When cattle creep,
When I’m asleep,
To lands of hope I stray.
Then at daybreak,
When I awake,
My bluebird flutters away.
Happiness new seemed so near me,
Happiness come forth and heal me
The oft forgotten second verse of Bubbles
One of the most frustrating aspects of supporting a Premier League team is the simple lack of ambition 75% of clubs now have these days. Unfortunately, the league is so awash with money that real ambition has disappeared. Gone are the days when clubs would take domestic cups really seriously (there are a few exceptions such as Swansea City’s glorious season this year), deciding nowadays that the Premier League cash is more important. This leads to clubs simply being satisfied at reaching the “magical” 40 point mark, knowing that they will be on the gravy train for another season. The rich will continue to get richer, especially with the new TV deal kicking in next season. And what do we have to look forward to? A lame cup exit versus a lower division team, whilst the manager talks about “concentrating on the league”, when in reality all they care about is finishing in 17th place.
To demonstrate the massive gulf that exists within the same league, Manchester United came into this game with some fans suggesting this season hadn’t been as successful as it could have been. I’m sure the home defeat to Real Madrid in the Champions League hurt, as too did the FA Cup defeat to Chelsea, but surely winning the Premier League at a canter from their nearest rivals was the number one objective of the season? Whilst West Ham’s fans would boo and jeer every touch United would have, who wouldn’t want even a small slice of the success they have had.
I’m sure many will have believed the rhetoric in the past few weeks from the owners of West Ham regarding what will happen when we move to the Olympic Stadium in terms of being able to compete with the best, but is it going to be a couple of years too late? There are simply already too many clubs with richer owners with deeper pockets in the Premier League today. There are at most 7 European spots up for grabs, including the two cups and its fair to say that five of those are now all but sewn up on a yearly basis. Add in a Liverpool team who have the cash but just keep spending it poorly and there isn’t a lot of room for anyone else.
By the time the first ball is kicked in the stadium in 2015, clubs in the top league will be sharing a £5.5 billion pot. However, some of the bigger clubs are unhappy about the deal, and the fact it is equally shared. They look to the model in Spain and Italy, where clubs can negotiate their own TV deals. Manchester United earned £104m in TV money in 2012, some £57 million less than Real Madrid. Whilst they may be a global brand, this cash pails into insignificance against US TV deals where the value can be almost double that of a Premier League team. The LA Dodgers, hardly one of the most successful baseball teams in the US earn around $250 million per annum from their TV deal, thanks to being able to negotiate their own deal. United, Chelsea, Man City and others look on enviously at these teams, wanting a bigger slice of the pie.
So if the inevitable happens in the next few years and collective bargaining starts, then the rich will simply sail away into the distance, whilst West Ham will be happily kings of their own new manor in the Olympic Park. The inevitable solution will eventually be a European Super League where the top four will compete, and then give the rest of us a bit of a chance to win a degraded league title – similar to the fight for second place in the Scottish Premier League this season. But for now all we have is the joy of raising our game to stop the big teams on their march to the promised lands of milk and honey.
Two weeks ago United were essentially one win from the title. Now, after losing the derby to City they would have to wait for at least another couple of games. A win at Upton Park, coupled with Wigan beating City would leave them needing one more point…but if West Ham could repeat the past glories of 1995 then Man City would still be in the hunt.
West Ham United 2 Manchester United 2 – Upton Park – Wednesday 17th April 2013
At the final whistle the 30,000 or so still in Upton Park who hadn’t made a run for the tube rose and saluted a fantastic team performance. But for the erroneous lack of a flag of the linesman when Robin Van Persie was in an offside position to equalise, West Ham would have taken all three points and made sure of Premier League football next season. Let’s knock that nail on the head straight away – the Hammers have never really been in relegation danger, it is just that nagging little doubt in the back of a team’s mind to reach the magical 40 points (under the Roeder in 2003 we were actually relegated on 42 points).
I think it is fair to say that Vidic and Ferdinand hadn’t had to deal with many players like Andy Carroll this season and he was immense, showing the kind of presence that reminded me of David Cross all those years ago (Cross was known as Psycho long before Stuart Pearce pulled on his far too tight shorts). In truth he would have been a star of the English game 10/15 years ago where brawn was more important than brains as a main asset for an English footballer. Ferguson claimed after the game he should have been sent off, although I think that is choice coming from a man who still picks Scholes after all these years of poorly-timed tackling. Carroll’s yellow card in itself was farcical, being penalised for being in between the keeper and the ball.
It is rare that in a game of four goals, all four need to be applauded for their execution and build up play. After a slow start where the most exciting element was watching the sun set over Canary Wharf to my left, the game sprang into life when Matt Jarvis beat Raphael down the left, played a ball to die for across the box where Carroll stooped to head the ball back and Vaz Te nodded home. Where was the defence I hear you all cry.
The West Ham fans were rightly smug. Rooney looked off colour, RVP kept the linesman busy and Rio wasn’t enjoying his return to the club that set him on his way to millions. But then a single lapse of concentration allowed United to get back in the game. Kagawa sold O’Neil with the perfect dummy, advanced into the box and drilled the ball across the six yard line for Valencia to equalise. Honours even at half time.
What had been good about the first half was that West Ham had resisted the urge to hit the ball long. Diame was outstanding, as he had been on so many occasions this season, whilst Jarvis showed signs of justifying his huge price tag (huge in the fact he is English). But we had to wait quite a while for another goal. A neat little flick by Vaz Te saw the ball taken in his stride by Diame and his shot from the edge of the area beat De Gea and nestled in the corner. Yep, you read that right…nestled.
Luge Pravda, on his almost weekly trip over from the US was decidedly nervous next to me. A Man Utd fan who lived in Brooklyn is the norm these days and with Man City winning at home versus Wigan Athletic, he could sense another faltering step on the way to the championship. But then the linesman played his trump card. United edged the game, with JJ being the busier of the two keepers, but even still it is always harsh to concede a goal that most could see shouldn’t have been given. Kagawa once again proved he is not just in Manchester to increase brand awareness in the Far East with a shot that hit both posts and fell to RVP in an offside position who hammered the ball home.
Honours even, points shared, we could all go home happy. Well, apart from the two managers who had different views on Carroll, the offside decision and a few other matters I’m sure. As for an evening out, well this reminded you about the magic of Upton Park under the lights. Will we see games like this at the Olympic Stadium? I hope so, although I still need some convincing on how the atmosphere will transfer…oh and of course, I will be looking forward to paying less than the £60 I did for a seat in the back row of the Upper Tier!