Wagner liked a Wanderer and travelled extensively himself. Not only the enforced exile that tends to follow picking the losing side in a revolution but he traversed Europe trying (usually failing) to put on commercially successful operas. He also regaled in Mein Leben many tales of hiking throughout the Alps. Of his main characters, Wotan often operated under the pseudonym “Wanderer” (and lived up to that) and several others, including Tannhäuser, Parsifal, Siegfried, the Dutchman and Lohengrin all put in the mileage. I guess a good yarn is a journey in itself so travel is an oft used device.
Don and Little Don also like to travel. Harbouring thoughts of a European Tour, we (well Don anyway) envisaged this season, following Wagner’s footsteps and was thinking in terms of Zürich Grasshoppers, Dynamo Dresden and someone nice near Venice, say Verona or Udinese. Any would have fit the bill, though we drew the line at Riga. But no, typical West Ham, we depart the Euro scene with the ink barely dry on the Referendum Act, going out to that footballing giant Astra FC. Good God. I mean just give me strength.
Fortunes always hiding but still we blow bubbles and all that (Slav accent). We decide that this year we shall discover the green and pleasant land that is England (and Wales)! Unfortunately Cotswolds FC, North Cornwall United and Delights of Snowdonia Athletic are still building up to Premier League status. So it has been slightly less bucolic idylls including Liverpool, Manchester, Swansea and last week, Sunderland.
But pleasant sojourns nonetheless and hard to credit this season (as opposed to last) but I don’t think we’ve seen a defeat. Of course we lost at Chelsea, Spurs and Arsenal but those are mere stretching one’s legs rather than proper travel.
So after a very nice lunch and a pint in gloriously sunny Newcastle we arrive at the Stadium of Light. It has lost a little of the Roker Park soul, fondly remembered by Don in the early ’80’s but is a pretty impressive ground and the support deserves better than the rubbish they’ve been served the last few years. It afforded Don the opportunity to explain the Bob Stokoe statue to Little Don (with whom it barely registered) but folks, it is of such annoying and futile gestures that maketh a parent (or not). Don was optimistic. He’d predicted a 2-1 Hammers win earlier in the week on the fabulous Stop! Hammer Time podcast Hammers Stumble in Relegation Push and he was sticking with that. Predict Sunderland to score? But they haven’t scored in over a million seconds of apparently active football! Only a madman would back them to score. Surely?
And it couldn’t have started better. After knocking the ball around with some fluency, Carroll nodded the ball back from beyond the far post to Ayew who with the time, space and a carefree attitude that only a sunny bank holiday weekend can provide, adjusted his footing, lurched, stumbled, scuffed something..and the ball rifled into the bottom corner some way below the legion of travelling Hammers fans. We sang, we laughed, Slav was declared to be Super, the boys were knocking the ball around with some assurance, even at speed and (blow me) in a forward direction!! And all was well for a while. The apex was a flowing move that ended with Snodders (to his friends) clipping the ball just wide with the goalie nowhere.
Then the rot seemed to set in. Khazri, one of those annoyingly effective players began being annoyingly effective. But even he would not have expected to score as he did. With Sunderland settling comfortably into their second million of seconds without a goal, they innocently win a corner. Khazri swings in a decent ball, which Fernandes (of whom Don is otherwise a fan), ushered through, lest not to interrupt its flow and Randolph (more of whom anon) under substantial pressure from the substantial Anichebe flaps at nothing and the ball goes straight in. Who scores direct from a corner? I mean beyond the playground, who does this? Maybe we were unlucky not to get a foul. Maybe.
Slave is declared to be not quite so Super and we limp through to half time.
In what was becoming a battle of who could have the most laughable defence, we were 2-1 up shortly after the re-start. Ginger Pele nodding home. The only pressure he felt was the band of high pressure nestled somewhere way over the North Sea. Again Slaven was Super. And without too much trouble (relatively speaking), we were edging toward a correct score prediction and the moral high ground for Don. Step up Darren Randolph. Now don’t get me wrong I like Darren and Don remembers from his youth that being in-goal is a thankless task. Don also remembers Darren keeping us in a cup game at Anfield last year. However, this year’s Anfield was a different story; one that has had too many repeat readings and with a chapter added last Saturday. With the game drawing to a close, and under real pressure, he elects to catch not punch, at almost at 18 yards from goal. The ball falls to Borini and they are level.
Don recalls a similarity with Adrian. Both keepers are rightly criticized for hugging their line and not dominating the six yard box, never mind the penalty area. Bowed low with such criticism, every now and then, they decide they are coming for the ball. It may be around the half way line but they are coming for it. Just to shut people up. It rarely ends well.
Don’s prediction in tatters, it ends 2-2. Oh well, survival will have to be guaranteed another time and its time to go. We leave the weary Wearsiders and head back to Newcastle, where Sunderland’s failure to take probably their final survival chance was greeted with widespread joy. We took a slightly later train which proved uneventful and home in Muswell Hill by eleven.
This is great improvement on Don’s last trip to Sunderland (Roker Park) after which night game, he had to hitch-hike through the night to get home, which was then Lancaster. Some travel even further. Take for example Scandinavian Hammers who have kindly let me re-produce their logo as it has more than a touch of Nordic Wagneritus around its gills. These hardy folk think nothing of several thousands of miles over the season which I could understand if we were decent.
Now apparently the good folk at Virgin Media recognise the monotony of the long distance runner as they were offering a tenner back on every away ticket purchased for last weekend. Anyone hear about it? Don saw no publicity whatsoever at Sunderland and only after tickets had been disposed of did someone mention to him the Twenty’s Plenty campaign. Forgive Don’s cynicism but he ponders if this is one of those publicity stunts aimed at everyone other than those that might take advantage. Cue Don and Little Don rooting through bins looking for grubby tickets because it seems other proof of purchase does not qualify for the refund. Why the hell not? Come on Virgin, be a sport. And if your ticket is not in the bin, claim your tenner!
Enough retrospective. lets look forward! A relaxing shluf on the tube tomorrow before a Rioja or three down Enrique Tomas at the Westfield (you can take the bloke out of Green Street…)..before a nice three points at home to Everton. If ever there was an easy team for us…Come on guys, send those Scandi Hammers back to Tromso happy; they’ve made a big effort.
This episode of this Wagner blog has been painfully short of Wagner. That’s the way it goes. Some days, the Swan glides along the river bearing the Knight, other days it falls dead from the sky. You got to roll with those punches. Last time was all Parsifal. Don’s heard whiff of a Götterdämmerung study day on Sunday at Fulham Opera which might be cool and on election night he’ll be watching Lohengrin at Longborough (one can do away days in the Cotswolds!), starring the fabulous Lee Bissett.
But a sad note on which to end. We hear today of the way too early death of Ugo Ehiogu. As nice a guy as his name was difficult to spell and with whom Don was lucky enough to play a couple of rounds of golf. RIP Ugo.
If you have been, thanks for listening.