Jermaine Jenas: Lasagne-gate still haunts me but the prize in this West Ham v Tottenham derby is even greater

Jermaine Jenas: Lasagne-gate still haunts me but the prize in this West Ham v Tottenham derby is even greater

Follow Jermaine on Twitter: @jjenas8

To say Tottenham have a big week coming up is an understatement. The match against Arsenal next weekend could be decisive for the league title hopes of both sides, but there's another derby coming up against West Ham on Wednesday night that is just as important.

As a member of the Spurs team beaten at Upton Park in the infamous "Lasagnegate" match on the last day of the 2005/2006 season, when the bulk of our squad went down with food poisoning, you could say this derby will always have a special resonance with me - as it will for anyone who experienced that day.

The feeling I had in the dressing room after that match, sitting in agony with people throwing up all around me while the West Ham players across the hallway were screaming and shouting like they had won the FA Cup, is something that will stick in my mind forever. I struggled to let it go for a while, to be honest.

In fact the Hammers had an FA Cup final the following weekend against Liverpool and not much to play for in the league, whereas we had to beat them to secure our place in the Champions League ahead of Arsenal.

The silly thing is that for a game against West Ham we would have normally just stayed at home because it was a local derby, but because it was such a crucial game the club put us in a hotel because they wanted us to be together.

Lasagne and spaghetti Bolognese were on the menu, we ate, and then in the middle of the night we started dropping like flies. It was mayhem. The club tried to get the match called off, but in vain, so we just had to play through it feeling like death. A lot of the lads were running on empty - literally. Even while the gaffer Martin Jol was giving his team talk before the game, players were being sick in the toilets. Once the game started players were literally running off the pitch. It was carnage.

Bobby Zamora is brought down inside the penalty area during the Barclays Premiership match between West Ham and Tottenham Hotspur at Upton Park. (Photo by Phil Cole/Getty Images)
Bobby Zamora is brought down inside the penalty area during the Barclays Premiership match between West Ham and Tottenham Hotspur at Upton Park. (Photo by Phil Cole/Getty Images)

By the end of it we felt so horrific that the fact we had just lost out on the Champions League, on the last day of the season, to Arsenal, with West Ham in the next room having the biggest party ever, was almost of secondary importance.

As players all we could really do was use that feeling as fuel for when we played West Ham in the future. And we had some nice moments against them, to be fair. The following season, Paul Stalteri scored the winner at Upton Park in the last minute of a 4-3 win.

Playing Tottenham seems to rile up West Ham like nothing else - something that when I first went to Spurs I didn't really understand.

I still don't in some ways. Tottenham's number one derby will always be Arsenal. If any derby intensified in the years that I was at Spurs, it was the one against Chelsea. But the players never viewed West Ham as one of the big derbies, and that's probably one of the things that infuriates West Ham fans.

I even remember having conversations trying to work out what the West Ham thing was all about. Granted, they were close geographically, but so were Charlton, for example. I didn't get the hatred they were trying to create, which I didn't feel ever materialised from Tottenham's end. The biggest derbies remained Arsenal, followed by Chelsea, and I don't think it's any different now.

The progress West Ham have made over the past few seasons has been exceptional and it will be a vociferous atmosphere at Upton Park, but it's nice to feel that fierce environment as a player because it tunes you in. Not all the Spurs squad would have played in this fixture before, but there are enough homegrown players to let them know what to expect.

The Upton Park pitch didn't look in great shape in the Hammers' match against Sunderland at the weekend. It was dry, bobbly and not a nice surface to pass the ball around on, which could cause Spurs some problems. But so far Mauricio Pochettino's team has shown an ability to deal with whatever is thrown at them.

The manager will no doubt be aware that it was exactly this time last year when Tottenham's season began to unravel. They were beaten by Chelsea in the League Cup final and then fell away in the league.

That's why he would have been so encouraged to see them bounce back from last week's FA Cup defeat to Crystal Palace by negotiating a tricky Europa League tie against Fiorentina and then coming from behind to beat Swansea.

It's further evidence of the huge shift in mentality from last season.

Tottenham fans will always fear the worst, but I think they can sit comfortably knowing this team has a level of maturity that surpasses that of previous squads. While the Arsenal game will be huge, I'd put the West Ham game in the same bracket - if only because it's vital that Spurs can keep up their momentum of not being beaten.

One thing I'm pretty sure the Spurs players won't have to contend with is what we had against West Ham 10 years ago. That's because it's only happened once in Premier League history, which is a bit too much of a coincidence for my liking.

While sitting in that dressing room at Upton Park was my worst moment in football, I always say that seeing Steven Gerrard equalise against West Ham in the last minute in the FA Cup final from about 100 yards the following weekend was one of my happiest moments.

But Tottenham's last match at the Boleyn Ground goes beyond rivalries - it's about staying on course the league title, and that's far more important.

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