Thursday, December 30

Don't titter, it's Titi…

Today's Daily Mail reports that former rubbish West Ham striker Titi Camara has been appointed sports minister of Guinea.

The 38-year-old Titi was Guinea's national coach for four months last year and is also an expert at sitting out well-paid contracts.

The Mail adds: "Newly-elected president Alpha Conde has now made Camara Guinea’s first ex-sportsman to hold a government post. Reports suggest Camara had helped fund Conde's presidential campaign to the tune of 25m CAF Francs (£32,000)."

At this rate Raggy Soma will soon be appointed President of the EU and Gary Charles will be made Home Secretary with a brief to clamp down on drink driving...

The changing men

West Ham 1 Everton 1

Thanks to the 5.30 kick off Ken’s Café is a twilight zone of customers wondering if they can stomach a fry-up at five. All I can face is a mug of tea from a Christmas Carol. Big Joe’s down from Shropshire, Mike’s been to Blackburn and back and Littler Jo has taken in Whitstable versus Ramsgate in the snow.

Inside the stadium Nigel, Matt and Fraser have returned from their festivities only to be bemused by Grant’s selection. It seems most of the team can’t play two games in three days. Cole is on the bench and Ben Haim, Gabbidon and Stanislas are omitted, while Kieran Dyer is presumably at Lourdes. So much for not changing a winning team.

Matt is happy though. In the spirit of Half Man half Biscuit all he wanted for Christmas was a Dukla Prague away kit, and his brother has sent him one over from Australia which he's now wearing.

We discuss the club’s threat of legal action against the Daily Mirror after the paper alleged that several stars could only train two days a week.

“Training for as much as two days a week? Now that is libellous!” quips Matt.

We start off reasonably brightly and young Freddie Sears impresses with his energy, winning a corner. From Parker’s corner Tim Howard saves from Tomkins’ header, Kovac hooks the ball back in to the box and it takes a fortunate spin off Hibbert and into the back of the net. One-nil.

“Our season could have turned. We never used o get lucky goals,” suggests Nigel, before being shouted down by a superstitious triumvirate not wanting to tempt providence.

Everton slowly come back into the game. Ilunga is taken off after 20 minutes and Spector comes on as left back. “He’s the worst left back I’ve ever seen!” says the Vicar’s Son.

True to form, Cahill crosses and Coleman ghosts past the missing Specs to slide the ball home.

In the second half Everton are the better team. That Fellaini can play a bit as well as make films and Matt suggests awarding him Eight and a Half out of ten.

We are fading after two festive games, whereas Everton are much fresher, without creating too many chances. Cole comes on for the limping Piquionne.

When we do get a free kick on the edge of the box, Obinna places the ball like he’s Tiger Woods. “Victor’s taking all that time just to blast it onto the wall…” sighs Matt. Sure enough, he blasts it into the wall. Victor has one of those games where he doesn’t play anywhere near the other striker and you’re not sure if he’s a striker or a winger.

But his one good moment comes with a sweeping ball out to Freddie Sears on the right. He plays a great first time ball low into the path of Carlton Cole who fluffs the chance with a weak left-footed shot wide of the target.

Green makes a good save from Fellaini’s header, the Scousers have a goal correctly disallowed and that’s about it. Boa looks knackered by the end, but let’s give Radoslav Kovac some credit, who at Fulham and again today has held things together, making some good interceptions alongside Parker.

We’d take a point against a good Everton side considering we have a writer and record producer as full backs in Faubert and Spector, plus numerous injuries.

At the finish Jeremy Nicholas plays Highway to Hell — let’s hope it’s not Hull next season. A decent festive return. We are unbeaten for three games and surely Wolves and Wigan will lose tomorrow against Liverpool and Arsenal.

Now all we have to do to escape the bottom three is win the next SOS game against Wolves on Saturday.

Wednesday, December 29

Oh what fun it is to see West Ham win away!

Fulham 1 West Ham 3

You do fear that 12-year-old Freddie Sears might be full of E-numbers after the festive break. Young Fred has been recalled from Scunthorpe and in the latest erratic selection from Grant has gone straight into the side at Fulham in a wide right midfield role.

“Bet he asked Father Christmas for a start!” texts Matt.

A Boxing day tube strike and a trip to my mother-in-law’s gaff in Buntingford mean I’m watching the match in the Fox and Duck.

I’m with my sister-in-law’s Uncle Angus who is a Fulham fan and an English teacher at a top public school, which rather confirms the stereotype that Fulham fans are a little more upmarket than us Irons.

Does he only drink white wine? No, he prefers the Fox and Duck’s red Merlot as they bring us the finest wines known to humanity and some cheese and onion crisps.

Carlton Cole fires across goal early on, but after 11 minutes my worst fears are confirmed. A corner is only half-cleared and Davies crosses for an unmarked Aaron Hughes — who hasn’t scored since 2004 — to head home. A terrible goal to give away.

Andy Johnson should make it two but scuffs his shot. Surely it can’t be like Reading away in 2006?

My only consolation is that Angus says Fulham can’t finish teams off without Zamora and that Salcido gets caught out of position at left back.

Sure enough, on 37 minutes Freddie Sears hits in a terrible cross and Etuhu deflects it into the path of Cole who turns sharply to prod home.

Cole goes close again in added time as Schwarzer saves, but from the corner Parker crosses and a completely unmarked Piquionne ghosts through the offside trap to volley home. Two-one at half-time and could this be the turning point of our season? It’s IPA and red wine all round. My daughter Lola joins us for the second half.

Green foils Johnson in a one-on-one in the second half but Cole is growing in confidence, holds the ball up well and is starting to look like the player of a year ago. A neat back-heel allows Sears to turn and shoot just wide.

Uncle Angus nips out to the gents and inevitably it’s a goal. On 73 minutes Gabbidon punts the ball upfield, Hughes misheads it to Cole and he turns to sweep the ball home in one movement. Lola and myself dance in the pubs of Buntingford. It’s a great goal and as Mark Lawrenson points out later on Match of the Day, you wonder what CC’s been doing for the rest of the season.

Of course you fear we’ll throw it away, but Ben Haim has a decent game at right back, Upson and Tomkins stay solid and Green produces a brilliant tip over to deny Johnson.

We actually look quite comfortable by the final whistle and for a moment Avram Grant looks a little less like Toad of Toad Hall after a motoring conviction and breaks into a smile, having presumably saved his job. Uncle Angus takes it like a gentleman, and I wish him luck for Fulham's game at Stoke, where he's staying overnight for the match on the way to Edinburgh.

Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all he way! Oh what fun it is to see West Ham first win away for the first time since the opening match of last season at Wolves. Thank goodness Freddie Sears wrote that letter to Santa.

Thursday, December 23

Not crocked

Interesting statement from the club today:

"Contrary to a report in today's Daily Mirror, the club categorically deny that Carlton Cole, Kieron Dyer, Herita Ilunga, Danny Gabbidon and Luis Boa Morte can only train two days a week; they train every day they are requested to without fail. The players and the club are seeking legal advice on the matter."

Tuesday, December 21

Oh Adebayor…

Apparently we've had a loan bid for Emmanuel Adebayor at 100k a week turned down by the player. Great player but he's been trouble at both Arsenal and City and would we want a player who thinks he's too good for us? This sort of showboating signing has the mark of the chairmen on it and was probably never really a goer anyway.

We've also been linked with Steve Sidwell of Villa who is a good player, but you have to hope he's going to play alongside Parker rather than instead of Parker. Robbie Keane keeps cropping up too. He's the sort of player who will always try, and though past his best, would be a good bet to score the goals to keep us up.

We shall see come Jan 1.

Monday, December 20

There's only one Ruud Boffin!

Blackburn 1 West Ham 1

I’m Christmas shopping at the Angel as Matt’s half-time text arrives. The Blackburn game is on despite the snow and he’s taken Lisa on a romantic mini-break to Ewood Park (could this be how Shane Warne pulled Liz Hurley?).

He texts: “Two poor teams. We had two best chances but struggling to defend and the Sweary Prof looking shaky. Dyer having one of worst games anyone has ever had for anyone!”

His verdict on the final score of 1-1 is: “Mixed feelings about that they were there for the taking but Dyer, Barrera, Boa Morte and Benni so bad it was amazing we got anything.”

It’s probably a decent away point as Green misses his first game since 2007 and fourth choice Ruud Boffin plays in goal, while Behrami manages to injure himself in the warm up. It’s another strange selection from Grant, with Dyer playing and Cole on the bench even though Victor’s got a bruised leg and can’t play.

Match of the Day has extended highlights because there are only two games. Ruud Boy catches a Pedersen free kick and inspires a chant of “There’s only one Ruud Boffin!” Another famous Belgian. Boa Morte has our best chance in the first half, forcing Robinson to save with his legs after a good through ball from Piquionne.

Nelson’s goal early in the second half comes after a great save from Boffin, only the ball bounces on to Nelson’s thigh and into the net. It’s the result of another corner we haven’t cleared effectively and a cross that could have been stopped.

Still, we come back into it inspired as ever by Parker. Mattie Upson hits the outside of the post with a fine snap volley. The equaliser comes from a great run from Scotty, the ball breaking kindly for Junior Stanislas to, as they say, finish with some aplomb.

We could almost have won it as Piquionne sends a free header over, Benni air kicks from Parker’s astute ball and a knackered Parker overhits his cross when w have players in the box. Against that Dunn has a goal disallowed for an iffy infringement.

Alan Hansen make an interesting point afterwards, comparing the time it takes Parker to get up from a knock and the eternity it takes Ben Haim to recover.

We’re two points behind Wolves now and bottom for Christmas. Grant says he knows nothing of an ultimatum that he has to get one win out of three games. The first has been drawn. Not a bad point, but up against a managerless team was surely our chance to finally win an away match. Avram’s job may now be saved by postponements over the festive season.

Will we play the wild Rovers no more? At least their sacking of Big Sam means they might eventually be dragged down into the morass.

Merry Christmas everyone from Ruud Boffin the red-nosed goalkeeper. Here’s to staying up with the Christmas decorations and making the Carling Cup Final. Or have I been sipping too much claret?

Tuesday, December 14

Sam's town?

Horrible rumour on that we are considering sacking Avram Grant and replacing him with Sam Allardyce. Chris Hughton maybe... but not Big Sam. Never can a club and manager have been less suited...

Meanwhile today's Sun claims that Grant will "be read the riot act" by Sullivan, Gold and Brady and that the trio are unhappy with his "laid-back attitude". They can't be too happy either that he's asked for £10 million for new players having spent £6 million on Reid and Barrera.

We now have four games we should be capable of getting some points from in Blackburn and Fulham away and Everton and Wolves at home. If we keep losing though then surely Avram will be gone...

Sent down?

West Ham 1 Manchester City 3

Strangely Her Indoors doesn’t want to celebrate our wedding anniversary at Upton Park, so instead we take a mini-break in Cambridge where our hotel overlooks Jesus Green and the River Cam. Is it worth taking a punt on West Ham? Evidently not.

After an amble around the artfully arranged pebbles and St Ives school paintings in Kettle’s House the final result of 1-3 comes through from Nigel, with the comment “MC hardly had to break sweat. Our 1st corner was on 65 mins!”.

“In Cambridge, West Ham failed to graduate?” I text to Matt.

He answers: “Well, we go a First in the 88th minute and they got a Third in the 65th!”

Yes, and we'll be lucky to get a 2:2 at Blackburn.

Indeed, Matt has bought Lisa a ticket as a surprise birthday present. He certainly knows how to show a girl a bad time.

Thankfully I can offer Her Indoors a romantic chance to watch Match of the Day in bed on Sunday morning, complete with coffee making facilities.

Spector fails to close Toure down for the first, which is admittedly a great strike. We have a mini-revival at the start of the second and Freddie just fails to get on the end of an Obinna cross.

But then Tomkins is done by Toure for pace and strength for the second as Upson fails to cover and Johnson springs our feeble offside trap for the third. The unmarked Tomkins scores with a good header for our consolation.

We’re bottom still, Wolves win and we’re looking doomed. We stroll past the colleges and end up drinking mulled wine in the Eagle where Watson and Crick discovered DNA (or was it IPA?).

They wouldn’t be able to crack West Ham though. Does Grant know what his best side is? Why is it Dyer and Boa Morte on the flanks one week and Stanislas and Barrera the next? Is Spector the answer in midfield? Is Cole interested? Why has Jacobsen disappeared to be replaced by Gustave Flaubert?

It will take all the dons in Cambridge to work this one out.

Wednesday, December 8

Pards on the Tyne?

Rumour is that Pards could be taking over at Newcastle. Good manager, rubbish chairman. And we all know how they love cockneys on Tyneside...

If Andy Carroll leaves or gets banged up could it end up with a scenario where West Ham are fighting it out with Newcastle to survive on Salvation Sunday?

Tuesday, December 7

Normal service resumed

Sunderland 1 West Ham 0

Rejoice! We’re off the bottom for 24 hours thanks to Wolves losing 3-0 at Blackburn. At least until we visit the Stadium of Shite.

I manage to get into the Bank of Friendship to watch the second half after the school winter fair. Matt isn’t too impressed to judge by his text of “ This isn’t the Hammers of last Tuesday — woeful! Scotty nowhere near being fit Carlton back to being useless – less presence on the left than the coalition government plus no keeper on the bench – typical WHU!”

Kieron Dyer is a strange choice, as he’s not featured in either of the week’s wins, unlike Barrera who played in both, while Jacobsen appears to be injured and so Ben Haim is at right back. Grant has opted for Cole and Obinna and relegated Piquionne to the bench.

Sunderland are a goal ahead through a fine finish from Jordan Henderson. Gyan has sprung our offside trap on the right and delivered a rapid cross for Henderson to open his body up and sidefoot into the top corner. Sadly there’s no runner with him so even the other Jordan might have scored given the freedom of the box.

Boa Morte has been booked early on when he could have been red-carded and Gyan has hit the bar with a clever lob. Our only chance has been an Obinna free kick straight at the keeper until Jonathan Spector suddenly metamorphosises into Lionel Messi again, beating two Sunderland players with a clever stepover running into the box and shooting just wide.

Matt is perhaps overdoing the pessimism a bit on the evidence of the second half. Sunderland haven’t lost at home in the league all season and we start the second half with Obinna finding Cole who turns on the edge of the box and sends a low shot narrowly wide.

Green makes a decent stop from Gyan’s drive but our defence looks reasonably solid. Piquionne and Hines come on in an attempt to save the game. Our best effort comes when Obinna fires in a left foot shot that strikes the outside of the post.

One positive is that James Tomkins has another excellent game. Late on Green fumbles and he makes a fantastic block to deny a certain goal.

But in a cagey game Sunderland play out time to gain another three points. “So predictable,” texts Nigel.

We haven’t played that badly, but we still haven’t won away from home since the first day of last season at Wolves. Grant needs to decide what his best side is and now we have to aim for three points at Blackburn and Fulham.

We’re bottom again as Wolves have scored more goals. Oh dear, I should never have baited all those Man United fans. Normal service has been resumed.

Friday, December 3

Reasons to be cheerful?

Well, now that the euphoria has died down a little what can we take from Tuesday night apart from the fact that Fergie in a red hat looks like a garden gnome?

1. Spector could be a decent midfielder. He looked a completely different player in the Lionel Messi role...

2. Obinna is erratic but on his day can cause trouble to top defences. He has huge potential. And perhaps he's a creator as much as a scorer.

3. Ben Haim, though chronically right-footed, might be a good alternative to Gabbidon or Ilunga at left back.

4. Carlton Cole can still be a decent striker when he's in the mood. But he needs either a cuddle from the likes of Zola or a Tony Pulis-type on his case every game.

5. Wally Downes seems to have made a difference to the defence - and particularly Upson - by a) shouting and b) simply telling them if in doubt boot it into Row Z. Note also Tomkins's fine intervention to save a goal from the rebound after Obertan hit a post.

6. Even Kovac dovetailed quite well alongside Specs.

7. We'll probably get thrashed at Sunderland now...

Wednesday, December 1

Spector at the feast

West Ham 4 Man United 0 (Carling Cup)

There’s despair in Ken’s Café as the team comes through — Faubert, Kovac, Spector, Ben Haim… “All the players you don’t want to see,” someone suggests.

Still, there’s a good atmosphere in a sold-out snowswept Upton Park and the pressure for league points is off. Manchester United play Fletcher and Anderson plus nine squad players, but it’s still a strong side with the likes of the £7 million Hernandez, £10 million Chris Smalling, Ryan Giggs, Jonny Evans, John O’Shea and Rafael da Silva playing.

Early on Green makes a great save to push Obertan’s shot on to the post and the same player drives wide a few minutes later.

But we quickly start to get into our passing game and amazingly the Hammers look more up for it than United.

Spector is neat and incisive in the holding role but suddenly runs at the melting United defence. He’s blocked and the ball falls to Obinna who whacks it home via a deflection.

“West Ham’s first goal was scored by Victor Obinaaaaa!” hollers announcer Jeremy Nicholas. But after the United players protest, the bullied Mark Clattenberg consults his linesman and rules that Specs was offside. Maybe it’s going to be night of ‘what ifs”.

But still we surge forward with Obinna teasing Rafael, Boa constricting the midfield and even Kovac looking good.

On 22 minutes Obinna lofts the ball into the box and there’s Specs with a diving header t put us ahead. We frantically consult our mental databases and realise that’s his first ever goal for West Ham in 128 games.

“United should never have sold Specs!” I declare.

“We’ve founds Specs’ position!” adds Lisa. No wonder he was a bit rubbish at left back when he’s actually a rampaging playmaker. What tactical genius from Grant. How will Scotty Parker ever get back in the team?

And what’s this? After 37 minutes Spector surges through the United midfield like a reincarnated Trevor Brooking, finds Victor whose shot is blocked, the ball rebounds to the Yankee superhero and he rounds the keeper to slam the ball into the net and run to the adoring crowd.

Blimey. Get on to Roberto Mancini right away and he’ll surely buy Specs for £24 million.

On the way to the game I’ve been reading the chapter on the Total Football of the 1970s Dutch side in Jonathan Wilson’s Inverting the Pyramid. Only we’re seeing Total Football recreated by West Ham with Jonathan Spector in the Johan Cruyff role.

Something must be wrong here. As Scotty on Star Trek said, “Ye cannae change the laws of physics” — apart from at Upton Park. The morning Guardian has published ten questions that science still has to answer, like what existed before the big bang. The one they’ve omitted though is how did Jonathan Spector become a creative genius.

We go into half time 2-0 up and disbelieving as we shelter in multi-layers in the bowels of the East Stand.

“United just can’t cope with our strength in depth…” I suggest.

Although we know that United will be given the hairdryer and surely play better in the second half.

But no, 11 minutes after the break Victor Obinna is absolutely terrorizing Rafael Da Silva. He gives the full back more twisted blood as he produces a perfect cross for a suddenly hungry Carlton Cole to beat Evans in the air and powerfully head home.

Surely this can’t be happening. It can’t get any better, can it? It can, on 66 minutes it’s Vic there again, tormenting Rafael’s brother Fabio Da Silva this time, and finding Carlton, who turns Evans with embarrassing ease and slides the ball home. Just after we were saying that he’s never scored two goals in a match in his career.

“I’ve seen two bits of West Ham history!” declares a disbelieving Lisa.

“Let’s go f**king mental!” chant the snowy legions in the Bobby Moore Stand.

There’s a premature “We’re all going to Wem-ber-lee!” but who cares. It’s followed by “Your support is f**king shit!” aimed at the diminishing ranks of United fans and “Can we play you every week?” and “You only live next door!”

At 4-0 I’m suddenly overwhelmed by a surge of fear. There’s 24 minutes left plus added time. What if we blow it and United produce one of their greatest ever comebacks to draw 4-4 and win it on penalties?

It’s still all the Irons though. Sub Zavon Hines is pushed over in the box and Mr Clattenberg denies us a blatant penalty.

But with ten minutes to go I start to believe that we might at least draw. Just as lomg as we don't bring Manny Omoynimni on. With five minutes to go I’m confident enough to text my daughter Lola the score. And with three minutes to go it’s time to tell the others that we’ve saved our season. Again.

The crowd roars out "Fergie, Fergie what's the score?" and Bubbles as the whistle blows and it’s Hi Ho Silver Lining on the tannoy. We never doubted you Avram. Or Jonathan or Radoslav or Julien. The dejected Alex Ferguson looks like a garden gnome in his red hat while someone has put a West Ham scarf around Avram Grant’s neck. He looks marginally less moribund than usual as the records tumble. United's first defeat of the season. United’s biggest defeat since 2001. Our first League Cup semi-final since 1990. Our biggest win over United since 1930. Our finest League Cup win since beating Liverpool 4-1 in 1989 (best not mention we went down that season too).

It’s a shame the game won’t count for Nigel as he’s arrived too late to get a programme. We find the Central is closed due to its proximity to the United coaches so head to the Castle, while Nigel desperately tracks down a programme, possibly through steaming into the United coach and mugging an elderly Mancunian.

My inbox has gone crazy. “Unbelievable… oh my God!… Roz is in bar with Frank McAvennie and Tony Cottee, she’s a bit drunk… wow amazing!…wahoo!…are you in heaven?…our reserves are more magnificent than their reserves… winners! back of the net!… how did West Ham manage that?…wow brilliant…”

We take off our layers in the Castle and sit in stunned disbelief. A;though thee is a rumour that Fergie has decided to have the game postponed retrospectively. As we discover that we’ve actually won because Fraser has trimmed his beard and is wearing his lucky red shoes.

“Imagine what we would have done to them if we’d played our first team,” says Nigel. “Of course it’s a given we’ll lose at Sunderland…”

But frankly who cares. We’ve humiliated a Manchester United side. Let’s go f**king mental. Or at least stick around for a second pint. The cold outside can’t touch us because we’re walking in a Spector wonderland.