The Blind Hammer Column

Can VAR Help West Ham?

Blind Hammer looks at the evidence for VAR aiding West Ham.

This season José Mourinho has trotted out a number of excuses. His explanation for the inept performance against us was the lack of VAR. He insisted that it would have disallowed 2 of West Ham’s goals.

It is fascinating that Mourinho should favour VAR. It is especially interesting given the benefit that Manchester United have received from referees over the years. You might expect that Man United, more than most, would lose out under VAR.

We should remember the 2016 FA cup quarter final at Old Trafford. Then our Payet inspired team were denied by 2 crucial refereeing mistakes. Firstly Payet was denied a clear penalty when Rojo slid in from behind and was nowhere near the ball. The second error was arguably even worse. Bastian Schweinsteiger held goalkeeper Darren Randolph immobile and prevented him responding to Martial’s late equaliser.

There is a wide perception that Referees favour bigger teams with key decisions. Some try to deny this. They argue for example that Manchester United and other “bigger” clubs receive more free kicks and penalty awards as a natural consequence of spending more time in and around opponent’s penalty areas. It is their reward for pressure and attacking play.

Recently Mark Halsey angrily denied on TalkSport that Referees are biased towards the big team. He insisted Referees entered games with no agendas and tried to adjudicate as objectively as possible.

Yet Halsey completely misses the point. Nobody seriously suggests Referees are consciously biased. However there is increasing evidence that they are unconsciously persuaded. There is academic evidence, for example, that Referees decisions are affected by the pressure of home crowds.

Graham Poll admitted as much in a recent interview for the Daily Mail. He described his belief, whilst refereeing, that there was no favour shown towards big team. Now however, he is retired he can see that bigger teams benefit. However he insists this is an unconscious process that Referees are not aware of.

The point is that there is, now, enormous scrutiny on referees. Any contentious decision given against a high profile team will expose a referee to a tremendous examination. This inquest will be led by pundits across the media. Videos will be inspected microscopically to identify the slightest error.

This scrutiny places a pressure to err on the side of caution when making a key decision against a “big" team. In contrast, the consequence of making a contentious decision against a lower profile team is far less.

All this is supported by 2013 Leicester University research which tested referees by asking them to adjudicate on key decisions by watching videos. In one sample they asked Referees to make decisions with sound muted. They then played these incidents with the full crowd noise associated with the incident. Not surprisingly the research showed a clear influence from crowd noise which influenced referees to adjudicate more in favour of the home team.

All this proves is that Referees are human and can be influenced by pressure as much as anybody else.

The safety net of VAR may just give Referees the confidence to make decisions they may otherwise feel too intimidated to make. Manchester United, alongside other big clubs may become the biggest losers under VAR.

On the face of it, the impact of VAR on West Ham, as opposed to the bigger clubs, is not so clear. There is little reason to expect that, in the general round of matches, West Ham will benefit more or less. The often quoted cliché is that “over a season these things will even out”.

Yet this indifference ignores a deeper consequence of VAR. If West Ham are to ever win another Trophy they will almost certainly have to overcome a bigger team like Liverpool, or Manchester United or City.

This task is difficult enough without a referee unconsciously pressurised to make mistakes which favour the bigger teams. In 2016 Martin Atkinson allowed this pressure to force him into key mistakes which prevented West Ham progressing to a Semi Finals.

Although we will suffer as well as benefit from VAR in the years ahead, it is precisely against the bigger teams, in these key matches, that VAR may just help to even things up.

David Griffith

The GoatyGav Column

Why You No Longer Hear The Phrase “Tippy-Tappy”

Strange isn’t it. Was a time when the derogatory phrase would be rolled out with a, tired and worn out, regularity by those who subscribed to the Charles Hughes school of POMO. Based on the ideas of a World War II Wing Commander, named Charles Reep, Hughes, backed up by statistical evidence, promoted a system of play that, he suggested, would increase chances to score goals. With an impressive win ratio while managing the England Armature and Great Britain & Northern Ireland Olympic teams Hughes commanded great influence at the F.A. In essence the POMO (Positions Of Maximum Opportunity) system worked on the premise that most goals were scored with moves containing 3 passes or less that delivered a final ball in to the area from which you would be most likely to score. In other words you get the ball in to forward scoring positions as soon as you possibly can. Don’t get me wrong – it wasn’t all Route 1, stick it in ‘The Mixer’ Hoofball. The system advocated getting quality crosses as a main source of supply which, I think, is a productive art form in itself. Can be very entertaining too but, for the most part, it’s an uninspiring system which will only put bums on seats when resulting in ‘winning’ football.

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Associated with the ‘Tippy Tappy’ phrase was a presumption that a ‘soft underbelly’ would accompany. As fans of West Ham we have all heard the various comments from opposition fans who’s team have won trophies down the years. Even down to the level of individual players comments like “he doesn’t travel North well,” were not uncommon. Often described as ‘pretty but ineffective’ pass and move has tended to be out of favour with many at the top of the English game for many years.

All well and good but, time and again, the tactic developed by Charles Hughes has been proven to be one dimensional. For years the England team would underperform against the world’s biggest and best because they were too predictable.

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So where are the critics of passing football now? With 15 goals in the last 3 games Manchester City, with their manager, Pep Guardiola, are one of the main reasons that football that’s pleasing to the eye is now being lauded and not lambasted. Following this weekend’s instalment of Pep’s passing masterclass a goal involving, no less than, a 44 pass move was hailed ‘mesmerising’ by Graeme Souness. And who can argue with him. From the moment that Fernandinho tenaciously won the ball, until Gundogan finished the move off with the goal, all 10 Manchester City outfield players touched the ball.

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Steeped in a long tradition, that began with Rhinus Michels, incorporating the great Ajax Amsterdam teams before being passed to Barcelona by Michels’ understudy, Johan Cruyff, who, in turn, had a huge influence on Guardiola, ‘Tippy Tappy’ tends to, now, be known by the, less derogatory, term ‘Tikka Takka’.

Overall my feeling is that the English national game is finally ‘growing up’ to meet the demands of modern football. As recently as this time last year you could still hear the battle-cry of the POMO merchants stating that Pep’s ‘Tippy Tappy’ style hadn’t won, and wasn’t going to win, the English top tier title. Those guns are now silent and, in this fan of football’s opinion, that’s a great thing.

Key for me is a subtle difference between the two, opposing, philosophies of the game. Whilst POMO produces opportunities to score the, more attractive, clever passing and movement of ‘Tikka Takka’ produces ‘better’ opportunities to score. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Just look at how many goals are being scored by Guardiola’s team.

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As far as I’m concerned I hope POMO is consigned to the dark ages where it belongs. Thankfully we now have a manager who has complete and utter belief in a system of play that incorporates pass and move – and long may it continue.

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Since starting the composition of this article West Ham have been linked with the signing of Samir Nasri. The former French international player’s ability is not as much in question as his actions leading to his doping ban. So should we question his signing. Manuel Pellegrini has managed him before and seems willing to have him back. Is it a question of ‘good enough for the gaffer is good enough for me’ I wonder? I’m sure that other articles will go in to far more detail than I will here and I’ll be very interested to read the various opinions and comments over the coming days here. Next up are MP, and Nasri’s, former employers Manchester City. It’s a game I’m looking forward to watching. I wonder if Nasri will be in the line up to face them?

COYI! West Ham 4 The Cup!

Talking Point

Hammers are saturated with class but struggling for rhythm.

West Ham started the season full of hope and optimism and due to a terrible run of fixtures and a few new faces we found ourselves pointless with a small number of games gone. Then it all picked up and performances against Chelsea, Everton and Man Utd showed how much quality and aspiration we really have. But entwined within this has been some puzzling off performances. These non-performances also happened against Brighton and to a certain extent in the double header London derby albeit against a top four side currently.

This really is not intended as a bitter Monday moan as all of the prerequisites for brilliance in the team are already evident albeit some more evident than others. Now I think the team in itself has improved rapidly as the games have gone on. Arnie is one of the leading scorers in the Prem, Anderson is starting to germinate and Diangana has been discovered. Diop and Balbuena are actually very proficient and the keeper is outstanding. Therefore we need to really analyse the mechanism by which our form seems to oscillate. I would suggest the main reason is that Pellegrini’s model is not yet complete. It’s clear we don’t quite have a full set of first team players who can provide the reliability and consistency in performance we need. January may be a possibility but our chairman are often cautious of this window so any additions are likely to be on loan or moderately priced at best. Therefore we are looking at next season until we can strengthen the areas we need to. Full backs, another centre forward and an industrious centre mid who can tackle and pass.

Despite such annoyances, looking at our best performances the team we have got are still capable of better showings than the first half at Huddersfield. I think to a certain extent this has been due to pressures and strains on the centre of midfield. Noble’s suspension and Obiang’s continual state of semi-fitness has put immense pressure on Rice who has been superb this season but we are over reliant on him to pick up misplaced passes and generally win the ball in the middle. Against Huddersfield he made a rare individual error and was unlucky to be punished but was. Balbuena and Fabianski also made similar errors but got away with them so it was one of those games where only conceding one goal was actually no mean feat considering the way they came at us. I think we should be more concerned at only scoring one. At times we seem to overplay the ball or run wide when a better ball inside is waiting. We need to be more efficient and clinical, Hernandez immediately made an impact when he came on and should really have done better but fair enough. However that was basically it from him. I’m not convinced taking Diangana off helped anyone and despite Hernandez’s record how much longer can we afford him ghosting about contributing only for very small parts of the game.

Another reason we have not managed to break into a better rhythm is our lack of options from the bench. Antonio continues with a general ineptness which has not been seen in previous seasons and his decision making is still very questionable. Fredericks appears to have sustained an injury to his ankle and certainly looked crocked when last seen gingerly hopping across the field. This is a shame for him and hopefully it is just a sprain, he hadn’t completely settled in the game and with Zab not getting any younger and rumours circulating about this being his last season Fredericks can really capitalise if he ups his game. So what should we be expecting from the rest of this season and from the next couple of seasons? Continued improvement and a few winning runs could see us as high as 6th-8th with being happy with 10th a likely realistic target. The only problem with this is Pellegrini and the whole Board cash input for signings hasn’t been done to finish 10th or even 8th. Pellegrini is a manager who wins things, the board have brought him in to win things, should we expect a major restructuring with maybe Obiang, Antonio, Noble and Carrol being sold to facilitate more ‘major’ signings? Or have we basically got the team we need bar a couple of fullbacks and we just need to carry on gelling and improving? Time will tell, after the break will come a tough test which could boost our season or provide another mini dip in morale but we must come through that and be ready to put together a decent run up to and beyond the New Year.

Lads looking mean, lean and hungry!

At times it seems like we have got it cracked. Anderson beating the player on Saturday and then taking another two out with the angled ball was pure genius as was his finish. Arnie seems to dictate whole phases of games with an invincible glow to his presence as he out battles opponents and finds pockets from which he can pounce, and Diop and Balbuena look comfortable as a pairing which is crucial. The positives all outweigh the negatives and as frustratingly disappointing it is to watch us only score one goal when three or four could have easily been had I still think it was always going to be a tough game and one which we have continued our accrual of points. Lets hope Pellegrini has some ideas for when his old boys come to town as well as looking forward to a few more tough away games. If he gets it right the class of our team will show through and the rhythm will be back in the West Ham dream. COYI!

The HamburgHammer Column

Bitten by the terriers - that really was a bit of a pile of poo, innit ?

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“We’re doing a Spieleabend! Let’s have a Spieleabend, mate!” That’s a suggestion to strike fear into most of us adults beyond the age of 29. Spieleabend translates as “gaming evening” – and it doesn’t refer to games you play on a Playstation or Xbox either. This is actual boardgames, of the modern variety with plastic or wooden pieces, action cards, differently coloured tokens to be used within a framework of sophisticated rules often based on forward thinking, strategic planning and witty banter with the other participants. The rulebook in some cases can be as long and detailed as the manual of your average German car.

A Spieleabend may also involve games where you can show off your geographical knowledge – or lack of it (ideally suited for self-proclaimed smartypants like myself) or some new-fangled weird card games with even weirder rules where any strategy is kind of pointless as one random bad card dealt to your hand can set you back to square one in an instant.

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Still, I kind of had to attend because it also gave me the chance to finally arrive in the 21st century. I am now, at last, the proud owner of a proper smartphone (like 99% of my readers I presume), and my tech-savvy mate (the one who suggested the Spieleabend) helped me to set it all up, showing me some useful tricks and flicks in the process and I am sure the smartphone will come in handy for my upcoming visit to London for the Palace game.

I briefly interrupted that boardgaming bonanza though for two and a half hours to excuse myself and watch the West Ham game at home, just two miles from my mate’s flat, in the hope West Ham would get a much-needed second win on the bounce. Alas, it was not to be.

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I’ve now had some time to mull over the question whether to be happy or disappointed with the result at Huddersfield. As the headline suggests, the glass to me ultimately felt half empty. Huddersfield were a lot stronger than I anticipated though and if it weren’t for Fabianski things could have been even worse for us in the first half.

West Ham as a football team didn’t really happen in the first half, did we ?
What I found missing was the effort to press the Huddersfield players, to chase them around the pitch, the fight, the guts, the hunger.
The will to impose ourselves on the home side and show them their rightful low place in the pecking order.

What happened instead was this: Huddersfield really wanted to win and it showed. They came out of the gates like banshees right from the first whistle and scored very early. We on the other hand wanted to cruise and win the game without really bothering with shifting out of second gear.

Maybe subconsciously the lads looked at Huddersfield’s record so far this season and figured “We’ll beat that lot for sure, even with a half-hearted performance our quality will prevail and we will win regardless.” We didn’t of course. We created a number of fairly decent chances on the day, but again we weren’t quite ruthless enough and wasted most of the opportunities we had managed to craft for ourselves.

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Other than the overall lackluster performance I was feeling increasingly annoyed about Chicharito. I have a number of pet hates when watching football and high on the list is seeing players repeatedly waving their arms in the air, pleading for a handball or offside rather than playing to the whistle, trying to win back a ball or tracking back to defend.
Chicharito seemed to do it a lot, moaning and moping incessantly instead of focusing on his job of converting goalscoring opportunities.

I understand that Besiktas are interested in signing him in January and I would think that a deal at this point might be the best option for all parties concerned: Chicharito has never quite managed to hit a good run of form at our club, his style of play doesn’t really suit us, we might use his wages (plus a bit of a transfer fee) for getting in a more suitable attacking option and the player may find his luck improving elsewhere.

My expectations for this season in terms of league position remain realistic and modest, I would expect us to finish anywhere between 9th and 14th which would be reasonably decent considering it’s yet another season of transition from one manager to another. I think we have a decent platform now quality-wise and with players returning from injury, including Carroll, Wilshere and later on Lanzini as well, we should be even more creative – but we also need to make sure that our players are able and willing to show their quality when it actually counts, between the first and final whistle of our competitive fixtures, be they league or cup games.

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I ain’t asking for the world here, just players who are willing to leave it all out there on the pitch on matchday. We have some fantastic footballers in our squad now, but without 100% effort you cannot expect to win any game of football in the Premier League. It’s now another international break – does it only seem that way or do we have a lot of international games this season, occasionally interrupted by actual league games?

Ideally you want to leave the disappointment of the Huddersfield game behind you, roll up your sleeves and go again in another game the weekend after to make amends.
Instead we can look forward to the well oiled footballing machine of Manchester City which could turn out to be a terrifying prospect. Or we might show the occasional trademark unpredictability we all love so much about our club and beat the odds with a good result against the Mancunians.

I will be ready and make sure that no boardgames will get in my way this time around. Instead I shall be looking forward to my upcoming visit for the Palace game, getting ready for what will probably be my final pre-Brexit trip to London. COYI!!!

Hamburg footballing update: A fairly crap weekend from a personal point of view. Hamburg SV won to cement their place as league leaders in Bundesliga 2 while St.Pauli only managed a 1:1 draw at home against Heidenheim. They are still near the top of the table, but it was very much a case of a big opportunity lost.
Concordia lost. Both the first team and the U23s. They didn’t just lose, they were humiliated: The U23s lost 1:6 at home, got two players sent off for dissent, missed a penalty and generally looked like a pub side on the day, very unusual for them, but that surely now was the final nail in the coffin with regard to any remaining hopes for promotion.
The highlight of the first team’s away game at Sasel was the excellent currywurst (sausage with spicy curry-powdered tomato sauce) I enjoyed before kick-off.
The game ended in a 1:4 defeat and right now attending Cordi games feels a bit like doing the washing up, a chore that doesn’t involve anything resembling fun but needs to get done and got over with…

The Iron Liddy Column

For club and country: Help to get West Ham United to the top of the WW1 Remembrance League

Today I’ve been browsing the array of online articles commemorating the 100 year anniversary of Armistice Day and I came across one that was both surprising and a bit shameful.

Apparently the Woodland Trust and the National Football Museum launched a joint project on 1st July 2016 to plant trees in memory of footballers who fought in World War One. For every £20 raised by the fans of 62 football clubs a tree will be planted at England’s First World War Centenary Woodland on the edge of the Epsom Downs in Surrey, with a target of 100 trees per club.

The name of the project is For Club and Country Remembering the Greater Game and its aim is to create a living and digital legacy to remember the sacrifices made by footballers on the frontline as well as the home front effort during the First World War. As their website explains:

“The direct effects of the First World War are still felt on today’s landscape, with the UK having the least woodland cover in Europe. During and after the First World War, trees were planted in remembrance, marking the loss of life and the sacrifices made. We feel strongly that this tradition should be continued to create a living and growing legacy as a fitting tribute.”

Shockingly, in almost two and a half years the project has only raised £2,621 of its £139,000 target. I can’t believe for a moment that this is due to football fans failing to donate to such a worthwhile cause. It must be down to a lack of publicity, especially as over £500 of the money raised so far was donated since the news article about the lack of donations appeared yesterday. Clearly the PR departments of both the Woodland Trust and the National Football Museum need a kick up the butt. I’m a member of the Woodland Trust and this is the first that I’ve heard about this project!

So I’m appealing to all West Ham fans to consider making a donation in memory of the Hammers who fought and died in WW1. There are several good reasons to do this, not least because helping to restore our green and pleasant land in the name of those who died in her name is a very fitting and environmentally sound idea; but also because the ambassador of the project is none other than our very own Sir Trevor Brooking. As Sir Trev explains on the project website:

“The Woodland Trust and the National Football Museum’s For Club and Country project is the perfect way to commemorate football’s important role in the First World War.

“We’re planting groves of trees for the clubs whose players bravely fought for their country and creating something beautiful and long lasting for future generations.

“Every football fan needs to get involved and make sure their club is remembered in the football groves at Langley Vale Wood. If you love football as much as I do, please pledge just £5 to get your team represented and see your own name listed on the supporters’ roll of honour.”

So not only will you be helping to create a living, breathing tribute to those fallen men, you will also have the opportunity to add your name to the Roll of Honour alongside Sir Trevor Brooking’s name. Once the First World War commemorations conclude in 2019, your name will form part of a permanent exhibition at the National Football Museum.

If all of that isn’t reason enough to pledge whatever you can afford then consider this …… at the moment the top six clubs in the WW1 Remembrance League are as follows:

  1. Nottingham Forest – £315
  2. Tottenham Hotspur – £260
  3. Queens Park Rangers – £155
  4. Cardiff City – £150
  5. England – £140
  6. Plymouth Argyle – £105

I know! We need to climb up that table above the Spuds ASAP! Many clubs’ supporters have yet to donate anything at all, so at £72 West Ham aren’t in the relegation zone but this is a league that we can actually win. So please dig deep and pledge what you can, every little will help. Let’s make West Ham the first club to reach their £2,000 target and make Sir Trev proud of us.

This link will take you directly to the WHU donation page: For Club and Country: West Ham United

Come on you Irons!

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