Saturday, October 31

Stirring up a Hornets' nest

Watford 2 West Ham 0

Oh dear. A Halloween horror from the Hammers. Was always worried about this after the Champions League was mentioned this week. At least Bilic has been honest in his appraisal that we were complacent and the performance was unacceptable, with WHU second best from the start. An error from Carroll for the first goal and James Collins getting sent off rounded off a bad day, while sub Valencia did hit a post for the Hammers. Watching it on Match of the Day, Carroll dawdled horribly for the first goal and Tomkins should have cut out the cross for Ighalo's second, while Collins' red card was a stupid tackle probably coming out of frustration at WHU's poor performance. But we've failed to beat all the newly promoted teams now, taking just one point from Bournemouth, Norwich and Watford. Watford are clearly a wel-organised team with an in-form striker but it's still worrying we should have fallen into the old trap of playing well against the big boys and slumping against the lesser teams. Bilic still has work to do, let's hope this result concentrates minds on the fact that no PL games are easy.

The Zarate Kid

Good to see Mauro Zarate score a cracking goal against Chelsea, and having also scored against another top team in Arsenal this will give his confidence a big boost. When he's started he's tended to score, having also netted a fine individual goal against FC Astra and a deflected shot against Leicester in the League Cup.

The way Bilic has handled him has been impressive, as Zarate is clearly high maintenance. Mauro fell out with Big Sam after being dropped last season and was loaned out to QPR only for Harry Redknapp to try and swap him for Matt Jarvis. After Redknapp went he so offended Rangers' new boss Chris Ramsey that he was sent back two weeks' early from his loan. Back then it looked like Zarate had no future at West Ham.

When Bilic fell out with Morgan Amalfitano and had him training with the kids before being released, it set an example that he wouldn't tolerate any outbursts from players. Yet he's handled Zarate sensitively, we've had no strops even when he's been out of the side and Slaven seems to be finally getting the best out of Zarate. And with Payet, Lanzini and Zarate we now have three number ten-type players who can turn a game.

Friday, October 30

Don't mention the league!

West Ham fans are traditionally wary of jinxes. As my pal Nick said after the Chelsea game: "So long as Andy Carroll doesn't start saying we'll finish in the top four, we have grounds for optimism." As you might recall, as soon as Andy said we wanted to win the league last season, West Ham started to slump. Andy's kept quiet this season but it's a little worrying that co-chairman David Sullivan has been on West Ham TV daring to dream and saying, "Us or maybe Leicester could break into the top four this year… I know it's unlikely but it is possible." As we all know in the East Stand, never check the league table until the final whistle and always wear your lucky shirt. The official line of Hammers in the Heart, lest it jinxes us, is that while feeling privately optimistic, we still need another 20 points to stay up. 

Tuesday, October 27

Stamford Bridge is falling down…

Good news that Chelsea are being charged by the FA after their disgraceful behaviour on Saturday. Though I'm not sure why West Ham are also being charged with failing to control their players, unless it's to prevent another Mourinho tirade. Chelsea appears to be a club that has lost all sense of discipline. They had six players booked, a coach sent off and their manager sent to the stands after entering the referee's room at half-time. Then Mourinho refused to give a TV interview after the game, despite being obliged to do so, and left poor Gary Cahill to speak to the press. Despite looking a little embarrassed, Cahill made a decent job of it and didn't whinge like his manager.

You'd like to think West Ham learnt a little about how to lose with good grace in the days of Ron Greenwood and John Lyall, and what was striking about Chelsea's attitude was a complete lack of sporting behaviour. Matic deserved his two yellow cards, Zouma's header was nearly over the line but not quite and the goaline technology proved it, while Fabregas's goal was a close call but he was offside by an elbow. Some refs would have allowed it, others wouldn't. And Adrian had already stopped moving having heard the whistle. No huge conspiracy there, yet Jose Mourinho continues to talk himself out of a job. He deserved to be sent to the stands and taunted by Danny Dyer, who quipped, "all right sunshine?" before being ushered away by a steward.

Sunday, October 25

Stick your blue flag up your…

West Ham 2 Chelsea 1

Inside the Newham Bookshop Vivian has a Danny Dyer signing to plug before the WBA game on Nov 29 and signed copies of Elvis Costello’s new book Unfaithful Music and Disappearing Ink, complete with valuable advice for today’s game in I Don’t Want To Go To Chelsea. Then it’s on to Ken’s Café where there’s much debate about who bought the ceramic model of Ken’s Café from the V&A for £150. Michael the Whovian has been to see Jo Grant, aka Katy Manning at the Kings’ Head, while there’s even a fleeting appearance from DC with his wee men, telling us to cut down on the sugar and processed meat.

The game kicks off with rousing versions of Bubbles, “Stick your Blue flag up your arse!” and a certain song about John Terry’s mum. Good to hear a proper atmosphere inside Upton Park. Payet wins a free kick on the edge of the box after 16 minutes. The French magician takes it himself and Begovic tips it over the bar. From Payet’s corner Costa slices across goal and Zarate sends a crisp first time shot into the bottom corner. Upton Park explodes and it’s vindication of Bilic’s decision to pick Zarate in place of the ineligible Moses. That’s Zarate’s fourth goal of the season and credit to Bilic for finally rejuvenating his career.

Mourinho is taunted with, “Your getting sacked in the morning!” and “That’s why you’re going down!” West Ham should make it two when an outrageous backheel from Payet plays in Lanzini, who chips over the bar. Matic is booked for a professional foul on Kouyate, but Chelsea come back into it. Zouma has a header cleared from behind the line by Lanzini (technology proves the ball wasn’t completely over the line) and then Chelsea break from a West Ham corner. Fabregas nets, but is ruled marginally offside by a knee and shoulder.

Matic then receives a second yellow for pulling back Sakho and Fabregas and Terry are booked protesting. Chelsea lose any semblance of discipline as first coach Silvino Lauro is dismissed by referee Jon Moss (a better ref than Culture Club drummer) and then at half-time Mourinho is dismissed to for visiting the referee’s room and generally being paranoid. “F**k off Mourinho!” is the verdict of the Bobby Moore Stand.

“One-nil up against ten men with no manager, what could possibly go wrong?” I quip to Nigel as he munches on his half-time lucky banana.

Ominously ten-man Chelsea do improve after the break. Cahill equalises on 56 minutes, turning quickly on a loose ball from a corner. At this point Chelsea look the likelier winners and we’d take the point. But Bilic rejigs things by bringing on Carroll  for Zarate with 21 minutes to go. Payet raises hopes with a couple of brilliant feints and then some great showboating as he flicks the ball over the head of a defender and shoots into touch.

Sakho has worked immensely hard, as always, and closes down Begovic to force a corner with 11 minutes left. Payet’s cross is hoofed up in the air by a defender and the ball comes to Cresswell. The left back sends in a superb cross and Andy Carroll rises above Sakho and Cahill to power home a header. In that position he’s unstoppable. Andy races towards our corner to slide onto the turf and be engulfed by his teammates. They’ll be dancing in the streets of Brentwood tonight.

There’s a hugely celebratory mood now as the Bobby Moore Stand bounces up and down to “Stick your blue flag up your arse!’ and then “We’ve got Payet, Dimitri Payet, I just don’t think you understand…” Though Billy Ray Cyrus expert Fraser says they haven’t got the tempo of Achy Breaky Heart quite right.

We were all optimistic last season after beating Liverpool and Man City, but the thought occurs that perhaps this West Ham side be on the verge of something special. And it’s also poignant that this is the last time we’ll ever tell Chelsea where to place their blue flag at the Boleyn.

There’s four minutes of added time and with a minute to go I have to make a dash for the tube to try to get the 5.45 train to Cardiff for a wedding reception (who gets married on a football day, eh?) There’s a chorus of, “We can see you sneaking out!” from the lads. But the huge cheer from the stadium tells its own story.

I don’t make the 5.45 train as there’s a long halt due to “a passenger being taken ill at Farringdon.” “It must be Mourinho!” suggests a fellow passenger. Matt texts that the Central have got their tactics all wrong by having no staff, while I celebrate on the 6.45 train with a pint of London Porter.

Arsenal, Liverpool, Man City and now Chelsea. A great day for the Hammers. Though I still think Chelsea are too good to go down…

PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 7; Jenkinson 7, Tomkins 8, Collins 8, Cresswell 7; Payet 9, Lanzini 8 (Obiang 6), Kouyate 8, Noble 7, Zarate 8 (Carroll 8); Sakho 7.

Saturday, October 24

No more Achy Breaky Hearts now we've got Payet

Don’t tell Miley Cyrus, but her dad Billy Ray’s lyrics are now being hollered by geezers in claret and blue. West Ham fans debuted a new song in honour of midfielder Dimitri Payet at Crystal Palace, sung to the tune of Billy Ray Cyrus’s 1992 theme song Achy Breaky Heart. The new song goes: “We’ve got Payet, Dimitri Payet! I just don’t think you understand. He’s Super Slav’s man, he’s better than Zidane. We’ve got Dimitri Payet!”

The original lyrics — and please don’t start line dancing — were penned by songwriter Donald Von Tress and go: “But don't tell my heart/ My achy breaky heart/I just don't think he'd understand/ and if you tell my heart/ My achy breaky heart/ He might blow up and kill this man.”

West Ham fans have not previously been known for sporting Billy Ray Cyrus-style mullets or a love of country music, but do have form on the dodgy tunes front, having changed Spandau Ballet’s Gold to, “Always believe in Carlton Cole!”

There’s now the intriguing possibility that having seen West Ham take a Wrecking Ball to Crystal Palace, with Payet scoring the third goal, Billy Ray and Miley might join President Obama — who once went to a match at Upton Park — among the US’s celebrity Hammers’ fans. Though whether Miley, or indeed dad Billy,would ever perform in a West Ham shirt, as Katy Perry once did when married to Russell Brand, is still uncertain.

Friday, October 23

Ken's Cafe sold for £150!

A ceramic version of Ken's Cafe has sold for £150. Thanks to Lisa for telling me about the Tower Of Babel exhibition by Barnaby Barford, on display in the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The V&A blurb explains: "The Tower of Babel is Barnaby Barford's representation of London today. Standing six metres high, it is made up of 3000 individual bone china buildings, each depicting a real London shop photographed by the artist. At the base are derelict shops and pound stores, while at the pinnacle are London’s exclusive boutiques and galleries."

All the individual buildings are for sale. The china model of Ken's Cafe (presumably up there at the top with the boutiques and galleries) has already gone — a snip at £150 — while the china version of the Newham Bookshop has also been bought for a whacking £210. Just hope Enner Valencia hasn't bought any of them as his record with bone china isn't great after teacup-gate last season. But still, it's nice to have proof that Ken's Cafe has artistic merit.

Tuesday, October 20

Was this the strongest bench in WHU's history?

One notable feature of the win at Crystal Palace was the amount of talent on the West Ham bench. WHU's substitutes were Andy Carroll, Nikica Jelavic, Mauro Zarate, Enner Valencia, Pedro Obiang, Angelo Ogbonna and Darren Randolph. That's some £50million worth of talent, while £7 million Michail Antonio couldn't even make the bench. The fact Bilic used Carroll, Jelavic and Zarate to offer something different up front certainly helped end the resistance of Palace's ten men after the starting eleven ran out of ideas. It was only a few weeks ago that we had six kids on the bench at Anfield in Oxford, Lee, Cullen, Samuelson, Knoyle and Spiegel, who were being babysat by Matt Jarvis. The seven who made it to the bench at Palace are surely the strongest set of subs in West Ham's history.

Sunday, October 18

Lanzini leaves Hammers feeling glad all over…

Jenks celebrates his goal with WHU fans
Crystal Palace 1 West Ham United 3

It’s off to London Bridge to meet Matt and Lisa for our trip to Norwood Junction. Their choice of pre-match nosh comes from a website of posh cafes near football grounds, so we head to Coffee Craft located in the Grade II listed Victorian Stanley Halls in Norwood. The portraits, armchairs and bone china can’t quite match Kenneth’s Cafe in Green Street, though the flat white coffee, hummus and pitta, cheese and tomato paninis and butterfly cakes almost surpass Carol’s egg, chips and beans.

Inside the concourse of the Arthur Wait stand there are hearty choruses of “One man and his dog couldn’t carry Lampard!” Then we watch the pre-match eagle handler and the Crystals feeling Glad All Over. Pleasingly, Palace have splashed out on plastic seats to replace the ancient wooden artefacts we sat on last season.

West Ham attack from the kick-off. Noble finds Lanzini with a fine ball to the left wing and Manuel’s dribble to the byline sees Payet scuff what should be the opening goal. Encouraged by this, the West Ham fans break into a chorus of “My name is Ludek Miklosko…” There’s also a new song about Dimitri Payet being Slaven’s man and better than Zidane. Lanzini looks bright in midfield and we’re playing some nice passing football.

West Ham take the lead on 22 minutes. Payet cuts inside to find Victor Moses, who plays a perfect through ball to Jenkinson, who has ghosted past the sleeping Zaha. Carl finishes like Michael Owen (at least according to Garth Crooks) for his second goal in successive games. We’re splashed with beer and jumping blokes as Jenks runs towards us. In the ensuing goal celebration Lisa suffers a celebratory injury, as her glasses are bumped and cut her nose. She’s shed blood for the claret and blue cause. Just as we’re wondering why Mark Clattenburg hasn’t stopped play for Lisa to receive treatment, the ball goes down the other end and Jenkinson upends Gayle. The penalty has to be taken twice due to encroachment in the area, but Cabaye scores both times. The Palace Ultras start to chant their silly song.

West Ham are offered more hope of a win shortly before the break when Clattenburg books Gayle for a second time after his lunge on Kouyate. Still, it’s always difficult to play against ten men, particularly if you’re West Ham.

The second half sees solid West Ham pressure as Palace sit back with two banks of four and Sakho sends a header against the outside of a post. Palace have the pace of Sako and Bolasie up front on the break though and the returning James Collins has an excellent game, repeatedly nicking the ball off them. When he goes down after taking a football in the goolies but recovers to make a tackle he earns a worthy chorus of “There’s only one Ginger Pele!”

A lot of West Ham passes from Kouyate and Noble go astray though and even Payet plays his share of bad balls as we struggle to get through. Kouyate does make one great run down the left only to play a poor ball to Sakho and a wonderful dribble from Lanzini ends when he is tackled in the box. On come Big Andy Carroll, Zarate and Jelavic.

Carroll has one decent shot over the bar but often drifts too far back to receive the ball while Zarate shoots ineffectually wide. Mystic Matt suggests we should take the tiring Lanzini off. It looks like the game is drifting towards a draw until the 88th minute. Zarate at last manages to get in an excellent cross; Andy Carroll heads back expertly across the box, Jelavic and a defender scuffle for and miss the ball but Lanzini arrives to shoot home. The young Argentine midfielder deserves the goal and more mayhem ensues in the Arthur Wait Stand. Bringing Carroll on from a very strong bench has changed the game.

The Craft Cafe at Stanley Halls
Can we hold on? There’s one more tackle from Collins to thwart Bolasie and with four minutes of added time played West Ham break again. Lanzini plays another great ball through to Dimitri Payet who casually chips the ball over Hennessey. A classy finish and the French wizard then runs to the corner flag to deliver a salute to the Palace fans who are now feeling bad all over.

“Another 23 points and we’re safe!” suggests someone on the very slow ‘fast’ train back to London Bridge. Matt's even had some twitter banter going with Palace-suporting comedian Mark Steel. We retreat to the Eaglet in Camden Town, where we enjoy pints of Betty Stoggs’ Cornish ale before I attend Martha's Gig, compered by John Hegley at Camden Girls' School. In the Eaglet there are candles on the table and Lisa sits in front of a portrait of the Mona Lisa — it’s almost like being in the Central. A good away day for the travelling Irons. We’ve stayed patient and for once managed to beat a team down to ten men. We go fourth. Unbeaten away from home in five games now; this is heady stuff.

PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 6; Jenkinson 7, Tomkins 7, Collins 8, Cresswell 6; Moses 7 (Zarate 6), Noble 6 (Carroll 7), Kouyate 7, Payet 8, Lanzini 9; Sakho 6 (Jelavic 5).

Friday, October 16

Let's hope Moses keeps taking the tablets

Been impressed with the form of Victor Moses so far. I saw him have a good game for Stoke against WHU at the Britannia Stadium last season but didn't realise just how fast he is. He had a great debut against Newcastle and it was a long time since we've seen a player run from the halfway line and beat defenders for speed before smashing the ball against the bar, as he did for Payet's second goal. Moses scored a fine goal from distance away to Manchester City and made the crucial first goal for Carl Jenkinson at Sunderland, when we were 2-0 down. And now comes another chance to impress against his first club at Crystal Palace.

Apparently he's not had a full pre-season and is still struggling a bit for fitness, but he looks a big asset. The crucial thing will be preventing injuries as they seem to have prevented his progress at Chelsea and on loan at Liverpool and Stoke. What's already clear though is that he looks a lot better than West Ham's last Victor, Victor "Is Vic There?" Obinna, who apart from a storming game against Man United in the League Cup, sadly underperformed under Avram Grant.

Thursday, October 15

West Ham: the case for a people's QE

There's been some press outrage this week at the revelation that West Ham will be getting free turnstile operators and cleaners at the Olympic Stadium as well as free heating and lighting. This will be paid for by the London Legacy Development Corporation, with taxpayers' money. Really you've only got to look at The Apprentice to know that Karren Brady will have worked out that the LLDC had an unfit-for-purpose athletics stadium to get rid of, and will have consequently driven a hard bargain. Particularly as the club was selling off its home to enter the rental market. The LLDC was in the situation of those Apprentice candidates trying to flog fish fingers at 1.30pm after the lunchtime trade had passed.

But to look at it another way, West Ham are surely deserving of a little people's quantitative easing. We haven't won a major trophy since 1980 and the fans are fed up with austerity being imposed on our trophy cabinet. A stimulus from the government might result in a possible trophy and instantly improve the well-being of a huge fan base, increasing productivity from Dagenham to Dartford. And there would be a substantial fiscal stimulus to the environs of Stratford from increased sales of craft beer and pizzas sold by hipsters in Hackney Wick after a cockney knees-up. Investing in West Ham might generate economic growth in the whole of East London and the South East. And if any taxpayers in Bermondsey (and inevitably Barry Hearn) remain unhappy we can always negotiate an opt-out.

Wednesday, October 14

Hands off Tomka

Since Sam Allardyce was appointed manager at Sunderland there have been press rumours that he's going to try to sign James Tomkins in January. Tomkins and Andy Carroll share the same agent as Sam, in Mark Curtis. Thankfully David Sullivan has said Tomkins is going nowhere as he has a four-year contract and loves the club, according to today's Daily Mail. 

There's bound to be interest in Tomkins now that we have signed Angelo Ogbonna, who appears to be first choice alongside Reid. But with both Ogbonna and Reid suffering injuries already this season James should get enough games to ensure he stays. Some of our best wins of the season have come with him at right-back and there's also the option of playing a back five. Always good to have a local core to the team too, in Tomkins and Noble. 

Big Sam is welcome to sign free agent Kevin Nolan, but I'd be surprised if this went through, as Nobby Nolan, a decent leader and once a fine goalscorer, just doesn't look up to PL football these days and would hardly cure Sunderland's problem of a lack of pace. Though he could probably still do a job in the Championship.

Tuesday, October 13

Megadeth with Slav and Dicksy

Good interview with Julian Dicks in the Daily Mirror. Writer Anthony Clavane has coaxed some great material out of Dicksy, including this quote about his relationship with Slaven Bilic when they played together: “We both used to smoke and drink and we both liked heavy metal music. We were good room-mates. We just hit it off from day one."

Julian also reveals that Slav has got the pair tickets for a forthcoming Megadeth concert and that the secret of West Ham's 3-0 win at Anfield was Bilic playing the lads some Megadeath songs before kick-off: “It seemed to lift the mood of the dressing room," reveals Dicksy.

As for his role at the club, Dicks says: "The gaffer knows what he will get from me. He can ask me any single question he wants and he knows I will tell him the truth.” Click on the link to read the complete interview. It's good to have you back Julian.

Tuesday, October 6

Sacked in the morning…

West Ham have seen off two managers this week; the decision of Liverpool's US owners to sack Brendan Rodgers was surely taken after their 3-0 loss at home to the Irons, while a tearful Dick Advocaat left Sunderland after they failed to hold on to a two-goal lead against the Hammers. All this and Jose Mourinho set to visit in a couple of weeks' time…

Saturday, October 3

Hammers fightback earns draw at Sunderland

Sunderland 2 West Ham United 2

Listening to the Radio London commentary it seemed like WHU could have been five down at half time as a rejuvenated Sunderland team seemed to be trying to persuade Dick Advocaat to stay. Fletcher scored from a free kick routine and then Lens doubled the tally, with a superb chip over Adrian, scored for the Mackems. Adrian made a great save from O'Shea and Borini missed a couple of good chances. Right on half time Carl Jenkinson stroked the ball home after good work by Moses on the left wing and suddenly winless Sunderland got nervous for the second half.

When Lens was red-carded the home side became even more desperate and the equaliser arrived when Lanzini's shot was parried by Pantilimion and Dimitri Payet scored his fourth of the season. The last half an hour saw a lot of West Ham corners and sub Jelavic scoop over from a yard out, but generally it seemed we lacked a quality final ball. Still, after being battered in the first half, I'm grateful for a point. Seventeen goals this season so far — it's certainly not been dull.

Adrian! Adrian! Adrian!

Good news that Adrian has signed a two-year contract — his current deal runs out at the end of the season. Getting him on a free transfer was a very good piece of business for WHU and he's certainly better than the likes of say Mignolet at Liverpool and many other PL goalkeepers. What's more Adrian is a character who seems to enjoy having a laugh with the crowd and is also a little crazy (witness his confrontation with Balotelli last season) which is always good in a goalkeeper. And even better, Adrián San Miguel del Castillo appears to be named after a beer…

Friday, October 2

Does Andy Carroll have a long-term future at West Ham?

Andy Carroll's had a hospital scan on his ankle that was stamped on just after he came on against Norwich, but thankfully there's no lasting damage. Meanwhile Slaven Bilic has said that if Big Andy gets fit he can force his way into the England squad for Euro 2016. You do wonder whether Carroll will suit Bilic's style in the long-term. On the one hand, as a former defender, Bilic must appreciate the physical mayhem Carroll can cause in the box. On the other hand, a mobile striker like Sakho better suits his five-man midfield and counter-attacking, quick-passsing style away from home.

Some fans want to discard Carroll as he symbolises the Allardyce era; though this rather disregards the fact that he's pretty skilful for a big man — remember that dribble and goal away to Swansea and his volley at home to West Brom? Carroll is certainly a useful player to have on the bench when we are chasing games and want to go direct. Though is super sub enough for a £15million striker? To play two strikers we'll have to drop a midfielder, maybe leaving a midfield of Payet, Noble, Kouyate and Moses or Song. We're also going to have to rotate Sakho, Carroll, Valencia and Jelavic in the striker roles. That should suit us this season, but ultimately one of them is presumably going to want to leave for first-team football.

Thursday, October 1

West Ham fans 12th sexiest in the league

Various papers including the Daily Mail have picked up on a new poll by dating site, which reveals that West Ham fans are only the 12th most desirable supporters in the Premier League. questioned 1000 fans on which rival supporters they'd date. Obviously Chelsea and Man United were deemed the ugliest and most undesirable, while Bournemouth came top as the fans most rivals wouldn't mind scoring with. 

It's still a travesty West Ham should come 12th though. If wants to visit the East Stand and see a group of most desirable men — including Fraser in his Dexys beret, Matt with his lucky Dukla Prague away shirt, Michael in a selection of bargain WHU puffer jackets from the club shop, Nigel with his denim jacket that once saw AC/DC, and myself with a 20-year-old Slaven Bilic tribute Dagenham Motors shirt, they'd surely concede that we are an eminently dateable bunch.