Monday, February 28

Kop that!

West Ham 3 Liverpool 1

It’s been difficult preparing for the Liverpool game. Scott Parker is playing on painkillers after injuring his shoulder in training and in Ken’s Café Nigel’s order for a bacon sandwich has been dropped on the floor by Carol, necessitating an emergency brown bag takeaway job.

But both Scotty and Nigel bravely elect to turn out at Upton Park, epitomizing the spirit at the club.

It’s a polyglot gathering the East Stand. Nigel’s next to a group of very enthusiastic Japanese Irons while Matt, like the vicar’s son and gentlemen he is, elects to swap seats with a woman from the Czech Republic who wants to be next to her boyfriend.

Matt suggests that if we win 3-0 we go out of the bottom four. And if we lose we’re looking certain to go down. While Nigel predicts that Glen Johnson will score against us – as if.

But for once we’re fielding what might be our best side. Matthew Upson is back after Monday’s Standard claimed he’d be out for the rest of the season and we have the Hitz Man on the left and O’Neil on the right.

Tomas Hitzlsperger shows brilliant technique to volley a dropping ball at Reina from 40 yards out while Meireles ghosts through to head wide for Liverpool.

But we’re looking energetic and well-balanced for once, with Tomkins handling Suarez well and Gerrard anonymous.

On 22 minutes Parker plays a push and go with the busy Hitzlsperger, takes the return and with his second touch pokes the ball into the far corner for a delightful finish. He then races to the camera and kisses it in a bid to make the opening credits of Match of the Day.

A great Noble interception results in Piquionne crossing hard and low and Ba just failing to connect. Kuyt drives wide for the Scousers and Suarez and then Piquionne have penalty claims denied.

It gets better right on half-time. From Green’s goal kick Demba Ba heads the ball to O’Neil who crosses for Ba to power a header into the top corner. “Demba Ba M’Lord… Demba Ba…”

Bubbles resonates around the Boleyn Stadium and it’s more worrying than usual to be 2-0 up at half time. Still, it’s not as if we blow two goal leads against Liverpool… well, apart from that game.

Ba drives just wide early ion the second half. Liverpool show signs of life. For once Suarez turns Tomkins and arrows the ball for the top corner only for Green to make a world-class save. England’s England’s Number 16!

O’Neil has a shot deflected wide by Carragher and from the corner Freddie fails to connect effectively with a free header.

We’ve given everything, but the side fades alarmingly in the final third of the game. We drop back, Grant doesn’t bring on a sub, and you wonder if we’re going to bottle it again as Green tips over Gerard’s powerful drive.

Finally Specs comes on for the flagging Piquionne. But two minutes later the previously immaculate Jacobsen hesitates and lets the ball bounce in the box, Suarez turns with great skill and pulls the ball back for Johnson to score, as Nigel predicted.

Will it be like WBA at home and Birmingham and Everton away where we blow a winning position yet again? Only Fraser has ice in his veins as his part-time mate who’s just left the game phones to ask him to let him know the result. He takes the call, he speaks calmly, he predicts we’ll win.

Someone’s been handing out a phrase book of non-PC football phrases behind us. “Referee! Pooftah!” comes a heavily accented chant from behind us.

Grant takes off Ba for Cole on 88 minutes and Nigel wonders what’s the point of bringing Cole on so late.

Mystic May predicts, possibly ironically, that CC will score a glorious third.

We’re into a nervous three minutes of stoppage time when a clearance finds Cole in the Liverpool half. Carlton shrugs aside Skrtel and drives hard and low and miraculously inside Reina’s near post.

YEEEES!! I’m out of my seat and Nigel finds himself hugging his new besties from Japan. What Dalglish revival? We go third from bottom! YAY! Tactical genius! Avram Grant does an impersonation of the Incredible Hulk celebrating the goal.

Green still has to save low from Suarez but we see out time. Our best performance of the season and fine performances in particular from Green, Tomkins, Jacobsen (bar the goal), O’Neil, Hitz and Ba. Liverpool deserve that for the Cup Final. It’s so good we’ve almost forgotten that we could have been at Wembley beating Arsenal today.

We celebrate with a couple of pints in the Central and as we’re walking down Green Street spot a player in the car park. Standing by his four-wheel-drive is Scotty Parker in a baseball cap,

The temptation is too much for 11-year-old Nigel who rushes up to get Parker’s autograph. But sadly Scotty has only signed 200 and makes for his car when he sees a middle-aged man pursuing him with a borrowed pen, leaving Nigel ruing the loss of the greatest piece of footballing memorabilia since The Gav purchased a Trevor Cherry testimonial programme on eBay.

Strangely the next day’s News of the World doesn’t splash Scotty’s Nigel snub, but instead covers the misdemeanors of Ashley Cole with an air rifle.

We stumble on to the tube with a weird sense of satisfaction having watched a fine performance for once. Let’s not ruin it all against Stoke — if we play with this level of intensity then, blimey, we might not make the Europa League, but there’s a chance of us staying up.

Friday, February 25

You're not single anymore!

I can only assume my mate Nick is in love. Why else would he be getting married on the afternoon of West Ham v Man United at 2pm? And he's a United fan too...

It's amazing the number of people who organise events with no consultation of West Ham's fixtures. The two games I've missed so far this season have been Newcastle at home for my brother-in-law's birthday (he got married on Cup Final day in 2004 and wondered why that was the only weekend the church was free) and Man City at home for my wedding anniversary. (Yes, I too got married in the football season, but ensured West Ham were away at Blackburn in 2005, forgetting that our anniversary might then coincide with a home game. Doh!)

And I can still recall missing West Ham v Southampton for Bob and Jane's wedding when we lost 4-2 under Harry while chasing a European spot some ten years ago. Not that I'm bitter.

Never mind AV. Shouldn't there be a referendum on forbidding weddings during the football season?

Tuesday, February 22

Der Hammering!

West Ham 5 Burnley 1 (FA Cup)

In Ken’s Café Carol sits down to bemoan to Jo not only the loss of her match day customers, but Newham Council loaning £40 million to West Ham. This she repeats is when they’re closing four care homes and Carol’s daughter who is a midwife has just three midwives coping with 25 births.

Our move, despite the commercial logic of better transport links to Essex and increased capacity, is going to cause a lot of pain in the local community. Karren Brady should surely offer Ken’s whatever it takes to relocate to Stratford - like the stadium franchise and a burger bar in the Velodrome.

Inside the stadium we’re down to Fraser, Nigel and Nigel’s Burnley-supporting pal Dave as part-timer Matt is in Istanbul, having seen Galatasary play and survived. He’s now sampling the local culture in the North Shields pub. “Rene and Renato on juke box and Iain Dowie on the TV — it’s getting ugly here…” he texts.

Burnley have marginally the better of the early exchanges with Green pulling off a couple of good saves. But thankfully we have Mystic Morris at hand.

“Hitzlsperger hasn’t really done much yet,” he suggests, moment before Super Tomas steps around Cork to fire in a 25-yard screamer over the top of Grant.

The keeper should have done better but is beaten by sheer power.

“West Ham’s goal was scored by Tomas ‘Der Hammer’ Hitzlsperger!” hollers Der Announcer Jeremy Nicholas.

It’s been a long time since we’ve had a midfielder who could shoot from distance.

“Where was I when Hitz scored?’ comes the pre-emptive text from Matt.

It’s one-nil at half-time and amazingly we improve after the break. After 48 minutes Noble plays through Carlton Cole, whose poor touch allows the ball to squirm away towards the Burnley keeper, only to doggedly prod home the rebound. Nothing wrong with it apart from the offside and possible handball. But they all count and Carlton is now our top scorer.

“Game of the season,” I text to Matt.

“We are watching you know,” comes his reply,

Two minutes later Noble again plays in Carlton, who controls the ball well and fluently curls the ball into the corner. Nothing wrong with that one.

“We could do quite well in the Championship,” I suggest.

Nigel’s pal Dave leaves the ground having seen enough. Doesn’t he know that at 5-0 we start to wobble against Burnley? Our fans find their voice and even produce a Demba Ba chant to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

It gets better. Winston Reid, who has make a couple of good blocks while looking generally shaky, rises well to head home the Hitz Man’s corner.

Matt has now missed two historic WHU moments.

Being West Ham we then concede a comedy goal. Bridge makes an ill-advised back pass to Green. The keeper boots the ball at Tyrone Mears. The ball rebounds to Rodriguez who heads home.

We’re taking it easy, having taken off Hitzlsperger, Ba and Cole for Barrera, Spector and Piquionne.

Barrera makes a mazy up the line and back again fooling both sets of players. Then he breaks through and chips hopelessly across goal.

In stoppage time Specs finds 13-year-old Freddie Sears in the box who scores with a fine finish. Our biggest score since, well, the last time we played Burnley. And for once the only Grant getting hammered at Upton Park is Burnley custodian Lee Grant.

We’re away to Stoke and they’ll be dancing in the streets of Istanbul.

“Bet we lose to Liverpool now!” suggests the glass-half empty Nigel.

Still, at least the club must be making some money out if it. Even if we lose at Stoke we’ll have played ten cup games this season.

And if we beat Stoke we play at Wembley in the semis…

Next up Liverpool on Sunday. Kenny Dalglish has been out of the game for ten years — he won’t have experienced anything like Carlton, Winston and Freddie. Now all we have do is convince the lads that the Liverpool game is a cup tie.

Sunday, February 20

Super Tomas Repka

Did anyone notice that the 37-year-old player marshalling the Sparta Prague defence against Liverpool in the Europa League was none other than Tomas Repka?

Indeed, we might have won the FA Cup had Tomas not departed in the January 2006 transfer window. He'd have booted the ball out of the ground and then hit someone rather than slice the ball to Gerrard.

And, yes, Repka even collected the obligatory yellow card.

Friday, February 18

Champions League — you're having a laugh!

What? One hundred and fifty quid to watch the Champions League Final at Wembley this year? The news comes just as we were starting to feel slightly envious of Spurs and Arsenal beating a couple of minor sides this week while we take on Burnley.

Thankfully we won't actually be in the ECL for a couple of seasons...

Monday, February 14

Churchill lives

What exactly did Scott Parker say to the lads at half-time? Carlton Cole said after the game: "We were diabolical but at half-time Scott was inspirational. Scott was in the zone - I've never seen him like that. If you were there you would have had a tear in your eye."

"Scott Parker showed a lot of passion in the changing room and it spurred us on. We did not want to disappoint ourselves, the manager, our families and the fans. I know you could say that if you are a professional footballer then you should have that in you anyway, but sometimes you need your captain to step up like that."

It would be easy to criticise Grant for not inspiring us, but sometimes it’s good management to let an influential player have their say. Even Sir Alex Ferguson would often let Roy Keane lambast his team-mates and it seems Scotty had seen enough.

Parker realised we needed Winston Churchill rather than Winston Reid. You wonder what Chuchillian-style oratory Scotty came out with. Perhaps something like this:

We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, (if we make the Inter-Toto)
we shall fight on the Chelseas and Stokes,
we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our goal, whatever the cost may be,
we shall fight on at the Baggies,
we shall fight on the training grounds,
we shall fight against the Anfields and in the Spurs,
we shall fight in the Hawthorns;
we shall never surrender! (unless it's at St James' Park)

Ooh ah Demba Ba! I said ooh ah Demba Ba!

West Brom 3 West Ham 3

Unable to get my fix of bottom of the table Premier League football, I’m at Dagenham and Redbridge versus Yeovil for bottom of the table league one football. Makes a change to be standing and the locals even have a drum… sort of like the Nou Camp in Victoria Road for 2,000 fans.

“See you at Oldham next season,” texts Nigel after eight minutes, so I know we’re losing. Robbie Keane is out for six weeks after pulling a muscle, so our big transfer window coup has failed to come off.

There’s a big cheer from the Dagenham fans when the half-time score reads 3-0 to WBA. But as Richard Keys/Alan Partridge knows, success breeds envy. And even Dagenham are laughing at us now.

But it’s a different story after 90 minutes. Dagenham beat Yeovil 2-1 sparking a chorus of “How shit must you be? We’ve won at home!” from the home fans and astonishingly we’ve come back from 0-3 down to draw 3-3.

“Never in doubt!” I text to Nigel.

But he’s in a glass half empty mood texting back “Still only one point from Brum and WBA. At least Demba Ba looks a good buy.”

It’s a great game for Match of the Day.

Our defence is always going to struggle with Tomkins, Upson and Gabbidon all injured and Da Costa and Reid in the middle. WBA score after three minute when Dorrans strikes from 30 yards. It’s an unstoppable shot, although our marking could have been slightly tighter.

But their second after eight minutes is shambolic. Pederson allows Odimwinje too much time and then Thomas is allowed an athletics track worth of space to stroke home past Green.

At 2-0 down Carlton Cole has a goal disallowed, wrongly, for offside. But it’s game over after 32 minutes when a mediocre free kick drifts into our box and no-one gets a head on it. Instead of marking a forward the hapless Winston Reid ghosts round the back of our defence to glance home an own goal.

We do show signs of life before the break. Ba has a snap shot turned on to the post and O’Neil hits the bar with a long-distance rocket.

Piquionne comes on for Boa Morte and makes a big difference in the second half. We score what seems to be a consolation when Ba shows good chest control as he takes Noble’s lofted pass and slides the ball past the keeper. Seems like the lad’s a natural finisher.

Their defence starts to look as bad as ours. The unmarked Piquionne is allowed to head across the box and Cole bravely heads home, getting a kick in the face as he does so.

Surely we can’t get another? Piquionne rises superbly to head against the bar. After Green saves well from Odimwinjie, we break again. WBA give away a corner off Olsson’s shoulder and there’s Demba Ba at the back to score with another skilful volley into the ground and past the Albion keeper. We’ve done a Newcastle. The away end goes effing mental. We go above Wolves! We’re 19th!

You’ve got to admire our spirit and on chances we should have won it. What do we make of all this? Terrible defending, but in Ba we’ve unearthed a possible saviour and it feels almost like a win. If we get Tomkins and Upson back we might have a chance of survival.

Bums on seats

Interesting that the day after we got the stadium nod Karren Brady and co were talking about installing retractable seats, which would surely solve one of the major problems of the track dilemma. We do after all have £95 million to spend, a £40m loan from Newham, £35m from the government and £20m from the sale of Upton Park. And retractable seats are surely the solution. Seems like we've got a £500m stadium for comparatively little expense.

The major issue is can an extra 25,000 fans compensate for the loss of intimacy at Upton Park (assuming we fill it). Surely they will make a lot of noise and if we go into it with a positive frame of mind then maybe we can match the atmosphere we created at the Millennium Stadium…

Thursday, February 10

West Ham Won Tottenham Nil

Latest news is that wannabe demolition man Daniel Levy is threatening to sue. Will he claim that the Olympic Park Legacy Company served his lads dodgy lasagne?

Artistic licence?

Nice illustration of how the new stadium will look. Is it just me or has the running track disappeared? Has it been covered in astroturf? If it's not artistic licence airbrushing it away, then it doesn't look bad…

Wednesday, February 9

Seen the sexism, got the t-shirt?

The game's gone mad… A week after the Andy Gray/Richard Keys soccer sexist controversy comes the Philosophy Football t-shirt — complete with Sian Massey, flag signals and a definition of the offside law...

It's the work of Philosophy Football founder Mark Perryman, author of Ingerland and founder of England Fans United... Massey is now up there with Camus, Sartre, Wittgenstein, Bob Marley, Pele and other Philosophy Football t-shirt luminaries. Complete with 'Lets Kick Sexism out of Football' campaign logo against dinosaur attitudes to wear on your sleeve. Hopefully Perryman plans to send free copies to Gray (XL size) and Keys too...

Click on the Philosophy Football link above to purchase.

Olympic stadium

Just done a tour of the Olympic Stadium. It’s designed by the same team that built the Emirates and the feel around the circular concourse outside is similar.

Inside it’s surprisingly intimate. It doesn’t feel like an 80,000 seater stadium at all and every seat has a good view (West Ham will apparently change the roof and make it a 55,000 seater). So it does feel like the Hammers fans could get a good atmosphere going.

But the problem is that running track. It looks very big from the seats and the central area is small at present – hopefully it will be expanded when a football pitch is laid. Spurs claim fans will be 40 metres from the goalline.

Much rests on Karren Brady’s statement that the club is spending £90 million on “reconfiguration of seats”. I’m still not sure exactly what this means. A steeper angle? Some seats closer to the track at the sides?

We have to hope that the WHUFC team has explored other stadiums with athletics/football stadiums and really considered what’s best for the club and fans rather than their bank balance — although as we’re £80 million in debt you could argue we have to move to survive. And 55,000 fans would take us above Spurs in match revenue terms.

An interesting point is that the Olympic delivery people say West Ham were consulted in 2006, but under Terry Brown the club said we didn’t want to move. Had we said yes then it could have been designed to have retractable seats over the running track.

But on the plus side the Olympic Park’s an exciting area and the Velodrome with its wooden exterior looks fantastic. There’s a huge basketball area made of PVC that looks like a giant sugar lump and would surely be the ideal location for a reconfigured Ken’s Café and Newham Bookshop. And it’s nice to be close to the River Lea two miles downriver from where we started put at Thames Ironworks.

Really, we won’t know what the stadium’s like until we’re in it. Maybe we’ll get used to it. The atmosphere at the 1980 FA Cup Final was pretty good despite Wembley’s running track.

But to be honest it’s a dilemma. Great stadium, problematic running track. Although if we get it, at least our subs should be fit from all those track circuits.

Tuesday, February 8

Grant cashes in his chips

Hours after announcing to reporters that his birthday was "cancelled" Avram Grant was pictured leaving the Colony Club Casino in Mayfair at 3am on Saturday night. Several papers have had some fun with this story. If he had decided to celebrate presumably he'd have been out all night. And we can see where those bags under the eyes come from now…

Grant is following in a long line of West Ham stars who like a gamble, such as Harry Redknapp, Teddy Sheringham and Matthew Etherington. And we are sponsored by SBO-BET.

Just hope he hasn't put too big a wager on us staying up.

Meanwhile the Sun printed allegations that Julien Faubert refused to be an emergency substitute against Brum as he'd left the ground and refused to return. Although Faubert says he had permission to visit his sick son in hospital. Whatever, the result was we only had six subs on Sunday.

Monday, February 7

Avram's Blue birthday…

West Ham 0 Birmingham City 1

Pre-match preparations are fine. My daughters are here as it’s kids for a quid and in Ken’s Café we meet match day announcer Jeremy Nicholas and then blogger Iain Dale — who has upset Carol by describing Ken’s as a “greasy spoon” on the radio, when as we all know it is themed retro cuisine at its finest. Big Joe arrives to spend the money we had thrown at us at Birmingham.

Then it’s off to the Newham Bookshop for a chat with Vivian and double book purchase for the girls.

Inside the stadium Jeremy Nicholas announces that it’s Avram Grant’s 56th birthday and from then on it’s all downhill. James Tomkins injures himself in the warm-up. And this being a 1.30pm kick-off, there’s a strangely muted atmosphere zamonmg the crowd. Birmingham have about ten fans which is terrible. Where are all the brave lads who tried to attack us at St Andrew's?

Nothing much happens in the first half. Obinna has a dangerous cross, Keane volleys over, Pedersen and O'Neil play in dangerous low crosses but no forward attacks them and that’s about it. It’s a mediocre game for Sky after the Premier League goal record of the previous day. Birmingham look difficult to break down and we don’t enjoy playing against them.

At half-time Fraser reveals he's been to see Adam Ant — although West Ham are showing no signs of becoming Kings of the Wild Frontier. Even though ridicule is nothing to be scared of.

In the second half we get a bit worse. Upson has to be replaced by Da Costa, and Brum bring on Larsson, who changes the game. We have one inviting chance when Parker breaks only to play a poor ball. Scotty doesn’t have a great game, for once, and you wonder how tired he is after his exertions this season. Keane looks frustrated and nothing comes off for him, while Piquionne is off his game.

Da Costa gives a free kick away and Larsson fires the ball towards Zigic. We clear it, but immediately Mark Noble barges Bentley in the back, causing an ungodly explosion of expletives from the Vicar’s Son besides me.

Larsson fires in the dead ball and Zigic gets goalside of Bridge to head home. He runs off to celebrate in front of the meagre away fans – on Match of the Day all you can see is one man and a boy.

The man in black makes some eccentric decisions as our players are battered by the Brummies and I tell young Nell that the crowd are singing, “The referee’s an anchor!”

Ba and Cole come on for Keane and Piquionne. Ba nearly scores with a great first touch, hitting the post with a difficult chance.

We improve a little, Da Costa has a long range shot saved with no one following in. Then Da Costa heads just wide as Cole almost prods it in.

We lack width and no forward ever seems to run to the far post. Roger Johnson looks composed, Ferguson runs midfield and in truth it’s comfortable for Birmingham. At least the kids have only had to pay a quid – only now it seems we’ve been overcharged.

The whistle blows. Oh what a birthday surprise, Alex has beaten Avram's team. We troop away to Tesco in search of Moshi Monster cards to try to take away the pain. A thoroughly dispiriting day. We’ve never got going. If we can’t take at least point from games like this, then what hope is there?

Avram goes home to celebrate his birthday with Morrissey. The only positives are that Winston Reid has played OK, Upton Park tube is open and we don’t have to play Birmingham again this season — and probably next.

Thursday, February 3

Oh we do like to be beside the seaside…

Blackpool 1 West Ham 3

Fantastic result in another save-our-season-at-the-seaside game. My heart has several palpitations with ten minutes to go while watching live updates on, although we seem to see the game out without too much trouble.

Watching Match of the Day it’s all down to Victor again. The Obinna enigma goes close early on producing a good save. We take the lead when he torments Cathcart to send in a near post shot that Kingson inexplicably fumbles into the net. A clanger, but if you don’t buy a ticket for the lottery, Gary, etc.

Our second arrives after Piq’s knock-down sees Vic have two shots well saved by Kingson before Keane scores with an angled volley. A classy finish and an instant repayment for Grant’s faith.

Being West Ham, we concede just before half-time, Adam’s corner daisy-cutting its way through our defence and straight into goal. There’s no-one on the post, Green is off his line and it’s another calamity.

But 90 seconds later Parker finds Obinna who lashes an unstoppable left footer into the tip corner from 35 yards. THERE’ SOMETHING IN THE AIR… IS VIC THERE? He certainly is! Great strike. The boy has talent – now he needs to show it every week. Five goals in four days isn’t bad though and he’s now our joint top scorer.

Second half sees Eardley hit the bar with a free kick and Keane have a goalbound shot saved. While the away fans give Pool sub Marlon Harewood a nice cheer. But the game’s been won before half-time and we hold out, even though sub Beattie causes problems for our two young centre backs Reid and Tomkins.

One final negative thought, those online live updates brilliantly illustrate our knack of sometimes turning attack into defence. You're forever reading:
75 mins Noble short corner.
75 mins 10 secs Blackpool attack.

A great result and it drags Blackpool, with six defeats in seven matches, right into the struggle.

It seems out top team is now Green: Jacobsen, Upson, Tomkins, Bridge: O’Neil, Parker, Noble, Obinna: Piquionne, Keane. Plus an experienced bench with the likes of Cole, Ba, Spector, Da Costa, Boa Morte, Barrera and soon Hitzlsperger to choose from.

Third from bottom and I’m almost feeling optimistic.

Wednesday, February 2

What a waste of money!

Tonight's Standard reveals that there's no place in our squad for Benni McCarthy and Herita Ilunga. Sad for Ilunga who is a good player when fit - only after two years of problems is he ever going to be the same player again?.

As for Benni, we've paid £2.5 million and 40k a week for three years for our 27th most useful player. Big Sam Allardyce must be laughing at that one.

Ba code

One further piece of trivia from Matt the Anorak. He says that Demba Ba has the shortest surname of a player in West Ham's history, just beating Marc Vivien Foe.

Tuesday, February 1

We've got Scotty Parker!

Relief! In the latest episode of Minder meets the transfer window used player dealer Harry 'H' Redknapp was so busy trying to entice Big Phil Neville and Charlie 'Jock' Adam down sarf that he forgot he'd asked Terence to add Scotty to the stock in his lock-up.

Meanwhile Behrami's fee has paid for O'Neil and a slice of Demba Ba, so we've come out of it solvent and with four extra players through playing the loan system.

One final thought: If Andy Carroll is worth £35m then imagine what a fit Dean Ashton might now be worth...