Thursday, December 29

Red Bull Irons?

It looks like the Sun were trying to spice up their pre-transfer window news with the story that Red Bull were trying to buy West Ham. Jack Sullivan tweeted that the club rejected a £650m offer from Red Bull back in August — though that seems a very inflated figure — so we won't be seeing Red Bull Irons just yet. It's a relief as Red Bull Leipzig are now the most hated team in Germany thanks to the club rising from the fifth division, changing their name and vastly increasing the cost of membership. They've had flak for the stadium move and associated problems. but we could do worse than stick with Sullivan and Gold. Both are businessmen, but I've interviewed David Gold and his pride at playing for West Ham Boys and memories of early games at Upton Park are genuine enough, while David Sullivan appears to enjoy the nitty-gritty of football deals too much to want to get out yet. Never mind popcorn, we might really get to see the meaning of the word corporate should the Red Bull deal ever happen.

Wednesday, December 28

Hammers thrash dying Swans

Swansea City 1 West Ham 4

A fantastic Christmas present from South Wales. West Ham also managed to get Bob Bradley Santa's sack, such is the ignominy of shipping four goals at home to the Irons on Boxing Day. Swansea looked pretty dire, but in the past we've struggled to beat poor teams so this is a great result and means we've won three in a row. The Swans proved obliging opponents with Fabianski fumbling the ball straight to Ayew for an easy debut goal, two defenders being outmuscled by Winston Reid for the second, more lax marking for Antonio's third and Rangel turning his back for Carroll's late fourth. 

But it was an encouraging performance; the spine of the team played well, with Randolph making a couple of important saves, Reid scoring and Carroll causing the Swansea defence problems all afternoon. Even Nordtveit and Feghouli managed to get assists, which will improve their confidence. We've won every game Andy Carroll has started in since his return and as ever we need to keep him fit and safe in post-Christmas bubble wrap. But we're now eleventh and if we can get a result at Leicester then our season really will have turned. Irons!

Thursday, December 22

We're not getting Sakho in the morning

Diafra Sakho has had surgery on a back injury and will be out for eight to ten weeks. Rather mystifying as he was out with a thigh injury, but it seems the back injury that kept him out all season has flared up. So the Irons have effectively lost Sakho for the whole season, bar his appearances against Spurs and Man United. 

Slaven Bilic certainly looked pretty hangdog at his press conference. Assuming Zaza and Calleri are returned to their clubs we're are now down to Carroll, Ayew and Fletcher as striking options, none of whom has proved prolific, so expect a move for a striker in the transfer window. It's a notoriously difficult time to get a striker, and we've not found a winner since Demba Ba arrived. Though it's probably fair to say WHU have ruled out a move for Robbie Keane… 

Perhaps the best plan would be a loan move for a quality striker out of favour somewhere else, though it's very unlikely West Ham will get the likes of Sturridge, Martial or Rashford. Could be a worrying window.

Wednesday, December 21

Stop! Hammer Time

Appeared on the Stop! Hammer Time podcast last night alongside West Ham Man of the Match The Post, and the slightly more garrulous Phil Whelans and Jim Grant. The podcast contains a tribute to Zaza Gabor, a chat about Goodbye To Boleyn, lots of West Ham banter and a Christmas Carroll. Click on the link to listen. 

Tuesday, December 20

Farewell to Zaza

So farewell Zaza, who is being returned to sender after Christmas. Though to borrow Brian Williams' joke, perhaps we've been a bit harsh on him as no-one realised he was 99. Or was that Zsa Zsa Gabor? As with the late Zsa Zsa, signing on the dotted line has proved expensive for suitors. It's said that West Ham paid £5 million to sign Simone Zaza on loan and it was also reported the club had paid £4 million to sign Jonathan Calleri on another loan deal. The figures might be exaggerated, but if true that's an astonishing £9 million to simply loan a pair of uniquely non-productive strikers. For that price alone we could have actually bought outright a Charlie Austin or Dwight Gayle.

The clause that obliged West Ham to sign Zaza for a further £20 million after 14 games put unnecessary pressure on club and player and he's proved unable to cope with Premier League football. After several unproductive starts Zaza had a decent-ish game at Palace but then Bilic dropped him for the Chelsea game and hit upon using Antonio as a striker. There were a couple of unconvincing appearances as a sub against Everton and Man United and then he got injured. Simone has only made six starts for the Hammers (and five sub appearances) with no goals and it's all been a disaster. 

The manager and chairmen appeared to fall into the trap of signing someone based on a decent-ish spell in the European Championships (bar that penalty) and the belief that if someone plays for Juventus then they must be world class. But actually most of Zaza's goals were scored while on loan at Sassuolo and Ascoli, while he's only hit the net for Juventus five times in 19 appearances. Looking at his statistics he just doesn't have the record of scoring consistently for a top club over several seasons that should be necessary to make a striker worth £25 million. He might come good in a different league, but he should never have been in the £25 million bracket. Ironically Zaza proved a lot worse than what we already had in Andy Carroll and Diafra Sakho. 

Sunday, December 18

Great performance from the post sees West Ham nick a win

Clyde Best (with Goodbye to Boleyn) signing The Acid Test
West Ham 1 Hull City 0

First it’s off to the Newham Bookshop for the Clyde Best signing. There’s a stream of fans waiting to reminisce about his brace against Sheffield United and his 1970s heyday and Vivian sells out of her 150 copies of The Acid Test. As one of the UK’s first black footballers you can see just what an influence he’s had as a role model. Clyde has even bought a copy of Goodbye to Boleyn, which is flattering. Gavin and Michael turn up in time for Clyde’s photo-shoot by the World Cup statue, where he discusses playing with Pele before retreating to Nathan’s pie and mash.

Then Gavin, Michael and myself retreat to Ken’s Café where we are reunited with Carol, Ken and Billy and get them to shout out our numbers just for old times’ sake. Michael the possible Whovian is wearing a West Ham Christmas jumper in an effort to make the blog and has had an email from Tom Baker. He shows Carol the mention of Ken’s Café in his book A Singular Lifeit’s not often Ken’s get mentioned in a biography of a former PM.

It’s been a perfect day so far; the only problem is we now have to watch West Ham. We find Nigel (who has met Jimmy Page at his Christmas do) in the Clyde Best café at Stratford and proceed to the stadium. Michal worries whether the stewards will regard his Alan Bennett autobiography as a possible offensive weapon with all that vituperation and acidic wit.

Michael's bargain West Ham jumper
We’re joined inside by Fraser, Clyde Best’s number one fan Alison, Joe with his hipster beard and Steve the Cornish postman, who’s not on strike, because that’s the stamp people.

West Ham have a decent first ten minutes before fading away. Mbokani fires narrowly wide as a warning of things to come. A terrible backpass from Cresswell lets in Mbokani again, who fires against the inside of the post. From a Hull corner Randolph has to make a decent stop from Maguire’s header, leaving West Ham grateful to be level at the break. Hull are having more strikes than Southern Rail.

It gets worse after the break, even though Slaven has brought on Fernandes and Ayew for Lanzini and Obiang. Mark Noble heads a cross against his own post and two minutes letter the marauding left back Robertson hits a superb shot against Randolph’s far post.

Matt texts from La Palma where his easyjet flight has ben delayed by fog and asks if England is fogbound too. I reply that unfortunately we can see the events on the pitch perfectly.

The good thing is that the worse West Ham become the better the crowd is. The fans make a big effort to raise West Ham from their torpor as they sense that, football being what it is, we might nick a win against such a blatantly unlucky team. The volume is encouraging.

Ayew has a header cleared off the line from Payet’s corner and from the melee Antonio has a low effort saved. From that attack Hull break down the other end and only a superb tackle from Kouyate prevents Clucas opening the scoring. Maguire has a header cleared off the line by Fernandes. It’s now end-to-end and rather entertaining in a kamikaze kind of way.

A mazy dribble from Payet wins a free kick with 14 minutes to go. Dimitri drops it into the box, there’s a scramble and Antonio goes down for ref Lee Mason to award a softish penalty. There’s an arm on Mikhail but surely not enough to bring him down. Mark Noble remains calm and dispatches the penalty, to spark a huge roar of relief around the London Stadium.

Nobes keeps calm and slots home his penalty…
West Ham threaten a second as Antonio is felled after a great run and Payet’s free kick is tipped over by Marshall. But there’s still time for a nervous finish as Cresswell slips and Maguire fires a low effort at Randolph.

We hold on for another win and credit to Kouyate for keeping going and Antonio for showing some spirit and also Andy Carroll for winning some great defensive headers. West Ham are very lucky to get three points but playing badly and winning is not a bad habit to get into. Hopefully the side will get some confidence from back to back wins and play with more freedom in future.

It’s certainly the best performance most of us have ever seen from a West Ham post and it’s quite right that the post is voted man of the match on twitter. Always in doubt, but it’s seven points from three games and now we can look upwards.

PLAYER RATINGS: The Post 10; Randolph 6; Antonio 6, Kouyate 7, Ogbonna 6, Reid 6, Cresswell 4; Noble 6, Obiang 5 (Fernandes 6) Lanzini 5 (Ayew 6), Payet 6; Carroll 6.

Friday, December 16

Oxford graduates

Excellent news that Reece Oxford has finally signed a new four and a half year contract with the Irons. That should ward off interest from the Manchester clubs for the time being. Slaven Bilic describes the 18-year-old as potentially world-class and Reece should be back training next week after a lay-off with injury. Oxford would certainly give us more options at the back and could potentially replace the ageing James Collins in the squad long term, while's he's also a good option to use as a holding midfield payer. Bilic presumably sold James Tomkins because of his faith in Oxford, so it would be good to see him step up and get some first-team games this season.

Thursday, December 15

Nobes and Carroll edge it for nervy Hammers

Mark Noble scores from open play…
West Ham 1 Burnley 0

Andy Carroll playing a midweek game against a team that has only taken one away point all season — what could possibly go wrong? For once nothing, which is an odd sensation.

I’m joined in the East stand by Fraser, the newly-wed Gavin ("you're not single anymore"), Michael, a tardy Nigel and Scott, who’s predicted a 5-1 win. There’s a moving minute of applause to mark the death of Peter Brabrook and although the crowd is down it ‘s more like the hardcore support and the atmosphere is a bit better, even if the noise still drifts away in our new home.

West Ham play pretty well in the first half against an unambitious Burnley. Antonio just fails to connect with Noble’s cross early on. Nobes then hits the post with a fine curling effort from the edge of the area. Lowton makes a great block to deny Cresswell’s goalbound shot and Obiang hits the outside of the post with an effort from distance.

In added time at the end of the first half Carroll gets his head to Payet’s corner, Heaton flaps at the ball under pressure from Kouyate (Sean Dyche claims it’s a foul) and Winston Reid is pulled back as he tries to poke home the rebound. Penalty! Mark Noble’s effort is saved but the rebound falls nicely for him to slot home. Finally we’re getting a bit of luck.

West Ham look nervous in the second half as Burnley start to look dangerous from set-plays. Vokes somehow heads over after Randolph has made a fine save and the West Ham keeper makes another great stop to deny Arfield’s free kick. Referee Bobby Madley ignores a series of cloggings on Payet and must be thankful Matt is in La Palma as such assaults would stretch the patience of a vicar’s son.

Towards the end sub Ayew almost gets a second, cleverly getting through the Burnley defence only to fire just wide. We survive five minutes of added time and take the ball into the corner. It’s not pretty but at this stage of the season the result is everything. We text the result to Matt, who is dancing in the aisle of the Los Llanas bus after a mega mountain hike.

Andy Carroll has made a big difference up front and worried the Burnley defence all night. He’s not completely sharp yet, but finally we have a striker holding the ball up and wining aerial battles. Credit to Dimitri Payet too. A lot of what he tried didn’t come off but he drew a lot of fouls and even put in some tackles. Crucially this result might give us a bit of confidence. And as Fraser, the Raymond Chandler of E20, points out, we’re on an unbeaten run of two games.

Post-match Fraser suggests the Railway for a drink and I’m tasked with leading our party through the Olympic Park. We miss Penny Brookes Street and end up on Victory Parade half way to Shenfield. Just as we’re wondering if we’ll still be looking for a pub as the Hull game kicks off Nigel spots The Eagle, an oasis in a dimly-lit post-industrial dystopian maze of streets. It’s not a bad pub, despite the lack of real ale. Gav approves of the Guinness, we get a seat and Nigel expresses his relief that no-one will ever ridicule his short cut to the Black Lion after my own Mark Thatcher-esque attempts at navigation. The it's a trek down Leyton Road — where we finally find The Railway — and back to Stratford.

A very welcome win and now we play a team who look certain to go down on Saturday. What could possibly go wrong?

PLAYER RATINGS: Randolph 7; Antonio 6, Kouyate 6, Ogbonna 6, Reid 7, Cresswell 6; Obiang 6, Noble 7 (Nordtveit n/a), Lanzini 6 (Ayew 6), Payet 7; Carroll 7 (Fletcher 5).

Tuesday, December 13

On the booze with Dimitri

Thanks to Matt for this picture of Dimitri beer, a local tipple in La Palma in the Canary Islands. It's a craft beer, obviously superior to the German brew Karius, which has lots of hops and Klopps but has a poor specific gravity and leaves a bitter aftertaste.

Monday, December 12

Battling Hammers earn a point at Anfield

Liverpool 2 West Ham 2

Well, we'd have taken a point before the game. Watched this one from the Twelve Pins at Finsbury Park, which despite the Arsenal links has decent screens and a nice pint of Adnams Mosaic pale ale. A very mixed game for Darren Randolph, who spilled a routine cross to gift Origi the equaliser, but then produced one of the saves of the season to tip over Henderson's piledriver that was destined for the top corner. 

It looked like another thrashing as Mane burst down the left and crossed for Lallana to swivel and score after five minutes. But West Ham certainly showed a lot of character and were definitely playing for Slaven. Noble, Obiang and even Ayew did a lot of midfield scuffling and Antonio's burst forward, forcing a save from Karius, was a sign of intent. 

West Ham equalised when Obiang was brought down and Payet scored direct from the free kick. It was a fine free kick but having got a palm to the ball Karius should have done better. Great celebration from Dimitri who gave the corner flag a salute. It got better as Nordtveit's hopeful punt spun off a Liverpool player, confusing Matip, as Antonio ran behind him to prod post the hesitant Karius. Payet almost gave away a penalty in his own box jus before the interval, but it was a sign that he was working for the cause. 

Randolph's spill gifted Liverpool the equaliser after 48 minutes, but the Hammers' custodian  then redeemed himself with that superb save from Henderson. It was a fine defensive performance from the Hammers, with Reid and Ogbonna outstanding, while even Nordtveit grew into the game and started to look reasonably solid at right back. Big Andy came on and got a  bloodied face going for a cross with Karius while Antonio was tireless when switched to right midfield. A decent cameo from sub Fernandes too. 

Didn't expect to get anything from this and West Ham are now out of the bottom three. It certainly had Matt and Lisa dancing in the streets of La Palma, where they had been on a romantic mini-break watching the final of the Copa Pepe Gonzalez (won by Atletico Paso) and they celebrated our draw with bottles of Dimitri, a Tenerife craft beer and some Ronnie Biggs brown ale. Meanwhile Nigel texts from Status Quo's last ever London electric gig to say he's relieved we're no longer going down down deeper and down.

A point at Klopp's Kop should ensure we go into the Burnley and Hull games with much more confidence. Irons!

Sunday, December 11

Do West Ham really need a new keeper?

More rumours in the Sunday Telegraph today that West Ham might be after either Chelsea's Asmir Begovic or Manchester City's Joe Hart next season, if we avoid relegation. Adrian might have been dropped after a mistake against Stoke and some rickets at home to Watford, but I still think he's a really good goalkeeper based on what he's done over the last two seasons. He had forced his way into the Spanish squad and recently had a fine game in the win at Palace. While Darren Randolph is Ireland's number one, and looks really promising too, witness his performance in the draw at Old Trafford. If the keepers have made mistakes it's surely because of the lack of a consistent first-choice back four and the problems at right-back and the loss of Cresswell in pre-season. We should be concentrating on securing a right-back, a midfield leader and some strikers rather than a goalkeeper.

Thursday, December 8

Clyde Best signing at Newham Bookshop

West Ham legend Clyde Best will be signing copies of his excellent autobiography The Acid Test at the Newham Bookshop on Dec 17 at 11 am before the Hull City match. The bookshop is at at 745-747 Barking Road, E13. Clyde's book is an interesting and at times sad read about the 1970s and the racism early black players suffered. Best made his breakthrough at 19 and was soon starring alongside Bobby Moore and Geoff Hurst while lodging with Clive Charles' mum Jessie. I remember watching him bag a couple against Sheffield United in the League Cup and he was exactly the sort of strong target man that West Ham need now. Do check out the earlier review of The Acid Test on this blog too. Should be a great signing.

Wednesday, December 7

Is Fellaini the answer?

The Daily Telegraph suggests West Ham are going to try to sign Marouane Fellaini on loan from Manchester United for the rest of the season. He 's certainly a big lump who would have a physical presence and always plays well against West Ham (but then most players do). He tends to slow down play in midfield though and we surely need to sped things up when you have Payet and Lanzini breaking and wing-backs overlapping. 

Another problem is that no-one seems to know his best position. Is the big Belgian a defensive shield, an attacking midfielder or a striker? I don't like Fellaini's use of elbows but on the other hand he's difficult to play against and he does have great chest control. If he could rediscover the goalscoring form he showed for Everton he might help save WHU and let's face it we're desperate. 

Though one alternative would be to sign the ghost of the late Italian filmmaker Fellini, who would at least make West Ham TV a lot more artistic.

Tuesday, December 6

Sullivan backs Bilic

Quite a sensible announcement from David Sullivan backing Slaven Bilic and pointing out, "We cannot forget the amazing job that Slaven did in his first season at the Club. With a bit more luck he could have taken us into the top four." 

Sullivan makes a good point about sticking together and doesn't quite deserve all the flak he's got on social media for referring to "the West Ham family". Yes, Sullivan and Gold are businessmen who want to make money out of football, but they stepped in when the club was bankrupt and would have been accused of lacking ambition had they not gone for the Olympic Stadium. Football has been run as big business ever since the Premier League started in 1992 and for all their mistakes, we could do worse than have British owners with local connections. 

The Boleyn Ground has gone and we can't bring it back and now, for all its faults, we have to try and make the London Stadium work. The bad summer signings have happened and must be rectified in the January transfer window. We have as ever, to wait for the injury crisis to improve. Payet might have to go if he's unhappy. Slaven's coaching team needs re-considering perhaps, but there's no point in changing the gaffer yet. There will be lots of moaning as with any team near the bottom, but Sullivan is in essence right. The players need to look at themselves and we need to get behind the team — and stay to the end even if we're playing rubbish. COYI.

Sunday, December 4

West Ham humiliated at home by rampant Gunners

West Ham 1 Arsenal 5

Picked a good game to miss through visiting my daughter in Paris. Seems like West Ham were pretty merde and Matt's text agrees: "Tres tres merde. Nous sommes pathetique dans le defense, et malade en le attaque. Je suis inconsolable. Le beau Paris plus superiore choix."

There's an element of bad luck for West Ham in injuries to wing-backs Cresswell and Antionio, plus Kouyate, Sakho and early on in the game James Collins. But what's worrying is that Slaven Bilic is saying he feels "humiliated" and that in training and matches the players are not showing the required intensity or desire. 

It's not pretty viewing on Match of the Day. Arbeloa is not ready to return for such a big match and looks off the pace. Ogbonna gives away the first with a slack pass and Reid is outwitted by Sanchez. It's a brilliant piece of control and turn by Sanchez for the second but again Masuaku and Ogbonna are bamboozled, while the defence gives Sanchez and Oxlade-Chamberlain far too much space for the last three goals, even if the fifth was offside. Arsenal are a quality side, but the capitulation is very very worrying. Though credit to the Arsenal fans for their chant of, "Is this the Emirates?"

The only slight positive is that Andy Carroll headed in his first goal of the season after Payet's free-kick hit the bar (three different strikers have scored in successive games after none had netted for the whole season) and Fletcher played 90 minutes and had a rasping effort just wide. Payet is only playing at 90 per cent and looks dispirited, but is still our best player. He'll surely be off in January and we can't really blame him. He was promised a tilt at the top six and got a relegation fight. 

Assuming we lose at Liverpool, the home games against Hull and Burnley are now must-wins, as is Swansea away on Boxing Day and if not Bilic might be getting Santa's sack for Christmas with Premier League survival at stake and a new stadium to fill. He's got to prove he can motivate this group and the players have to show some spirit. As the Stranglers once sang, something better change. 

Friday, December 2

Keep the World Cup statue at Upton Park

Moore Hurst and Peters win the World Cup
There's a very worthwhile campaign to have the Moore, Hurst and Peters World Cup statue listed by Historic England and kept at Upton Park. Came across Bike For Boleyn and several local councillors campaigning by the statue while signing Goodbye to Boleyn at the Newham Bookshop last week. To sign the Save Our Statue petition click on the link here. Bike From Boleyn are also having having a Christmas Social at the West Ham United Supporters Club in Castle Street from 6-7pm on Dec 1 and a big bike ride to the Everton match on April 22. Check out their Facebook page for details.

Thursday, December 1

Concentrating on the League…

Ken Lucas, Pete, Fraser and Matt
Manchester United 4 West Ham 1 (EFL Cup)

The best part of the evening is the pre-match drinks to celebrate the launch of Goodbye to Boleyn upstairs at the Freemasons Arms. Selected WHU fans are present and we're graced by the presence of Ken Lucas, the owner of Ken's Cafe, along with his son and grandsons. Speech over, it's on to the live match on Sky.

United's incisive football causes West Ham instant problems and the Reds take the lead after two minutes as Rooney finds Mkhitaryan whose clever back heel plays in Ibrahimovic. The big Swede skips past the falling Antionio and prods past Adrian, getting clattered in the process. 

The West Ham keeper has to make a fine double stop, then tips away Rooney's free kick and stops a Martial shot. But slowly West Ham get back into it and on 35 minutes Obiang finds Payet on the left. Dimitri's shot is parried by De Gea straight to Fletcher, who scores his first Hammers goal. "Ashley Fletcher he left 'cos you're shit!" chant the loud Hammers contingent.

Worryingly Cresswell has to go off injured at half-time and West Ham again concede an early goal after the break. Valencia back heels to Mkhitaryan on the left and his pull back is dispatched by the unmarked Martial as the West Ham defence ballwatches. It's 3-1 after 62 minutes as Ibrahimovic dissects the West Ham defence with a superb pass to find Valencia who crosses for Martial, again unmarked, to stroke home. 

West Ham effectively give up on the game by taking off Payet as Feghouli fires over when he should score and sub Zaza hits a shot into touch. Adrian keeps the score down with a great save from Ibrahimovic. The exiled Schweinsteiger comes on gets a big cheer from the home fans and shoots just wide before Herrera sets up Ibrahimovic for the fourth with the last kick of the game.

United have played really well, but it's a deeply disappointing second half from West Ham. We've certainly missed the rested Mark Noble in midfield. Admittedly Sunday's point at  Old Trafford is more use than a cup run in our position, but had West Ham progressed we'd have played Hull in the semi-final. So we'll just have to win the FA Cup now…