Wednesday, October 31

A good time to be facing West Ham…

West Ham are always a good team to play if you have an unenviable run to end. Wigan were desperate to win their first home game of the season on Saturday and duly did so against the Irons. Similarly Arsenal's Giroud had yet to score for the Gunners in the league until he came to Upton Park. And of course Fernando Torres was having a terrible run at Chelsea before notching his first goal against West Ham during our relegation season. The last two goals James Beattie scored in the Premier League were for Stoke against West Ham. And I remember an underperforming Nick Barmby coming to West Ham with Everton and scoring a hat-trick and propelling himself back into the England squad. Still, that's enough tales of horror for Halloween night...

Monday, October 29

The Joy of Essex

Something of an Essexology-fest yesterday. Appeared with fellow West Ham fan Iain Dale on his LBC show at 12.30pm discussing my new book The Joy of Essex, managing to bring in Ken's Cafe, Islanders chip shop in Canvey Island, tea dances in Saffron Walden, Paul Simon writing Homeward Bound about returning to Brentwood, the Basilwood sign on the A127 and the Roman arch in Colchester. Then took a taxi with a cabbie from Hornchurch to sell books at the Newham Bookshop stall at Goldsmith's Row in Hackney, near the Columbia Road flower market. Mentioning "Are you from Essex" or "Do you know anyone from Essex?" brought an interesting response from the flower market crowd. Bemusement from Swedish and Danish tourists, a look of horror from arty types and a clamour to buy the book from a Dr Feelgood fan from Barking and David from Chigwell whose daughter recently spotted Spurs' manager AVB in Sheesh. Should hit the target readership next Saturday, as I'm doing a signing at the brilliant Newham Bookshop in Barking Road from 3.30pm before the West Ham versus Manchester City game.

Saturday, October 27

Succumbing to Wigan pier pressure

Wigan 2 West Ham 1

Oh well, at least no-one chartered a plane pulling a banner reading "Avram Grant: Millwall Legend" this time. There wasn't much we could do about the first goal as it was a fantastic volley from Ramis, the player we tried to sign. There was some sloppy defending for the second and according to Sam and the press we didn't play well at all. Tomkins was unlucky with his volley that hit the bar and at least he managed a late consolation with his header. Nice Hardyesque beard from Tomka too. Seems like we aimed at Carroll and not much else for most of the match. One striker doesn't work if Nolan doesn't get in the box and surely it's time to give Maiga a full game as a second striker.

But this was a game we needed to get something from. Our next run of games is Man City at home, Newcastle away, Stoke at home, Spurs and Man United away and Chelsea at Upton Park. Stoke now becomes a must-win game, as we'll do well to get much from the rest. Nice point from Sam about setting targets in Friday's Standard. He says looking at the season as a whole gives players the chance to always believe things will come right at the end of the season, which was what happened under Avram. Giving the players targets for eight game runs gives them something more concrete to aim at. Though he did get a bit metaphysical with his assertion that "we deal with reality not perception" at Upton Park. The reality is we lost at Wigan, although with 14 points we still have a solid base to get through a troublesome November.

Tuesday, October 23

Blowing Bubbles online

There's a two page feature in issue 4 of the excellent Blowing Bubbles online fanzine on my e-book Flying So High: West Ham's Cup Finals, where I reminisce about Bobby Moore's tight shorts, giant hammers, lady photographers and chanting "Who the effing hell are you?" at Liam Brady. Blowing Bubbles is a fine read and issues 4 and 5 cover questions such as is James Collins the same player we sold, West Ham's Worst X1, does Mark Noble deserve an England call-up and what happened to the career of Luis Boa Morte. You can read it by clicking on the link above. Read all five issues on the Blowing Bubbles web page.

Sunday, October 21

Noble on the mark to punish sinning Saints

West Ham 4 Southampton 1

The big talking point in Ken’s CafĂ© is groundhopper Nigel deserting the side to go and watch Fleetwood versus AFC Wimbledon, as it’s the only league ground he hasn’t been to apart from York City. Rumour is he’s sucking a Fisherman’s Friend up there. My text informs him: “You should have stayed with a big club!”

It’s kids for a quid so Lola and Nell are with me, enjoying Ken’s finest cuisine though Carol slaps my knuckles for taking the whole ticket before she’s torn off my number. Meanwhile DC is in a box and Jo seems to have blagged waitress service unlike the rest of us plebs in the queue. Perhaps there should be an inquiry. Then it’s on to the West Ham shop to spend £20 worth of Academy vouchers where the kids acquire some WHU socks, a pencil sharpener, and a ‘Moore than a football club’ mug and scarf.

One of our tickets is three rows back by the wall, so the girls sit with Matt, Lisa, Fraser and Michael the Whovian, while I’m next to a tactile fan who shakes my hand as I take my seat. Strangely the referee seems to perform much better away from Matt. Yossi is in for the injured Vaz Te and Tomkins, sporting a 1950s cad’s pencil moustache on the programme cover, replaces Demel at right back, while Lambert is left on the bench for the Saints.

The first half is mediocre. Tomkins has a header half-cleared off the line, the keeper’s clearance goes straight to Carroll but he hesitates he allows his shot to be blocked, while Rodriguez pokes an effort just wide for the Saints. “We’re Southampton, we play on the floor!” taunt the Saints fans and if anything the Saints have slightly the better of the first half. The whole side looks tired after the international break.

It all changes in the second half though. Carroll is clattered by Hooiveld again and Mark Noble flights a 40-yard free kick into the box. Ginger Voldemort Collins goes for it but fails to make contact and the ball floats past the Saints’ new goalkeeper Artur Boruc. “Go on boy! Get in you dirty little bastard!” hollers the geezer next to me before inviting me to high five him. Two minutes later Yossi Benayoun, running around like a kid trying to impress on his first day at school, dispossesses Yoshida and races down the right. His low centre presents clucking Kevin Nolan with a tap-in. It’s the sort of calm creativity we’ve lacked in the last third and Yossi could be a big player for us this season. “Get in you dirty little bastard!” hollers the geezer next to me again before embracing me in a manhug and high-fiving everyone in his vicinity. What’s he like with people he actually knows?

It’s always a little worrying when West Ham go two up and sure enough on 63 minutes Rodriquez plays the ball across the box for Lallana to turn swiftly and fire into the top of the net. McCartney should have been tighter.

Nine minutes later Fonde manhandles Carroll and blatantly handballs it in the box. Noble sends the keeper the wrong way from the spot and it’s more man hugging and high-fiving with my new best mate. The Saints defence is so worried by Andy Carroll that huge gaps are emerging elsewhere. Every time Jarvis crosses it causes danger and their keeper makes a fine save from Nolan. Mark Noble goes for a hat-trick but fires his free kick into the wall. Though I’m a little worried by the prospect of a fourth goal and more manlove. Modibo Maiga has replaced Carroll and wins the ball wide on the right. He drifts inside two defenders and curls a delightful finish into the far corner. It’s worth yet more manhugs to see a goal like that.

The West Ham fans have huge fun cheering every pass with cries of “Ole!” and visiting some schadenfreude on the Saints fans as they chant “We’re West Ham United we play on the floor!”

When did we last score four or more in the premier League? It was under Zola in the 5-3 win against Burnley in season 2009-10. A perfect day is completed by visits to the Who Shop and the Newham Bookshop and a text to Nigel telling him that it’s been the greatest second half ever seen at Upton Park. Or at least better than a 1-1 draw at Fleetwood. The addition of Diame, Jarvis and Carroll appears to have taken us a level above the Saints. Fourteen points after eight games – under Avram Grant we didn’t reach that total until December 28 and 20 games. With nearly a quarter of the season gone it’s been quite some start.

Friday, October 19

Sit down if you love West Ham…

Good piece in the Daily Telegraph by Paul Kelso on the future of the Olympic Stadium. He claims that Boris Johnson and the Legacy Company are now considering spending £200 million on installing retractable seats, six years after dismissing the possibility. This means the 25,000 permanent lower seats would be ripped out and replaced with the retractable seating while the supposedly temporary upper seating would remain as part of the stadium. Why they didn't do this in 2006 is a mystery, as Eggert the Eggman was already interested. Retractable seating covering the athletics track would certainly make it more like a football stadium, though there will inevitably be arguments over how much the Olympic Legacy Company contributes and no doubt more complaints from Spurs. But Karren Brady is in a strong negotiating position with WHU as the only feasible option. Sounds like good news to me. Click on the link to read the whole piece.

Wednesday, October 17

Ricardo out

Ricardo Vaz Te won't be scoring when he wants for the next three months, having had surgery on his dislocated shoulder. A shame as he was just coming into form, having scored at QPR. But at least we have options to juggle the formation in Yossi Benayoun, Matt Taylor, Modiba Maiga and Gary O'Neil, while Matt Jarvis is always going to get a stream of crosses in from the left. It will be interesting to see whom Sam selects against Southampton.

Monday, October 15

The Joy of Essex out soon…

My new book The Joy of Essex is published on Oct 30. It features numerous gratuitous references to West Ham being the spiritual home of Essex Man and even how I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles reflects Essex humour, based on irony and an awareness of life's imperfections. Plus lashings of Tiptree jam, sunshine on Leigh, Phill Jupitus, a visit to Minnies boutique, the largest mirror in Essex, Dr Feelgood, Grayson Perry, Ian Dury, Russell Brand, Tilbury Fort, the not-so-secret nuclear bunker, bluebells in Billericay, pier pressure in Southend, curtain shops in Grays, paranormal happenings and dodgy alleyways in Romford, Boudica going mental in Colchester, northern lights in Maldon, Stanford-no-Hope, sculpture in Harlow, Dickens channeled by Alan Sugar and Towie in Chigwell and lots of chip shops. Look back in Ongar and wonder if the only way is Upminster. And remember the author’s only hope of being able to afford a set of electric gates and an infinity pool is if you buy this book…

Friday, October 12

Boa selector

Luis Boa Morte, now 35, has signed for Chesterfield. It all sounds a bit casual for a bloke who once cost WHU £5 million. Chief executive Chris Turner said: "Mark Crossley (goalkeeping coach) played with him at Fulham and bumped into him at a reserve game and asked if he was playing for anyone. He's fit and he's ready to go." Now Boa hopes to play against Dagenham on Saturday.

Beware loan sharks

Bad news from Liverpool in that Borini is now injured and they are down to one fit striker. Will they now attempt to recall Andy Carroll in January? Brendan Rodgers would have to eat all the humble pies on sale at Anfield to do that and claimed on Sunday "we don't do the desperation thing", but then again he must be getting desperate with only Suarez fit. Let's hope Rodgers keeps his job, otherwise a new man will surely try to get Andy back. Meanwhile it's nice to see a West Ham striker in the England squad, fresh from meeting canny lass Kate Middleton at St George's Park and presumably discussing pony-tails. Hopefully he might get a hatful against San Marino.

Tuesday, October 9

Is Morrison unravelling?

Several papers report that Birmingham manager Lee Clark has lost patience with the poor attitude of Ravel Morrison in training and is on the point of trying to end his season-lomng loan deal. Ravel has only started one game for Birmingham so far, on the first day of the season. Interestingly Morrison himself tweets, 'Good morning everyone hope use (sic) all have a good day today and ignore the stuff in the paper about me its NOT one bit true : ) xx' Let's hope it is all untrue, because you wouldn't want to be Morrison facing Big Sam having been returned to sender.

Sunday, October 7

Kick up the Arsenal

West Ham 1 Arsenal 3

There’s no Hammersmith and City line from Kings Cross and no District line at Mile End. It’s reminiscent of the great Avram Grant relegation season when every home game entailed 28 Days Later style treks from Canning Town, Stratford or West Ham. Thankfully there’s a slow service from West Ham to Upton Park, though we’d all assumed the closures had stopped with the Olympics. Still the Gooner librarians get plenty of time with their Kindles on the tube, though for a moment it seems I’ll suffer the embarrassment of being late for a 5.30 kick-off.

In Ken’s Cafe it’s stiff teas all round and a solid turnout of Matt and Lisa, Nigel and CQ, Iain, Jo, Michael the Whovian, fresh from a lunch with the great William Russell (aka Ian Chesterton), Mike O and a fleeting glimpse of DC running for Big Joe’s box. Matt and I note that Giroud hasn’t scored in the league yet for Arsenal so decide he will surely end his duck against us.

It’s the best atmosphere of the season inside the Boleyn Stadium, stoked up by a minute’s applause for the late John Bond. For the first 15 minutes it’s all Arsenal and their pretty passing, inspired by the tiny Carzorla. Jussi tips away a shot from Giroud within two minutes and Carroll heads away a goalbound effort from Giroud.

But all that changes after 15 minutes. Mystic Matt has just said that we haven’t seen much of Diame, as McCartney finds the powerful Senegalese midfielder wide on the left. Diame shows great skill to cut inside two defenders and from a tight angle curls a lovely shot across goal and into the top of Mannone’s net. He runs to the West Stand making a “calm down” gesture as Upton Park erupts.

West Ham have a good spell after this with Andy Carroll making good contact with a free header from a corner but heading straight at Mannone. We might only have made Arsenal angry though. Diame loses the ball in midfield and the ball is fed wide to Podolski, who sends in an inviting cross to the near post. Giroud gets behind Collins and scores a fine poacher’s goal. Bugger. Another striker ends his drought against us.

We nearly get a second just before half time when Carroll half-wins a header in the box and Nolan prods the ball wide.

It’s 1-1 at the break as Matt reveals that he’s been to a thrilling 0-0 draw between Rochdale and Bradford in midweek, while groundhopper Nigel is opting for a trip to Fleetwood instead of attending the Southampton game. Beach Boys fan Fraser, a man who has seen John Bond play, simply wants some Good Vibrations from three points.

The Irons have a storming start to the second half with Bubbles echoing around the ground. Andy Carroll beats Mannone to a diagonal cross but heads just wide of the empty goal. Kevin Nolan hesitates in a one-on-one allowing Mertesacker to get in a tackle. 

West Ham’s rhythm is disrupted when Vaz Te falls awkwardly after challenging the keeper and suffers a dislocated shoulder. Demel pulls up with a hamstring tweak and is replaced by Tomkins. Diame makes some storming runs forward and does really well to advance on the left on 77 minutes. But his poor cross is easily cut out and Arsenal break swiftly. Substitute Theo Walcott is suddenly through on the left, outpacing McCartney and slotting the ball home into the corner of the net. “You only sing when you’re winning!” chant the West Ham fans at the celebrating Gooners.

West Ham have another chance to equalize when McCartney cleverly finds Jarvis and his cross falls for Nolan on the edge of the box, only for Kev to flash his volley over. It’s the sort of chance he normally buries.

The game’s over in the 83rd minute when Carzorla receives Walcott’s ball on the edge of the box and curls a brilliant effort into the top corner. The Spaniard looks as good as Febregas on this form. The geezer in front of us blames Jussi, but it’s an unstoppable effort.

Diame goes off injured too and there’s still time for Matt Taylor to have a stinging effort turned away by Mannone. Andy Carroll plays the full 90 minutes through necessity and avoids injury, partnering Carlton Cole for the last 15 minutes.

In a way it’s encouraging that we feel we ought to have got a point out of this. Arsenal look a really good side and we’ve missed several chances against them and pushed them to the end. Sam will be saying yet again that we need to be more clinical.

We head to the Central to escape the mayhem at the station and find a table with a gingham tablecloth and an oven full of pies as the pub’s latest move into the gastro market. Still no real ale though, just some terrible karaoke. 

Had we drawn at QPR and drawn with Arsenal we’d have been happy, so three points against Rangers and none against Arsenal is still an OK return. Two weeks off to reflect on this now. We won’t meet many sides that can pass it like the Arse and it’s worth remembering that a year ago we were struggling to beat the likes of Peterborough and Ipswich at home.

Wednesday, October 3

It's just like watching Madrid...

Interesting piece by Neil Ashton in the Daily Mail today looking at Opta stats for long balls, defined as passes over 25 yards. Seems we play fewer than Real Madrid and less than Newcastle, Everton, Reading and Wigan. Even Barcelona play 59 per match. When is a long ball a great long pass? Maybe it is all perception, as Big Sam says... Ashton also nails the myth that Hammers spend all their time at training rehearsing long balls. Click on the link to read.

Tuesday, October 2

He scores when he wants…

Queens Park Rangers 1 West Ham United 2

Big Joe, Mike and myself arrive at Loftus Road in time to purchase QPR’s 3D programme, which minus 3D glasses is pretty useless, just a prog full of slightly fuzzy images. Inside the School End we discover that our £43 seats offer six inches width and an intimate knowledge of the person wedged beside you. Thankfully it isn’t Stevie Bacon.

The ground is tiny compared to Upton Park and QPR can’t even fill all their stands. The packed West Ham end immediately get stuck into our ex goalkeeper with a chorus of “Robert Green… Can you see us from the bench?”

QPR have a reserve defence but a decent strike force in Zamora and the white-haired Cisse, who immediately gets a chant of “he’s got birdshit on his head!” Surprisingly, Kieron Dyer is injured.

West Ham take the lead after three minutes. Vaz Te gets to the byline and finds Nolan, who scuffs his shot up in the air. It turns into a great cross for Jarvis who drifts in on the left side of goal to direct a header past Cesar.

“One nil to the Cockney Boys!’ is followed by “Just like the Emirates… we'll sing on our own!” and “Robert Green… he sits on the bench!”

West Ham look quicker to everything. The excellent Diame has a shot deflected inches wide and Noble is having one of his best ever games for West Ham.

Wright-Phillips troubles O’Brien and has a few dangerous crosses for QPR. After Wright=Phillips wins a free kick, Reid is down for ages having been punched by Jussi in a goalmouth melee. Tomkins comes on to partner Collins and O'Brien is injured too, replaced by McCartney.

On 35 minutes we go two up. There’s an almighty scramble in the box and Tomkins swivels well to swing in a cross from the right. Vaz Te, who has a lean and hungry look, finishes with an imperious flick of his boot past Cesar. “He scores when he wants!” erupts from the Irons end.

“Greeno Greeno what’s the score!” is directed at the bench. Followed by “You should have stayed with a big club!”

No-one can quite believe it. Cisse has a volley tipped over by Jaaskelainen, but it can’t stop the WHU jukebox of “Oh Christian Dailly…” and “My name is Ludek Miklosko!”

Zamora gets a nostalgic version of "He came from White Hart Lane…" and then "We love Bobby more than you!" is chanted at the Rangers fans.

West Ham take the game to QPR early in the second half, looking for a third. Nolan finds Diame on the right of the box and Cesar makes a fine save from his volley.

Mark Hughes brings on Adel Taarabt, who is wearing gloves on a humid night and the Moroccan brings Rangers right back into it with a brilliant dipping shot from outside the area. Not much anyone can do about that. QPR are inspired by this and Granero has a shot palmed away by Jussi.

To Allardyce and the side’s credit, West Ham keep going forward searching for the third. Nolan finds Cole with a perfect through ball and Carlton Cole pulls a great chance wide. He’s worked hard defensively tonight, but time and injuries appear to be catching up with Carlton.

Meanwhile referee Mark Clattenburg has gone on a yellow card spree booking a record eight West Ham players and two from QPR, while sub Diakete is sent off after just twenty minutes on the pitch for a second booking when he brings down Demel. It’s not even a dirty game, keenly contested but no really bad tackles. Jaaskelainen and Tomkins are booked for timewasting towards the end and we wonder if he’s going to book someone in the crowd for looking at him in a funny manner.

Andy Carroll comes on for Cole and although short of match fitness brings other people into the game and lays the ball off well. From a Jarvis cross Carroll knocks it back to Vaz Te on the edge of the area. His volley is tipped on to the bar by Cesar.

It’s a thrilling game, with Jarvis and sub McCartney making several surges down the left wing and at the other end Faurlin has a shot partied by Jaaskelainen. Collins gets in some fine blocks throughout the match. Clattenburg opts for six minutes of added time, presumably for the time it’s taken to card everyone. Why not just book Demel, Vaz Te and Carroll too, just to complete the set? And what an oversight letting O’Brien and Reid go off injured without first carding them.

“West Ham till I die!” sees the side through a nerve-wracking six minutes and we get three points that will be vital at the end of the season. Poor old Robert Green warms down after a tough session of bench warming.“Bubbles” and “Tottenham Hotspur we’re coming for you!” echoes round White City tube as we leave. At Baker Street in The Volunteer Mike and myself enjoy an apt pint of Redemption. It’s been a very encouraging night. Diame and Noble have dominated midfield, Nolan has got tackles in too, Jarvis has been excellent on the left, until Carroll came on we played mainly on the floor and we should have won by more. Not bad for a newly promoted side. Though the fans who started singing “We’re all going on a European tour!’” might have been stretching it a bit...

Monday, October 1

West Ham Reunited at QPR

Off to Loftus Road later. Are QPR trying to recreate the Great Escape side? They have Robert Green, now consigned to their reserves, Anton Ferdinand and Bobby Zamora from the team that won at Old Trafford to secure survival in the Tevez season. And bizarrely they also have one Kieron Dyer, whom I believe was on the pay roll at West Ham though we rarely saw him. Dyer has actually played a couple of matches recently so may even figure against us. Meanwhile an interview with Sam Allardyce in yesterday's Observer... Interesting to note the role he thinks gossip plays in football and also that he thinks West Ham fans value passion above pretty football, which is only partially true. Sam also confirms that much of Nolan's role is to galvanise the dressing room, although as the Guardian said there is an "underrated athleticism" to his finishing. Hopefully Jarvis, Maiga and Yossi might get games tonight. Irons!