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FA Carling Premiership, 4/3/00
West Ham United
From elated to stupid in 180 seconds
By Kevin Birdseye

And so, Cinderella made it to the ball - or rather, seeing as it's me we're talking about here, one of her ugly sisters did.

Sadly, my shiny, iron-horse-drawn conveyance turned back into a pumpkin long before midnight - at three minutes past three in the afternoon UK time, to be precise. At that moment, much like Barba Papa used to in a bygone BBC kid's cartoon that over-35s may remember, I effortlessly changed shape - from Pantomime Dame into Homer Simpson.

Had it been it worth moving heaven and earth to get to the West Ham clash? "Doh! Doh! Doh!" would have been Homer's stock reaction. Mine was a tad more industrial than that. And Watford? Duffer than Homer's favourite tipple.

A quick recap: back on Friday, stranded here with my daughter and distraught at missing the game, I called the number of a Scottish friend of ours, Jane, out of desperation more than anything, as I assumed she was still away visiting her homeland.

Miraculously though, not only was she back, but she also agreed to look after our three-year-old Girlie Monster, who, just as miraculously, had recovered with alacrity from her feverish puke-a-thon. And so, with wifey and son due to go and get all Disneyed up together, the Girlie Monster was dispatched to Jane's house while I made swift tracks for the station to purchase a day-return. Game very much on!

Setting off was a joy: a heavy shower of sleet - neatly symbolising our miserable winter - gave way to bright sunshine and blue sky. I foolishly viewed it as A Good Sign. Better times just around the corner. Deluded nonsense!

Not even a 35-minute delay to the Eurostar's arrival at Waterloo quashed the renewed hope within as I descended the Tube escalator towards the new Jubilee Line extension. Travelling southbound, this'll whisk you off to the Millennium Dome in minutes. After Saturday's first-half abdication, I think I'll head that way myself next time.

Despite the somewhat fraught journey, optimism (beer-fuelled - the worst kind) abounded in the West Herts social club in the exalted company of the SW Hornets (including Michelle and a cold-ridden' Craig), Messrs Todd and Brister of the Norfolk Hornets, the excellent John O'Hara (WML's Hornet correspondent down on the French Riviera), and even Alastair, an 'Orn who'd made the trek from Down Under.

A veritable gathering of the Hornet clans. The mood was upbeat. GT's defiant comments in the programme had inspired us! Pink Shirt Man would be back motivating the team wearing his pink shirt! 3-1 to the 'Orns was the popular score prediction!

Now here's a thing: I'm almost 37 years old, yet until last Saturday, I'd still clung to the notion that footballers, like many a fan does up in the stands, will sit around before a game in their dressing room reading their (freebie) programme. Plainly, this is total bollix. For if any of our lot had bothered to inwardly digest GT's defiant call to arms - I had visions of GT dressed as Henry V while I drank in his prose - no way would they have served up such a regurgitated dog's dinner of a first half.

Inept, na´ve, airy-fairy, clueless and - most criminally of all - HALF-ARSED, they were. Against an extremely average 'Ammers side that was a shadow of the Di Canio-inspired outfit which had ripped us to shreds at their gaff what seems an eternity ago now (as comprehensive a 1-0 stuffing as you'd care to see).

Some of you may be aware that The Guardian newspaper, inspired by the inrush of foreign players to the English game, does a feature on clubs in which it calculates the average distance from their location to the notional home somewhere around the globe of their "average" player, based on the mileage to the places of birth of squad members. Well perhaps a few of Watford's "players" (as in "strolling") should make the same calculation this week. Not for them - oh no! - but for idiot fans like us who are still dumb enough to turn up in such illogical expectation, only to witness such couldn't-give-a-toss garbage.

Playing crap I can tolerate - it happens, whatever the division you are in. But showing such an APPARENT LACK OF EFFORT? The "half-arsed" element to our play in that first half still rankles, 48 hours on.

So any WFC player reading this should take a close look again at the earlier paragraph about that gathering of fans at West Herts: in geographical order, you had Norfolk, Bristol, Brussels, Nice...even Australia for GT's sake. Get the picture?

Hell, if I'd only travelled on a W1 bus last Saturday from North Watford, as I did in my teens, or even across from Uxbridge or down from Milton Keynes, I'd still have been questioning my sanity after that first-half dereliction of duty.

The match itself? As awful as you could get, I'd say, from a Hornet perspective. The customary early goal went in customarily early, but there was no spirited response from us, as there had been at Chelsea. Matters were not helped by the referee: if a wag had run on from the crowd and yanked down his black shorts, I'm sure he'd have been exposed as a covert wearer of claret and blue ladies' knickers. Mike Reed. West Ham. Through and through. Complete and utter....

Not that we can lay all the blame at the feet of Mister Reed, tempting though it is. As GT has since remarked, the first half was Simply Not Good Enough. Patchwork. Disjointed. LETHARGIC. The fact that West Ham continued to look fairly poo themselves, even after the fillip of that early strike, simply added to the frustration.

On the subject of our chirpy Cockney visitors, a Millwall fanzine from years back famously ran a piece with the headline: "West Ham Academy of Football Downgraded to Technical College". If a film version of that article were ever produced, the part of Harry Rednapp, college principal, would surely be played by Ron Moody in a re-enactment of his famous performance as Fagin in "Oliver!". I can picture Ron/'Arry now, teaching Lumphead Jnr and company the wily ways of con-artistry and time-frittering, singing "You gotta waste a minute or two" with cheery gusto to his adoring charges. Craig Forrest and Rio Ferdinand in particular (relax, girls, he's already spoken for!) could slug it out for Olympic gold when it comes to ticking down the clock. All aided and abetted by an accommodating ref (perhaps) sporting lady's knickers (large) from House of Hammer (East Thurrock).

Sour grapes? Of course! But only partly. At times on Saturday, West Ham were a cheatin' disgrace. Academy of Football? My fat, hairy bottom!

Continuing in the cinematic vein, remember the film Groundhog Day? In it, Bill Murray plays a foul, obnoxious TV weatherman who finds himself waking up to the same sequence of events, over and over again. Baffled and befuddled by this at first, he soon twigs that the strange turn of events actually affords him a golden chance To Do It All Again and change events in a way that will enable him to get the girl, in the shape of the TV reporter he's fallen for. Happy endings all round. Aw diddums!

Groundhog Day should be made compulsory viewing on the club coach for Watford's defence. Our doughty rearguard haven't yet made it past the "baffled and befuddled" stage this season. Try as they might, they carry on going through the same Saturday afternoon sequence of events and always end up leaking the sort of soft goals that no self-respecting defence should ever countenance. Every soddin' time. Whatever happened to learning from mistakes? How far into the season are we?

Thus, for the umpteenth time this season, the opposition strikes had an eerily familiar feel about them. First up, a defender (Gibbs) is easily brushed aside, perhaps pushed by Wanchope (it looked a blatant foul from where I sat, but then aren't we supposed to play to the whistle?); then Wanchope's control looked suspiciously like handball from the Rookery before he applied a more than decent finish while his nearest marker stood loitering somewhere in the Harlequin Centre, or thereabouts. Tellingly though, none of our lot complained about any supposed handball.

Game over, then. I could've gone to the Millennium Dome, or the Museum of the Moving Image, or the Tate, or caught a sight-seeing bus, or had my LEGS WAXED (agony to the power of infinity, so the wife tells me)...anything but this.

Even then, if we'd survived through to half-time only trailing by one, we'd perhaps still have had a chance. The second-half substitutions improved things muchly, but we were already a beaten side. Playing catch-up. Had been from the third minute.

As for me? I felt elated one minute, stupid as f**k the next. As yet another Saturday afternoon slow death unfurled before my eyes. Drip, drip, drip...the football version of Chinese water torture.

I truly fear for us at Newcastle next week, what with The England Captain (we're not worthy, etc.) and Duncan Disorderly in such rampant form up front for Mister Bobby's side.

After that, it's Sheffield Wednesday at the Vic. Enjoy the Game, those of you who are going. You poor sods!

I'll be in Paris that weekend to watch fifteen Irishmen chase French shadows in the Six Nations rugby. If nothing else, it'll make a nice change from watching the clueless GBs get given the run-around. With one crucial difference: limited, deficient even, though they may be in many departments, those who wear Ireland's sporting green (round-ball or oval-ball) NEVER give up the ghost. It simply isn't allowed. They get tonked sometimes, sure, but they go down fightin'. Always. Woe betide 'em if they didn't.

For Fightin' Irish, read Fightin' Hornets. It's not too much to ask for THE FULL NINETY, is it lads?

See you for the Tottenham game then - unless, like many in last Saturday's team, I can't be remotely arsed, that is.