A weekly blog following the hidden fortunes of the Boleyn Boys with an eye on all things related to the Premiership

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

West Ham 1 - 0 Sunderland (Or My Last Visit To Upton Park)

“Oh excellent” said nobody. Another memorial for Upton Park.

I don’t care – this is for me, not you. Sitting here in the seamy grey drizzle of a London Tuesday, I am hit with an overwhelming desire to write something down. This is it. The last time I’ll ever get to see West Ham play at Upton Park. Or The Boleyn Ground if you’re feeling posh.

And I won’t even be there. So forgive me this little act of vanity but I’m having a slightly out of body experience today as I contemplate all of this moving on happening without me. At the place where I spent the best part of twenty five years giving a little piece of soul fortnightly to men like Ian Bishop, Julian Dicks and Matty Holmes. Rio Ferdinand, John Moncur and Sasa Ilic. Samassi Abou, Trevor Sinclair and Lee Boylan. Paolo di Canio, Edouard Cisse and Darren Powell. Kepa Blanco, Scott Parker and Kevin Nolan. Some heroes, some not, some you won’t even remember, but all of them important to me in some way.

I can't say that it ended as it began.


My first trip to Upton Park was on April 30th 1986, when West Ham seemed destined to win the League and Alan Devonshire was the best player you'd never heard of before. Ipswich were the visitors, West Ham won 2-1 and I'm pretty sure the 7 year old me was holding back tears of joy when Ray Stewart banged in the late winner.

That game had a Nick Hornby-esque story arc as Ipswich took the lead and John Lyall's exhausted team - in the midst of playing 10 matches in the final month of the season - fought back valiantly to nab a late victory. In many ways, I've never forgiven my Dad for taking me to that game. It set an impossibly high bar, and created a world for me where West Ham would always play free flowing attacking football, challenge for the title, and come from behind to win games forever.

It was false bloody advertising is what it was.


And so at 12.45pm on February 27th 2016, nearly 30 years on, I watched my last ever game at the Boleyn Ground. West Ham versus Sunderland.

It had the kind of weather where the cold permeated your bones like ice water, where your breath hung in the air long after it was drawn and the wind whistled through the stadium, swirled in the stanchions and dived down on to your head like a Stuka bomber. It was almost as though God had asked Sam Allardyce what kind of day he would like for his return to East London and Big Sam had puffed out his large Dudley frame, grinned his chewing gum grin and said "Let's pay homage to those lovely Icelandic former owners", before presumably blaming his back four for something.

As things transpired, West Ham won an unremarkable game 1-0. Michail Antonio scored a well-crafted winner and then had an epileptic fit, Dimitri Payet shivered his way through the game as peripheral as one of the many plastic bags floating across the sky on the breeze, and Sam Allardyce bemoaned the state of the pitch. Because when you're a footballing purist like Big Sam you want a billiard like surface in order to maximise those diagonal lofted balls to the edge of the box.

I must say enjoyed that last comment from Allardyce. I got my first season ticket when I was 11, and held it for the next 24 years with my Dad. We stood on the North Bank and sat in the Bobby Moore Stand Lower, saw us go up and down, and survived the Bond scheme and Carlos Tevez and Manny Omoyinmi. But we sat down after the 2013/14 season and both confessed that we were no longer enjoying watching West Ham. I respected Allardyce's arch pragmatism and I admired the limitless self-belief, such a curious counterpoint to the strict limits he imposed upon his players on the pitch, but I wanted something more from my football viewing. I wanted to dream.


I understand that West Ham isn’t special to anyone but West Ham fans. I understand that Upton Park isn’t a cathedral to anyone but those who worship there, and not even all of them. That’s how football works. I’m sure that Tottenham and Derby and Burton fans are rolling their eyes today at the “Farewell Boleyn” circus. I don’t blame them, but I’m not apologising either.

I often ask myself, how could anybody ever support Arsenal or Manchester United? You might as well go into a casino and cheer on the house. But that’s how these things work and that’s the universal oil that greases the cogs of the game. I have never been in thrall to the legends of my football club in the same way that, say, Liverpool fans seem to be. My club is special in certain ways, but to me and my fellow fans - nobody else, and I understand that. We are no better or worse than Aston Villa, Barnsley, Millwall or Chesterfield. And that’s the crux of it. There is nothing inherently special about any football club or stadium, unless it’s yours. And then they might just be the most special things of all. It’s all just different sides of the same many splintered thing.

But moving on from this stadium is oddly difficult. I’m beginning to think that maybe Indiana Jones knew why – it’s not the years, it’s the mileage.

As I look back on it now I seem to be able to tie so many important moments in my life to visits to West Ham. My nan died the same day as a 1-0 Cup win at home to Crewe; my parents split up the night after a 1-1 draw at home to Barnsley; my first love broke my heart after a 1-1 draw at home to Aston Villa, my daughter was born just after a home win against West Brom. Maybe these things are meaningful, maybe a lot of stuff happens on weekends, but I suppose the constant is that much of my life was measured by the distance to the next visit to Upton Park. That wasn’t always a positive thing, but it’s how it was.

Walking away after that Sunderland game and knowing I would never go back was a strange, elegiac experience. It was a final line drawn under a period of my life.


So we gave up our season tickets in 2014, and it didn't help that by Christmas, we were second in the table. Of course, Allardyce had essentially stumbled arse backwards into a formation that worked but, as is customary, West Ham came down with the Christmas decorations and he reverted to type once the injuries hit. But for a while there it was fun, and I missed my fortnightly trip to Upton Park.

Which brings me back to where I started. One shouldn't romanticise the place undeservedly of course. It is a jigsaw of a stadium, with mismatched stands and terrible transport links and the worst customer facilities in the universe. The next time hot water comes out of the taps in the toilets will be the first. But as a hothouse for memories it holds many poignant and special moments atop those turrets.

I love the idiosyncrasies of the layout. How a song can spring up in one corner of the ground and rumble around the stands until the whole stadium is rocking. Ipswich (them again) were the visitors for the 2004 play offs when the girders shook and the noise was enough to scare the opposition into allowing Christian Dailly to score. Of course, that aspect of the ground has faded now, and the really atmospheric fever dream midweek games are long consigned to the past. It’s why I don’t object to the move. We can either sit around in our comfortably uncomfortable old house reminiscing about glory days that don’t have that much glory, or move forward and make new and better memories.


I can’t say I’m happy about the way the priority list has been managed. I followed West Ham all my life, and when this move came about season ticket holders were allowed to bring two fans with them and effectively jump ahead of me in the queue. I have paid a tremendously high price for tiring of Sam Allardyce. I am sure many will say that once I gave up my season ticket I lost my right to complain, and that’s probably correct. It is somewhat galling, however, to find that after a quarter century of attendance the Club deemed me less worthy of a ticket than random friends and acquaintances of other fans. Thus I now sit in a huge, sprawling waiting list with no obvious hint that I will ever get a ticket again. Another line drawn, another chapter closed.

It’s an overlooked aspect of the process which leaves a sour personal taste, but I still don’t object to the move. John Ford once said “Whether or not you believe you can do something, you are right” and I respect and admire the energy that David Sullivan, David Gold and Karren Brady have injected into my club. I wish our social media presence wasn’t filtered through a 15 year old boy and I hope that we never have to hear about the rise of the Krays again, but I can’t deny the forward path being furrowed.

I shall probably blink back a tear tonight, but only for myself and my own loss. Farewell Boleyn, and all that, but hello Olympic Stadium and the promise of a brighter, much brighter, future.

I think there is a bubble rising in East London – I hope it never bursts.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The West Ham Way (Or, why I decided not to renew)

There is no apology that is less needed than the one that goes "Sorry I haven't blogged for a while". So I won't make it.

This season has been one of the worst I have ever endured as a West Ham fan. And I'm 35, so I speak with a wealth of experience of terrible seasons. It has been tedious, dull, repetitive and hopelessly uninspiring. Highlights have included been outplayed by such footballing luminaries as Stoke and Crystal Palace, losing 5-0 in the FA Cup to a team managed by Billy Davies, and an accidental run to the League Cup semi finals where we showed so much backbone and attacking ambition that we managed to hold Man City to an aggregate 0-9 score. Because double figures would have been embarrassing.

Since March 1, when West Ham were beaten at Everton by a late Romelu Lukaku goal, it has been almost unbearable to watch us play. Things reached a nadir when the team were booed off the pitch after a tortuous and undeserved 2-1 home victory over Hull City, and with just three games remaining it is entirely possible that we will finish the season with six straight defeats, staying up only by virtue of the appalling teams around us.

Fans are divided over the issue of Sam Allardyce. Many, myself included, have been prepared to hold their nose and accept his pragmatic style of play in return for the promise of security that it brings. In that respect he has been a godsend for the owners David Sullivan and David Gold, who have mortgaged so much on the club being in the Premiership at the point where we move to the Olympic Stadium.

Allardyce started in the Championship with the wreckage of Avram Grant's ineptitude and smuggled the team up through the Play Offs. The first season back in the top flight was a relative success, with fans happy enough just to survive and bloody a few noses on the way. This season, however, has been lost in a blizzard of injuries and a mystifying transfer policy that saw us playing without a striker for the best part of two months after Andy Carroll was injured, Modibo Maiga was proven to be hopeless, and Carlton Cole was released and then re-signed in typically West Ham fashion.

But things are different now. There is an increasingly vocal minority who have lost faith with Allardyce. There has been no visible progression in the style of play and perhaps most alarmingly, a worryingly inability to get the best out of Andy Carroll despite structuring the entire team around him.

The backdrop to the unrest has been the thorny issue of "The West Ham Way". Decried by Allardyce and most media pundits as a figment of the imagination and dismissed as the delusional ravings of a fanbase who have romanticised too much of their past and forgotten the reality of their existence. The most commonly repeated phrase through the whole debate has been - "Be careful what you wish for". In short - fear prevails.

We, as West Ham fans, are being patted on the head by the media and told that we need to accept the current horrible reality or we will go the same way as those other teams who got ideas above their station. Remember Bolton? Remember Newcastle? Remember Blackburn? Be careful what you wish for.

Never was this more apparent than on last nights Match of the Day when the "West Ham Way" was once again declared as being simply losing and Allardyce was at least transcending that. I thought that was typically lazy punditry so I did a little research. Here are the Premier League records of West Ham managers since 2006:

Curbishley W23 D13 L26 (Win% - 37%) {Points per game - 1.32}
Zola          W20 D13 L32 (Win% - 30%) {Points per game - 1.12}
Grant        W7   D12 L18 (Win% - 18%) {Points per game - 0.89}
Allardyce   W22 D17 L34 (Win% - 30%  {Points per game - 1.13}

So, Sam Allardyce is delivering the same results as Gianfranco Zola.

I'll just let that settle in for a moment.

There is another side to this, of course. West Ham's transfer policy has been haphazardly schizophrenic for years now and the squad he inherited was uniformly awful. The club is still partly owned by Icelandic creditors and for all the good work of the owners in reducing the debt, we still can't afford any missteps in the transfer market. This years summer budget was substantially less than, say, Southampton and once it was all spent on Carroll and Stewart Downing it was utterly predictable that both would then miss the start of the season with injury.

But this is West Ham. We always have loads of injuries. Generally we have a good team and a weak squad and the latter is almost always exposed due to injuries. Every manager we have ever had has had to deal with this and it engenders little sympathy from me.

This is getting a little long

I should cut to the chase, in the absence of a decent editor.

I don't think Allardyce plays as bad a style as many others think, but he also doesn't play as attractive a style as he thinks. There are others who could achieve the same limited results as him and do it without boring us all senseless.

As it stands, I have decided not to renew my season ticket for next season. And neither will my Dad or Sister, and I have shelved plans to buy season tickets for my three kids.

Such is the structure of modern football that West Ham, who are in the top 10 of English clubs in terms of Premiership longevity, attendance, turnover, wage bill and ticket prices have almost zero chance of winning anything. The game is so utterly rigged in favour of the big teams that a club such as ours has nothing to aim for except the odd cup run. Our acceptable range of league position is 8 - 17. Where we finish really doesn't make all that much difference to anything except for prize money, which never results in lower ticket prices and therefore I don't care about.

All we have, therefore, is the way we play and the entertainment it provides. And the Allardyce style of play is boring. Defensive solidity is nice, but it's also boring. When I think back on the games I have watched this season, my overwhelming recollection is of how utterly tedious the games have been.

I could perhaps live with that if we were knocking on the door of the top 6, but we're not. We are mired in mid table looking at the likes of Swansea, Southampton, Hull and Stoke and wishing we were them.

It's no longer fun to watch West Ham, and I can't continue to be fed this line that it's Allardyce or bust. This isn't the only way, it's just the only way he knows, and the owners are too scared of not being in the Premiership to make a change. That's fine, and their prerogative, but I am not sure sure how many fans are going to stick around to watch it.....

Friday, September 24, 2010

West Ham United vs tottenham hotspur: Match Preview - 25/09/2010

1. Is It That Time Already?

After registering a solitary point from our opening five fixtures, we are already at that stage of the season where we scour the fixture list to see where we can pick up the points necessary to avoid relegation.

Meanwhile, through the looking glass, tottenham fans are convinced they have the capacity to secure both silverware and peace in Afghanistan by May.

Traditionally, it is also around this time of year where they all too easily secure three points at Upton Park.

2. Opposition

Despite being as odious as ever, few can argue that this is not the best-equipped Spurs squad for some time. Champions League qualification finally arrived at White Hart Lane last season, and I feel sick even typing about it.

It’s not jealousy. I know as well as anyone that European fare at Upton Park will only ever come in the guise of the Intertoto Cup, or some ‘ollandaise sauce on yer ‘otdog. It’s the perceived validation, that last season confirmed what Tottenham fans knew all along – their status as a massive club.

Fulham got to the UEFA Cup Final (I’m still adjusting to ‘Europa League’), but entertain no fantasy of grandeur, content they are a midtable outfit capable of exceeding expectations on occasion.

The bottom line is, tottenham have to do well if they are to remain competitive. This summer’s acquisition of Brazilian Sandro and Dutchman Rafael Van Der Vaart has taken tottenham’s expenditure since May 2008 to £173 million.

The alluring prospect of a financial whirlwind just waiting to be reaped, remains.

3. Butterfingers

Robert Green’s summer exploits remain in the public consciousness thanks to a couple of similar blunders in consecutive weeks.

Green’s spilt effort against Chelsea lead inexplicably to the champions’ second goal and killed the game. At The Brittania Stadium, Green again displayed the nimble dexterity of an arthritic mammoth to present Robert Huth with a gilt-edged chance, the German bruiser mercifully striking the post.

Indecisiveness also contributed to Stoke’s equaliser – Green failing to claim a cross which should’ve been his, further illustrating his current fragility.

All goalkeepers make costly errors, errors which are sternly judged as they often lead to goals.

Despite continued woes, I think Green has the mental strength to rediscover his old form and once again embody the assured goalie we have often relied upon. However, he is, and will always be, one of those ‘keepers prone to the odd clanger.

I can accept that (to a point), but it’s the current lack of belief which concerns me. Defences look to their ‘keeper to command the box and act decisively. Any crisis of confidence will inevitably bleed through, particularly to a back four which has seen five different line-ups this season.

4. Picture Book

Joe Jordan was all too willing to accept Harry Redknapp's insistence on a holding midfielder.

5. The Only Way Is Up

A first win of the season, and a first away win since the opening game of last season, is as good a place as any to put a stop to the most septic rot on the fetid corpse of our recent exploits against tottenham.

Two good goals away to Sunderland in midweek will hopefully provide some crust of confidence to our malnourished ego.

If Scott Parker can maintain his recent dominance of any midfield he steps onto, Kieron Dyer and Pablo Barrera run effectively at the creaking Spurs defence, and Rob Green keep his gloves free from goose fat, the backing of what will doubtless be an intially vociferous home support could provide the result which will kick-start our season.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Manchester United vs West Ham United: Match Preview - 28/08/2010

1. Opposition

Since the departure of Ronaldo and Tevez, Man United have not looked as accomplished an outfit as their main title contenders, Chelsea. With a lack of big money investment this summer, the west London outfit are favourites to claim back-to-back Premiership titles.

Despite undoubted class, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes will play increasingly diminishing roles, and in the absence of a firing Wayne Rooney, the ‘attack attack attack’ nature of United looks less threatening now than in recent years.

Mexican mouse, Javier Hernandez, is their most noteworthy addition in the off-season. Unlike billions of others, the pint-sized striker enjoyed the World Cup, made an impact in the Community Shield and seems blessed with innate technique.

At £6 million and just 22 years of age, Hernandez may well prove to be another Ferguson masterstroke, despite the effeminately precise nature of his acrylic eyebrows.

United have made an unremarkable start to the season relative to some of their chief adversaries, last week’s 2-2 draw with Fulham an unwelcome blip as both Arsenal and Chelsea scored six. However, if there is one team in the league that the Big Boys look to to provide a welcome tonic, it’s us.

Man U are a wounded animal. They can not afford another slip up so early and will be looking to exorcise any doubts as to their title credentials by thumping us on Saturday evening, and who can say they won’t do just that?

Fantasy Football managers across the globe are frantically packing their teams with as many United players as possible.

2. Park Yourself Here

The importance of Scott Parker was again evident on Tuesday night as he popped up with the injury-time winner against Oxford United, in lieu of any incisive forward play.

He also created our best chance against Bolton, threading though a neat pass to Kieron Dyer, who forced a good save from Jussi Jaaskelaineuaiieenanen.

Parker has been the focal point of our transfer speculation this summer, with feather-ruffling tax cheat Harry Redknapp lodging a bid in spite of David Sullivan’s unequivocal refusal to sell. A lucrative five-year contract has been put on the table for Parker, a notable commitment to a 29-year old.

However, this contract has been awaiting his signature for nearly a month.
Parker must know that this is his last chance of a big contract and stalling thus far does not fill me with confidence regarding a long-term commitment.

Spurs qualification for the Champions League group stages will guarantee them a tidy income, and so expect another offer to be forthcoming before the close of the transfer window next week.

3. The Proposal

‘Fergie – how about it. You. Me. Candlelight. A can of Kestrel Super and some oven chips. Come on, you can't resist this.’

4. History

Since John Paintsil showed the world why he is the greatest player of all time back in 2007, United have utterly dominated us. In the five fixtures since, they have one all five, scoring 14 goals in the process.

A close fought 1-0 loss back in February 2009 is as admirable as we have been, competing until Ryan Giggs stepped inside an askew Carlton Cole to fire in a low, right-footed shot through a crowded penalty area.

Last season’s corresponding fixture ended in a 3-0 defeat with Wayne Rooney scoring a brace of headers during the red-hot spell of form he singularly failed to employ in South Africa.

Despite a similar deficit, this fixture was an improvement upon the home match, in which we were thoroughly outclassed and lost 4-0, picked apart like a Dan Brown plotline.

It says something about our expectations when you’ll take a 3-0 loss as long as we show some appetite.

5. The Response


6. Arrivederci Alessandro

This week saw the sale of Alessandro Diamanti to Brescia for £1.8 million, representing a loss of £4.2 million on our original £6 million investment.

The crass financial folly of this deal aside, I can’t see how it makes any football sense.

Diamanti was sometimes wasteful and as many of his efforts ended up in Zamora territory as tested the ‘keeper. But he was an attacking player, he wasn’t a ‘safety first’ footballer, he was someone willing to take on defenders or try the unpredictable.

At the very least, he provided a positive option on the bench. Kieron Dyer’s papier-mâché knees will not hold out for more than a couple of months, and two games since joining, Pablo Barrera can not solely be expected to carry the burden of creativity.

I just can’t see how this deal makes any sort of sense. While not a great player, Diamanti was a committed one who on his day could provide a breakthrough to a deadlocked situation. There are plenty of other contenders who should’ve been shown the exit in his stead.

Diamanti wore his heart on his sleeve. Benni McCarthy wears his mayonnaise on his shirt.

7. The Case For The Defence

The need for a settled back four is obvious, but prior to settling, it’s important that the right quartet is selected.

Herita Ilunga is nailed on at left-back. Not through exceptional ability, but just through a lack of alternatives. Fabio Daprela is yet to be given a sustained opportunity and one presumes he’s just not impressing on the training ground.

Ilunga has hardly been in dynamite form to keep Daprela out, although the Congolese merits some time to rediscover the form and appetite he showed before securing a lucrative long-term contract, Range Rover and big house in Chigwell.

Our need for a right-back is well established. Julien Faubert has sought to adapt and won a few people round with his renewed endeavour, but his midfielder’s nature has been cruelly exposed by a lack of positional awareness on more than a few occasions.

Matthew Upson has not been the same player since he had his head turned by the prospect of a regular England place. He has been embarrassingly caught out by some ‘Route 1’ football several times in recent months, and he just doesn’t reassure me as he once did. It’s the absence of that beard.

James Tomkins is dangerously close to joining Mark Noble in the ‘promising youngster cruising to mediocrity’ stakes, and his youth can no longer be used as a reason for under-performance. With two seasons of fairly consistent Premier League involvement behind him, he should be making progress.

Manuel Da Costa is on the fringes, but I see no reason why he cannot command a regular first team slot. Amid a mediocre bunch, it’s a good opportunity for the Portuguese to assert ambition beyond that of a Jeremy Kyle guest.

Tal Ben Haim is a bewildered and bewildering lump, probably still confused as to how what he thought was the Kings Road is now apparently littered with broken glass and swarming with pickpockets. His physical presence is his main asset, which also demands a mobile centreback be used in tandem.

Danny Gabbidon is a conundrum. Experienced and injury-prone, he would be considered merely a standard squad player were it not for that dynamite season in 2006, which has mostly served to leave us wondering if he is ever capable of regaining that form.

Everyone would probably have a different favoured four from this bunch. The important thing is that Avram Grant selects his, drills them incessantly and sticks with them.

Monday, August 23, 2010

West Ham United vs Oxford United: Match Preview - 24/08/2010

1. The Weird And Wonderful World Of Avram Grant

Other than our woeful defending, one thing has struck me thus far about the recent exploits of Mossad’s finest: his mysterious take on reality.

I have not determined whether Grant is yet to fully master the English language, or if his flabby jowls generate sufficient turbulence to distort his view of the world.

Consider his assessment of the Bolton game:

‘I am happy with how the players responded. The defence was good…(?!) On the football side everything went well. We played like a team at the top.’

And how about Villa:

‘We were on top of Villa in the second half before they scored their third.’

This last statement is particularly amusing, essentially translating as: ‘At 2-0 down we controlled the game. Until we went 3-0 down.’

Grant has undoubtedly had a rude-awakening, realising something we’ve all known for years: no matter how good many players look on paper, how respected their reputation, stick them in a West Ham shirt and they become as erratic as an autistic child left out in the sun.

2. Opposition

Oxford United visit this evening for our opening foray into the Carling Cup, a competition we regularly laud as an opportunity for Europe, but rarely progress beyond the 3rd round.

Oxford have recently returned to the Football League proper following their 3-1 victory over York City in the Conference Play-Off Final back in May.

They currently sit in the lower half of League Two, with two draws and a loss from their opening three games.

3. Six Degrees Of Separation

After tonight’s Cup distraction, we face one of the toughest stretches of the season: Man United (a), Chelsea (h), Stoke (a) and tottenham (h).

On current form, it’s far from inconceivable that we will lose all those fixtures, making six losses from our opening six games.

Grant took over at Portsmouth last year after it had taken Pompey eight games to register a point, a deficit they were unable to overcome.

Optimists will say we’re far from that at this early stage, but it is depressing to consider that just two games into the season, it looks increasingly likely that all we can realistically look forward to is another relegation scrap.

4. Picture Book

‘Pssst – Dave. I’ve got three Ann Summers dildos up my arse. And a writ for The H List.’

5. Backwards In Going Forwards

Rumours abound that Alessandro Diamanti is on his way to Brescia, a confounding move.

Diamanti is no DiCanio or Tevez, but he is the only player we have capable of the unexpected.

Despite his occasional wastefulness, I see no reason why he should be sold off and can only presume it is purely a financial decision, but there are plenty of players I’d offload before him.

A midfield of Diamanti, Parker, Hitzlsperger and Barrera would be one of the more promising we have fielded for some time. To jettison a genuine attacking threat is bemusing – it’s not as if we’re ruthless finishers upfront.

6. The Milk Of Human Kindness

Nothing can be said to excuse, explain or improve upon our opening two games this season, so I’m just going to pretend they didn’t happen, but when the present is unsure and scary, it’s always comforting to engage in a little nostalgia.

For no reason I can fathom, I have a particularly sharp recollection of Oxford United winning what was then the Milk Cup Final with a 3-0 victory over QPR back in 1986, later cruelly denied their place in Europe under the Heysel ban.

This star-spangled memory, combined with West Ham’s current malaise has resulted in no small part of me wanting to see Oxford progress this evening.

A win will mean an awful lot more to them than it would to us, and a defeat might just give us the kick up the arse we need before Man United on Saturday.

The mid-80’s era were simpler times: footballers were on a wage akin to that of the working man, West Ham had a title-contending team, to qualify as a ‘celebrity’ you had to display talent, football shirts were plain and functional, moustaches commonplace, and an iPad was something you stuck on your face.

Today’s fast-paced, information-saturated world seems cynically twisted by comparison, prostituted by media giants hell-bent on hyping over-stylised national pastimes to such an extent that they feel entitled to charge us for the spectacle as it’s ‘the best we’ve ever had’.

When the bewildering circus of modern football becomes too much, there is comfort to be had in the wistful remembrance of youth: Battle Of The Planets on a Saturday morning, Routemaster buses, Keith Houchen diving to meet Dave Bennett’s cross, and the brooding sexual menace of Michael Knight.

Such reflection becomes skewed over time, rose-tinted and largely pointless, but this harmless indulgence is an awful lot sweeter than the sour reality of the here and now.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

West Ham 1 - 3 Bolton Wanderers (And Other Ramblings)

1. Sympathy For The Author

Apropos of absolutely nothing. Here is a discussion I had with Mrs Shark last night as I spent 3 hours moving bricks from one part of our garden to another during a Biblical rainstorm. I was doing this because we have workmen coming today to lay some decking:

Me: "God, I'm tired"
Mrs Shark: "Why"
Me: "Well, I just moved about 200 hundred heavy bricks. In the rain"
Mrs Shark: "You shouldn't have left it until the night before then should you?"

Because, obviously, bricks get heavier the longer you leave them in the garden.

Why, I hear you wondering, for the love of God, are you telling us this?

Well, dear reader, because it is either this or write about another home defeat to Bolton. I'm only thinking of your sanity.

2. Is It A Bird

"AKA - Kevin Davies. Alright, go on then YOU explain it"

3. The Opposition

I hate Bolton. "Hate" is a strong word but seriously, I hate them. The footballing equivalent of the Flat Earth Society arrived at Upton Park with confidence flowing, largely at the sight of our trembling back 4, and proceeded to beat us in exactly the same way as they have for the previous 5 years.

I would argue that Owen Coyle's greatest achievement is nothing he has done on the pitch but rather the way he appears to have convinced the nations media that he has substantially altered Bolton's style. The three goals in this game were so obviously Boltonian that they may aswell just copyright them and prevent Blackburn attempting to imitate them when they visit us.

Coyle's drug addled claim that Bolton played some good stuff in this game makes no sense to me at all. The first goal was a traditional hoof, which culminated in Kevin Davies planting a "Bolton kiss" on Matthew Upson and spreading his nose all over his face as he haplessly headed past Green. The second and third goals were scored by Johan Elmander, which in itself suggests a Faustian interference. His first was a thumping unmarked header from a cross and the second was from another long ball and some typically hallucinogenic defending and that lead to a straightforward tap in.

I am not saying that Bolton didn't deserve to win this game. Of course they did, in fact, they always do. But Owen - don't piss on our legs and tell us it's raining. Your team is as uniformly awful as ever and the fact that you once had Jack Wilshere on loan doesn't make you the second coming of Honved.

I mean, seriously, Paul Robinson. No further evidence M'lud.

4. The Opposition Donkey

Johan Elmander has scored 12 (twelve!) goals for Bolton in the 3 years he has been there. Of that enormous total, 3 have come against us, making us one quarter of his victims. As Russell Brand might say : "My eyes! My eyes! Take my eyes but don't let Elmander score against us!".

How difficult is it to concede a goal to Johan Elmander? Incredibly. The only feasible explanation is as follows:

25 mins - your full backs are savaged by a pride of lions
45 mins - your centre halves finally give in to temptation and elope to Gretna Green
60 minutes - your defensive midfielder turns out to be little more than a theory devised by a crazy Russian physicist.

Even then I would be wondering how it would be possible given that the goalkeeper is still there.

Worse still is the fact that Elmander actually should have scored a hat trick but squandered a very early chance, hindered by the dual problem that it was early in the game and that he is Johan Fucking Elmander.

5. The Statistics

Per ESPN the possession was split evenly at 50% although we mustered a heftier 22 goal attempts to the visitors 13. Sadly, of Bolton's 5 goal bound attempts they scored from 3, rendering all other statistical analysis moot.

Perhaps more pertinently, Mark Noble opened our scoring for the season for the third year in a row, which does rather suggest that our strikers haven't been tremendously prolific.

6. Cole Patrol

Poor old Carlton was meekly booed from the pitch after a truly Elmanderian performance that included a horribly scuffed penalty that Jaaskelainen saved by moving all of about 3 muscles.

Quite why he took the penalty is really beyond me given that Noble was on the pitch. More than any other Hammer, Cole is a confidence player, and more than any other keeper Jaaskelainen plays brilliantly against us. Cole hasn't looked overly impressive so far this season and his penalty subsequently resembled nothing so much as Fredi Kanoute's hopeless effort against Arsenal in our relegation season.

I have only ever seen Cole take one penalty, against Burnley last year, which he side footed straight down the middle in a thoroughly unimpressive matter. Mark Noble, by contrast, is confident enough to have taken plenty of spot kicks for both West Ham and England and been largely successful. Most importantly, he is strong enough to survive missing them which Cole clearly isn't, having seen his woeful performance after the miss.

I simply do not believe we should be endorsing a penalty taking policy of "He who earns it, spurns it".

7. Not So Dyer After All

Not too much on this point, as I have had my fingers burned by Kieron Dyer before, but it was somewhat exciting to see Dyer buzzing about on the left hand side. His direct predecessor was Luis Boa Morte, who had looked as effective as ever, so Dyer's direct running and clever passing was a welcome relief. He very nearly opened the scoring but was denied by a marvellous Jaaskelainen save, and faded soon after.

On the opposite side, Pablo Barrera was equally lively, even as his legs were being scythed away by Paul Robinson. In home games against lesser opposition these two are a decent option but I would be fairly concerned if we were relying on them away from Upton Park, what with our defence currently attempting to redefine the word "porous".

8. The Myth Of Our Difficult Early Start

All I hear about these days is how unkind the fixture list has been to us this year. Bear in mind that at this juncture we have played only Aston Villa (a) and Bolton (h). In last years Premier League season only three teams (Birmingham, Stoke, Portsmouth) didn't gain at least a point from those same fixtures.

Now our next two games are Man Utd (a) and Chelsea (h) which are, of course, incredibly tough and rather obvious looking defeats, but I think it is rather putting the horse before the cart to suggest that our first two games were all that tricky.

Of course, having lost those games with some largely insipid play to blame, we now look forward to run of games that takes in the aforementioned defeats and then Stoke (a) followed by spurs (h). Perhaps the worst part about this is that by the time we play Fulham it is entirely possible we will already be well adrift at the bottom of the league without a point (as opposed to being pointless, like Fulham).

And on that cheery note...

9. Department Of It Could Be Worse

"Ladies and gentleman, please welcome your new West Ham manager...Phil Brown!"

10. Ciao Alessandro

Unusually we had to wait for quite a while before our first sale of the summer as mercurial sort Alessandro Diamanti was sold to Brescia for £1.8m. A lot of people, my illustrious writing partner included, have been most put out by this, claiming it represents a loss of £4.8m on the original £6m outlay.

It strikes me that anyone who thinks we actually paid that much for Diamanti is largely insane. Seriously, you think we sold Collins for £5m and then paid £6m for Diamanti. As in, a net loss on a player? How long have you people been following West Ham! When have we ever done this? Don't you remember the whole "Oh look we sold Craig Bellamy for £15m but we're spending £9m on Savio. Well, when I say £9m I really mean £3m plus a further £6m if he turns out to be half dolphin."

West Ham were owned by asset stripping creditors when Diamanti was brought in. I have no doubt that the actual figure was significantly lower than £6m, but that the Club was perfectly happy for you to think it was that high because it made you think they were still investing in the team rather than paying off debt.

As for his value to the team, pfft. I don't particularly feel that fussed at losing a one paced, one footed player with no real position and questionable fitness. There was a certain renegade aspect to Diamanti's play that I quite enjoyed, but his departure will have next to no bearing on the outcome of our season.

Worrying about Diamanti's departure would be like the captain of the Titanic turning to his First Mate and saying "Tell you what Bill, I'm just not sure whether the paint on this boat is water resistant enough..."

And besides..... Kieron Dyer abides.

Friday, August 20, 2010

West Ham United vs Bolton Wanderers: Match Preview - 20/08/2010

1. Here’s One I Made Earlier

Hello everyone. Hope you all avoided the World Cup and enjoyed a few brief months of respite before last week's ruthless wake-up call.

I was all set to begin this new season with the breathless, wide-eyed gusto of a Blue Peter presenter.

Outwardly full of enthusiasm at the prospect of making a kitchen utensil holder from an old shoe-box, or perhaps riding at some speed through big puddles in a tank driven by the Territorial Army, I would inwardly conceal my drug habit and self-harming.

But then West Ham contrived to shame themselves on day one, folding as they did so many times last season, as incisive as Fox News with a defence as frail as an ageing Rocky Balboa.

2. The Opposition

In seasons past, I have lamented how Bolton Wanderers are consistently able to beat us despite our theoretical superiority. Well no more.

There are only so many times one can cling to the illusion of competence in the face of consistent evidence to the contrary. Just ask Dean Gaffney.

There are rumours that Bolton boss, Owen Coyle, will employ a more pleasing brand of football this season in an effort to appease the long-suffering home support and to boost attendances to more than 7.

There was little evidence to suggest this in their stalemate with Fulham last week, but should they mix it up on Saturday and we manage to nick a win, there will be those who would justifiably argue against Wanderers adopting a different style when they so obviously have the measure of their opponents.

Kevin Davies will once again press his claim for the Ballon d’Or by scoring at will against us, while still making time to augment the rate of demolition over in Stratford with his pendulous elbows.

3. Cheap Visual Gag #1

4. History

... something written by the victors, hence the Lancastrian-leaning dominance of recent entries. Although, unlike the old adage suggests, this account is also entirely accurate.

5. Olympic Effort

The Club are putting the finishing touches to a proposal to frequent the Olympic Stadium post-2012, along with some 150 other applicants.

Despite an initial openness to this suggestion, I have become increasingly sceptical the more I hear the nuts and bolts of it.

Under West Ham’s plan, the athletic stadium capacity will be reduced from 80,000 to some 58,000. This invites the prospect of empty seats come matchday seeing as we rarely sell out Upton Park’s 36,000 consistently.

David Gold recently took time out from pawing at the Hammerettes in his criminally short silk kimono to confirm that we have the option of expanding The Boleyn to around 42,000. While I feel the ideal capacity would be more towards the 50-mark, I’d rather a packed 42,000 than 10,000 empty seats.

Vampiric smut baron, David Sullivan, is adamant we will fill the proposed new stadium and has boasted of its ability to enable the cheapest matchday tickets in the Premiership.

Unlike Arsenal or Man United, we do not have the appeal to attract the ‘tourist trade’ element necessary to regularly fill 60,000, and so ticket prices would certainly have to come down if the Club are to entice sufficient supporters in from rural Essex and the coast. But with the chief aim of increased capacity being increased revenue, would slashed ticket prices negate the perceived benefit of moving altogether?

These considerations aside, my main concern is David Gold’s recent U-turn on accommodating a running track around the pitch. This is anathema to me and I suspect to the majority of West Ham fans.

The Two Davids initially cited the inclusion of said track as a deal-breaker, an assertion I was relieved to hear. But now it seems that, having visited the site, Gold has been converted thanks to the “sightlines” afforded by the stadium design.

"Sightlines." Hmmm.

If you stand on Waterloo Bridge and look east, on a clear day you can see Canary Wharf far in the distance. A truly remarkable sightline, but I wouldn’t fancy my chances of being able to make out Julien Faubert in Canada Square missing the entire Citigroup tower from 4-yards. I might get hit by his effort, but pay £45 for the privilege? I don’t think so.

When the Doc Martens Stand was first opened, moving the pitch to accommodate the replacement of the West Stand resulted in a chasm opening up between the Chicken Run and the touchline. Small potatos compared to what a running track would impose, but it had the effect of irrevocably diluting what had once been the most pleasingly claustrophobic and intimidating section of the stadium.

I am far from convinced this will be a beneficial move for us. The ‘once in a lifetime opportunity' for East End rejuvenation will go ahead with or without our tenancy, and our obvious need for the 12th-man effect of the crowd may well be sacrificed for the rose-tinted legacies of a couple of old pervs.

6. Cheap Visual Gag #2

Avram Grant is asked whether he thinks we could nick a point on Saturday

7. Form And Function

It’s anyone’s guess what eleven will line-up on Saturday afternoon, although you would hope some fairly radical changes will have been made.

It seems as if Grant fancies Cole upfront as a lone striker, so long as he is adequately supported from midfield – something which so obviously didn’t happen at Villa Park.

With an abundance of midfielders more adept in our own half than the opposition’s, the introduction of a Kieron Dyer, Pablo Barrera or Alessandro Diamanti is sorely needed.

In squad terms, I would be loathe to see Frank Nouble go out on loan again this season as we are not overly blessed in attack, with an over-reliance on Cole again in prospect. Nouble is worth regular stints on the bench and a chance to prove himself after a few impressively combative cameos last season.

Since taking up Dean Ashton’s challenge to dedicate himself to the ‘nothing but butter-coated margarine’ diet, Benni McCarthy has condemned himself to 10-minute spells of wheezing on the sidelines as he tries to get out of his tracksuit. And Type 2 Diabetes.

8. "..."

I’m so dispassionate about the outcome of what is only our second game of the season that I’m seriously considering not staying up ‘til 2am to watch us lose 2-1.

Perhaps expectations were too high last week, and an assumption that we wouldn’t immediately revert to last season’s wretched type, misguided.

Let’s all hope we’re not so jaded that we can’t retain even a flicker of anticipation come the final whistle on at least a few occasions this season.

To paraphrase a debonair, inter-galactic maverick who played by his own rules: Come on Avram, old buddy – don’t let me down.