Since the Manchester Utd fixture was first announced, it was obvious that the match was going to be imbued with a special kind of intensity.
The last match at the Boleyn Ground, a chance to say farewell to a special history – if the match had been a meaningless rubber between two go-nowhere teams it would still be as passionate as a cup final.
But no. Fates – and Saturday’s mixed bag of results – have conspired to ensure that West Ham v Manchester Utd on May 10, 2016, has significant implications not just for posterity but for the immediate concerns of both teams as well.
West Ham went into meltdown on Saturday, losing 1-4 to Swansea which put Southampton ahead of them in the pecking order and brought Liverpool into play. All that work over the seasons, thought the fans, we can’t finish eighth.
Meanwhile Manchester Utd have their own agenda after Manchester City’s slip-up against Arsenal. A Champions League slot is within their grasp and no-one will be thinking sentiment on Tuesday.
The party can wait. Slaven Bilic is “fuming” fearing that a few individuals are coasting towards the end of the season and the lessons of the season – of diligence, of attack, of focus – are being forgotten amid the confetti and the nostalgia. They need two wins out of two to guarantee a Europa Cup place.
Today (Monday) was the beginning of the celebration but now the Champagne has turned a little flat.
Slaven Bilic said: “Make no mistake, I’m crazy, I’m fuming, more angry than disappointed. You are disappointed when you do everything and it doesn’t work out for you but we didn’t do what we had to do and that makes me more angry.
“It’s important we play much better tomorrow night than we did against Swansea.
“I’m not talking about the finishing product because that depends on the day or your inspiration. I’m talking about the basic things which were missing.
“For most of the games this season that we lost, it was because we were not doing those simple, basic things. We can’t afford not to do those basics in any game but especially tomorrow night against Manchester United, who have the class and quality to kill you.”
He wants to finish on a high, a fitting way to say farewell to a ground that has been graced by the likes of Martin Peters, Geoff Hurst and imperious Bobby Moore. Which has seen Billy Bonds shed blood and Trevor Brooking dance through the mud, cheered on from the “chicken run”.
Bilic said “I think [the players] will approach tomorrow night like it is a privilege to play the last game ever to be played at the Boleyn Ground. It should be an inspiration and I think it will be an inspiration.”