Sunday, March 31

Dire Hammers make it easy for Everton

West Ham 0 Everton 2

In the Best Meze cafe uber fans Matt and Lisa have already seen two games in two days with the West Ham kids. They've been suffering from tardy waitress service but have kept open the option of no-meal. Michael the non-Whovian arrives and in Hobbit-like fashion consumes his second lunch. Then Nigel and CQ arrive still reeling from indicative votes and red lines, ready to debate our eight post-match pint options.

We trek to the London Stadium and find a hatted Fraser, Scott and Alison, fresh from a controversial swearing at Mini Mouse incident at Disneyland (you can take the girl out of Essex, etc).The crowd are in good voice after an afternoon in the pub and all seems set for an enjoyable afternoon until the football intervenes.

The Irons start terribly and get worse. We concede a soft goal from a corner after four minutes. Zouma wants it more than Diop and his header bounces down and up over Cresswell's head and into the net.

Everton are breaking at will down the flanks and new captain Cresswell is having a torrid time against Richarlison. Fabianski has to make a fine double save from Calvert-Lewin and  Sigurdsson as the Toffees penetrate our right flank. Then he has to make another good stop from Digne on the left. To make it worse Nigel has forgotten his lucky banana. 

The second is inevitable as Richarlison and Coleman combine to cross for Barnard to tap home past a static defence. Fabianski has to make a smart stop with his feet to deny Richarlison. This isn't Huddersfield and we can't continue to give teams a two-goal start.

Arnautovic slips when given a half-chance and Lanzini dithers and a chance is gone. Snodgrass shoots wide and that's about it. Arnautovic does at least look vaguely up for it but Perez is a strange selection and has a terrible half, admittedly without any service.

Lanzini is lost out on the left and we womdfer of he will ever be the same player again after his serious knee injury. Obiang is being bypassed and Zabaleta is being exposed for speed. Without the injured Anderson it's clear that the Hammers have little idea how to create, though the lack of desire is inexcusable.

At half time Pellegrini exchanges Perez and Obiang for Antonio and Hernandez, though the team is surely demanding some leadership from the unused Mark Noble. It's an easy stroll for Everton with Calvert-Lewin twice going close and Richarlison thumping a header against the bar. 

Antonio tries hard but runs into defenders and down blind alleys. Arnie has a strop after being substituted (and it is a bizarre decision by Pellegrini to leave Chicharito as a lone striker) and his replacement Diangana gives the ball away too often, though it's a difficult game to come on in for a youngster. The Vicar's Son's patience is severely strained.

Everton have played well, but there's never a hint of a comeback from WHU and it's easily the worst performance of the season. It could have been 5-0. Had this been under Allardyce or Moyes the fans would have been in uproar, but Pellegrini, for all his attacking intent, has serious questions to answer. He's coached us all season without ever sorting out the defence — and if WHU defend like this next season we'll go down. 

The seats empty around us and at the final whistle we take an indicative vote to join Lisa at the Bat and Ball bar in Westfield, our 93rd venue at Stratford. The bar service is as efficient as West Ham, giving Matt an extra pint and a mystery pint that isn't Punk IPA. He bemoans the fact that he has to work an 18-hour day tomorrow and is losing an hour with the clocks changing. Apart from that everything is fine. 

Still at least West Ham have made a clear statement on Europe — we are definitely not for joining the Europa League and might be electing to leave the Premier League next season if we continue to play like this.

PLAYER RATINGS: Fabianski 7; Zabaleta 4, Diop 5, Ogbonna 4, Cresswell 4; Snodgrass 4; Obiang 4 (Antonio 4), Rice 5, Lanzini 4; Arnautovic 5 (Diangana 4), Perez 3 (Hernandez 4). 

Friday, March 29

A good season for Snoddy

So Robert Snodgrass is to contest the charge of using "abusive and/or insulting words" to doping officials. My pal Matt thinks the problem might be that if you say anything in a Glasgow accent, even a joke, it can sound threatening. But whatever happens it's been a surprisingly good season for Snodgrass. He's played in 28 league games, either starting or coming on as a sub, scoring twice and making several goals from his inswinging corners. He's also bagged a couple of goals against Macclesfield in the Carabao Cup. 

It's been quite a turnaround for a player who was unforgivably derided by his own chairman in an interview and loaned out to Aston Villa after just 16 games. Pellegrini advised him to lose weight after too many motorway meals and he's responded by putting in a shift whenever called upon. With Nasri injured he might get another outing tomorrow. At 31 Snodgrass might not be one for the future. If Nasri stays and Lanzini plays he might be moved on, but even so, this season has been one where Snoddy has shown considerable character and has been involved in nearly every game. Who would have thought that would happen back in August?

Tuesday, March 26

Spurs' new ground could yet have similar problems to the London Stadium

Looking at the media love-in with Tottenham's new ground, I'm still not completely convinced that they won't experience some of the problems of the London Stadium. It's better than the LS in that it has straight edges, but from the media pictures it still looks a huge bowl, with the fans in the higher stands a long way from the action. And listening to some of the chants it sounds like they might be lost as they go round the stadium in the way we've experienced in Stratford. 

The stands are certainly closer to the pitch than at the London Stadium (except in our corners), but it still looks to me like there's a fairly big gap and it won't be as tight as the old White Hart Lane. They've been let off quite lightly on the deep fried tofu and flash beer pumps front too, which are seen as cutting edge, whereas West Ham's popcorn suffered endless derision. It's not easy moving ground and it would be no surprise if Spurs initially struggled in their new home, just as Arsenal did. Though I still think they're too good to go down.

Saturday, March 23

Declan done good

Proud to see Declan Rice make his England debut last night. Never mind all the nonsense about what he said on twitter as a 15-year-old (and what 15-year-old hasn't said stuff they later regret to try and impress their mates?) this was a West Ham youngster in an England shirt. Coming on when England were 3-0 up after 63 minutes was a nice way for Gareth Southgate to ease him into the England set-up. Rice even started the passing move with fellow youngsters Sancho and Hudson-Odoi that resulted in England's fifth goal. Declan has also made a little bit of history as having played for Ireland and England he's West Ham's first double international. And now he's completed a full 90 minutes in Montenegro — a good week for Declan. 

Friday, March 22

Season ticket rises unjustified

I can't see any justification for the scale of West Ham's season ticket price hikes. My Billy Bonds Stand ticket is going up from £800 to £865 (more than eight per cent) while my daughter's £400 ticket is going up to £435. Yes, the prices had been frozen since the move but it has to be remembered that the club is now selling an extra 3000 seats with the new 60,000 capacity and that many of the original £99 under-16s tickets will now be paying young adult 16-21 prices. Whatever happened to the pledge for "affordable football"?

Yes, the club has invested heavily in new players, but we don't get a reduction when the club makes a profit from the transfer window as they did last season. With the massive fees coming in from TV most Premier League clubs could let us watch for free and still make a huge profit. And it seems particularly galling when Brexit is likely to plunge the country into economic turmoil. Bringing the deadline forward to May 17 is also going to put more pressure on those paying by instalments. As a writer and journalist my wages have been declining for the last decade and many other professions are the same. I'll pay it because I'm addicted. But a £65 increase seems to be taking the proverbial…

Thursday, March 21

Play it again, Samir

It seemed strange when Pellegrini took Noble and Antonio off against Huddersfield, who were not WHU's worst performers, but we analysed it in the bar afterwards and decided that he likes Samir Nasri because he is a player who doesn't give the ball away. It was a very impressive cameo; the way Nasri held on to possession and then seemed to have lots of time to feint and jink for the right moment before chipping in a ball that resulted in Cresswell winning a corner; and then winning a challenge and a bit like a golfer, weighting his cross perfectly for Chicharito to equalise. I'm still not sure that Anderson, Lanzini and Nasri can all play in the same side. But Nasri surely deserves a starting place after his cameo against the Terriers. On this form he can be a real force for the Hammers.

Wednesday, March 20

London Stadium from the air

Is that a spaceship? Thanks to my pal Richard, a Gooner, for sending me this picture of the London Stadium taken while returning on a flight from Prague. And you thought Row 73 was a long way up...

Sunday, March 17

Never in (much) doubt! Hernandez double defeats Terriers in seven-goal thriller

West Ham United 4 Huddersfield Town 3 

The Clyde Best Cafe has now moved upmarket as it's serving baked beans in a bowl. Meanwhile Matt and Lisa are enjoying mushroom omelettes and chips having just returned from Malaga, sadly having been deprived of watching Pellegrini's old side by the vagaries of EasyJet's timetables.

We trek across Stratford to the London Stadium. Alison and Scott are away at Disneyland hoping that West Ham don't produce a Mickey Mouse performance. They're replaced by family substitutes Roz and Joe. Meanwhile Michael the Whovian has returned to the collective having hot-footed it from the premiere of the animated version of The Macra Terror at the BFI. The missing Doctor Who adventure involves a huge creature lurking in the bowels of a large complex, a bit like Andy Carroll.

Nigel is wearing his re-found 1970s WHU scarf and helpfully points out that Huddersfield need four goals to beat the record for scoring the fewest goals in the Premier League. He then predicts a cricket score. What could possibly go wrong?

The Hammers start off looking lethargic, but do threaten to score when Antonio flicks a header on to the bar from Rice's cross. "If we can just get the first goal, Huddersfield's heads will drop," Mystic May tells Fraser. The Hammers duly take the lead when Lanzini is felled in the box and Noble sends the spot kick down the middle into the net.

Only Huddersfield heads don't go down. A minute later they win a corner and the unmarked Bacuna heads home. That was pretty amateur. Thirteen minutes later Pritchard's quick free kick confuses the West Ham defence. Antonio is slow to come out to block the cross, Zabaleta misses the ball and Ogbonna has lost his man as Grant scuffs home a soft goal. The small away contingent go berserk. Michael wonders if it's The Macra Terriers he's watching.

Another banana skin for the Hammers
It seems our players have switched off for the summer holidays. Even Rice seems to be struggling now he's English. At half-time Pellegrini makes a strange substitution, taking  off Antonio, who has at least caused problems with his speed and bringing on Hernandez. Then he brings on Nasri for Noble, who has been ok, which is certainly brave as we're now playing 4-1-3-2. I text Alison in Disneyland to inform her we now seem to have Mary Poppins and Sleeping Beauty in defence and are playing the Seven Dwarves up front. Things are desperate, so Nigel starts to eat his lucky banana. 

A great run from Anderson sees Arnautovic scuff his shot at the keeper. Bacuna almost scores as his long-range effort produces a fine save from Fabianski. "It'll be all right," reassures Nigel, moments before Diop lunges in and misses the ball, allowing Grant to turn inside Ogbonna and curl home the best goal of the game. Three-one down after 65 minutes. Many fainthearts leave their seats and head for the tube. Perez comes on for a muted Arnie. The Vicar's Son is threatening West Ham with much damnation.

But Nasri is at least holding on to the ball and Hernandez is making runs into the box, while Zabaleta never stops running. Perez wins the corner and Ogbonna rises between two defenders to power home a header. Is it just a consolation? With 15 minutes left the volume level rises among the crowd.

Another West Ham corner is half-cleared but Nasri does really well to win a fifty-fifty challenge, wait for the right angle and chip in a ball to the far post where Chicharito is unmarked and heads home to spark wild scenes among the home fans.

But it would be very like West Ham to lose this having come back to 3-3. It resembles school football where no-one plays in defence. The Terriers break again and Kongolo is clean through but Fabianski makes a fine save and from the rebound Billing scoops over an open goal. Phew.

Anything could happen. Surely the Hammers can't go on to win it? In the 91st minute Anderson's shot is deflected for a corner. "Come on you Irons" echoes around the bowl. Cresswell takes it short to Anderson on the edge of the box. Felipe chips it in and Hernandez manages to get a flick on it to send a back header over the flailing Lossl. Never in doubt! It's crazy football but hugely entertaining.

We head over the iron bridge to Stratford and Fraser stops to console a Huddersfield fan, who says that this was one of their better performances as at least they scored three goals. 
Our Stratford theatre of dreams...

After such melodrama we head to the Stratford East Theatre bar, where we find a theatrical alcove with sofas, lamps, a 1960s telephone and lots of old posters revealing that Barbara Windsor was in the theatre's 1964 production of Henry IV. Michael is particularly taken with the poster advertising a lost drama called Make Me An Offer. Our pints of Wolf Rock are going down well, only for a surly member of staff to tell us rather rudely that we shouldn't have moved the bench. Unlike Manuel Pellegrini, he doesn't realise that you won't get anywhere without a strong bench.

It's been a strange day. Playing abysmally for 75 minutes and then securing a thrilling victory. This just might be the West Ham Way. Though a better team than Huddersfield surely wouldn't have allowed such a comeback. Still, we'll take it.

PLAYER RATINGS: Fabianski 7; Zabaleta 7, Diop 5, Ogbonna 6, Cresswell 6; Anderson 6, Noble 6 (Nasri 8), Rice 5, Lanzini 5; Antonio 6 (Hernandez 8), Arnautovic 5 (Perez 5).

Friday, March 15

Farewell AC: My top Andy Carroll West Ham goals

It looks like Andy Carroll might have played his last game for West Ham, with Manuel Pellegrini announcing that he is suffering from another ankle injury and his contract ending this season. His injury record has been hugely disappointing, but I've no problem with what he did for West Ham when fully fit. Carroll could have been a great striker if his body had been up to it. Here are my top six AC moments (excluding the pink bedroom he designed with Billi):

With the crowd gripped by the wantaway Payet furore, Andy produced the best goal seen at the London Stadium in early 2017. He produced an acrobatic overhead kick of stunning power that flew into the top corner — and all without getting injured!

Coming from 0-2 down to lead 3-2 against Arsenal was one of Andy's finest moments during WHU's farewell season at the Boleyn. His first was a trademark header, his second a volley to equalise before half-time, celebrated with his 'Angel of the North' outstretched arms routine. Early in the second half he scored another header to complete a seven-minute hat-trick. Just a shame it ended up 3-3.

Carroll scored a classic header at the Boleyn to condemn Jose Mourinho's Chelsea to defeat in the final season at Upton Park in 2015. He rose like the Shard of E13 to head home Cresswell's cross and then did a celebratory slide that left huge ruts in the turf and threatened to demolish the East Stand prematurely.

Proving that he could play on the ground as well, Carroll beat two Swansea defenders with his nifty footwork and then shot into the top corner during an away match in early 2015. 

West Ham celebrated a late Christmas Carroll when Andy scored the second against Jurgen Klopp's men in a 2-0 win in January 2016. Mignolet was left hailing a bus as Andy rose above two defenders to thump home his header. He then did a belly-slide towards the East Stand.

Carroll scored the goals that arguably kept West Ham up last season. His first was a classic header outleaping the Albion defence. His second came in the dying seconds when he slid home from an acute angle to spark late celebrations. All of this while later learning that he had fractured his ankle.

Wednesday, March 13

England's number 41!

Congratulations to Declan Rice on his first call-up for a England squad, though it's tough on Ireland fans. He's deserved it on his form this season (Deckers has even started to score goals), though we have to hope he doesn't draw too much attention to himself with the likes of Man City sniffing around. But still, it's always a source of pride to see a West Ham player in the England squad. Declan has made it after just 63 league games for the Hammers, which is quite an achievement. There will be blips in his form as he's still learning, but he could certainly be an England mainstay for the next decade.

Monday, March 11

Let's get physical

Ian Wright had a good point on Match of the Day when he said that West Ham knew it was going to be a physical game at Cardiff so he couldn't understand why Pellegrini didn't start with muscular players like Arnautovic and Antonio. Playing with both Lanzini and Anderson against a fired-up team of triers was certainly a risk as they're not going to fancy a tackling contest. While Hernandez is always going to look lightweight as a solo striker against bruising former Championship defenders.

The defence is also worrying as our full backs tend to get exposed very easily away from home. Could there be a case for starting with five at the back in some away games? Now The General is fit Pellegrini could play Diop, Balbuena and Ogbonna or Cresswell together, with Fredericks and Masuaku as wing backs offering a threat on the break. Or if he sticks with a back four there could also be a case for starting Obiang alongside Rice and Noble in some games to prevent the side leaking early goals. 

Though whatever tweaks Manuel makes to the formation, the primary problem is psychological. The players can't relax because they feel safe — there's no excuse not to keep fighting for a potential seventh place.

Saturday, March 9

Failed in Wales

Cardiff City 2 West Ham 0

Typical West Ham… Another poor defeat on the road for the consistently inconsistent Hammers. Admittedly a game against a team that had to win to maintain a realistic chance of staying up was a difficult fixture, but just for once it would be nice if West Ham could not roll over or be just the sort of mid-table opponent strugglers like to play against. 

Goals at the start of either half sealed the defeat and the marking for the first was non-existent. Niasse should have added to Cardiff's total. Rice hit the post and Arnautovic had a shot saved but that was all too late. As Pellegrini said, not scoring a goal in open play for six away games is not acceptable. He needs to shuffle his players. There must surely be case for playing Arnautovic, Antonio, Nasri and Balbuena from the start in the next game against Huddersfield. Surely WHU can't blow it against bottom of the table no-hopers? Or can we?

Friday, March 8

There are only two things that never let you down…

After Saturday this seems rather appropriate. Just found this seminal Billy Bonds advert on the back of one of my early programmes, West Ham v Wolves from 1972. Here's Bonzo looking like he could easily get a walk-on role in The Sweeney

Sunday, March 3

A victory for Billy Bonds' claret and blue army

West Ham 2 Newcastle United 0

At 5.15pm the East Stand is very nearly full for its renaming as the Billy Bonds Stand – and we have a free plastic bag on every seat. Her Indoors (Nicola) makes a rare appearance, along with Fraser, Matt and Lisa, Scott, Alison, returning after a lengthy injury lay-off and Steve the Cornish postie, who has travelled up the Salt Path for the match. 

We worry our players might be injured by some of the giant inflatables reading, "six foot two eyes of blue, Billy Bonds is after you!" A series of former players are introduced by Alvin Martin, including the likes of Brian Dear, Ken Brown, Pat Holland, Alan Taylor and Keith Robson, though it might be stretching it to call Allen McKnight a "West Ham great." Fraser wonders where Joey Beauchamp is. Trevor Brooking makes a short speech and then on comes Billy. 

The big screens show the great man in tears as he is overwhelmed by the display of emotion as the whole ground chants "Oh Billy Billy Billy, Billy Billy Billy Bonds!" Bonzo cuts the ribbon, and walks along the length of the stand pumping his fist. It's all surprisingly moving. Though someone does quip that Billy never used to cry on the pitch in the 1970s. 

Then arrives a very tardy Nigel. He's late as he dropped his lucky 1970s West Ham scarf in the streets of Kew and had to go back to retrieve it from a tree (not that there can be many WHU scarves in Kew). He's missed the appearance of Bonzo and in a triple disaster has also arrived too late to get a programme. Doh!

The renaming ceremony creates a vibrant atmosphere, possibly the best it's been at the London Stadium as the team kick off accompanied by Bubbles and our raised bags creating a giant tribute. The away fans regale Mike Ashley with a friendly chant of, "you fat cockney bastard, get out of our club!"


Everyone wants to win it for Billy, and all goes to plan after seven minutes when an excellent inswinging corner from Snodgrass is headed home by Declan Rice, a young player with a hint of Billy Bonds about him. It's two when the Hammers are awarded a penalty after Hernandez controls Anderson's free kick in the box and is then brought down by Lejeune. Mark Noble does well to thump home the penalty after his first run-up is halted by the ref for encroachment. 

Mo Diame comes on for the Toon in the second half, and although they look a well-drilled side they remain defensive and hardly trouble Fabianski. Ogbonna has to make one excellent block and late on Rondon sends a free kick against the post. But the Hammers often threaten on the break with Anderson and Lanzini prominent, while sub Masuaku gets in some decent crosses. Late on sub Arnautovic finds Lanzini, who has an effort tipped away by Dubravka. 

The half is most noticeable for the rhythmic stamping and rousing chorus of "Billy Bonds' Claret and Blue Army!" It's only symbolic, but having a Billy Bonds Stand seems to have reunited the London Stadium. We wonder if he's left 15 minutes after the final whistle with a couple of cans of lager in his hand.

We have witnessed that most unusual of events — a routine West Ham home win. And on 39 points the Irons really are safe. We retreat to the Broadway to find the Refreshment Rooms closed for a private party (perhaps the club have organised a cockney knees-up for all those old stars?). 

So instead we drink at the Secret Weapon (or is it named Loaded?), after a hungry Nicola has first purchased a takeaway falafel from the Best Cafe which we sneak into the pub. Hipsters play board and video games, you can get a seat and it does a decent pint of Neck Oil. It might even be our best drinking option. We wonder how to get pub purists Michael and Nigel to adopt it — it's not the Central, but perhaps if the decor was themed more towards Tom Baker, Marc Almond and Iron Maiden it might help them shift their opinion. 

Meanwhile Matt reminisces about watching second division football in Uzbekistan, though this is trumped by the fact that both Nicola and myself have been to the Lawson Tama stadium in Honiara. We note Matt mentally planning his next mini-break to the Pacific.

It's been a good Saturday night and a fine tribute to a genuine West Ham hero. Billy Bonds might just have sorted it out.

PLAYER RATINGS: Fabianski 6; Fredericks 6, Diop 7, Ogbonna 7, Cresswell 6 (Masuaku 6); Anderson 7, Lanzini 7, Rice 8, Noble 7 (Obiang 6), Snodgrass 7; Hernandez 7 (Arnautovic 6).

Saturday, March 2

Hands off Declan

Rather worrying that Pep Guardiola has said he's looking to buy a "holding midfielder" in the summer. With Declan Rice having just won the Evening Standard young player of the year award he's surely right up there in Pep's considerations. West Ham can't let him go, even if it's ridiculous money. We have to hope that Guardiola decides that Rice is still young at 19 and is bound to have a dip in form. At 25 he will surely be the predicted "basmati Busquets", but he needs time and experience first. Right now, Declan and West Ham need each other.