IMMEDIATELY THE BALLS CAME out of the velvet I knew where I would be heading on Third Round Proper day, it was a complete no-brainer. Somehow the Footballing Gods decreed that my adopted northern team Barnsley, whose FA Cup heroics form many chapters of my international best-selling football book The Road From Wembley, would be travelling down south to face the team I detest the most, West Ham United. There could be only one.
I really can’t fathom what it is about West Ham and me. We have the strangest of relationships. By all rights I should be an Iron. They are / were the closest league team to my childhood Romford home. Upton Park is a ground that I have visited almost more than any other, tagging along with my West Ham supporting friends. I like the idea of supporting my local team and yet, and yet… Whenever I go there, I want to see them lose. A West Ham relegation season provides me with as much pleasure, if not more pleasure, than a Derby County promotion season. It just doesn’t make sense, so I’ve come to accept it.
But anyway, West Ham V Barnsley? Like I said, no brainer.
We had an enormous crew of nine people (the family I married into are of course all West Ham fans) in attendance for this match and I must have been the only person sitting in the East Stand whispering ‘Yorkshire, Yorkshire, Yorkshire’ under my breath. And in fact it was the Barnsley fans who were making nearly all of the noise for most of the game, apart from the occasional renditions of ‘Bubbles’, which I belted out like some sort of Cockney double agent.
But despite their superior volume, the Barnsley team were at least a division inferior to the Premiership Hammers who took the lead early in the first half and then produced the kind of third gear performance which would leave headline writers drifting towards the words ‘Eased Past’.
My man of the match Henrita Ilunga opened the scoring on ten minutes, Mark Noble added one from the spot just before half time and Carlton Cole wrapped it up in the second half. Pretty grim stuff really for a West Ham hater. Not sure I have the energy or inclination to pen much more…