From the Ridiculous to the Sublime

It’s been a strange start to the season for the mighty ‘ammers. First off, we managed to lose the first game, at home to the Spuds, when we should really have won it. Having been awarded a penalty and seeing a Spurs defender sent off for the offence, Noble then pulled the spot kick wide of the post. We played well in the rest of the game, and it was notable that we were playing a more expansive game and the “hoofs” were much limited compared to recent seasons. Unfortunately we didn’t take advantage of the apparent superiority and also went down to 10 men when Ginge was sent off. Then we got caught by an added-time sucker punch to lose a game we should have won. New boy Kouyate had a fine start, as did Aaron Cresswell.

Next up was Palace away. With Nolan injured, it meant we saw Zarate for the first time in claret & blue, and his opening strike – a volley demonstrating excellent technique – was perhaps the highlight of a fine team performance, although Downing’s goal capped a good move from out of defence. Apart from a nervy few minutes after Palace pulled a goal back, we played well throughout, and Cole’s strike for our third goal saw us out comfortably for the win.

The League Cup tie against Shitfilled United was a strange affair, where once again missed chances cost us the match. After taking the lead through new boy Sakho (making his first start for us), and playing reasonably well, we then conceded a Reid own goal. The game remained deadlocked so it came down to penalties. Yet another of the new boys, Enner Valencia missed our 5th kick, and we were out. The positives were that Valencia & Sakho both had decent games, short of taking a few more opportunities

Now for the ridiculous – Southampton at home. As poor a performance from us as you’d never wish to see. We looked lacklustre (to say the least) all over the park and couldn’t seem to do anything right. We lost 1-3 and deservedly so.

Thanks to Sky, we had a Monday night trip to Hull (don’t bother to worry about the traveling fans, Murdoch!). After the Southampton debacle, some changes were required, but even so, I don’t think many Irons expected the team selection and formation that BFS came up with. Out went Cole and Vaz Te, to be replaced by Sakho and Valencia, both making their first league starts for us. The shape of the team was changed from a 4-5-1 or 4-3-3 depending on your point of view, to a midfield diamond, with Downing as the attacking point. Although we managed to concede the first goal, we played well in the first half, with the new boys up front causing all sorts of problems for the Hull defence. Soon after the break, we pulled ourselves level through a stunning 25 yard strike from Valencia. Then the inevitable happened when former Hammer Mo Diame managed to find the net in his first game for Hull. Fortunately we equalised within a few minutes, with a Sakho shot that went in off a defender. We continued to look the better side and very nearly won it at the death when a Valencia header was cleared off the line.

Now for the sublime – following the encouraging performance at Hull, we faced Diverpool at home. Despite the Scouser’s dodgy start to the season, this was likely to be a tough fixture, particularly given we’d lost all 3 of our home games so far this season. We certainly couldn’t have imagined the sort of start we got. Starting with the same line-up as at Hull, with Song replacing Zarate for his first start for us. From the off, not only were we were right in Liverpool’s faces, chasing down every ball, but our movement and pace up front was causing their defence all sorts of problems. In seven minutes, we found ourselves 2 up through Reid converting a well worked free kick move, and then Sakho lobbing the keeper for the second. We had further opportunities to score again, but it was Liverpool who scored next through Sterling. The second half was always likely to be tougher, and we didn’t impose ourselves on the game as much, particularly after the excellent but tiring Song was replaced and Kouyate was carrying a knock. But we largely defended well, limiting them to a few half chances. Even so, I felt we were always likely to create more opportunities on the break, and so it proved as yet another new boy, Amalfitano nipped home a late third to clinch the win.

We started that game with 5 of our summer signings (Cresswell, Kouyate, Song, Valencia & Sakho), and 2 more came on as subs (Amalfitano & Jenkinson). Song looks class, but is not yet fully match-fit. Hopefully that will come soon, as we will be a much better team with him in it. The strikers, Valencia & Sakho, look to be very useful acquisitions, both pacy and with good movement and Sakho seems to know where the net is, having scored on each of his 3 starts for us. Kouyate has the potential to be a beast of a player for us, with bundles of energy and no little skill. Cresswell has looked useful, but needs to build up experience at this level. His poor throw-in at Hull cost us a goal. Amalfitano and Jenkinson have only had a couple of subs appearances each so far, so can’t really judge what impact they’ll have for us. As well as the 7 who played the last game, we’ve also seen an eighth newby in Zarate. He had a fine game at Palace, but since then has been a bit hit and miss. Assuming the others maintain form and fitness, I can see him being only a bit part player. If we can maintain the level of performance seen in the Hull and Liverpool games, one wonders where club captain Nolan and record signing Andy Carroll will fit in once they’re fit again. It’ll be an interesting dilemma for BFS – I hope he doesn’t bring them straight back in at the expense of in-form players, but I have a horrible feeling that’s what he’ll do.

Overall, Southampton apart, it’s been an encouraging start to the season, but where results mostly haven’t matched the performances. It’s been good to see us play a more attacking style on the deck. Hopefully the results will pick up as the team gels both with the new players and the new style.

Reviving Memories

Been going through my old football programmes recently. Having amassed nearly 40 seasons of them from getting on for 1000 games, and having stopped buying them every game as I used to (I now get them delivered to my phone), I’ve decided that I need to clear out a lot of them, as part of a de-cluttering of the house.

So I’m slowly working my way through them, making a spreadsheet record of all the games (geek moment!), keeping some that have special memories and getting rid of the rest.

Some of the games bring back some great memories, and others bring back some nasty memories – great victories, cup triumphs, horrible defeats, promotions, relegations, first visits to away grounds, great crowd moments and the occasional riot. It’s funny that all I need to see is the score and scorers from a game, and the memories can come flooding back.

Not from every game, certainly – 1000 games is a lot to remember, and these days I sometimes struggle to remember what happened last week, never mind 35 years ago.  🙂 , but there are many that I can recall at least in part – for example, see the scorers from a game, and remember how a particular goal was scored. And many of these were before the days of every goal being on tv, so these memories are really precious as there’s no chance of ever reliving them on-screen.

Here’s the front cover from a game in October 1982. Not a memorable game itself, but the cover pic is a bit special for me – I’m in it! Top centre of the photo.

Programme with me on Cover

Spuds Get Roasted

Spuds – Out-thought, out-fought and ultimately out-played on the pitch. Out-sung off it.

They simply didn’t have answers to our tactics and work-rate. How many times did they find themselves going sideways about 20 yards or so from our goal trying to either pick a pass or get a shot away, but couldn’t because there were always 2-3 or more players blocking the routes to goal?

Yet this wasn’t just a park-the-bus operation. Once possession had been regained, we moved the ball very well. Sometimes knocking it around at the back, sometimes moving it quickly forward. Always giving them problems going forward, as the movement and positional interchanging of the midfield players caused them problems all game that they never figured out how to counter.

At times our football was a delight, with some moments to savour. Demel’s bit of ball-juggling tight to the touchline in the first half, Diame showed some lovely touches all afternoon, culminating in the control and pass to set Rav away for his goal. Downing showed some good touches too, and what about Noble’s interception and drift away from two players followed by a pass with the outside of his foot that put Vaz Te away for the second? Trevor Brooking himself would have been proud of that – and what finer praise can you give?

In the stands, I’ve never known the home stands at WHL to be so quiet. Even while the score was still 0-0, there was little in the way of noise from the Spuds. While in the away section, we maintained a good volume of support throughout the afternoon. It was almost as if right from the start, both sets of supporters could sense that something unusual was about to unfold in front of them, causing tension in the home ends and an increasing sense of expectation in the away end. The exodus of biblical proportions from the home stands after the third goal was a joy to watch, leaving the travelling Irons to celebrate in what had unexpectedly become the promised land.

Irons celebrating (wtih thanks to the original uploader)…

I’m in there somewhere, but it’s not a close enough shot to pick me out unless you know where you’re looking.

Hitting the Ground Running & A True Legend

Back to the Boleyn yesterday for the first game of the season. I didn’t get off to a good start though as an accident (not me!) on the M11 meant that I got to the ground a few minutes after kick-off. It also meant I missed the lifetime achievement award to Billy Bonds before the match, which was frustrating, as I wanted to play my little part in paying tribute to the great man. The term “legend” is bandied about too freely these days, but in sporting terms, then Bonzo certainly would be worthy of that title. You could never, ever accuse him of showing a lack of effort throughout a club record 793 appearances. He was the epitome of “leading by example”. Hard but fair, his tough-tackling reputation often detracted from the fact that he was also a skillful footballer – not in the class of a Brooking or Devonshire for sure, but he had a good touch and could play a pass. You don’t play that many games mostly in the top division, filling roles as right-back, centre-half and midfielder without having more than a bit about you.

Billy Bonds LIfts the FA Cup in 1975 He repeated the feat in 1980.

Billy Bonds LIfts the FA Cup in 1975. He repeated the feat in 1980.

Anyway, back to the present bunch. It was a good solid start to the season yesterday, with an ultimately comfortable win over new-boys Cardiff. Well-taken goals by Cole and Nolan in each half saw us gain a 2-0 win to get us up and running. There were decent performances all over the pitch from our players, with Cole the outstanding one for me. But Stewart Downing’s substitute appearance in for the last 20 minutes nearly stole the show, as he looked threatening every time he got the ball.

In truth, Cardiff had little to offer, and I can’t recall a single on target effort from them. Jussi finger-tipped one effort, but I’m pretty sure that was going over anyway. Even Bellamy looked off the pace and was substituted. On this showing, they are in for a long and difficult season.

While this win was comfortable, we’ll have to step up our game against the better sides to get results. However, I’m looking forward to seeing Carroll’s return and the supply of crosses he’ll get from Downing, as this could be a potent partnership for us. And if Downing is not on form, then there’s Jarvis and Cole to provide the ammunition. With Morrison having had a good pre-season and now on the fringes of the first team, our attacking midfield options are looking strong. However, our strike force is looking thin. Without Carroll, we only have Maiga as a viable alternative and while he did a job yesterday, he is not suited to the lone-striker role. We desperately need to strengthen in this department. The board say we need to sell first – if so, then we need to say goodbye to Vaz Te, Taylor, Diarra and Collison. It would be a shame to move Collison out as he is one of our youth products, but his options are looking limited at the club now – he didn’t even make the bench yesterday.

Finally, it was great to catch up with old friends yesterday.

Not In My Lifetime

2 things in sport I never thought would happen in my lifetime – a Brit winning the TdF and a Brit winning Wimbledon. Now both have happened. What next? West Ham to win the League? 😀

Wiki Uses My Site As A Reference!

Just discovered that the Wikipedia page about West Ham United F.C. supporters references my website for info on songs sung by West Ham fans!

I feel quite chuffed by that!

Up The Swansea Without A Paddle

Or a clue. For we didn’t really have a response to Swansea’s quick passing game. Having said that, if we hadn’t given way the first two goals with basic errors, we might have salvaged something from the game. But we gave ourselves too much to do and were always vulnerable to the counter. We looked dangerous from set pieces in the first half, and could have pulled a goal back just before the break, but for a goal-line clearance from a Cole header. Second half we were fairly clueless. Our midfield was too ponderous, slow getting the ball away, and too easily closed down.

This was my first visit to the Liberty Stadium. It is pretty much like all modern “flat-pack” stadiums , with nothing particularly special to mark it out from the rest, other than there were plenty of toilet facilities, which is not common at many grounds. Home support was very noisy – they did have plenty to be noisy about of course.

M4 was busier than I expected on the way down, so got into the ground a few minutes late, having made the last bus from the park and ride facility off the M4. This was a useful option after the game though, as the buses got a police escort back to the car park. so we were back on the motorway in reasonable time.

Back to the Boleyn

Now that the excitement of the Olympics has started to fade, it’s time to start thinking about other sporting endevours taking place in the East End of London. To tell the truth, with the distraction of all that was going on in Stratford and the success of Team GB, I haven’t really been following the summer goings on at West Ham as closely as I would normally. We’ve added a few new players, and lost a few but apart from Rob Green, nobody of any significance has departed. The most notable incomers are Momo Diame on a free from Wigwam, French international Alou Diarra and striker Modibo Maiga from somewhere foreign, along with Jussi Jaaskelainen as the new ‘keeper and the return of the ginger Pele, James Collins.

Time will tell how the changes will work, but on first showing on Saturday against the Villa, Diame looks to be a good signing. Maiga made a brief appearance at the end of the game, and should probably have scored when put clean through, but he took the ball a bit wide when rounding the ‘keeper, and a defender got back in time to clear off the line. Jussi had very little to do as Villa were restricted to a few long range efforts.

It was good to get the season off with a win (only 37 more points needed to stay up!), but Villa were a poor side that offered nothing in attack, despite having plenty of possession in midfield. They will need to improve greatly if they are to avoid the drop. But the same could be said for us to some extent, as we also failed to offer a great deal up front, other than from set-pieces, one of which led to our goal. However, it’s early days yet and hopefully when all the new signings are fully involved, we will look a better side.

Several of our successful Olympian athletes made a half-time appearance, among them Mark Hunter (rower and keen Hammers fan) and Nicola Adams (boxer), whose beaming smile continues to delight. She was happy to pose for photos with a number of fans, showing off her gold medal. Unfortunately I was too far away to get any decent pictures myself. Shame Laura Trott, Victoria Pendleton or Jessica Ennis weren’t there though…

Best pic I could get of the Olympians visiting Upton Park

Useless piece of info – I sit close to a lad who is “Hank Marvin” in a TV ad.

We Are Premier League!

Play-off Success

We did it! What a fantastic day out that was. Brilliant turn-out by the Irons fans. Met up with some mates around Baker Street before the game for a couple of pre-match beers. All the bars around the area were full with West Ham. Finished up at a place called the Temperance (strange name for a pub!). Good laugh there, especially when the owner of a fishing tackle shop across the road decided to close up and come and join us.

Coming up Wembley Way

Left for the stadium around 2.00, arriving at Wembley Park about 2.30, to be greeted with a sea of claret & blue, with just a little tangerine mixed in. Decent seat (not that I actually sat in it) just to the right of the goal.

Was this an omen? This was the anniversary of the day West Ham won the European Cup Winners Cup at the old Wembley in 1965.

Bobby Moore, proudly wearing his claret and blue scarf.

1965 Bar, Wembley

Could we repeat history and record another Wembley win? It didn’t seem like it for the first 15 minutes of the match, when Blackpool had three good chances to score, but a good save by Green, and two poor finishes kept us in the game. Ince was giving us a few problems down the left.

Having survived these scares, we gradually started to impose ourselves on the match and started to make a few half-chances of our own. Then Matt Taylor broke down the left, got a bit of luck, and sent a long angled ball towards Cole, who’d peeled off his marker, brought the ball down and fired into the net to send the West Ham throngs mad with delight.

Vaz Te had a decent chance to add to the lead shortly after, but pulled it wide. Second half saw Blackpool come at us all guns blazing, and were soon rewarded with an equalizer from Ince, which was almost a carbon copy of Cole’s goal. They were well on top at that stage and had more excellent opportunities to score again. We survived due to a couple of goal line clearances and some crap finishing.

Big Fat Sam had to change things, and brought on McCartney for O’Neil, to shore up the left side and reduce the threat from Ince. As in the first half, we got back into it a bit, and had opportunities of our own, notably a Nolan effort that crashed against the bar.

Just as it was looking like going to extra time, Nolan got free down the left, played the ball into the box, where Cole showed excellent control to slip the defender in a tight area, and then excellent desire to nick the ball way from the keeper, where it fell to Vaz Te, who smashed it into the roof of the net. Cue utter pandemonium in the 40,000 strong Hammers support.

Could we hold on for the last few minutes? I had a horrible flashback to Cardiff 2006 when the board went up showing 4 minutes of added time. Surely fate couldn’t conspire against us again? This time however, we played out the added time with little scare, managing to keep good possession up their end of the field for much of it.

Then the final whistle, and delirious celebrations, both on and off the field.

City Ground is Falling Down, Falling Down

The roof fell in on Forest in the first half of our match at the City Ground yesterday, and in the second half it almost literally fell in on us (the fans I mean). Part of the metal frame holding out the netting from the front of the upper tier cracked. Fortunately it only partly came away, otherwise there could have been some nasty injuries for those underneath. The stewards were busy trying to move us away from it when Reid scored right in front of us, which didn’t help their efforts 😀

What a contrast we are between our home and away form. After the disappointment of chucking away a couple of valuable points from what would have been our first home win of the season against Leeds (though frankly we wouldn’t have deserved it), and then the dreadful performance losing to Aldershot, we then produced another 4-goal away romp at Forest.

Although Forest had a fair amount of the play in the first half, poor finishing and woeful defending let them down, and we capitalised well, scoring 3 times before the break. We could easily have had two more as well, but for some bad finishing ourselves. Two of our goals came from corners – we do look threatening this year from corners, but it has to be said that Forest should have defended them much better than they did.

In the second half, we had more control of the game, without really threatening too often. Forest pulled one back, but we soon restored the margin when another corner was badly defended and Reid nipped in at the back post to score.

I don’t really think there were any outstanding performers for us on the day, but everyone chipped in, and overall it was a good team effort. However, I don’t think we’ll play many sides that do the basics as poorly as Forest did.

Yet again a top turnout from the travelling support, who thoroughly enjoyed their day out. With the result pretty much tied up by half time, we were able to spend much of the second half bouncing Forest’s Chelsea Dagger goal celebration back at them. And the collapsing framework above us caused some amusement, and a great deal of consternation among the stewards.

The City Ground, Aug 2011

The City Ground, Aug 2011, with the girder that broke later on, in the top right corner

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