Back in 2009, Saturday September 19 to be precise, was my first and only visit to The Boleyn Ground, home to West Ham United. The club first begun playing home matches there in the summer of 1904 and it all came tumbling down this week as the demolition began to make way for his rise apartments in the Upton Park vicinity. It’s quite sad in many respects as another fine English ground literally bites the dust to make way for “progression” into the future. West Ham currently play their home games at London’s Olympic Park, just a few miles down the road from their old home. My visit there 8 years ago defined everything the ground was about.
Liverpool went there sitting in third place on the ladder, just three points adrift of league leaders Chelsea. A win was important to keep on the coat tails of the league leaders as the clouds lowered down on a gloomy London afternoon. It all started well enough as Fernando Torres knocked in the opener before the Hammers equalized through Diamante. The not so flying Dutchman, Dirk Kuyt put the red men ahead 2-1 shortly before the break and it seemed Liverpool would take control of the second half and cruise to victory against their opponents who were languishing in 14th place on 4 points. Think again! This is West Ham and this, my friends, is The Boleyn Ground. It’s where a home crowd can come into play and spur the players on. Early in the second half, that is exactly what happened.
A Ross Noble corner saw Carlton Cole head in from close range to once more make a shambles of Rafa Benitez’s zonal marking system. It was now 2-2 and the Hammers were starting to look the goods. It’s here where you need a quality player to pull something out of the hat and fifteen minutes from time, up stepped Fernando Torres to clinch all three points and temporarily lift Liverpool to equal first on the table. I remember the away end of which I was in erupted with unparalleled joy at the final whistle. It was an experience to savor ahead of the impending form slump that would eventually render Liverpool’s season dead an buried before Christmas in the league. Still, it’s what makes an away day in a traditional English ground so important, not just to the supporters but the fabric of the game we all love.
Fast forward seven years and I found myself on a morning run that took me past The Boleyn Ground as workers were chundering off to another day at work and kids scrambled on the buses to school. The air was quite still as I momentarily halted my run at various segments of the ground. You could surely feel the history seeping from the gates and walls of the old lady. By this time I knew the days were numbered for this English beauty and perhaps that made the occasion all the more melancholy? Either way, I knew it would be the last time I would walk these famous streets of Upton Park before the landscape would change forever.
My next trip to England in May will include a visit to the Olympic Stadium when Liverpool head there in the second week of the month to hopefully wrap up a Champions League place. Well, this is Liverpool so we could be sitting anywhere in the top half of the table by then. What I will miss at this match is the ever so unique boutique feel of one of England’s greatest football grounds, sadly no more.