Magazine article The Spectator

Pushed for Space

Magazine article The Spectator

Pushed for Space

Article excerpt

We were so high up that, apart from Freddie Kanoute who is tall and black and moves like a ballerina, and Shaka in goal, I couldn't make out which West Ham player was which. And we weren't even at the back, where they must have been issued with oxygen masks. It's a disgrace, I say. Forty-eight pounds each for a seat in West Ham's new west stand and you're so far away from the pitch it's like looking at an intelligence photograph taken by a satellite.

I was drunk, admittedly. In the Black Lion beforehand we were knocking them back faster than Tom could pull them. But there was a chap in the row behind us who reckoned he was completely sober and he couldn't make out who was who either. By covering my right eye with my hand my focus did improve slightly. But concentrating that hard was tedious. A quarter of an hour before the half-time whistle I stood up, sat down again rather heavily, stood up, and made my way to the bar underneath the stand.

As well as fleecing us of our entire disposable incomes, West Ham football club also takes a fiendish pleasure in making it as difficult as possible for us to get a drink. The board of directors must be chapelgoers or something. The bar under the west stand has a potential clientele of, say, 10.000 punters, yet it's about the size of a jellied-eel stall and opens only at half-time. The decor is breeze-block, half-painted steel girders and rivets. Tables, chairs or a shelf to rest your pint on - there are none. The predominating odour is cement.

But that isn't to say the place isn't popular. Even with a quarter of an hour to go to half-time, 50 or so thirsty customers were down there before me and standing shoulder to shoulder in front of the closed aluminium shutters. I joined this brotherhood of alcoholics and stood with my nose about three inches from the shutters. We stood in silence. I studied the shutters for a while. Then I said to the bloke beside me, `Just like being in Africa.' He said he'd never been there, but he'd take my word for it. When I turned my head and looked at him for the first time, I recognised him as one of West Ham's all-time great football hooligans.

From about the age of 12 onwards, my friend Mick and I used to travel to West Ham's away games just to watch the crowd violence, which was much more spectacular than it is now. …

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