Saturday, February 28

Set piece woe as Hammers fail to storm Palace

Brian Williams at the Newham Bookshop
West Ham United 1 Crystal Palace 3

There’s a big gathering round the World Cup winners statue on Barking Road as Stephanie Moore welcomes Jonjo Heurrman who has riden 800 miles in aid of the Bobby Moore Fund. Meanwhile Brian Williams signs my copy of Nearly Reach The Sky at the Newham Bookshop, and it's nice to know he remembers my 1980s Midweek article’s quote of “Don’t worry Cottee, Snow White and other six will be coming soon!” from the Chicken Run.

Inside Ken’s Cafe sit Matt and Michael, who has just seen 90-year-old William Russell (Ian Chesterton) from Doctor Who at a Whovian event in Barking. Mike’s wearing a suit and is off to his old school reunion after the match. Pretty much his perfect day if there wasn’t a West Ham match in between. DC arrives dispensing Rosie Lea with his wee man Fin. It’s Fin’s second match, his first having been the home defeat to Southampton. Let’s hope it’s not another catastrophic 3-1 home defeat then.

West Ham have a decent start with Cresswell shooting over. But then the play becomes curiously lethargic, as the side that played so well at Spurs doesn’t look as up for it as Palace. Murray gets in on goal and has an effort well-saved by Adrian. West Ham are unlucky when Noble hits the bar with a great free kick, but apart that we don’t have an effort on target in the first half. Kouyate and Song, so dominant against Spurs, just don’t get to grips with the midfield and Downing looks diffident all game.

In the 38th minute there’s a minute’s applause for Dylan Tomibides and his new charity. So much applause appears to bamboozle the West Ham defence as Murray is allowed a one-on-one versus Adrian, which the keeper again does well to save. We’ve been warned. But on 41 minutes Palace win a free kick and Murray’s header goes in as Jenkinson slices his attempted clearance into the net.

The anticipated rollicking hasn’t worked after the break. In minute 51 Dann rises up above Reid to head home a simple corner. Minute 63 sees Murray glance home Puncheon's free kick. This is the first time an Allardyce side in the Premier League has ever conceded three goals from set pieces. Michael suggests that William Russell might be better at defending set pieces than our back four.

Finally we start too play a bit at 3-0 down. Nene has come on for Song and the Brazilian curls a fine effort against the outside of a post. Valencia scores with an effort from the edge of the box that Speroni might have done better with. Murray is sent off for a second yellow after fouling Reid.

“Oh no, we’ll really struggle against ten men,” I suggest.

We have chances. Valencia produces a beautiful shot that Speroni does well to tip over. Nene over-elaborates at times but looks to have skill, gets on the ball and makes a difference. Sakho has a penalty claim. Jenkinson hesitates when he should shoot first time and Downing prods wide. But it’s all too late and there's a worrying lack of spirit until the final quarter of the game. 

We can’t even pull it back for Leonard Nimoy, who would have found supporting West Ham most illogical, as Scott Dann and co prove an impenetrable final frontier as we grope for the undiscovered country of their net. It’s not been the voyage home we wanted today.

“Super Alan Pardew!” echoes from the away end and we’re tempted to join them.

“Be just like us to lose to Palace and then beat Chelsea,” I muse hopefully.

“Well, you got one part of it right,” suggests Fraser.

At least Allardyce says the right things afterwards, stating that he is “shocked” and we failed to get the basics right. One win in ten. We can’t let our season fizzle out like this. A big, big performance is needed against Chelsea.

PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 6; Jenkinson 5, Reid 5, Tomkins 5, Cresswell 5; Song 5 (Nene 6), Kouyate 5, Noble 6, Downing 5; Sakho 5, Valencia 6.

Friday, February 27

Nearly Reach the Sky at the Newham Bookshop

Quick reminder: Brian Williams will be signing copies of his new book Nearly Reach The Sky  —  which is a very entertaining read — at the Newham Bookshop before and after the Crystal Palace game tomorrow.

Thursday, February 26

Mark Noble: He's one of our own

Good news that Mark Noble has signed a five-year contract which will keep him at West Ham until he's 33. Nobes had a great game at Spurs — even if he was lucky not to get a second yellow — and played with real passion and commitment. Another of his best games was in the crucial 2-0 win at Cardiff last season. Must be a chance he'll spend all his career at West Ham now, something we thought might have disappeared with the likes of Trevor Brooking.

Tuesday, February 24

End that Spurs chant now

It really is time West Ham fans ended that "We'll be running round Tottenham…" chant. It's no surprise after the Chelsea furore that someone videoed West Ham fans singing it on their way to Spurs. We were on a train from Seven Sisters to White Hart Lane and you could hear a group of West Ham fans singing it repeatedly. Any song that has a refrain of "fucking Jews!” is not exactly ‘banter’ or a joke as the culprits would no doubt claim, even if some Spurs fans do refer to themselves as “Yids,” having appropriated the insults thrown at them in the 1970s. 

What was very surprising was that the fans walked past a large number of police at the station and were then given a police escort to the away end, while still chanting that song. Not even a warning was given out by the police. It's also been sung at Palace and Stoke this season, and probably several other away games. The Harry Kane chant wasn't clever either. 

No-one wants to see football completely sanitised and I’m generally in favour of crude, risqué and rude chants as they often also result in humour. But that song on Sunday goes way over any supposed line. I’m happy to dislike Spurs for trying to nick the Olympic Stadium and getting a dodgy late penalty; but not for some racist stereotype. Enough.  

Sunday, February 22

It almost happened again…

Tottenham Hotspur 2 West Ham United 2

It’s an early meeting at Finsbury Park with Nigel (who was planning to arrive for a 12.45 kick-off), Fraser and Lisa for a tube to Seven Sisters and a packed overground train to White Hart Lane. We can do without some of the songs from the West Ham fans though.

There’s a better atmosphere in the away end, as some Italian Hammers unfurl a flag in the Upper Tier. It looks like we’ll do well to hold out in the first ten minutes as Bentaleb has two shots saved and Harry Kane gets behind Tomkins to prod the ball against the post. But the Hammers come into it more as Noble and Kouyate impose themselves in midfield, Valencia causes problems out wide and we win a couple of corners.

We take the lead on 22 minutes as Dembele loses possession, Creswell gets away down the left and crosses from the goalline for Cheikh Kouyate to thump home an emphatic header. Suddenly we have lots of new friends, as there’s a bout of mass hugging and crowd surfing as the South Stand turns into a moshpit. Goals in the East Stand are never greeted like this. Reid and Tomkins stand firm for the rest of the half and Noble is immense sweeping up in front of the defence. It all looks good as we watch a still squeaky-voiced Paul Allen interviewed on the big screen at half-time.

West Ham have a great spell for 20 at the start of the second half as Song dominates and we pass the ball across the midfield and Spurs look jaded after their Europa League game. Sakho gets through on the right but is thwarted by Llloris when he should probably score.

Then, on 62 minutes, the hard working Sakho gets in a cross from the right that flashes across the box. Noble retrieves it on the edge of the box and plays the ball back in, over Valencia and into the path of Sakho at the back post who scores with a great rising finish. Cue more mayhem. “It’s happening again!” rings around the away end. Followed by “My Name is Ludek Miklosko…”, “Oh Christian Dailly you are the Love of my Life!” and Twist and Shout. We almost make it three when Lloris saves from Valencia. "Can we play you every week?" request the Hammers' fans.

Then comes a very strange substitution. Noble has been booked for shirt-pulling and been close to getting sent-off for a second bookable offence, but it still seems be very risky to take him off after 68 minutes and replace him with Carlton Cole. Nolan is injured and Amalfitano is suspended, so we have no midfielders to replace him with. Perhaps Big Sam is worried about a red card for Nobes, but surely this a risk worth taking for anther ten minutes at least. Now we’ve got three strikers up when for once we want Allardyce to be more defensive. Jarvis for Valencia after 75 minutes doesn’t add much to the team either.

It’s been a great performance after West Brom, but there’s a warning when Kane has a goal disallowed for offside and Adrian makes a good save from an Eriksen free kick. Spurs then pull a fluky goal back after 81 minutes as Adrian punches away and on the edge of the box Danny Rose mishits his shot into the ground causing it to bobble up table football style and bounce into the top corner. Bugger.

The minutes start to go very slowly. Winston Reid is heroic and we agree with Lisa’s verdict that we should offer him whatever money he wants. Adrian pulls off a fantastic save. Carlton Cole pulls a hamstring and is replaced by James Collins with three minutes left. This is worrying. It’s five added minutes of time. Fraser has ice in his veins and looks cool. One last push Hammers for another famous victory.

Nigel starts to count down the added time. He’s just got to “20 seconds left” when, on Oscars day, Harry Kane falls in the box like he’s been hit by an American Sniper under a challenge from Alex Song. Silly of Song to have gone in though, as it wasn't a scoring situation. Referee Jonathan Moss points straight to the spot. Kane strides up to the spot, Adrian saves! But then Harry taps home the rebound and runs to the legions of Chas and Dave lovers. Another piece of luck for Spurs. The whistle blows as soon as we kick-off and the Spurs fans gleefully sing “Two-nil and you fucked it up!” Still, it’s not as if the skies will open and deposit a deluge of rain on us down the Tottenham High Road all the way to Seven Sisters tube — oh, they have.

We retreat to the Faltering Fullback in Finsbury Park for a mournful pint of London Pride as we try to console ourselves that we’d have been happy with a point at the start. The proverbial draw that feels like a loss, particularly after a dodgy substitution from Big Sam. But let’s be clear, this was a fine performance overall, everyone got struck in, we should have won and we have the makings of a good team here. Play like this and the wins will come. COYI.

TEAM RATINGS: Adrian 7; Jenkinson 7, Reid 8, Tomkins 7, Cresswell 8; Noble 8 (Cole 5, Collins 5), Kouyate 8, Song 7, Downing 6; Sakho 8, Valencia 7 (Jarvis 5).

Friday, February 20

From Ron to Sam: Have we ever been completely happy with our manager?

My last post suggesting that we keep hold of Allardyce certainly inspired a lot of debate, both for and against in the 21 comments so far. I'd agree with the critics that Kevin Nolan has had his chance and Allardyce is not being clinical in his selection, and that Downing has to stay at the tip of the diamond. Less so with the idea that BFS reverts to type with Carroll in the side. Big Andy actually played well up until his injury and scored five goals, and was normally played with a second striker. He was always going to get games with Sakho injured.

Generally though, retaining Allardyce guarantees we'll still be in the Premier League for the move to the Olympic Stadium and offers the prospect of becoming a top six side if he matches his record at Bolton. If it ain't broke…

The whole debate got me thinking, have WHU fans ever been completely happy with the manager? Of course some fans have, but never everyone. Post-1966 Ron Greenwood received a lot of stick for failing to win trophies with three World Cup winners. Back in the 1980s I remember some graffiti reading "Lyall - murderer of West Ham" outside the North Bank.

Lou Macari had a lot of stick in his six months, although Billy Bonds was too much of a legend to inspire open dissent even after a miserable relegation, though many believed he wasn't managerial material. Harry Redknapp got the club to fifth, but still wasn't liked by some fans and got stick for playing his nephew Big Fat Frank.

After a decent first season Glenn Roeder managed to go down with a set of great players, suffered the ignominy of the "we want a new back four!" chant and sadly had his house attacked by some idiots. Alan Pardew was initially mistrusted for signings like Adam Nowland, but ultimately got his own chant after the 2006 FA Cup Final.

Alan Curbishley masterminded the great escape, but then received grief for boring football and always keeping the team in tenth position. Zola was liked but then abused after a terrible home defeat to Wolves and two seasons of struggle. While Avram Grant was derided by virtually everyone, but loved by Millwall fans

Managers always divide opinion because football is a game of passion. It's like my fellow season-ticket holder Matt and referees — he's yet to see a good one. It wouldn't be the game we love if a sizeable portion of every club's fans didn't think the gaffer was useless.

Thursday, February 19

It would be a mistake to remove Big Sam

A lot of stories have been finding their way into the press claiming that Sam Allardyce is on his way out at West Ham. Yesterday's Daily Mirror ran the story as its back page lead, claiming Big Sam was on the brink of leaving after disputes with David Sullivan, while in the Standard Ken Dyer wrote: "Still though, there is apparent disharmony and the elephant that is Allardyce's future remains firmly in the room." While the Daily Telegraph claimed that West Ham are looking to David Moyes and Slaven Bilic as possible successors. Sullivan and Gold have always said that they review the managerial situation at the end of each season, but with West Ham in the top eight the silence over a new contract is bound to attract speculation.

Much of the problem appears to be transfer policy, with Sullivan claiming the credit for signing Diafra Sakho and also said to be behind the signing of the loaned-out Mauro Zarate. Now it seems Sullivan has instigated a move for former Paris St Germain striker Nene, who might be the most expensive signing we ever make if it loses us a manager. Do we buy by committee like Liverpool, does the chairman buy the players or is the manager in charge of recruitment? It seems extraordinary the club has no clear strategy in place on transfers.

In my view it would be a mistake to change the manager at this stage. There's a certain section of fans who will never take to Allardyce, mainly on the grounds that he's sometimes arrogant, a bit podgy, sounds northern and has a reputation for direct football. But he's achieved all he's been asked to do and I can't think of many other managers who could have performed a better job. He rebuilt the side and achieved promotion at the first attempt, something few teams do. If he hadn't, we could be where Bolton and Wigan are now, at the bottom end of the Championship.

West Ham then consolidated with Premier League finishes of tenth and thirteenth. Yes, the football was poor at times last season, but this season Big Sam's more than fulfilled his brief. We've recruited new players, played two up front and entertained with a midfield diamond, beating Man City and Liverpool and outplaying Man United in the process. We've even seen West Ham in the top four. His PR has improved too, with no more ear-cupping and even words of praise for the fans. Allardyce also has another commodity; he is the second most experienced manager in the Premier League. Another factor in his favour is that most of the players seem to respect him and, barring the WBA debacle, the team spirit has looked the best it's been in years.

Had we got rid of Allardyce last season his replacement would probably have been Malky Mackay, and look what sort of trouble that might have left us in. He's not perfect, but tellingly, fans of other teams all seem to think the West Ham board would be making a big mistake getting rid of Big Sam. We don't want to end a fine season with self-inflicted wounds. Sort it out, Mr Sullivan and Mr Gold.

Wednesday, February 18

Nearly Reach the Sky by Brian Willams

West Ham fans still despairing after the West Brom debacle could do worse that read Brian Williams’ new book Nearly Reach the Sky. At school his West Ham bag was regularly sabotaged by rival fans placing bits of paper inside it reading, “Mansfield 3 West Ham 0” and later “Hereford 2 West Ham 1.”

Williams’ book is a bit like a trip to his favourite pub the Black Lion with a typical West Ham fan. Rather than deal with the seasons chronologically, it’s a conversation that veers from Di Canio's volley and Mannygate to Tony Gale getting sent off in the 1990 FA Cup semi-final and back again to Paul Ince scoring twice against the mighty Liverpool and Jonathan Spector playing like Pele against Man United in one of our great victories under the lights.

Brian advocates a new ‘Hacketts’ scale of refereeing ineptitude and rather sensibly suggests some statues of unsung heroes to go alongside Moore, Hurst and Peters at the Olympic Stadium. Namely Dave Bickles (the young centre half who played alongside Bobby Moore in our 1963 win at Anfield), Patsy Holland, Hayden Mullins, Tony Gale, Steve Potts and his father-in-law Sid. Though personally I’d like to see Christian Dailly included with his curly hair too.

Nearly Reach The Sky is packed with familiar stories that will delight Irons’ fans: the joys of keeping quiet on the Kop and Arsenal North Bank; the classic games Williams managed to miss through the wrong choice of girlfriend; sitting at a game with a real-life Mr Moon; his worst ever X1; an irrational dislike of Oxford United and the fan who divided one of John Lyall’s later teams into a comprehensively scientific list of "wankers" and "has-beens."

And like most of us he detects an almost sublime element of uselessness in some of West Ham’s worst performances: “Tomas Repka was having a dream of a game, only it was the sort of dream that ends with a screaming fit and a pool of icy perspiration in which the tormented soul who’s having it is left to quiver with fear at the horrors that have just been dredged up from the deepest darkest levels of the subconscious mind.”

Williams also provides a proper definition of the West Ham Way, a paean to Trevor Brooking, a rather moving letter to the heroic Billy Bonds and descriptions of our FA and World Cup wins. Plus a sense of sadness for what we are about to lose at the Boleyn Ground and the terrible thought that Terminator burgers in Priory Road will soon be no more.

Nearly Reach The Sky is a great read, capturing much of the hope, despair and bemusement of being a West Ham fan.

Nearly Reach The Sky:A Farewell to Upton Park is published by Biteback, £12.99. Brian Williams will be signing copies at the Newham Bookshop before and after the Crystal Palace match on February 28.