Hammertime at Upton Park

Day 10 cntd (8th August 2009)

The Overdraft (East Ham) ½ Amstel, ½ John Smiths Smooth, ½ Strongbow £3.90

JW and KL Hang Out at THe Overdraft

Just a short walk from East Ham Station brought us to the not-at-all amusingly named Overdraft, a simple corner pub with delusions of grandeur. The first thing that you notice when you walk in is a very odd hexagonal pool table that just looks too confusing to even contemplate.  The second thing that we noticed was a card table populated by some grumpy looking chaps who were clearly gambling their rent money with each other.

The third thing we noticed was that the half of Amstel that Keith had ordered was completely undrinkable.  “It’s corked!” he declared, as he passed it across to me and Gareth to try. Jesus, he wasn’t joking either – perhaps we should have paid more attention to one of the reviews on abeerintheevening.com: “By a pint from the pump, if you dare.  You may be lucky and taste a little line cleaner in it, rather than the beers I get which I can only describe as half shit and half fairy liquid.” Ouch.  At least they replaced it with another half of Strongbow without moaning. Perhaps they’re used to the complaints.

Any good points? Well yes actually but you couldn’t guarantee it every time you go in. When we were there someone had taken over the jukebox and decided to put on a Stones-Fest. We arrived to the rocking sound of “Mother’s Little Helper” and left to the appropriate sounds of “Hey! You! Get off of My Cloud!” Apart from that there was very little of distinction about the pub – even the Big TVs showing the Ashes were no source of solace, since they were showing England getting steadily destroyed by the Aussies at Headingly (“We only need to bat for three days to save the game” said Gareth, optimistically).

Keith popped to the loo before we left and found what looked like a false economy, which lead me to make an ill advised comment which is likely to offend an entire county:

“Keith has seen what looks like the cheapest condom machine in Britain – you get two for a quid, although we certainly couldn’t vouch for the quality of them. Perhaps that’s why there are so many teenage pregnancies in Essex.”

The Queen’s (Upton Park) ½ Strongbow, 2 x ½ Courage Best £3.90

The "Oh Shit......" Moment at Upton Park

We had of course researched Upton Park very carefully. We knew we would be going to The Queen’s, which is a renowned football pub – and for this reason we were immensely glad that we had decided to do this part of the line before the football season had actually started.

Imagine our surprise then, as we emerged, blinking, into the sunlight outside the station to be faced by something like five or six thousand West Ham fans completely blocking the street. Ah. A miscalculation on our part perhaps.  We wandered down towards the pub, growing slightly more nervous with each step.  Eager to find out who the away fans were, Gareth sensibly approached a local Policeman and asked the obvious question “Who are they playing?”

“Seriously?” Was the response, with a splendid mixture of disbelief and contempt displayed on the officer’s face.

When it became obvious that no, Gareth wasn’t joking, and we were the only three people in East London who had no idea what was going on, he informed us that the Hammers had been playing a friendly against Napoli – the Italian team almost as famous for the legendary Ultras as for anything else.  The Ultras are the hardcore fans/hooligans, who were highly unlikely to mix well with the ICF at Upton Park.  We do plan these things so well.

Fortunately none of us looked particularly Italian, so we felt at least partly safe as we made our way to the pub.  Interestingly, the outside area at The Queen’s had been fenced in, which, bizarrely, seemed to please some of the home fans who were content to bang on the fence and sing West Ham songs at the top of their collective voice. When we made it inside, we were instantly confronted by the daunting prospect of a bar with punters queuing four or five deep to get served.  Not a good situation to be in on a time pressured pub crawl.  Luckily for us, the ever resourceful Mr Lewis spotted the stairs just past the entrance which led down into the almost empty basement bar. Result.

KL and JW Show Amy Their A-Z at The Queen's

There, we were greeted by Amy, who was absolutely lovely, and extremely helpful in suggesting a suitable route for us to get to Plaistow (it was blatantly obvious that there was no way we were going to get back into Upton Park Station within the next two hours).  It was difficult to give any sort of meaningful review of the pub since we couldn’t see much of it through the throng of bodies, so we agreed that we should take Amy’s advice and sneak off through Queen’s Market towards our next destination.

Random things that amused or dismayed us as we made our escape from the area:

The middle aged fan who was trying in vain to break his bottle on the road surface so that he could attack a taxi driver that had already long driven off.

The fact that the West Ham fans boxed in the pub’s smoking area were loudly singing songs about other people’s foreskins, or lack of them. Not least because surely the Napoli fans were likely to be Catholic rather than Jewish?  Presumably they just hate Tottenham no matter who is actually playing them.

The swaying, drunken, topless youth who walked past us with a big grin on his face despite the large bandage around his skull and trail of drying blood down the side of his face.

Best, or more accurately, worst of all of this was firstly seeing a bicycle wheel roll gently across the road in front of a car. We then saw a step ladder that was positioned unhelpfully in the middle of the street. Turns out a highly intelligent group of lads in front of us were stealing things out of front gardens to give motorists some extra obstacles.  They were young, they were drunk and they were sweary.  As they walked past a warehouse with a shutter, one of them banged loudly on it with his fists as he shouted “Please…Do…Not…Park…In…Front…Of…These…Gates!” 

“The most surprising thing about all of that, was the fact that he could read” said Keith.

The Victoria (Plaistow) ½ Strongbow, 2 x ½ John Smiths £3.75

The Boys Hit a Dead End at The Victoria

More fan based hilarity as we got close to our next stop – a couple of bolshie Hammers just outside the pub picked the most Italian looking people they could find and started aggressively shouting “Vaffanculo! Vaffanculo!” at them, only to hear what sounded like Ray Winstone shouting back at them – “What the Facking Hell is that supposed to mean?”

After walking for what seemed like an eternity through backstreets and crowds of fans, we finally reached The Victoria.  It certainly wasn’t a brilliant pub, but they were obviously expecting a big match day crowd as they had moved the pool table into the corner and shoved all the furniture they could on top of it.  It looked like someone had been playing Jenga in DFS.

There had been something of a scrub up on the interior, but it still managed to look a little jaded. Our mood was not improved by the fact that there were no interesting beers on, and that the only TV in the place was showing the increasingly desperate situation in Leeds.  74 for 4! What happened to Ravi Bopara this summer?

One saving grace was the music. We had an afternoon homage to classic Soul, with some Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin and Sam and Dave amongst many others, and the wonderful sound of “Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green was playing as we took our leave. We weaved through the shirts in the beer garden (for beer garden, read section of pavement with tables on it), and made our way off in search of some football free venues.

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