I have been very specific in the past about not writing about my beloved West Ham. This is not due to the fact that nothing happens regarding the Hammers, or that I am less passionate about my 10 mile round trips across the Thames to The Boleyn Ground. It is more to do with the fact that it is hard to report impartially on the events at the club. You see, like most West Ham fans at the moment, we love the team but are embarrassed at what is going on behind the scenes so far. If you have been on a far away planet for the past 10 weeks, let me bring you up to speed with Europe’s most incident prone club.
After supposedly rescuing us from relegation in 2007 after a remarkable last ten games of the season when West Ham won 7 and drew 2, the knives were out for manager Alan Curbishley from day one of the 2007/08 season. Performances at home were as dire as any fan had seen in living memory, and some of our manager’s purchases were bizarre to say the least (Nigel Quashie, Calum Davenport, Luis Boa Morte all spring to mind here). However, due to the weakness of the Premier League we stayed almost fixed in 10th place from January onwards, above the so called top 4 challengers, Newcastle United and Tottenham.
Towards the end of the season the board moved to undermine manager Alan Curbishley even further by appointing a Director of Football who would oversee the “Transfer Policy” of the lub. Curbishley came out with the right political lines at the time that this appointment would allow him to concentrate on team matters, but the writing was on the wall. The club had no faith in him, but didn’t want to be seen to be pushing him over the cliff. After all, name one situation in English football when the Manager / Director of Football arrangement had actually worked? It failed with Dalgish and Harford at Blackburn Rovers, It failed in Harry Redknapp’s first spell at Portsmouth and it failed with Frank Arnesen and Jacques Santini at Spurs and then on the eve of this game it failed spectacularly at Spurs again as not only manager Ramos and coach Poyet being sacked but also the Director of Football Damian Comolli. Oh how we laughed at Spurs!
Just two weeks into the season the severe economic conditions led to the collapse of the club’s sponsor and travel company XL. The club reacted immediately by removing all signs of XL from the club website and the ground. However, they were unable to to get new shirts organised in time for the game versus West Bromwich Albion so the club officials stayed up all night sewing patches over the XL logo in some Mickey Mouse idea of suitability. Worse was to come the following week as the club declined to put a short term fix in place (the fans put forward the logo for the Bobby Moore Cancer Trust on the front) but instead turned the patch into a number. Classy.
A few days later it was announced that the West Ham Chairman had been a guarentor for a number of loans made from his Icelandic Bank to XL, putting serious financial pressure on him. But the worse was to come in early August.
Fed up with the actions of the board in deciding to sell George McCartney and Anton Ferdinand to Sunderland despite being told he did not need to trim his squad, Curbishley was amazed to see four new foreign players report for duty at Chadwell Heath on the day after deadline day. At the end of his tether, Curbishley walked out of the club. The ironic thing was that the one thing the fans had been crying out to see was some old fashion West Ham attacking play, especially at home, and Curbishley had delivered that with 10 goals in the first three games at Upton Park.
So the search went on for a new manager. The main names in the frame were Croatian manager and ex-West Ham centre back Slavan Bilic, ex-Inter manager Roberto Mancini, ex-Italian National team coach Roberto Donadoni, Brian Laudrup and Gianfranco Zola, one of the “nicest men in football”. Bilic’s stock fell dramatically after Croatia’s 4-1 defeat to England in Zagreb, Mancini was discounted after it appeared the club would have to pay compenstation to Inter Milan, and Laudrup chose the “greatest job in European club football” at CSKA Moscow. With Donadoni wanting some exorbatent wage demands the board chose inexprienced Zola, and he was in place for our home game against Newcastle United at the end of September.
Just days before the game the Griffiths Tribunal Panel announced their ruling on the Tevez affair. So despite being fined a record £5.5m by the Premier League in April 2007, a second panel was asked by Sheffield United to sit in judgement. Their finding was that Tevez had materially contributed at least 3 points to West Ham’s relegation fight, and as such they would have been relegated instead of Sheffield United if Tevez was not playing. This ruling led to calls of compensation talk of £30m to £50m in lost revenue from Sheffield United, and then in a move that sums up our litigious society perfectly, the Sheffield United players threatened to sue West Ham for “loss of earnings and potential transfer fees”. Pathetic. The case seemed to hinge on the fact that in April 2007 when the original decision was passed, West Ham were told they needed to tear up the 3rd party ownership contract they had with MIS and register the player as a 100% West Ham player. The club, or specifically, CEO Scott Duxbury said this had happened, but in reality he did a secret deal with MIS to leave the registration in place. So what was Duxbury’s penalty for his actions? The sack? Prosecution? Demotion? Not at West Ham. Duxbury was given a raise!
So, with Zola’s first home game a resounding success against Newcastle United the club were all smiles on the pitch. However, off the pitch things were not very rosey. The chairman’s Icelandic bank was declared insolvent, leading to a take over from the government in an unprecedent move in the financial markets. So, we became a club with no sponsor, a manager with no experience, a club with a £30m fine hanging over our head, a Chairman with half of a country’s savers after his blood, oh and a centre forward who was out for the season again- yes the curse of Dean Ashton had struck again and after just 3 starts he was ruled out for the remainder of the season with an ankle injury.
The team went into the game at home versus Bolton Wanderers knowing that a win would take them to the top of the Premier League – a feat never before achieved by the club. Of course trust West Ham to deny logic and a 3-1 defeat, followed by a 1-0 loss away to Premier League surprise package Hull City was enough to restore mid-table mediocrity.
So next up was Arsenal. Wenger’s young team had been purring so far this season. His selection of a starting XI of an average age of 22 in Istanbul during the week for the Champions League game versus Fenerbahce was seen as madness by some, but they romped to a 5-2 win. However, we have a good recent record against the Gunners, including the infamous double in 2006/07 when we became the first team to win at the Emirates in March 2006. The good news was that the club had managed to bring in a couple of new loan signings, including Tristan who was one of the leading scorers in La Liga for a number of seasons when he spearheaded the Deportivo La Coruna attack.
I had missed the game against Bolton Wanderers as I was in Alton Towers with the Little Fullers, and the previous game versus Newcastle United had been Lolly’s first game at Upton Park so we sat in the Family Stand. Therefore I was returning to my proper seat for the first time in over 6 weeks. Football Jo had joined us for Sunday lunch to give us an update on her spectacular failures in trying to snare a husband. We often remind her of the pressure on her to at some point marry so that the Little Fullers can be bridesmaids. However, she is getting so picky about men in her old age, and still believes that a young athletic David James lookalike with a fetish for clothes pegs is out there somewhere for her.
West Ham United v Arsenal – The Boleyn Ground – Sunday 26th October 2008 4pm
So Zola surprised us all by putting out a very attacking side with Di Michele, Cole and a fit at last Craig Bellamy forming the front 3 in a 4-3-3. Oh how times have changed sinced Curbishley left. Arsenal on the other hand took the chance to rest Toure and Adebayor after their win in midweek and one eye on the derby versus Spurs in midweek.
Arsenal certainly dominated the early exchanges with Van Persie and Walcott looking impressive. At the heart of West Ham’s defence was the Ginger Monster, James Collins who at last was fit after over a year out. He is one of the most underrated players in the Premier League, and anyone who saw his performance for Wales recently in Germany will understand what an awesome player he is. West Ham’s game plan seemed to be to sit back and soak up pressure, before breaking quickly. Walcott was a real thorn in the side of the defence and he came the closest in the early exchanges when he struck the bar.
It was a good job that Robert Green had re-discovered his form as he was called into action on a number of occasions in the first thirty minutes, making brilliant saves from Bendtner and Van Persie. Both Scott Parker and Fabregas went into the referees book for strong challenges in the first half.
So after a goal less first half, which was about even it was a surprise to see West Ham come out and sit deep again. Arsenal continued to push and probe and Van Persie came close with a free kick which hit the post and rebounded into play. It was good to see the Respect campaign working so well, with both Song and Clichy booked for fouls by the referee yet refusing to go and talk to him despite him asking. So what is the point of the campaign? Why don’t referees simply send players off for this? Simple reason as my mate Goff says – it only applies to teams outside the big 4 clubs!
The breakthrough came in the 75th minute when Upson was left stranded with an injury on the floor and Arsenal played on, Adebayor shot and Julian Faubert diverted the ball into his own net. West Ham players fell to the floor knowing the game was up and Zola made his first mistake of the day by introducing the idiot Boa Morte.
We threw everyone forward and with 90 minutes up Gallas appeared to handle the ball in the area. A number of players stopped to protest and took their eye off the ball as Bendtner fired a ball over the stranded defence, and Adebayor beat the onrushing Green, took his time and slotted home. There was still time for Carlton Cole to get himself sent off for a late tackle on Song, although it was harsh to say the least.
The result was hardly a surprise. The performance though was encouraging. Still at least we aren’t Tottenham!!!