Every Monday I look at my email account with trepidation. Since the first week of the season around 3pm I get that “ping” sound signifying the arrival of the latest excuse from the pen of Avram Grant. Although it is obviously not from Avram, but rather from someone employed in the club to make such trivial facts such as we are bottom of the Premier League with just three games to go seem inconsequential.
We have had such classics in recent weeks as :- “We don’t have any intention to give up. We will fight. I think we need nine points more or less to stay in the league. It will be difficult but it is not impossible” or “We are not far from safety and we all need to go forward together for the next game. We have always shown we have come back well from every bad situation we have had this season and we will do it again.”
I am not sure what the purpose of these emails is. I have seen enough games this season to make my own judgements.
1. Grant has no idea what his “best” team is and even when he has been able to field the same team, he hasn’t;
2. The spirit of the team suggests they are not behind the manager. The story of Scott Parker giving the half time team talk to inspire the team to pull back a 3-0 deficit against West Brom is a classic example.
3. Sullivan and Gold by deciding not to travel (as well as any other directors) to last Sunday’s game versus Man City sent out an appalling message to the fans that they are resigned to relegation already. Added to this was PR disaster of the week part 2 when Gold came out in the Evening Standard saying Parker, Green, Upson and Cole would be sold in the summer if relegation was confirmed.
4. The club has invested poorly in players, bringing in short term ideas in the hope that they will provide long term solutions. Ben Haim, Winston Reid, Robbie Keane. The list could go on and on.
Let’s not kid ourselves. Any West Ham fan will take the dull football we experienced under Curbishley for the current situation. Whilst the club celebrated at winning the Olympic Stadium bid with big slaps on the back, most of the fans saw the word relegation getting bigger on the league tables in the Sunday papers. By the time the directors had realised that few people will want to watch games likes West Ham United v Doncaster Rovers or Barnsley (no disrespect to those fine Yorkshire sides) in a 60,000 seater stadium it has proved almost too late. Last season it went down to the final three games before survival was assured. Zola was duly relieved of his duties and Grant was brought in.
David Sullivan said in June last year on Grant’s appointment: “I am delighted to welcome Avram to West Ham and am confident he will prove a success. We have taken our time over this appointment and are certain we have got the right man. We are all looking forward to next season with new players coming in and Avram’s arrival is just the latest reason for real optimism.”
Co-owner David Gold, obviously not concerned that he had failed to get Portsmouth out of the bottom three during his tenure at Fratton Park added: “I have to say that having met Avram and spent some time with him that we have got our man. He is a perfect fit. He is a footballing man and quite frankly his reputation speaks for itself. He has a great sense of humour and I am sure the players will relate to him and the fans will warm to him.”
How wrong could they have been? There were few fans who welcomed his appointment with anything more than a raised eyebrow, and a fear that this season would be no better than the last.
Pre-season went well. So well in fact that it turned into the best pre-season for thirty five years. In fact the best pre-season since 1977 when West Ham ended up being relegated from the First Division. But did it translate into optimism with the fans?
Crowds for the first few games suggest that the club had lost an element of their loyal support. Chelsea and Spurs were both early visitors to Upton Park. Banker sell out games in previous years, but perhaps the fact that tickets were upwards of £60 each (not to mention the £30+ for under 16’s) saw tickets still on sale as the game kicked off, and hundreds of empty seats.
I had been to a couple of games already this season, taking in the home draws against West Brom and Blackpool. I sat in the same seat for both games, yet the price difference was more than 20% for the former. So, with Lolly’s birthday coming up I looked at taking her to the final game of the season versus Sunderland. For an adult and a “child” ticket West Ham wanted £87! (or I could have gone for Band one tickets at £96). So instead I bought the same seats I had picked for Blackburn Rovers and paid £25. Can someone please explain this? On second thoughts don’t bother – it is not as if the club really care anyway.
So for one final time, perhaps in the Premier League, we walked through the gates of Upton Park for the relegation clash with Blackburn Rovers.
West Ham United 1 Blackburn Rovers 1 – Upton Park – Saturday 7th May 2011
It was as if we hadn’t been away at all. Doom and gloom hung over the concourses as we puffed our way up to the West Stand Upper Tier. Bobby Moore and Sir Trevor Brooking looked down on the immaculate pitch as the teams came out and the “fan” behind us reminded us all that Blackburn were “c@nts”. In fact he reminded us all that the referee, linesman, Boa Morte, Avram Grant and his “missus indoors” was a c@nt. Nice man.
Grant had made changes yet again to the defence. Last weeks pairing of Upson and Tompkins had been replaced by Da Costa and Gabiddon. Not too sure what young Tonka had done, but there is no rhyme or reason for the Israeli’s bizarre team selections. And it took just 3 minutes for them to give the ball direct to Blackburn and thus create the first chance on goal. But then a glimmer of hope. Da Costa rose from a corner and his header was cleared off the line by a Blackburn defender.
If only we could build on that. Well in true West Ham United 2010/11 version they did. Another loose ball was played across the midfield, Jones intercepted, took the ball forward, fed Emerton out wide and his cross was turned in by Jason Roberts. The mountain we needed to climb was now of Everest proportions.
The Hammers first half display showed exactly why they are bottom of the league. Despite having the majority of possession, far too often long cross field balls just sailed over the players heads and into the crowd. Grant stood on impassively as if everything was going according to plan.
At half time we were treated with the preview of the goal of the season competition. Just give that to Scott Parker now. And whilst we are talking about awards we had a preview of the Annual Gala where the rest of the awards would be given out, including Team Performance of the Year (I will hazard a guess the winner here is West Ham) and Save of the Season (I think Robert Green may just scoop this as he has played in all bar one game this season).
The second half started with West Ham suddenly realising that a defeat here would virtually mean relegation. Grant took off Boa Morte who spent most of the game trying to fight anyone and everyone (as usual) and sent on Robbie Keane (“One c@nt for another” our fan told us all), and a few minutes later Piquionne and Collison (back after his knee injury) were introduced, meaning the team had 4 out and out strikers on the pitch.
However, nobody seemed to tell the players what the formation was or who was playing where, leading to a farcical situation of players bumping into each other, getting in each others way and confused looks. But out of the confusion came hope. Twelve minutes to go and Thomas Hitzlsperger leveled the scores with his shot from the edge of the box after being set up by Carlton Cole.
Ten minutes to find a winner, and save the season. And how did Grant react? He stood on the edge of his technical area with his arms folded, scowling at the players. There was still time for Keane to miss a sitter, failing to make contact with the ball when it was delivered to him by Piquionne.
So a draw took Blackburn above Birmingham City and within one point of safety. However, with Manchester United at home next week it would almost certainly be a last day survival act for them. As for the Hammers? Well, the maths are simple. Defeat at Wigan Athletic next week and they would be relegated.
I can’t wait to read the email on Monday to see what game I missed.
As a postscript perhaps someone at the club could investigate the missing 1,000 or so fans. The club had communicated via the website on Friday that only “a hundred” tickets were left for this game. With Blackburn already given a reduced amount of tickets there should have been around 34,900 at the game. The official attendance was 33,789. As I have said before, don’t believe the hype.