Monday, March 31

We only play short balls?

One thing West Ham didn't do against Hull was play long ball. If anything the problem was too many short balls going nowhere. It seems like this was a deliberate tactic reading Sam Allardyce's Evening Standard column, where he says the plan was "to spend more time on the ball, to wear down 10-man Hull - it wasn't so much about getting forward quickly — and that seemed to frustrate the fans." It worked in terms of the result, though to me it seems a case of worrying too much about the opposition rather than playing our natural game and tiring them out through getting a second. Hull keeper McGregor's sending off has now been rescinded so let's hope he recovers from a nasty kidney injury. Meanwhile we're going to the Lucky Pub tonight for the Sunderland match - and anyone caught booing their own side will be forced to buy the next round.

Friday, March 28

Win or lose we're on the boos?

Well, a lot of media coverage has been generated by the reaction to West Ham's victory over Hull on Wednesday. Firstly, I'd say the booing was only coming from a small minority of fans. What I heard at the end of the game on the East Stand was more a stunned silence after an emotionally draining game and a fortuitous victory. Though as Patrick Barclay in the Evening Standard pointed out yesterday, it's not a crime to boo as fans pay the players' wages through gate money and TV subscriptions. It's been made into a big story because of Sam Allardyce's thin-skinned reaction to it. Had he not cocked his ear to the fans or commented on it in post-match interviews the story wouldn't have been half as big.

Winning is important to West Ham fans, especially in a season like this, but reared on the teams of Greenwood, Lyall and Redknapp they also want entertainment and some fantasy. As Big Sam says you can't win every game in style, but once survival is secured we have to improve to fill those seats at the Olympic Stadium and the board has to decide whether Allardyce can evolve his side beyond a solid outfit that can win games when playing badly or playing on the break and having a minority of possession. What the team needs is a player who can raise the crowd, be it through Bonds-like commitment or Di Canio-esque skill, and a striker to support Andy Carroll. Allardyce's record is good - promotion and hopefully two seasons of consolidation. But bearing in mind his confrontational style and the fact a certain section of the crowd will never take to him, will the board opt for a name like Michael Laudrup in the summer as today's Daily Telegraph suggests? Clearly the Davids have some thinking to do over the summer.

Thursday, March 27

This could be heaven or this could be Hull

West Ham 2 Hull City 1

In Ken’s Café Big Phill is reminiscing about his bound copies of Fortune’s Always Hiding while Mike mentions his collectors’ items programmes from friendlies in Frankfurt and China. Matt is absent at the Ritz Hotel, where he’s having tea to celebrate his mum’s birthday, and arrives at the stadium in a suit recommending Lapsang and Darjeeling tea and cucumber sandwiches for Ken’s.

Can we dazzle under the lights? Downing has a low shot tipped away by McGregor after five minutes but after that the game becomes scrappy. Collins has to go off with an injury after nine minutes and there’s a collective gasp as, with Reid injured, Roger Johnson has to come on. To be fair to Johnson, he does the simple things well and has a decent game.

West Ham take the lead after 26 minutes when Diame races into the box, controls the ball with his hand, and is clattered by keeper McGregor. He still manages to dink the ball over the keeper but the ball is cleared off the line. McGregor is down for ages with an injured kidney and after consulting the lino ref Mike Dean sends the keeper off and awards a penalty. Mark Noble converts and Statto Matt says Nobes has now scored 19 out of 21 penalties.

Going ahead against ten men seems to make West Ham nervous though and Hull dominate possession. Added time in the first half goes on forever as Huddlestone shoots over and Figueroa forces a good save from Adrian with a fierce shot.

Dare we go out for the second half?
At half time Fraser reveals that it’s his birthday and that the other time he saw us play on his birthday Paolo Di Canio scored the Premiership’s greatest goal. He then starts reminiscing about Budgie Byrne and quite possibly seeing Syd Puddefoot play as a nipper.

West Ham hardly create a chance in the second half. Nolan does well to find Downing on the edge of the box but he blazes his shot over. Huddlestone and Livermore continue to control midfield and Taylor, Noble, Diame and Nolan don’t seem to be able to do anything about it, even against ten men. The crowd becomes restless. Two minutes into the half Taylor gives away a silly free kick, the Vicar’s Son next to me gets very cross about it, and Huddlestone’s shot is somewhat luckily deflected into the net by Jelavic.

Six minutes later West Ham score a bizarre goal. Demel crosses from the right and under no pressure Chester slices the ball off his thigh and into his own net.

“Nolan can’t say that we’re not getting the luck anymore,” remarks Nigel.

“Another classic goal to mark Fraser’s birthday,” I suggest.

West Ham spend the rest of the game on the backfoot. Diame is replaced by Joe Cole after 69 minutes, which is a strange substitution. We look jaded and lacking in confidence as the midfield wilts and Downing plays the ball backwards, while Carroll looks disheartened and is suffering from two games in four days. The only consolation is that Tomkins has a fine game holding the defence together and Johnson does well too.

Tom Huddlestone, who sounds like a character from Dickens, forces Adrian into another save and Chester heads over.

“F***ing hell Demel… Taylor get off the pitch!” hollers the Vicar’s Son.

Nigel suggests a conscious uncoupling between ourselves and West Ham. ”We could use the time to read the collected works of Dickens instead, as we’ve certainly seen plenty of Hard Times.”

Typically, the previously anonymous Nolan comes alive close to the end to fire in a great shot that Harper tips away and late on Taylor gets in a good position to finally find Carroll with a cross but blazes a shot wide instead.

Added time sees us hopefully playing the ball in the corners and the final whistle is greeted by either silence or a few boos. It’s actually a vital win, though we’ve been lucky to win when playing badly.

We retreat to the pub and Matt suggests there can’t be many people who have been to both the Ritz and the Boleyn in one day. Fraser buys two copies of Ex magazine as a birthday treat. News of Sam Allardyce’s reaction to the booing comes through on the internet. "I've never been in a place where we've won and got booed," says Big Sam.

We agree that it would be much better PR to ignore it and just say we didn’t play well but it was a great win. Nigel likens Big Sam to John Prescott, an outwardly bellicose man who is actually very thin-skinned. Cupping his ear to the crowd just turns the booing into a story. And having a row with your own fans usually only ends in one thing.

Allardyce’s comments are proof that he doesn’t understand the DNA of West Ham fans, who will be going to matches long after he or any other manager has departed. We all paid £50 or so for the game and we want character, entertainment and some attacking verve, rather than just defending a lead. I don’t agree with booing your own side, but the fans are not stupid either, and could see that West Ham had been lucky to win through a bizarre own goal and had spent most the game defending against ten men, so their frustration was understandable. There’s also an undercurrent of bemusement about the Ravel Morrison situation, which isn’t helping.

Having said that, it was a massive result that will hopefully instil some confidence in the side and result in some better football against Sunderland. The victory was a welcome step towards survival, though on this evidence there is much rebuilding to be done in the summer.

PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 6; Demel 6, Tomkins 7, Collins 5 (Johnson 6), McCartney 5; Downing 5, Nolan 5, Taylor 4, Noble 5, Diame 6 (J Cole 5), Carroll 5.

Tuesday, March 25

His name is Ludek Miklosko

Interesting article by Jim White in Saturday's Daily Telegraph on the day West Ham denied Manchester United the league title by drawing 1-1 with them at Upton Park in 1995, inspired by heroics in goal from Ludek Miklosko, who comes from near Moscow (allegedly). It contains an example of the professionalism of West Ham's squad in those days, with Martin Allen telling White why Ludo played so well: “Ludo was the only one of us who warmed up before kick-off. I remember Julian Dicks pointing to him and saying: 'what’s he doing?'” 

West Ham win non-West Ham match

To quote Phil Whelans at Stop! Hammer Time, the West Ham podcast, QPR's win at Middlesbrough was "the first case of West Ham winning a non-West Ham match since 1966", with Rangers' goals coming from Benayoun, Zamora and Morrison. Zamora's added time goal was the result of an absolutely classic goalkeeping howler that even Bobby couldn't put into Row Z, while Morrison scored another great shot from a tight angle, his fifth for Rangers.

Monday, March 24

Wayne's worldie sees off Hammers

The team that meets in caffs
West Ham 0 Manchester United 2

Inside Ken’s Café the bespectacled Big Joe is receiving a ribbing over his uncanny resemblance to a picture of the young Arsene Wenger on the front of the Sun’s football section. Nigel arrives rehashing his joke about Danny Welbeck’s dad Stan, who was in the bomb disposal corps, Matt’s just come off the night shift and is giving away copies of Who Invented The Stepover?, while Michael the Whovian has tales of fans queuing for four hours to meet Tom Baker. We’re slightly buoyed by the fact that Van Persie is out and Carrick is playing as emergency centre back for United, though any team in crisis normally comes good against West Ham.

‘These local derbies are always difficult,” quips Nigel looking at the Cockney Reds in the away section. There’s a warning early on when Fellaini’s header is kicked off the line by Andy Carroll. It all starts to go wrong after seven minutes. Rooney gives a subtle nudge into Tomkins’ back, meaning he misses his header, the ball bounces and Rooney, spotting Adrian off his line, half volleys over our keeper from just over the halfway line. It’s a great piece of skill and a Beckhamesque moment, even though some might say it was a long ball if West Ham did it. The last time we saw a West Ham keeper lobbed from the hallway line was probably Mervyn Day.

There’s some brief hope for West Ham as Downing does well to skip past Rafael and gets in a good cross that Carroll, under pressure, heads straight at De Gea. We’re not playing well though, and Taylor, Diame and Noble are misfiring in midfield. Fellaini is dominating midfield and Mata looks much more at home behind Rooney. Kagawa forces a save and then Young finds Mata and his shot from the edge of the box produces a sharp stop from Adrian. West Ham’s best chance is a free kick on the edge of the area that Carroll fires into the wall.

On 33 minutes Nolan goes down in the United box and claims a penalty only for the ball to go downfield and Young to cross. Noble tries to clear in the box but miscues and directs the ball straight to Rooney and it rebounds off Wayne into the net. 

Most of us predict a big defeat at half-time, but West Ham at least improve a little after the break, winning more possession and pressing on the United goal. But too many high balls are aimed at Carroll and Jones and Fellaini head everything away. Michael Carrick shows what a good player he is as he strolls through the game at the back. Jarvis comes on for Diame and Cole for Nolan, and it makes some difference, Jarvis’s inviting cross being missed by both Cole and Carroll. But soon it’s back to Downing and Jarvis getting into good crossing positions and finding the keeper or Jones’ head. United never look in real danger and late on Nocerino is fortunate not to concede a penalty as he clashes with the onrushing Fellaini in the box.

The result is inevitable. We’ve kickstarted Fellaini’s United career and maybe solved United’s problems at the back through making Carrick look like Franz Beckenbauer. Matt says he may be late on Wednesday as he’s having birthday tea at the Ritz Hotel with his parents – middle-class football fans, eh? Wonder if they get numbers like at Ken’s Café?

The United fans head off home to Surrey while Fraser, Matt and Michael the Whovian meet his mate Nick in the Central. I manage to get the last bottle of Speckled Hen and the barmaid apologises that it’s not cold — CAMRA needs to visit these parts and soon. We decline the lady with the dodgy dvds again and see endless repeats of the Rooney goal on the big screen. Three defeats in a row and we’re all starting to worry again – victory against Hull on Wednesday is vital.

PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 5; Demel 5, Collins 6, Tomkins 5, McCartney 6; Downing 6, Noble 5, Taylor 5 (Nocerino 4), Diame 5 (Jarvis 5), Nolan 5 (Cole 5), Carroll 6.

Tuesday, March 18

Are QPR now West Ham Old Boys?

Ravel Morrison scored another two goals for Queens Park Rangers on Saturday while their third against Yeovil was headed home by one Bobby Zamora. Indeed Rangers seem in danger of turning into West Ham Old Boys as they have Rob Green in goal plus Modibo Maiga and Yossi Benayoun on the bench and Harry Redknapp as gaffer. Could all that claret and blue blood be behind their blowing automatic promotion in favour of the nerve-shredding play-offs?

Sunday, March 16

Arnie terminates West Ham

Stoke City 3 West Ham 1

It’s on to the 11am train from Euston to Stoke, arriving at 12.24. As my late mum came from Stoke I’m in the home end today with Terry, my second cousin once removed. We enjoy a pint or three of Marston’s Pedigree with Terry’s pals Andrew, Adam and Mark in the Gardeners Arms and buy copies of The Oatcake, Stoke’s rather good fanzine, from the behind bar. Then it’s a beery walk along the canal and by the incinerator, past The Oatcake Barge that sells, surprisingly enough, oatcakes, and over more industrial wasteground to the Britannia on a windy hill overlooking Stoke. It’s a clear sunny day in the Potteries.

Quite a strange selection from Big Sam, replacing Collins with Reid, Taylor with Nocerino and Jarvis with Diame. All these players need games but is it wise to change a side that has only lost one in six?

Hammers look good early on with Carroll having a shot blocked and Diame making incursions down the flank. After four minutes Noble is brought down in front of the box. He flights the free kick to Sandy Carroll who bravely beats Begovic to the punch and heads into the unguarded net. One-nil to the Cockney Boys. I try not to smile among the Stokies. AC runs arms outstretched towards the Stokies.

“Is this a library?” chant the away fans. Bubbles sees a response from the Boothen End of “You’ve only got one song!”

Soon after West Ham’s goal a low cross and Ireland’s shot forces Adrian into a fine save. But Carroll is causing Shawcross problems every time the ball is played to him and West Ham have a decent first twenty minutes, spraying the ball around quite well and winning several free kicks. Random Shouter behind us bellows, “It’s f***ing football not f***ing netball referee!” as Noble wins yet another decision. Carroll fires another shot wide.

But Stoke start to dig in and win a corner on 28 minutes. Crouch gets above Tomkins to send a header into the ground that bounces up on to the bar. He acrobatically manages to scissor kick the ball back into goal as it deflects off Odemwinjie's shoulder into the net. All even. In added time of the first half Ireland gets though again but fires against Adrian.

It’s all West Ham for the first ten minutes of the second half. Tomkins hoofs the ball upfield and Nolan and Carroll play a great one two to send the big Geordie clear on the right. His shot is low and hard but Begovic makes a great save with his feet. Allardyce replaces Downing, who was at least getting crosses in, with Joe Cole, which seems a strange move.

Then Begovic flies from his goal to punch, Nocerino lobs it back and Nolan prods home, but is correctly ruled offside as he only has one defender between him and the goal. West Ham are having the better of the game, though Nocerino is giving the ball away too often and looks yet to get used to the pace of the Premier League.

It all goes wrong on 69 minutes, as Shawcross heads clear and Stoke begin a flowing passing move through Stephen Ireland, The ball finds Arnautovic on the edge of the box. Reid doesn’t tackle solidly enough, the Stoke man jinks between Tomkins and Demel to prod home. Possibly Adrian should have got a stronger hand to the ball too. Big Sam later describes the defending as “pathetic” and it makes you query the wisdom of dropping Collins. Delilah echoes around the Boothen End and cries of “Arnie! Arnie!”

West Ham make a determined bid to equalise as the Stoke fans enjoy shouting “Hoof!’ whenever Tomkins lobs it upfield. Carlton Cole joins Carroll in attack. Noble crosses and West Ham have a blatant penalty turned down as Muniesa challenges Carroll and clears the ball with his arm.

Demel wins a corner on 78 minutes but Stoke manage to score from it. The ball is cleared then returned by Noble and Shawcross heads out and Ireland advances on the break. He finds Odeminjie on the right side of goal who scores with a brilliant shot from a tight angle. Game over, and to make the point Allardyce takes off Andy Carroll for Armero. “You can stick your f**ing Bubbles up your arse!” sing the Stoke fans, followed by "One-nil and you f**ked it up!".

Terry thanks me for the points donation as the Happy Potters trek back towards the Gardener’s Arms. West Ham should have got something from this game, but ultimately lost through poor defending for the second and ref Craig Pawson’s failure to spot a blatant penalty decision. But Stoke away is difficult for most teams and at least Carroll is back and looks in the mood again. We have virtually ensured Stoke’s safety, but need to ensure our own by beating strugglers Man United next week.

PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 6; Demel 6, Tomkins 6, Reid 5, McCartney 5; Noble 7, Diame 6,  Nocerino 5, (C Cole 5), Nolan 6, Downing 6, (J Cole 5); Carroll 7 (Armero, N/A).

Wednesday, March 12

His name is Rio and he watches from the stand…

Finally West Ham have won something. Hammers fans' produced the funniest chant of the decade with, “His name is Rio and he watches from the stand…”, sung to the tune of Duran Duran’s Rio, during Rio Ferdinand's suspension for missing a drugs test. The Irons' chant came top in a new poll by fantasy football game Oulala, with "When the ball hits row Z or the back of your head, that's Zamora!" at number two, even if it is wrongly credited to Fulham fans. It was in fact first heard at West Ham in the Championship season of 2004-05, but later taken up by Fulham fans after Bobby moved to Craven Cottage. 

Supporting a perpetually in crisis football team means us Hammers fans have to make our own entertainment. The chant of  “Harry Potter he’s coming for you!” aimed at Swansea’s Voldemort-lookalike Jonjo Shelvey, then at Liverpool, caused Jonjo himself to break into a grin at Anfield (check out the half a million views on YouTube). That 6-0 defeat at Manchester City this season produced, “You’re nothing special we lose every week!”

Spandau Ballet’s Gold was revamped as a tribute to Joe and Carlton Cole: Cole,
always believe in your soul,
you’ve got the power to know,
you’re indestructible,
always believe in,
Carlton Cole!”

A 4-0 defeat at Charlton resulted in the wonderful and politically incorrect tribute to Christian Dailly, sung to the tune of I Love You Baby by Frankie Valli: “Oh Christian Dailly,
you are the love of my life/ 
Oh Christian Dailly I’d let you shag my wife/
Oh Christian Dailly,
I want curly hair too!”

Another heavy 4-2 defeat at Charlton resulted in a chant of “We want a new back four!” while Scouser stereotypes produced a mischievous “We’ve got Di Canio, you’ve got our stereos!” at Liverpool.  

Although it’s not all East End and Essex banter. Another favourite at home games is “Your support is f***ing shit!” Which is at least succinct…