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

Thursday, October 27, 2016

West Ham 2 - 1 Chelsea (And Other Ramblings)

1. Shelter From The Storm

Welcome to WestHamWorld - it's mad here

Maybe you've been following the rather unsettling reboot of Westworld. It's hard to discern what's real from the fabricated, in a world where fantasies seem to intertwine with reality in the Wild West. And thus you have a reasonable description of tonight's events at the London Stadium, albeit with slightly less Thandie Newton, much to my dismay.

2. Idiot Wind

My immediate thought upon getting home and reading the various reports flying in is that I have no idea what to make of any of it. Some seem to think that tonight was a nothing little dust up which wouldn't have been out of place at the average East End wedding, whilst others seem to feel it was the worst thing seen in a stadium since Rod Stewart sang at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony and wasn't sure what key to sing "Maggie May" in, so just decided to hit all of them in the first verse.

On a night when we should be able to celebrate our first proper, genuine moment at the London Stadium, we instead have to face facts. There are some right fucking idiots who support West Ham. 

Sure, Chelsea have plenty as well and they were on display tonight but we really do have more than our fair share too. In the Trevor Brooking Lower Stand there is a wide tarpaulin that separates the fans and a beefed up row of stewards to keep the peace. With West Ham leading 2-0 in the closing minutes, the fans in that neighbourhood therefore took it upon themselves to stage the World Posturing Championships and then started lobbing whatever they could find at each other. This started with Gustave Flaubert quotes, no doubt, but then progressed on to water bottles, toilet rolls and the odd seat. 

Mensa - West Ham Branch

Jacob Steinberg of The Guardian wrote a good piece on tonight's events, and I defer to his view which was a fair bit closer than mine. I was up the other end, and whilst it mostly looked like the wet dream of a few hundred amoeba who spent their youth imagining Danny Dyer films to be social commentary, it also can't be denied that this is now the story of the evening. Although given that the media spent all week telling us what was going to happen, I guess it can't be too surprising that it has been decided that "this" - whatever that is - did indeed happen.  

It also can't be denied that the biggest fuckwit of the night - and let me assure you that the competition for this accolade was fierce - was the Chelsea organism who pushed past a steward and bounced over the tarpaulin towards the West Ham end before getting too close and turning round and retreating back to the away fans. How you view this will probably depend largely on the shade of blue you wear on your sleeve. 

So instead of headlines about the cracking atmosphere or the nice little unbeaten run we are now on, it's all about the trouble inside the stadium once again. 

And just for the record - none of this is the fault of stewards. I keep hearing this, and I keep failing to understand how or why stewards are responsible for grown men - and it is always men - throwing things or attempting to fight other people. Most of tonight's problems inside the ground would have been solved by having a Police presence, but that doesn't make any of it the fault of stewards. 

3. Desolation Row

I've also got to point out that the area where all this trouble started is the place where you generally get put if you obtain tickets in the ballot. I've been in there with my 8 year old daughter and my 80 year old uncle. And it's right next to the away fans. 

On Saturday, I shit you not, the Club put the mascots in there. In full kit, and waving foam fingers and eating hot dogs. Right next to the away fans. 

I'm beginning to wonder if the seating arrangements at our stadium aren't part of some bizarre re-imagined Stanford Prison Experiment.

4. Tangled Up In Blue

So while the intellectual heavyweights were debating each other across Karren's No Man's Land, somewhere below them a game broke out. And what a game it was. 

Here, finally, at last was a West Ham we could believe in. The stadium rocked and rolled as we went toe to toe with Chelsea and eventually dropped them shortly after half time. 

In truth, the visitors probably started brighter with Willian, Chalobah and Kante moving the ball adroitly between the lines and threatening repeatedly. We therefore did the only sensible thing and scored. 

Noble and Lanzini worked space for a cross from the left and Cheikou Kouyate thumped in a header from miles out. In fact, there were people in the Upper Tier of the Trevor Brooking Stand watching through opera glasses who were closer to the goal than Kouyate but it didn't stop him. The ball flew past a startled Begovic and from that point on we assumed control and didn't relinquish it. 

What was particularly good tonight was that it was obvious what Bilic was trying to do. The wing backs gave athleticism and width - [insert standard comment about how valuable Aaron Cresswell is to us] - and Noble and Obiang did yeoman work in the middle to free up Payet and Lanzini, all while a resurgent Winston Reid tidied up everything that came anywhere near him. 

5. Hurricane

The star man, however, was Michail Antonio, who terrorised Chelsea's back 3 relentlessly. Whilst David Luiz might be a Sky Sports whipping boy, he was actually the most capable of their defenders tonight. John Terry looked every one of his 36 years and Gary Cahill looked to have all the pace and organisation of a Brexit. 

Antonio's very presence in this role just serves to highlight once again what a dismal summer we had in the transfer market, but he performed excellently here and frequently broke free of his markers to create chances for his support runners. I don't really think it's a sustainable idea to have him play this role long term, but for tonight it worked brilliantly. 

6. I Believe In You

Step forward Edmilson Fernandes, who has now played on either side of this system and excelled on both occasions. Here tonight he was even more impressive than he was against Sunderland, given that he was on his natural right side, and he roamed forward impressively whilst doing enough defensively to keep Oscar quiet. Truthfully that wasn't difficult as Chelsea could have placed an actual Oscar statue out there and it would have offered more than the Brazilian. 

Ironically, having not used his left foot at all on Saturday, here he cut inside just after the break and rifled in a second with his swinger, and thereafter Chelsea gave up. 

And thus, having played impressively well, the youngster completed his initiation into West Ham lore by getting injured. He's one of us now folks. 

"A young West Ham player does well. Now he must receive medical treatment" - Magna Carta, 1215

7. You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go

Misunderstood Chelsea uber-wanker, Diego Costa came on with half an hour to go here and proceeded to mix the sublime with the outright ludicrous. One turn and run at Reid was brilliantly done, and drew the New Zealander into getting booked. 

And then...he fell down. Again, and again and again. I had to check he wasn't dressed up as a Pound Coin and hadn't come along in fancy dress as sterling for Halloween. Eden Hazard came on and joined in, perhaps dressed up as Britain's credit rating although to be fair, he was also absolutely clattered by Noble within about 12 seconds of coming on. 

That earned him a yellow card. The same as this. Uber-wanker.

Never a sending off

8. Boots Of Spanish Leather

When Pedro Obiang was introduced to the side, I expected that he might deign himself to do some of the things that appeared to be beyond Noble and Kouyate, like tackling and passing to other West Ham players. 

He did that, and immediately solidified our midfield to the point that Bilic felt able to drop Kouyate back into defence rather than allowing him to continue charging around everywhere like a racehorse bolting out of the gate having been prodded with an electric toothbrush. 

What I didn't expect was his great range of passing and ball striking ability. He hit one screamer of a shot that Begovic did well to save, and his willingness to spread the play was a big factor in allowing our wing backs to get high up the pitch. At this point it seems to me he should clearly be inked into the starting line up on a permanent basis. 

He also tweeted this tonight, which makes about as much sense as anything ever said by Donald Trump, which is to say it's impenetrable but I love him anyway:

"We are a team that struggles to prove to herself that she is able to reach by any purpose important we want. #coyi#" - @Obiang14

I mean, that's fucking gibberish but it's in his second language and the man never loses a tackle so Pedro, godspeed with your tweeting my friend - you still make more sense than most of the Clubs official statements. 

9. Bring It On Home

Ballon D'Or nominee Dimitri Payet played for West Ham tonight and did his normal thing of generally looking a cut above everybody else whilst playing for West Ham and being a Ballon D'Or nominee. Not that there is anything unusual about that. 

10. Oxford Town

I think we might need to prepare ourselves for bad news about Reece Oxford. I follow him on Twitter - which isn't a start to a sentence that inspires confidence, I know - and he has been saying some odd stuff recently. It's mostly said in text speak and without context, and he's a 17 year old kid so can generally be assumed to be talking bollocks, and yet it still doesn't feel great. 

He's barely had much of an opportunity since his stellar turn at Arsenal last year and yet also hasn't gone out on loan. Clearly he feels he should be playing more, and when you watch a team defy all the known laws of the Universe and concede 4 to West Brom, that isn't an unreasonable position. He is stalling on signing a new deal and there are lots of rumours that Man City are circling. 

My hope, my only hope really, is that he looks at Jack Rodwell and sees what a spell in the City reserves can do for a young career. It's Halloween and therefore a good time to think about what scares you. And this should scare you Reece. 

Sunderland - where good footballers go to die

Monday, October 24, 2016

West Ham 1 - 0 Sunderland (And Other Ramblings)

1. Reid-emption

"Andy decided he'd been here just about long enough. Andy did like he was told, buffed those shoes to a high mirror shine. The guards simply didn't notice. Neither did I... I mean, seriously, how often do you really look at a mans shoes? Andy crawled to freedom through five hundred yards of shit smelling foulness I can't even imagine, or maybe I just don't want to. Five hundred yards... that's the length of five football fields, just shy of half a mile." Ellis Boyd "Red" Redding - The Shawshank Redemption

After watching 94 minutes of this. #jesuisandy

2. The End Is A Beginning

Let's start at the end. After 94 minutes of a slow descent into madness, we took advantage of a full on Sunderland retreat and finally rustled up a winner from a last gasp corner. 

Now it's been an actual ploy of ours in recent weeks to drill low corners into the box for Angelo Ogbonna - our left footed centre back - to run on to and attempt a first time right footed shot. We've actually been doing that deliberately. 

This worked so well against Southampton that the ball ended up going backwards, was sliced up in the air by two more of our players, Dimitri Payet fell down a mine, Manuel Lanzini crashed a forklift truck into a tree and a GIF was born that would be replayed forever. 

Today, with our last chance of the game we therefore fashioned a chance for our other centre back Winston Reid. With careful planning Noble and Payet supplied the ball to Reid with his back to goal outside the box - just as we all dreamed they would

Naturally, the New Zealander did a quick Cruyff turn and smashed it in to a spot no bigger than a Rita Heyworth poster with his wrong foot because - well, Sunderland - and everybody danced in the aisles. But let's not kid ourselves here - this was the footballing equivalent of shaking a mans hand and stealing his watch. 

3. This Is A House This Is Not A Home

Jonathan Liew of the Telegraph wrote an interesting report on this match. He made the point that a house doesn't really become a home until you have a few memories in there, and I think there is some merit to that. 

There has barely been anything for us at the London Stadium other than misery thus far, which probably doesn't help either the players or fans. There is no emotional muscle memory of anything particularly positive. It's why this game with Chelsea on Wednesday feels so important - like it could be the first truly memorable event for all of us. 

I know when I think about going to games at the new stadium I don't have any of the innate confidence that I had going to Upton Park. There I believed that we had a home advantage, and that it was actually worth something. Nowadays I consider it a success that we got through this game without that escaped gorilla getting on to the pitch, drinking 5 litres of Capri Sun and crushing Adrian in a hug. 

More of a threat to Adrian than Sunderland

4. Back And Forth

This game was actually fascinating from a tactical standpoint. We started with the same 3-4-2-1 formation that worked well at Palace for 40 minutes and I genuinely think this took David Moyes by surprise. 

Like me he probably looked at our squad and couldn't fathom who could actually play competently at left wing back. Enter Edmilson Fernandes, who did a passable impression of Aaron Cresswell for about 25 minutes. Sadly, for all his lung busting efforts going forward, his one footedness meant he used all of his progressive positions to cut back inside on to his right foot. This worked alright to start with, as Payet and Lanzini were enjoying oceans of space through the middle, and Payet alone could have had a hat trick by the time half an hour had passed. On the other side, Antonio was basically playing as a winger and were it not for the fact that he's as useful with a cross as a vampire we would have been at least two up by the break. 

Moyes, however, woke up at this point and switched Duncan Watmore to the left to push Antonio back. This shut down one of our better outlets and also allowed Patrick Van Aanholt to get involved in the game. This doesn't sound significant but the left back is actually Sunderland's best attacking player. That sounds mental, but consider that the bloke in front of him is an engineering graduate called Duncan and it probably doesn't sound so weird. 

Thereafter, Sunderland were a bit more competitive and we slipped back into a state of inertia that resulted in long directionless periods of play. That oscillation in tempo is probably one reason why the crowd have struggled to get into games at home - the team are wildly inconsistent even from one passage of play to the next. 

Anyway, with us drifting along and Sunderland sort of looking dangerous without actually creating anything, Bilic responded. On came Sofiane Feghouli for Antonio and he pinned Van Aanholt back, handing us back the initiative. Sadly, this didn't lead to much but I at least found it encouraging that Bilic seemed able to adapt during the game to answer what his opposite number was doing. 

Spare a thought for Antonio though, who is staying true to an age old West Ham tradition by getting called up for England and then immediately losing the form that got him there. 

5. Get With The Flow

So one thing I found at bit odd was the amount of times we seemed to lose our defensive shape. Some of this will be down to having not a single fit full back and thus playing three players out of position in our back five. This confusion seemed a little unnecessary to me, however, given the fairly obvious nature of defending against Sunderland. 

I have thus created this easy to follow flowchart which can be laminated and stuck down the shinpad of any confused Premier League defender. 

6. Simone, Simone

Another day, another fruitless day at the office for Simone Zaza. Now I've been following that blueprint for twenty years in my job, but I work in the Financial Services sector in the City of London where being shit at your job has never yet been an impediment to anything. 

Sadly, Zaza isn't a data cudgeller like me, and even though he produced a rather nifty overhead kick at one point he still never looked likely to score in this game. We are fast approaching the point where we'll have to make a decision on whether to sign him permanently, and in a curious way I suspect the Club might like him not to score just to make that decision clear cut. 

At this juncture, the worst case scenario is that he scores twice right before we have to make the call. I have no doubt that moving to a foreign country and dealing with a new language, a new league, a new tactical set up (or lack of one, depending on how you view our start to the season) and a new set of opponents is not an easy transition. But for all the effort he puts in, he's not offering a goalscoring threat and you can't pay €25m for someone who runs about a lot. 

At present, per the brilliant Hilltop Analytics, we are scoring just 7.7% of shots we take (second worst in the league behind Southampton), and at least part of this in down to the fact that we carry no threat from our strikers. Some of it is down to the fact that we aren't taking our shots from the right place with too many long shots, or attempts from wide areas. Again though - when you aren't dangerous through the middle this is what happens. 

Look at who we rely on for goals these days: Antonio, Payet, Lanzini and now Reid. That's not a sustainable strategy. 

7. Regression Is Our Friend

Going into this game, we had conceded a league highest 16% of the shots taken on our goal. You don't need me to tell you that's terrible. It's one in six, which is like having a lottery draw to decide which of the George Lucas Star Wars films to watch on a Friday night and picking The Phantom Menace every single time. 

This will have gone down a little now with this clean sheet, but we can reasonably expect it to keep going down because even with no actual defenders to choose from we still aren't the worst defence in the league. Things will get better there. Unlike this.

8. Stadium Blues (Slight Return)

So apparently there was yet more trouble outside the ground again today. I'm getting a bit more wary of these sorts of stories because they mostly come via Twitter and therefore are no different to things you overhear in a pub.

I was thinking a bit about this on Saturday though. It seems obvious to most that away fans should be held in the ground after games to allow the home fans to disperse and prevent most of this friction. And yet this doesn't happen.

In thinking about it I began to wonder if it isn't simply a case that holding fans in the stadium wouldn't actually do any good, because it takes so long for everybody to get away from the ground? Driving is basically impossible, so most people come via train or tube. With 50,000 people to get rid of, it simply cannot be done as quickly as it used to happen at Upton Park.

There, with the myriad side streets and ways out from the ground, people could disappear away from the area easily, and away fans could be frog marched back to the station by the Police with very little hassle.

At the London Stadium all that would happen by holding away fans back is that you'd piss them off - especially if they've conceded a 94th minute goal - and then you'd be releasing them out to.....the back of a very long queue.

I'm not saying this is definitely the case or that I have any inside knowledge on the topic but as I was thinking about it, that made a sort of sense to me. As such, the fans are all being released together and scuffles are ensuing because that's what apparently happens when people see other people wearing different colour scarves. Something to keep an eye on for Wednesday.

9. The American Dream

As an aside, I went to the NFL game today at Twickenham and it was an absolute disaster getting out and back to the station, even though I was in a box and had the luxury of waiting behind and letting the crowds die down a bit. Don't be envious - the only beer was Budweiser which really should be illegal to serve to humans. Give it to gorillas if it absolutely has to be "brewed".

I don't think Stratford is great from a transport perspective, but the reality is that no stations are big enough to cope with funnelling that many people out in a short space of time. I could probably do without David Gold telling me that West Ham have the best transport links in the country though. Of course you'd fucking think that David - you get chauffeured to games in your Bentley. I suspect that is an ever-so-slightly more luxurious experience than squeezing on to the 18.02 train back to Romford with hundreds of other fans and large numbers of nonplussed Westfield shoppers.

Or, as was the case on Saturday, going on a replacement bus service where, much like Bladerunner, I saw things that you people can barely imagine.

10. Some Houses Are Homes

I know you don't come here for my political opinion - but in case you missed it, I found this a fascinating and uplifting story.

Rio Ferdinand, Bobby Zamora and Mark Noble are helping to build social housing in deprived areas in London and the South East. I don't fully understand either the logistics or the potential return on their investment from that article, but even if it isn't entirely philanthropic then it's at least partly philanthropic, which seems to be a good deal more philanthropy than one sees from the average highly paid sportsman.

And with that I shall depart. Here's a picture of Mark Noble looking lovingly at a fish to act as a counterpoint to any distaste you may feel about social housing.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Crystal Palace 0 - 1 West Ham (And Other Ramblings)

1. Al Get Over It

Every now and again, you don't need a caption

2. Don't Start

I happen to know that the readers of this blog are discerning, cultural titans who generally don't lower themselves to certain topics. But no doubt you will remember the Irish musical phenomenon Boyzone, who swept through the charts in the late 90's whilst producing the kind of music that would adorn elevators and 99p stores for years to come.

What you may not know, is that their start in the music industry came when their manager brilliantly decided to book them to appear on Irish chat show "The Late, Late Show" despite having no actual music to perform.

Undeterred, they stopped off on the way to borrow their outfits from the travelling male stripper troupe "Robin Hood vs West Side Story" and proceeded to do this:

I realise that some of you may be reading this on a mobile device on a train or in an office, and I can assure you that whilst sound would certainly enhance the viewing experience - it is absolutely not required.

Anyway, going into this game at Palace - we had gotten off to a worst start than Boyzone.

3. The Win Is The Thing

If you were watching a weather satellite on Saturday evening you probably would have seen something resembling a mushroom cloud over East London, as thousands of Hammers fans let out huge sighs of relief simultaneously at about 7.30pm.

(You might also have seen a slow moving, unidentified flying object - but we'll get to Benteke's penalty later, because it was brilliant).

The value of this win cannot be understated for all sorts of reasons. It rescued us from our worst start since John Lyall was in charge, and finally meant that we had accrued more points than Avram Grant had done by the same stage during the ill fated 10/11 relegation season. With a murderers row of fixtures coming up in November, and a spate of injuries due soon, we desperately needed to get some points on the board.

If you read The H List Round Table during the week, then you'll have seen that there were some differing opinions on how long Bilic will last if things don't improve. My own take is that Gold and Sullivan will be reluctant to get rid of him without things getting quite a bit worse yet. After this weekends results we are just a point behind Leicester, for example, who nobody thinks are in crisis - although it should be pointed out that we have had a much easier set of fixtures than them so far.

And let it not be forgotten - Sunderland and Hull exist. Whilst this is extremely bad news for anyone attempting to argue that the Premier League is the best in the world, it is very good news for East London teams who have messed up their preseason.

4. The Hold Steady

So whilst Sullivan and Gold have demonstrated far too much patience in the past (Hi Avram!), I suspect they will ride out the storm with Bilic. Part of this seems to be a desire to be seen as "proper" football owners. Read any below the line comment about West Ham these days (and plenty of boardroom comments from days gone by) and it will be bound to make some disparaging comment about the "porn barons" and their "Stadio el Dildo".

Now, perhaps it's my own fault for reading the comments about anything written online, but this always amuses me as I suspect a venn diagram of those who write comments on the internet and those who use Sullivan's porn probably looks something like this:
Anyway, I don't think Bilic gets fired anytime soon.

5. Formation Flying

So, to the game! A win! I think, I can't entirely be sure as we haven't had one since those heady days when the Pound was worth more than the Euro.

There were a number of significant factors in this victory. This started when Bilic looked deep into his magic 8 ball, and deployed a 3-4-2-1 formation which seemed designed to achieve a number of points.

Firstly, Aaron Cresswell returned and was excellent until he was sent off for presumably shooting Martin Atkinson's dog at some point in the past. With doubts about his ability to last the game, the three at the back system allowed some extra cover in behind Cresswell as he rampaged forward.

It also allowed Bilic to get all of Kouyate, Noble and Obiang into the side which appears to be something he is keen to do. Kouyate therefore dropped back, and did excellently in helping to subdue Benteke.

And lastly by using two holding midfielders, neither Lanzini or Payet were troubled by any defensive duties. As such, for the first 40 minutes both roamed freely about the place dictating the game and generally leading Palace a merry dance.

This led to our excellent goal, which came after a lovely interchange between Payet and Cresswell, and a fizzing cross that Lanzini slotted home excellently. Seriously, watch Payet's foot movement before he plays Cresswell in - I haven't seen a side step so gorgeous since that Boyzone video.

Our passing had a purpose for the first 40 minutes that has been sorely lacking all season. Our midfield got close to Zaza, and tactically we outmanoeuvred Palace, loathe as Pardew was to admit it. For the first time all season it felt like our manager was doing things that were giving us the best chance to win the game rather than just randomly throwing names in to a hat and then putting the highest scorer in the league at right back, I mean, he still technically did that but we won so I don't really know what to say about that anymore.

6. Paying The Penalty  

That good start didn't continue, however, beyond the 43rd minute when Palace were awarded a penalty. This initially came about when Michail Antonio was caught the wrong side of Wilfried Zaha in a carbon copy of the incident at Chelsea last year. Martin Atkinson chose to ignore their coming together, but did punish Angelo Ogbonna who went to clear the loose ball and in doing so caught Benteke.

I thought it was a bit soft, but it didn't matter as the Belgian picked himself up and then proceeded to take a penalty that channelled Simone Zaza's effort in the summer. He took the kind of run up that you'd normally associate with a man wearing trainers on an ice rink and then casually placed it high and wide and somewhere into the stratosphere over Croydon.

"That was shit"

We then had a bit of penalty turmoil ourselves as Cresswell should have been awarded one when he was fouled by Cabaye in the area. Referee Martin Atkinson, whose view may have been blocked by Antonio, decided not to award a foul and instead booked the left back for diving. 30 seconds later he then penalised him again, this time for a non-existent foul on Zaha and off he trudged. It was a shocking decision on three fronts. It denied us a chance to go 2-0 up, made us play for 15 minutes with ten men and means we have to play Sunderland next week without Cresswell.

The latter point may end up being moot - Sunderland aren't really a football team, they're a group of well meaning performance artists - but it will at least mean we can't play this same formation again. We simply don't have two players mobile enough to operate as wing backs.

7. Simple Simone

Perhaps inspired by Benteke's homage to his penalty taking efforts, Simone Zaza ran himself into the ground. And that was admirable and helpful to the cause. But while his pressing and tracking back were excellent, he is beginning to resemble a Swiss Army knife - useful for all sorts of ancillary things but not actually any good at the things you'd ideally want a knife to do.

After half time, Palace rearranged tactically and we lost a lot of our attacking threat. By the time Zaza left the field, replaced by Calleri, he hadn't actually fashioned a decent chance.

That said, Payet still had the best chance of the half, and we ended up seeing out the game with the sort of comfort one would normally associate with Alan Pardew in a Spanish nightclub.

8. Transfer Blues (Slight Return)

One thing that jumped out about this game was that we started with only one summer signing - Zaza. I've mentioned this before, but our signings have largely been woeful and it probably wasn't a coincidence that our best performance of the season came with last years team.

There is a fascinating interview that all Hammers fans should listen to at Analytics FC with Rory Campbell, who is West Ham's Head of Technical Analysis. It is wide ranging and talks a lot about analysis in football, and how it is applied at West Ham. We have a curious structure, with Bilic alongside Campbell, Tony Henry - our Head of Recruitment - and David Sullivan in there somewhere too.

You can almost tell who is responsible for each buy. Tore is clearly a Bilic player, Calleri is a prototypical Sullivan buy given his propensity for buying promising, but ultimately shit, South American strikers. There are also links between West Ham and Deportivo Maldonado through former board member Graham Shear, which seems like a Sullivan staple.

Elsewhere, Nordtveidt and Feghouli look like picks from the analytics department, and Fernandes and Fletcher look like "potential" signings from the scouting department. Others, like Zaza and Arbeloa just look like confused, desperation buys.

They actually remind me of a story from when I was a kid. My best mate was a huge basketball fan, and was slightly obsessed with the US Olympic team, otherwise known as the "Dream Team". Back in those days TV coverage wasn't what it is now, so one Christmas he asked for the video chronicling the Dream Team's gold medal success at the Barcelona Olympics. This request was passed on to his nan, who dutifully went to Our Price and wrapped this up for his big Christmas Day surprise:

Not Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson

So my only request is that if we decide to get a new striker for Christmas, we don't let my mate's nan do the shopping. She already got Simone Zaza and Alexandre Lacazette mixed up. 

9. A Moment On The Lips 

Mark Noble has had the same haircut since he was 21 and will have it forever more, despite the fact that it won't actually be age appropriate for him until he is 75.

Imagine my surprise then, we he whipped off his shirt on Saturday to reveal a set of lips tattooed on his lower abdomen. I have nothing to add here, except that I now feel like there are probably hidden depths to Mark Noble that I had never previously detected.

10. It's Al About The Team

This is genuinely a picture of Alan Pardew celebrating a goal with a colleague

Friday, October 14, 2016

The H List Special - West Ham Writers Roundtable

Ah, international breaks. How I hate you.

Now Roy Hodgson is gone, it’s just not the same. Say what you like about Roy, but typing his name into Google images is one of life’s great pleasures. 

Therein lies an unimaginable treasure trove of pictures where Roy appears incapable of pulling a face that resembles that of any other human being on Earth. The man was a remarkable subject for photographers and I, for one, miss him greatly. 

Seriously, what was happening here?

For us England fans left behind, however, these international breaks are essentially the same as queuing at a Drive-Thru McDonalds. Tedious, not enjoyable and fuelled by a desire to experience something that you know will briefly excite you, but ultimately disappoint you in a really, really predictable fashion. And then, despite swearing you’re never going to be so stupid again, you still find yourself back there in a few months.

I hate you Jordan Henderson, but I would also absolutely like to "Go Large" with my meal.

So, unable to face another McSturridge sandwich, I cast my net around and asked some fellow West Ham fans – who also happen to be professional writers – what they have made of our season so far. 

Those who were kind enough not to delete my begging emails were:

Terry Land 

Terry (@AmoCS) is a former journalist for The Sun and The Mirror who writes on West Ham at www.moxycoxy.wordpress.com. He has a season ticket in the Bobby Moore Lower Stand, is a huge fan of Mark E Smith, and would greatly welcome your recommendations for songs by The Fall on Twitter.

Emily Pulham

Emily (@makingthemarrow) is a writer for Blowing Bubbles, Everything Theatre and www.makingthemarrow.com. She has a season ticket in the East Stand and got engaged this week in Iceland. The country, not the shop.

Dan Silver

Dan (@dansilver_) is a journalist and writer who launched and edited the Daily Mirror’s MirrorFootball website and served as Deputy Head of Publishing for The Sun. He has a season ticket in the East Stand and is going to be buying a Zaza shirt this Christmas whether he likes it or not.

Jacob Steinberg 

Jacob (@jacobsteinberg) is a writer for The Guardian and Blizzard. He is a former West Ham season ticket holder and based on his first answer, owns a pair of skin tight white jeans.

All very graciously consented to answer a few questions from me on how they were enjoying the new season, and the move to our gilded palace of sin.

The H List: How would you characterise our start to the season?

Dan Silver: Given the unprecedented expectation both on and off the pitch going into this season, it’s hard to imagine how either element could have gone much worse. Which is about as good a definition of ‘the West Ham way’ as you could hope to find.

Jacob Steinberg: West Hammish. Three and a half years ago, I wrote a tongue in cheek Fiver about how badly the move was going to go for West Ham after they were given the stadium (if you haven't heard of the Fiver, it's the Guardian's free and unfunny daily teatime email), drawing on the miserable experience of supporting this ludicrous club, with its unerring ability to shoot itself in the foot just when it seems that everything's about to click.

I lived through the Manny Omoyinmi debacle, the Dean Ashton gut-punch, the Tevez and Mascherano shambles, and I concluded that "West Ham will start the 2016-17 season in the Championship, Phil Brown will be their manager and the turnstiles won't work before the first match."

It was a pisstake, some loving self-deprecation, but Carlton Cole called me out on Twitter for it. Sorry, Carlton. Turns out he was right as well. Phil Brown is managing in League One/Two (I'm on a day off, indulge the lazy journalism), West Ham began this season with aspirations of qualifying for the Champions League and I hear some of the turnstiles have worked really well. Still, it's probably not unfair to suggest that things could be going a bit better. I'm warming up now.

By the time this is done, it'll be 7am and I'll be sitting outside a bar in Shoreditch, a pint in one hand, a Big Mac in the other. 

Terry Land: By any standards our start has been very poor. Anybody looking at the fixtures back in June when they came out would have characterised us as having an easy start.

As much as I don’t buy Sullivan and Gold’s claim we are a side pushing for the Champions League I would have expected between 10 and 15 points from the first seven games. Instead we have a win and a draw apiece and sit in the relegation zone with a miserable four points with a nasty run of games coming up through late November to early December. While not terminal, the patient surely needs surgery.

Emily Pulham: Poor! We haven’t had that moment of clicking yet. We’ve got one of our best ever teams on paper and our worst ever results on the pitch.

The H List: Let's start with the stadium - what did you think of David Sullivan's comment that "lots of people want the migration to fail" and what do you think the Club could be doing differently to make it (more of) a success - beyond simply not letting David Sullivan make any more comments?

He gets a mention, naturally

Terry Land: As Nicolas Sarkozy once claimed of another David; the then UK Prime Minister Cameron ”lost a good opportunity to shut up”.  Likewise David Sullivan never misses an excuse to run his mouth off. Even despite some ridiculous over-reaction to, and reliance upon, social media to gauge supporter opinion (the “polls” on whether to buy El Hadji Diouf and Joey Barton come to mind) Sullivan, along with David Gold and Karren Brady have an enormous blind spot regarding the migration to the new stadium.  

I don’t blame them at all for being convinced of its worth and don’t want to re-open the tired old debate over the move – but they refuse to accept a significant minority don’t share their dream. For myself I can easily see how hollow their promises sound now we face the reality of a stadium not designed for football and crucially a poor run of form.

Emily Pulham: The club did make some initial mistakes with the stadium - but they are working hard to rectify them. The club are moving fans around the ground to be in the right places, they are improving the stewarding, actively campaigning for safe standing, and also getting police in - but there are some people that don’t want it to work because it’s not the Boleyn, and so for them, it never will work.

Having said that, I know our chairman want to be accessible to the fans but I worry they are too open sometimes. A little restraint and privacy wouldn’t be the worst thing on occasion.

Jacob Steinberg: I think there's an element of truth to what Sullivan said – West Ham have had a villainous image ever since Sean Bean was spotted cutting some preposterous shapes during that march on parliament all those years ago and it's not been helped by the manner of the deal that landed them the stadium.

Plenty of people do want them to fail and you haven't had to search too far for gloating comments from other supporters after their defeats this season. Equally Sullivan's probably guilty of protesting too much here.

Some of the criticism since the move has been valid, whether it has been about security, stewarding, atmosphere, standing, ticketing or, most damagingly, that sense the club is slowly stripping away its identity, embracing the corporate culture with a touch too much relish and forgetting where it came from. Some of it is bad PR – talking about customers instead of supporters is never going to go down well – and other factors out of their hands given that they don't own the stadium.

On that note, you'd hope that they'll be able to work with the stadium operators to make sure there's a sizeable police presence in and around the ground and also to improve the relationship between stewards and supporters. What can be done from their side, though? Make more of an effort to connect with and appease their supporters, listen to their concerns, make them feel valued. The move won't work without them. 

Dan Silver: I broadly agree with David Sullivan’s comment. The resentment and jealousy of the deal West Ham negotiated is writ large across social media - and, more disappointingly, sections of the mainstream media too.

As we all know, football grounds aren’t soft play centres and yet it’s almost been impossible to read a story - any story - about the club without reference to how unhappy fans are with the new stadium, or an accompanying embedded video of violence from one of the opening games. 

There’s a prevailing narrative that West Ham have overreached, that the stadium is too good or too big for the club, and evidence supporting this view is wheeled out at any opportunity, no matter how tenuous. 

On top of that, a small but vocal minority of our own fans also seem intent on making the move as difficult and ill-tempered as possible. Is the Olympic Stadium (as I belligerently insist on calling it) perfect? No, of course not. Is it anywhere near as bad as some supporters are pointing out? No, of course not.

I’m not entirely sure what these fans’ motivation is. We can’t go back to Upton Park. It’s being knocked down. The Olympic Stadium is our new home. And it is up to all of us to make it feel like a home. The stadium fairy isn’t going to turn up one weekend and move the pitch nearer to the seats so let’s just get on with enjoying the football we can see, yes?

All that said, however, there have been - and continue to be - some very serious crowd safety issues at the new stadium and it would be very wrong of Sullivan to try and dismiss concerns about them as mischievous carping. 

The board moved to address some of these in the wake of the Watford game but, in my opinion, they are not moving quickly or forcefully enough. And I’m positive if David Sullivan or Karren Brady tried leaving the East Stand and heading back to Stratford with their children in tow at the end of a game then they’d be moving a damn sight quicker. 

My own kids were unwittingly caught up in the fracas after the Middlesbrough game - seemingly caused by cack-handed crowd management as the away fans streamed out of the ground at the same time as ours - and were greeted with the sight of police surrounding a fan stumbling around with blood streaming down his face.

Elsewhere, anecdotal evidence is mounting up of West Ham fans refusing to take their kids to games because they don’t feel safe doing so - which, frankly, is inexcusable in this day and age.

The H List: I think this is a really important point, but one that is very difficult to explain to those who haven't been or experienced it. It's scary to take kids, in a way I never felt at Upton Park. Are you taking your children to the Chelsea game? (I'm not - primarily for the reasons you outline)

Dan Silver: No, I’m not either. They’re both under ten so the kick-off time made it impractical anyway but I would have had other safety concerns as well. 

If I’m completely honest, I’m a little bit anxious about going myself. On the one hand I’m hopeful this will be the first great night under the lights at the Stadium; that the team’s performance and the atmosphere generated by the fans combine to create the first truly magical moment in this chapter of the club's history.

The worry is that it could prove to be a truly toxic evening punctuated by ugly scenes inside and outside the ground. And if that unwanted scenario comes to pass then it could have catastrophic consequences for the rest of the season - and possibly beyond. 

Let’s hope it’s the former, eh?

The H List: What were your thoughts on Karren Brady’s comments on the corporate culture of the Club? My own take is that they weren’t unreasonable, but that seems to be a minority view based on the online responses I’ve seen.

Emily Pulham: Karren Brady’s comments were never going to sit well with the West Ham faithful, but although the comments were hard for some to swallow, they represent a big part of what it takes nowadays to evolve into that next tier of football.

She understands marketing incredibly well. If we want Champions League football, big name players, and global investment (see also: money) - this is part and parcel of the game we have to play. It’s not just West Ham who have to embrace this, it’s all clubs - but it’s the responsibility of the fans to balance out the corporate part by ensuring that we stay the heart and soul of the club.

Dan Silver: Karren Brady’s comments were entirely reasonable in isolation but her timing and delivery were lousy. Unfortunately this seems to be something of a habit; her early season crowing about the Olympic Stadium boasting the best hospitality suites in Europe at a time when regular fans felt their safety was being compromised just by attending a game was particularly grating.

Brady gets a disproportionately rough ride from West Ham fans but it’s also easy to understand why. She’s a businesswoman first and foremost and her references to the club’s history and traditions often come across as lip service, marketing boxes to be ticked during a PowerPoint presentation. Yes, she’s done almost unimaginably great things for West Ham the business, but most football fans - rightly - don’t care about the business.

In that respect she would do well to remember that football fans don’t talk about football in the same way business people do, and that her words to the latter will also be reported to the former. I remember a meeting with Karren and a couple of other newspaper executives while I worked at The Sun before the start of the ‘farewell…’ season in which she repeatedly referred to the new ground as *her* stadium. That rankled with me even then. 

Terry Land: Brady has a desire to use our geographical proximity to the Eastwards shift of the London financial sector to grab a piece of the action and utilise the corporate riches involved for the betterment of the club. I have no problem with that.

Karren breaks with tradition again with our new away kit

The H List: Is she really this unpopular or is the fact that I’m viewing it through a misogynistic petri dish like Twitter colouring that narrative?

Dan Silver: I wouldn’t read too much into the social media reaction to her - it’s arguably as representative of the majority of West Ham fans as the actions of the guy who spat in her face were of the rest of the ground. 

But I am concerned by what appears to be a widening disconnect between her view of the club and that of many of its fans. She sometimes appears guilty of believing the move to the Olympic Stadium would transform West Ham into Arsenal overnight. There are around 30,000 West Ham fans who would beg to differ - often very vocally indeed - and that source of schism will extremely harmful if allowed to fester.

Jacob Steinberg: She does seem extremely unpopular, although I do wonder at times whether there is a strand of misogyny at play when it comes to Brady.  Then again, she doesn't always help herself with some of her comments. If supporters don't feel that she has their best interests at heart, maybe it's something she should think about rectifying. 

Terry Land: While I have little doubt the gender of our ennobled Vice-Chairman is an easy target for those of a less reconstructed mind-set I also believe the purpose of football for many fans is a sense of community, identity and cultural grounding in a fast-changing world. Something that in her desire for pounds sterling Brady might do well to remember.

The H List: What has your personal experience of the Stadium been like? How many of the problems we’re discussing could be resolved with a five game unbeaten run, and how many are deep rooted genuine issues?

Dan Silver: Personally I like the new ground, but then I’m a middle aged man with middle aged mates who now take our young kids to football and therefore value easy access to toilets above standing in the middle of a seething bear-pit. 

We all sit in the upper East Stand, central to the pitch and about four rows from the back, which affords an incredibly impressive view of the vast, sweeping stands. Our sightlines of the pitch are impeccable - although, admittedly, it does feel a little detached, like we’re watching the game on an iMax screen.

I’m sure many of the gripes about atmosphere and sitting down etc will evaporate should that fabled five game winning run ever materialise. But as we’ve all mentioned above, the issues with stewarding, segregation and crowd safety will not, and I again urge the club to take measures before their hand is forced by a tragedy.

Terry Land: My initial reaction to the stadium was one of awe and disbelief. My West Ham here?! 

You certainly wouldn’t feel ready to chuck a chip wrapper on the floor as you might in E13. My view from near the back of the Bobby Moore Lower Stand is excellent even if we now play in a stadium rather than football ground (a crucial difference). Stewarding and policing is a problem that must be resolved, and if stories of former stewards leaving are to be believed things may get worse before they get better. The Plus Two scheme for season ticket holders has been lambasted as it dilutes those with a history of supporting the club but the lack of delineation between areas is my biggest bugbear. With no obvious singing areas the noise seems more generalised and less intense.

However, let’s not become too misty-eyed about Upton Park, the atmosphere deteriorated markedly post the West Stand development, the East Stand was a tip and the ground difficult to get to. I’ve still not settled on a place to meet pre and post-match – but Hackney Wick appears to offer fertile if somewhat gentrified ground. My memory may be playing tricks but I don’t remember charred broccoli and haloumi wrap available in the Earl of Wakefield.

While I don’t for a second believe the new ground directly contributed to our poor form, I think the Board, in a moment of rapture over the new ground and in a wholly characteristic bout of hubris, took their eye of the ball with regard to recruitment. For all the talk of Champions League football, few if any of the players brought in this summer look to be of that quality.

Emily Pulham: If we were winning on a regular basis, a good chunk of them would dissipate. Unfortunately, when the roof is leaking, you’re more likely to notice that the floor is dirty too! I have faith that a lot of the issues will be fixed by the club - especially with regards to getting the right fans in the right places.

My own experience has been good - my seat is excellent, the atmosphere is building, I can get a beer in under five minutes at half time and I’m impressed by the scale of the stadium. Wouldn’t mind seeing some wins though!

Jacob Steinberg: I've only worked at the stadium and missed all the fun at the Watford game as I was working on the Paralympics. I did enjoy following Twitter from my room in the Quality Hotel in Rio, though. Bashing out a Jonnie Peacock piece for the Observer, imagine my delight when I saw that West Ham led 2-0. Imagine my shock when I checked my phone an hour later. 

Anyway ... the stadium. I'm lucky enough to live a five minute walk from the stadium and my route takes me straight to the media entrance, so that's good. I've heard people have experienced transport problems, though – not great considering that was one of the main arguments for leaving E13. 

From a work perspective, the media facilities are much better than Upton Park. The wifi works and the various working areas are spacious. That said, the press box is very far away from the pitch. It's not that you can't see what's happening – you can, the binocular comments are tiresome now – but more that you feel removed from the action. Not sure if that's something that's possible to change. Either you do or you don't. This is what it is and you'd better find a way of getting used to it. There's no going back. 

It was always a concern for me. We interviewed Payet by the pitch just after he joined and the stands felt far away then. I was willing to reserve judgement. But here we are. Maybe it will grow on me and others, and some people love it. It was certainly rocking in the first couple of games – but, well, they won those. It's true, I suppose, that the mood will change if the team improves (no guarantees there). Let's not be disingenuous, the atmosphere at Upton Park was often insipid on a Saturday afternoon and downright vicious during the bad times.

Overall it's left me a bit cold. Maybe I'll warm to it with time. There are parts that are undoubtedly impressive - the floodlights, the sweeping west Stand. But others look cheap, muddled and, sorry to say it, ugly - the green material covering the track, say, or the large gap between the middle tier in the stand behind the dugouts, which holds the corporate boxes, and the lower tier. Also I don't think Bilic is happy about the distance between the dugouts and the pitch. The view is rubbish from the bench, hence why he never sits down. 

The H List: And yet, for all that, you and I were both unsuccessful in the ballot for the Middlesbrough game, despite there being plenty of empty seats in the ground.

Jacob Steinberg: That’s a big issue. There were empty seats during both the Southampton and Middlesbrough games. What went on there? If it was part of the fallout from the fighting at the Watford match, then it's understandable if people felt unsafe taking kids after all the negative publicity. Only one way to get past that – better security.

But if it's down to the team, it's not taken much for people to stay away, has it? Who were they? Where did they come from? Where did they go to? It's worrying on two levels. Firstly that the people who snapped up all those extra season tickets had no real affinity to the club and won't stick around to watch Gokhan Tore do his Gokhan Tore thing. Secondly, that members (such as me) can't get those tickets if they're unsuccessful in the ballot. It was easy for members to get tickets at Upton Park. Only at West Ham could it be a problem in a bigger stadium! Hopefully they'll implement a resale feature.

The H List: Moving to on the field matters, how surprised have you been by our start to the season, and to what do you attribute our poor form?

Terry Land: I didn’t expect a great start on the pitch but even so have been disappointed. Poor defending that saw us concede two goals a game over the last quarter of last season has deteriorated further. Transfer business over the summer was poor with quantity seemingly a priority over quality, and two obvious areas of concern – right-back and striker were not fully addressed.

Slaven Bilic’s idealism has been expressed in asking too many players, especially in midfield, to perform unfamiliar roles and the lack of a holding midfielder to screen the back four has been obvious. A settled back four is a prime requirement after, I think, 10 different combinations in our 12 competitive games played so far.

Emily Pulham: There’s no communication in the team. None. The defence have no idea where anyone is or who they are responsible for. As soon as anyone on the pitch moves slightly out of position, the cover for them is almost non-existent.

The other problem is that the heart goes out of the players so quickly - they are struggling with confidence. The Middlesbrough game was the first sign of hope in a long time and for an odd reason. As soon as Middlesbrough put one past us, the fans reacted by clapping and encouraging the team on. It was the first time we did that all season - and the team responded in kind by equalising. More of that, please - from both fans and players.

Dan Silver: I’ve been surprised by the extent to which the symptoms have manifested themselves but the underlying malaise took hold throughout last season: the leaky defence; the tendency to concede the first goal(s); the difficulties breaking down and beating lower table teams. Those fantastic results against the top six teams and the game-changing brilliance of Dimitri Payet papered over a lot of cracks.

I commented on a couple of occasions in the latter half of last season that the team appeared to be believing their own press. The Cup replay at home to Man United was particularly galling; there was so much talk of Wembley beforehand that the team seemed to think they only needed to turn up to go through.

Our abysmal start to the season - and it has been abysmal, there’s little point sugar coating it - can be traced back to the embarrassing mauling by Swansea and pathetic capitulation away to Stoke that bookended the emotionally charged final home victory against Manchester United. 

Those performances was compounded by a miserable pre-season that from the outside appeared to involve too much meaningless travel (low-profile fixtures against poor US sides) and too many games in too short a period of time (the Austrian training camp). The pitiful Europa League games laid bare the squad’s awful physical and mental states.

Jacob Steinberg: I wasn't too surprised by the defeats at Man City and Chelsea given that they have improved and West Ham were missing players for a variety of reasons. But if you go back to the end of last season, they were already conceding too many goals and nothing has been done about it. I want to like Bilic - he is intelligent, charismatic and decent - but he doesn't entirely convince at times. West Ham were very lucky in several matches last year and it was hard to gauge their true level. They would often hang on in matches before scoring the first goal (Liverpool at home in the cup), equalise with their first attack (Norwich at home) or capitalise on generous finishing (Southampton at home). 

The ability to stay in matches suggested increased resilience and it was impressive how often they would fight back, often scoring their goals in bursts (Norwich away), but you do wonder if it was built on solid foundations. 

They have become so fragile. Bilic has spoken about individual errors. But when they keep happening, it suggests that structural and tactical flaws are undermining decent players. The organisation and discipline has gone out of the window, which is why they collapsed after Southampton took the lead. The lifeless style of play is reminiscent of the performances that toppled Pardew in 2006 - but unlike the Baby Bentley team, I don't think there is a major problem with this squad's attitude. It's more that they look lost on the pitch, as though they're not enjoying playing football. How much of that comes back to Bilic and his tactics?

Ultimately it's not easy to pin down what style of football Bilic wants to implement and they often struggled against the 'lesser' sides. That was worrying - those results against the top teams weren't flukes but a side like West Ham is reliant on so many things to go right in order to win at Arsenal, City and Liverpool. They improved in the summer, West Ham didn't and repeating those wins becomes tougher to pull off. The worrying thing is how broken they look at the moment. It's the whole team, not just the defence. They don't look like they know how to attack at the moment and Bilic is struggling to work out his best 11. There is quality in the squad - they're not at 02/03 or 10/11 levels, far from it - but it's not working right now. 

They've got four points largely because of Payet's brilliace against Boro and Harry Arter's rush of blood to the head in the Bournemouth game, when West Ham looked bereft of ideas before the red card.  

Probably not the answer. Unless the question is "Name a redheaded Turkish man"

The H List: Apart from the ultra-obvious answer of building the team around Gokhan Tore, what’s the silver bullet?

Dan Silver: The team needs to be rebuilt from a defensive foundation, starting with Randolph in goal. Adrian veers between over-confidence and neurotic calamities and could do with knowing his league starting place isn’t guaranteed. 

Then Slaven needs to pick a back four and stick with it (injuries permitting, of course). I’m convinced Reid’s loss of form is at least partly due to his constantly changing centre back partner. My current choice would be Arbeloa - Reid - Ogbonna - Cresswell.

The midfield needs to be anchored around Obiang. Neither Kouyate or Noble have the necessary attributes or dedication to play as proper holding midfielders, and their lack of defensive nous heaps pressure on centre backs already exposed by rampaging full-backs.

Noble warrants a whole chapter to himself. His performances this season don’t justify his place in the side, and there’s little evidence so far this season of his ability to lead the team on the pitch. I’d drop him and give Kouyate the midfield general role. 

Finally I’d move Payet inside and play out and out wingers - Antonio and Feghouli, say - on either flank and instruct the full-backs to show more restraint going forward. 

Jacob Steinberg: Payet getting fitter? A run for Pedro Obiang? Andy Carroll and Diafra Sakho returning? Aaron Cresswell, so important to offensively and defensively, coming back? Winston Reid remembering how to defend? One going in off Simone Zaza's arse?

Looking at it optimistically, Bilic has to hope it's down to confidence. That's easier to overcome than a simple lack of talent. 

Emily Pulham: Get everyone fit, introduce the players to each other so that they have an idea of who is playing around them on the pitch and don’t be afraid to try different things to find solutions. The team line up against Middlesborough was odd (and sounded better if you read it upside down) but it was an improvement. Don’t play the best players; play the best team combinations.

Terry Land: Turning our form around may well require a change of manager. As mentioned, a settled back four and proper holding midfielder are essential.

I believe we have missed Diafra Sakho badly. His movement, goal threat, and work-rate were all crucial to our big results last season. And I cannot for a second imagine we’d be talking about silver bullets if we hadn’t got rid of Joey O’Brien.

The answer - says Terry

The H List: What did you think of the Club's transfer business in the summer? 

Emily Pulham: I loved it at the time - I thought there were some excellent signings there! We’ve been so unlucky with injuries to Andre Ayew and Arthur Masuaku - but I am genuinely surprised at Simone Zaza and Gokhan Tore’s failure to fit into the side. I expected more from them. 

Terry Land: Summer business was poor. I was criticised after writing a negative blog on the subject but reckon so far I’ve been vindicated.

Sofiane Feghouli is a good player and I believe Arthur Makuasu has the potential to put Aaron Cresswell under healthy pressure at left-back. Otherwise, none of our signings improved the side or put existing places in jeopardy.

Jacob Steinberg: Not great, especially with Benteke starting well at Palace. I have sympathy with that one, though, because he has had bad injuries in the past and would not necessarily have represented value for money.

It's a shame. Everything worked last summer but it's not quite clicked this time round. But they should have signed a right-back earlier and seemed to lack focus. All those right wingers? Where do they fit in? After the talk of a top striker, they've gambled with Zaza and Calleri, and Fletcher is a kid. I don't think Zaza or Calleri are as bad as has been made out – Calleri has ... something – but they don't look like the answer. Feghouli has a good track record, though, and Ayew could be a success when he's back. 

Dan Silver: On the surface, the strategy - sign a world class striker and build a squad capable of competing in both the Premier and Europa Leagues - was sound. Unfortunately the execution was abysmal.

The search for a striker, seemingly conducted via the chairman’s teenage son’s Twitter account, became an embarrassment. There’s absolutely no shame in being rejected by the likes of Lacazette, Bacca and Batshuayi; we have to be realistic about West Ham’s standing in the global market. However, publishing every cough and spit of their protracted pursuits on social media harmed not only the club’s reputation but also attempts to sign other targets. And that road, as we found out to our cost, ends at Simone Zaza’s door.

The dual team approach was, of course, undone by the team’s failure to qualify for the group stage of the Europe League. I believe if Tore, Nordveidt, Feghouli, Calleri and co were playing regularly relatively low-stress, confidence-boosting midweek matches against beatable opposition, we’d be seeing the kind of performances their records suggest they are more than capable of. Instead, we now have a bloated squad of unhappy, out of form players who have already been written off by much of the fan base. 

The H List: I'm definitely guilty of this - of the players you mention, I think I'm only still on board the Feghouli wagon which, even as I say it out loud, seems ludicrous just 7 league games into the season. How do you think this all plays out in January, with particular reference to Zaza and this odd deal we have where we have to buy him once he starts a certain number of games?

Dan Silver: At the risk of stating the obvious, a lot depends on how the players perform between now and then. Zaza is the big concern for me. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, I had reasonably high hopes for him when he joined. My eldest even has his name on the back of his shirt (and, yes, he has genuinely asked for another one for Christmas). 

In retrospect, the deal we struck looks eminently sensible. Zaza now has a set number of games to prove he can adapt to the Premier League or the club can chalk him off as a failed £5m gamble - no small beer, of course, but preferable to a £25m failure with however many years’ worth of wages on top.

If - and it’s a big one, obviously - Carroll, Sakho and Ayew return fit, stay healthy and play to their not inconsiderable abilities then we won’t need Zaza anyway. And there’s always Fletcher and Calleri - who I have the sneaking suspicion will come good with time and patience - to add to the mix as well, so I think we’ll be fine for forwards whatever.

The Tore situation is definitely one to watch. Most fans wouldn’t be too upset if we curtailed his loan before the end of the season but as we all know he is very much Bilic’s man and it will be interesting to see how much of a fight he puts up to keep him at the club. Reading between the lines of that saga should reveal a lot about the power balance at the club.

Terry Land: There is seldom good business to be had in the January transfer window but a substantial outlay may prove necessary.

How long does Bilic have to turn things around?

Dan Silver:  As we’ve already found out to our cost, the Daves don’t tend to sack managers mid-season - not even managers as bad as Avram Grant, so I can’t imagine how bad it would have to get before they called Slaven into boardroom to pick up his P45. 

Perhaps being in the bottom three at Christmas would force the board’s hands but I envisage Slaven steadying the ship and sailing reasonably steadily through to the end of the season.

I’m not so sure he’ll be setting sail next term, mind. Things haven’t seemed the same at the club since he embarked upon his pig-headed - and utterly wrong - Antonio at full-back experiment and the nagging suspicion he fluked last season’s success is starting to hang heavy in the air.

David Sullivan has been roundly criticised for not backing his manager by inserting that relegation release clause into his first contract and holding fire on offering a new one in the summer but both those decisions are looking eminently sensible now.

Jacob Steinberg:  Not long.

Emily Pulham: He can have more time from me - and I’m not putting a limit on it. We’re an unsettled club, the last thing we need right now is to cause more instability by changing manager. He’s a great manager - he’ll turn this around.

Terry Land: I’m not sure. If the manager does receive the tintack, not only will the club need to re-paint Dimitri Payet slogan outside the ground, we’ll need to think up new words to the song. 

However, you know a manager is feeling the heat when he's speaking in September of the next three games as "cup finals" - and especially when one of them is against the might of Accrington Stanley.

A notable feature of Bilic’s managerial career has been a marked decline following relative early success, and that tricky second album/season proving especially problematic. The obvious parallel to be made is the utter mess Roberto Martinez made of Everton following Davids Moyes’ steady if undramatic improvements. Just as Bobby Brown Shoes didn’t understand how teams start from a defensive base with leaders all over the pitch, nor does Super Slav. 

If I were the owners and on-the-field events don’t markedly improve I’d be looking at mid-December following our bad fixtures to get another man in and make the most of the bounce new blood often provides. If Bilic makes it to the New Year he will probably last the season.

The H ListI get what you're saying there - why 'waste' any bounce on those November fixtures where we're going to get obliterated anyway. My concern - is that too late though? Can we afford to wait? If we carry on as we have been, we'll be toast by mid-December.

Terry Land: Good question - but I'd think the owners would be very conscious of three things.
Firstly they've said in the past they think they could have given Steve Bruce more time at Birmingham, even if that's weighed against not sacking Avram Grant at Christmas. More important I think, though is that Slaven Bilic is "their" man and unlike Sam Allardyce they invested in him all manner of attributes regarding the West Ham way and his past with the club.

Now, that may have been partly to disguise he was the least good of the candidates we were linked with at the time - and his CV was pretty thin without that history. But equally, they may feel they will take some of the stick should they sack him. His is popular with fans and I heard his name sung at the Middlesbrough game.

I would hope they are already putting feelers out about a replacement and it could depend on the quality of any replacement. Guus Hiddink, Louis van Gaal and Roberto Mancini are all out of work - but I'm not sure any of them would want to come into such a fractious environment. It may take the reality of a relegation battle to sink in with fans before the club act.

"Wait, is he playing Antonio as a right back?" 

Complete this sentence: West Ham will finish (xx) and will be managed next year by (insert name) in front of an average crowd of (xxxxxx).

Dan Silver: West Ham will finish 12th and will be managed next year by Slaven Bilic in front of an average crowd of over 50,000.

Emily Pulham: West Ham will finish 12th and will be managed next year by Slaven Billic in front of an average crowd of 59,000.

Jacob Steinberg: West Ham will finish 12th and will be managed next year by Sam Allardyce in front of an average crowd of 35,000.

Terry Land: Two scenarios here, what I’d like and what I expect.

Scene One: Finish eighth under Guus Hiddink in front of sell-out crowds.
Scene two: Finish 17th under Steve Bruce and Julian Dicks in front of 30,000.

I leave you to decide which is heart and head or which one to put your mortgage on.

The H List: You’re out of your mind Terry – we’re going to finish 12th

So there you have it. My sincere thanks to each of Dan, Emily, Terry and Jacob for giving up their time and letting me pester them for their thoughts. 

Cheers Roy