Thursday, January 29

London 2 Hull 0

West Ham 2 Hull City 0

Mist hangs over Upton Park, Bubbles is sung powerfully and it has the air of one of those special games under the lights. Before the kick-off the returning Jeremy Nicholas asks us to welcome the appearance of record signing Savio on the bench.

The early pressure is nearly all West Ham, with Hull’s defence displaying the nervousness of a side that has lost five games in succession. We’re bright and inventive, Di Michele curves a lovely shot onto the angle of Hull goal’s. Then Cole tumbles in the area and the ref awards us a softish penalty. We’re saying that Nobes has never missed one as Hull’s debutant keeper Duke makes a good save.

Is it going to be one of those nights? No, Cole curves in a cross come shot that Duke palms into the path of the grateful Di Michele who scores his foutt goal of the season on 33 minutes.

Di Michele them misses the goal when through and Collison hits the post after a delightful cross from the rampant Di Michele. Then Carlton faces Duke in a one-on-one only to hesitate in Zamora-esque fashion and allow his shot to be smothered.

“He’s trying to put Juventus off,” suggests Matt, “After the transfer window has closed he’ll be back to his old clinical self.”

At half-time we decide that Hull must improve and we may rue our missed chances. Only Fraser, so cool he’s the Fonz of the East Stand, still has ice in his veins. “We’ll be fine”, he declares, just like he did in the Cup Final.

The second half sees a similarly one-sided game. On 49 minute Collins heads a free kick back to Di Michele, who hits the post, only for Cole to prod home the rebound. Five in five league games for Carlton.

Some of the football is delightful, pinging the ball around in real academy style. Di Michele is having his best ever game for the Hammers. Cole has two more efforts saved by Duke and Noble has a subtle chip turned over the bar.

Hull come into the game with the arrival of the Dickensian-looking figure of Jimmy Bullard, who draws a good save from Green. Savio gets a few minutes on the pitch. He looks small but willing to take players on. Matt starts to panic as Noble miscontrols the ball. “We can’t cruise, that’s 17 bad balls in 17 minutes!” Sub Boa Morte puts the ball wide when it seems easier to score.

“How s**t is Boa Morte?” implores Matt.

“Imagine how angry he’d be if we were 4-0 up,” quips Nigel.

We see the game out and the side leave the pitch to Bubbles and resounding cheers. There’s something in the air. Is it the Cup run or the thought that Zola might be building something here?

It's our best performance of the season. Unbeaten for six games. Thirty two points! Eighth! A great night ends with two pints in the Central, a glimpse of Carlton driving out of the ground in his 4x4 tank with blacked-out windows and the Hull City coach driving straight into a bollard. "They need a new coach," says Nigel. Happy days.

Tuesday, January 27

Savio the saviour?

We've signed striker Savio Nsereko for a reported club record of £9 million. This is good news in that it shows that we are not conducting a fire-sale. Although rather worryingly Alan Curbishley was on Setanta last night and the presenter James Richardson claimed that Curbs had earlier pointed out that "you could buy the entire Brescia team for £9 million". Curbs also seemed to doubt that it rally was a record WHU fee. £9 million does seem a lot for a Serie B player. Nani has good links with Brescia and you wonder if he could have beaten the price down with more negotiating. Is this a sign of Zola's naivety in the transfer market?

Still, the proof will be on the pitch when we discover if Savio's fit to lace Carlton Cole's boots. He's a good age at 19 and as far as we know the only Ugandan/German to play for West Ham. "He comes from Kampala, he's better than Kaka!"

Monday, January 26

Pele, Jairzinho, Rivelino, Mullins...

Headlines you thought you'd never see: "Portsmouth sign Mullins and Pele."

Personally I've always rated Hayden alongside the greats of the 1970 Brazil side, and so it seems did Pards.

He never lets you down and has never complained about being on the bench. The Steve Potts of his era and one of the main reasons we reached the Cup Final in 2005. If it wasn't for Luis Garcia, Hayden would have played against Liverpool and he'd have closed Steven Gerrard down in the 91st minute... A West Ham legend.

My garden shed is bigger than this!

Hartlepool 0 West Ham 2

We’re on the 7.57am train from Kings Cross to Hartlepool and four West Ham geezers are drinking the first of many cans of Strongbow. Big Joe and myself pretend to be Michael Caine in Get Carter and make do with croissants coffee and the Guardian in the hope we’ll still be awake at kick-off. Soon after 11 we’re discovering it’s looking grim up north, as smoking chemical works of Middlesbrough appear on the horizon along with landfill sites and recycling plants full of scrap metal.

It’s a clear, crisp and cold day in Hartlepool and we have more than an hour before the kick off. The masts of HMS Trincomalee dominate the town. “Ah, that must be the club galleon,” I muse, wondering why we’ve ditched the executive coach to sail up the coast.

Rather than dine in the giant Morrisons by the Victoria Park ground we head past McDonald’s and Burger King towards the historic quayside. Here there’s a street of Georgian houses and by the Hartlepool Museum stands HMS Trincomalee, “Europe’s oldest warship afloat”.

“Sixty per cent of HMS Trincomalee is still original,” says the literature, suggesting that the other 40 per cent is from Homebase.

We explore lots of nautical exhibits in the museum. “But they don’t mention the monkey anywhere!” says an indignant Joe. The locals are apparently still in denial about their most famous moment when they hanged a monkey in the mistaken belief it was a Frenchman.

We have panini and soup on board a nautical version of Ken’s Café, the PSS Wingfield Castle, a restored paddle steamer from 1934 as a video details “Defending Hartlepool in the Great War.”

“Would anyone really have wanted to take Hartlepool?” asks Joe.

Then it’s on to the ground and into the tiny Rink End. A couple of blokes in Superman costumes pose with H’Angus the Monkey by the turnstiles.

“You’re in block E but you’ll have no chance of finding your seats lads, “ says an overwhelmed steward.

The 914 Irons fans in the 6,849 crowd are underwhelmed by the stadium’s four tiny stands. “Small club in Scotland, you’re just a small club in Scotland!” they sing.

We’re worried by the non-appearance of Upson and even more worried by the playing of Rolf Harris’ s Two Little Boys over the PA.

We find seats in front of a bloke in a monkey mask and watch as Hartlepool cause problems on Ilunga’s flank. But we put together some passing moves in midfield, although we’re hampered by a lack of width and the fact that Faubert is having a bit of a mare at right-back. Collins and Tomkins are solid at the back and slowly Parker starts to control the midfield.

The game livens up after Carlton goes for a loose ball with their keeper and the Pool players steam in, with Ilunga joining in to protect Carlton in a bout of handbags right in front of us. Cole and Ilunga are booked while their belligerent number five escapes punishment and the Rink End breaks into a chorus of "Always believe in Carlton Cole!".

But we gain momentum and after a neat one-two between Di Michele and Ilunga Behrami finds space to poke the ball into the net just before half-time.

“Behrami army!” we chant.

A hopeful punt is then handballed and the ref awards us a penalty. Noble slams the ball home and looks like he still enjoys celebrating with the fans.

“We’re on the march with Zola’s army, we’re all going to Wemberlee!” sing the Irons fans.

During the interval I send texts to Nigel and Matt suggesting a Cup Final breakfast in Kew. They say the handball, was outside the box, but who cares, our name is on the Cup.

We control much of the second half and the West Ham fans amuse themselves with a chorus of: “My garden shed is bigger than this! It’s got a door and a window! My garden shed is bigger than this!”

Green produces a fantastic save from a header and Cole hits the post when through. The PA announces that there will be no trains to London after 6pm, presumably to prevent us meeting Millwall fans coming back from Hull.

“Out of the shithole! We’re going out of the shithole!” chant the Hammers fans.

It’s never over until the monkey leaves, and we can see the geezer in a monkey mask making for the exits as the games enters stoppage time. The whistle blows, and as Two Little Boys plays again we head back to the station behind the Strongbow drinkers who are somehow still standing up.

The police stand in front of groups of lairy locals outside Idols bar as we enter the station which has no café and no electronic signage before escaping to Northallerton. Job done, we’ve won with no monkeying around.

Wednesday, January 21

We are the Tottenham haters

Some good noises coming from Upton Park. First Scott Duxbury told The Independent: "I'll go on record and say I want to avoid selling any of our best players to Tottenham ever again. I don't want to. Why should I? They are our local rivals. It would be a slap in the face for our fans. I want to finish above Tottenham. We did it last year and want to do it this year and every single year. It's nothing against Tottenham." And it's completely untrue that he then smashed a Chas and Dave album in front of the astounded hack.

While the Express revealed: "Kieron Dyer simply walked past both team-mates singing the crowd’s later and more repeatable refrain: 'Who needs Craig Bellamy?'"

And nice to see that Robinho has responded to the arrival of good old Bellers by walking out of training...

Monday, January 19

Always believe in Carlton Cole

West Ham 3 Fulham 1

There’s a strange atmosphere in the ground. No-one’s had time for lunch or a drink, the Bellamy affair has shocked everyone, the crowd is down to 31,000 and it’s all a bit subdued bar the odd chant of “Who needs Craig Bellamy?”

Beforehand there’s just time for a cup of Rosie Lea in Ken’s, where Groundhopper Nigel (just four to go) takes the news that I’ve accepted Big Joe’s spare ticket to Hartlepool with great equanimity and a cry of “Eh tu Brute?”. He's just back from a mini-break in Rome with CQ, having collected some Lazio souvenirs and possibly run with the Ultras. Could that be a flare in his pocket?

On the pitch Di Michele replaces the wantaway, sulking Bellamy. Pantsil, Zamora and Konchesky all receive cheers from the home fans.

“Fulham have a fantastic defensive record, they’re unbeaten in ten games and have only conceded six away goals all season,” enthuses Mystic Massey, resulting in us immediately scoring.

Neill crosses and Pantsil, who comes from Africa and with us was better than Kaka, chests the ball straight into the path of Di Michele who neatly slips the ball home. The Italian then slices wide when he should have crossed and then turns to fire another sot into the side netting. He’s as erratic as ever, but is clearly buoyed by the absence of whinging Bellers.

Only inevitably one of our ex-players then equalises. Konchesky strikes a stunning 35-yard shot into the top corner and despite being a West Ham fan, understandably celebrates. It’s his first goal since the FA Cup Final. Should Green have beaten from so far out? Or was it just an unstoppable shot? Probably the latter.

“Al Fayed, he wants to be a Brit and QPR are shit!” sing the joyous Fulham fans.

At half time we remain confident of a win as Ilunga and Neill are playing well on the flanks and Fulham have only had one shot. And CQ is with Nigel, and she has a 100 per cent home victory record so far. Matt says that Lisa has read that UFO are reforming, which is enough to drive me back to the stands. Although his nugget about all the old dudes of Mott the Hoople getting back together is more intriguing.

Behrami and Collison are working tremendously hard in our midfield diamond and the game turns with an inspired performance from Carlton Cole. He takes the ball off Konchesky and runs into the area before being bought down by the skinhead left back. Mysteriously Konch is only booked and not sent off. Noble scores with a shot down the middle, having sent Schwarzer the wrong way.

The highly-rated Hangeland and co are panicking whenever Carlton goes near the ball now. Amazing what confidence can do. Coley swivels and sends a shot just wide of the post. “He’s worth £30 million at least,” is my view.

“Who needs Craig Bellamy?” chants the whole ground, Followed by “F*** off Craig Bellamy!”

Then Collison intercepts a loose ball in midfield, plays in Di Michele and the Italian’s subtle pass is prodded home by the on fire Cole, in front of the watching Capello. England England’s number nine? A month ago you’d have been certified for such thoughts.

We see the game through four minutes’ stoppage time. A West Ham win with no panic at the end? Unprecedented. We go above Fulham! We go above Hull City! We’re eighth!

We head for a drink in the Central with a new perspective on the Premiership. “When Bolton played Man United we used to want United to win,” Explains Matt. “But now we want Bolton to win so we can consolidate our bid for a Champions League place.”

Just hope Bellers was in the right frame of mind to watch it on Sky.

Who needs Craig Bellamy?

So Craig Bellamy has walked out on West Ham after his first decent run of form for us. Showing no respect for a club that has just offered him a new contract and turned down three bids to keep him or the fans who have cheered him all over the country. He’s “not in the right frame of mind” to play against Fulham. The same club that paid his massive wages when he was out for nearly all of last season and whose medical staff have nursed him back to fitness. Bellers prefers either Spurs or City, clubs that are below us in the league.

Bellamy is a good player but he's also 29, injury and booking prone and has played just 24 league games for the Hammers. After one season at a top four club he was moved on. We’ve refused to do business with Tottenham, Bellamy’s first choice, on the sound business grounds that we hate them, and if we get £14 million from Man City then that’s a good deal. We’ve doubled our money in one and a half seasons.

Bellamy is ridiculed by the fans of most teams he’s played for and now we know why. Let’s hope he has a row with Kaka, gets out the putter, and is soon shipped off to Oldham.

Thursday, January 15

Swap shop

So little time, so many rumours.

Spurs' rumoured swap offer of Darren Bent for Craig Bellamy seems worth considering to me. A player four years younger, worth £16 million two years ago and less injury prone and booking-prone than Bellers isn't a bad deal. Would also like Michael Johnson if we did do any deal with City. But encouraging that so far we have resisted overtures for the big four of Upson, Green, Bellers and Parker.

Sad to see Matty go, will always remember his goal against Ipswich in the play-off semi and his run making Ashton's goal in the FA Cup Final. If he hadn't taken to gambling who knows what he might have achieved...

As for Boa Morte turning down Hull because they can't match his wages, it seems typical of the modern day footballer who values money over actually getting first-team football, that is unless he feels his West Ham shirt is like a second skin.

And now someone says Newcastle have offered £4 million for Lucas Neill... which I would say take. Anything to fund our bid for Kaka...

Monday, January 12

Cole takes goals to Newcastle

Newcastle 2 West Ham 2

This lonely Hammer is marooned at Jess’s house and baby-warming party in Crystal Palace, surrounded by various members of the Wenban-Smith family, Friends of the Earth types, archaeologists, and people from the Marine Stewardship Council, reliant on Big Joe’s texts from St James’ Park for footie news. The walnut and cream mushrooms are quite good though.

Joe is wondering if he should talk to Our Friends in the North about the latest issue of Granta or last night’s performance of August: Osage County at The National Theatre. However, like the Geordies he is wearing a t-shirt, admittedly beneath three layers of thermals. “Don’t discuss Pinter or put up a brolly in the train queue,” is my advice on how to escape detection as a soft southerner.

As we head back on the train from a frosty Crystal Palace station Joe texts:”2-1 to us — God knows how.”

“We’re winning 2-1 at Newcastle!” I tell my daughters. Although there’s ten minutes left, enough for us to lose knowing WHU. Sure enough, Joe reveals “2-2 Equaliser as soon as last text”.

Mercifully by the time we reach Victoria station I discover we’ve drawn 2-2, another good away point. Joe adds: “Watch Lucas Neill’s own goal tonight on MOTD — if it had gone in it would have been goal of the month.”

Our defence looks ropey early on as Own hits the post. Then Collins slips and Owen shoots low into the corner. But we fight back well, with a fine passing move ending with Parker slipping the ball into Bellamy who chips over Given just to wind up the home fans. Noble has a one-on-one saved by Given as we dominate. the in-demand keeper makes a fantastic one-handed save to deny Collison.

Then, incredibly, Ilunga punts the ball forward and Cole beats the lethargic defence to control the ball on his thigh and volley an unstoppable left foot shot into the top corner as if he’s, well, Gianfranco Zola.

Newcastle press back, and then comes the recommended own goal from Lucas. A marvellous miscue into our top corner that rivals Dowie’s effort for Stockport. Only the ref has spotted a push on James Collins.

Newcastle swing in another cross from the left and the poncily-braided Carroll beats Upson and heads the ball powerfully past Green for his first ever Newcastle goal. In added time Upson makes a fantastic tackle to prevent what looks like a late winner for the Toon.

Good game, iffy defences. The endless Tevezgate saga might be engendering something that smells like team spirit. We’re unbeaten in six away games and we’re still tenth on 26 points with Spurs in the bottom three. The thought occurs that Zola is starting to look like a half-decent manager. He doesn’t panic after a loss, has stuck to his footballing principles and his at times seemingly deranged faith in Carlton Cole appears to be paying off.

Now all we have to do is survive another week in the transfer window.

Friday, January 9

Kafka in trial at West Ham

How many times are we going to be tried for the same offence? First there was the £5.5 million fine from the Premier League, then the Griffiths committee finds in favour of the Whingeing Blades and we may have to pay them £30 million, and now a new inquiry has been launched by the FA and the Premier League.

At least the Mirror has the affair in perspective, its back page screaming “THE END? West Ham face being first big club to go under after Prem League and FA launch new Tevez probe.”

Whatever happened to the principle of double jeopardy, where you can’t be tried for the same offence twice?

And it seems the main point of dispute is what Scott Duxbury and Eggert the Egg Man said to Kia Joorabachian’s solicitor Graham Shear over lunch at West End club Les Ambassadeurs. Apparently they were given some Clintonesque sounding "oral cuddles" by WHU's men. There’s no recording of the conversation, and no written record, so surely in law that means that nothing can be proved?

Besides, in business, people often say what the other person wants to hear. Over the years I’ve been reassured that “the cheque’s is in the post”, “our accounts people are just about to process your invoice”, “yes, you’ll will get a kill fee if we don’t use your piece”, “there’s no chance of us folding” and “we intend to build you as a brand”, without any real hope of fulfillment. If it’s not in the contract it’s worthless.

Could we be in The Matrix and discover that this is all virtual reality? In fact it’s all like a scene from The Prisoner where Patrick McGoohan thinks he’s finally escaped to London only to discover that that nice dolly bird who helped him is in fact number 8. Soon we’ll all find gas coming through our keyholes and wake up in the Village with Richard Scudamore as the new number 2. West Ham fans will not be stamped, filed, indexed, briefed debriefed or numbered. Our lives are our own. Carlos Tevez resigned!

Thursday, January 8

Dog day afternoon

"No disrespect but we are at a club where we can't deal in the top bracket of players we would like to bring here.You are always working below that. We are not at Crufts, we are at Battersea Dogs Home. We are looking for strays. We are looking for people who have gone astray with the aim of bringing them back. You look for players who have gone off the rails and for whatever reason have not fulfilled their potential." Stoke boss Tony Pulis after taking a punt on Matthew Etherington.

So West Ham is the Premiership's answer to Battersea Dogs Home. Are we now a home for waifs and strays? Is Pulis travelling all stations to Barking? If we can flog Great Dane Davenport to Bolton and pit bull terrier Lee Bowyer to Birmingham we just might keep Green (a solid retriever), Upson (pedigree chum), wuff diamond Craig Bellamy (always yapping) and Scotty Dog Parker.

There's even a rumour that Hull might pay £2 million for Luis Boa Morte... although they may rue the fact that an erratic left winger is for life not just the transfer window.

Sunday, January 4

Unbeaten in 2009

West Ham 3 Barnsley 0 (FA Cup)

In Ken’s Café we learn that part-timers Matt and Lisa are on a romantic mini-break in Vienna — which means nothing to me. Probably wondering if Zola will bring on the Third Man while enjoying sachertorte and melange in Cafe Central in Wien. So it’s down to Nigel, Fraser and myself to cheer the lads on our march to Wembley.

Big Joe is marooned on the train from Church Stretton after a plane crash into the train line near Rugby, but Nigel, Phill, Iain, Jo and Alastair are all to be found predicting Cup glory in their tea-leaves, that is if we’re not in administration by March.

Parker is suspended and Upson is ominously rested, but at least Bellers plays. Barnsley have virtually the whole of the lower Centenary Stand but are soon a goal down when Noble’s free kick goes right through their defence to fall to an unmarked Herita Ilunga, who sidefoots home. Matt sends a text from some museum in Vienna about “the happiness of Herita in West Ham.”

Collison misses a good chance but we go 2-0 up when Noble cleverly dribbles past two men in the area only to be brought down for our first penalty of the season, which Nobes himself dispatches. The Tykes fans content themselves with chants of “where’s your money gone?” and “Down with the Woolworth’s you’re going down with the Woolworths!”

Barnsley’s lively Spanish midfielder Diego Leon, once on the books at Real Madrid, twice hits our woodwork, once from a free kick and once after Green knocks his shot onto the post. A good signing for us in January maybe? Barnsley looks like they’re coming back into it but fade again after Leon’s efforts. Collins and Tomkins have done well at the back though.

“All we need is 42 points by the end of January plus the nine they’ll dock for going into administration,: and we’ll be fine,” I muse, still concentrating on the league.

The biggest cheer of the day comes when Kieron Dyer comes on after 16 months out with injury. We’d forgotten we had a number seven shirt at the club. Dyer immediately provides something we’ve lacked since Tevez and Yossi left, unpredictability and flair in midfield. He has an early shot wide, hits the bar and looks hungry and classy. “Maybe Man City will offer £12 million for him?” I suggest.

Cole seals the game with a glancing header from Ilunga’s cross and we have now won three in a row with cutting-edge Carlton scoring in three successive games.

The whistle blows and on the way to the tube we discuss the details of our FA Cup Final breakfast. Obviously we have to mirror the lucky play-off final victory routine exactly, so it’s round to Nigel’s in Kew and on to the game on the day. “We can probably live without staying in a Wembley hotel,” suggests Fraser, as we mentally firewall May 30 in our diaries.

Thursday, January 1

New Year's Day

All is quiet on New Year's Day… A year ago we were losing to Arsenal at the Emirates and singing that Paintsil comes from Africa and is better than Kaka. Curbs was in the dugout, Dean Ashton was on the pitch, as was Anton Ferdinand, Jack Collison was making his debut and Icesave looked a sound investment. Yes, a year is a long time in football, although at least we're still tenth.

Now we live in fear after the first chimes of Big Ben on Dec 31. Will someone wake me up on Feb 2 and tell me who's left in the squad?