Saturday, February 27

Antonio sees off Sunderland

West Ham 1 Sunderland 0

The big news in Ken’s Café is that Nigel’s doing warm weather training in Dubai, so Lisa has his ticket, and Matt’s met a barber who knows even more stats than he does. There’s a huge queue outside the Cafe, due to the 12.45pm kick-off and Michael the Whovian is way behind us with his big breakfast order. I’m with my daughter Nell, who’s worried we won’t get a table, but I explain that it’s an immutable law of Ken’s that one always materialises, as it does.

During our long wait we wonder if the venerable Fraser was at the 8-0 Sunderland match back in 1968, saying that Greenwood should resign as he only played four forwards. Turns out he wasn’t.

Our food arrives at 12.40pm. “I don’t care what they say about you Carol I think you do a fantastic job!” quips Mike, as she explains the vagaries of ticket-hunting fans and early kick-offs.

Nell’s impressed by the speed I manage to eat my eggs chips and beans, so I explain you can do anything with a kick-off as an incentive. “Treat everything in life as if you’re going to miss the kick-off and you won’t go wrong!” My aphorism appeals to Michael, who has moved to a separate table to begin demolition work on his big breakfast.

We arrive five minutes after kick-off, but haven’t missed much. I’m in Nell’s seat, which is the back of Row R in the corner, where you can’t even see the non-working scoreboard. Fraser says Big Sam was greeted by indifference, with the crowd’s ire reserved for Defoe. We think Sam might have been tempted to sign Paul Ince and Frank Lampard as human shields for this one too.

Sunderland are more difficult to beat now they’ve signed Kone, Kirchoff, Khazri and N’Doye. The game’s a scrappy affair with the crowd quiet after rushing their lunches. Khazri almost scores after some poor control by Adrian and then hits the top of the bar with a fine dipping free kick. In turn Noble has a thunderous shot tipped on to the bar by Mannone after being set up by Lanzini. You wish Nobes would try that more. We take the lead when Antonio wriggles through two defenders into the box and passes a curling shot into the far corner. A great effort and his fifth of the season.Mikail celebrates with a bizarre Homer Simpson "grass dancing" routine on the turf.

“You’re going down with Adam Johnson!” chant the Bobby Moore Stand.

Antonio has a snap-shot saved by Mannone and then it’s half-time. “You don’t want Carroll to come on against Sunderland because he’ll try too hard and get injured,” says Matt, “or Liverpool, or Newcastle.”

“Or anyone, really,” I add.

Michael makes a determined sortie to accost Irons-supporting actor Donald Sumpter, Lord High President of the Time Lords. He’s not interested in an interview with Michael’s friend Toby, but is available for read-throughs, so a bit of a result for our budding playwright.

The second half sees West Ham start slowly, and Sunderland create chances. Defoe volleys wide and Adrian makes a great save from sub Rodwell. Andy Carroll comes on for Emenike and makes things happen, though he should probably score when he volleys (or actually shins it, looking at the replay) Byram’s knock-down on to the bar. A couple of times Cresswell gets into the box only to fall over. But we see the game out thanks to good games from Ogbonna and Collins and a great late tackle from Byram to deny Rodwell.


Twist and Shout and Highway to Hell are on the PA after the final whistle as I try to extricate myself from the back of the stand. Not a great game, but we go up to fifth. “It was a bit like a Big Sam tribute game, really, a scrappy 1-0 win,” suggests Matt as we head to the Central. Big Sam is all over the BT screen in the pub, saying that Sunderland just need to be more clinical in front of goal. But it's West Ham who have respected the three points. We go fifth! And we're definitely safe on 43 points now.

PLAYER RATINGS: Adrian 7; Byram 7, Collins 7, Ogbonna 7, Cresswell 5; Antonio 7, Noble 6 (Obiang 5), Kouyate 6, Lanzini 6 (Moses 6), Payet 6; Emenike 5 (Carroll 6)

Thursday, February 25

The return of Big Sam

There's two pages on the return of Sam Allardyce to Upton Park in tonight's Standard, with Sam, never slow to promote himself, claiming, "I saved a broken West Ham." In footballing terms he has a point, though the problem was that in PR terms Allardyce, whose take-it-or-leave-it gruff persona might suit some northern underdog clubs, was never right for West Ham, where the descendants of hardened ironworkers still want a little fantasy and escapism. Saying that he didn't know what the West Ham way was got him off to a terrible start and the low point was cupping his ear to the fans after the unconvincing win against ten-man Hull.

But it's also fair to say that despite some West Ham fans refusing to admit that anything he ever did was of any value, Sam did save the club from going the way of relegated PL clubs like Bolton, Wigan and Leeds. It's very very difficult to get promoted first-time and Allardyce achieved that despite having to revamp the entire squad, giving us a great day at Wembley in the process. It wasn't always pretty but the finishes of 10th, 14th and 12th established the club back in the Premier League — though the post-Christmas fade last season suggested the time was right to change for both parties.

He made some unsuccessful buys in Matt Jarvis and — based on his injury record rather than ability — Andy Carroll. But it was also on Allardyce's watch that the core of today's successful side arrived, such as Adrian, Cresswell, Collins,  Kouyate, Song, Valencia and Sakho. He also coached Winston Reid and James Tomkins into becoming much better players. The players seemed to enjoy playing for Allardyce and at times his long ball reputation was exaggerated. Mark Noble would not have kept his place if the team was an exclusively long-ball outfit and we still score a lot of headers from crosses now, without any criticism of Bilic.

So I won't be joining in the boos aimed at Big Sam, though the time was right for both parties to part. Slaven Bilic is much better at saying what the fans want to hear. He understands the club and the fans' need for entertainment and glory nights. Allied to the genius of Payet, it seems we've got an upgrade and that Sullivan and Gold called it right. We could do without him yet again saying how over-demanding West Ham fans are, but Allardyce does deserve some credit for being part of that building process too.

Tuesday, February 23

Dmitri's poetry in motion

So Slaven Bilic has said of Dimitri Payet, "I have to get poetry lessons to describe his importance to us." It's not often that West Ham and poetry are mentioned in the same breath, though that William Shakespeare did knock off a few sonnets in Stratford. It's possible of course that T S Eliot (Ward) was an Iron who wrote The Wasteland after a bleak away trip to MIllwall. Kipling might have penned If after an aborted Cup run while W H Auden's Stop All the Clocks was quite possibly a reference to our dodgy scoreboard…

Sunday, February 21

Lover man Payet sees off wild Rovers

It's off to the Heeltap at London Bridge to watch this one with coffee-drinking Lisa and Matt (both preparing for shifts) and Michael the Heathian, hot from researching former Tory PMs. Matt's wearing his lucky Botafogo shirt, as you do. It's a slow start to the game, with Blackburn harrying at the heels of West Ham's passers. On 20 minutes Blackburn take the lead as Payet jumps out of the way and Antonio turns his back as Marshall drills a low shot into the corner, that Randolph should possibly have done better with. 

Thankfully we're up against a struggling Championship side. The Rovers midfield parts to allow Moses to run at their defence and fire in a low shot that goes straight through Jason Steele (whom as Matt says, sounds like a 1970s superhero). The Gav arrives with the score at 1-1 and orders a pint of Spitfire. He brings us good fortune as Taylor fouls Moses 30 yards out and Payet curls a sumptuous fee kick into the top corner. He makes it looks easy as lover man Dimitri runs into the arms of Super Slaven.

Ten minutes into the second half Taylor stupidly fouls Moses and receives a second yellow so we're up against ten men. At this point we force Matt to say that Emenike will never score for the Hammers. It works superbly. Emergency right-back Antonio, playing as a virtual winger, gets a shot in that's blocked; in the ensuing melee Kouyate pulls the ball across the box for Emenike to prod home. 

Emenike then hits the post when he should score and we have a series of 'goals' disallowed for offside. Kouyate is rather unlucky to be sent off for clipping Rovers' Henley on the edge of the box, as the contact looked minimal and the ball wasn't under Henley's control. The imperious Payet decides to finish the game off playing through Emenike, who rounds the keeper well to strike home. Two minutes into added time Payet glides from his own half takes on what seems like the entire Rovers' side and scores a stunning fifth. Seven thousand Hammers' fans celebrate again. Long time since we've scored five on the road.

We wonder if the Heeltap is the new lucky pub as Gav reminisces about the difficulties of finding a Zenit St Petersberg handbook in -21C Russia. 

A great result. So now it's Shrewsbury away in the quarter-finals — unless Man United pull off a giantkilling that is.

Friday, February 19

Come on you Ironworks!

Spent a very interesting day at Trinity Buoy Wharf near East India Dock DLR, where the original offices of the Thames Ironworks were once situated. Across the mouth of the River Lea is the site of the old Italianate Ironworks, where 3000 men once worked and owner Arnold Hills formed a football team in 1895, later to become West Ham United, to improve the moral wellbeing of his workforce. 

There's a noticeboard about the Ironworks on the wharf. Today the stretch of land on which the Ironworks once stood is home to, among others, the warehouses of ASD Metal Services. So maybe there still is some connection with iron on the site. In 2012 the remains of the old factory floors were found during the Crossrail excavations (and maybe West Ham's trophy cabinet?)

The Ironworks was the site of a massive disaster. In 1898, three years after the football club was formed, the launch of the battleship HMS Albion created a huge wave that overwhelmed a pontoon and swept 37 people to their deaths. On YouTube there’s some grainy footage of the massive ship entering the water surrounded by boats of onlookers and massive crowds on the quays and some very moving pictures of the confused aftermath of the disaster. There's a memorial to the victims, including many children, in the East London Cemetery at Plaistow.

Trinity Buoy wharf was once used for making river buoys. These days it's full of hipsters, with a colony of artists working from converted containers and the offices of the English National Opera. There's a fascinating old test lighthouse playing a never-ending piece of music called Longplayer, performed with Tibetan singing bowls, as you do. 

For refreshments we found a Fat Boy's Diner and the Bow Creek Cafe, which serves a fine breakfast and has a bit of a San Francisco feel to it. Even bumped into a couple from Stoke Newington there. Plus lots of designer graffiti on the warehouse walls, a giant fish and a taxi with a tree growing through the middle of it. Not sure what the old ironworkers would make of it all, but it's well worth a visit for a slice of London and football history.

Wednesday, February 17

Randolph saves goals - and puppies

Thanks to my pal Lisa for sending in this picture of Darren Randolph found on the Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) website. Darren is pictured with cute puppy Tia, a rescue dog that needs a home, and he is encouraging people to adopt a dog. 

West Ham seem to be a very dog-friendly club these days as Slaven Bilic told the Daily Telegraph that choosing West Ham was a bit like choosing a dog“When you are buying a dog you find like this – 10 reasons not to buy it. Because you can’t go out more, if you are travelling it’s a problem, he’s going to pee there and there until he learns. He’s going to bite your cat, he’s going to leave your place smelly. But there is one reason that’s good – he loves you. Every time you come home it’s like it’s the first time he’s seen you." 

And of course West Ham gave a home to a stray canine called Martin 'Mad Dog' Allen back in the 1990s…

Tuesday, February 16

Jelavic goes for £4m

A very good bit of business to get £4million from Chinese second division club Beijing Renhe for Nikica Jelavic. That's £1m more than we paid for him! Lord Sugar would be quite pleased with Karren Brady for that. Jelavic's pace looked to have gone when he appeared in his early games as a sub, but he showed he could still finish with a great goal against Wolves and a poacher's effort against Newcastle. He wasn't going to get many games with Emenike at the club so a good deal all round. Jelavic is pictured carrying a bunch of flowers as he is welcomed to China - though can't confirm if these were sent by my fellow season ticket holder Matt, who predicted Jelavic would never score for the Hammers.

Saturday, February 13

Noble draw as West Ham fight back from two-down

Norwich City 2 West Ham 2

After going two goals down and playing 120 minutes against Liverpool on Tuesday (with Kouyate, Tomkins and O'Brien crocked in that encounter) this looks a decent point, albeit against a struggling side. Credit to sub Victor Moses for his run from the half way line and then refusing to give up after being tackled for the first goal, with Payet stroking home the rebound after Moses's shot was blocked. Luckily for us Norwich just can't defend a lead and panicked after it went to 2-1. Another sub Andy Carroll did well to find Payet for the second. He was given far too much space to find Noble, but it was a lovely first time shot from the edge of the box for Nobes' equaliser. Noble deserve a goal because he's been playing really well of late.

Antonio lost the ball for Norwich's first goal, but it was a great finish from the edge of the box from Brady. Norwich's second had a trace of bad luck in the way the ball deflected to Hoolahan. At the end it could have gone either way with Norwich poking wide a good chance and Emenike just falling to get a decent connection with an inviting cross. Disappointed not to get three points at the end, but probably a fair result in the end. And in case you haven't noticed West Ham are now on 40 points — we're safe!

West Ham references in Doctor Who

My book Whovian Dad: A Doctor Who Fan's Travels Through Time and Space is now out as a Kindle Single and there is a West Ham link. The Hammers are one of only two clubs ever to be mentioned in Doctor Who. In the story Planet of the Ood there’s an incredible moment. David Tennant's Doctor asks Donna where she learned to whistle like that and she answers “Up West Ham!”, which at the time had me jumping up in delight. 

The only other mention of a team that I’ve been able to find is when Charlton get a namecheck in the 1988 Sylvester McCoy story Silver Nemesis. Sophie Aldred's Ace is reading the Daily Mirror while listening to Courtney Pine playing jazz and remarks, “Charlton picked up three points.” She also mentions having a Charlton badge in The Happiness Patrol. West Ham are also the only team mentioned in Harry Potter. Not a lot of people know that.

Friday, February 12

We've got Payet (signed up)

Great news that Dimitri Payet has signed an improved five-year contract, particularly with a mystery Chinese club, Man City and Chelsea reported to be sniffing around. Yes, West Ham have had to up his wages, but if any one player is going to fill the Olympic Stadium it's Payet. He's very much our talisman and it's a big signal to keep him for next season and hopefully the rest of his career. David Sullivan says he's the best player he's ever signed. Our song was obviously crucial in his decision. Unless our rival fans can find a better Billy Ray Cyrus tune, I think we've nailed him.

Thursday, February 11

Slaven seems to understand

Slaven Bilic's comments after the Liverpool match proved he knows exactly what West Ham fans want. Bilic said: "It is a special night. Yes, tomorrow is a new day and we have to concentrate on Norwich tomorrow but tonight there is no harm at all in saying this is a special night for our club. I'm so proud and happy for my players and proud of everyone that has any connection with the club because it is a great night for West Ham. OK, it is only for the last 16 but it was a late night kick-off, it was against Liverpool, it's our last season at Upton Park, it's over 120 minutes and we scored with a great header in the last second of the game despite having injuries. We overcame all of that so that is why this game will go down as one of the greatest nights and games in West Ham's history."

Yes, he exaggerated a little by claiming that it was one of the greatest nights in West Ham's history. But he spoke of emotion, pride, heart and special nights. In many ways the winning goal was straight from the Big Sam textbook; a set-piece and a thumping header. But whereas Allardyce would have spoken pragmatically about grinding out a result, Bilic appears to get what being a fan is all about and realises that a win under the lights is always something special. He appears to understand the romance of football.

Wednesday, February 10

Ogbonna wins a classic for the Irons

KUMB's take on the result…
West Ham 2 Liverpool 1 (FA Cup)

What a game. Had to miss this one as celebrating my daughter’s 15th birthday in Byron (strangely she turned down Ken’s Café) but caught the latter stages on the radio.

It’s a cracking start to the match with a stronger Liverpool line-up starting well. Coutinho hits the woodwork for the Scousers and Benteke is blocked by Randolph. Goal machine Joey O’Brien has a deflected shot against the post for the Irons. Payet then strikes the post with another superb free kick with Mignolet making a sharp save to deny Kouyate’s header from the rebound.

West Ham take the lead just before the break as Payet finds Valencia and Enner’s fine cross sits up for Antonio to score with a Van Basten-esque controlled volley. Great effort.

It’s a superb atmosphere at the Boleyn as the radio commentator gets involved in a not very PC metaphor of, “the old girl bats her eyelids and shows she can still do it.”

But it goes wrong early in the second half as West Ham’s wall jumps over the ball and Coutinho scores with a low free kick. Randolph looks slow to react too.

It’s more end-to-end to stuff after that as Sturridge and Origi come on for Liverpool and Collins and  Carroll for West Ham. Winston Reid pulls a hamstring and late in the game the curse of WHU right-backs strikes Joey O’Brien who limps off to be replaced by Moses.

Text reports reach me from Upton Park claiming that Matt is struggling to stay positive. As if. Antonio has a lobbed effort tipped over and West Ham should be awarded a penalty when Valencia is pulled back by Ilori as he goes for Antonio’s cross. Randolph has to save Benteke’s free kick and then Ibe’s long-range effort

So it’s into extra time with Antonio as an emergency right-back and Kouyate off after being knocked out in a worrying clash of heads. Noble has a decent effort saved by Mignolet and the hapless Benteke misses with a volley and then loses a one-on-one duel with Randolph. Sturridge shoots just over the top as the Scousers finish strongly.

It looks certain to go to penalties until the last minute of extra time when Lucas gives away a silly free kick with a push on Valencia. Payet curls in a beautiful cross and Ogbonna rises brilliantly to thump home Carroll-esque header. Upton Park erupts and there’s even a chant of, “Que sera sera whatever will be will be we’re going to Wembley.” Matt texts, “Oggy Oggy Oggy, oi oi oi!” Some unlikely heroes tonight in Oggy, O’Brien, Antonio and Randolph.

If this is the final cup-tie at the Boleyn then it's a fitting finale. So that’s three wins in a season over Liverpool and an aggregate score of 7-1. No room for complacency at Blackburn, but get a result there (and a fit right-back) and we’ll start to believe this might be our year.