I’m alright Jack

Ask any West Ham fan what one of the highlights of the past few seasons has been.  It shouldn’t be hard as there hasn’t been many, but one stand out feature has been the emergence (again) of some exciting youngsters from the Tony Carr conveyor belt.  Last season we saw brief glimpses of Zavon Hines before injury cut short his season, but it was the emergence of the trio of James Tompkins, Junior Stanislas and 21 year old Welsh midfielder Jack Collison.

Collison was certainly one shining light in the back end of the 2008/09 season, continuing his assured form into last season, earning his first few caps for the Welsh national team.  Unfortunately, injury struck again in March when he was ruled out for the rest of the year with a re-occurance of his knee injury.

We caught up with Jack as he continued his rehabilitation, trying not to distract him from his PlayStation 3. Continue reading

Greed is good, but tackiness is better

Football clubs – don’t you just love the way they try and squeeze every little penny out of their fans.  I am not going to drone on about the cost of tickets (£615 for my season ticket since you asked) or Programmes (£3.50 I think but I haven’t bought one for so long I cannot be sure) or the ridiculous cost of buying food and drink in the stadium (a coke and a bar of chocolate is £3.00!).  Oh no – I thought I would have a look at the subtle marketing –  The “Club Shop Effect”.  This principal is being adopted the world over, by football clubs big and small in an attempt to make fans feel that they are no “true fans” because they do not have the latest branded items.

West Ham have become a global player – no seriously.  Two seasons ago when they signed their kit deal with Umbro they make a decision not to sell any replica kit outside of the two official channels (the club shops or the internet) and thus increase the “scarcity” of the brand as they put it.  Of course they were concerned with the rising costs of the kits, and “would ensure that fans would be buying a quality product at affordable prices”.  Twelve months later they had changed both the home and the away kit.  West Ham claimed that they had always said this was their intention, but they had broke their own Customer Charter buy not clearing stating this was a kit for the 2007/08 season only.  I can take credit for getting this approach changed as in long discussions with the Finance Director, Nick Igoe, he agreed that the tagging of the shirts was not clear they were only a one season wonder.  So from July 2008 they launched a new home and away kit, clearly tagged as ONLY for the 2009/10 season.  So in less than a year they had launched 4 shirts.

Worse was to come in September 2008 when shirt sponsors XL went bust.  The club immediately stopped sporting the shirt with the XL logo and instead stuck a patch over the top of the old logo and then managed to get permission to play with a squad number in its place.  But not for the fans!  Oh no..according to Mr Igoe the “demand from the fans for the old shirt is still high” and so they continued to sell it at FULL PRICE whilst publically stating they were in active discussions with a new sponsor.  Two months later a deal had been done with an unheard of Asian betting company called SBOBET and their names adorned the new shirts.  However, in a pang of guilt the club realised that they couldn’t market a shirt with a betting company on to under 16’s and so they hastily did a deal with the Bobby Moore Cancer Trust charity for their logo.

The new away shirt

The new away shirt

Any fans who had bought the old shirt – tough.  You could always buy another one or simply look “outdated”.  In May 2009 the club leaked the new away shirt design.  Very fitting with Middlesborough’s impending relegation from the Premier League that we appear to have bought their old stock of shirts and simply “rebadged them”.  Rebadging now there is a thought….remember that the club refused to discount the old stock with XL on the front….well the reason being is that the current shirts with the SBOBET and Bobby Moore logos on are simply the old shirts with XL on with thick new logos on…brilliant marketing ploy!  So they could have simply sold the new sponsors logos as an iron on patch (which is after all all they do when they put them on) but instead sold a whole new kit – making it 6 kits in 18 months….and with the launch of 2 new kits this summer the total rises to 8 in 2 years.  Who ever said that football clubs were greedy!

Sunday was Lolly’s birthday.  It was also the final day of the Premier League season so I had agreed to let her spend some of her birthday money in the club shop.  Being West Ham mad is fine up until you visit the “megastore”.  I haven’t been here for a season or two and was shocked when I came back yesterday.  You now have to queue for 10 minutes to get in.  They have made the shop much bigger by getting rid of the museum which used to be a fascinating stroll through our history (and had a very scary animotronix talking Glenn Roeder head in it!) and putting in a queuing system Walt Disney would be proud of before you got to one of the fifteen tills (!).

I wandered around looking at some of the bizarre items that they had in there AND that people were actually buying.  So here for your reading pleasure are the top 10 naff items I saw on sale.  Feel free to click on the links for more details, or if you are tempted to buy:-

The toaster!

The toaster!

1. The West Ham United Official Toaster.  Designed to burn WHU on all of your toasting requirements.  Many thanks to Ben Drland for the picture….

2. The West Ham United Official Musical Beer Opener.  Plays a chorus of “Bubbles” when you open your beer;

3. The West Ham United Official “Grow Your Own Pitch”.  Yes for just £20 (or £19.99 if you buy online!) you gt a small tin, with a picture of the stand and some grass seed to grow your own patch of Upton Park;

4. The West Ham United Official Mini Gnome.  Perfect for your caravan;

5. The Official Freddie Ljunberg “Dynamic” Print.  1. It is horrible,  2. He left over a year ago, 3. He’s wearing a shirt branded XL and 4. It is against the trade descriptions act to put the words Ljunberg and dynamic in the same sentence!  All for just a £10!

6.  The Official West Ham United Sock Gift Set. Complete in a presentation box no less;

7.  The Official West Ham United Belly Button Body Bar. All the rage in Magaluf this year apparently;

8. The Official West Ham United sweet bag.  Due to its “perishable” nature only for sale in the club shop and only three times the price as those for sale in the shop 100 yards down the road.

9.  No list would be complete without the Official West Ham United Suspender and Garter Belt gift pack.  Unfortunately not available on the internet but only to personal callers.  Available in XL (of course) as well as a matching set of underwear saying that the lady in question as “Scored at Upton Park”.  No that is not a hard thing to do (unless you are Diego Tristan or David Di Michele) judging by the quality on show.

10. And finally, the West Ham United Official Doors.  You can only buy these in the shop itself so no link here I am afraid.  Yes for just £99 per door you can have the picture of James Collins, Mark Noble and Lucas Neill gurning at you in your bedroom or bathroom.  A truly world class item!

And who says football clubs are trying to fleece the fans?  Interestingly enough in the early days of our Icelandic take over, the club appointed a Director of Retail who was going to oversee the complete restructure of our operations.  Five years ago the club had shops at Lakeside, Bluewater, Southend, Chelmsford and two at West Ham but closed them as relegation hit.  Now the operation is a multi-million pound concern and long gone are the days of queuing in the portakabins in the West Stand car park to get your latest shirt.  Oh how we long for those commercial-free days.

West Ham United 2 Middlesborough 1 – Upton Park – Sunday 24th May 2009 4pm
The maths for the visitors were simple.  Win, and only then could they look at results elsewhere.  The maths for the home team were also simple(ish).  Win, score goals, hope Spurs lost and Liverpool scored goals and we might just sneak 8th on goal difference.  The signs were promising when the line ups were announced as we had Carlton Cole and Jack Collison back.  Twelve months ago the inclusion of Cole in the line up would have been greeted with moans.  Now it heralded the biggest cheers of the day, none more so than from Lolly as he is her favourite player.

West Ham started well and the inclusion of Collison (recently voted Wales’s 35th best looking man for all you ladies out there!) game the team some penetration.  But the star of the last month Boa Morte was the driving force.  Quite what Zola had said to him back in March is unknown but since then he has been magnificent and the watching Portuguese manager Carlos Quiroz can only have been impressed by what he saw.

It was only a matter of time before the first goal came.  Junior Stanislas (another academy youngster who has made his place on the left his own in recent weeks in Collison and Behrami’s absence) beat his man, pulled the ball across the six yard box and Carlton Cole smashed the ball home.  Surely an England recall (after all they owe him that as he was injured playing for them!) is a given now?

Boro’ did come out in the second half and make a fight of it with O’Niell’s carbon copy goal in the second half but West Ham always looked like winners and Stanislas capped off another impressive display with a low shot that Jones should have stopped but it ended up in the net to make it 2-1.  It was time to take off our two returning stars and bring on Hapless and Clueless aka Tristan and Di Michele.  If you ever wanted to know why West Ham’s Europa League challenge faded then here is the answer.  Tristan can occasionally produce something but with a turning circle as wide as a jumbo it is only the poorest of defences who are fooled (step forward Aston Villa and Stoke City).  The Italian meanwhile has been appalling since his one decent hour in a West Ham shirt against Newcastle in September when he scored two goals.  These two between them contributed just seven goals this season – nearly as many as Dean Ashton in his two hours of football.

So the final whistle blew and Middlesborough were down.  Some consolation is that they will be joined by Newcastle United but they can look at their away record with twelve consecutive defeats as the prime reason – not even Stoke could match that!

The final act of the season was the Player of the Year awards.  Goal of the Season came from Carlton Cole, a unanimous choice for his strike against Wigan Athletic (excuse the poor quality but available here to see). Most improved player was Junior Stanislas, Young Player of the Year was Jack Collison.  A special mention has to go to Tony Carr, the academy director who not only developed talent such as Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole and Michael Carrick but this season has seen James Tompkins, Jack Collison, Freddie Sears, Junior Stanislas, Zavron Hines, Kyel Ried, Josh Payne and of course Mark Noble all play a part in the first team set up – in fact in the game two weeks ago versus Liverpool we finished the game with 5 such under 21 players on the pitch – stand up and take a bow Mr Carr!

The Hammer of the Year is a great honour and is voted for by the fans.  The three previous winners have been Danny Gabbidon (still at West Ham apparently although he hasn’t played for nearly two years), Carlos Tevez (still owned by us if you believe Sheffield United fans) and Robert Green.  Green was one of the favourites again, although history was not on his side as it had been nearly twelve years since someone had won it in successive seasons (Julian Dicks won it four times including two consecutive seasons), along with Carlton Cole, Illunga and Behrami.  But its was our injured (surprise, surprise) midfield dynamo Scottie Parker who scooped the award, with Robert Green taking second spot.  Surely an England cap can’t be too far behind for Scott?  Or is Capello going to have one more go at putting Barry, Gerard and Lampard into the same midfield?

And that was it….the players walked around the pitch in T-Shirts with “Irons” on in honour of Scunthorpe’s victory over Millwall in the play offs I imagine.  We played the usual “who won’t be here next season game”, with Lucas Neill leading the race closely followed by Matthew Upson.  Results hadn’t gone our way on Merseyside and we finished 3 goals behind Spurs (I am sure they will still get the T-Shirts printed though of this great season where they were London’s 4th best team) but 9th was a good finish.  If only Ashton would have been fit….If only Zola would have started the season with us….If only Cole, Behrami and Collison wouldn’t have been injured in the space of a week and if only we would have not brought in Hapless and Clueless….Still there is always next year to listen to our Spurs friends talk up their Champions League aspirations and see them settle for mid-table mediocrity.