On Saturday 2nd March NUDSA took it’s second away trip of the season to West Ham’s London Stadium, following on from our trip to Watford on 29th December. It also coincided with the first day of this year’s Level Playing Field Weeks of Action which is running from the 2nd – 17th March with the aim of promoting the work being done for disabled football supporters. We had targeted a trip to West Ham this season and a change of kick off time to 5.30pm for BT Sport couldn’t put us off, it meant we could set off at the fairly leisurely time of 9am. We took some time out to get a group photo with some of the contingent at the picturesque Peterborough services (above), donning our lovely Weeks of Action t-shirts kindly provided by Level Playing Field.
Once again we used the relatively new accessible coach from Stanley Coaches which is very comfortable and even has an on board toilet – although I wouldn’t try swinging a cat in there. 35 NUDSA faithful along with two NUFC stewards made the journey down the A1 and M11 which is probably NUDSA’s longest trip to date. Hopes and spirits were high following two consecutive and very important wins, and the impetus that new record signing Almiron had seemingly given the team – NUFC had given themselves some much needed breathing space to the bottom three. As usual with London, the hardest part of the journey was not the 300 mile journey down the motorway but the last few miles to actually get to the stadium – after hitting a dead end and having a short tour of Newham high street we finally made it to the coach park which was still a good 10 minute walk to the ground. After a bit of humming and haring with their stewards, they said the coach couldn’t go any nearer to the ground but there was a shuttle bus service for disabled fans with a tail lift for wheelchairs.
We ended our pilgrimage to the 2012 Olympic Stadium, it is a vast old place that I know fairly well having competed there in the 2012 Paralympics and at the 2017 World Championships, this was the first time I’d been to watch football here though and the atmosphere was relaxed outside the stadium about 1 and a half hours before kick off – fans mingling and enjoying quiet pints of lager in plastic glasses. Security was impressively tight with bag and body searches just to get to the stadium outskirts. The West Ham staff and stewards were all very friendly and helpful, access to the stadium was quick and easy, once inside there were plenty of places to get food and drink, although you might need to take a mortgage out first. We had plenty of time for a good old sing song and a few bevvies before kick off.
From the concourse you could get straight out onto the wheelchair platform in the away end just behind the goal which gave you a great unimpaired view of the pitch. Prior to the kick off West Ham legend Billy Bonds officially opened the Billy Bonds Stand opposite the dugouts, although given that the London Stadium is oval you can hardly call it a stand – more like a section. Anyway, when I saw good old Billy with tears in his eyes clapping the East End faithful in the crowd, I had a funny feeling it wasn’t going to be our day. Unfortunately I was right and a sixth minute header from Declan Rice set the tone for the match. NUFC huffed away but just seemed second best and looked a bit flat. A soft looking penalty converted by Mark Noble send us to halftime 2-0 down, and just when I could do with a pint I was given further disappointment as alcohol wasn’t served at halftime.
The second half passed without too much incident or excitement, both teams pretty much cancelling each other out. We had a few half chances and Rondon had a free kick well saved near the end but in truth the result was fair and an accurate reflection of a mostly dull game of football. As we boarded back on the bus ready for the marathon trip home, knowing it would be well into the early hours before my head hits pillow, you can’t help but think if it was worth it, but you then remember the atmosphere and banter before the game and the pride of being part of the Toon Army on that day and supporting your local team in the nation’s capital – of course it was worth it and I’d do it again tomorrow.