Friday, October 31

Do West Ham have strength in depth?

Big Sam suggests our squad will be most severely tested in November and December in today's Evening Standard. Certainly injuries might start to mount and players who have performed in the World Cup like Enner Valencia might suffer.  But looking at our squad it's a lot stronger than last season. I'm assuming our best team is Adrian: Jenkinson, Tomkins, Reid, Cresswell; Song, Noble, Kouyate, Downing; Valencia, Sakho. So in reserve that leaves Demel, Collins and O'Brien in defence, who can all do a decent job. In midfield there's Amalfitani, who looks a really good player, Kevin Nolan who can come on and score a goal, plus Poyet who is promising, and £9 million Matt Jarvis. While up front we have options with the £15 million Andy Carroll, Mauro Zarate and Carlton Cole. So that's ten quality reserves in the squad, plus Ravel Morrison, currently on loan at Cardiff, if he can ever fulfil his potential and Jussi as our back-up keeper. All of which leaves me feeling fairly optimistic for the season.

Wednesday, October 29

Trevor Brooking: My Life in Football

You don’t buy a Trevor Brooking autobiography for controversy. Brooking is such a decent man he doesn’t really want to offend anyone in the game. There are hints that he found his early career under Ron Greenwood frustrating (“Ron didn’t like to upset his big name players”), although Brooking also emphasises what a fantastic coach he thought Greenwood was.

Very little is mentioned about the boozy antics of the 1960s and 1970s players, with even Jimmy Greaves’ alcoholism described as “personal problems”. Though the normally tee-total Brooking was forced to have a whisky with Scottish centre back John Cushley to wet his baby’s head, and got so carried away he had a sip of champagne to celebrate getting to the 1976 Cup Winners’ Cup Final.

Similarly the chapters on his time as a director at West Ham don’t reveal very much new about the fall out between Billy Bonds and Harry Redknapp or why Redknapp was sacked. Though it's interesting that he is very clear that he had a major say in appointing Roy Hodgson as England boss instead of Redknapp and that he still believes Hodgson was the right choice.

The most interesting chapters are on Trevor’s spells managing West Ham. Here there’s a hint that a much steelier character lurks beneath his affable persona. He clearly finds Paolo Di Canio a bit of a prima donna, but realises his talent might keep West Ham up and so makes the trip to Chigwell to win him over. When Edouard Cisse throws his boots across the changing room after being substituted, “I laughed. I wasn’t too bothered about who I upset. I had nothing to lose. We needed to win and I had to do what I thought was right.”

When Sebastien Schemmel objects to being included in the squad for the final game when he’s already booked a ferry to France, Brooking says, “Non!” You feel Brooking might have made a good manager. As he writes: “I can be forthright and decisive when I need to be and years later as chairman of Sport England I think I surprised some important people by demonstrating that side of my nature on several occasions.”

My Life in Football often just repeats match facts without any deeper analysis, but it certainly brings back some great memories. Brooking’s goal for England in Hungary that lodged in the stanchion, a magnificent performance in Europe against Eintracht Frankfurt, that headed FA Cup Final winner against Arsenal and many a body shuffle and cross.

Brooking has some good points to make about the modern game; too few payers are comfortable receiving the ball sideways on and not enough players are two footed. Trevor’s policeman father made him practice for hours with both feet and that made him twice the player he might have been.

The book also reveals that he watched West Ham as a fan when he was a child and turned down interest from Liverpool to remain with the club after relegation. Such loyalty would be inconceivable today and rightly means that Sir Trevor remains a West Ham legend.

My Life in Football by Trevor Brooking is published by Simon and Schuster, price £20.

Tuesday, October 28

We've not got Sakho in the morning?

Diafra Sakho hasn't broken his shoulder, though West Han now face an anxious wait while he sees a specialist to learn the extent of the damage he suffered late on against Man City. He seems certain to miss the game at Stoke, so presumably we now have the option of either adding Kouyate to a five-man midfield or giving Carlton Cole a game up front. I'd favour starting with CC for his height against Stoke and his ability to defend, but theres no doubting that the absence of Sakho - who scores when he wants - is going to be a big loss.

Sunday, October 26

We're not really here!

West Ham 2 Manchester City 1

Have to watch this one in the Famous Cock Tavern in Upper Street as I’m supporting Her Indoors at her Islington Faces blog roadshow at the King’s Head Theatre at 3pm. Still, it’s not as if I’ll miss an epic win or anything… and there is a Pearly King coming. The coffee and Doombar are good in the Cock, though Michael Owen’s summarising makes Phil Neville sound as animated as Russell Brand.

City come at us for the first ten minutes and Silva fires a free kick just over. But West Ham start to impose themselves in midfield through Noble, Amalfitano and the excellent Song. A straight free kick sees Sakho win a header and Valencia fire into the onrushing Hart, who is winded making the save.

Incredibly, we score after 21 minutes. Song dissects the defence with a superb through ball. Valencia outspeeds Mangala and crosses behind a defender for Amalfitano to tap home. Amalfitano (who’s been booked already) leaps into the Bobby Moore stand followed by Sakho. We’re not really here!

Dzeko flicks just over from a City corner, but West Ham continue to really test the City defence. Sakho crosses, a City defender heads it across the box and Downing heads over when he probably should have got it on target. Just before the break Adrian saves with his feet from Aguero and we go in 1-0 up.

Predictably City come at West Ham at the start of the second half, though Kompany is lucky to escape a second yellow for a push on Valencia. We almost score a second when Song performs a rabona (I could only do a Ribena in my playing days) and Downing volleys wide.

Collins makes a brilliant block from Aguero after Adrian’s save. Throughout the second half Winston Reid proves he’s one of the best defenders in the Premier League. One tackle is almost Moore-esque and we need to get him to sign an improved contract now.

West Ham have some luck as Toure powers through, Aguero strikes the bar and Adrian makes a fine reaction stop to deny Toure from the rebound.

It’s a great game. Sakho chips over after a fine WHU move and then Toure curls a shot on to the bar for City.

On 75 minutes Cresswell plays in a fantastic cross and Sakho outjumps the defence to power in a header. Hart scoops it away but as the TV cameras prove, it’s a foot over the line. Diafra runs to the Chicken Run and performs a silly dance. Blimey. Six in six games for the bargain striker.

We can’t get too excited though, as two minutes later Silva waltzes around three defenders to curl in a superb goal. Two-one up against the Champions with 13 minutes left —what could possibly go wrong?

Valencia is replaced by Cole while Kouyate has reinforced the midfield as we try to hold out. Bubbles rings around the ground as if it’s the 1970s. I nervously sip at my pint of Doombar. Jovetic produces a fine tip over from Adrian. Lisa sends a text saying simply “Aaaargh!” during added time. Sakho has to go off with a shoulder injury which is a worry and Nolan replaces him. There’s five minutes of added time.  Jenkinson relieves the pressure with one last run into the City box and the whistle blows. Fantastic result!

“Hell of a performance that. So different from last season,” texts Matt. “Rubbish game, you didn’t miss much… apart from our best performance for years!” texts Nigel, helpfully. Fraser is (possibly) suggesting that he never doubted Big Sam and smoking a victory cigar. Sixteen bloody points! We’re forth!

There’s still time for Russell Brand to kiss Big Sam in the TV interview room, though Sam should perhaps remember the example of Katy Perry and not be seduced by the Grays lothario. What a day. Six-nil away at City seems a long time ago now.

PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 8; Jenkinson 7, Collins 7, Reid 8, Cresswell 7; Amalfitano 7 (Kouyate 6), Noble 7, Song 9, Downing 7; Sakho 8 (Nolan 5), Valencia 8 (Cole 6).

Friday, October 24

Super Stewart Downing (and Carlton Cole!)

Some interesting statistics in Robbie Savage's piece on West Ham's revival on For example, Stewart Downing has completed three assists so far, which is one more than the whole of last season. Playing at the top of the midfield diamond Downing's created 25 chances so far, which puts him right up among the Premier League's top creators. The other revelation is that our most efficient striker is in fact good old Carlton Cole, who has scored two goals from five shots, and has 80 per cent shooting accuracy. Poor old Diafra Sakho has to make do with five goals from 14 shots (and 50 per cent shooting accuracy), while Valencia has two goals from 12 shots (42 per cent accuracy). Carlton Cole was our most productive striker last season too, with six goals from 19 shots.

A long way to go yet, but with even Robbie Savage being nice about us and Kouyate possibly coming back against Man City and even rumours of Andy Carroll getting closer to fitness, things are looking good at WHU. All we have to do is beat the wealthiest team on the planet. What could possibly go wrong?

Sunday, October 19

Champions League? We're having a laugh…

Burnley 1 West Ham 3

We’ve just come out of Electra at the Old Vic (a sort of ancient Greek version of EastEnders) when my mobile tells me that West Ham have won at Burnley and gone into fourth place. “Looks like it’s between West Ham and Southampton for the title,” I text to Nigel, who replies, “More relevantly, it’s 13 points towards avoiding relegation.”

Still, when we were last in the top four? Match of the Day reveals an early scare when Burnley’s Boyd hits the bar. The Clarets have more of the play in the first half, although Downing also hits the post after a great run inside from the right wing.

West Ham go two up in the second half with both goals coming from crosses from our new young energetic overlapping full-backs. Cresswell crosses from the left for Sakho to head home his sixth in sixth games. Then Jenkinson crosses from the right for Valencia to bullet home a tremendous header. He’s scored three for Equador during the break and it’s another quality finish for WHU.

Substitute Carlton Cole has a header cleared off the line but disappointingly West Ham then let Burnley back into the game as Adrian makes a complete mess of gathering a corner and the ball spills to a grateful Boyd to scoop home. Ings then sees a good header fly just wide of Adrian’s post. (Ings can only get better?)

But West Ham produce some character to clinch the game. Downing wins a corner and from the set piece Sakho heads across goal for Carlton Cole to head home from a yard out. Nice moment for Carlton who never complains about being a sub but is now our joint second top scorer. And ironically we’ve scored three headers with Andy Carroll out injured…

There’s still time for Burnley to hit the bar, but it's been an entertaining game and we’re fourth (at least until Man United play). A fine 60th birthday present for Big Sam. Yes, Burnley are winless and our defence looked wobbly at times, but it’s another great win. What can we complain about now?

Friday, October 17

Big Sam at 60

Quite a few articles on Big Sam celebrating his 60th birthday this Sunday, and some people getting irate online about him saying that getting sacked at Newcastle deprived him of his chance of managing a bigger club. I can't see that's being disrespectful to West Ham, as he presumably means the likes of Man United, Man City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool, all of whom have been Champions League regulars. And it's worth noting that in the Daily Express the full text reads: "But as plain old Sam Allardyce approaches his 60th birthday on Sunday, he finally accepts he will never get a chance to manage a really big club. Unless he says with the fire of ambition still burning in his eyes, he can turn West Ham into one." 

So far this season I'm happy with what Big Sam has achieved. He's proved that provided with better players he can adapt the system and produce entertaining football and playing Downing at the top of the midfield diamond is looking inspired. Admittedly the last three seasons have seen much functional football, but let's give Sam some credit for getting the club promoted first time and keeping us in the Premier League for two seasons. Yes, Allardyce can at times be a PR disaster with the fans, but if we'd failed to come straight back up we could be floundering where Bolton and Fulham are now.
Unless, he says with the fire of ambition still burning in his eyes, he can turn West Ham into one.

Tuesday, October 14

We've only got one Song

The player that has really impressed so far out of the new signings is Alex Song. Sakho's got the goals, but Song has dominated midfield and provided a brilliant anchor in front of defence. It says a lot for his ability that West Ham have hardly missed injured midfielders Nolan, Kouyate and Noble. You don't get to play for Barcelona if you're a bad player and it's frankly rather surprising West Ham managed to get him. The Cameroon international looks like just the sort of midfield player his old club Arsenal need to back-up their Fancy Dans. No surprise to hear rumours that Liverpool might try to sign Song at the end of the season. But his cousin Rigobert Song, who spent a season at Upton Park, is apparently like a second father to him (Alex's dad died when he was three) and recommended West Ham to him, so let's hope he likes life at Upton Park enough to stay.

Thursday, October 9

Bobby Moore: The Man In Full

Matt Dickinson’s Bobby Moore: The Man In Full is a fine read. Though the main thing you feel after reading this book is what a lost opportunity the later Moore years were for West Ham. It started off tremendously with the 1964 FA Cup and 1965 Cup Winners Cup wins, but before the 1966 World Cup victory Moore was keen on a move to Spurs and only signed an emergency one-month contract on the eve of the World Cup. The year before he’d had cancer (covered up as a groin injury) and the England captain had a testicle removed. You have to admire the bravery and stoicism of the man.

When England won the World Cup, Moore discovered that there was no way West Ham would ever sell him. Ron Greenwood was a fantastic coach but a poor manager of men, and Moore, more insecure than his calm persona suggests, wanted someone to tell him he was a great player occasionally. He also responded well to having big name players around him and Dickinson suggests that West Ham’s stupid refusal to sign Gordon Banks because of Ron Greenwood’s principles and their lack of other star signings helped contribute to Moore’s disillusion.

Dickinson writes of West Ham’s reputation as a drinking club in the late 1960s with crates of lager in the treatment room. He reveals one new signing was told that as long as he could stand at the bar at the Black Lion he was fit enough to play for West Ham. Even Jimmy Greaves was shocked by the boozing at the club. By the time of the infamous 1971 Blackpool nightclub incident when Moore, Dear, Greaves and Clyde Best went clubbing on the eve of an FA Cup tie the drinking culture had become toxic. Moore played many great games for West Ham, but at times Greenwood felt he coasted, and with three World Cup winners the side hugely underachieved. The club needed a stronger manager than Greenwood to get the best from him.

Moore’s love of lager is fully explored and Dickinson details one session where Moore and pals downed 20 cans each. Mooro would try to sweat off his sessions the next morning, but he could certainly have prolonged his career without the boozing and you wonder if the alcohol contributed to his bowel cancer.

It’s a shame that when the end came Moore signed for Fulham after the West Ham board refused to deal with the brash Brian Clough. The Derby boss might have extracted the best from Moore during his final years.

Moore was a difficult man to get to know, but Dickinson reveals much about his personality through his compulsive neatness and his obsessive ordering of his shirts, coded by colour from light to dark. He describes how combating his lack of pace and aerial ability through positioning and intercepting the ball made Moore the great player he was. His other great asset was calmness on and off the pitch, as exemplified by the Bogata bracelet arrest and his reaction to it at the 1970 World Cup when he produced "that tackle by Moore".

Dickinson covers the way the game ignored Moore after his retirement and is not aftraid to mention rumours of unwise friends among the East End underworld. Moore’s ex-wife Tina thinks that like many people, some gangsters wanted to be associated with Bobby through being seen at the same venues, but that was at far as it went.

Dickinson does wonder why Moore chose to buy the Blind Beggar, scene of an infamous Kray Twins murder. The arson attack on the Woolston Hall country club that Moore invested in was because another director was thought to be a grass, claims Dickinson. Though he fails to discover why Moore appeared to have “his own personal arsonist” as his ill-advised pub ventures floundered.

Moore was a poor businessman and wouldn’t have been a good manager, even if he had found a bigger club than Oxford City or Southend, believes Dickinson, because the England captain disliked confrontation. Although he would have been a tremendous smartly-dressed diplomat for West Ham or the FA. Moore knew he was dying at the end and like everything else in his life, he greeted death with dignity and stoicism.

This is a riveting read and a vivid portrayal of a genius with some very human flaws.

 Bobby Moore: The Man In Full is published by Yellow Jersey, price £20