On September 12 2005, England’s cricketers beat Australia at The Oval to reclaim the Ashes for the first time since 1987. But that was only the second-biggest sporting story of the day for West Ham fans.
Some football matches ultimately have the misfortune of being overshadowed by larger events taking place on the same day.
Kevin Nolan’s perfect hat-trick will always play second fiddle to Sir Alex Ferguson’s final game in management, for example, while South Korea’s Olympic victory over Team GB was forgotten before it even finished thanks to Mo Farah and his compatriots winning gold after gold on what came to be known as ‘Super Saturday’.
Marlon Harewood tried to change that in September 2005 with a hat-trick against Aston Villa, and though it couldn’t usurp England’s Ashes triumph for most, for this West Ham fan, it could certainly sit alongside it.
The summer of 2005 was a strange time on a personal level. I’d just finished my A-Levels and got the grades I needed, but I’d be taking a year out before university, working for a few months so I’d be able to afford to travel abroad in the new year.
The job didn’t start until mid-September, so I had a summer off to do, well, more or less what you’d expect from an 18-year-old. That’s right, watch Big Brother and the Ashes and stay in playing Football Manager.
In my downtime, though, I was stressing about West Ham.
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If you were to pick a newly promoted team to thrive in the Premier League, the 2005-06 edition of West Ham would not have been it.
This was a team that barely snuck into the play-offs, relying on Reading to lose all of their last three games to steal sixth spot, before seeing off an Ipswich side that finished 12 points above them in the regular season and scraping a scarcely-deserved victory over Preston at the Millennium Stadium.
The summer signings weren’t the most inspiring, either: a selection of Championship up-and-comers and Premier League loanees, plus a relatively unknown Israeli midfielder named Yossi Benayoun.
Then again, at 12/1 before the series started, England weren’t supposed to win the Ashes.
— Somerset Cricket 🏏 (@SomersetCCC) September 12, 2015
Back in 2005, with cricket still on terrestrial TV, big screens were set up in Regent’s Park, with BYOB rules which were lax to the point of being irresponsible.
Knowing this much, and having a family holiday to France booked in between the fourth and fifth tests, I bullied my parents into letting me take frankly too much cheap beer onto the ferry back to the UK.
By the time Kevin Pietersen had ridden out the storm in the final test at the Oval, my friends and I had the choice of continuing the celebrations there and then or taking the risk of seeing if West Ham could either double the joy or take the edge off. My mind was made up before anyone even asked.
West Ham had come from behind to beat Blackburn on the opening day of the season, thanks in no small part to a thunderous Nigel Reo-Coker strike, but the next couple of games were less productive, with Marlon Harewood among the biggest culprits as Alan Pardew’s team wasted chances in a home defeat to Bolton.
The striker had scored 18 league goals en route to promotion, along with 25 for West Ham and Nottingham Forest the season before, but his game time might have been limited with Bobby Zamora waiting in the wings. Thankfully, within the first half-hour against Aston Villa, he ensured any such argument would be unable to gather steam.
His first goal was not the strike of a man lacking in confidence, holding off his defender and exchanging headed passes with Teddy Sheringham before giving the advancing Thomas Sorensen no chance. It’s as if, as the ball hung in the air for an eternity, he was able to generate an internal montage of his brilliance from the last two seasons and channel it into actual, tangible goals.
The second came just four minutes later as Harewood stuck out a leg to divert Anton Ferdinand’s header beyond Sørensen.
Just as Kevin Pietersen’s early edge spun out of the grasp of Matthew Hayden in the slips, the more hopeful efforts – those which you approach unthinkingly while still riding earlier highs – sometimes just fall for you. And just as Pietersen rode that lucky escape to hit the match-saving and series-winning century, Harewood himself never looked back.
We talk about momentum in sport, and the concept of making your own luck, and while it’s tough to quantify at best and the result of confirmation bias at worst, there’s something to be said for the things you’ll try when feeling invincible: that extra 1% you get by ‘knowing’ you’ll succeed.
After the first half, and after watching James Milner send a cross-cum-shot against the inside of the West Ham post, was it any wonder Harewood was able to complete his treble thanks to a gift from Sørensen?
Having scored twice, he wasn’t going to hide away, instead taking up a spot out of reach of defenders and leaving himself perfectly placed to control and fire home after the Danish goalkeeper fluffed his attempt to punch clear a Matty Etherington free-kick.
Hours after a stretch without dismissal gave Pietersen the confidence to hit boundary after boundary, with some absolutely massive sixes in the mix, Harewood had long given up any pretense of worrying about his place in the team. Those who had been watching on from Upton Park, rather than just taking it in at the pub, could have been forgiven for rubbing their eyes in an exaggerated show of disbelief.
Benayoun eventually completed the scoring with his first West Ham goal of a stint which would ultimately go better than expected, but by then the Monday had long taken on the form of a festival, seeming to go on forever because, well, things never really stopped happening.
Never before or since has a September day felt so distinctly July-like, with West Ham’s victory seeming more like a standalone tournament game than a match several games into the season.
Harewood’s 05-06 campaign would have similar levels of endurance, with the hat-trick against Villa representing the first three of 16 goals and an FA Cup semi-final winner against Middlesbrough the last.
However, with each one I witnessed, whether on breaks from work or at ungodly hours on my travels in North America, I was taken back to the Ashes success. Even as West Ham struggled the following season, with Harewood losing his scoring touch, the memories persisted.
As a West Ham supporter, I’ve never been used to glory in the same way as fans of other clubs. Sometimes if you see the chance to latch on to something, you just have to go for it.
By Tom Victor