Soccer is dramatic: the evidence!

I realise that football (or “soccer” as I’ve indentified it in the subject line for those more familiar with that tag) is not everyone’s cup of tea. It is widely recognised as the most popular sport in the world but it’s popularity is considered to be divided along the lines of geography, sex and class.

For that reason I thought it would be an interesting challenge to blog about a game and try to contextualise actual events and the drama that can unfold during a game. Some people get their sporting drama from a tight tennis match between the qualifying teenager from Peru and the established American superstar. Some find it in baseball success stories like Mark McGwire’s record-breaking 1998 season.

Yesterday in East London drama of another kind would be played out between two local teams: West Ham United (known as The Hammers) and Tottenham Hotspur (known as Spurs). So read on if you dare to hear why yesterday’s game was arguably the most exciting of the season – or ignore if you like, I won’t be offended!

West Ham are a famous club who returned last season from the lower leagues to play in the top English football division, The Premiership. Last year was a success as they comfortably finished mid-table and won plaudits for their stylish football. They also reached the cup final where they were just a minute away from beating the most successful English club in history, Liverpool, 2-1. However the Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard scored a long-range goal that brought the game in to extra time (overtime) and Liverpool eventually won the game 3-2.

This season was expected to be a big one for West Ham as they signed two of the best young players in the world from Argentina, Carlos T�vez and Javier Mascherano. But it hasn’t turned out that way and with just ten league games to go West Ham are bottom of the league and heading for relegation to the lower leagues again.

But the drama doesn’t end there. The club was sold to an Icelandic consortium in November 2006 and the new owner promptly sacked manager Alan Pardew weeks later. New manager Alan Curbishley was brought in but has been unable to arrest their slide. Mascherano has moved on to Liverpool after an unhappy spell with the club and the papers revealed that star defender Anton Ferdinand lied to the club about a trip to the United States where he partied before a big game rather than visiting a sick grandmother as he had said. The troubled 22-year old is also up in court on an assualt charge from last October. An article yesterday suggested that squad morale is at an all time low.

That’s their background. With just one win in eleven games yesterday was a must-win game against local rivals Tottenham. Nothing would please the West Ham fans (of which there were nearly 35,000 present yesterday) more than a win over their hated adversaries.

But Tottenham fans had a similar desire. In the final game of last season, West Ham beat Tottenham 2-1 to end their hopes of qualifying for the premier pan-European competition, The Champions League. West Ham fans taunted the Tottenham player and fans mercilessly even though the result meant nothing to them given their safe position in the league. This season Tottenham’s form has been patchy but they have won their last three games including a 4-0 win at Fulham and a 4-1 win over Bolton last Sunday.

That’s the context, this is how the game unfolded. Remember that the game is played over two halves of 45 minutes each. “Injury time” can be played at the end of each half if the referee has deemed that there were stoppages to warrant adding extra time on.

15 minutes: GOAL!!!! WEST HAM 1 TOTTENHAM 0
A sensational start as 19-year old midfield Mark Noble, playing in his first league game of the season, drives a shot through a defender’s legs and gives West Ham a vital lead. The fans are beside themselves but there’s a long way to go. Tottenham start to come in to the game more and their star striker, Bulgarian Dimitar Berbatov, has several chances but is denied by Hammers keeper Rob Green.

40 minutes: GOAL!!!! WEST HAM 2 TOTTENHAM 0
Dreamland for West Ham as Carlos T�vez scores his first goal for West Ham with a brilliant free-kick. Tottenham are unlucky to be two goals behind but T�vez doesn’t care and he takes off his shirt and jumps in to the crowd. The stewards eventually extricate him and reveal a slightly wobbly figure too – I think the boy is taking in too many bad carbs.

I don’t think West Ham fans – having seen their team struggle for wins this year (they have won just 5 out of 28 games) – believe that this game is over. However Tottenham have been mediocre and their inability to win games at their opponents stadiums (just 2 of their 11 wins have been away from their home patch) looks set to rear its head again. Their Dutch manager Martin Jol makes a substitution (each team is allowed three during the game) bringing on 19 year-old Tom Huddlestone for useless Egyptian Hossam Ghaly. The reason for the move is that Huddlestone is a much better passer of the ball and he can also tackle.

51 minutes: GOAL!!!! WEST HAM 2 TOTTENHAM 1
Disaster for West Ham as Spurs nippy winger, 19 year-old Aaron Lennon, beats the defender and is fouled in the penalty area. The referee awards a penalty kick (a face-off between the defending goalkeeper and the penalty taker from 12 yards). Tottenham’s former West Ham player Jermaine Defoe, who has taken abuse from the fans all through the match, calmly scores to reduce the deficit. At this point West Ham players are fearing the worst. They don’t have the quality of the Tottenham players and when you get used to losing games something like this can be a huge blow. Tottenham sense this and push forward.

63 minutes: GOAL!!!! WEST HAM 2 TOTTENHAM 2
It’s all square! West Ham must win this game to stand any chance of avoiding demotion but only one team look like winning this now and it’s not them. Berbatov crosses in to the box for Lennon who plays a beautiful cushioned pass with the outside of his boot to Finnish midfielder Teemu Tainio who drives the ball home beautifully. Alan Curbishley just shakes his head and the West Ham fans are silenced. From jubilation to dismay in less just 15 minutes.

At this point things quieten down. Tottenham, now afraid of losing the game, sit back and defend but West Ham don’t really look like they can snatch a goal from anywhere. Curbishley makes two forward substitutions. First he sends on new signing, Kepa Blanco for an injured midfielder and then brings on (former Tottenham player) Bobby Zamora for another former Tottenham player, Matty Etherington (who was as crap as he was when he was at Tottenham). West Ham now have four strikers on the pitch instead of the usual two – they are going for the win. Can get they get the cruical goal?

85 minutes: GOAL!!!! WEST HAM 3 TOTTENHAM 2
Yes they can! T�vez sends in a free-kick and Zamora, with his first touch, heads powerfully home. West Ham fans are loud and boisterous again, just five minutes away from three crucial points in the league. Jol’s response is to send on another substitution for Tottenham – 17 year-old French starlet Adel Taarabt makes his first appearance. The youngster is only in the squad due to a large number of injured players being unavailable. Most Spurs fans have never heard of him never mind seen him play.

But when he gets on the ball things change, Taarabt jinks his way around players and slides a couple of neat passes around. He then charges towards the goal only to be fouled by Ferdinand. There is only a minute to go and Tottenham have a free kick of their own about 20 yards from the goal.

89 minutes: GOAL!!!! WEST HAM 3 TOTTENHAM 3
Sensational! Berbatov powers the ball in to the top left-hand corner of the goal despite the despairing lunge from a defender. Spurs have deserved the draw but it’s cruel on West Ham for whom the single point the draw brings them is just not good enough. The fans are once again hushed…but wait…the assistant holds up the board. There are to be FOUR minutes of injury time. There is yet time for West Ham to turn it around. A big roar goes up around the ground and the optimism rises. With four strikers on the pitch and Tottenham struggling in defence, there is surely enough time to create some more chances.

Minutes later and West Ham do have a chance, T�vez and Zamora have the ball 20 yards from the Tottenham goal – everyone is in there waiting for the ball to be played in. But it doesn’t happen and Zamora loses it … and Tottenham break! It’s five-against-one as the ball is played up to Defoe who is on the half way line. He drives towards goal – this will be the last kick of the game as we’ve already played the allocated extra time. He has defender Paul Konchesky in front of him as well as goalkeeper, Green. He drives a shot towards goal but Green palms it away….

90 minutes (+5 minutes injury time): GOAL!!!! WEST HAM 3 TOTTENHAM 4
…right in to the path of Tottenham’s Canadian defender Paul Stalteri who taps it home! Tottenham have won it! Stalteri celebrates with the Tottenham fans and the West Ham fans are absolutely dejected. Heads go down all over the pitch and Curbishley knows in his heart that the game is over – not just this game but West Ham’s whole season. How can they climb out of this?

A minute later the final whistle blows and Tottenham have won what could only be described as the most dramatic game of the season by 4 goals to 3. As the camera pans around the various West Ham players, several of them are close to clears while David Noble makes no effort to hide his.

For Tottenham fans and players it is sweet revenge after last season’s last day disappointment.

Well that’s how I would describe what happened – now you too can see that drama unfold… I will answer all questions about the game in the comments section *eerie silence* !


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