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Jun 05

Cardiff Sketch – West Ham vs Preston North End Play-Off Final

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“The most expensive game of football in the world” shouted the hyperactive stadium announcer before kick off. Relax the players it did not. West Ham had to win this to sustain a recognisable team. The Guardian went one step further, “if West Ham lose, Matthew Etherington will be sacrificed.” Impending death spurred him down the wing and he crossed for Zamora to scuff the winner. Not much else happened, Nigel Reo-Coker was the best player on the pitch and Tomas Repka achieved a personal milestone by playing 90 minutes without a single act of violence. The game was very similar to last year’s final, but with Preston playing the stage fright role.

At the death, the fourth official held his screen toy up. Seven, it blinked dottily. Christian Dailly looked across and thought he was being substituted. Pardew waved him back. SEVEN MINUTES OF INJURY TIME! We groaned collectively, but Preston looked as if an equaliser was beyond them. Final whistle; pretty bubbles in the air, a whack round the head with an inflatable hammer and time to salute the sixth best team in the Championship.

We veered into a pub. Hammers fans wrapped in flags and drenched in beer were hanging out the window. The bouncer eyed us with disdain. “No smoking” he said. I had a pint of Brains and we loudly promoted the virtues of East London via the medium of song.

We moved on to an Italian restaurant. Some Preston fans sat scrunched around another table and graciously sent champagne across. We raised a glass to the glory of football. “Are you Burnley in disguise?” they sang, waving inflatable ‘cheer sticks’. They attempted to involve the waiter, “which team were you supporting?” “I’m Albanian,” he said, to silence. We bought them wine and said see you next season, without specifying a division.

We jumped in a taxi. The driver was an Iraqi. We apologised for the bombs and that, but he said it was alright. “I had that Charlotte Church in here the other day.” “What’s she like?” we asked. “Nice back,” he said, “but her mate’s really ugly.”

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