Tuesday, October 28

Stinking stinking Arsenal

West Ham 0 Arsenal 2

It’s always a risk bringing my daughters to games against Arsenal. They go to school opposite the Emirates and are at permanent risk of attraction to the Wengerian supermen. So I opt to take Lola, who at ten might be able to take a home defeat better than seven-year-old Nell. Precursing our trip in pessimistic style with “Now you won’t be upset if we lose 4-0, will you?”.

Egg chips and beans and two white slices in Ken’s Café fortifies us for the afternoon. Arry’s gone to Spurs, which is a shame as I was hoping they’d go down under Ramos. We know things are looking up for Spurs when we see mockney rebel Chas Hodges, of Chas and Dave fame, doing a book signing at the Newham Bookshop. Bet 'Arry knows all the words to Gertcha and Rabbit too.

Jo arrives at the bookshop with a broken arm after a cycling accident. “You can be listed with the West Ham players injured in the Saturday Guardian team sheets now,” I suggest.

Zola has made changes after two defeats. Neill, Behrami and Noble are injured so in come Bowyer, Mullins and Collins, while Etherington is on the bench, overlooked for Di Michele.

The new formation appears to work. The midfield hussle Arsenal incessantly and Di Michele goes close with a rising drive tipped over by Alumnia. Then Walcott skins our defence and hits the bar, and another fine passing move from the Arse ends with Green masking a fantastic one-handed stop from Walcott again.

Green saves well from Bendtner too. But we’re giving as good as we get. Collins is dominating the back four, Cole is causing problems with his strength and Parker, falling over, plays the best ball of the game through to Bellamy, whose finish is tipped over the bar by Alumnia’s leg.

In the second half the crowd begin to sense a result and there’s a wafting chorus of Bubbles from all sides of the ground. Lola notices that Alumnia is cuffing himself around the head in a bid to maintain his concentration.

Green appears to tip Van Persie’s shot onto the post (he didn’t when I watch the replay) and I remark that he’s playing as well as he did at the Emirates when we won 1-0. Nigel and Matt immediately curse me, saying I should be saying he’s playing like he did against Bolton, and now we’ll lose.

We have several appeals for handball after Bellamy bursts down the left, and then, sure enough, Arsenal break, substitute Adebayor crosses, and Faubert, under no real pressure, inexplicably turns the ball into his own net. I hold my hands up and accept all blame.

“That’s 21 games since we kept a clean sheet,” sighs Nigel.

“We haven’t kept a clean sheet since I stayed in the West Ham Quality Hotel,” I suggest.

“You’re f***ed and you’re one-nil down!” chant the Gooners fans, with their usual library wit.

We keep trying, bringing on Boa Morte, Etherington and Sears. After We have several appeals for handball after Bellamy bursts down the left and suddenly Bendtner plays a great ball to the unmarked Adebayor slots home a cool second.

Then in the last minute Cole makes a silly late challenge and is shown a straight red. It looks harsh, but really, what was the point with the game lost?

“Stinking stinking Arsenal!” chants Lola, causing a frisson of paternal pride.

The DJ plays Let’s Stick Together. Matt’s very aptly off to see General Fiasco at the Electric Proms. I pacify Lola with crisps in the Black Lion and claim we’ll win at the Emirates. Matt talks us through his days as a ballooning correspondent.

We’ve played well, and given Arsenal a tough game. If we knew what was happening in the January transfer window there might even be room for some optimism. Was it only 2005 when Pards was saying we could be bigger than Arsenal?

Now all we have to do is win at Old Trafford on Wednesday night.

Monday, October 20

Hull 1 London 0

Hull City 1 West Ham 0

We’re on the highway to Hull. Nigel picks me up at 8.15am at Finsbury Park and after a service stop and a fine view of the Humber Bridge we’re in ’Ull by 1.45 to meet Matt and Lisa (part-timer Fraser is on the Orient Express, hoping it’s not murder at the KC).

There’s time to park near the shopping centre, then stop at a chippy by a boarded up-pub, which Nigel has to photograph for some reason. In the chippy they still sell spam fritters and haddock for £2. Then it’s past Windass Way, over some waste ground and into the KC Stadium. We hear an old East End folk song echoing from the Smith and Nephew Stand: “Oh, I drink ten pints, I beat my wife ’cos I’m a northern bastard!”

It’s a compact stadium and less bland than most modern creations, with a deranged DJ sounding like a kamikaze Alan Partridge as he screams “Thisisthekaaaaceeeestadiuuuuuuum!” at the massed ranks of orange and black-clad fans.

Hull have the best of it early on, with Boateng and Ashbee tackling fiercely in the middle and Marney going close. But soon our passing game begins to look more fluent. Noble has a penalty claim ignored, Bellamy (does anyone remember him?) shows forgotten pace down the left and crosses for Cole to shoot straight at Myhill. Ilunga, who otherwise has a great game looking strong and composed, heads wide with a free heard from a corner.

The home fans chant at “Where’s your money gone?” at us.

The West Ham fans chant “We pay your benefits!”

The Tiger club respond with “You’re going bust (pronounced “boost”) in the morning”, followed by “You’re not English anymore!”.

“You live in poverty!” retort the Irons fans, apparently unaware of all the City bankers and estate agents now selling the Big Issue outside Canary Wharf.

“Back to your shithole!, You’re going back to your shithole!” chant the Yorkshiremen. Nigel looks indignant and may be about to lecture them on pots, kettles and the merits of the tea-rooms, plant and fossil shops in Kew Gardens.

It’s been an exciting end-to-end first-half, but soon we’re a goal down and the inevitable London 0 Hull 4 Housemartins headlines start to loom. Turner outjumps Upson to head home from a corner. Undone by a simple goal.

But within 90 seconds Behrami is making a great break down the right for Cole to swivel and shoot against the underside of the bar.

We put Hull under sustained pressure, but mainly through crosses from deep that are easily headed away by their huge defenders. Zola takes Faubert and Etherington off for Di Michele and Sears and suddenly we have too many strikers and no-one to get to the byline.

Noble fires a free kick straight at the wall and makes several poor decisions. Carlton Cole shows Heskey-like strength to win the ball muscle past two defenders and cross for Etherington to volley wide. We wonder why Cole didn’t shoot.

“Where’s your bubbles gone?” chant the Hull fans followed by “Down with the Tottenham, you’re going down with the Tottenham!”.

The Irons fans hurl regional stereotypes back at them — “Sign on with hope in your hearts” and “We’re going to work in the morning!”

It’s a fantastic atmosphere and the Hull City fans are in dreamland. You can’t help but feel that their success is good for football in a billionaires league.

The whistle goes to a cacophonous cheer from the Housemartins fans. It’s not been a happy hour (and a half) for the Hammers. Zola may have to think for a minute. Still, Nigel cheers up when he spots Frank Dobson MP among the away crew, the man who wanted to be Mayor watching the Irons have a mare.

We’re held on the concourse outside the ground for 20 minutes. Don’t they know we have an MP with us?

“What’s over there?” asks Nigel gazing towards the metal fences.

“Oh, just machine guns,” says Matt, “I could get out if I had a motorbike.”

The West Ham fans holler at the stewards to let us out. Finally the doors clank open.
“These must be the gates of Hull,” I mutter.

At least Ye Olde White Harte in Old Hull is a fine boozer, although I can’t bring myself to drink London Pride, instead opting for Theakston’s Best.

On the way home we decline to discuss our emotions (nihilism, misanthropy, fear of mortality, railing at the lack of God in a point-less Premiership, etc) and opt for trivia. Matt asks us to name all the Premiership players playing at the weekend who are ex-Hammers and then all the League players.

Part of the M1 is closed so we make a huge detour via the A1 and don’t get home until 12.30am. But at least we’ve recalled the likes of Steven Bywater, Adam Newton, Tyrell Forbes, Henri Camara, Grant McCann and Matt Holland.

Our trivia-fest has raised morale a little as we return to the beautiful south. Hull have gone up to third. “Still, you don’t expect to get much at one of the Big Four,” I muse, disappearing into the darkness of Seven Sisters Road , having been to Hull and back.

Wednesday, October 15

Diego the Hammer

After Diego Hilton comes Diego Tristan. Another ageing striker joins the Hammers on a free. Diego Tristan was nearly signed by Real Madrid once, and there are some great goals of his on Youtube, but as Matt the Stat says, the Wikidedia entry is a little worrying:

"In total Diego Tristán scored 87 goals in the shirt of Deportivo in 4 seasons. However there have been suggestions that Tristán doesn't live like a professional athlete and doesn't do all he's capable of to reach his best level. Eventually the club ran out of patience with him and he was released on 1 September 2006 along with team mate Lionel Scaloni."

He then rejoined Mallorca but was released 31st of January 2007 "due to a lack of fitness, form and goals."

So he should fit in!

Sunday, October 12

Progress through stability

"West Ham is all about progress through stabilty."
Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson, West Ham v Wigan programme August 16, 2008.

Since when... one manager resigned, two defenders sold to Sunderland apparently against the ex-manager's will, three emergency signings made on deadline day, one new manager appointed, one new assistant manager appointed at cost of £1 million, one sponsor in administration, one compensation bill received from Sheffield United of around £50 million after lost tribunal, one takeover bid from Indian billionaire rumoured, one bank Landsbanki (major shareholder Mr Gudmumdsson) placed into receivership.

Friday, October 10

Where's our money gone?

Well, nothing much ever happens during the international breaks. Apart from global financial disaster and the collapse of Landsbanki resulting in “Meltdown: Hammers on brink as crunch hits football” (the Sun) and “Hammers crunched by credit crisis” (the Daily Mail). The Telegraph even suggested we might have to sell Nigel Quashie as part of the enforced fire-sale.

And the Sun claiming that we allowed an unregistered doctor to treat our players, which will probably result in another £30million claim against us, along with the £700,000 that Bolton now want and the £323 million that Arsenal are thinking of claiming on the grounds that “Carlos Tevez looked at Arsene Wenger in a funny manner”.

Oh, and the UK is now at war with Ireland. The government has frozen the assets of Icelandic companies in Britain under the Anti-Terrorism and Crime and Security Act. This may or may not include West Ham, depending on whether a loose shot from Luis Boa Morte could be deemed a direct threat to the House of Commons.

Still, it does raise the interesting prospect of West Ham being nationalised. The idea of West Ham— funded by state money and with supporters buying shares in the club as at Barcelona and Real Madrid — taking the Premiership road to international socialism is intriguing. Soon the Irons will be smashing the bloated capitalists and lackeys of imperialism at Chelsea and Man United and Manchester City. Maybe every cloud does have a claret and blue lining. Fans of West Ham Unite, we have nothing to lose but Sheffield United's compensation claims.

Thursday, October 9

Air today, gone tomorrow?

The latest revelation from West Ham is that Craig Bellamy is sleeping in his own personal altitude tent to save his career.

You wonder if some of our more injury-prone players have their own personal life-support systems in their rooms.

Still, watching West Ham can be a bit like enduring altitude sickness. Eleven men finding it difficult to breath after 45 minutes and then having trouble making the most basic of decisions.

We’ve had many players who have scaled the heights of the Premiership only to succumb to exposure on the way down. In fact the famed death zone around Chadwell Heath is littered with the prostrate forms of those who were never seen again after starting their long descent — Nigel Quashie, Danny Gabbidon, Kieron Dyer, Dean Ashton, Lee Bowyer and Craig Bellamy. Still, it was the way they would have wanted to go.

Wednesday, October 8

Club statement on financial meltdown of Pete May

West Ham insist they will not be affected by Pete May being Brassic, having placed all his dosh in an Icesave account and a West Ham season ticket.

"This is not affecting West Ham," a senior boardroom member revealed. "One of Mr May's investments has gone bad, but he is still standing and has a lot of other investments. Although he may no longer be able to afford to invest in the match day programme in January."

Another board member said May had made it clear that his predicament had "no implications, no impact" for the club.

"West Ham is protected by Mr May’s investment in an East Stand season ticket," he said. "He has considerable personal wealth in a number of sectors, such as a series of short-selling shares in Ken’s Café, leveraged collateral debt in the Black Lion, a series of dodgy derivatives from Newcastle, a 1980 FA Cup Final programme, a Bjork coloured vinyl EP and a monkey on the 2.10 at Kempton."

A weekend newspaper report claimed that Indian billionaire Anil Hugewadi was interested in buying May’s West Ham season ticket and had been told it was available for £15.

But the board member said: "Pete’s West Ham season ticket is definitely not for sale. Mr May is not looking to sell his seat and he is as committed as ever. That is unless the Icelandic government sells it on his behalf or a consortium of Mike Ashley, Mark Goldberg and Terry Venables comes in with a bid."

Monday, October 6

A good game to miss...

West Ham 1 Bolton 3

Always write the football fixtures in your diary the day they come out. Her Indoors' arranges stuff aeons in advance and back in June she cited my blank diary as an excuse to book us on a family trip to Bath. Hence I’m in west country exile for the Bolton game.

We stay with Julie and Ben in the village of Limpley Stoke, which sounds a little like an Irons capitulation at the Britannia stadium. And the posh country pubs built with Bath stone don’t even have Sky.

At kick-off time we're tramping through wooded valleys and across a boggy field, where an irate cow charges our party. It's a little reminiscent of being confronted by Kevin Davies. Outstretched arms and an aggressive posture manage to see it off, although I wonder if Lucas Neill and co would be able to do the same.

Still, another win and we’ll make the top four. As we sit down to a pub Sunday lunch in Freshford the texts start to come through.

Barclays Premier League: West Ham 0 Bolton 1 (Kevin Davies 30)

Barclays Premier League: West Ham 0 Bolton 1 (Gary Cahill 33)

It’s strange how some mysterious form of kinetic energy enables the exiled Hammers’ fan to live the game while viewing it by text mesage. Over a mouthful of roast potato there are visions of early dominance ruined by a couple of defensive errors as Bolton bully us out of the game. The vicar's son near us will be swearing at Zola, Fraser will remaining cool and Nigel will be muttering about record home defeats and does anyone remember that Nick Barmby hat-trick here. There will be a second half fightback of course and a consolation goal to give the fans that terrible hope that always lurks within us:

Barclays Premier League: West Ham 1 Bolton 2 (Carlton Cole 68)

And then the inevitable late third that seals the game:

Barclays Premier League: West Ham 1 Bolton 3 (Matthew Taylor 86)

“Good game to miss…” texts Mat and I wonder if I’ll have to pay compensation to poor Lisa who was using my ticket. It’s almost as if I don’t need to watch Match of the Day.

But the TV evidence is that it’s the unlikely figure of Robert Green who’s let us down, spilling an innocuous cross to Davies and then failing to hold a shot for Cahill to poke home for the second. Bolton’s third was a scorcher from 40 yards, made easier by the lack of a defensive wall.

On the positive side Carlton Cole has already scored four goals this season and produced a brilliant save from the Bolton keeper. With Deano out all season it’s a huge chance for him to finally become a decent striker who gets 15 goals a season (he normally gets no more than four) providing he hires a chauffeur for nights out at Faces.

Zola reiterated his faith in Green and all the players; his trust is rather refreshing after the usual managerial rants and Arsene Wenger feeling “physically sick” whenever a side plays well at Arsenal.

And, in the absence of XL Holidays, we’re all going to Hull and back in a fortnight — the Barcelona of Humberside I’m told. Matt likes it so much he’s even turned it into a romantic mini-break, where hopefully the day will end with a Housemartins-style score of HULL 0 LONDON 4.

And there’s always Tottenham to laugh at.