The HamburgHammer Column

Get 'em when they're young - taking my nephew to his first football game

This post may be slightly boring for some of you due to the quite personal nature of the topic at hand, so I’ll be talking about our 2:2 draw at Sunderland first and once that is out of the way you can decide for yourself if you want to continue reading or not. So West Ham first. We were all screaming at the screen (or at the players if you were among the loyal West Ham travelling band) during the first half when we were not at the races at all and allowed Sunderland to take a much deserved 2:0 lead.
Obviously we couldn’t allow Lawrenson to be right with his ridiculous prediction of a Sunderland win and put Sunderland under the kosh in the second half like we should have done from the start and more than deserved this point at the end of the day. With the number of chances we created we should have won really.
I think it shows how far we have come as a club that we can bounce back after poor performances in the first half like we have done again on Saturday.
Not playing well, making silly mistakes and still getting points out of games is the sign of things changing for the better at our club.

If I had to single out a player for praise it is Manuel Lanzini. He has arrived at our club on loan with (fortunately) an option to make the deal permanent at the end of the season. His loan deal is certain to constitute a much cheaper proposition than the one we have in place for Song, Moses and Jenkinson, yet there can be no doubt Lanzini already has had a massive impact.
Young Manuel plays his football with a smile on his face (and a pretty interesting barnet he has too), is creative, not afraid to get stuck in and work his socks off for the team.
He very much made Payet’s goal who didn’t have that much to do really after Sunderland’s keeper simply couldn’t hang on to Lanzini’s fierce shot.
We will see a lot more positive stuff from the kid this season I’m sure.

Which brings me to the personal bit of my column: Quite out of the (claret and) blue I took my 8 year old nephew to his first football game on Friday evening. I had planned to go with my brother to watch a local cup game here in Hamburg (the winner of that competition wins the right to play in the first round of Germany’s equivalent to the FA Cup) between Lohbruegge (my brother lives close to where they play) and the local East Hamburg side we’ve been supporting for more than 30 years, Concordia Hamburg.
When I arrived to pick my brother up I was surprised to hear that his little son was considering coming along, probably encouraged by his mom.
My nephew, Daniel, was excited, bordering on hyperventilation, he wasn’t initially sure though if he could handle the whole experience as obviously in his little head all kinds of stressful scenarios were being played through.
He was probably expecting to be taken to a Champions League encounter in front of 50.000 fans in a massive stadium. Or at least a St.Pauli-Hamburg SV derby game.
He was afraid of the potential noise around him (he’s a bit sensitive in that respect), he was scared there would be hooligans and flares and giant flags being rolled out engulfing the fans and running battles in the streets around the stadium between drunken adolescents with leather jackets and more tattoos than braincells.
He insisted that we shall have to take a mobile phone with us so we could make an emergency call for his mom to pick him up and take him back home in case the whole football experience would get out of hand on the evening.

So Uncle HamburgHammer sat down with him and told him to hold his horses. And relax. We were not going to a proper stadium or arena, we were merely going to a football pitch (an artificial one at that) you could stand alongside and watch. There’d be 130 fans or so in total. Most of them too old or too much of a caring family person to be keen on starting fights. There were some other kids there too all of whom could watch the game for free of course.

The noise would mainly be provided by shouting players, their managers and their assistants. Flares would have been useful though as the floodlighting left a lot to be desired. But the first issue to be dealt with was which team my nephew would or should support on the day. Daniel had decided he would choose according to the colour of the shirts worn by the teams on the pitch. I’m not sure if he genuinely prefered the red/black of our team (the away side) or the blue/white of the home side.
In the end it was decided rather quickly. Several team members from Concordia including the assistant manager chatted to the little lad prior to the game, joked around with him and answered questions, plus obviously his dad and uncle wanted the team in red and black to win, so that was that.
We won 5:1. We saw some cracking goals, including a backheeled beauty into the net from a ridiculous angle.
But it wasn’t all plain sailing for my nephew, he’s still quite short and the pitch was dimly lit, so it obviously was hard for him to properly spot everything that was happening on the pitch (one thing he had in common with the referee), especially if the linesman or a team physio were walking around in front of him.

So whenever the ball entered one of the penalty boxes (which was often) he asked without fail: Was it a goal then just now ? When the goals were finally going in he quickly recognized the marked reactions among his fellow fans, so he simply joined, jumping all over the place, fists in the air, screaming with delight, hugging dad and uncle in succession. Two halves with 45 minutes each are a bit of a challenge for the attention span of a modern kid though. First halftime couldn’t come quickly enough because he was hungry for a sausage, second half he got a bit tired (way past his usual bedtime) and just wandered about with twenty minutes of the game to go as he had lost a bit of interest in watching the game. Kids have their own priorities and sometimes food or strolling along are just more important.
At the end of the day of course it was a result insofar as a) he immediately wanted to get a Concordia football shirt his size with number 16 as that was the player that had impressed him most and b) he was very keen on joining a local football team soon and playing the game himself.
That now will be slightly tricky as he is still doing judo and his parents would prefer him continuing with that for the time being, but ultimately I think the experience will make him join a local team and also come to watch a game again with his dad and uncle.

I had a cracking time with the little chap and the most entertaining thing apart from the game itself (and which some of you may be able to identify with) were the numerous questions being asked by the lad, some silly, some surprising, others almost philosophically deep like:

Will we win the game if we score 32 goals in the second half ?
Why has the referee just blown the whistle ?
What is offside ?
Can I have some jellybabies at halftime ?
Why is that mad man in the black jacket screaming at the players ? (Talking about the manager)
Are Concordia as good as Hamburg SV or Bayern Munich ?
Can I take the ball home if it goes out of play and I catch it ?

Well, it was just his first game. I’m certain my questions weren’t that different really when I watched my first game (which was Hamburg SV I seem to remember).
Maybe my nephew will become a footballer eventually. God knows what club he’ll end up supporting properly. I’ve made sure with subtle providing of presents that West Ham are the only English club he will ever support. He may still go for a local German option eventually (peer pressure in school and all that). But either way football is a fantastic way to bond with loved ones, especially kids.
And now that we brought little Daniel back home from the game healthy, happy and in good spirits I’m sure I can take him again in the future. And again.

The Mike Ireson Column

But this is West Ham

It doesn’t seem that long ago that I wrote on these pages how it had been a long summer and how keen we were to get on with the season and see how the new manager and signings panned out.

And here we are now, 8 games in, a fifth of the season gone, and as I write this we lie in fifth place in the table. 4 points off the leaders with a tally of 14 points.

We are undefeated in 5 league games. We have achieved a treble of away wins at grounds we just don’t normally get anything from.

So far so good? We all would have said thank you very much on the 9th of August before we kicked off at Arsenal and shook the hand of the football devil. We would have sold the family silverware for this position at this stage.

The important thing at the start of this season was clear. Under no circumstances must we get relegated. With the move in to the Olympic Stadium imminent we absolutely could not afford as a club and a business to kick the first ball as a Championship club against the likes of Rotherham or MK Dons.

That scenario would be a disaster for the club and us. The humiliation of being a Championship club in this grand stadium would hurt us all. Imagine the family gatherings, the parties, the trips to the pub, anything where we would come in to contact with supporters of any other team. We would know exactly what was coming. It would be thrown in our faces for years to come.

So objective number one, and let’s face it there is no number two, stay up. All we need is a half decent season where we don’t flirt with relegation and we don’t have to spend time worrying that our social lives will be ruined for the next few years.

But this is West Ham. This behemoth that brings us all together. And what do they do on day one? They go and give Arsenal a lesson on how to take 3 points. It was certainly not pretty from our view but we got the job done.

And what does that do? In less than 2 hours we’ve now got this belief. We’ve done Arsenal so surely we can do anyone? Perhaps this could be more than just a season of keeping the wolf from the door.

Then 2 home games on the bounce. Bournemouth and Leicester, should, on the evidence of the Arsenal game yield at least 4 points. That would see us steady with tough away games coming up.

But this is West Ham. We contrive to fall flat on our faces and get nothing. Back to the wolf at the door scenario.

Liverpool away. Well we won’t get anything there. Having not won there since the Boer war or something and having got rolled over by Bournemouth and Leicester this will be grim.

But this is West Ham. 3-0 winners with 10 men. Mon Dieu! as Del Boy would say.

Now came the only thing we could truly predict. A comfortable win over Newcastle who took being poor to a whole new level.

Man City away next. Now alright we’ve had 2 unexpected away wins but this will be a bridge too far. They have a squad assembled with the budget of smaller continents. Brace yourselves lads this could be ugly.

But this is West Ham. We don striped shirts, masks and throw bags of swag over our shoulders and go and rob city of the points. WTF? (as the teenagers would say).

Next up games against Norwich and Sunderland. The latter in disarray so 3 points is easily achievable (especially with the away records of gods), and the former should be a test at Upton Park but again achievable.

But this is West Ham. We make life difficult for ourselves by going behind in both matches and although scoring 4 goals, which is very positive, we only manage to grab 2 draws.

So where are we now? In our heads we’re looking at all the dropped points and thinking we could be top of the league.

We’re bewildered. We are in a position we’re happy with but we’ve got there all topsy turvey. Winning games we shouldn’t, losing games we shouldn’t, we’re losing track of our backside and our elbow.

But you know what? We’re happy. Why? Because that is the true ‘West Ham Way’. Confusion.

The reason we love this club and bleed claret and blue is because we are different. Nothing is ever certain. We are permanently confused. And long may that reign.


Talking Point

Stop 'em Mackems!

Bilic hugging Advocaat proper pic

Going into the match, Bilic spoke in great admiration of the Sunderland manager Dick Advocaat. He is “vastly experienced” to quote the gaffer. Advocaat has managed six national teams – UAE, South Korea, Serbia, Russia, Belgium and his very own Holland. He has had a very accomplished career to say the least. The Dutchman even managed to keep Sunderland up last season and was subsequently due to leave the club. Now, there is speculation that the Sunderland manager may leave the Black Cats with his side firmly rooted in the relegation zone. Sir Alex Ferguson retired at the age of 71; Dick Advocaat is 68. Despite Super Slav’s respect for him, it was his job to “make his position worse.” Moreover, the gaffer was insistent not to let the squad get complacent with the stunning away record – the players have been in too many Spencer FC videos anyway.

What I find hard to explain is our bizarre frame of mind. We have beaten teams we expect to lose to, and lose to teams we expect to win against. I feel the reason why we are not living up to our potential against teams like Norwich and Sunderland is because they are giving it a real go. We decided to put Reece Oxford on against Arsenal… on the opening day no less! It was a risky strategy putting on a teenager on against a team that has a habit of frequently beating us. Against the slim odds, it worked – and how! Normally, managers tend to put in-form players straight into the starting XI, and those who haven’t lived up to expectations off. Fabio Borini didn’t play well against Manchester United. It is a well known fact that Dutch managers don’t tend to change their tactics very much during matches when losing – I guess that makes Wenger Dutch. Whether this can be applied going into a match is highly dubious. Nevertheless, Borini found himself in the starting XI against us. Unfortunate to say he played very well. Jermain Defoe was rested on the bench for the entirety of the match. Even the midfield battle was getting rather exciting with our midfielders struggling to get passes forward. I highly doubt there was much of a tactical reason behind playing Borini over Defoe. Unlike Sunderland, Norwich were pushing on trying to bury it beyond beggars belief: they nearly succeeded in winning but for their poor defending in set pieces. Sometimes, there are factors that are out of our control. We can alter our tactics to match what the opposition has planned, but in the Premier League, having a quality line-up doesn’t win you all matches. We have beaten Arsenal, Liverpool, and Manchester City. More recently, Southampton defeated Chelsea 3-1 at Stamford Bridge (AKA The Former Bus Depot.)

The Mackems and Geordies haven’t won a single match this season. I was looking at the two teams matches in close synchronicity with Newcastle playing Manchester City. Both teams started the better in their matches with the Black Cats scoring a goal off the training ground from Stephen Fletcher. As much as I hated watching the goal in replay, the sidefoot connection was exquisite. Most of the teams won against us this season have scored wonderful goals which have given Adrián and the defence no chance – Fletcher’s goal was no exception. Mitrovic has gained himself a bit of a reputation for his poor discipline in English football. In the Belgian Pro League, the Serbian international was renown for his heading abilities. Unsurprisingly, he headed a ball into the net to lead against the Citizens. This meant that both Tyne and Wear side teams were leading much to everyone’s shock. Newcastle, like Sunderland, should have taken their chances and got that elusive 3-0 lead which no one has managed to beat. The best win was from Leicester who were 2-0 against the Villans to win 3-2. A poor back pass from Payet should have been kicked away by Reid. Much to West Ham’s dismay, he attempted to slide the ball away in the same manner Tomkins did against the Canaries. We have made 4 errors leading to goals this season – that was the 5th. M’Vila passed it forward to Jeremain (not Defoe) Lens who chipped the keeper who was slightly off his line. To be fair, Adrián couldn’t have moved back because the move escalated so quickly. The last time I can recall a goal being conceded from the Spaniard coming off his line was a David Beckham-esque goal from Wayne Rooney with the man himself present at Upton Park. So with 2-0 Sunderland and 1-0 Newcastle, fates were about to change. Victor Moses beat three Sunderland defenders to get a ground cross in for Jenkinson who scored just before HT to make it 2-1. Aguero made it 1-1 in the 42nd minute.

Before the match, West Ham hadn’t scored more than twice in any of the last 16 away to Sunderland. That is not a typo. We came back against Norwich (just!), but that didn’t mean we were going to get another draw against the Mackems. The second half is underway: enter Sergio Aguero. In the second half, he scores not one, two, three, but FOUR. So, in total, he has scored 5 goals in 20 minutes. He couldn’t get 5 in 9, but 5 in 20 is a BPL record for the fastest time to score 5 minutes. Sensational! Hats off to the Argentine! He received the Golden Boot last season, and looks to add another to his collection. A De Bruyne goal in between made it 6-1 to City in what was the one of the most unexpected turnarounds I have ever witnessed. We should have won the game by really pushing on at 2-2. We are the best away team with results to prove it against the side that was bottom before the match started. I am bitterly disappointed we didn’t get a win against Leicester, Bournemouth, Norwich or Sunderland, but am happy with the three elusive away wins. I hate to say this but a Sam Allardyce team would have won against at least two of the teams above. Then again, a team ran by Big Sam would have had a superb 18 games and a meagre 18 games, so all in all, Bilic all the way! Advocaat deserved a hug too for all he has done for Wearside and football in general. Dick was very magnanimous having drawn against us.

In other sporting news, England are out of the Rugby World Cup after having lost 33-13 to Australia. It is the first time that a host nation has gone out at the group stage of the tournament failing to even make the knockout stages. Getting to write this blog on a Saturday night is a dream come true! It means I can watch all the sports competitions today. The sports that awaits Sofa Sunday (Super Sunday should be renamed for today) is too intense! The biggest matches will be on tomorrow going into the night. The NFL is on, as is the PDC World Grand Prix which will commence at 19:00 with Adrian ‘Jackpot’ Lewis against Barney on SS3 and many other big darting legends from the Order of Merit. Be sure to incinerate any timetables for this one time jam-packed entertainment bonanza!

Football fixtures for Sofa Sunday.

P.S. Come on James Wade!

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Talking Point

Mixed Emotions After Coming Back from 2-0 Down

So Slaven says it’s a good point, after coming back from 2-0 down, but he has mixed emotions. I guess that sums it up for most of us. You’ve got to be disappointed not to beat the bottom team in the league, especially given our previous away form. As someone said on twitter, we seem to love beating teams who are better than us, while we love not to beat teams who are worse.

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Match Thread

Match Thread: Sunderland v West Ham

Sunderland v West Ham
Stadium of Light
KO 3pm
Referee: Neil Swarbrick
TV: None
Radio: BBC London 94.9

Please use this thread to comment on the game as it progresses.

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