In the 121st minute, I had concluded two things: that this had been one of the most thrilling matches I had seen at the Boleyn in twenty years of attending E13, and that if it went to penalties, we’d lose. That last point may seem negative, but I had images of a failed Arsenal FA Cup shootout and the infamous end to Cardiff in 2006. I also vaguely remember seeing a table of successes at penalty shootouts and seeing Liverpool up top and us down bottom. It was the ideal Mark Lawrenson table.
Yet football – and the beloved Boleyn – does not allow you to conclude matters before the final whistle is blown, and West Ham does not allow scripts to be written or stats to be confirmed until their eleven man have had the last word.
If there is one thing to be said about our side, it is that many commentators underrate or fail to mention many of those who make up our eleven men. Dimitri Payet is the centre of attention on the back pages and his hefty salary demands and our adoring chants have clearly gone to all of our heads. I would never question Payet’s ability, but it is evident that things have just not gone right for him in the last few games. The Liverpool game showed that even though his thinking is right and he knows the right pass, it does not always come off. Of course, the reason why you spend £10 million and allow a reported £125,000 a week salary is that he is a game changer and forget about the previous 120 minutes, his ball into the box in the 121st is all that matters now.
But it is the unsong heroes of our team: Kouyate, who even wanted to come on after his head injury, Ogbonna and Obiang, two players who constantly commit, and even Valencia and Antonio, who have stepped up without Sakho and Lanzini to be powerful dribblers and a threatening force.
Essentially, I am not sure what to make of Payet’s contract negotiations and talk of possible moves away. All that I think is: you’re an adored player in East London, but if we look to the changing face of football and the current debate about ticket prices, it depresses me that players demand so much. Because that demand puts pressure on clubs, and clubs in turn use it as – unreasonable in my opinion – justification for increasing ticket prices. We all know that ticket price revenue is nothing compared to the revenue from TV money, but player demands add pressure, but even more importantly, they further this disconnect between fan and player.
Payet deserves to be better paid than Andy Carroll, but his performance against Liverpool and recent fixtures have not been as impressive as those before. Is it because he’s thinking about his contract? Regardless, if Payet demands more money, he deserves it. But he adds even more expectation and demand from us, the fans, who know what he can do and what he is now being paid. His form has to be as good as it has been, and consistently until the end of the season, to earn his higher pay grade.
Now, onto the next two games, briefly. Firstly, fast forwarding to the Blackburn away game, I worry that we repeat what happened last year: two wins against Everton and Bristol, with one replay, and then a capitulation to West Brom. The expectation is even greater given the euphoria of the Liverpool win and Slaven Bilic’s outspoken desire the win the Cup. Yet remember, last year, Man City, Chelsea and Spurs had been knocked out by this stage and the path to Wembley looked a lot more pleasant. Furthermore, in the fifth round last year Blackburn beat Stoke at home 4-1 while we getting thrashed by Pulis’ men. We need to go into this game with the mentality that assumes we are not favourites given this is a side that in recent years beat Stoke and Swansea last year in the competition and a few years ago beat Arsenal at the Emirates. They will want another Premier League scalp.
And with this weekend’s game, well, we know from the Southampton game that we lack an attacking threat in certain games where we should have the upper hand: even when the Saints went down to ten men we didn’t step it up. 10 men of Villa is obviously a lot harder than the ten men of Southampton. Furthermore, we cannot let games like Norwich away slip us up. I was thinking the other day: how can Southampton be that high up the table? The general vibe is they are doing badly. Well compared to last season, they are, down several points from this stage last year. On the other hand, we are two points better off than we were one year ago. We need to make sure we do not slip like last year and games against Norwich – who I believe will go down – must be won and won comfortably. That should be our goal this Saturday.
Guest Post by Andrew Newman
I am proud to say I have supported West Ham all my life. Since I moved down to Dorset From London 13 years ago I fell in love & happily married my wife and proudly took on her son on who I am now honoured to call my stepson. He was at the time 9 yrs old and sadly supported Chelsea unto the age of 11. But I managed to convince him to support West Ham. He instantly fell in love with our history, mainly Bobby Moore and our famous ‘bubbles’ song. And iconic players from the past like Di Canio, Dicks, Bonds, etc.
He now loves to sing the Payet song in his room and ‘bubbles’ whenever possible all the time. His bedroom is now claret & blue from top to bottom and gone is the Chelsea theme I reluctantly decorated for him. I have taken him to home friendlies before, as sadly I cant get a season ticket. But luckily due to my business relationship with a supplier who has 2 season tickets for Southampton I have been able to take him to the West Ham away matches at St Mary’s for the last two years.
But can you imagine having to sit in the Saints end listening to the conversations running the Hammers down and how great the Saints are? It is torture for me!
But I love him so I can just about tolerate it. But at least it’s always a safe environment. He now has grown into a lovely respectful thirteen year old son.
However, he always wishes he could be in the away end so he can sing ‘bubbles’ the Payet song when we go to Southampton. I always tell him what a great experience away days are and promised him one day we will go to a away day match and sing our hearts out together, win, lose or draw. Nothing would make me prouder seeing him so happy.
At Saturday night’s match against Southampton we were, as usual, sitting in the home end. And as usual we was having to listen to the usual dribble from Saints fans until half time. But then I could see down by the touchline a head steward I know from work.
I grabbed my son’s hand and we went down there and I asked the steward if there was any chance he could get us in the away end with our fellow West Ham fans. He said ‘Sure, come with me’. At this point my son’s eyes lit up and he was so excited. We were kindly shown in to the West Ham end. I have never seen him so happy. Another steward told us there were plenty of seats available near the segregation seats and to choose which ones we would like. As I excitedly thanked him my son and I moved into position.
The mood was defiantly different from the one in the Southampton end we were in. But he was still so happy and couldn’t wait to hear the rendition of ‘bubbles’ start. The second half kicked off and so did ‘bubbles’. He looked at me and I winked at him, and he sang his heart out. I was so happy I had made his dream come true.
Sadly the mood changed again after the sending off and a few morons from West Ham kept charging past us towards the Southampton supporters, clearly not interested in the match, swearing and being abusive in front of my son pushing him out of way so they could scream at the Southampton fans, goading them for a fight.
As I looked at my son’s face it turned in a instant from one of happiness to one full of fear. He was so scared the tears soon followed.This kept on and on. My heart broke i held him close and could feel his body shaking with fear – his dream having turned into a nightmare. As I looked around also a young girl of maybe eight or nine was also sobbing, hugging her Dad close. I then left with my son before the match finished for his safety.
What possesses idiots to behave in front of children like this?! I can never again say to my stepson that West Ham is a family club. And I think emotionally he is scared to want to go to another West Ham match, home or away. The morons who only wanted to go for a fight have ruined his love for our great club.
I’m a very sad Hammer.
UPDATE FROM IAIN: This has a happy ending. If you look through the comments you will see that Graham has offered to take Andrew and his son to a game, as he has seats at the ground where there isn’t any aggression or bad language. I am delighted to say that Andrew and his son will be going to the Sunderland game, and Andrew will write a post for us afterwards. See how brilliant the people on this site can be? I have a warm feeling inside :).
Injuries give the likes of Obiang and Ogbonna the chance to shine, says Iain
If Harry Redknapp were still at West Ham there would be a lot of talk of ‘bare bones’. We lost three players to injury last night. Winston Reid is out for a month, Chiekh Kouyate will certainly miss the Norwich game, as will Joey O’Brien. With Lanzini, Tomkins, and Sakho out too, that’s quite a lot of players to lose. At one point last night it looked as if both James Collins, Enner Valencia and Andy Carroll might have to retire from the match, but they all managed to run off their injuries.
Luckily for us, the club did some brilliant work in the summer to ensure that we remain covered in all positions. And of course, when there are injuries it gives others the opportunity to shine. We should remember that this is how both Lanzini and Antonio have seized their chances.
I suspect the lineup against Norwich will look something like this…
Carroll or Valencia
To me, that is still a very strong looking side even without Tomkins, Reid, Lanzini and Sakho.
The future is very bright. Unless Ogbonna and Collins both get injured!
David Hautzig's Match Report
“Dave. If at all possible, you need to try and get over here one more time to pay your respects to The Boleyn”. So said Nigel Kahn at the beginning of the season. His sentiments were echoed by my best mate, Jon, who also wanted to say goodbye to Upton Park and wanted me to come with him. So did my wife and kids. So I did. And to say we “lucked out” would be a bit of an understatement, because last night’s FA Cup replay win over Liverpool was epic in so many ways.
I’ve taken a wee bit of stick from a few people now and again who would prefer having a match reporter that attended the games. Well, the people that actually do that from the ground are usually in the press box, with a desk and their laptop right there. Not to mention video replay. Without those tools, which I have at home, there is no way I could pull it off. So I didn’t even try. I wanted to relish the spectacle, which started at The Black Lion for a pint with Nigel and Jon. As we walked there, we passed Phil Parkes. A lovely little chat ensued, the uniqueness of American Hammers was acknowledged, and we said our goodbyes and best wishes for a result. On our way back, we met Safehands of comments fame. The resemblance to Repka was astounding.
I won’t beat around the bush. Jon got a box for the match, and he encouraged me to invite some of the media folk I’ve gotten to know in the cyber sense. So we were joined by our fearless leader Iain, Bianca Westwood and her brother, Dan Silver of The Sun, David Blackmore of Blowing Bubbles, Nigel, and a few mates from my other job. You know, the one that pays me. The match progressed differently for each of us.
Dan, as it turns out, is even more neurotic and anxious while watching us than I am. He predicted a loss, and repeatedly predicted doom on most Liverpool attacks or set pieces. We were immediate soulmates.
Nigel is level headed. Seriously. No, really. I’m not kidding.
Bianca started the game brightly, but as the match progressed the West Ham demons started to take over. Not quite Linda Blair in The Exorcist, but starting around the 60th minute she would say things like “I wish I didn’t care”, or more directly “I just don’t care anymore”. Occasionally she would threaten to leave. All completely understandable. Maybe her change of seats late in added time deserves some credit for bringing us the result.
David Blackmore was pretty even keel, making observations about the match from both sides perspective. He acted normal. Talk about feeling awkward.
Wine guy Jason and his brother Adam were wonderfully psychopathic, yelling and cajoling everyone on.
Iain showed up late because he had to…..get this…..work. Screwed up sense of priorities to be sure.
The Host With The Most, Jon, sat behind me. He talked to the players a lot under his breath. And he calls me a nutter. Fine.
This is all from memory, folks. I did not take notes, nor do I care if I’m accurate. Last night was about saying hello to a wonderful group of new friends that I genuinely hope to stay in touch with, and saying goodbye to an old friend that until this morning I didn’t realize I was going to miss so much.
The theme before kick-off was centered around the one man we all were convinced would lead the way. Joey O’Brien. Yes, in what was clearly an attempt to quell our fears about the right back slot we tried to paint him as Superman. And in the opening few moments when he hit the post with an attempt from inside the box we all looked at each other with incredulity. Could we possibly have some kind of psychic effect on the action below? Trust me, it wouldn’t have been the first time I thought that and it won’t be the last. More on that later.
While it will come as a shock to no one, West Ham, despite JOB, started slowly. Liverpool were dictating the action for the opening 15 minutes or so, and you got the feeling that if Benteke were as good as Coutinho seemed to think he is it could have gotten ugly for us. Fast. But he lacked the quality in the final third that Liverpool assumed he had when they paid close to the GDP of Malta for him.
West Ham got themselves into the match midway through the first half, primarily in my mind due to the solid work at the back from Ogbonna and the freight train movements of Antonio. But it’s clearly not all power from our seven million pound addition. When Valencia broke down the left side of the box and sent a looping cross into the box, the fact that it took a slight deflection made it even more impressive that Antonio tracked it perfectly with his eyes before adding perfection with his right foot to beat Mignolet.
Half time. West Ham 1, Liverpool 0.
If you were a Liverpool supporter, I’m certain an early second half goal was all you thought you needed to destroy the confidence of both the West Ham players as well as the crowd. And they got that. In the 48th minute, Obiang took down Coutinho at the edge of the West Ham penalty area. As the Brazilian international stepped up to take the kick, we all mumbled out loud that the wall better do their job and not let him curl a shot over them. Going under them never occurred to us. I’m doubting it occurred to anyone. So as mad as I was, hats off to the little troll for going under the bridge instead of over it.
West Ham 1, Liverpool 1.
Down went Reid. Down went Kouyate. Down went O’Brien. Maybe not in that order. But like I said, accuracy isn’t important to me today. With extra time looming we had no right back. But in a way I’m sure some old timers just nodded their head and grinned at, Antonio took his place there and did the job. Very, very well. In some ways, it shouldn’t be that shocking. He’s a professional footballer. He should be able to do a competent job virtually anywhere on the pitch, right?
Back to our psychic premonitions. Before kickoff, I polled the room for both score predictions and goal scorers. When it came for my turn, I said 2-0 West Ham with Ogbonna to score the winner off a set piece. Swear to God. It was done purely for shock purposes, and nobody was more shocked than me. Payet didn’t have a good game. OK, he had a very poor game. But his cross in the 120th minute was picture perfect, and as the ball touched the back of the net we obviously went mad. Massive group hug while jumping up and down, screaming like toddlers. Before I could say Antonio was a God, because I thought it was his head that did the trick, David, Bianca, Jon and Dan all started pointing at me. “Ogbonna!!!!” It took a second for my brain to translate what sounded like gibberish in the din to the surname of the evening’s hero. Personally, he would have been my MOTM even without the goal.
Final Score. West Ham 2, Liverpool 1.
I’m hoping the clues we have been given this season are signs of things to come. Four games against a side the universe hasn’t allowed us to much against most years, and we have three wins and a draw. When Slaven told the media that The Cup was more important than finishing top four, he reignited my passion for the competition. For the past few years I have looked at it like an inconvenience that we had to simply deal with. And for that I’m very grateful. Thanks, Slav.
As we walked out of Upton Park, I consciously decided not to look back. I wanted my last image of the place to be the group picture we took right after the game. Upton Park took a couple of Yanks who needed one last chance to understand what they were losing.
What a night it was.