The look of defeat

Greg de Carnys parting of the ways with West Ham Ladies is the latest instalment in what seems like a never ending saga. It was never going to be easy to fill the shoes of title winning manager James Marrs once he had parted company with West Ham Ladies the ‘mutual consent’ way. Mutual consent? That usually means ‘You’re surplus to requirements, but we won’t slag you off if you don’t slag us off. Oh and here’s some dosh to keep schtum.’ I would have thought James Marrs would have jumped at the chance to work with West Ham Ladies’ new regime, being a respected coach with years of experience in women’s football and had just started turning the team’s fortunes (which had been well and truly hiding)… but no. Surely West Ham could see that they had a manager in place that with the right resources could take them to the very top. Apparently not.

Instead they appointed under 23’s performance coach Greg De Carnys and first team fitness coach Joss Ewens (two very personable young men but with no experience of women’s football) to take the reins in a kind of part time capacity running alongside their ‘real’ jobs. I’m not sure whether they volunteered or were volunteered, either way their Sundays for the next year would never be the same. There were to be some highs (a few) and some lows (quite a few) the highest point being the much lauded 3-1 victory away at Charlton and the lowest point being Joss Ewens having to pick up some dog shit off the pitch away to Swindon before anyone trod in it. I’d have thought he way the results had been going that season the whole team should have been lining up to tread in it for luck.
Greg had revealed to me after a defeat last season that his MO was to make the players better players and then the results should follow. Quote … “If I was being judged on results I’d be gone by now.’ Maybe the MO has changed. After all …West Ham Ladies have one stiletto in the door of WSL1 and even though results are not nearly as important as money, it would be embarrassingly soul destroying to lose every week and to be propping up the ‘big girls.’
The timing of the sacking (there… I said it) could be down to quite a few different factors. I don’t know when the decision was made (or who made the decision) but in the wake of West Ham United men’s win over Chelsea (the perfect demonstration of the ‘New Manger Effect’ ) ,West Ham Ladies impending two very winnable cup games against Brislington (who?) and Margate Ladies, plus the possible availability of well respected and experienced coach Keith Boanas who has just left Watford Ladies just might have had something to do with it.
Unfortunately the Brislington (where?) game was snowed off… so the Margate match was the start of yet another new era.

I hadn’t visited Margate since 1968. It used to be the place to go with it’s goldish beaches, donkey rides and the thrill of what we would refer to today as a theme park. Dreamland. Dreamland features in one of only three memories I have of Margate. It’s as if I’ve saved those three memories to a hard drive and put the rest of the day in a recycle bin.

The first saved memory was when we arrived in sunny Margate and visited a tea shop for refreshment. It was decorated in the style of an OAP’s parlour and was full of OAP’s enjoying a busman’s holiday. I remember the must. It could have been the carpet or the people. Or both. I also remember the quietness. Just the chink of bone china cups on bone china saucers breaking the library-esque silence of the room.
Bizarrely there was a jukebox in the corner. I wondered if it played hymns. Panpipes hadn’t been invented in those days. I wondered if the records inside were 78’s, or if there was a huge handle that needed turning. “Mum! can I have a tanner for the jukebox please?’’ It was boring. I thought a bit of music might liven the place up.
Once I had procured the sixpence I had the daunting task of choosing one song from a choice of a hundred. The next three minutes would be mine. I had to choose wisely. The ditty I went for was ‘Fire’ by Arthur Brown and his Crazy World. I was an apprentice headbanger and had enjoyed Arthur’s strange performance and behaviour on Top of the Pops the week previous, especially the really bad fire effect and his lame attempt at face painting which Alice Cooper copied and has made a pretty good living out of it ever since. I have no idea why that record would be on that jukebox in that tea room but it was. The sixpenny dropped, the arm hunted out the 45 and placed it delicately on the already spinning turntable. The crackle of needle on dust sounded a bit louder than anticipated, although it still didn’t prepare me for what was to come.

‘I AM THE GOD OF HELLFIRE AND I BRING YOU…..’Arthur screamed from the speakers.

It might as well have been coming out of a Marshall stack turned up to eleven. I ran back to our table. ‘What’s that racket?’ my mum said. I was being stared at over cups of tea. I would’ve heard the tutting if the ‘music’ hadn’t have been so loud. My face was a bright flame red as the three minutes seemed like three hours and Arthur’s maniacal laugh for the middle eight was the cherry on the top of my embarrassment.
‘Can we go?’ I said.


Arthur… still crazy…                            The scenic railway  Margate

The second memory I have is a short one. I vaguely remember my (older) sister suggesting that we go on the scenic railway. A kind of train that goes around a track with steep hills. Why it’s called a scenic railway heaven knows because I had my eyes firmly shut all the way around. As soon as we started our ascent with the click click click of the pull chain I decided I’d seen enough. On the descent I screamed even louder than Arthur as we careered round the track with my face being distorted by the G force (it seemed like it could have been H force ) and my stomach had turned into a yo-yo, whilst all I could hear was the clattering of the wooden track and people giggling and laughing with joy. Nutters the lot of them. It had scared me and scarred me and it was to be twelve years before I was brave enough to go on another one.

The third recollection I have of that (fateful) day was at lunchtime. It was called dinner time back then and dinner time was called teatime. Anyway…. it was a midday meal.

Eating habits. We’ve all got them I suppose. Eating peas off a knife. Saving the best bit till last. Using a spoon to finish the gravy. An ex-girlfriend of mine’s dad used to be ‘The Slow Eater’ and do that thing where you load up the prongs of a fork with food then scrape it off, go to another area of the plate, scoop some chow then tip it back on the plate, then load up the fork again, have a little chat with the fork about six inches away from his face and then finally put it in his gob, only to chew it a thousand times before begrudgingly swallowing it.
I wanted to shout at him. I wanted to shake him. I wanted to force feed him with a shovel. Luckily I was spared the torture of watching him eat peas …. she packed me in.

But my dad’s eating anomaly (in my eyes) was the whole soup eating experience. What is the etiquette for eating soup with a bread roll? My take on it is if you’re posh you sup the soup from a spoon (no slurping) then put the spoon down so that you can tear off a morsel of bread which is eaten separately. And repeat. The other option open for us mere mortals is to shamelessly dip the roll in the soup. Never mop up with it though unless you were born in the 17th century and say ‘Cor luvva duck’ quite a bit.
My father’s spin on soup etiquette is to break his roll into 15-20 pieces then tip it into the soup thus making it into tomato and bread soup. It was always tomato. Watery tomato at that. It used to horrify me. I used to stare aghast and in bewilderment at his almost peasant behaviour. I began to wonder whether we were poor. Oh the shame. I couldn’t advise him differently though. It wasn’t quite ‘seen and not heard’ times but there was an unwritten parent child class system. These days offspring would bawl ‘For fuck’s sake dad… eat properly … people are staring!’ …but for me suffering in silence was the order of the day.

So on that day in Margate dad ordered tomato soup. Of course he did. And a roll. I was on cringe alert. The soup had arrived accompanied by some rather large crusty rolls. Dad passed them around. He kept the biggest one for himself. He probably thought it would soak up all of the soup and turn it into a mutant tomato loaf albeit in a hundred bits. He was wrong. As he held the roll in both hands above his bowl, a lack of concentration on his part caused the roll to slip out of his hands and fall straight into the soup. Anyone familiar with Archimedes would know that there was to be a certain amount of displacement of the soup. To be precise, the soup displaced itself all over my mum, dad, sister and me. And the crisp white table cloth. No-one shouted Eureka! I wanted to shout ‘You idiot!’ but refrained. Our table looked like a scene from Reservoir Dogs. People stared. Dad said ‘Oopsy,’ very sheepishly. My mother didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. She did neither.

‘It’s Heinz …it’s gonna stain’

Margate’s twin town must be Schadenfreude……….

Since those heady summer days of the sixties Margate has suffered a decline and at one point went all Jaywick, but with millions spent on regeneration projects in the area it could now boast that it wasn’t quite Brighton but it could give Clacton a run for it’s money.

So I was off to Margate. It was not as far as I remembered. Maybe the roads were better now or my dad’s old car was a bit slow. Just over an hour. And for the whole duration of the drive I had an ear worm….

‘Down to Margate, don’t forget your buckets and spades and cossies and all
Down to Margate, we’ll have a pill of jellied eels at the cockle stall
Down to Margate, we’ll go on the pier and we’ll have a beer aside of the sea
You can keep the Costa Brava and all that palava, going no farther, me I’d rather have me a day down Margate with all me family’

Turns out Chas n Dave, the ‘cockney’ duo are Tottenham supporters… would you Adam and Eve it?

West Ham Ladies general manager Karen Ray was to have her second spell interim manager until Carnys replacement has been announced. It would surely be easier than her first spell ….against two top European sides. Nothing had been announced over Joss Ewens position, but it appears that he only helps with the ladies if the men’s team aren’t playing and luckily for him he wasn’t on touchline duty when West Ham Ladies were being unmercifully hammered by Coventry ladies in the straw that broke the camel’s back match.

The big guns of West Ham Ladies coming to town had bolstered the crowd beyond expectation. The official attendance was just over 200, but there were no turnstiles and it was free to get in so I’m not sure how they arrived at that figure. Perhaps they used the Duckworth Lewis method. I did a rough count of blocks of fans and made the number twice that. At Least. And there was a queue for the burger stall… that was always a good sign.
It was a cold clear night, with the l.e.ds of Dreamland’s ferris wheel simulating a firework display in the black sky with the sea just a skimming stone’s throw away .

The pitch was perfect.It was like a carpet. On closer inspection…. I realised that it was a carpet. 3G or 4G I’m not sure. It could have been Axminster for all I knew. This would suit West Ham, after the debacle of Coventry’s terrible pitch where they didn’t know whether to play football or dig for potatoes.
As good as the pitch was, the floodlights were a little inadequate. They had what seemed to be four 40w bulbs in each corner which were doing nothing to help me get some good photos and the players seemed to disappear into the gloom every now and then.

Margate were an unknown quantity to me. Someone had told me they weren’t very good, which ended up being the mother of all understatements. After the first couple of minutes it was evident that Margate were in for a traumatic night. West Ham Ladies were all over them like a swarm of bees bamboozling Margate with their one touch passing, neat tricks and flicks and their frighteningly superior pace. Ironically this was the Barca style of football that Greg de Carnys had been advocating and dreaming of during his time in charge, and the week that he ‘leaves’ they finally meet a team of such little resistance they could put into practice what he had been coaching them for the past year. West Ham Ladies were a joy to behold, watching all those El Classico videos was at last paying off, whilst Margate Ladies must have been watching ‘Zulu’, ‘The Alamo’ and ‘They Died With Their Boots On.’

Margate Ladies managed to resist conceding for a full 9 minutes before Amber Stobbs, enjoying her role as captain buried the first.

Where did you get that hat?

West Ham Ladies were finding most joy through the middle and were allowed to just wander through. The surprisingly low half time score of 4-0 was down to a mixture of poor finishing, the woodwork and a some unorthodox saves by Margate’s keeper who had strangely decided to dress like Benny from Crossroads. I’d never seen a goalkeeper wearing a beanie hat before. I wasn’t even sure it was within the rules of the game. Maybe she will start a new trend. And whilst I’m on the subject of fashion, it was no surprise to see the West Ham Ladies wearing an assortment of different gloves as most of them are Arsenal supporters.

4 goal Ellie Zoephl
Nice gloves….Marigold’s?

And whilst I’m on the subject of supporters, there were not many West Ham fans present. There was the hardcore gang consisting of me, Owen, Moira and Dean, joined by local lass Vikki plus some other bloke with a West Ham scarf on. Six. Our rendition of ‘can we play you every week?’ was drowned out by home fans mumbling to each other.
Newish recruit Ellie Zoepfl (I have’t tried to pronounce that yet through fear of spraying someone) had a field day, ghosting through the Margate defence like Margot Fontaine on roller skates, and helping herself to a brace before the break. Andrea Goergiou chipped in with a tap in to complete the first half rout, but the real heroes of the first half West Ham Ladies goalkeeper Sindi Kanto who only had two touches of the ball (she really could have put up a deck chair, put on a ‘kiss me quick’ hat and had a snooze without any risk of conceding) and central defender Chenise Austin who had driven nearly 200 miles from Swindon to Margate, played 45 minutes and then was substituted at half time so that she could drive back again. Now that is what you call dedication.

The second half saw the introduction of both Kmita twins who took a wing each. Chantelle Mackie moved across to play central defence just in case Margate got brave and crossed the halfway line. Coincidently there was a repeat of the first half’s 9 minute ceasefire before West Ham Ladies turned in a masterclass of attacking football that Margate could only fall flat on their backsides and admire. Zoeplf scored two more,Stobbs netted a second half hat trick, one of which was my goal of the game, lobbing over the defender before volleying into the net and Rosie Kmita went ahead in the sibling rivalry stakes by scoring two in two minutes. Zoe Swift made it unlucky for Margate by scoring the 13th and final goal of the night.
Margate Ladies had their own highlight when one of their players tried a speculative volley from 40 yards a la Beckham, only to see it go inches over the bar whilst the back pedalling Kanto was having deja vu from the week before’s game against Coventry.

Jasmine Auguste gets in where it hurts

The final whistle blew and the game ended in smiles all around. The West Ham Ladies at last being able to show what they can do and scoring 13 goals, cancelling out the 13 goals they had conceded in the previous two games, and Margate Ladies having the chance to battle it out with a professional club and living to tell the tale.

I couldn’t help thinking that the gulf between teams in women’s football is too large. The gulf is too large between teams in the same division even. West Ham Ladies’ division is split into three mini leagues, the top five, the bottom two, and the rest in the middle.
WPL1 has a top three and the rest make up the numbers. The games need to be more competitive between different level teams or else no giants will ever be killed.

So I beat a retreat to the sanctuary of my soon to be warm car and headed home…. still with the worm firmly planted in my ear…..

Down to Margate, don’t forget your buckets and spades and cossies and all….


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