Seagulls brought down to earth by busy Boro

This week has once again seen the cost of watching the beautiful game hit the headlines with the release of the BBC’s annual cost of watching football survey.  Like last year (and the years before that) the results of the survey simply proved a platform of out-of-touch politicians to bleat about how unfair it was on the average fan and their family whilst not actually having the balls to do something about it.  Football clubs on the most part hid in a corner, not prepared to justify the true reasons behind the rise in the whole matchday experience.

The situation wasn’t helped by the comments of rent-a-gob Robbie Savage who added fuel to the flames by saying that “To be completely honest, during my 20-year playing career, I never once thought about how much it was costing fans to go to game”.  Why did he think that would be a good thing to say?  Why not just keep his mouth shut.  Comments like this just make him look even more out of touch.  His frequent responses on Radio5Live’s 606 to fans phoning in of “have you played the game?” to try and put down people’s valid opinions have simply added to the irritant factor that he developed as a player.  In all of the years I have been watching football I have never found anyone who has a good word about Savage.

The main reaction to the results for the English clubs was to compare it to watching football in Europe.  The BBC somehow managed to concoct a figure that 1,000 (an amazingly exact figure) watch Borussia Dortmund at every home game.  How on earth do they know that?  Having been a relatively regular visitor to the Bundesliga, you rarely hear an English voice.  With demand for Dortmund and Bayern Munich far outstripping supply, where these 1,000 tickets come from is still a mystery. Likewise, the mythical sub £100 season tickets are on available to those on a long waiting list.  Of course there are some English-based fans who do own season tickets with overseas clubs and make frequent trips overseas, but these are in the minority.

Arsenal came out of the survey poorly, once again, with their cheapest season ticket the most expensive in British football three-times more expensive than Premier League Champions Manchester City.  In their AGM, held just 24 hours after the result of the survey were released, the club tried to justify that paying over £1,000 for a season ticket or £97 for a seat was value for money.  After all, they did beat Wigan Athletic and Hull City in the FA Cup last season.  According to the survey, you can buy a ticket for West Ham for £20.  That is correct.  For the Leicester City game only.  For seven other games in the Premier League this season that same seat would cost between £50 and £60.

Nowadays my viewing pleasure is almost exclusively restricted to the Non-League game…and European matches.  But today I would be making a rare excursion in the SkyBet Championship.  According to the survey, a trip to watch Brighton & Hove Albion is the most expensive in the whole Football League, and five pounds more than a trip to Upton Park.  Exactly. That’s why some of the results of the survey cannot be taken on face value, a comment echoed in the match day programme by CEO Paul Barber.  What you cannot fault The Seagulls for though is the imagination they put into their match day catering.  For this game we had the choice of a Sausage with Cheezy Beans Pie and a pint of Hobgoblin.  Take that Pukka and Fosters!

IMG_3534Every couple of weeks I drive past the monument to the Seagulls on my way to The Dripping Pan. The Amex is one of the best new stadiums built in this country in the last fifty years.  A bold statement but one backed up by the views of the fans who flock there every two weeks. In the first season the “sold out” signs were a frequent occurance leading to the club increasing the capacity by adding an additional tier on the East Stand leading to the club having the highest average attendance in the Championship for the last two years.  Part of the reason for the growth has been the expectations set on the pitch – two consecutive appearances in the Play-offs have been bitter-sweet rewards for the fans who have experienced the pain of defeat and the subsequent loss of their manager.

The club will have looked on enviously as Leicester City, Burnley, Hull City and especially bitter rivals Crystal Palace move up into the land of milk and honey.  With the new TV deal in place for the lucky twenty clubs in the Premier League, The Seagulls acted quickly in the summer to bring in a manager with top league experience, recruiting ex-Bayer Leverkusen manager Sami Hyypiä.  Results haven’t so far been stellar, with four draws in their eleven league games so far.  Depending on how you look at results, they came into the game against Middlesbrough on a five game unbeaten run, including a win in the League Cup that has taken them into the last sixteen and a game against Spurs, or they had only won once in the last eight.  Football, eh!

The visitors also had their eye on the Premier League, having endured the last six seasons in the Championship and dispensed with the services of club legend Tony Mowbray last year, replacing him with Spaniard Aitor Karanka.  So far, so good this season as Boro’ arrived in East Sussex just one point of top spot.  Had a score draw written all over it.

Brighton & Hove Albion 1 Middlesbrough 2- The Amex – Saturday 18th October 2014
Despite the late, last-gasp rally by The Seagulls they were clearly the second best team on display at The Amex despite what the stats say.  Brighton had 62% of the possession and sixteen shots on target yet it Boro’ keeper Konstantopoulos hardly got his gloves dirty as the the visitors defence held firm and threw themselves at everything heading their way.

The visitors, starting the game with just one up front, could have possibly been down to ten men in the first fifteen seconds when George Friend’s “welcome” to Brighton’s Teixeira was late and high.  Ref Andy D’Urso (remember him?  The stress of refereeing has turned him grey) elected not to play the advantage despite Teixeira’s pass having sent one of his colleagues free on goal.  D’Urso adopted the “well, it’s early in the game” rule meaning Friend escaped any censorship at all.  Fifteen minutes he finally went in the book after another “robust” challenge.  Teixeira would only go on to last half an hour.

The visitors took the lead in the 7th minute when a well-worked move saw Tomlin sweep the ball high into the Seagulls net after Brighton had failed to clear any danger.  Whilst Albion huffed and puffed around the edge of the box they lacked the cutting edge that put the Boro goal under pressure.  The half-time break couldn’t have come quick enough for Hyypiä, nor by the look of the queue for beer on the concourse the vast majority of the Seagulls fans.DCIM100GOPROHyypiä made a change at half-time and for the first few minutes they played with some pace, but then in the 52nd minute they were undonw by a Middlesbrough counter-attack and when the ball was played into the danger area Adomah reacted quickest.  Although his first effort was well saved down at the near post, he Boro’ forward was on hand to squeeze the rebound home from a tight angle.  Two-nil and it appeared game over.

With just ten points separating the promotion from relegation positions in the Championship, teams can move up and down the table quickly and the in-play score saw Middlesbrough heading to the summit whilst Brighton headed towards the League One trap door.  Some fans around us high in the West Stand started to vent their frustration and headed for the exits…although in truth they were really going to the bar and would watch the rest of the game on the TV screens.  There’s almost 3/4th of the season to play for – plenty of time for things to go right (or wrong).

A late spell of pressure on the Boro’ goal resulted in Greer heading home after a spell of aerial pinball to give Albion hope but even with five added minutes to play they never really looked, or in truth, deserved an equaliser against a very well marshalled Middlesbrough team.

To relate back to the BBC survey – had we had value for money?  Absolutely.  Whilst the cold, hard stats suggest The Amex is not the cheapest place to visit, it certainly is one of the best in the Football League and certainly a favourite among away fans, especially when they don’t have to work too hard to come away with three points.

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.