Sunday, 29 November 2009

Dear Santa...

...can I have a nice framed picture of Feethams to remind me of the good old glory days please? I've been a good boy all year (honest!).

Well, maybe glory days is putting a bit strongly except in all but the most optimistic of mindsets but certainly a happier time for many of us.

(left) Feethams and the old barrel stand captured by Stuart Clarke

And with the recent news that planning permission has been granted for the construction of 146 homes on the site, it's even more poignant, even if the ground is now a bit of a wasteland.

No doubt with Christmas in mind I recently received a mailshot from my old chum Stuart Clarke at the Homes of Football in which he's offering some of his Darlo prints for sale at very reasonable prices.

Stuart has been taking photographs at matches for many years - from non-league to World Cups - not so much of the the action on the field but beautiful shots of the grounds and the crowds - with many taken before the recent mania for ground redevelopment.

I suspect most will have seen his photos without knowing it - the recent spate of billboard and magazine adverts for ESPN's Premier League coverage all featured his work.

I've been a fan of his for many years and have several pieces at home on the walls - we even have one of Millmoor to keep Liz sweet!

(right) The faces say it all - we're back - that goal at Welling

They're an ideal stocking filler and pictures are available as limited edition gi-clee prints or crystal archive/cibachrome prints.

GiClee dye-based prints are produced in-house at Ambleside by Clarke printed on board to 10x8 inches at £45 + £5 post (inc. a signed window-mount) or 22x18 inches (four times the size) at £95 + £15 post.

Stuart can frame either size at twice the given prices in the three quality frames we offer (grand totals would be £90 / £190 + £25 post in either case). The wooden frames are light brown, dark brown, almost black.

All pictures are landscape-shaped which especially suits shots like this showing Feethams from the open end:

If you're feeling flush there are crystal/chrome prints - exhibition quality - which are very much collectors’ collectors-editions. Prices are from £275 to £3,000 for limited to one or two of each title (as opposedto 50 in the gi-clee formats).

If anyone is interested in suggesting to their loved one that they get their order in now, don't bother Santa - just contact Stuart by email at or by phone on 015394 34440.

All photographs (c) Stuart Clarke

Monday, 23 November 2009

A Game Of One Half, Brian

Arriving at the away end at Saltergate, I had expected a bit of hassle with regard to my camera but for once the stewards were very considerate.

I'd wanted to make sure I took a snap or three of our final visit to what must be one of the few remaining open terraces in the league - not a problem, they said, snap away. Let's hope they retain that level of friendliness at the new place.

(above) The away terrace at Saltergate

Most Darlo fans had retreated to the stand to escape the rain which whilst not too heavy was very persistent - my drinking compadres were no different in this respect but it was good to see there was still a hardcore of youngsters who were stood behind the goal, prepared to get wet for the cause.

I much prefer to stand whenever I get the chance and cognoscent of the forecast, I'd brought my waterproof so I could stay out in the rain. I spied Pete - a fellow London-based fan who works for World Soccer - who'd taken the same precautions and so I joined him. No point getting wet on our own, is there?

(above) Al-Fresco Comfort Area

For the first half hour or so, the game reflected the conditions - annoying and not very pleasant - Darlo were on the back-foot for most of that time and the defence were struggling. Plus precious little action from the lone figure of Curtis Main upfront to alleviate the pressure.

Chesterfield then took the lead with a deflected shot - Darlo claims for a foul on Foster were waved away.

I decided to go walkabout and get a few more snaps, especially the Al-Fresco Comfort Area - or open air bogs to you and me - just had to be recorded for posterity for their sheer minimalism when it came to cover.

I got talking to my old chum Geoff from Northallerton - he and I grew up together and we went to our first Darlo games together as young teens - and he was adamant that we just couldn't afford to get relegated - as we all know, the Conference is all but Division Five (League Three?) and will be extremely difficult to get out of.

I didn't disagree but I said that I don't think we'll have much option if we're going to stay within budget - and with that Chesterfield popped in a second - an effort from the edge of the box that evaded everyone. And then the ref blew for half-time.

(above) A disconsolate Geoff after we concede a second goal

At this point, the chances of Darlo getting anything from this game looked remote - the defence that was so secure last Saturday looked so leaky today - and the lure of a nice warm pub with a good selection of beers got the better of me. I unsuccesfully checked around to see if anyone wanted to join me and then wandered off back to the Chesterfield Arms.

By the time I'd warmed up and got through my first pint, I'd got into conversation with a couple of local lads who were 'debating' whether Liverpool or Manchester United had the better record. I was tempted to suggest they go and support their local team but I was hardly in a position to do that today.

I rang Liz - she was at home today rather than take the bus-replacement service to their game away at Torquay - and she said we'd pulled a goal back through Collins but it was still 3-1 to 'Cheaterfield' as she insists on calling them.

After the game Brian and John came back in the pub for a beer but other than get the final score from them I was having to sup up and wander off to catch my train.

On the return leg I was joined by Chris who was extremely scornful of my lack of loyalty to the cause today - he just doesn't understand the lure of a good pub. And this after he missed both our games at Barnet because of weddings!

A Bounder and a Cad

Despite the terrible weather of the last week assaulting the country, the train services out of London all seemed to be running well.

I'd briefly passed through Kings Cross - full of red-shirts off north to the Mackem -v- Arsenal game - as I wandered off for breakfast at Da Vincis.

The trip from St Pancras to Chesterfield was very pleasant - a table in first class to myself with just a quick visit from Lance when he joined the service at Derby.
On the way up, I'd had a text from Colin 'You Need Glasses, Ref' Fletcher - for the second week running he was unable to make the game. He was treading the boards this weekend and he was needed to help rebuild sets for the evening performance. That's showbiz, dahling!

On arrival Trevor was waiting for us - he only lives a bus ride away - we were expecting Brian too but there was no sign of him so we headed off to the pub.
(right) Chesterfield Arms

The Brown family who run the Chesterfield Arms had actually contacted DAFTS HQ to suggest we give them a try.

Their normal opening time was noon but they were happy to open earlier for us and so we arrived there just after 11am with manageress Jo waiting for us.

There was an excellent choice of beers on offer. The first that we tried were the two houses beers from Leatherbritches - a golden ale, Bounder (3.8%), and the darker bitter Cad (4.0%) - both of which are just £2 a pint.

Both were good brews and in excellent condition - and it was pleasing to be offered the choice of whether we wanted our beer through a sparkler (we did).
In addition to these two there were also: Wells Bombardier, Wychwood Dogs Bollocks, Everards Tiger, Woodefords Wherry, Oakham Black Hole Porter, Black Hole Brewery's Supernova and a remembrance beer from Wyre Piddle called Piddle Remembers.
We all tried the latter four beers over the course of the next few hours and they were all in tip-top condition. The Supernova was a strong-ish pale ale, quite lager-y, whilst the Black Hole Porter at 5.5% was a good finish to the session.

All this plus six ciders - so Liz will be quite happy when they visit here in December - pork pies, cobs, pickled eggs and a cheeseboard.
Jo told me that they'd running the pub since February having previously run the Old Poets Corner in Ashover which had won Derbyshire Pub of the Year under their reign.

(left) Inside the Chesterfield Arms at opening time

They were endeavouring to bring the same winning formula to this pub as well - apparently all part of Project William by Everards (who own the pub) to bring in high quality tenants who are able to earn better-than-normal margin by selling their own beers.

Prior to the new management, the pub was known mainly as an away fans pub but it seems that the home fans have now cottoned onto what a good pub this is and have started to come here too.

We were sat by a roaring real fire debating the football issues of the day by the time Brian and John Bell joined us - Terry Henry's goal got more than it's fair share of debate as did Brian Clough after I'd finally remembered to bring Provided You Don't Kiss Me for Lance (after he'd won it in last season's London Millers raffle).

I'd had a sneak read of the first chapter on the way up and it looks like a good read. Must put it on my list for Santa.

I took a call from Doug Embleton who was enquiring about the weather down here - he and Pete Ashmore were stuck in slow moving traffic on the M1 in what he said was a bit of a pea-souper. Expect to see him when we see him.

As time went on, the pub filled up nicely but it was very disappointing that no other Darlo fans had found the pub. It's one of those places - much like the Bulls Head in Burslem - where home and away fans can mix and chat in a friendly environment without any hassle.

(above) Trevor gets the lowdown from Lance

For once we could leave it quite late before leaving for the game - the pub is handily situated about 300 yards from the away end - but the forecast rain had started and it looked a bit inclement. Looks like we were going to be wet on the outside as well today...

Friday, 20 November 2009

Down The Orient

Last night saw Liz and I wander over to Leyton for Piglet 9 - it's November so there has to be a Piglet at some point.

These are small festivals run by the Leyton Orient Supporters Club at their bar behind one of the main stands - initially started as a fill-in when the Pig's Ear festival had nowhere to go.

The supporters bar has always been good for beer even when it was by the (then) open away end. It still has a great reputation and has won numerous awards - it's currently the joint winner of CAMRA's National Club Of The Year.

When I pulled up at the bar for my opening pint, the bar staff- all volunteers and generally Orient fans - were all having a moan about their recent performances, the latest being knocked out of the cup at home a few days earlier by Tranmere - until I told them I was a Darlo fan and they should think themselves lucky.

This brought the usual questions - "Is George Reynolds still with you?" and "Is he still in jail?". They're a bit behind recent events at the <insert latest sponsor name here> Arena.

"Well you've got a lovely new stadium" one added. Hmmm, OK if you like that sort of thing. Which I don't really.

(left) Brodie's Orient - yummy

The festival had a special beer on - Orient from local brewery Brodie's - which is probably only a mile or so from the ground. You simply can't get more local.

I've been having quite a few of their beers recently and they've all been good. I don't know where they find the time to churn out some many brews.

The Orient was very good - a golden ale which at 4% is a more-ish quaffing beer with plenty of taste but which doesn't overpower your taste buds.

Liz was getting stuck into the ciders - well the Two Trees Perry from Gwynt Y Ddraig first which was slightly sweet but went down well.

Chris T joined us and managed to cadge a chair off somebody - the place was getting quite busy and it was standing room only. The crowd was very old-school London CAMRA with the usual crew from the Wenlock Arms in residence.

There was another local brewer present with three beers on offer from the Ha'Penny Brewery in Ilford. They had their Ha'Penny Bitter (3.5%), Sixteen String Jack IPA (3.8%) and Spring-Heeled Jack London Porter (3.9%).

The bitter was very clean and light - another session beer - and the porter was lovely - not a lot of body but full of dark flavours.

Unfortunately their IPA was a bit murky. It had been served to some people early on but later took it off.
(right) Ha'Penny Bitter

Brewer Gavin Happé (who co-brews with Chris Penny - hence the brewery name) told me that they'd used a huge quantity of hops and it had caused a haze (though it looked more than a bit hazey to me). All part of the learning curve I suppose.

One other good beer was Beer Monster from Oakham Ales - at 4.8%, it was a full-flavoured beer with a nice touch of maltiness, not too malty for me - I've never had a bad beer from them yet. I do miss our away trips to Peterborough!

And all beers and ciders were very competitively priced at £2.50 for a pint - beat that!

Liz and I finished off the night with Brown Snout Cider - yet another one from the chaps at Gwynt y Ddraig. At 6.0 it was quite a bitter single-variety cider, quite reminiscent to my cider novice tastes to the Kingston Black.

So well done to the LOSC team for yet another top festival. If only we had something like this at our place...

Monday, 16 November 2009

Three Points At Last...

It feels quite unusual arriving at King's Cross on this blustery morning - I've not been to a home game since our home defeat by Macc over a month ago - but it feels really good to be back in the groove.

Howard narrowly beats me into Da Vinci's for breakfast and then Martin arrives with just enough time for a cup of tea. Once on-board, it's clear to see that the North-East's Big Three are not playing today - plenty of room on the train. And despite all the bad weather, no problems on the track.

Today also marks the first day in charge for East Coat Main Line who took over from National Express at a minute to midnight on Friday the thirteenth.

This is, of course, the government in the form of operator Directly Operated Railways so it will be interesting to see whether things will actually improve. It might be nice if they can actually get the buffet open before we get to Stevenage for starters...

The journey is fine and we arrive on time. I suddenly realise that I've left my season ticket at home - so much for being back in the groove - but a quick call to Peter Cook in the ticket office soon sorts that out - they'll happily print a replacement for me.

The queue at Taylors isn't too large and I'm soon in possession of a host of pork, steak & kidney and fruit pies having taken orders beforehand.

I'm welcomed like a long lost son in the Quaker and it's good to see that the beers on offer are as varied as ever.
(right) The Quaker - for sale sign removed

Gary and Brian have now fully taken over the Quaker and the For Sale sign has been taken down. Gary was telling me that he's putting friends and punters to good use, getting them to bring back barrels when they're off travelling to other parts of the country. Sounds like a good idea.

And they're also going to be re-opening the room upstairs which was rarely used of late - should help with some of the over-crowding they can get on an weekend.

The choice on offer includes : Corvedale Brewery's Molly Morgan and Winter In The Sun; Brew Master from 1648; Brentwood Brewing's Marvellous Maple Mild; Tamar Best Bitter; Otter Head; Old Raby Ale from Village Brewer and Matfen Magic from the High House Farm Brewery.

Gary tells me that in the cellar he has a barrel of Darlington Spitfire from Lincolnshire-based brewery Dark Tribe but alas it won't be on today - the brewery has already produced a beer called SS Darlington so we ponder on whether they have some sort of connection with the town.

The Spitfire in question refers to a plane built after the townsfolk raised over £5000 back in 1940 - the story is covered in some detail here for those that are interested.

Howard arrives shortly after me and then I get a text from Colin Fletcher - the M1 is closed and he can't get to Doncaster to catch his train. So I'm not to get him a pie. Too late there but I'm sure it'll not go to waste.

And then another text, this time from John Bell - he's at the Brittania where they have a couple of stouts on, including one of my favourites, Titanic Stout - and I suspect he's trying to get me to deviate from my routine. I don't think so...

Howard departs to go walkabout in the way that blokes of his age do while I head onto Number Twenty-2. Not too busy so I get myself a stool at the bar and get chatting to a guy from Leeds about rugby league and the chances of a victory tonight over the Aussies at Elland Road - very slim.

Durham Tony and then John pop in and I have some very nice Coffee Porter that they've got on today - can't remember who brewed it but it was local - just a hint of coffee which is how I like it.

Down at the ground I pick up my replacement ticket but can't get a programme - they appear to have sold out. I meet Brian and we wander in to find that there's seems to be a few more people in blocks 11 and 12 today despite some of our little group being AWOL today.

John W is cruising in the Med with wife Bev whilst local retail magnates Tony and Lesley are following their NFL team in San Diego.

More new faces in the squad today - Nathan Mulligan and Stewart Giddings making their debut - and by the time we'd sat down and got sorted we'd actually scored.

Not for the first time in his career, Rotherham reject and thug-at-large Guy Branston took out Diop just outside the box. Branston protested his innocence to the ref - David Davis carried on and took the free kick quickly, passed to Mulligan who back heeled it to Curtis Main who calmly shot past the Burton keeper.

Have we peaked too early? That's always the fear especially given the number of clean sheets we'd previously kept in the league so far - none!

Darlo continued to push forward for most of the half and Miller went close with a header - this was starting to look quite positive.

Burton looked stronger though as we got to half-time - it ended with another bad challenge from Branston - quel surprise - who lead with his elbow in a challenge against Diop who was floored for a while. Those near the tunnel saw the egg-sized bump on his head when he came off for treatment. The referee thought nothing of it though - much like us in respect to his performance - and he was the centre of attention when the players came off at half-time.

In the second half, Darlo were under the cosh for large periods. Just after the restart Branston went close with a header and Liversedge had to make several smart saves. The defence looked a lot stronger today though - Miller and Foster back to form and Giddings breaking up Burton's breaks down the wing.

The referee continued to perplex Darlo players and fans alike with some very odd decisions and it all started to get a bit fraught.

Thankfully, the tension of the onslaught from Burton and the poor refereeing is broken by the chanting from a group of kids in one of the boxes behind us (and good to see a lot of the boxes in use).

My favourite was "The Referee's A Sausage" though I do my best to tell them what word they should really be using. It's just a matter of time I suspect.

Sub Dan Groves could have made it 2-0 late on and saved us a few grey hairs but his effort was cleared off the line.

The defence continued to hold out and the relief is palpable when the final whistle blew.

I rush out to catch the bus back into town - we're on a later-than-usual return train to London and so I'm off back to Number Twenty-2 to bask in the glow of my first win of the season.

Martin joins me for a couple of pints of Wensledale Bitter and then we head up to Bank Top for our train. It's very quiet and we have a table to ourselves and once we've had our pies I'm dead to the world...

Monday, 9 November 2009

Cup Dreams Go South...

And so we come to the first round of the FA Cup and all the excitement that this traditionally brings. Well, perhaps not this season as we face our second trip to Underhill in a fortnight.
(right) Deja Underhill

Since Rotherham's game against Wealdstone had been put back to the Sunday - apparently there was a function in the club bar on the Saturday that took precedence over the football - Liz joined me for the day.

We took breakfast at People's Choice near Barbican tube - this used to be very good but recently they've started to use frite-style chips which don't really stand up alongside the other ingredients of the Traditional English. 6 out of 10 - must try harder.

I suppose that as first round draws go, this was not the absolute worst we could have had - easy to get too for we in the south - but following our 3-0 defeat a fortnight ago, it was highly likely to be a case of deja defeat and as such it was only really a sense of duty that saw us attend.

That and another chance to wander along to the Lord Nelson. This time around there were just four of us - John Wilson and Geoff the only others who came along - but we had some fun playing with Bonnie the pub dog.

(left) Bonnie - throw the damn thing, will you?

Bonnie is a bit of an elderly dog but she loves playing with the regulars.

Perhaps we're now included in that group as she brought her squeaky toy for us to throw. Occasionally she'd even deign to actual go fetch it back...

The guest beer on this visit was St Austell Tribute - I've never been a huge fan of this beer but it was in superb condition on this occasion.

And not quite as many fans in the away end today - not surprising as Sunderland and Boro are both playing in the capital which will have meant that there'll have been no cheap rail tickets for those in the north.

Any hopes that the team had learnt from their last visit were snuffed out after just 20 mins when some shoddy defending saw veteran Paul Furlong slot the ball past Liversedge.

Following that there was some improvement for the remainder of the half as we pressed forward but there were quite a few poor individual displays - Davis was probably the worst and was to blame for most of the lost possession.

Despite being told that Moses Barnett had a great game in our sole win this season, I've yet to be convinced after he had another poor game at Underhill. It was his last game on loan and I'd be surprised if we see him again.

One-nil going into the break wasn't too bad but that soon changed as a simple tap in for Micah Hyde minutes after the restart more or less sealed it for the home team.

(right) Geoff walking backwards to Underhill (for Christmas?)

A third goal hammered the nail into the coffin but unlike our last visit, we didn't leave. We were rewarded four our loyalty as Staunton made a double subtitution - Josh Gray and Mor Diop coming on - and we started to show some concerted efforts up front.

Our finishing on the whole was wayward - Thomas and Collins especially - but Diop showed how it should be done with a close range effort which he slid past the Barnet keeper.

Unfortunately Diop then faded badly - presumably he's not yet match fit - and so did any lingering hopes of getting another goal back, especially after a couple of good saves from the home keeper.

So we're back to concentrating on the league - not a total surprise to any of us but it has the one advantage that we now have a free weekend at the end of the month.

We headed back into town after the game and passed through a manic Kings Cross to the Betjeman Arms at St Pancras.

Apparently Union, the new premium beer from Sambrooks, was supposed to be available but it wasn't. Instead I stuck to the Betjeman Ale whilst John has his first ever taste of Wandle Ale, Sambrooks' current and only offering - still a bit nondescript in our opinion and not dissimilar to Youngs Ordinary. We look forward to tasting the Union.

The Betjeman Arms was starting to get busy with England rugby fans and Sunderland fans all getting a few beers before catching trains home. Once we'd caught up with the football scores we headed for the calm and tranquility of the King Charles I.

Unfortunately we'd narrowly missed out on the Brodies Special which was being served direct from the barrel but their IPA is on tap and for a 4.0% beer it's a very nice drop - well hoppy and a decent body.

We try to get something to eat but the scotch eggs are all gone - there are mussels and pickled eggs but these don't tempt Liz at all. Instead the kindly barman shares some home-made pork scratchings that a customer has made. Crackling stuff.

We have a few more IPAs before ordering a takeaway from a nearby curry house and then we head on home. It's an early night for Liz as she's got her own game tomorrow - for her the dream lives on whilst we remain firmly mired in our league nightmare.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Making Mischief

No report from our game at Hereford unfortunately as I didn't actually make it. I'd got as far as Paddington but was feeling pretty crap by the time I got there.

I suspect the cause of my malady was a dodgy pizza made by my own fair hand the night before though Liz seemed to have escaped - must have been the anchovy/chilli topping that I do for myself.

I made the only sensible choice and went back home instead of the less-sensible-but-more-enjoyable one of joining Steve and John in the Barrels.

However Steve was up in London to see the Villa at Upton Park and we decided to make an east-end afternoon out of it. Certainly beats working.

I met him at Earls Court and we tubed over to Bethnal Green and the Approach Tavern.

It's a Fullers pub we've been visiting occasionally over the past year and we just stuck to Pride although Steve had opted for Chiswick initially but it came out like soup!

(left) Cyprus Road War Memorial

After a couple of pints we wander along Old Ford Road and take a quick visit to see an interesting local landmark, the War Memorial on Cyprus Street.

The memorial was erected after the First World War by the Duke of Wellington's Discharged and Demobilised Soldiers and Sailors Benevolent Club. They need an acronym.

It's very impressive in that it is beautifully maintained - in fact the whole street seems very pretty with all it's shutters - not how most would imagine the streets of Bethnal Green.

Apparently it is looked after by some elderly local residents but they're having trouble finding new volunteers to help out as all the old families die out.

We saw similar war memorials in St Albans when we had a crawl there in summer and they were also lovingly cared for.

From Cyprus Road we wander to the Roman Road where we're hoping to have some pie and mash in the local Robin's outlet. Steve was keen after being denied when we went to Dagenham a few weeks ago.

But it's not there - the local butcher informs us that it's recently closed and it now appears to be a meze cafe. Looks like Steve is out of luck again but we're told there are a couple more further along at the Roman Road market.
(right) G.Kelly to Steve's rescue

We troll along and find both of these outlets belong to G Kelly and as it's not a proper market day, we're not surprised to see that just one of them is open.

The food is very good - a nice pie, not too crusty with a decent filling of mince, and excellent mash - not too lumpy and certainly not the smooth baby-food style mash you get in most gastro-joints which I absolutely hate. Lovely jubbly!

(left) Traditional pie and mash with less traditional mushy peas

From here it's a short walk back towards Old Ford Road and a new pub for us, the Eleanor Arms.
We've seen the adverts for this pub in editions of the London Drinker for the last year or so and kept meaning to drop in and try it out.

It's a Shepherd Neame pub which has never been one of my favourite breweries but let's not prejudge! They had the Canterbury Jack and the Late Red autumn ale - we had the latter and it was in good condition and not too bad.

We got talking to Frankie and Lesley - the landlord and landlady - and they're a really friendly pair who seem to be on their way to turning this into a real cosy pub without any of the local ne'er-do-wells who previously visited the place. Their experience running NAAFI bars no doubt coming in handy here...

They're both delighted at being included in the latest Good Beer Guide - the first time for this pub - and we have a interesting chat on some of East London's other GBG entries - some of which do not always bear scrutiny in our humble opinions.

Frankie was getting a special brew from Shep's pilot brewery ready for the forthcoming quiz night - an American IPA - and he gave us both a small sample. Very tasty it was too but still with a Sheps aftertaste. I'm sure it will go down well.

(right) The Eleanor Arms

But we couldn't chat all day - next stop was the Palm Tree, one of our old favourites.

It's always a cosy bolt-hole and as dusk fell, the faint glitter of lights in the bar were a welcoming site across the Mile End eco-park.

As ever they had a couple of interesting beers on - one from Oxfordshire Ales plus Old Cocky from the Welton's Brewery in Horsham. We stuck to the latter - good stuff.

Liz then joined us for an hour or so before we left the pub and caught the tube to Upton Park for the West Ham -v- Villa game. Liz and I had got tickets for the home end as tickets in the away end had all gone.

We were in the old East Stand - the only stand which hasn't been revamped over the past few years - and the leg room is probably worse than the away end at Luton - even for a short-arse like me.

And the cost? £47. Which puts the £18 Darlo admission charge into perspective even allowing for the supposed difference in quality between the divisions.

As ever Villa fans are in good voice with their usual gamut of songs - "My Garden Shed (Is Bigger Than This)" and "John Carew, Carew (Is Bigger Than Me and You)" - clearly putting Holland-Dozier-Holland to shame - whilst the Hammers are extremely quiet, presumably through nerves. Just goes to show that a full stadium doesn't guarantee an atmosphere!

Villa more or less boss the game throughout but without taking the lead - West Ham are wasteful in possession and ponderous going forward. Villa live to regret their profligacy when the Hammers are awarded a penalty just before the break.

From our angle - more or less in line with the back line - Hines was offside anyway and the penalty awarded for a shove in the back looked harsh. But ref Bennett was clearly auditioning for a major role in The Simpsons. 1-0 to the Hammers.

Villa got their own penalty in the second-half for a high, clumsy challenge but Green saved Young's kick. But it was a brief respite as Young scored a cracker just a few minutes laterm curling the ball over a despairing Green.

Villa should then have taken West Ham to the cleaners but despite dominating possession they couldn't get another goal. Then ref Bennett sent off Habib Beye for a second yellow.

As Hammers fans around us snuck out early, it was almost inevitable that there'd be a late goal against the ten men and so it was - Villa were cruelly beaten in the 3rd minute of added time.

To ease the pain, we took Steve to a local kerala restaurant - fast becoming the new east end cuisine, much fresher tasting than the traditional Bangladeshi fare - and had some lovely mutton curry and parippu (that's lentils to you).

Still, a good day out, shame about the result - sounds just like Darlo...