The Long(est) Goodbye


When Bobby Moore virtually turned the lights out at The Boleyn Ground around 11.33pm on Tuesday 10th May, most West Ham fans shed a tear as the fine old stadium went dark for the last time.  Time to move on, even if like me, some questioned the need to move in the first place.  The season had been a huge success on the field with Bilic soon putting the pre-season critics in their place with a superb campaign even if two defeats in the last three games cost the club a first-ever Champions League spot.  But thanks to Manchester United’s FA Cup Final win last week over Crystal Palace,the Hammers will once again compete in the Europa League although that now poses an issue of where the home leg will be played after the club has sold over 50,000 seats for the opening game at The Olympic Stadium against Juventus due to take place after that tie.

However, since the Manchester United game the club has come under criticism for hosting a number of other games.  Whilst they may have a charitable motive, the fact that the much-hyped United game wasn’t the last game has seriously irked the fans.  A proposed West Ham Ladies game on 5 June was cancelled after nearly 12,000 fans voted to whether it should go ahead.  Despite over 50% voting in favour of the game! the club cancelled the game influenced by comments on social media! meaning the Manchester United game would be the last public fixture played at The Boleyn Ground. Except it’s not.

FullSizeRender (2)I can’t remember how I stumbled upon the information but on Bank Holiday Monday the stadium was hosting two games between Upton Park FC and Royal Engineers AFC with the ‘pay what you want’ admission fee going to charity.  The official West Ham website had no information about the game nor could I find any information about Upton Park bar an article I wrote myself and published back in 2011, summarised below.  With my alternative option of finishing deconstructing my old office in the garden (aka The Sheduseum), curiosity won the day and I headed off to Upton Park (the place) for my final visit to The Boleyn (the ground and the pub).

Upton Park FC had been dissolved back in 1911 and whilst former FA Cup winners, Royal Engineers, still have a team today, there was no link at all back to West Ham United or The Boleyn Ground.  Both teams actually took part in the first ever FA Cup back in 1871 with Upton Park losing 3-0 at home (West Ham Park) to Clapham Rovers whilst Royal Engineers made it to the final, losing 1-0 to Wanderers.  The two clubs actually played each other in the 1879/80 FA Cup at the 2nd Round stage with the Engineers running out 4-1 winners.  Despite their name, they had nothing to do with West Ham United nor ever played at The Boleyn Ground. The annual performance of the club in The FA Cup did inspire Thames Ironworks who moved to West Ham in 1897 after entering the competition themselves for the first time the year before.  Thames Ironworks became West Ham United in July 1900 and moving to the Boleyn Ground four years later.

But just a few months into the life of West Ham United, Upton Park FC had their finest hour, winning an honour that no English football club can ever lay claim to.  The date is 20th September 1900.  The place, The Vélodrome de Vincennes in the south-east of Paris.  In front of a crowd of approximately 500 locals the Great British football team had just beaten their French counter parts 4-0 and in the process won Gold in the first Olympic games of the modern era.

The 1900 Summer Olympics were notable for being rather different from the ones we can expect later this year.  For a start the games opened on 14 May and did not finish until 28 October.  And then there was the events themselves.  We may scoff at events such as Beach Volleyball and BMXing, but back in 1900 we had ballooning, cricket (England beat France), Basque Pelota and my personal favourite the 200m swimming obstacle race (Gold won by Great Britain’s Frederick Lane).  And there was the shortest Olympic event – the Tug of War – where a combined Danish/Swedish team took Gold from the French in a competition that took 3 minutes 12 seconds from start to finish.

But let’s get back to the football tournament.  As opposed to picking the best players of the time, the Football Association decided to ask Upton Park FC to represent Great Britain.  Quite why they picked a Non-League, amateur side who just a few years before had disbanded is a mystery that time and tide has erased, but they justified the decision by winning gold.

Sounds an impressive achievement doesn’t it?  Well let’s look at the truth.  Football had been introduced into the games as a Demonstration event.  Originally the tournament was to feature five nations – France, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany and Great Britain.  Right up until the day of the first game it was expected to be a five way contest but for some reason the Germans and the Swiss didn’t bother sending teams so instead it was decided that it would just be a three team tournament.

In the first game Union des Sociétés Françaises de Sports Athlétiques, representing France, were drawn to play Upton Park.  A very comfortable four nil win for the British put them on the verge of a Gold medal for just 90 minutes work.  Three days later the French side beat Université de Bruxelles 6-2 meaning a third and final game was not necessary.  The Belgians could not win gold and so the first ever Olympic football tournament was won by Great Britain, or more precisely, Upton Park Football Club.

At the time the team weren’t actually awarded any medals or even a cup.  Some years later the IOC awarded the club the “honour” of a gold medal, but as they had finally disbanded in 1911 nobody actually knows what happened to any award.  As it was a demonstration event they probably just had a cup of tea and a cucumber sandwich or two before they returned back to Blighty.

FullSizeRenderA heart-warming story I’m sure you will agree, and one that could easily be made into a film.  But back to today and can someone please explain what relevance the Upton Park game has to being the last “public” game at The Boleyn Ground because I will be damned if I could find anyone outside the ground at 12.30pm who could tell me?  Still it did give me an opportunity for one final look around and a beer in the deserted Boleyn Pub before I headed inside to see what exactly was going on.

Upton Park FC 2 Royal Engineers 0 – The Boleyn Ground – Monday 30th May 2016
At first glance it appeared this was a wind-up.  There was no game on, nor did it appear that there was any life in the stadium at all.  A group waited outside the main entrance for their tour to start but then I spotted an open door on the corner of the Main and Sir Trevor Brooking Stand.  No signage, no stewards, no posters – just an open door.  Once inside the inner-sanctum of the Main Stand I paid my money for the charity programme and took a seat just as the two teams came out for the first game.  It was surreal to say the least.  Around 100 spectators were spread across the lower tier of the Main Stand.  The constant sound of drills from the Bobby Moore Stand filled the air as the club had begun to remove them, with fans having paid £50 for a bit of old plastic.  Every possible sign in the stand, such as on the toilet doors had already been removed, as too had the big screens in the corners, in preparation for the final public event, the grand auction (only £25 to get in by the way) being held next weekend.

FullSizeRender (1)West Ham fan Matt Lorenzo was the PA announcer although with roll-on, roll-off subs he kept the announcements to a minimum as the two teams, who had to keep a minimum of three players over the age of fifty on the pitch at any time, played out a decent game which saw Upton Park, their squads made up of fans and Non-League players, ran out 2-0 winners.  The first goal was as good as anyone would have seen this season with the centre-back running through the whole of the middle of the Royal Engineers team from his own half before chipping the keeper.

The second game saw the two “first teams” play each other.  Upton Park included former West Ham keeper Neil Finn in their squad.  Finn played in the same Youth Team as Lampard and Ferdinand and became the youngest ever Premier League player when on 1st January 1996 he was drafted in to play against Manchester City at Maine Road after Les Sealey, deputy to the suspended Ludek Miklosko, was taken ill.  Miklosko’s wife had to sew numbers onto the back of Finn’s shirt in the hours before the game, which West Ham lost 2-1.

FullSizeRender (5)The two teams lined up for the “anthem” but no music was forthcoming, so someone quickly hit the button that said “Bubbles”.  “Sorry about that”, said Lorenzo, “We were supposed to be worshiping the Queen not Bubbles”.  Both teams had decided to wear dark shirts, black shorts and black socks, which made it a bit of a nightmare to work out what was going on.  As the second game kicked off, with the crowd now around the two hundred mark, the tour group appeared in the corner of the Main Stand, stopping to take photos and getting in the way of players trying to take throw-ins.  The whole experienced seemed quite bizarre.

FullSizeRender (4)Another decent game ensued with Upton Park running out 3-2 winners.  I’d left with 15 minutes to play to get one final pint in at The Boleyn, for old-time sake.  It seems like this goodbye had been the longest in history, but now it was time to drink up and move on after forty years of some good and a few bad memories of watching football in London E13.

 

 

 

A fond farewell…sort of


Humans are rubbish at saying goodbye.  We will put something off as long as we can, often kidding ourselves that we will get “one final chance” to say farewell, even when deep down we know it’s not going to happen.  I’ve known for three years that at some point I would be making my final visit to Upton Park yet when the realisation comes that “this is it” I didn’t really know what to think.

26578670721_9db220e464_zI recently worked out I had seen West Ham play at The Boleyn Ground over 300 times.  My first visit was back in 1976, coming to a game with my Dad and brother against Burnley.  I’ve seen promotions, relegation, riots, sit-ins, utter jubilation and crushing defeats.  As a father I remember bringing both my children to the ground for the first time, hoping that they would fall in love with the stadium just like I had.  One hated her first experience of football so much (and we were sitting in a box!) that she vowed never to come back.  There are few games that for one reason or another I don’t recall.  Despite the game becoming this global, polished marketing vehicle, the life that teems around Upton Park on a match day hasn’t really changed in that 40 years.  Ken’s Cafe, Nathan’s Pie and Mash, the same bloke selling the programmes (the one with the pierced ear and funny teeth).  I still wonder today what happened to the Monkey Nuts seller on the North Bank.

There was never going to be a chance of getting a ticket for Swansea City, or latterly Manchester United.  Football doesn’t work on compassion and nostalgia these days.  My years of loyal support and tens of thousands of pounds count for nothing – it is all about the here and now, and I have no issues with that having given up my season ticket six seasons ago.  So my chance to say goodbye was going to be in the Premier League Development Squad League Cup Final First Leg (nothing like a catchy title) against Hull City on a freezing cold April night.

West Ham’s current owners do some things really well. But they also far too often go back to type and think of the fans as ATM machines, happy to dish out cash on demand.  Take the start of this season where West Ham had qualified for the Europa League for the first time in over a decade.  Tickets for those opening games were priced from £10.  That is cheaper than watching games eight levels below the Premier League.  Consequently virtually every ticket for the three games played at The Boleyn Ground sold out.  A few days after the last of those games was a friendly arranged against Werder Bremen where the ticket prices were doubled.  The attendance? Well let’s just say tickets were available to buy on the day.

The positive vibes the clubs created by announcing a year in advance of the move to the Olympic Stadium with some of the cheapest season ticket prices in the Premier League were seriously undone by the legal wranglings over the exact details of the stadium deal. 26578680771_7a998b40f8_zA walk around the stadium store just shows how much money the owners have tried to make out of this final year at The Boleyn Ground.  Almost every item under the sun had a “Farewell Boleyn” logo on.  Based on the number that had started to appear in the bargain buckets, I guess fans have got “farewell” fatigue.

Every fan will have their own special memories of the ground and meeting up with Dagenham Dan and Brian we spent a fair amount of time taking a trip down memory lane to the most obscure places.  In the fullness of time I am sure I will remember more but for me the five most vivid memories have been:-

West Ham 5 Notts County 2 – August 1978 – My first real season at Upton Park and on the opening day a team inspired by Devonshire and Brooking scored four first half goals to top the league. I assumed from my spot on the lip over the entrance to the South Bank, just in front of the man bar that every game would be as easy as this….

West Ham 1 Dynamo Tblisi 4 – March 1981 – Almost 35,000 squeezed into Upton Park to see one of the finest performances ever witnessed at the ground.  The Russians (now Georgians) arrived for this European Cup Winners Cup Quarter-Final as relative unknowns but undid a West Ham side who had lost just a handful of games all season.  Even now I can remember the names of players such as Chivadze, Chilaya and Shengalia. By the time we reached the ground at 7pm, the North Bank and West Stands were full, but for some reason nobody was using the “away fans” turnstile – the first time I ever stood in that corner of the old South Bank.

West Ham 6 Aldershot 1 – January 1991 – Non-League Aldershot had managed a 0-0 draw in the initial tie in this FA Cup 3rd Round tie and with the replay also to be played at Upton Park I took the opportunity to take my then girlfriend of 9 months to The Boleyn Ground for the first time.  She hated the whole experience of standing on a cold and wet South Bank, despite the six West Ham goals.  I had to act fast to turn a desperate situation around so I proposed, kneeling down in the passenger foot-well of her pink Fiat Panda at some traffic lights in Walthamstow.  She said yes and for the next year I wasn’t allowed near a football ground because we were “wedding planning”.  By the time we drew with Non-League Farnborough a year later at the same stage of the cup, the wedding was off and I was again back on the South Bank.

West Ham 2 Ipswich Town 0 – May 2004 – After the shock of dropping out of the Premier League on the last day of the previous season, West Ham made a real hash of trying to immediate return, losing to sides such as Gillingham, Rotherham United and Millwall.  We scrapped into the Play-offs, winning just five of our last ten and then lost to Ipswich Town at Portman Road in the first leg.  This was the Pardew “Moore than just a football club” era and the noise levels at the ground on the night of the second leg were off the scale.  Etherington brought us back into the tie just after half-time and then Christian Dailly scrambled home a winner with twenty minutes to play to send nearly 32,000 Hammers fans into delirium….”Oh Christian Dailly, you are the love of my life, Oh Christian Dailly, I’d let you shag my wife, she’s got curly hair too”.  Less said about the final in Cardiff the better.

West Ham 3 Newcastle United 1 – September 2008 – In one of the first games of the Zola era I decided to bring my daughter to her first West Ham game.  I gave up my Season Ticket in the Bobby Moore lower to watch a team featuring Ilunga, Behrami and David  Di Michele.  The little Italian shone on that day, scoring two in the 3-1 win but more importantly giving every fan hope that we had found the new Di Canio.  Some of the football played on that afternoon was sublime and hard to forget, unlike the performance two weeks later against Bolton Wanderers where we lost by the same scoreline where it was hard to remember.

There are a host of other games that have less positive memories of course plus a huge bunch of matches that just merge into one.  Any fan could wax lyrical about their team’s performances over the year, with their most memorable games being close to their heart.  Being in the stadium one last time brings all of those to the fore, just like the memories of a dearly departed friend or love one.  As Shankly said, football isn’t a matter of life or death – it is more important than that.  Whilst I wouldn’t 100% agree, I do see on the emotional side where he was coming from.

26578684361_98d38ac4d4_zLooking around the ground before kick off it is still hard to fathom why the club feel the need to move.  With just the old East Stand needing redevelopment to make the stadium a more than comfortable 40,000 all seater, blind ambition seems to have got in the way of sense.  This season has taught us a number of things.  Firstly, you don’t need a massive stadium, nor billions of pounds to challenge (and win) at the top of the table.  The fact that West Ham are still chasing a Champions League spot with three games to go has nothing to do with the stadium but the squad assembled.  Secondly, clubs that have ignored their youth development will temporarily be replaced in the hierarchy.  Both Chelsea and Manchester United have suffered this season, primarily down to the old guard simply not reaching the standards required.  Again, that has nothing to do with the stadium.  Finally, it is about the football club being part of the community – moving to the Olympic Stadium will remove the club from the kill parts of this small area of London.

I get the fact this is about ambition and about being able to compete at the highest level of the Premier League but we also have to be realistic.  Only a small number of clubs can compete for the major honours and we have to go head to head against some of the world’s most wealthiest clubs – the new TV deal will make the rich, richer.  Investment will be required and I am not sure our current owners are willing to make that additional step once the club moves to the new ground.

West Ham United DS 1 Hull City DS 1 – The Boleyn Ground – Monday 25th April 2016
In some ways a crowd of over 10,000 for this game was quite impressive, but with tickets on sale for as little as £4 for adults and only a few more games left in the ground I expected more.  There was a danger that the football would become a mere side-show but fortunately a decent game, punctuated by some excellent performances ensured that a fine balance between nostalgia and excitement was maintained.

26371043240_ee9b71b1c6_zDespite the last-gasp winner for substitute Djair Parfitt-Williams, West Ham dominated the game with the stand-out player being Martin Samuelsen, who impressed back in pre-season in a number of games and was again displaying some of the impressive skills that have seen him play regularly in League One this season at Peterborough United.  At the back, a mature performance from Reece Oxford ensured that it was unlikely Hull would ever be leaving East London with anything more than a point from a goal-less draw.

It is hard to imagine how many of the squad will go onto be regulars in the first team.  Sam Byron signed in a high-profile move from Leeds United, whilst Josh Cullen has been playing at Bradford City.  Whilst the Europa League run last season gave us a taste of the potential future talent at the club, few have been regulars in the first team squad yet.  The fabled West Ham academy production line seems to have temporarily gone on strike, although the purposes of youth development for Premier League clubs has changed so much in such a short period of time to almost being defensive in approach rather than looking to polish the diamonds of tomorrow.

As the rain and sleet fell at the end of the game there were a few fans shedding a tear as they posed for one last photo next to the pitch.  For my final visit there was no queue at the bar at The Boleyn nor was there one to get into the tube station at Upton Park – hardly like old times then.

The Boleyn Ground – 1904 to 2016 – Rest in Pieces

Hammers on Song to hunt the Foxes


IMG_2313Parkes, Stewart, Walford, Gale, Martin, Devonshire, Ward, Dickens, Orr, McAvennie, Cottee. The best ever West Ham line up? Obviously there’s no Moore, no Brooking, no Di Canio and no Dicks. But those eleven players took West Ham United to third place in Football League Division One in 1985/86, or 6 BPL ( Before Premier League). Under the leadership of John Lyall, the Hammers ran Liverpool and Everton to the last Saturday of the season.

Amazingly, they only used 18 players in the whole season, of which five played two games or less – so a squad of 13 players, all British and featuring five home-grown players, exceeded all expectations. That was the last season that the club were in the top four at this stage of the season. Today, there was a possibility that they could go into Christmas in third place. West Ham in the Champions League spots. Watch out Barcelona, West Ham are coming for you.

We all say “it won’t last”. Last week I wrote about Regression Theory which tries to explain that over the long term teams always settle in their “natural” positions, whilst the next two games see them take on rivals Arsenal and Chelsea, matches they would probably not expect to win. But this isn’t a normal side. I’ve no idea who has got into the heads of some of the squad but they’ve turned fair to middling players into world beaters. There are few better midfielders in the Premier League at the moment than Stewart Downing, given free-reign to drift across the pitch. Winston Reid looks like a rock at the back. Arsenal don’t know what they are missing in Carl Jenkinson, whilst on the other side, Aaron Cresswell has stepped up from the Championship without a look back.

IMG_2310Whilst today was the Lewes Lunatic Fringe’s Christmas party away at Harrow Borough, I’d be heading to The Boleyn aground for the second time in two weeks thanks to Barclays and their weekly ticket give away. My tickets were in the name of Mr Barclays Premier League – not a title that sits easy with me but I was willing to play the part for the visit of bottom of the table Leicester City. Getting anything free from Messrs Sullivan and Gold (and not forgetting Dame Brady) is almost unheard of. In the week before the game the club had hit the headlines, for the wrong reasons again, after it was revealed that at £600 a head, they offer the most expensive mascot package in the Premier League (and likely, the whole world). Only seven hard-up takers for today’s game, according to the programme. Fancy a season ticket for next season’s last one at The Boleyn? Well you can add your name to the waiting list now for just a tenner. Or perhaps spending £50 on the limited edition purple FA Cup shirt, which because they are playing Everton away in the 3rd Round will mean they can’t wear it anyway.

Back in 1985/86 the success of the team was build around the pace of Cottee and McAvennie up front, a midfield play maker in Alan Dickens, a decent wide an in pint-sized Mark Ward and an outstanding keeper in Phil Parkes. Fast forward 29 years and it was Sahko, Carroll, Song, Downing and Adrian. All on fire at the moment, playing at the top of their game. That’s why West Ham were in the top 4. Hard to beat but always looking likely to score. Or as someone said to me post-match, it’s all because we are wearing Adidas again.

Last May, with the Football League Championship secured, Leicester City’s chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha said he expected to see The Foxes in the position West Ham held. A rumoured transfer kitty of over £150 million was to be made available. The future was bright, the future was the Premier League.

After a decent start in their return to the Premier League, Leicester haven’t been enjoying the last few months. Coming into this game they were without a win in three months in all competitions – in fact their last win was the high point in their season, the 5-3 victory over Man Utd. They didn’t need reminding about the fable of the bottom team at Christmas, although it appeared Radio 5Live needed to include it in every pre-match report just in case we had developed a goldfish-like memory.

West Ham United 2 Leicester City 0 – The Boleyn Ground – Saturday 20th December 2014
Once again, the Man of the Match award, announced on the 85th minute, was greeted with muted applause. Just as it was two weeks ago, goal-scorer Andy Carroll had been given the honour, despite two or three players shining brighter. Carroll’s firm since return from serious injury has been impressive. It seems the striker thrives when the focus of the side’s play doesn’t focus on him. Last season he was rushed back from another injury, pressure building with every game he was absent. Allardyce, Gold and Sullivan (junior of course as he seems to be the official spokesperson of the club via Twitter despite only being about 13) all told us things would be better when Carroll was fit.

IMG_2325The visitors certainly started the brighter, belying their lowly position. They’d done their homework, targeting the ineffective Tompkins, who looks as out of depth in the Premier League as he did on his debut back in 2008. Some may also question whether he should still be playing after pleading guilty to assaulting a policeman as well as being drunk and disorderly. But then we all know football doesn’t reflect the same moral code as real life.

Adrian was the busier keeper in the opening exchanges but it was West Ham who took the lead in the 24th minute after Leicester had been pressuring the West Ham goal. Downing set up Carroll, who blasted the ball over from 8 yards but less than sixty seconds later he got his goal. Carl Jenkinson hoofed the ball clear from almost on his own touch line, ex-Hammer Paul Konchesky gathered the ball on the half-way line and tried to play the ball back to the keeper but it was short, allowing Carroll to get in between the keeper and defender and chipped the ball home.

The difference between the two midfields was Alex Song. “We’ve only got one Song” the West Ham fans sung as the Barcelona loanee bossed the midfield. How he failed to end up at The Emirates, Anfield or The Etihad is a mystery but he seems to love playing at Upton Park, and the Upton Park faithful love him. Strength, balance, poise and vision. Add in a rejuvenated Downing and that’s one hell of a partnership.

IMG_2324The two combined ten minutes into the second period, with Downing showing great control before curling the ball home from the edge of the area. It was a fine goal to cap a fine performance from a player who is now finally living up to his potential he showed as a youngster at Middlesbrough.

Adrian then pulled off two world class saves to deny Leicester a deserved consolation goal. Whilst they would head back up the M1 wondering what the future held, West Ham would enjoy their Christmas dinner sitting above Spurs, Liverpool and Arsenal almost at the half way stage of the season. Whilst we can but dream of another season like 1985/86, deep-down we know natural selection, or Regression Theory, will eventually determine our fate. Carroll is no Frank McAvennie, Winston Reid is no Alvin Martin, Cheikhou Kouyate is no Neill Orr and of course Allardyce is no John Lyall. But that was then and this is now.

West Ham on Song to jump into the top three


15967541542_58a6b64140_kIt’s a good time to be a West Ham fan.  Yesterday our fellow London rivals Arsenal, Chelsea and Millwall all lost, whilst Spurs could only manage a goal less draw at home to Crystal Palace.  Coming into the game at The Boleyn Ground against Swansea City the team knew a win would take them to third…THIRD.  I cannot remember the last time The Hammers were in the top three, even after the opening day of the season.  Third.  Champions League Group automatic entry third.  Top three in one of the richest leagues in the world.

We all know it wont last.  It can’t last. Why?  Well we can blame the economist Francis Galton for making our dreams fade and die.  19th Century Galton was credited with first documenting the Theory of Regression.  Whilst Galton used the biological phenomenon of the height of ancestors to demonstrate his theory, it can be applied today in predicting bouncebackability (he actually invented that word too) of teams who either punch above their weight or failed to meet expectations.  Everyone will always gravitate to their natural position.

But that’s not to say there hasn’t been a seismic shift in events at Upton Park.  After Allardyce was given a seat at the bar of the last chance saloon in the summer, he used the close season well, and whether it was his hard work, that of “attacking” coach Teddy Sheringham or the scouting network, he has built one of the best looking West Ham side’s that I can ever remember.  By best looking I mean in terms of positive and attacking play rather than any looks, although the shift to the blue shorts is very pleasing on the eye.

Few expected the likes of Enner Valencia, Cheikhou Kouyaté and Diafra Sakho to settle in East London so quickly but they have.  Sakho in particular has been a revelation.  The Senegal international had been playing in the French Second Division until the summer, but someone spotted something in him.  Whoever that was deserves a knighthood.  Sakho has been a handful for Premier League defences so far this season, hitting seven goals in just nine games before the game against Swansea.  Thoughts turn to a young Frank McAvennie when he first came to England back in 1985 and terrorized English defences.

15348569513_2ba959a754_kThe lofty position hasn’t been down to fluke either.  I’ve never been an Allardyce fan, hating this traditional Anti-football which hasn’t ever proved to deliver anything apart from neckache to fans.  His purchase last season of Andy Carroll was seen as the final piece in his long-ball jigsaw, and when the injury-prone striker inevitably ended up on the operating table, there was no plan B.  Even in pre-season when I saw them against Stevenage there appeared to be zero attacking intent.  Four months later they are playing some of the best football in the Premier League and have beaten Champions League qualifiers Liverpool and Manchester City comprehensively at Upton Park, whilst away from home they have been impressive, sticking to an attacking 4-4-2 with the resurgent Stewart Downing finally being freed from his wing.

Despite a Sunday lunchtime slot for this game, the game was a sell-out, as had every other Premier League game bar the one versus Aston Villa this season.  With the rest of the Fuller family up North it was took good an opportunity to miss.  A £43 ticket is easier to swallow if the football on offer is attractive and positive.

In a pre-match interview with Radio 5Live, Co-Chairman David Gold admitted that he was very surprised that the club were so high up the table.  “Not that don’t believe that we are a good team, we probably didn’t expect to be in this position at this stage of the season”.  It would of course be amiss to forget that the visitors from Wales were also having an amazing season.  After starting off like a train they had followed the Galton theory and dropped back down the table, only to start to climb again in the last few weeks.  In fact, a win at Upton Park would see them leap-frog the Hammers and Arsenal into the top six.

15781622859_b9798b6d14_kThe sun was shining and it was felt good to be back in East London.  Due to overseas travel and my commitments at Lewes (plus the dire football on display in recent seasons) I had been a rare visitor to these parts, but just like a London bus, I would be following today’s game with visits to the next two Premier League games here.  But for now it was time to see for myself exactly how this new team were taking the table by storm.

West Ham United 3 Swansea City 1 – The Boleyn Ground – Sunday 7th December 2014
It took the introduction of that man Sakho to power West Ham to victory against The Swans, adding the cutting edge to the dominance in possession.  This was a great game of football, full of attacking intent from both sides, controversy and a couple of great goals.  Whilst the game between Southampton and Manchester United tomorrow night will see one of them reclaim third place, for 30 hours or so, The Hammers could look down on the likes of Arsenal, Spurs, Liverpool and United themselves with a sense of pride and achievement.

The return to form of Andy Carroll had been perfectly timed, with Sakho missing from the past few games but it was the re-introduction of Barcelona – Alex Song that gave West Ham the victory.  Quite how and why Arsenal let their former player slip through their fingers in the summer is beyond me.  Likewise, their attacking full back Carl Jenkinson seems to revel playing in a side that allows him to run behind the opposing full backs.

For all of their opening possession it was the visitors who took the lead.  Despite West Ham being “all over them like a cheap suit”, they couldn’t “put the ball in the Onion bag” (those two quotes courtesy of the person sitting behind me), Swansea attacked down the left-hand side, Montero got in behind Jenkinson and played the ball across the face of goal for the on-rushing Bony to easy tap home.  Swansea’s tactics then switched from mildly attacking to retention and time-wasting.  With seventy minutes to hold on, it was a foolhardy tactic and it was always going to be a case of when and not if West Ham scored.

15780798948_deac688edd_kFor all the great passing play from the home side, the equaliser came from a familiar route in the 40th minute.  Jenkinson crossed from the left and Carroll out-jumped his marker and headed home.

Swansea started the second half the better side and a powerful run through the middle by Bony followed by a shot that hit the bar had most of the West Ham fans groaning that this wouldn’t be our day.  But then Carroll rose again and headed Downing’s corner into the net via Rangel’s desperate dive to keep it out. But the main talking point came moments later.

Earlier in the season when Lewes took on Margate at The Dripping Pan we had our centre-back Ollie Rowe sent off for a “professional foul”, or to give it its correct term, stopping a clear goal-scoring opportunity.  Rowe had stumbled when chasing a Margate forward and as he fell he took the legs of the attacker.  But the attacker got to his feet, carried on and managed to get a shot in which the Lewes keeper, Rikki Banks, saved.  The referee pulled play back and sent Rowe off.  How could it be claimed that he denied a goal-scoring opportunity if he then went on and got his shot on?  What would have happened if he would have scored? As we were told at the time by the officials, the fact that there had been a clear foul, it is irrelevant what the end result was.  If he would have scored them it is a different matter, and the offender would have been cautioned.

Sakho outpaced the Swansea defence and took the ball passed the on-rushing Swansea keeper Fabianski.  The keeper tried to take Sakho out but the forward was too quick for him and he recovered his poise and from a tight angle tried to slot the ball home, only to see his shot come back off the post.  Referee Chris Foy brought play back for a free-kick and dismissed the keeper.  Swansea’s main argument was that Sakho had allegedly handled the ball rather than Fabianski’s foul.

The game was wrapped up when Sakho once again showed his pace and power, running onto a flick from Carroll to smash the ball home from the edge of the box.  3-1 and West Ham were going third.  Man of the Match was always going to be given to the two-goal Andy Carroll but it was clear to see that it was Alex Song who called the tune today and without his energy, drive and tempo it could have been a very different result.

Moore than just a footballer


559881_557443577622196_396737540_nLast year marked the twentieth anniversary of the death of Bobby Moore. The date was marked with numerous events and presentation across the footballing landscape, especially in the East End. I never saw Bobby play in the flesh, but I have heard enough stories of his playing career from my Dad and brother to know that he was a special player. It is all too often in life that we only really remember the contribution of someone to our lives when they are taken from us.

Bobby Moore epitomised the image of West Ham during the 1960’s and early 1970’s.  Few footballers back then lived their life on the front pages of the newspapers like today, and the standard of behaviour (George Best aside) was that of a group of people who saw playing football as a privilege rather than a right.  Moore made 544 appearances for the Hammers before he moved onto Fulham.  He became the first man at the club to ever lift a trophy, when West Ham won the 1964 FA Cup final, and then just a year later leading the Hammers to a famous European Cup Winners Cup victory at Wembley.  Of course, he was also responsible for winning the World Cup twelve months later.

Despite playing a further 150 games in his career he remained a Hammer.  Few will know that he actually ended his career playing in Denmark, for Herning Fremand before he ventured into an unsuccessful career in management at Oxford City and Southend United. Continue reading

Premier ambitions


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.

Premier League TV moneyI’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. Continue reading

Are we taking the Olympic spirit too far?


You may have missed the little nugget in the media over the past week that West Ham United are going to be moving to the Olympic Stadium in 2016.  It seems the world and his wife have an opinion on this subject, whether they be fans of the Hammers, of the Olympic Park or just concerned tax payers.  I have written about my opposition to the move on numerous occasions but decided to reflect back on those reasons over the weekend.  I can now see the good and the bad in the plan to move the club 2 1/2 miles north(ish) to the newest stadium in Great Britain.  So I thought I would try to write a “balanced view statement” as my daughter’s English teacher is so fond of saying, focusing on why I think it is a good deal for all parties, and why it is a bad deal for all parties.

7686283758_062833b406_bThis was hard.  I tend to write very opinionated pieces, focusing on one side to a story.  But I genuinely can see both sides.  Even my mother-in-law sent me a text, asking my opinion and I simply don’t know.  The obvious winner in all of this is undoubtedly West Ham United Football Club.  Nobody can deny that the FOOTBALL CLUB will benefit massively from this move.  But who or what exactly constitutes the Football Club?  The team? The employees of the club?  The fans?  The owners?  Or a combination of all or some of the above?  Let’s see…

So my idea is to present five clear arguments for and against the decision of the club to move to Stratford.  There, of course, is no right or wrong answer.  In ten years time with West Ham dominating the Premier League and having won successive Champions League titles, playing in front of 54,000 local’s with families and local good causes well represented and contributing to the local economy, the doom mongers will have to hold their hands up and say they were wrong.  But if the stadium sits half full whilst West Ham play hoof ball against Carlisle United in the lower leagues (no disrespect to Carlisle United btw), whilst local businesses employ their Saturday 1pm curfew then we know something will have gone very wrong indeed.

Some people will agree with my views, others wont.  Nobody knows what the future will bring.  We can see the success that Manchester City have experienced since moving to the old Commonwealth Games stadium (although that’s not the reason why), Capital Cup winners Swansea City have enjoyed since moving to the Liberty Stadium or even Wigan Athletic have seen since Dave Whelan built the DW/JJB.  But we all remember the tales of desperation that haunted Darlington after moving to their new stadium, or the pain that Coventry City are currently going through at the Ricoh Arena.  So where, without further fanfare…. Continue reading