Agents for change

My favourite film of all time is Jerry Maguire. I am not a big Tom Cruise film fan, but the portrayal of an American Sports Agent won Cruise an Oscar nomination and it is hard not to disagree with the plaudits it got.

“I will not rest until I have you holding a Coke, wearing your own shoe, playing a Sega game *featuring you*, while singing your own song in a new commercial, *starring you*, broadcast during the Superbowl, in a game that you are winning, and I will not *sleep* until that happens. I’ll give you fifteen minutes to call me back.” Continue reading

The penalty shoot out lottery

How to take a decent penalty part 1

I have followed England in the last six major tournaments we have played in stretching back to the European Championships held here on home soil in 1996.  During that time we have failed to qualify once – in 2008 under McClown, but in the other six tournaments we have exited on penalties on all bar one occasion.  There are also those who would add that having a goalkeeper with a pony tail in the 2002 World Cup was a penalty in itself as well.

Do we ever learn?  It appears not.  Penalty taking is not a science, it is a lottery.  Or is it?  We have been negligent in viewing such competitions with a serious head and our lack of preparation has been our undoing.  During the past few years I have painfully seen my beloved West Ham lose a cup final on penalties, Bayern Munich, Manchester United and AC Milan win the Champions League on penalties yet there still seems to be little interest in preparing for the event.

England lose in Germany again

Glenn Hoddle, England manager in 1998 in France freely admitted the team had not practised penalties, and even went as far to say that during extra time in the game versus Argentina he had no idea who his five penalty takers would be.  In Lisbon in 2004, Sven put his faith in two players who would ultimately not finish the quarter final game with Portugal and thus be unable to take a spot kick.  Two years later and Rooney’s sending off meant that Jamie Carragher, a substitute and a player who had never taken a penalty in a game before took one, and missed.

“Penalties are a lottery,” Capello said. “I remember some very important players didn’t take penalties because they didn’t feel sure they would score.

“For this reason, with penalties, when the time comes and you have to choose who should take them, you ask and the players say ‘no, please’ and that can even be the very best players.”

“I prefer to choose the players who want to take penalties and I always train with penalties in my mind.

“I know who the best players are to take them, already. I know. But the pressure at the moment you have to take the penalty is different.

“During training, the goal is big and the keeper is small. But when you have to score a penalty to win the World Cup, the goal is little and the keeper is big. It is difficult to score under that pressure.”

Lehmann's saves again against Argentina

But are they a lottery as Capello says?  In the quarter final between Germany and Argentina played just 24 hours before England’s defeat, Jens Lehmann was seen between kicks studying a bit of paper that he kept in his sock.  It certainly wasn’t a prayer, or a good luck poem as some (probably ITV) commentators remarked on at the time, but a list of observations that he had compiled from watching the Argentinian players take penalties before.

  • Crespo – long run up – to the right.  short run up to the left
  • Aimar – waits along time – left

Whilst he only saved two of the four he faced, he went the right way for all of them.  Interestingly enough, England’s success ration in winning penalty shoot outs is the lowest of all major nations.

  • Argentina – 73% win rate
  • Germany – 71%
  • Brazil – 64%
  • France – 50%
  • Italy – 33%
  • Netherlands – 20%
  • England – 17%

And in the last 20 years, who have won the major tournaments?  Brazil 5, Argentina 2, Germany 2, France 2,  Italy 1, Netherlands 1…and England???? zero.  But it is not all about scoring – we need someone who can save them as well and we are at least well positioned in this respect.  Our current first choice goal keeper is Robert Green, and interestingly enough he has the best penalty saving record in the Premier League with only 53% penalties he faced being scored in the past 5 years.

So it is not all about preparation then.  Why are some players more successful at taking penalties than others?  Let’s take four examples.

Matt Le Tissier – Scored 48 out of 49 spot kicks he took during his career.  The one he missed was saved, meaning that every single one was on target.  His technique was to hit the ball side-footed but with power.  He claimed that 90% hit the corner of the net, making them almost impossible to save.

The slip on your bum technique

Ray Stewart – When West Ham paid Dundee United £430,000 for this teenager in 1979 most people said “who?”.  But he soon became one of the most feared penalty takers in the land, netting 81 out of 86 during his career, including one in the last minute of injury time in the League Cup final at Wembley to take the game to a replay.  Stewart relied purely on power, using a principle that a keeper may get a hand to it but the power would take his hand into the net along with the ball.

Julian Dicks – In a similar vein to Stewart, the “Terminator”, Dicks blasted home over 90% of his spot kicks during his career, including the last goal scored in front of the Anfield Kop during his season at Liverpool.  In the 1995/96 season he scored 10 penalties, which is still a record for a defender in the Premier League.

Cristiano Ronaldo – The fancy dan of penalty taking, full of shimmies, dummies, delays and dinks.  He had an almost impeccable record for Manchester United for many years.  Things have gone a bit pear shaped since moving to Real Madrid as he has missed 40% of his spot kicks this season.

So when we get on the field in the quarter final/semi final in South Africa, please make sure Mr Capello that you know your penalty takers, that we have practised and that our goal keeper is fully prepared.  Another four years of hurt is nothing compared to the four days of over reaction from our media!

The wrong way to take a “clever” penalty.

And the right way…

For more details on penalty kicks, go to Penalty Shootouts website.

Stand up if you love Dicks

As you will know if you are a regular follower of the blog, we have a soft spot at TBIR Towers for Grays Athletic.  This is due to a number of reasons.  I once trained for a full three weeks with the club “back in the day” when I could still run; Lolly went to one of her first football matches here and managed to procure a shirt for just £5 that was then signed by none other than Paolo Vernazza no less and then at the start of this season we came to a friendly here and I managed to capture a picture that today is hung in a gallery in New York no less (OK – a kitchen of a mate then).  Judge for yourself below what you think.

That would be reason enough but then low and behold they go and announce a management team of John Moncur as Chairman and Julian Dicks as Manager.  What a double act.  Between them they were responsible for more yellow cards than most other double acts, but none were as committed to the Hammers cause in the past twenty years I would say.  Legends both of them.  But such characters off the pitch do not always translate to great managers.  Hoddle nearly did it, but then went off on another planet and ended up at Southampton, Dalglish could still get another chance at Liverpool and Billy Bonds himself had buckled under the pressure of his reputation.

All has not gone according to plan though at the New Rec.  Despite bringing in a host of new players, such as ex-Arsenal-and-brother-of-ex-Arsenal Hoyte (Gavin) and Anton Zola, one Gianfranco Zola’s son, Grays came into this game still second from bottom and some nine points from safety.  They came into the game after a couple of heavy defeats, as well as the fact they had failed to win at all on the road in 2009/10.

But could the home team fair any better?  Well in terms of points on the board, yes.  Thirty two of them in fact from thirty games, some six above the drop zone but the concern at Church Road was for the amount of goals they are shipping in.  A 6-1 home defeat to Rushden & Diamonds had come only a few weeks after a 5-0 reverse to AFC Wimbledon.  Watching Hayes and Yeading certainly meant goals.  Fifty of them in fact at Church Road in just fifteen games this season.  And goals is what we pay our money to watch.  Although there hadn’t been alot of money coming through the turnstiles.  After promotion last season from the Blue Square South, where they surprised many by sneaking into the end of season play offs and then upsetting the form book by beating Alan Devonshire’s Hampton & Richmond Borough at the Beveree to boot, the crowds had been conspicuous by their absence at Church Road.  Just 291 had been present for the recent game with Forest Green Rovers, which surely meant the club was losing money?  It is hard to fathom why the locals were staying away, but perhaps the birth of the “super club” had not gone down too well?

Hayes and Yeading FC were the new entity created by the merger of Hayes FC and Yeading FC, announced in April 2007.  The two sides, both members of the 2006/07 Conference South and both located within the West Middlesex town of Hayes decided to” join forces, integrate resources and bring together a community, creating a new super-club on the non-league scene.” according to the official statement.

“The combined forces of Middlesex and West London’s senior semi-professional football clubs will further raise the profile of non-league football in an area that traditionally struggles for crowds against local Premiership and Football League sides.” Former Hayes FC Chairman Derek Goodall said “It is well known that for years our clubs have struggled to attract the big gates needed to survive at this level. By combining efforts, know-how and strategy we can secure the future of high-level football in the area and provide facilities that the local community need and desire”

Some of the locals were not impressed judging by the message boards at the time:-

“Surely two set’s of fans merging is going to be rather difficult, however it’s no secret that there is a lot of neutrals who watch both teams home games and for that they must be delighted they now have every other saturday available.  Personally I don’t see how this new club will function, there’s just not a fanbase, at all 50 loyals from each and then 100 neutrals in total these days, the average attendance is likely to be 300 if you account for away fans.” Very Prophetic if you look at the situation now…

“If this merger is supposed to encourage bigger crowds in the future, the new club will have to find one new supporter immediately.. to replace me! There is no way on Earth that I will give my support to the new “Hayes”. Here is my suggestion for the new club motto; “Stick it up your arse”. Goodbye.”

So all was not well in the garden of West London.  It would be rude not to spend a paragraph on the clubs though. Hayes FC started off life as Botwell Mission in 1908 and stayed that way to 1924.  They moved to Church Road in the following year, renaming the ground Townfield.  They progressed through the Middlesex leagues, before election into the Isthmian Leagues in 1972 where they stayed there or there abouts for the next thirty years.  A few cup runs were all the club really had to show to put themselves on the map during that period.

Yeading started off as recently as 1960, by brothers Ray and Carl Gritt, who were both involved in the club until recently.  The Ding, as they were known reached the Isthmian Leagues in 1987, and a few years later they won the FA Vase by beating Bridlington Town at Elland Road.  In the early 1990’s both clubs made the Isthmian Premier League and eventually the Conference South when the changes were made in 2003.  A decision was made at the time of the merger to move into Hayes’s Church Road as it had more chance of making the next league grading should it be needed.

Let the show commence

The main stand, which was the oldest part of the ground had received a direct hit from a German bomb in the war, which also destroyed the club’s historic records and wasn’t upgraded until the 1990’s.  In fact  many of the improvements you see today are down to the £600,000 odd the club received as part of a sell on clause for old boy Sir Les Ferdinand when he joined Newcastle United from QPR in 1995.  But this is not the only old boy who has made it good.  What about Cyrille Regis and Jason Roberts?  Or Andy Impey who once played for Yeading and who could forget DJ Campbell’s exploits in the FA Cup some years ago when Yeading reached the 3rd round and played Newcastle United at Loftus Road.  In theory, all consigned to the history books now…

So here I was – Conference ground number 23 on the list after the expedition to Barrow at the weekend, which had gone much better than expected.  I picked up Dagenham Dan from McDonalds at 6pm (he is keen to stress that he never goes in there, he just knows where it is) and we were off – traversing from one side of London to another in the rush hour.  In a few years time (yeah, right) we could have made this journey in minutes on the Crossrail link from Stratford to Hayes & Harlington, but instead we had to make do with Zafira-power.

Hayes and Yeading United 4 Grays Athletic 0 – Church Road, Hayes – Tuesday 9th February 2010

Surely the best club shop in the world?

First off let me tell you about the highlight of the evening.  If you have never been to Hayes’s ground before, you have missed possibly the best treat known to a football fan.  If you have then you will know exactly what I mean.  No, its not the food, the comfort of the ground, the perfect views or the entertaining football – all of which are spot on.  Nor is it that little upstairs bar on the main road where for £20 you get to do….sorry – family audience and all that…I am talking about THE Portakabin.  Pay your £12 to get in and almost straight in front of you is a little hidden gem. It is a crime that it is only open on matchdays.  Officially it is the club shop, but it is the Aladdin’s cave of football shops.  Rows upon rows of old football books, programmes, videos, DVD’s and shirts from every club known to man.  Lee Hermitage is the man behind the idea and he has been promoted to a Danny Last FIFA 5 stars for his efforts.  Need an old Rothman’s yearbook?  Lee is your man….A video of the 1991 FA Cup semi-final – the Keith Hackett show?  Lee is your man.  So good was the shop that we almost forgot there was a game on outside.  Such a visit is worth the admission money alone.

Anyway back to the game…I’d had a little wager with Dagenham that the crowd would be less than 250, and judging by the numbers I could see on the terraces I was sure I was on a winner.  I do not know what the footballing public in West London want.  Here was a game that was sure to produce goals but they obviously choose QPR and Fulham down the road.  What a treat they missed.

Pick that one out of the onion bag...1-0 Hayes & Yeading

The opening few minutes saw both teams passing the ball well.  My impressions were that both teams would hoof it long, but that was not the case and some slick passing created chances for both teams in the opening ten minutes.  The first real goal scoring opportunity fell to Hayes striker Scott Fitzgerald in the 11th minute when he charged down an attempted clearance by Wayne Gray before trying to lob keeper Preston Edwards from 40 yards when he should have continued to run on goal.  Never mind as just 60 seconds later he had the ball in the net, albeit from what appeared to be an offide position when he moved onto a Justin Cochrane throughball before sliding the ball past Edwards to open the scoring.

One became two in the twenty sixth minute when a free kick was powerfully met by Matt Ruby at the far post and easily beat Edwards in the Grays goal.  To give the visitors credit they did not give up and a brief spell of pressure saw Wilson feed the ball to Gray who with his back to goal neatly set up Guy but his drive from the edge of the area was wide of the target.

Scott Fitzgerald almost had a second goal just before the half time as Green and Binns combined on the left to create an opening that beat Edwards only to see the shot come back off the post.  Grays task became mountainous in injury time as Wilson tackled Cochrane heavily and the referee produced a second yellow card for the Grays man and sent him off.

Kenny "Remember the goal I scored against Man Utd that cost them the title" Brown

After our visit to the club shop we reconvened on the terraces in front of the main stand.  I had wanted to get a shot of Dicks in venomous mood but I was disappointed.  The Grays manager did not say one word to anyone during the second half.  Assistant Kenny Brown did his fair share of swearing but nothing from the manager.

17 year old Daniel Wishart came on for Scott Fitzgerald at the start of the second half and he had a major hand in the third on 54 minutes when he played it to Allen-Page who hit a powerful drive across Edwards to make it 3-0. Six minutes later it was four as Binns crossed to the far post where Allen-Page arrived to fire home his second in just a few minutes.

Grays should have pulled one back ten minutes later as Hayes and Yeading’s keeper Masters could only get his fingertips to a cross and it fell to Alex Rhodes who somehow managed to hit the outside of the post with the goal gaping. At this stage I felt confident it could be at least six and made another sure fire winning bet with Dagenham Dan. But there was to be no more. Binns nearly made it five with a late header that came off the underside of the bar and with that I lost my bet. Seconds later the official attendance of 251 ruined my evening of gambling, and Dan went home 50p richer.

So a freezing cold evening had not turned out exactly how I thought. Both teams tried to play football but as with most things in life you need a bit of luck. Hayes & Yeading got that in the first half and the contest was over by half time. The future does not look too rosy for Grays, with only the helpless and hapless Chester below them. Haye and Yeading on the other hand can look forward to a run of home games against the divisions big boys confident in their ability to score goals. The question is can they stop leaking them.

A good evening? Absolutely – thanks to Lee Hermitage and his Tardis. Go there on Saturday – give the man on the door a wink and say Stuart sent you…you will not be disappointed.

About Church Road
Church Road is a classic looking old ground that has banks of terracing that sweep around it. On one side is the Main Stand, which was originally built in 1925. The stand which straddles the half way line, is covered and all seated and is raised above pitch level. It has a number of supporting pillars that run across the front of it, which is to be expected with a stand of this age. The team dugouts are located in front of the stand, with areas of open terrace to either side. Opposite is a fair sized mostly covered terrace, known affectionately as ‘the Shed’. This covered terrace, does not provide cover for the whole of its length, but at least does cover the terrace down to pitch side. There are also a number of supporting pillars running across the front of it. Both ends are open terraces that are quite steep and continue around the corners of the ground. The stadium has a set of eight floodlight pylons, four of which run down each side.

The club are unique in the fact that they actually own two grounds, and it is hoped that at some point the Club will re-develop Yeading’s old ground ‘The Warren into a stadium that would meet Football League standards. The Club would then move from Church Road to the Warren.

How to get to Church Road
If you are driving then leave M25 at Junction 16 and take the A40(M) towards London. Pass over one large junction (Denham Roundabout) and under another (Swakeleys Roundabout). Take next slip road (Hillingdon). At traffic lights turn right into Long Lane (A437). At the traffic lights at the end of Long Lane turn left onto the Uxbridge Road (A4020). After about two miles, turn right into Church Road opposite the Adam & Eve public house and the ground is down on your right. There is a car park at the ground which holds 300 cars and costs £1. Otherwise street parking.

Hayes & Hartlington station is the nearest to the ground and is situated just over a mile away from the ground. It is served by trains from London Paddington & Reading. Exit the station and turn right and follow Station Road. At the T-junction take the left hand fork into Bolwell Lane, and then straight on into Church Road at the mini roundabout. The ground is further up this road on the left hand side.

How to get a ticket for Church Road
Average attendances over the past few seasons haven’t exactly been stellar. Last season in their play off winning season it was just over 340. This season some teams will bring sizeable support, such as Luton, Oxford and Cambridge so these games may sell out. Otherwise it will be pay on the door. Prices are:-

Seating (enter through the terrace turnstiles and pay a transfer fee inside) – Adults £14, Concessions £9

Terrace: Adults £12, Concessions £7, Under 7’s Free

Many thanks to Duncan Adams and his fantastic site for the above information.

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.