Overly long writings about West Ham United FC. This is the kind of thing you might like, if you like this kind of thing.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

A Dream of Summer

"Oh how is it that I could come out to here, and be still floating?
And never hit bottom and keep falling through, just relaxed and paying attention"
- The Byrds, "5D (Fifth Dimension)"


West Ham 0 - 0 Manchester United (And Other Ramblings)


Hold me - I'm bored

With safety comes excitement, they said. Watch us throw off the shackles and dance like it's the last night of our holiday, we thought. How wrong we were. Jose Mourinho and his footballing muzak rolled into town and now I feel like those poor Manchester United fans have spent the whole season in an elevator. 

I feel lightheaded. Up here where I sit, among the cormorants and the parachutists, games such as this play out as if I'm watching a dream. Nothing is happening. All this effort, and all this expense and still somehow Ashley Young is probably going to go to the World Cup. I feel like I'm on drugs. We could end homelessness in our country for the money it took to assemble this Manchester United squad. Such equivalencies are obviously false but I'm watching Luke Shaw waddle around like a duck on a diving board and I can't help feel that somewhere along the line our society went badly off the rails. 

I first felt like this, incidentally, when Babylon Zoo wrote eight seconds of a song, then played it at the wrong speed and accidentally got to number one. This game is not holding my attention. 



Ask your parents

We are unchanged and looking for our first successive wins since January 2017. That feels both remarkable and quite plausible all at once. We have not been a good football team for quite some time, after all. David Moyes is losing the PR war, and responds by fielding all his available attacking power. That means Arnautovic, Mario and Lanzini and no rest for the two central midfielders who are going to have to do their running for them. As it is, we start with all the confidence of a team hunting down 15th place, and Adrian is soon pressed into a number of smart looking saves. He seems quite good. We should probably play him more often. 

The defence looks surprisingly alright, bending but not breaking, with Declan Rice the standout man. His development has been one of the few positive elements of this season, and should render James Collins unnecessary. Instead, below me, several fans are calling for the Welshman to be given a new contract, for he plays the infamous "West Ham Way". I didn't realise that phrase meant missing half of our games injured and then smashing it fifty yards in the general direction of the strikers when you are fit, but there you go. Despite not playing since March, our fans are adamant that the 34 year old Ginger Pele must remain. Thank goodness the club isn't run according to the whims of the general public. 

But of course, it is. ExWHUEmployee revealed this week that the club will be running some online polls in order to gauge fan opinion on the manager and the stadium - as though not listening to the fans has been the root cause of all our problems. And so we find ourselves at the mercy of social media groupthink because the people who own the club have had their confidence blown to pieces by years of making bad decisions. Normal people would probably just hire somebody more qualified to help out, but instead, our gang of octogenarian nutjobs are asking the saloon bar inhabitants of the White Hart in Benfleet for their thoughts. 

It would be impossible to invent West Ham if we didn't already exist. 

David Sullivan looks like a drowning man. His head of recruitment has gone, he is unsure about his manager, his vice Chairman has nine jobs, the stadium is a monument to his own failures and his supporters hate him. Whatever you may think of him, I doubt he's enjoying his job right now. 

Shorn of self belief, he is therefore turning to fans. It's cowardly really, but populism and appeasement are all the rage right now. Give the people what they want, and then throw your hands up when it turns out to be a barrel load of shit. I don't want you to ask me who the manager is because I don't have any fucking idea. That's your job, David. 

Below me Luke Shaw wobbles the post. It seems only fitting. 

***

"I don't know what to say
You don't care anyway"
- New Order, "Crystal"

Once upon a time Manchester United at home was a date to ring in your calendar. They were great games, where you would stand for ninety minutes and then the other seven that referees would add on while Fergie's lot tried for a winner, and you could be guaranteed entertainment. We lost some mad games at Upton Park - 5-3 and 4-2 spring to mind - had several barnstorming 2-2 draws and then the odd famous win, capped off with the fever dream summer festival of nostalgia that was the 3-2 win to bid farewell to the Boleyn. It should have been the springboard to something bigger and better, but instead feels increasingly like the day we all said goodbye to a love we will never be getting back. And Sebastien Schemmel was there in a black cab for some reason. 

But football clubs are living organisms and change constantly. It was just five short years ago that Alex Ferguson was still guiding the visitors and only 24 months since Dimitri Payet was causing us to expand our horizons and dream a little bigger. We declined immediately, while Manchester United have instead said the long goodbye. Once, I watched them play whenever possible because their games were unmissable, even if you hated them. Now, they border on the unwatchable, like a Formula 1 car driving with the handbrake on. 


Can't you get someone sent off?

And so it's nearly half time and we've had a couple of moments. Anything decent tends to come through Arnautovic, who is manfully besting Smalling and Jones while they foul him at every turn. I've come to the conclusion that we still have the attacking scene stealers that were so important to those late nineties teams I referenced above, but we lack the supporting cast. Once we could rely on Trevor Sinclair, Steve Lomas and Frank Lampard to diligently understudy our leading lights. What riches. The drop off now is palpable. Too many are average or in decline. In the moments when he can be bothered, Paul Pogba looks like he is playing a different sport. 

Half time comes and goes and I've not yet been roused out of my chair. Michail Antonio didn't die for this. We continue to spark intermittently, primarily when Lanzini gets on the ball and Arnautovic gets on to someone's shoulder. At the other end, Adrian is still flinging himself around with elan, and Rice is mastering the art of the last ditch tackle. A football match has nearly broken out. 

Far off, in the South East Zone of the technical area, Moyes has seen enough. On comes Andy Carroll, like the guy arriving two days late for a stag do and off his nut on ketamine while everyone else is unconscious in the hotel lobby. God bless Andy, who plays for twenty five minutes and manages not to win a single header. Instead he unveils a dazzling array of twists and turns, displayed with all the grace of a crane rolling down a hill into a skyscraper, and some Quite Nice passing skills. This may actually be the best way to deploy him until his next injury.

With Carroll on the pitch we switch to the 4-4-2 formation that lots of people have been demanding. This leads to our wide midfielders being Joao Mario and Manuel Lanzini and Manchester United still can't score. It should be said that this is primarily because they aren't trying. Even Marcus Rashford can't make any difference despite Mourinho introducing him with enough time to score his customary goal. 

Somewhere in the ambience Mark Noble and Paul Pogba have one of those football fights where nobody does any fighting, but it's at least nice to see the two most diametrically opposed haircuts in the Premier League together at last. Cheikhou Kouyate doesn't get involved and instead lays down on the floor, asleep. Moments later Luke Shaw does the same thing, or maybe he's found a burger on the floor, and only then do I realise that £750m Manchester United are running down the clock against a team with Patrice Evra and Jordan Hugill on the bench.

The assistant referee optimistically signals three minutes of added time, which is Referee for "let's all just get out of here" if ever I've seen it. Mourinho makes two substitutions that take so long that the clocks go back during one of them. Jon Moss has to get home and he blows up despite the ball never actually getting back into play. A point. Boredom. No wonder those Premier League television rights packages remain unsold. 

***

"Tell me that you'll dance to the end
Just tell me that you'll dance to the end"
- The Thrills, "Big Sur"

West Ham 3 - 1 Everton (And Other Ramblings)

Three short days later and I'm back again. Once more unto the breach with one under achieving, over spending set of North Westerners exchanged for another. We have become experts around here on the subject of whether a football club can retain a shred of identity when it is being pummelled by the twin forces of avaricious owners and the relentless march of the Premier League towards a homogeneous mass of identikit clubs. Everton are next up, as they swap Goodison Park for a new waterside stadium and an owner who has already blown the thick end of £200m to make them slightly worse than Burnley. These are worrying times for those of us with our noses pressed up to the window, watching the Big Six huddle round the trough.


I'm very much in favour of this sort of thing

But Mourinho has gone, and like the Dementors from Harry Potter, has taken the cloak of depression with him. It's the last day of the season! Sunshine, long range goals, players dreaming of Cancun and Arnautovic and Pickford trying to out shithouse each other. It's a welcome relief at the end of another season of sliding yet further down the hill.

We start with our trio of attacking sprites once more, and Everton can't seem to get near them. This is particularly interesting given how much the visitors spent on trying to buy their own frontline. A couple of hundred million quid and Allardyce still left Rooney and Walcott out despite them both being guaranteed to score against us. Never change, Sam.

Our early play deserves better. Lanzini nearly gets in before a minute is on the board, and then Arnautovic slips in Noble to force a brilliant save from Pickford. The Everton keeper then seems to kick Arnautovic off the ball, and then celebrates with the travelling fans. It would be a shame if that comes back to bite him on the arse later. Meanwhile Angelo Ogbonna tries to control a ball with his Adam's Apple and lets in Oumar Niasse, which Adrian saves brilliantly. He seems quite good. We should probably play him more often.

Half time is approaching without the neccessary reward for our endeavours. And then we start passing again, and suddenly Kouyate has freed Lanzini by accident and the Argentine is sliding a left footed finish past Pickford from outside the box. It is a rose in the snow, a diamond in the soil and a bit of a worry if this kid is actually going to be in goal for us at the World Cup.

Everton are disjointed, with only Niasse and Tom Davies truly standing out. The latter is young, wears his hair like a matador and doesn't seem to quite have the pace to be a truly elite box to box midfielder. If Everton are going to carry on with their West Hamic transfer policy, we should make a bid for him - he'd be a legend here. Elsewhere I'd be inclined to mock the ageing Phil Jagielka if it wasn't for the fact that I'm genuinely worried he is the kind of player we will buy this summer.

Neither he or his two centre back partners are able to get particularly close to Arnautovic, who is thriving in his new central role. That tactical switch from Moyes seems to have flown under the radar but the ineffectual wide player of the first half of the season has been replaced by a Lidl Ronaldo and it has kept us in the division. We should probably acknowledge that at some point. The Austrian puts his own full stop on the sentence by turning Funes Mori and smashing a long range effort through Pickford's hands. Based on the evidence of this game alone, I am concerned that our World Cup goalkeeper has wrists made of crisps.

Everton threaten intermittently and even bring Walcott on, but their heart doesn't seem to be in it. The away fans look glassy eyed - they aren't used to such treatment in this part of the world. When they win a corner, I am relaxed as we know it will go long to the back post for someone to keep alive with a looping header back into the box. And as I wait for one of our defenders to do some defending there are three more headers and Everton have pulled one back. It is the most Allardician goal possible.

But Lanzini is in one of those moods he can get in. Everton have little by way of deep midfield cover and the Argentine is running riot with Joao Mario. Their passing and movement is exquisite and the final day of term feel is reinforced by Pablo Zabaleta continuously appearing in the box and trying to score - like an enthusiastic 12 year old trying to get served in a pub. It would be a popular goal for a player who has done much to endear himself to the crowd and yet must surely be replaced if we are in any way serious about improving this team. Time waits for no man, especially not one playing for the second oldest team in the division and the slowest in the hemisphere. I've seen baths run quicker than our midfield.

By the time Lanzini steps easily inside Coleman and places a glorious curling effort into the top corner, it feels like justice. Pickford could maybe have saved that one too, and in the spirit of glasnost I think he should try wearing goalkeeping gloves this summer, rather than giant inflatable hands. Panama have never seemed so terrifying.


Seriously, Jordan

And just like that, it's over. I am contented - maybe even malcontented - which is a strange and unusual feeling. My Pavlovian reaction to games of football in this place is to be upset and despairing, and wondering whether there will ever be time when we won't have to compete with the rest of the division with one hand tied behind our back, courtesy of our chaotic management structure. Instead today, I am smiling, as players mill around their pitch with their families, and the landlords remove the goalposts as they go because we've only got the place until six. Sadiq sure does know how to put the "lease" into "Please fuck off, the Stones are here in a week".

James Collins basks in the applause of the still stunned masses. I've always thought he was a decent squad player, but that his frequent injuries and uneven form made him a curious terrace hero. He has never once made 30 league appearances for us in a season, and played fewer times in the claret and blue than Steve Lomas. According to my Twitter feed, he is the lifeblood of this club. Maybe he is, and that's why we're dying.

I profess myself bemused by the sudden outpouring of love for a player in his mid thirties, with visibly declining skills. I can't understand those who call for a new approach to signings and then want Collins back, but perhaps I am once more forgetting the innate romance of football. I think Collins is a symbol of a past we all suddenly value more dearly than we cared to admit when we were marching out of Upton Park for the promised land.

***

"What she said was sad, but then all the rejection she's had
To pretend to be happy could only be idiocy" 
- The Smiths, "What She Said"

With this game being on a Sunday, we all got the benefit of hearing from "The First Lady of Football" once more before setting out in search of a pub within a mile of the ground. This time she manages not to insult anyone until the very end of the article, which is kind of like the time someone from HMRC managed to make it nearly all the way home before losing the USB stick with all the sensitive data on it.

For some reason the Baroness decided that she needed to use her last column of the season to say this:

"We have some problems at the London Stadium caused to a degree by the terms of our lease, which we are dealing with, but also to some degree by malcontents and keyboard warriors"

Yes, Lord Sugar, I decided to deliberately insult all my customers and pretend that their complaints about me were totally imagined.

I get that there are issues with the Labour Mayor wanting to make the deal signed by his Tory predecessor look bad, and I have no doubt that the failure of the landlords to adhere to their side of the bargain is frustrating and expensive to deal with. But the fact that the seats are miles from the pitch isn't an issue with the lease, it's an issue with the design. Here is the artist's impression that we were all shown before we moved to the Olympic Stadium:


Look closely. What is clearly shown here is a section of seating that overhangs the lower tier. This is not the case anywhere in the Olympic Stadium and a root cause of the frustration we all feel. The gap between the permanent seating and the temporary scaffolded stuff is incredibly distracting,  breaks your vision and, crucially, leads to a sense of disjointedness which is killing the atmosphere in the ground. Along with our back four all being grandparents.

This picture also fails to show the very obvious curvature of the seating caused by the running track. Pointing this out doesn't make me a malcontent or a keyboard warrior, but instead makes me a pissed off customer.

I have long defended Brady in these articles, because I think too much of the criticism thrown her way is because she is a woman. I stand by that because even a cursory glance at her Twitter timeline, or that of any other high profile woman in football for that matter, will reveal a distressingly high number of men abusing her for the simple crime of not looking like them. We privileged white middle aged males, who so dominate football in England should never kid ourselves about how many of our tribe are desperately terrified at the prospect of anyone different from us being given access to the game.

But, and I hate to follow that up with a but, we would surely benefit from less Brady at West Ham. At a cool million per year she would be poor value if she were full time, but as it is, she now has multiple jobs and hasn't done anything visible in her role with us since the infamous saga of the marches. The stadium move is complete, and it failed, but there is no changing that. I'm really not sure what her role is anymore, and if her view is that she wants to antagonise supporters, then maybe she doesn't either.

***

So all that really remains is for me to say thank you. 

Thank you to everyone one of you who has read these articles throughout the season, and even more so to those who then passed them to others. To those who have commented and "Retweeted" and "Liked" and "Shared" I am hugely grateful because I know that without you The H List would not have gone as far as it has. 

I must thank Graeme and the guys at KUMB.com for carrying The H List and for those who have supported me on other forums such as Reddit, In The Brown Stuff, Hammers Chat and WestHamOnline and my apologies to anyone I've forgotten. I am grateful too, to No Place Like Home and Blowing Bubbles for carrying articles of mine on their pages and to Jim and Phil at Stop!HammerTime for having me on their marvellous podcast throughout the season. I am very grateful to all of you. 

I was very proud to be nominated for an award at the Football Supporters Federation gala in December, and remain very humbled that so many of you took the time to vote for me. I was well beaten, though, so those of you who didn't vote should feel bad. 

I intend to write a couple of retro pieces over the summer, so please let me know if you have any suggestions for games or players. My only rule is I need to have seen the era....

It's been a tough season, and I've truthfully never felt so unsure about the direction the club is heading. We need a lot of new blood from top to bottom, and the splits in our fanbase are devastating.  But at the core of our disjointed mess still remains the club I fell in love with. Nothing can beat the electric thrill of the first time you see West Ham, and we shouldn't forget that for an entirely new generation of fans, the London Stadium will be their Upton Park. Sure, they might miss out on the strange alchemy of home games under the lights, or the heaving mass of humanity that was the North Bank when a goal went in, but they already have Lanzini ending Spurs title bid and Payet slaloming through the Middlesbrough defence and Carroll destroying the concept of beauty against Crystal Palace.


The night of the malcontents

Our club endures, and so do we. It remains the imperfect conglomeration of people and ideas and love and edginess and humour and failure that it has always been, but we've allowed that to be buried somewhat among the weight of this awful season. But in the storm, hope. Take it where you can find it - Declan Rice, Marko Arnautovic, the kids and their popcorn, the corner flag protests, your child telling you they can't wait to go to the game or, hell, it can even be David Moyes.

But whatever it is, find that thing that keeps you connected to your club. Treasure it and remember it, because I think it's getting harder to do that these days. And yes, while they can change a lot of things, they can't change that indelible link you have to West Ham. It's yours. It's ours. It most certainly isn't theirs. We are the concrete foundation of this club, and the more of us that stand shoulder to shoulder, the higher we can build up. I foresee another difficult season ahead and more than ever, we need to remember those things that made us Hammers to begin with and then stand side by side to remind each other of it. The owners aren't this club - it's me and you. Let's not forget that.

And of course, join WHUISA.

Until next season.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Leicester 0 - 2 West Ham (And Other Ramblings)

"Come on, come on, and dance all night
Despite the heat it'll be alright"
- The Lovin' Spoonful, "Summer in the City"



Thank fuck for that.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

West Ham 1 - 4 Manchester City (And Other Ramblings)

"I don't want to spend night after night with you
While you figure it out"
- She and Him, "I've Got Your Number, Son"

A LETTER TO DAVID SULLIVAN

Dear David

This is one of those open letters. God, how tedious of me. I've become one of "those" people.

I know, I know - I should be better than this. But then again, so should our team after eight years of your ownership and instead we're going to either go down or survive with fewer than forty points. Neither of us have much to shout about.


First question - where on earth do you get your jackets?

I should be writing about this game, but to be honest, I've got nothing left to say about West Ham capitulating at home. I've seen this game a dozen times already at the London Stadium since you moved us there. I don't know how many more times I can say that Cheikhou Kouyate is no longer in control of his own legs, or describe Javier Hernandez nearly breaking out into a walk.

So let's just talk, you and I. Two seriously pissed off West Ham fans with an eye on the future.

I'm guessing that this weekend was tough for you. Perhaps I'm naive but I still believe that you are a genuine supporter, albeit one with a remarkably high tolerance for the team you support being abysmal. I suspect it must be galling for you to sit in Director's Boxes with the officials of clubs like Burnley, Swansea and Brighton and have to offer up polite chit chat while the team you have assembled at such great cost gets destroyed in front of you. I can't believe that at least a couple of them haven't at least leaned over and whispered something along the lines of "David, old chap, not to pry but exactly how incriminating are the photographs that Patrice Evra has of you?".

You're not a quitter, you say. You're not walking away from a job half done. Fair enough, I suppose, although I think you might be pushing the limits of the word "half" there. It's the standard rhetoric of people in jobs that are beyond them, but which remunerate them handsomely. And rest assured, I think we are all aware that the several million pounds of interest that the club pays you each year probably helps to while away the hours on those long drives back down the M1 after yet another Northern shellacking. 

I happen to think that people who refuse to quit when they aren't up to the task are selfish. People mocked Kevin Keegan mercilessly but by resigning as England manager in 2001 he helped England to reach a World Cup, by admitting he wasn't up to it. I find that infinitely more courageous and honourable than sticking around despite all the evidence being that you don't possess the ability to do your job. I'm. Just. Saying. David.

***

But let's not get ahead of ourselves here. For our story begins some time ago. 2010, to be precise, and West Ham was a club on the precipice. We were, according to the BBC, "in 16th, in a season plagued by injuries and off field distractions". Seems a little outlandish, I know, but that's what they said. 

You described the situation thusly - "We have a short term goal to stay in the Premier League, and in the long term we'd like to be challenging for the top four and the Champions League....the club has such an unbalanced squad. We will be honest with the fans about the books and the crazy wages the Icelandic owners paid out that has brought the club to its knees". 

I won't lie, David, that last one is my favourite.

You finished up by saying "We're taking on a huge task at a club with enormous problems. It will take time for us to turn it around.". Remember what we were saying about a job half done? Time travellers from 2010 might wonder if you've even started at all. 

I should also add that there was also some stuff about how you always supported your managers, right before you fired Gianfranco Zola and replaced him with Avram Grant. For a bet, possibly. Anyway, we're five managers in now so I always figured that one was probably a joke. 

Plus ca change and all that, but I wonder if you ever sit at home, looking at those life-size waxwork butlers of yours and wonder whether you are in some mythical Greek hell?

I know I do.

In the same way that Tantalus is forever doomed to stand in a pool of water that recedes whenever he bends down to try and drink it, you seem destined to sit in the bottom half of the Premier League and watch poorer, smaller, but smarter, clubs breeze past you. 

It puzzles you, I'm sure, that fans aren't more grateful to you for saving us. I suppose that can be put down to the fact that a lot of fans don't really think you did. They saw a very wealthy individual swooping in and picking up a distressed asset that was always likely to produce a return with even a modicum of investment. Harsh, I suppose, but there you go.

There can be no denying that the clubs finances look an awful lot healthier now than they did in 2010, but of course this is largely due to the explosion in television rights. While Karren Brady might like to brag about turning around a failing business, most of us are a bit nonplussed by all that. The single best decision you made was to employ Sam Allardyce, at obscene expense, to ensure the club was back in the Premier League when the gravy train rolled into town. And if ever there was a man unlikely to miss a gravy train...


And a pint of fucking wine

***

I have no doubt that you are perplexed as to why exactly a home defeat to Manchester City would inspire all this angst among supporters. After all, City beat everybody, have unlimited funds and scored a couple of flukey goals. Their dominance says an awful lot more about the job being done by the men who run the Premier League and UEFA than it does about you. And, in isolation I'd agree with you. 

I don't understand why so many fans are upset about a supposed lack of effort when it seems clear to me that David Moyes had instructed the team to sit off and hold their shape to try and deny City space behind our defence. We did this at the Etihad to great effect, and I suppose you could say it sort of worked here for about ten minutes. City scored through a deflection and an own goal, both of which were unfortunate but exactly the kinds of goals that you let in when you are shit. And David, before you protest, we are absolutely fucking shit.

But I'm not sure it's this particular defeat that's really the point here. It's the fact that every single one of us knew it was coming. I knew it was coming. You knew it was coming too. I know you did. 

Since moving to the London Stadium we have played the current Big Six on thirteen occasions. We have won three (God bless London derbies), drawn once, and lost nine. In those games we have scored ten goals and conceded thirty four. Holy Shit, Dave! THIRTY FOUR. It's not just that we're terrible, it's that we're reliably terrible. 

We've never once scored four goals in a game at our home ground, and yet Manchester City have done it three times. Once upon a time you could judge a teams title credentials by how they fared at Upton Park, but under your watch, we now get to see how they would play in testimonials. I honestly thought Kevin de Bruyne was going to fall asleep yesterday.


I am incredibly bored!

Whether you accept it or not, the fact that we don't even remotely compete in games against one third of the division is a pretty good reason for the widespread apathy that is surging through your core support like poison through a bloodstream.

***

But I'm sure, you're sitting there fed up at having your efforts ripped to shreds. What of Dimitri Payet? What about that season of finishing seventh? And you'd be right. That was a great season. You should have bought a decent striker in January, of course, but instead did it on the cheap and missed out on a Champions League spot that was begging to be taken. I often wonder about that, and I'm sure you do too. Some better refereeing and Charlie Austin instead of Emmanuel Emenike and who knows where we would all be right now. 

But if wishes were horses, I'd be dragging Nigel Farage through the streets of Calais behind my carriage. We blew it and then returned immediately to the stagnant mediocrity that has been the hallmark of your ownership. Barring that one marvellous season when the Premier League went crazy, big teams fell and little teams rose and bloody Leicester won the league, we have been unrelentingly boring to support. I can describe it in no other way. West Ham on the pitch are generally one of the most tedious sides in the land.


We've got a live one

We just...exist. Drifting aimlessly through seasons, lurking in the bottom half of the table leaving nary a footprint in the sand. All of our impact is on the back pages, as we lurch from crisis to crisis, amusing the world as we go. We are irrelevant on the pitch and shambolic off it, and there is nobody to be blamed for that other than you. I resent being asked to give you my season ticket money before the end of the season because I feel like I will just be endorsing you to go out and waste it once more.

Let me ask you a question, David, if I may. Is there any challenge in your role? By which I mean, does anyone ever tell you that what you're doing is wrong? If not, perhaps you ought to ask yourself why.

Once, many years ago, I worked for a brief time at a place that had a "hands on" owner. The company had two security guards, one of whom worked from 5am until 1pm, and the other from 12pm until 8pm. They had a handover period of one hour in the middle. One day the owner turned up for an operations meeting and noticed them both at reception. Troubled by such an unnecessary display of manpower, he told his operational team to fire one of them because it was ludicrous to waste money like that. Given how long ago it was, this might have saved the company around £25,000 per year.

The problem with this was that it meant we had one security guard to cover fifteen hours. In the end, he did the early shift and the company paid the landlord of the building to have someone come and lock up. The cost of this service? £40,000 per year.

Whether that is apocryphal or not, I don't know, but it was told around the corridors as being true. And nobody was surprised because the distinguishing characteristic of that business was that anybody close to the owner just mumbled in agreement and told him what he was saying was great. It led to a very well paid senior management and a very poorly run company.

Challenge is a good thing, David. People disagreeing with you is healthy, because it introduces some rigour to your decision making process. Getting people into positions of seniority who have a backbone and some vision is a really healthy thing for a company to do. I understand that long term strategic thinking wasn't a huge part of your success in porn or property, but it couldn't be more vital to the industry in which you currently operate. You keep telling us that the manager must have the final say on transfers despite employing five in eight years. Any player signing on anything longer than a two year deal is likely to outlast the manager he signs for. Can you not see that this is a nonsense?

If nothing else, please look around. Examine what is working for those other smaller clubs who have gone skating past you so easily. You need some help. You've done your best, no doubt, but there is so much more intellectual horsepower in those clubs it's not even a fair fight. They have long term business plans that allow them to think further ahead than the next transfer window, and they don't lurch alarmingly from one crisis to another. It's pretty tough to admit, but when your business is failing and you've changed the staff, the place you do business and the management then perhaps it might be time to admit that the only thing left to change is...you.

***

But before you get too excited about making lots of changes, David, I'd like to ask one more thing of you. When you come to make those decisions - please don't do anything for public approval. I know it's been your preferred method to road test ideas by disseminating them through various social media outlets and then gauging public response, but this highlights everything that is wrong with your leadership. Your job isn't to satisfy fans before the season, it's to do it at the end.

I know fans are a nightmare. How can you appease people who scream that they want a high energy pressing game and then scream even louder for Hernandez to be on the pitch? What hope do you have of reasoning with people who insist on playing 4-4-2 without acknowledging that we don't actually have anyone who can play wide in midfield? Where do you go with supporters who criticise Moyes for not instilling a sense of organisation and professionalism into his team and then side with professional waster Andy Carroll because he didn't walk straight back into the team after being out for months? What is up with people who plaster pictures of themselves in the San Siro all over their social media accounts and then tell you they're giving up their season tickets because they're sick of the number of tourists in the stadium?

But that's the point, really - fans are emotional and illogical and moody, but the simple thing we all want is success. Produce a better team and we will fall in line. You need to stop taking short cuts and start working to some semblance of a plan. Or better yet, employ some people to design and implement that plan, because this current squad you have assembled is one of the worst I've ever seen and fans have every right to be pissed off about it.


Not that logical, shockingly

None of which is to say that fans aren't important. We're crucial. But we need you to listen to us on other things, because you've currently got it the wrong way round. And so you stay silent when our fans are threatened, when the stewarding is unsafe, when we are campaigning for safe standing and when that godforsaken fucking stadium turns out to be a total disaster, but find the time to canvas opinion about whether we should sign El Hadji Diouf. This is madness.

Any business making strategic decisions to gain short term approval from their customers is doomed to fail. If you had any belief in your own vision, you wouldn't care remotely for public opinion. Instead we have this strange briefing against Moyes now to prepare the ground for letting him go in the summer. I happen to think Moyes would be a poor appointment, but still the best you could realistically manage, although either way that's not terribly important.

What's important is your long term plan. How do you want to play? What type of team are you trying to build? What profile of player are you targeting and how do you plan to attract them? If Moyes is your ideal candidate then back him and commit to the plan. The problem is that you and I both know that no such template exists. Instead, everything is geared to short term survival and kicking problems down the road until you eventually sell the club and can leave them for the next guy to resolve.

And there's the rub. When you took us from Upton Park you ripped the soul out of the club. But crucially you didn't replace it with anything. I would suggest that the only thing that could really have worked is to have replaced it with a brain. A razor sharp, young, progressive, cutting edge managerial set up that could have bridged the gap between us and the elite. I can't tell you how often I daydream of West Ham Red Bull, David, because it would be no further removed from the West Ham of my youth than your version, and a damn sight more successful.

Instead...nothing. Just the same unimaginative approach that you have always employed, and in the end it has led us to where you have always ended up. At the bottom.

I should add that none of this is personal. I think you're a businessman who saw an opportunity to profit and you took it. But the issue is that you haven't given us anything. Absolutely nothing. Not the stadium, not the team, not the managers, not the Academy, not even any glimmer of hope for the future. And if your plan is to just hang on to the club until the restrictive covenants are lifted and then sell for the biggest profit possible, then you need to be aware of what that will mean for your legacy. And perhaps you won't care, and perhaps your sons won't care, but you'll be forever known as the guy who destroyed West Ham.

I hope it doesn't come to that, David, I really don't. It doesn't need to. We have attributes that other clubs would kill for. Stand aside and let people who know what they are doing utilise them. Look to Kevin Keegan - admit you're not up to it. There really is no shame in it.

Yours sincerely,


HeadHammerShark
Disgruntled of Block 256

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Arsenal 4 - 1 West Ham (And Other Ramblings)

"Hey! Wait! I've got a new complaint"
- Nirvana, "Heart Shaped Box"

I had a curious experience watching this game. I now coach my daughter's under 10 team - with a heavy focus on shot locations, Expected Goals and fun, but mainly shot locations - and we had a game at 1pm. So I duly recorded this match, avoided my heavily vibrating phone, and watched the game with a two hour delay, and no social media echo chamber to influence my thoughts. 

And after eighty minutes I was bordering on happy. Not only had we thoroughly dominated the first half, but after conceding an epically shit opening goal, we deservedly hauled ourselves back into the game with a thrilling equaliser from Marko Arnautovic. The flaws in the performance were obvious, and the unbalanced, lopsided squad was badly exposed at times, but there was a sense of resilience and purpose to our play that was never present under Slaven Bilic this season. If nothing else, we were finally throwing some punches back, and doing it all on a day that the rest of the world was determined would be a farewell party for Arsene Wenger. 

And then Declan Rice ducked. 


Farewell Arsene - don't suppose we could interest you in a flat in Hackney Wick?

Is it possible to lose a game of football by four goals to one and feel you were unlucky? If so, then this was it. Arsenal opened the scoring when Aaron Cresswell got close to Nacho Monreal at a corner in the same way that Australia is close to New Zealand, and the Spaniard duly took advantage. His well struck volley actually went just inside our post which threatened to open up the old debate about whether teams should have a man on the posts at corners. I say "threatened" because we actually had Arthur Masuaku stood right there up until the exact second the ball went in. The problem is that such prosaic notions as stopping shots hit straight at him are not Arthur's metier. 

Instead, Arthur chose this moment to announce his support for the thinking of the French Marxist philosopher, Paul Lafargue. Big Paul, as I imagine he was known to his friends, lived an eventful late nineteenth century life before penning the renowned essay "The Right to Be Lazy" in 1880. This would prove an influential document for both European Marxists and West Ham squads through the years. And so, as Monreal's shot arrowed towards young Arthur, there followed this exchange:

ARTHUR MASUAKU
(jumping inexplicably to one side)

The proletariat, betraying its instincts, despising its historic mission, has let itself be perverted by the dogma of work. Rude and terrible has been its punishment!

JOE HART

Yeah, that geezer killed himself, Arthur.

And thus we went one down having spent most of the game up to that point being the side looking most likely to score. That's not to say that we were playing particularly well, but we simply exploited the complete inability of any of Arsenal's hopeless defenders to cope with balls over their heads. Thus, a succession of well directed long passes sought out Arnautovic, who used his pace and power to get into a number of dangerous positions. Unfortunately, none led to a goal, but it was an effective tactic in the circumstance, and rather more well thought out than some fans seemed to have given credit for. 

Yet, the problem with our current side is that it is a Jenga column of a team. Removing something from one location and replacing it further up just weakens the foundations completely. And so it was that Manuel Lanzini and, to a far lesser degree, Javier Hernandez arrived to shift momentum, only to leave gaps that would be mercilessly exposed by Arsenal as the light was dying. 

That we were playing at The Emirates today served only to highlight those flaws. The glorious sunlight couldn't help but transport us back those two short seasons to the Dimitri Payet inspired side who destroyed Arsenal on opening day in 2015. That was a side who were set up to defend and then launch spring loaded counter attacks that primarily flowed through our nascent superstar, but which were augmented by the excellent midfield cover of Reece Oxford and the ceaseless running of Diafra Sakho. All are gone now, their footballing gravestones the series of inadequate men brought in to replace them. No matter what you think about this game, the contrast between then and now was dragged out into the bleached sunlight today and paraded for all the world to see. Hubris, thy name is West Ham. 

***

"Now you're at the wheel, tell me how,
How does it feel? So good to have equalised"
- The Stone Roses, "Waterfall"

Before we drop too deeply into our traditional H List inspired malaise, let's just take a moment to enjoy the simple art of goalscoring. Has there been a more satisfying goal this season than Arnautovic's equaliser? Arsenal came at us after half time, and our complete inability to retain possession meant we couldn't get out of own half, but there was still some lingering sense that if we could ride out the barrage we might yet survive. And then after Arthur's "after you" there was that crushing sense of inevitability as another promising start was about to be frittered away. Another war lost for the sake of a stray bullet.

Love the man, bemused by the hair

On some days, you can sense a goal coming in the same way you can feel an oncoming storm. Imperceptible changes and shifts in pressure let us know that something is happening far off in the distance. A dark cloud, a chill breeze, a shot here, a cross there, on come the substitutes and up go the umbrellas. 

Well, that wasn't happening here. 

Lanzini and Hernandez arrived and more men went forward. It left us terrifyingly open at the back, and highlighted even more starkly, the total absence of defensive midfield cover in this side. But with men pushed forward we had a chance to keep a few second balls alive and from one such piece of broken play, Lanzini flicked through to a malingering Arnautovic who turned and drilled home a superb equaliser.

It was one of those perfect moments when it's just possible to forget everything else and live, there and then, in the sheer joy of the present. We have the worst owners in the Premier League, a terrible, ageing squad, a ground we all hate, and a schism the width of a running track between our supporters. In theory, we shouldn't, and indeed can't, compete with Arsenal. But those things are not football. They are paraphernalia. Those things inform and influence but they are not the game.

For the game is beautiful and brutal and unfair and glorious, and as our moody Austrian picked up that half chance and turned on his weaker foot and displayed supreme technique to rifle home a half chance, generating that satisfying snare drum sound as it hit the base of the net, well...well, then we were experiencing the joy of all life.

This season, hell the last two years, have been too short of those grab-your-mates-arm, fuckinghavethat, hairs on the neck, fall forward two rows, "Christ is this really happening" kind of moments. And the very fact that I feel obliged to write a section solely about the goal in a 4-1 defeat is the perfect embodiment of why Sullivan and Gold need to move on. It's like being pleased that your Grand National horse has their saddle on the right way round, immediately before they smash into Becher's  Brook.

So yes, I shall always think fondly of the time that Arnie punched back at The Emirates and brought the music to a sudden, record scratch halt at Wenger's farewell party. It's sad that it's come to this, but come to this it has.

And for twenty minutes thereafter, I thought I was watching our best away performance of the season.

And then Declan Rice ducked.

***

"If the businessmen will drink my blood, like the kids in art school said they would
Then I guess I'll just begin again"
- Arcade Fire, "Ready To Start"

As frustrating as this game turned out to be, I'm not sure what people were truly expecting. Arsenal haven't lost at home to anyone outside the Top Six all season, and with it being the beginning of Wenger's long goodbye, we continued our proud unbeaten 123 year run of being Britain's best party guests. Joffrey should have invited us to his wedding.


They've spent how much on Joe Hart?

But after all this, I don't know how many more times I can go to the well. Chicharito as the answer? He had ten touches after he came on and did nothing. He can't play on his own up top, and if we play with any more than one forward we expose our wildly underpowered midfield, and indeed, one thing that struck me on Sunday was how few of our players are good on both sides of the ball.

The ones who can attack are non-contributors defensively, our midfielders either don't have the legs (Noble), have legs but possibly not their own (Kouyate) or are a footballing graveyard where good moves go to die (Fernandes). The best is obviously Lanzini, who leads the high press well but shouldn't be asked to do too much more. Joao Mario is obviously a decent player who probably needs some time to adapt to English football, and is too rich for our blood. That said, his last 27 corners have all hit the first man so he is at least adapting to some West Ham traditions well enough.

So as much as I want a more adventurous, younger, more mobile, more tactically fluid side, I also accept that Moyes can't possibly be expected to extract that from his current squad. Anyone demanding a 4-4-2 has to acknowledge that the wide players in that formation have to defend. Therefore, you might pick Masuaku and Fernandes to do that, and suddenly you have Mario and Lanzini on the bench, and four at the back and Brighton are beating you 3-0 at home.

It's also sadly true that we have no options in central midfield. Noble was excellent here but needs younger, more mobile legs around him. Fernandes fits that bill, but suffers from the unfortunate drawback of not being able to play football, while Cheikhou Kouyate has declined so much I am going to nickname him "Sterling".

Whatever way I slice it, I find an imperfect squad yielding an imperfect team. It's all well and good to demand a more attacking team but when we commit more forward we end up shipping goals by the boatload, not helped by a goalkeeping situation whereby we'd be better off if we spliced our two options together and had one dive one way and the other take the opposite side.

But much of the issue with how fans feels seems to me to be a classic case of fans failing to appraise the evidence of their eyes and instead thinking in emotional terms of how they remember the players. The problem with that is that players decline so rapidly and so imperceptibly that it is almost impossible for fans to notice when we actually see them play so fleetingly. One of the great tricks of Sir Alex Ferguson's tenure at Manchester United was his ability to sell players at the height of their powers, or right at the start of their decline. Beckham, Stam, van Nistelrooy, Ince and Cole were all moved on when it seemed they had something left to give, but were on the wrong side of the ageing curve.

Ask yourself when was the last time we did that? It's rare for us, primarily because we are usually buying those types of players, but also because as a club we have developed a fear of selling, when it would perhaps be wise to accept that some sales can actually be doubly useful because you can clear out declining players and get money back for them. The trick is knowing that they are declining before everybody else does. An analytics department would be useful here.

As it stands now, I would say that Kouyate is one such type. Other clubs may see him as being young enough to reclaim but I'd be prepared to take that risk. Cresswell might fit that description too, and Arnautovic probably does as well, although the club can't sell one of their few usable players. Ultimately we would have to trust the club to make that assessment because that institutional knowledge is critical - we know nothing of who is injured, who is declining physically, or who is becoming less productive as a result of minor tactical adjustments the manager wants to make. Ogbonna is a good example of a player who seemed lost and now should win Hammer of the Year, after some actual honest-to-God coaching.

My broader point is that when fans demand that the likes of Hernandez play more regularly, you can't just do that in a vacuum. It's not enough to argue that he has to start because he "guarantees goals", when all our sports science numbers might suggest he has lost a yard in pace, or Moyes has identified that a penalty box striker isn't much use for a team who don't get in the box very much. I'm just throwing those out there as possible reasons, but my broader point is that all of this stuff is linked and relevant. The fact that he was a good player when he was 26 is not.

***

"Feel the sunshine on your face, it's in a computer now
Gone are the future, way out in space"
- Blur, "Out of Time"

Fuck this descent into misery. Let's predict the future!

MAY 2018

We flirt with relegation by losing to Leicester but salvage it with a win over Manchester United at the London Stadium. We finish the season up with a 0-0 draw with Everton that is so bad it leads to Jeremy Corbyn proposing to renationalise football. 

With the season over the club announce David Moyes on a three year contract having publicly courted Arsene Wenger until he eventually emigrates to stop David Sullivan calling him. This appointment will ensure stability for around ten months before people start talking about an extension. When asked how the search for a new Head of Recruitment is going, Sullivan denies all knowledge of such a vacancy. He then announces that he and Jack will be attending the World Cup in Russia. 

JUNE 2018

It's season ticket renewal time! Benzema! Bacca! Rodriguez! Welbeck! 

You renew your season ticket, because you're an idiot.

We promptly sign Peter Crouch from relegated Stoke and Charlie Austin's one working knee from Southampton. David Gold gives a radio interview where he states that Financial Fair Play rules make it very difficult to bring anyone else in. Meanwhile, Burnley sign James Ward-Prowse for £30m.

England go out of the World Cup to Senegal. We are linked with every player having a good tournament for a minnow. This is fine, as those guys are always good signings. 

JULY 2018

We sign four players from Panama and Tunisia after they impress in their countries successful campaigns. In order to make this work we sell twelve players, including Jordan Hugill to Preston for £4m. That's how it works. 

AUGUST 2018

We eschew money spinning, useful tours to the US or Asia and instead play three games in Slovenia against Swedish amateur teams. We draw all three. Everything is fine. Only Declan Rice from the first team is actually doing any training, as the others are all either in traction after the World Cup, or on holiday in Mexico.

We open the season with a 6-1 defeat at Manchester City. Moyes and the players describe it as a good run out, leading me to wonder if they are aware the season has started. Newly promoted Wolves win 3-0 at the London Stadium before we get the show on the road with a 1-1 draw at Cardiff. 

Twelve minutes after the transfer window closes, Manuel Lanzini does his knee. 

SEPTEMBER 2018

David Sullivan is busy scouring the globe for out of contract players who we can sign as we finally get a win at home to Swansea with a late Noble penalty. Everyone would be feeling a bit down about our poor start but thankfully we have those flags around the pitch before matches. 

That architect finally gets round to looking at the possibility of redesigning the stadium. His report is one page long and contains two words. 

OCTOBER 2018

The new signings aren't working out brilliantly and are all on the bench, while Austin is in America trying to buy a new knee. James Collins and Pablo Zabaleta are our centre back pairing as we grab an unlikely win at Brighton, who fire Chris Hughton out of shame. 

Michail Antonio returns in the home draw with Newcastle where he nearly lasts to half time before injuring his hamstring. Gary Lewin pronounces himself happy with this progress. Crouch equalises with a minute to go and does the robot and then does a funny Tweet. We lose in the EFL Cup to, oh I don't fucking know, Swindon. 

NOVEMBER 2018

Everybody is injured. There are bodies everywhere. The Club release a statement referencing their unprecedented injury crisis for the tenth straight year.  Mired in the bottom three, Sullivan gives a well thought out, superbly judged interview to The Guardian announcing that if we can just get through to January we can fix it all then, and that Moyes was probably the wrong appointment but nobody else would come. 

We are somehow playing Arsenal, Spurs, Chelsea, Man Utd and Liverpool in consecutive games. We lose them all except for Spurs, obviously, which buys Moyes an extra six months in the role. 

DECEMBER 2018

Karren Brady launches her Christmas cookbook, a range of specialist leggings for businesswomen and an album of corporate jingles. She launches this at 8pm on ITV on a Wednesday when we are gaining a surprising win at Fulham. 

We are away on Boxing Day, which is a coincidence, and lose 5-0 at Everton. We do at least welcome back Andy Carroll who tore his Achilles Tendon in the summer doing the Macarena in Tenerife. He plays 17 minutes and concedes 12 fouls. 

JANUARY 2019

Everything is fine! We win all our league games this month as our unprecedented injury crisis that we have every year finally abates. Austin scores four in four, including the winner at Newcastle where away fans now watch the game from a hot air balloon attached to the top of the stand. 


The Mike Ashley Stand

We win our 3rd Round Cup game at Bury live on the BBC who couldn't look any more unhappy about it. Our reward is an away tie at Manchester City. 

With the team surging to 12th and our injured players on the mend, Sullivan announces that no dickhead buys any players in January and instead announces a couple of loans for players who were top drawer on FIFA '15. Neither ever play for West Ham but cost the club £800,000 in agent's fees. This is fine.

FEBRUARY 2019

Doctors discover that Austin's knee is made entirely of chewing gum and he is ruled out for the season. This isn't an issue as Carroll is now returned from a back injury he sustained attempting to pick up a concrete bollard on a team night out in Dubai. 

We lose 5-1 at Manchester City in the fourth round of the Cup, which everybody agrees is a big improvement on the opening day game. The match is played at 10pm on a Saturday night for overseas television audiences. British rail services are so good that some West Ham fans don't get home until March. 

The Annual Accounts are released. The club made a profit of £76m. Nemanja Vidic signs as a free agent to cover for the injured James Collins. 

MARCH 2019

The East Stand at the London Stadium falls down in the middle of the night. It turns out that building a stadium for a two week event and then fixing it up with sellotape and Prittstick is sub optimal. As the Directors aren't in this stand they don't give a shit and agree to meet with the landlord at the end of the season to resolve the issue. 

For his part the Mayor says that he can't be held responsible for things like stands falling down and suggests that West Ham pay £140m to replace it. The case ends up in court at a cost of £25m in legal fees. The Mayor agrees to rebuild the stand, but fifteen feet further back. Sullivan agrees. We beat Wolves 4-1 in our annual "where the fuck did that come from?" away performance. 

APRIL 2019

We avert relegation for another year with two home victories over Burnley and Leicester. Both games finish 1-0 and contravene the Trades Description Act. 

Sullivan gives a well thought out, superbly judged interview to Sky Sports announcing that never again will the Club be in this precarious position and that if we can just get through to the next transfer window then everything can be resolved. In the background David Moyes can be heard sobbing. 

Meanwhile, West Ham Ladies have gone the season unbeaten. 

MAY 2019

We finish 15th.

It's season ticket renewal time! Ribery! Giroud! Bale! Sturridge!

You renew your season ticket, because you're an idiot...

Friday, April 20, 2018

West Ham 1 - 1 Stoke (And Other Ramblings)

"Well, 'round here baby
I've learned you get what you can get"
- Bruce Springsteen, "Tougher Than The Rest"

Not every win comes in the form of a victory. On a night where we had the contemporaneous sense of wild joy at a late equaliser, and coursing disappointment at the failure to truly separate ourselves from the relegation quagmire, it is worth noting that the main success here was what we did to our opposition rather than anything we did for ourselves. 

After this game, we sit with a 3% chance of relegation according to the folks at FiveThirtyEight. Football games aren't played on hard drives, of course, but it's comforting to know that the nerds have trained their gaze elsewhere, even though you do get the sense that a 3% relegation shot could be a very "hold my beer" moment for a kamikaze club such as ourselves. By comforting comparison, however, Stoke have a 93% chance of going down, which is the kind of thing you would generally only write about members of the Trump administration. 


Chicharito wins "Best Gladiator Impression"

But in truth, these are the amnesiac nights of the football season. Consigned almost immediately to the long term memory and only recalled years later when someone reminds you of the time our Vice Chairman once advised everybody to watch her new show on ITV and forgot we were playing at the same time.

These are the least glamorous inches on the mediocre road to safety that we now seem to tread so routinely, with the honourable exception of the 2015-16 season. These are the points that are so necessary for survival and simultaneously so damaging to the notion that this club is going anywhere soon. It's not even that we played that badly, and in fact it might be the opposite; we played reasonably well but still didn't have the guile or craft to put away a side who are deservedly going to be relegated.

It's fine to respect the point, and I doubt that many fans are struggling to see the bigger picture here. Stay above the stragglers and get through to the next transfer window when everything will be magically resolved by the people who messed up the last five. This time next year, Rodders.

But I wonder if there isn't a fatigue setting in among the fanbase. The underwhelmed reaction to this point, and the generally directionless nature of the club has lent the place an air of terminal decline. We will survive this year due to the bottom half of the Premier League being as good as that Robbie Williams Rat Pack album, but it's not fooling anyone anymore. We can only limp along for so long before one day taking a permanent stumble, especially when almost every lower league club is now run better than us.

We are in dire need of a change.

***

"And I know, and you know it too, that a love like ours is terrible news
But that won't stop me cryin', no that won't stop me cryin' over you"
- She and Him, "Thieves"

Which brings me neatly to David Moyes. 

Slaven Bilic took just 9 points from his 11 games this season which would have put him on pace for a 31 point season. That is not good. I looked it up. 

Moyes, meanwhile, has presided over 22 games and swept up 24 points. Over a full season, that would give us 41 points and a nice relegation battle to fret over and ultimately win. This is an imperfect and only minimally useful comparison because of the nuance involved but it does at least highlight that Bilic was woeful this season. It is also unfair on Moyes because Bilic had five transfer windows to build his own team and used them to construct the second oldest squad in the division. Moyes has had one window during which he got drunk, went to Preston with £10m and woke up with Jordan Hugill in his squad. We've all been there. 

I find the nostalgic pining for Bilic baffling on many levels, and I haven't even got into comparing the difficulty of their respective fixtures, but let's just say I think that they almost had to fire Bilic before we went to Man City just to stop us being the first ever Premier League team to concede ten goals. 


Kept it in single figures, lads!

But being better than Bilic isn't really the point here. The question is whether Moyes would actually be a good appointment or not, and that's a more difficult query to answer. I think most fans are starting to wake up to the fact that the biggest issue with the Premier League is not a reliance on foreign managers, but the endless fascination with mediocre British types. This is probably a little unfair on Moyes as he has been demonstrably better than the likes of Pulis, Allardyce and Pardew throughout his career, but that's the perception of him now. A stolid, average manager for middle of the road clubs. Be still our beating hearts. 

And the wider context is that West Ham is currently a febrile, uncertain beast. The board are despised for sins both imagined and real, and while the Directors presumably crave a boring, steady season where we bounce around in eleventh all year, the truth is that they probably need something more to regain some of what has been lost. And Moyes is not that. He would be a Roundhead appointment for what is currently - rightly or wrongly - a Cavalier fanbase. 

Fans want to dream. West Ham is ripe for a generational change and never has a club been more ready for a visionary manager to arrive and sweep all before him. We're sick of looking at Pochettino working the oracle at Spurs, as their impressive new stadium springs up around them, and wondering why it's not us. Here we are with 50,000 season ticket holders, the best catchment area for youth players in the country and an enormous wage bill and yet nobody at the club seems to have any idea how to harness all of that. There is such a person out there for us somewhere, but it requires judgement, knowledge and courage to go and find him, and none of these are qualities possessed by the decision makers at West Ham. 

Thus it comes to pass that Moyes is probably the best appointment for West Ham. He's here, he knows the squad, knows who he needs to keep and who to move on and, perhaps most importantly, seems prepared to take the job despite knowing that he would be working for the worst run club in the country. It's easy to dream on Nagelsmann, Favre, Tedesco and my secret love - hear me out here - Joachim Low, but those are not realistic. We are too badly run, with too tarnished a reputation to get such luminaries through our door. 

So, given such an ultra realistic appraisal I can find no better candidate than Moyes because I don't think anyone better would come. He's probably the best appointment we can make, and yet I strongly doubt he is actually a good choice. There is an outside chance that he might repeat his Everton trick and turn us into something decent over a long period of time, but even that chills the heart a little. We didn't move to this stadium for a rebuilding project. This was supposed be the culmination of a long term plan and instead we arrived at the restaurant for dinner and found out that the chef had forgotten to turn the oven on.

***

"Help me out of the life I lead
Remember the promise that you made"
- Cock Robin, "The Promise You Made"

Having said all that, I think Moyes would probably be a decent choice as Director of Football, except for the fact that this morning David Sullivan revealed he is now planning to renege on his promise to hire anyone for that role. Leaving aside for a moment the blunt force stupidity of allowing a job applicant to set the parameters of their position, it's a fascinating development. Sullivan made the promise under the duress of fan protests and the white hot focus of the national media. Everything he said about the role strongly suggested that he didn't understand it, although that's rather par for the course these days, but to go back on such a promise will only further cement his reputation as a liar.

In fairness to Sullivan his counter argument is that he never actually promised a Director of Football, but instead an "entirely new way of signing players". As far as I can tell this looks very much like the old way, where a Chief Scout - this used to be Tony Henry before he redefined the word "mayhem" - finds players and the manager signs off on them. Brilliant. There is no acknowledgement that a proper Director of Football would bring all sorts of other benefits to the club, because Sullivan doesn't understand what the role should entail.

What's particularly bemusing, is that having spent the season blaming Bilic for assembling this hopeless squad, he is now handing over the reins to allow Moyes the freedom to do exactly the same. If this is true we can all look forward to another squad constructed solely to meet the whim of one person, who is one six game winless run from losing his job, and with Sullivan having further destroyed what little credibility he has left with the fans. Oh well - I suppose that going back on such a well publicised concession to supporters would be a fairly significant "fuck you" to those who have questioned his leadership (ie: everyone), but it's a remarkable piece of backsliding from where we were just two weeks ago. Whatever your thoughts on the fan protests, it should be acknowledged that the toothpaste is well and truly out of that tube if the board are already comfortable enough to start rewriting history.

What's also magnificent about this is the timing, as it comes just days after Sullivan wrote an angry piece in the programme demanding that fans acknowledge that he has sanctioned far higher spending than "the so called experts" would have us believe, and then trotting out the biannual line about strengthening in the next transfer window, which by now should really be the club motto. Sullivan was keen to "dispel a myth" by writing the piece, although he wasn't so keen that he felt the need to include any actual numbers in there. The curious thing about all of this is that he appears not to realise that spending loads of money on a terrible team isn't actually a good thing.

I used to read stuff like this with a rising sense of anger. How could these useless charlatans have taken over my club and why aren't more people angrier about their incompetence? I still have that dull ache at the back of my mind, but it's been replaced somewhat by a more mystified feeling. I watch them now in the same way one watches a hopeless DIY'er. Like viewing a man changing his wiring while standing in a bucket of water, I no longer despair of the idiocy and instead marvel at the ignorance of it all. How are they still alive? Why is that ladder balancing on a beach ball? Why check a gas leak using a match for illumination? Is he really checking to see if that gun is loaded by peering down the barrel?


And David Sullivan did gaze with great pride upon his handiwork

I have said this before, so please excuse the repetition, but the biggest danger this club faces is apathy. Fans speak often about turning our back but that is usually just the post match disappointment talking. Come season ticket renewal time, when the sun is out and the red tops have been laced with false promises, it is never a chore to summon up enough misplaced faith to sign up once more. But this time feels a bit different. It's not so much that the team is bad - and it is very bad - but that there is so little for us to connect to as fans. The club has no vision, Upton Park has gone and been replaced imperfectly, and the people in charge didn't seem to care when fans were being threatened if they protested against them.

It's been a dismal season and I find it hard to believe that David Moyes is the right man to lift us out of that, even if I greatly admire some of what he has done. We need a Director of Football more than any other team around, and appointing one would at last have been a nod to the realities of the modern game and an admission that the era of running the team like we were in a DeLorean and it was 1983, were over. Instead, no. They took the barrel of that gun and aimed it squarely at their own feet.

Godspeed, David. I think you're going to need it.

***

"You say you saw him laughing, I hope it's true
I'd like to see it happen. I hope it's true."
- Belly, "Seal My Fate"

Even as this game was minutes from starting, our Karren was on Twitter urging people to watch her new show starting on ITV at the same time. It's called "Give It A Year" and involves her visiting struggling businesses and then returning a year later to see what progress they have made under her watchful eye. It is powered mainly by irony, presumably.

It sounds delightful because there is hardly anything that needs doing at West Ham and even though she earns just under a million quid a year for her role as Director in Charge of Not Listening To Fans, it's nice that Karren can stave off poverty by adding another string to her bow. I didn't see the show but apparently there is a bakery in Oxford who signed Robert Snodgrass and are now thriving, and a dressmakers in Carlisle who now wave loads of flags around outside their premises and all their issues are fixed, so that's good. If this series goes well it will apparently return next year when Theresa May is going to help Commonwealth countries fix their immigration policies. 


Anyway, for those who resisted the allure of watching Karren destroy the concept of satire, there was a game to watch. And what a game it wasn't, as Caley Graphics shows above.

Stoke arrived with their familiar brand of earthy physicality, elbows and constant fouling and allied that with the late season desperation of a team on Death Row. Moyes countered with his now standard 3-4-3 variant setup and has been slaughtered for such negativity despite the fact it looked pretty similar to the team that beat Southampton so easily.

One major difference between then and now was that Stoke actually brought a defence with them, but also our key players were a little off the boil. Marko Arnautovic huffed and puffed without ever quite hitting the heights of that day, while Edimilson Fernandes wandered around lost and bewildered by what was unfurling around him.

We therefore played nicely but without much urgency, and struggled to break the enormous line of Terracotta Soldiers that Paul Lambert deployed to keep us at bay. Such physicality needs to be played around, but we lacked the necessary invention or guile to do so, and even though Mark Noble probed and prodded intelligently from his deep lying position we were missing too much ahead of him. No Antonio or Lanzini to draw attention from him, and although we passed the ball well enough we couldn't really free a subdued Arthur Masuaku or the Ancient Mariner in our wide positions.

For all their time wasting - Ryan Shawcross apparently ties his boots with stinging nettles - and repetitive fouling that went ludicrously unpunished, Stoke were actually creating some reasonable half chances, and Mame Biram Diouf blazed over the best opportunity of the game in the second half. As it was, they eventually scrambled a lead when Joe Hart Joe Harted a shot from Shaqiri and Twitter personality Peter Crouch popped up with a tap in. I missed the Chelsea game and I'm now wondering if I'm going to go the whole season without seeing Joe Hart play well. He looked like a burst balloon, his confidence whistling out into the night sky.

At this point, Moyes did what he should have done far earlier and threw his reinforcements on. Lanzini arrived and then shortly after, so did Carroll, who was slung into the fray like a fireball catapulted into a medieval battle - with the knowledge that he might just destroy everything but what the fuck, we're losing anyway.

And so it was that just a few minutes later Aaron Cresswell swung over a hopeful cross and the pissed Geordie Wicker Man performed his yearly Chun Li Spinning Bird Kick and rescued us a point with a superb finish. On such nights, it sure is handy to have such a weapon on the bench and this was a near perfect deployment.


Shawcross tying up his shoelaces just out of shot

As it was we could have had a winner just moments later when Chicharito beat an abysmal Jack Butland dive from twenty yards but Carroll was penalised for handball, despite clearly being fouled by Shawcross at the time. In fairness to referee Michael Oliver, he's had a bit of a bad week with last minute penalties.

***

"And now the future's definition is so much higher than it was last year
It's like the images have all become real"
- Father John Misty, "Total Entertainment Forever"

One thought that seems to have been successfully inculcated into the collective groupthink of West Ham fans is that Moyes is somehow misusing Javier Hernandez. The Mexican is now a regular on the bench and was deployed to dramatic effect at Chelsea when his laser precision finish salvaged us an unlikely point.

But for all that, I see him as little more than a luxury that we can ill afford. As a central forward he offers nothing - no link up play, no mobility, no running the channels, no physical presence, nothing except a world class penalty box finishing ability. And that's the rub. How can a team as bad as us pass up any player with that level of skill?

Well, for an answer to that, one has to look at the games we've played where Hernandez was anonymous. Spurs away, Arsenal in the cup - we may as well have played with ten men. For all that it's easy to criticise Moyes and demand that he find a way of playing to suit Hernandez, I can't see what that actually would be. His time at Manchester United and Real Madrid was marked by those teams playing around him and dominating the opposition. The ball was frequently in that penalty area for him to latch on to, and tellingly, he was still a substitute for most of the time.

Fans need to let Hernandez go. A mid table team can't afford the extravagance of sinking £100,000 a week into a player who only plays fifteen minutes a game, and Hernandez shouldn't be doing much more than that. Tactically our best moments this season have come when Arnautovic has been deployed as a striker and freed up from doing any defensive work. Playing Hernandez pushes him deeper, and so too Antonio if he is fit, where their total lack of defensive effort is badly exposed.

This chain reaction through the team is what precipitated the move to three centre backs, as Moyes desperately sought ways to make us a bit more solid while still allowing him room to deploy his attacking players. This, in turn, pushed Zabaleta to a wing back role and badly exposed the fact that our central midfielders are way below average. An interesting thought experiment is to ask yourself which players from this squad you would keep if you were building a team from scratch.

I would take Ogbonna, Rice, Lanzini and Arnautovic. Cresswell and Masuaku are borderline, while Noble and Adrian would be valuable squad members. Beyond that I wouldn't be bothered about keeping any of them particularly and would be willing to load Joe Hart into a wheelbarrow and walk him back to Manchester. Clearly there are young players like Fernandes and Oxford who might mature into decent players in the future, and it's worth remembering that Ogbonna looked a busted flush at the start of the season so one has to ponder the effect of injuries on the likes of Obiang, but I can't see any other particular value in the squad.

Reid, Carroll and Antonio are too injury prone and the rest simply aren't up to it. Every time a West Ham fan demands a contract extension for James Collins a fairy is brutally butchered in the Welsh valleys. So stop it.

It's not much. Moyes has much work to do and not much time in which to do it. He might come to regret not having an experienced Director of Football to help him with a task of this size. If it's true that he has won that argument with the club, then he is taking a huge responsibility on to his shoulders. It might be worth remembering that not every win is a victory.