‘B’ coach, bringing with me my usual supplies, namely a big bottle of orange juice, which even after 10 hours on a warm coach still vaguely tasted of orange, and assorted crisps and sandwiches for a post-match meal on the way home. My plan was always to have a big breakfast at home, a snack at our usual Corley services stop and then grab something to eat from around the ground.

Irrespective of which ground in London we were going to, we always set off at the same time, around 8am. This meant we always arrived early in North London but led to some fairly late arrivals at grounds in South London. We once arrived at Wimbledon’s Plough Lane ground half an hour after kick-off to find the turnstiles closed. Thankfully, we mainly made it on time and often with time to spare, which was the case on this particular Saturday.

We were dropped off on the Barking Road just around the corner from the ground. At this time the away standing was on the South Bank in a pokey corner behind the goal, this stand would be knocked down and replaced with the Bobby Moore Stand in 1993. Keeping my mouth shut and with no colours on, I headed out in search of food. It wasn’t long before I spotted a long queue outside what I assumed was the local chippy amidst a number of shops. I joined said queue amongst the Hammer’s fans and waited to have my taste buds teased by the aroma only a chip shop truly has – a mix of steam, hot oil and vinegar.

But the aroma never arrived and when I finally got into the shop I had a bit of a rude awakening. This was not a chip shop as I had assumed from the queue but a traditional East End Pie and Mash shop. The menu was from another world and very limited, the board of fare consisting of pies with mince in them, mash potato and eels two ways, either jellied – which looked uncannily like a rubber tyre in hair gel – or with a liquor which appeared to be a parsley sauce.

My northern taste buds retreated. No offence to East End cuisine, but it wasn’t for me. I am a chip barm or chips and curry guy, so I hopped out of the shop and headed to newsagents and grabbed a Mars Bar instead, before heading for the away turnstiles which were yet to open.

The good thing about getting in early was that I got a spot down at the front and took up a position at the low white wall which surrounded the pitch and even though it was a pitch level view, it was an unobstructed one. Having read the programme from cover to cover and watched the team warm up, the ground started to belatedly fill up. We were crammed in like sardines in our corner of the stand, it was a warm day and as usual the last minute rush from the pubs saw a lot of reshuffling of the standing positions of fans as the late comers shoved in.

Having lost our previous three league games City needed a good result to get the league campaign back on track and the only change from the midweek home defeat to Everton was Peter Reid dropping out of the midfield for Ian Brightwell. It was the usual Quinn and White partnership up front, supported by Adrian Heath while for West Ham there were two ex-blues in their line-up in the shape of Ian Bishop and Trevor Morley.

It felt like City were in control of the game. The centre-back partnership of Steve Redmond and Keith Curle handled most attacks well, both were comfortable on the ball, Redmond for his size was excellent in the air and Curle had the speed to recover most situations. They were ably assisted by Andy Hill at right back and Neil Pointon at left back. Both were solid defenders, had the fitness to make overlapping runs and put crosses into the box, and were also always up for a tackle.

Attacking our end in the first half, it was Hill who forced the first genuine save from Miklosko in the West Ham goal. Pushing forward on the right, he underlapped David White who had drifted wide and got a shot in which the keeper smartly pushed over the bar. Next it was Pointon on the left causing chaos in the Hammers box. From a Quinn lay off he swung a ball into the box, the keeper came but didn’t make it, Heath hit the ball towards goal but it was cleared. Into the second half Hill pushed on again, beat his full back and pulled a cross back to White whose shot was off target and was scrambled away only to be hit back into the box by Curle, but sadly no one got on the end of it. A City goal was coming and with twenty minutes to go Colin Hendry was thrown on up front to help Quinn and the Scot marauded around causing havoc as City started pumping balls into the box.

The additional man up front paid dividends a few minutes later. Heath hit a diagonal ball into the box, Quinn and the keeper Miklosko both went for it, neither got it, Quinn though had the ball in front of him, he moved away from goal then turned and hit a shot towards goal, the last man centre-half Foster saved the goal bound shot with his hands and was promptly sent off. From the other end of the ground we were a tad surprised to see Steve Redmond stepping up to take the kick. We’d missed one midweek and ‘Reddo’ always a leader clearly decided to take it on. As far as we could see from our viewpoint he hit it straight down the middle and the keeper appeared to jump out of the way. Later we saw the goal again and Redmond had slipped as he kicked the ball ending up on his backside but throwing the keeper off, so somewhat fortunately we were ahead.

City didn’t sit back but to their credit pushed on for another. It nearly bit them on the backside when a West Ham clearance appeared to have Small clean through on goal but even with a head start, Curle turned on the turbo, caught the speedy striker up and nipped it off his toe to save the day. This seemed to enrage the crowd who thought Small had been fouled, they roared the home team on and they responded. Slater, their star winger at the time, took on Hill and managed to swing a ball from the left which found the right back Kenny Brown up from the back who volleyed a ball past Coton and the other three defenders into the net with only five minutes to go.

It now looked to the fans in the away end like City’s winless run would continue but we were mistaken. In the final minute, a routine kick out from Coton was missed by Breaker in the West Ham defence. Hendry had already set off on a diagonal run, the ball bounced just once, Hendry kept his eye on the ball even though he was now surrounded by three defenders and volleyed a ball into the ground towards goal, Miklosko couldn’t hold it and it trickled into the net. Again, at the other end, the first we knew it had gone in was when we saw Hendry run away from goal with his arm in the air. A last minute winner away from home, a moment to savour.

Elated after grabbing all three points I headed back to the coach. We spent what seemed like forever crawling the short distance from the ground to the North Circular Road, by which time having passed on the East End cuisine earlier, I had already eaten all my sandwiches and washed it down with my warm orange juice. It was a good season to follow City on the road, we were usually tough to break down and good for a goal. We would finish fifth in the last season before the Premier League started and we wouldn’t be back at Upton Park (sorry, the Boleyn Ground) again for a couple of years in the league as they were relegated from the First Division in last place.

Written by Richard Donlan

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