Tuesday, October 25

Should West Ham have kept Victor Moses?

It's nice to see Victor Moses finally getting a run as a right wing-back for Chelsea and playing really well in the demolition of Man United. With hindsight, you do wonder if West Ham should have tried harder to keep him after his loan spell ended last season. 

Moses was unlucky with injury and then the sudden emergence of  Michail Antonio. But he started off brilliantly, having an inspired home debut against Newcastle and running from the halfway line to make Payet's second goal. He also scored away to Manchester City and Blackburn. Victor made 15 league starts for the Hammers, though latterly he was restricted to coming of the bench. 

For the same money that West Ham spent on Tore and Feghouli we could probably have done a deal with Chelsea and Moses could have been competition for Antonio and filled in as a wingback too. Let's hope that decision doesn't haunt WHU tomorrow night against Chelsea.

Sunday, October 23

Winston wins it for the Irons!

West Ham 1 Sunderland 0

It’s into the (Clyde) Best CafĂ© with Nigel, Michael and Matt, who’s seen the kids at Little Heath in the morning. We’re also joined by my brother-in-law Drew and his ten-year-old son Jago, attending his first match. Jago quizzes us on who is the greatest player we’ve ever seen and after going through Christian Dailly and Steve Potts, we agree it’s probably Messi or Ronaldo. Then it’s a late trek past gridlock at gate G and into the stadium just after kick-off.

West Ham start confidently and have a good 35 minutes. Payet goes close three times; shooting just wide, drawing a save from Pickford and then hitting the inside of the post. Fernandes is getting forward well as emergency left wing-back and on the right Antonio’s pace is causing problems. Zaza goes close with an audacious overhead kick. Defoe gets in a softish shot and you can see Sunderland coming into it more as West Ham’s failure to score brings back the old doubts

At half time Drew buys Jago a bargain £3.50 box of popcorn, which he is going to throw at the players if they don’t score soon.

Khazri gets clear early in the second half but shoots too close to Adrian. For the rest of the half West Ham attack but lack creativity, with even Payet struggling. Antonio crosses too low into the first defender on several occasions and is hooked for Feghouli. The Albanian man plays with urgency, but like Antonio struggles to beat the first defender with his crosses.

Young Jago learns some interesting new phrases such as “get up you tart!” from the man behind us. Though he’s pleasingly willing on West Ham to score. Zaza is surprisingly replaced with Calleri and Ashley Fletcher gets on for the last 10 minutes. Fletcher makes one good break down the left only to cross to a defender. The crowd get going with some “Come on you Irons!” as we get more desperate.

Moyes brings on more defenders and this one has a goalless draw written all over it. We’re into the fourth minute of added time when Noble wins a corner. From the short corner Payet finds Winston Reid, who manages to get the ball from under his feet on to his left foot and fires through a crowd of players past the unsighted Pickford. The London Stadium erupts in relief as Winston runs to the corner. Calleri looks like he might be offside but as we quip, he seldom interferes with play. Never in doubt!

It’s going to be a long journey home for the Sunderland fans. Fraser, Matt, Michael and myself retreat to the King Edward V11. It’s a nice old-fashioned boozer with low beams, although the central heating is turned up to 11 and after an impromptu sauna over a pint we retreat into the beer garden, where a mural tells us the pub was built in 1904 and was originally the King of Prussia before changing its name in a fit of pre-Brexit patriotism.

We discuss what was our worst ever home win and decide that it wasn’t today as we played well for the first 35 minutes; the general consensus is that it was the 2-1 win against Hull’s ten men. Fraser and Michael head off in search of the hipster bar on the roof of the Stratford Centre (it’s only open in the summer they discover) while Matt and myself opt for the Overground where a drunk fans sits slumped in front of the doors before falling off the train at Canonbury.

We’re unbeaten for three matches now and kept a clean sheet for two since Obiang came into the side. Not a great game but the result meant everything today and the good thing is the Irons never gave up. Now we can start looking upwards.

PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 6; Antonio 5 (Feghouli 5), Kouyate 5, Ogbonna 5, Reid 7, Fernandes 6; Noble 6, Obiang 6, Lanzini 5 (Fletcher 5), Payet 7; Zaza 6 (Calleri 5).

Friday, October 21

Time for Zaza to shine

It was encouraging to see Simone Zaza going over to the West Ham fans after the win at Palace and throwing his shirt to them. He's finally looking like part of the group. 

The latest news on Andy Carroll is bad. His knee injury was only meant to keep him out for four to six weeks but two months later he's still not training. Diafra Sakho is still unfit and Fletcher and Calleri are inexperienced, so we need Zaza to come good. 

Simone had a fine game at Palace working really hard and doing the unglamorous stuff of holding up the ball and winning headers. He's still scuffing his shots at times and when he did break through appeared to hesitate when he could have got a quick shot in. But that's a sign of a player lacking confidence. If he can just get one goal off the proverbial posterior then he'll probably look a completely different player. 

It's often forgotten that even Trevor Brooking struggled when he first got into the West Ham side and some of the crowd got on his back. You don't get to play for Juventus without knowing where the goal is. Let's hope Sunderland are obliging opponents and Zaza zaps the net.

Wednesday, October 19

Simply the Best

Hammers in the Heart reviews Clyde Best's new autobiography The Acid Test…

The title The Acid Test refers to an anonymous letter Clyde Best received threatening to throw acid in his eyes when he ran out on to the Upton Park pitch. As one of the first black players in British football, Best suffered terrible racist abuse in the 1970s. He recalls that northern grounds such as Leeds and Everton were often the worst, but rather than react, he would try to respond with his feet or head. Best recalls scoring a brilliant winner at Goodison Park after an afternoon of monkey noises and abuse.

Clyde’s father was a big influence on his outlook: “He said I owed it to everyone to make a go of my career, that what I was doing would serve as a barometer for generations to come.”

Best also has a lot of affection for manager Ron Greenwood, who told him: “The football doesn’t care what colour you are.” He was supported on the pitch by the likes of Bobby Moore, Billy Bonds, Geoff Hurst and Harry Redknapp.

It’s a different footballing world Best describes, where as a teenager he flies in from Bermuda on a Sunday and makes his way to the Boleyn Ground, not realising it will be shut. He’s directed to Jessie Charles, the mother of another black Hammer, Clive Charles, and ends up lodging with her in Plaistow.

Best recalls the long train journeys from Euston to the north where players and fans mingled. His first car was a Morris Minor (bought from Harry Redknapp’s brother-in-law) and after reserve games all the team would stop for fish and chips. When West Ham visit Bermuda on a summer tour he invites them to his family house, where they want roast beef rather than any local cuisine. Even when he marries Best only makes it to Ilford, rather than the mansions of today’s players.

With his heavyweight build Clyde looked about 25 when he broke into the West Ham side in 1969; but actually he was only 18. Reading The Acid Test makes you realise just what potential he had. In the 1971-72 season he formed a great partnership with Geoff Hurst, scoring 17 league goals and 23 goals in all competitions. He played in the epic League Cup semi-final against Stoke that went to four games and has never forgotten beating the Manchester United side of Law, Best and Charlton.

Had Hurst not been sold to Stoke the following season Best might have really developed as a club legend, but without Hurst’s experience he struggled, although he returned to find to net 12 times in the 1973-74 season (including a couple of memorable goals in a 4-3 win over Everton that this fan remembers watching from the North Bank).

When Alan Taylor, Billy Jennings, Keith Robson and Bobby Gould arrived in the 1974-75 season, Best, still only in his mid-20s, found opportunities limited and was heartbroken not to make the bench for the 1975 FA Cup Final.

Such was his affection for West Ham, he refused to sign for anther English team and left for the North American Soccer League in the United States with Tampa Bay Rowdies, where black players were much more readily accepted. He had scored a very respectable 47 goals in 186 league appearances for West Ham. A year later Best had a frustrating season at Dutch side Feyenoord before returning to the NASL where he played with many of the greats of the 1970s.

After retirement he set up a dry-cleaning business, had three years with the Bermuda FA and was awarded the MBE. Clyde comes across as a humble, grounded character in this book, with a real affection for his time in the East End. Some said he was too gentle as a centre forward, but he writes, “being remembered as big, strong and gentle? That’s OK by me.”

The current generation of black players should all be grateful for what Best went through. As Clyde’s father told him: “If I could make it better for black people coming in to the game that was success enough in itself. I honestly believe I was chosen to play football.”

The Acid Test by Clyde Best, is published by deCourbertin, price £12.99,

Sunday, October 16

Lanzini wins it for battling Hammers

Crystal Palace 0 West Ham United 1

Watched this one at the Coach and Horses in Stoke Newington High Street, which serves a fine pint of Hophead Dark Star. It all feels a bit ominous at the start, slipping to second from bottom and coming up against Pards and James Tomkins at Selhurst Park. But from the kick-off there's a determined attitude to this West Ham side. 

Playing three centre backs works really well; Kouyate is excellent and Reid and Ogbona get in countless brave blocks and headers up against Benteke. Noble makes some fine interceptions, Obiang does his usual steady job and wing backs Antonio and Cresswell threaten on the break. It's a huge psychological boost to see Aaron in the line-up again and early on he gets forward to fire into the side netting.

West Ham survive a scare when Zaha shoots wide when well placed, but take the lead after 19 minutes. Obiang plays a fine ball wide to Cressy, who interchanges passes with Payet before getting in a wicked low cross that Lanzini flicks home at the near post. 

It seems the Hammers have held out until ref Martin Atkinson points to the spot when Ogbonna tangles with Benteke, though it looks harsh. Luckily Mido appears to have been giving Benteke lessons in taking penalties as the Belgian giant scoops it horribly up and wide. "First bit of luck we've had all season," texts Matt from the River Dene in Basingstoke. Thirty seconds later Benteke strikes the outside of the post with a header.

In the second half West Ham almost double their lead as Zaza and Lanzini break, Manuel tries to round the keeper and Payet gets a shot in from the rebound. Antonio has a header cleared off the line from a corner. The ball is still in the box and Cresswell goes down. There's contact but instead of a penalty ref Atkinson books Aaron for simulation.

Within a minute Cresswell's arm brushes Zaha in a race down the left wing. Ridiculously, Atkinson gives Creswell a second yellow. Seems like luck has deserted us again. But West Ham battle on with ten men and the maligned Zaza has a hardworking and effective game up front, winning headers and taking the pressure off the defence in his best performance or the Irons. The tiring Payet is replaced by Fernandes and even Calleri does his bit by winning a free kick late on. 

It's down to Adrian to produce a great hand over the top to deny Wickham and after a nervous four minutes of added time we cling on to win. That could turn our season. We go 15th! Irons!

Saturday, October 15

Was Slaven too honest with Tomkins?

Slaven Bilic writes about the sale of James Tomkins in his Evening Standard column and if anything it seems that Super Slav was too honest with Tomka. He should surely have reassured him that he was vital to his plans and would play at least 30 games a season. Instead Bilic writes: "He wasn't a whole season regular in the team, though. I want to say that he never made any problems but we had a few talks and I couldn't guarantee he would play week in and week out." 

Had we held Tomkins to his contract he wasn't the sort to create problems, so it's just a shame Slaven wasn't a little more disingenuous. His honesty was admirable, but sometimes you have to do everything you can to keep a player and as Slaven himself writes of Tomkins, "he didn't really want to go." I just hope we're not haunted by the sale of Tomkins come May. 

But having said that, Reid, Ogbonna, Collins and Oxford should be good enough centre backs if they can find anything like their best form and perhaps the return of Cresswell and recall of Obiang will restore some much-needed stability to the back four.

Thursday, October 13

Aaron Cresswell's magic…

Great news that Aaron Cresswell is back in the squad for the Crystal Palace match. We've missed him more than any other player and restoring his partnership with Payet on the left could be crucial for improving West Ham's fortunes. Not only can he defend better than people realise, Cresswell's crossing will also benefit Andy Carroll when he's back in the side.

We'll be re-united with James Tomkins on Saturday and I hope he gets a big cheer from the Hammers' fans. The decision to sell him still looks like a massive mistake. James might have wanted regular first team football but he should have been held to his contract; ironically he would have played in virtually every game this season because of injuries. Having a local lad in the team raises the morale of the crowd and his loss also seems to have affected Mark Noble. It's going to be tough against Benteke and a rejuvenated Andros Townsend, but let's hope memories of our 3-1 win at Selhurt Park last season inspire the lads. Irons!