Thursday, November 30

We lose every week…

Everton 4 West Ham 0

A freezing Wednesday night on Merseyside with Big Sam newly-appointed as Everton boss — what could possibly go wrong? Well, turning up for the first half might have helped. There's a bad feeling once the news comes out that Andy Carroll has injured his knee in training. Everton take the lead when Calvert-Lewin gets goalside of the defence and Hart rushes out to mistime his challenge and bring him down for a penalty. The hapless Hart saves Rooney's penalty only for the ball to squirm straight back on to Rooney's head. The second is a good move by the Toffees, but Rooney is allowed to run from deep by Kouyate and get into the box to stroke home. Oh, and it's very nice of Match of the Day to include shots of Big Sam smirking in the Goodison stand. 

West Ham have their only decent spell at the start of the second half as Sakho replaces Obiang. Lanzini has a long-range effort well saved by Pickford, Manuel then finds Cresswell in the box who thumps a rising shot on to the bar. The Hammers seem to have a way back when the ref awards a penalty for a foul on Sakho. But Lanzini's effort is a good height for Pickford who saves amid huge cheers from the Scousers. An unlucky spell, but you can't wait until the second half to start playing.

The Irons then fall apart as Hart unnecessarily races from his box to slice a clearance out to Wayne Rooney by the centre circle. Wayne promptly scores the second goal of his career from his own half against West Ham. It gets worse when Reid goes off injured and Rice's first action is to allow Williams to get ahead of him to power home a header from a corner.

The only positive is that as Christmas approaches we have resurrected the career of Wayne Rooney and improved the spirits of both David Unsworth and Sam Allardyce with our festive gifts. It's too early to blame Moyes entirely as he can only work with what he's inherited, but he was surely too cautious in only playing Ayew up front against a team that had just conceded five and four goals and had injuries at the back. No-one's place should be safe after this. A chance for Adrian would be a start. This was an embarrassing defeat and for the first time this season makes me think that we really are going down.

Wednesday, November 29

You can't keep an old West Ham manager down

Old West Ham managers just keep on returning. Alan Pardew has just been appointed manager of West Brom while Big Sam Allardyce is said to be in line for the Everton job and another nice little earner. While Slaven Bilic was also said to have been approached for the West Brom job, but sensibly decided to have a rest. 

It's not as if West Ham have been a particularly successful club. Pards and Big Sam are competent gaffers, but it does rather illustrate the fact that Premier League clubs are not willing to take a chance on new talent. The only real gamble was Hull and then Watford's appointment of Marco Silva, and now he's much in demand, so it can't be that risky. At this rate Alan Curbishley, Glenn Roeder and Harry Redknapp may soon have new clubs as well. 

Tuesday, November 28

Come on you Iron Men

Here’s something to cheer us up and a fine Christmas present for the Hammer in your life. Finally sat down and watched my Iron Men dvd. It concentrates mainly on the game against Man United in the Cup, the final Saturday game against Swansea and the epic finale against Man United. It all seems an aeon ago, as West Ham have a French midfielder who looks quite classy, finish seventh and play in a tightly-contained ground. 

The footage of the fans concentrates mainly on characters like blind supporter Matt Datson, Gary Firmager of OLASNathan’s pie and mash, the two-for-£1 sweet man, the Rib Man and 100-year-old super-fan Mabel. Although there’s perhaps a little too much of Ray Winstone being a diamond geezer as it doesn’t really need a celebrity angle. It has some great footage of Mark Noble showing us the park he used to play in at Hermit Road on the site of West Ham’s old ground. Plus Nobes coming in to training and shaking everyone’s hands and Slaven Bilic proving that he gets the West Ham Way.


The coverage of the final game at the Boleyn is terrific, with it hard not to supress a tear as Winston Reid’s header goes over the line in slow motion. The scenes of Bilic in tears and fans lingering at the end are unforgettable. Director Paul Crompton’s shots of the crowd are beautifully filmed and the evocative music really adds to the atmosphere of sadness. It’s now a piece of nostalgia, but Iron Men is well worth a tenner of anyone’s money.

Sunday, November 26

Living in a large empty hollow bowl?

The London Stadium has had plenty of problems and it's going to take a long time for it to feel like home. But you do wish some journalists would write more about the match and less about the stadium. The Guardian's Barney Ronay is normally a fine and funny writer, but goes over-the-top in his fixation with the London Stadium. In his review of the Leicester match he calls the stadium a, "vast, chilly, cantilevered bowl", a "huge, awkwardly geared stadium", an "oddly troubling stadium" and "this vast open space" with "distant green acres". 

Ronay even managed to channel Talking Heads with, "And you may find yourself living in a large, empty, hollow bowl." He went on: "There is simply an emptiness, a sense of disjunct in a place that really should be a source of strength" and that "Moyes looks minuscule out there, alone in all that empty space." 

Ironically it was a cracking atmosphere in the second half and Ronay does note in his opening paragraph that after 55 minutes, "the home crowd could be seen up on its feet, waving its arms and sending a sustained chorus of 'David Moyes’ claret and blue army' [it was actually 'West Ham's claret and blue army'] rolling around this vast, chilly, cantilevered bowl." 

It probably doesn't help that the hacks are up near the top of the Betway Stand. The press are still obsessed with the stadium and with so much negative coverage it's become a self-fulfilling prophecy that it's a corporate bowl. So please give it a rest for a while. As fans we're stuck with the stadium and on Friday night made a very decent attempt to make it sound like Upton Park.

Saturday, November 25

Kouyate comes good for spirited Hammers

West Ham 1 Leicester City 1

It’s into the Best Café after braving the Oxford Circus incident that wasn’t, where Alison’s looking forward to being chauffeur-driven home by Scott, Lisa is replacing the working Matt and Nigel is quipping that if we’d waited another week Mugabe would have been available for the manager’s job. We’re joined by The Gav and Ilona, a member of the Russian Irons, who is rather amused by the geographically inexact chant of, “My name is Ludek Miklosko I come from near Moscow.”  

We leave the cafe, travel down the shouty tunnel and get in just after kick-off because everyone is having to turn out their pockets for the searches. “Leicester are 1-0 up… only joking” quips Nigel’s steward. He’s proved quite prescient. The usual pattern of giving a sloppy goal appears as Leicester score with their first attack after seven minutes. Reid backs off Vardy whose cross goes straight through Ogbonna and is steered into the corner by Albrighton.

NOT ALBRIGHTON ON THE NIGHT 
With Gray and Vardy quick on the break, the Foxes have chances to make it two. Masuaku is slightly lucky not to concede a penalty for a shove on Albrighton, while Vardy slices just wide. But slowly the Hammers come back into it.  The change in managerial regime appears to be having an effect, as exemplified by Arnautovic getting back into his own box to make a saving tackle after Reid dithers. Masuaku is getting in some good crosses on the left and looks more dynamic than the dropped Noble. Andy Carroll is taking a lot of balls on his chest and linking play while he also appears to have been told not to use his elbows. Kouyate is looking much more energetic and West Ham are pressing in groups of three against Leicester’s defence, almost as if they’ve been watching a Danny Murphy masterclass on Match of the Day.

CHEIKHOU MATE 
Schmeichel has to make a decent save as Lanzini’s free kick is headed goalwards by Ogbonna. With two minutes to go to half-time West Ham gain a corner. Lanzini’s kick is met by Kouyate’s head and the ball flicks off Simpson’s shoulder and into the net. A great time to score as Cheikhou runs to the fans. It’s good to see Moyes pumping his fists on the touchline. And as a bonus we also remember not to concede within 30 seconds of scoring.

West Ham are much improved in the second half. And something happens to the crowd. For all the talk of the West Ham way, it’s as much about effort as style. Seeing the players put in a conspicuous working-class shift the crowd suddenly really gets behind the team. Half the stadium is standing and it’s suddenly more like Upton Park. Choruses of “Come on you Irons!” and “Stand up if you Love West Ham!” resound around the London Stadium, and as the concrete is heartily banged a rousing, “We are West Ham’s claret and blue army!” It’s not yet “David Moyes’ claret and blue army” as some papers reported, but the crowd are presumably waiting for my fellow season-ticket holder Fraser to start that one.

Arnautovic gets clattered in his own box defending again and it’s heartening to hear him receive a standing ovation as he’s subbed by Ayew. "One thumb! He's only got one thumb!" comes the chant from behind us. Andre seems very hyped-up and immediately shouts at the linesman before trying to win a penalty with what looks like a dive over Maguire’s foot.

WE ARE WEST HAM'S CLARET AND BLUE ARMY
We do our bit. Nigel gets out his lucky banana while Ilona and Gavin produce a lucky packet of assorted sweets. Lisa has to fend off an incendiary text from Matt after Masuaku gets through in a perfect position to cross only to miskick.

There are six minutes of added time and West Ham’s best effort is an overhead kick from Ayew that flies on to the roof of the net. But a point is a sign of progress and it’s been a much improved team performance. The players have shown some pride and workrate.

We retreat to the Refreshment Room, where the Blue Moon beer comes with an added slice of orange, which Fraser points out is one of my five a day. Gavin reminisces about the delights of real ale in Upminster and Fraser reveals that if he had unlimited finance and the power of regeneration he’d bring back Ron Greenwood.

At least we haven’t lost by three goals again. Even though it’s only a point, if the Irons can play with this level of determination and get Antonio and Hernandez back, then West Ham will get results.


PLAYER RATINGS: Hart 6; Zabaleta 6, Reid 6, Ogbonna 5, Cresswell 6; Arnautovic 7 (Ayew 6), Kouyate 7, Obiang 6, Lanzini 6, Masuaku 7 (Sakho n/a); Carroll 6; The Fans 10.

Thursday, November 23

Big performance needed against Leicester

Another Friday night game and a much better performance is required from the Hammers against Leicester. Moyes will have had a week of full training with the players and we have to hope they respond to a new gaffer. Watford deserved their win, but there was some sign of improvement in that West Ham's running stats were better and the side created four clear chances. Arnautovic also looked much more up for it. He nearly scored only to be thwarted by a great Gomis double save and then laid on a cross that Kouyate should have buried. His thumb is bruised not broken so it seems he'll play against the Foxes. 

On the negative side, Cresswell looked out of sorts, Hart made another error and Obiang and Kouyate were out-run by Doucoure. Mark Noble's not as fast as he once was, so perhaps the most vital task for Moyes is to get Kouyate and Obiang fitter and back to being box-to-box midfielders to take the pressure off Noble. If the holding players can perform then Lanzini might get on the ball more. While another creative midfielder to support Manuel should be a target in the window. 


Hernandez is still out and Antonio is back training, but sensibly won't be risked just yet. But Ayew is fit again after illness and could start alongside Carroll if Moyes drops a central midfielder. Moyes wasn't the choice of most fans, but he's right to say that the big-name players have to justify their reputations. We desperately need a result under the lights.

Tuesday, November 21

In defence of Andy Carroll

I'm not sure the away fans at Watford should have had a go at Andy Carroll, with chants of "Andy Carroll we left 'cos you'e shit!" and "You'e not fit to wear the shirt!" (though this was more against the team as a whole). Big Andy has wound up some fans after the Liverpool match by suggesting that the empty seats at the end of games don't help the players. It's never wise to pick a fight with your own fans, and yes, you can understand why fans left at 4-1 down against Liverpool, but generally he has a point. Banks of white seats add to the air of pessimism and personally I stay to the end of the match whatever happens. 

The other point is that unlike some players, when Carroll plays he always puts in a shift. If anything he tries too hard and gets booked and sent off for silly offences because he's too hyped up, as at Burnley, when he did deserve criticism. He had no need to lead with his elbow in the first minute at Watford either and he needs to calm down. 

His injury record hasn't been helped by his tendency to throw himself at everything in the box, but he's certainly up for it. At Watford Carroll was completely isolated up front and up against three big centre backs in Mariappa, Britos and Kabasale, but always kept battling for scraps. It's easy to come out with statements that might sound bad after a game, but what he said was only words and fans can be over-sensitive. Carroll is an easy target because he's injury-prone and married to a Towie star, but he tries and on his day he can also be unplayable. We're going to need him if we're to get out of trouble.

Monday, November 20

Emergency! Emergency!

So who was it who phoned 999? West Ham fans have been urged not to dial 999 by the police because losing to Watford is not a genuine emergency. Though presumably the police will accept Tony Pulis being on the market as a valid reason for calling them up…

Sunday, November 19

Hammers miss chances as Watford make it a miserable start for Moyes

Watford 2 West Ham 0

It’s off to Watford Junction with Matt, where we trek across a sleepy Watford and home fans offer us directions rather than trying to attack us. Well, they say it;s a family club. We enjoy a cup of Rosie Lee in Domenic’s Café, before meeting my old school pal Mark at the stadium and taking our place among the Hornets’ nest in the Graham Taylor Stand.

The isolated Andy Carroll gets booked early on for using his elbow, much to the displeasure of the home fans. Arnautovic is playing wide right, which is mystifying when he’s left-footed, though Moyes is presumably stating that system comes before individuals. “Sack the board!” comes from the away end even when it’s 0-0.

Watford score with their first real attack after 11 minutes after Richarlison charges down the left, as Hughes lashes home a rebound after Gray’s blocked effort falls rather luckily in his path. We have a great view of mascot Harry The Hornet banging his bloody drum. Watford almost make it two when Hart parries the ball out only for the chance to be sliced wide. "You're nothing special we lose every week!" chant the Irons fans.

BRILLIANT GOMES
Generally Doucoure out-powers the disappointing trio of Kouyate, Noble and Obiang in central midfield. Though the Hammers do almost come back into it before half-time. Noble finds Kouyate who has an effort pushed wide by Gomis. Then Zabaleta gets in a great cross and Gomis makes a fantastic save from first Arnautovic's header and then a brilliant block with his foot. A key moment in the game.

Arnautovic is working much harder and pulls back a cross for Kouyate to blast over when he should score at the start of the second half. The Austrian later leaves the pitch after being inadvertently stamped on, writhing in agony in the turf and suffering what is suspected to be a broken thumb.

It’s over when Hughes controls with his hand and then finds Richarlison in lots of space, who bursts into the box to power a shot through Joe Hart, who seems to have developed “soft hands”. Though to be fair he has made a brilliant stop a few minutes earlier, but Hart is too much of a mixed bag at present. Watford frequently look like making it three and impress on the break against a slow West Ham side.

At least sub Arthur Masuaku has a go with some late runs and crosses. His low cross finds Lanzini, whose effort is cleared off the line with the aid of a hand.

WEST HAM DISUNITED
The atmosphere turns pretty toxic in the away section towards the end with chants of “Sack the board!”, “Karren Brady you’ve f**ked up our club!”, “You’re not fit to wear the shirt!” and “Andy Carroll, we left ‘cos you’re s**t!” Followed by a ditty about Gold and Sullivan to the tune of Slade’s Cum On Feel The Noize. So at least something positive has come out of the game — a mini glam rock revival.

It’s disappointing, but West Ham have made four clear chances they should have scored, even if Watford have looked the better side. "At least we won't have to come here next season," I tell Mark as we leave. "And playing Millwall should be fun in Westfield," he adds.

As for the chants, we’re all frustrated, but the old stadium isn’t coming back. For all their faults the board backed Bilic with signings (though maybe the wrong ones). Whatever most fans think of Moyes, it’s time to get behind the manager and the team. Leicester becomes yet another must win game and things have to improve, but let’s go into it as a united club.


PLAYER RATINGS: Hart 5; Zabaleta 6, Reid 5, Ogbonna 5, Cresswell 5; Arnautovic 6 (Masuaku 6), Noble 5, Obiang 5, Kouyate 4, Lanzini 5; Carroll 5 (Sakho 5).

Friday, November 17

Hungry like the Wolf

Congratulations to Andy Carroll and Billi Mucklow on the birth of their second child, who has been given the entirely sensible name of Wolf Nine Carroll. Is the lad's first name a tribute to Wolfie from Citizen Smith? Or a hint that he might go on to play for Wolves? His second name of Nine is thought to be a nod to the Beckhams, who named their daughter Harper Seven after David's shirt number. Which is all very well as a principle, but it does mean that if Declan Rice has a child he'll have to give it a middle name of Forty One.

Thursday, November 16

Hammers Home From Home at East Ham

Thanks to all the 40-odd punters who came to see Brian Wiliams and myself talk about our Goodybye To Boleyn and Home From Home and Nearly Reach The Sky books at East Ham Library on Tuesday night as part of the Newham Word Festival

Great to have readers arriving from as far afield as Southend and Benfleet. Enjoyed hearing Brian Williams' description of the fan behind him who divided the 1990s sides into two classifications of "has-beens" and "wankers." 

The audience seemed to appreciate our reminiscences about the Boleyn and there was still a palpable sense of anger about the stadium move. So good to have Cecilia from the Save Our Statue campaign there too. Let's keep the World Cup Statue at Upton Park. And enjoyed a post-gig drink in the Miller's Well with Brian, Di and Jackie, where we somehow got on to Peter Grotier's moustache, Johnny Ayris and Harry Redknpp's thighs. Here's a picture of the Newham Bookshop's display of our tomes and thanks to all who bought copies.

Wednesday, November 15

Psycho returns: plenty of experience in Moyes' back-up team

David Moyes has announced his back-up team and although it's the usual suspects, the positive is that there's a lot of managerial experience in there. Stuart Pearce is a good appointment because he was a popular figure at West Ham when he arrived in his late thirties and was utterly committed. He should improve motivation and has managerial experience with Nottingham Forest, Man City and the England Under-21 side. Maybe not a top-class manager but a good assistant to have. 

Alan Irvine has managed Preston, Sheffield Wednesday, West Brom (very briefly) and been assistant manager at Norwich. While Billy McKinlay has coached extensively and has managed at Watford, Stabaek in Norway and Sunderland (as caretaker).

We never heard much from Slaven Bilic's assistant Nikola Jurcevic or the rest of his back-up team and he was reluctant to change them when it was suggested by the board. At least the new assistants should have enough managerial experience to be more than yes men. If Moyes is making mistakes they will hopefully tell him.

Sunday, November 12

Literary Irons at East Ham Library

It's the literary event of the year on Tuesday, Nov 14 at the East Ham Library where Brian Williams and myself take West Ham to the next level (possibly) while talking about our books Goodbye to Boleyn and Home From Home. As double acts go it should be somewhere between McAvennie and Cottee and Bonds and Brooking (or on a bad night Saint and Greavesie). Tickets — it's free! – from Newham Bookshop or Newham Word Festival websites. 

Friday, November 10

Moyes makes a decent start by emphasising fitness and player responsibility

The majority of West Ham fans might remain underwhelmed at the appointment of David Moyes, but he's made the right noises at his first press conference. He's declared West Ham a big club with a good squad and addressed the rumours about lack of intensity in training by organising double sessions — though you'd think injury-prone Andy Carroll might require a separate training regime. 

Moyes was careful not to criticise Bilic and his back room staff but he is is clearly worried by the fitness stats declaring: "Once they know they are running and sprinting the least, they need to take a bit of responsibility and stand up."

Will the players respect Moyes after his last three jobs ended in dismissal? We don't know yet, but a less lenient approach is needed after Slaven's friendly manner. Moyes wants the players to take responsibility and show they're good enough to play for West Ham. They have needed to hear words like this for a long time: "If you step out of line you won't play. if you don't run you won't play. if you're not fit enough you won't play… They will either do the work and get on with it, if they don't do the work then they are not playing. I am in a hurry and they need to be as well."

David Moyes has said the right things and looked to have some of his old Everton fire back. We have to hope he and the players will now deliver. 

Thursday, November 9

Six mistakes that cost Bilic his West Ham job

Slaven Bilic was a decent man let down by a lack of planning at boardroom level and most managers would have struggled after the stadium move. But he made a number of crucial mistakes too…

PLAYING ANTONIO AT RIGHT BACK
Antonio did a decent job of playing as an emergency right back at the end of the 2015-16 season. But it was always clear that he was one of WHU’s best players as an attacking right winger or striker. It started to go wrong from the first game of the season at Chelsea where Michail conceded a penalty. Yet Bilic seemed obsessed with converting him to right back. He then stockpiled the side with right-wingers he didn’t need like Feghouli and Tore and let Jenkinson return to Arsenal and Moses to Chelsea, leaving us with just the raw Sam Byram at right-back for a season.

SELLING JAMES TOMKINS
The sale of James Tomkins to Crystal Palace in the summer of 2016 was baffling. The fans responded to having a local lad in the team and players like Mark Noble enjoyed having him around too. Bilic said he couldn’t guarantee Tonks first team football, but he would have had been almost permanently in the side as West Ham struggled to find a right back, Ogbonna got injured and lost form and the squad suffered its obligatory injuries. Tomkins wasn’t the best player in the world, but he could play across the back line and always put in a shift. Ultimately Bilic signed the much older Jose Fonte, who for much of his time has looked less impressive than Tomkins.

REPLACING PAYET WITH SNODGRASS
Bilic was badly let-down by Payet, but he replaced him with Robert Snodgrass, a right-sided player who didn’t play in the same position. Snoddy was only given 14 games and then loaned to Aston Villa. The January window is always difficult, so it might have been better to save £10 million and sign a new left-sided midfielder in the summer. Did Bilic even want Snodgrass?

THE SUMMER SIGNINGS OF 2016
Nordtveit, Feghouli, Calleri, Fletcher, Tore, Arbeloa… West Ham needed a couple of world-class players to consolidate after finishing seventh. Instead the summer signings were of quantity rather than quality and it went down as one of the worst windows in West Ham’s history. Maybe some of the signings were Sullivan’s, but Bilic clearly wanted the likes of Tore and Feghouli and he has to take much of the blame.

THAT LOAN DEAL FOR ZAZA
Ironically Simone Zaza is now scoring for fun at Valencia and looks one of the best strikers in Europe have scored nine goals this season in La Liga. The loan deal with a 14-game clause placed too much pressure on Zaza and the club — though this was probably more the board's doing than Slaven's. Had Zaza been successful early on it might even have persuaded Payet to stay all season. Zaza should have either been signed outright or on a season’s loan. And if Bilic really was sure Zaza is world class perhaps West Ham should have gone ahead and signed him at the end of the 14-game spell anyway?

NOT IDENTIFYING A STYLE OF PLAY

Klopp has gegenpressing, Pochettino has pressing and promoting youth, Mourinho has tactical efficiency and a big striker, Wenger has pretty passing patterns, Big Sam plays the percentages and Tony Pulis has a team of massive centre-banks. But we always struggled to know what kind of team Slaven wanted. He wanted to sign pace last summer but ended up with a number of ageing stars and a pedestrian side. With Payet in the side we played flowing football, but since our one world-class player left, the West Ham Way has been unclear.