Lacklustre. Embarrassing. Tired. Just three of the words to describe West Ham’s performance tonight in Slovenia.
1. Michael Antonio Is. Not. A. Right Back. Period.
2. Sam Byram is a right back. But also did well at left back.
3. The back four played as if they’d never played together. Which they probably hadn’t.
4. Enner Valencia. What’s the point?
5. Adrian kept us in this leg. Especially with his double save at the end.
6. This result did not flatter NK Domzale. But it did flatter us.
7. Andy Carroll looked a spare part and never got into the game, but he got little service.
8. Why can’t commentators pronounce Feghouli? He looked a class above any other West Ham forward facing player.
9. Harvard Nortweit. Jury Still out.
10. The second leg should be some game.
A very dispiriting evening, but let’s remember, we were without Payet, Lanzini, Sakho, Ogbonna, Cresswell, Tore and Collins. This was a second eleven who put on a second eleven performance. OK, it’s the beginning of the season, and we shouldn’t overreact, but my oh my I was expecting more than this.
Domzale were founded in 1921 and embarked on their golden age in the summer of 2002 when Slavisa Stojanovic was appointed head coach. The club were promoted to the Slovenian top flight, the PrvaLiga, in his first year in charge and went on to qualify for the UEFA Cup in 2005 and 2006. Domzale won back-to-back titles in 2007 and 2008 and won the Supercup in 2007. The Ravbarji (Brigands) finished 3rd last season.
Domzale progressed to the second qualifying round of the Champions League after both title successes, only to be knocked out on both occasions by Dinamo Zagreb. They have come across two of West Ham United’s three Europa League opponents from last season in recent campaigns – they were knocked out of the Europa League by Romanians Astra Giurgiu in 2013/14, losing 3-0 on aggregate, and their first round opponents this season were Lusitans of Andorra, who they beat 5-2 on aggregate. They defeated Shakhtyor Soligorsk of Belarus 3-2 on aggregate in the second round to set up this third round clash with West Ham United.
Manager Luka Elsner (pictured right) is a 33-year-old who holds the record for the highest number of appearances for Domzale. Elsner, a former defender, played for the club in their most successful period from 2004 to 2010. He made one appearance for the Slovenian national team and, with a birthday next Tuesday, he will be 34 when he brings his Domzale side to London.
One of Domzale’s most notable players is 25-year-old centre-back Kenan Horic (pictured left), who will wear number 6 and stands at 6’3. Horic is Bosnian and started his career with 88 appearances for Celik Zenica between 2010 and 2014 and has also appeared for the Bosnia and Herzegovinan Under-19 side. He signed for Domzale in 2014. Behind him is likely to be 22-year-old French goalkeeper Axel Maraval, who came through the ranks at Monaco. Alvaro Brachi, a 30-year-old Spanish right-back, came through the youth system at Betis at around the same time as West Ham goalkeeper Adrian. 23-year-old Gaber Dobrovoljc is a former Slovenian Under-21 international centre-back who stands at 6’ tall while 21-year-old left-back Jure Balkovec has also been capped at Under-21 level.
Another star of the team is Matic Crnic (pictured right), who will wear number 11 – he is a Slovenian left-sided midfield player who first played for Maribor, Slovenia’s most successful club. The 24-year-old moved to Domzale in 2015 and has won his first two full international caps this year. Lucas Mario Horvat is a 30-year-old defensive midfielder who was born in Argentina and came through the ranks at River Plate. Marko Alvir is a 22-year-old central midfield player.
Another leading light is Benjamin Morel (pictured left), a 29-year-old French right winger who will wear number 87. Morel started his professional career with Caen in his home country and went on to have spells with Clermont Foot and Amiens. He signed for Domzale in 2014 and has since scored 10 goals in 58 matches. He left the club for Bulgarian side Beroe Stara Zagora in February this year but swiftly returned to Domzale last month. Morel is joined in a creative role by 24-year-old attacking midfielder Zan Majer, another former Slovenian Under-21 international. 20-year-old Croatian striker Antonio Mance, standing at 6’2, leads the line
Domzale play their home matches at the Domzale Sports Park, a multi-purpose stadium which holds just 2,813 fans. With the local demand to see a Premier League side, the Rumeni (Yellows) have switched the match 10 miles south-west to the national stadium in Ljubljana, the Stozice Stadium.
The multi-purpose Stozice Stadium can hold 16,038 spectators when in football mode and is the home ground of Olimpija Ljubljana, who are owned by former Portsmouth, Leicester and Sheffield Wednesday supremo Milan Mandaric. It is also the home of the Slovenian national team – England won 3-2 at the Stozice Stadium in June 2015 thanks to a double from Jack Wilshere and a late winner from Wayne Rooney, a video of which has been included below to give readers an opportunity to view the stadium. England will return to the Stozice Stadium for a World Cup qualifier under the management of former Hammers boss Sam Allardyce later this year, on Tuesday the 11th October.
The Claret and Blue Army have been allocated 1,500 tickets which are likely to be in the South Stand behind the goal to the right of the cameras – the stadium is famous for its sunken design with the roof starting essentially at ground level.
Slovenia is in southern central Europe, bordered by Italy to the west, Austria to the north, Hungary to the northeast, Croatia to the south and southeast, and the Adriatic Sea to the southwest. Slovenia has 2.06 million inhabitants and Ljubljana is its capital city. The official language is Slovene and the territory is mostly mountainous with a mainly continental climate.
The match is available to watch on BT Sport 2 in the UK (Sky channel 417 or HD 457, Virgin channel 532 or HD 528, Plusnet channel 410 or HD 432, TalkTalk channel 410) with the programme starting at 7.30pm for a 7.45pm kick-off.
Thursday’s officials are from Turkey, with the referee being 36-year-old Mete Kalkavan (pictured left); he was the man in the middle for FK Gabala’s 2-0 Europa League second qualifying round second leg home win over MTK Budapest last week, showing three yellow cards in that game. The Istanbul-born official also refereed last season’s Turkish Cup Final between Galatasaray and Fenerbahce, as well as England Under-19s’ victories over Macedonia and Finland last October.
Domzale are expected to name their strongest available line up as they bid to establish a first-leg lead, with star men Kenan Horic, Matic Crnic and Benjamin Morel all set to start.
Slaven Bilic is likely to name the strongest line-up available to him. James Collins and Angelo Ogbonna will be available for the second leg, while Diafra Sakho has also been named in the squad submitted to UEFA but has not travelled to the recent training camps. Dimitri Payet and Diego Poyet have not been named in the squad and are therefore ineligible for both legs, while Aaron Cresswell has been ruled out for four months with a knee injury – 20-year-old Lewis Page should start at left-back seeing as he is the only specialist in that position in the squad. Darren Randolph could start in goal if Super Slav sticks with the goalkeeping policy he utilised last season, while Michail Antonio could continue at right-back. Havard Nordtveit has played at centre-back during some of the pre-season tour matches and could fill in again with Collins and Ogbonna missing the first leg. Sofiane Feghouli and Gokhan Tore are in line for competitive debuts for the Hammers, either from the start or the bench. Reece Oxford flew in to join the training camp in Austria and it must be assumed that, in doing so, he could be at the forefront of Slaven’s mind for a starting place.
Late yesterday evening the Mail Sports ran a story claiming that Tony Carr has been left distraught by the club’s decision to offer him redundancy after 43 years loyal service, during which time he has earned the Hammers a multi-million profit on transfer fees. The piece points out that the combined incoming transfer fees from the sale of Rio Ferdinand, Frankie Lampard, Michael Carrick, Joe Cole, Jermaine Defoe and Glen Johnson amount to £50m! Yet, the club has allegedly imposed on Carr a harsh choice of a much reduced 1 day a week role or a a statutory minimum redundancy package of £14,000.
It appears that Tony Carr has decided to accept the £14,000 package, to break possibly the last surviving club link with the famous Ron Greenwood era of the 1960s and 1970s. And it has provided the Sports Mail with the perfect opportunity to engage in a bit of ‘Hammers bashing.’ with the piece arguing that a £14,000 pay off is scandalously low when one considers the following: the £100m minimum TV income this coming season and the ‘fact’ (in their words) that the club are ‘moving in to the publicly owned Olympic Stadium, for which they are being charged a peppercorn rent of £2.5m per year.’
From the report, it would appear that Tony Carr is not only upset with the redundancy, but also the fact that his exit has been handled exclusively by the club’s HR Department, rather than at a senior level. Indeed, Carr is quoted as stating that:
‘I am very disappointed because I still feel that I have a lot to offer and West Ham has become a way of life for me after all these years. The way it has been done with people from HR, who have been here hardly any time at all, was particularly disrespectful in my opinion. But that is the way of the world these days.’
As of Tuesday evening, the club had not made a comment in response, but the article quotes David Gold, at the time of Carr’s appointment as a club Ambassador, saying: ‘We are delighted that Tony has accepted this exciting new position, which is a fitting recognition for more than 40 years service.’
Well, that may well have been the case, but it also begs the question: what has changed so radically in the short period of time since David Gold made that statement? One must also seriously question whether HR staff would undertake such an action without the prior approval of a person(s) at a suitably senior level. Moreover, it is a huge PR own goal, which was totally avoidable. And it serves to seriously undermine the many positive developments at the the club. The Sports Mail article needs a response from the joint-Chairmen of the club. If it is true (which it would seem to be from Carr’s quotes), was this issue discussed at senior/board room level and who instructed the HR staff to pursue this course of action? Why has such a loyal and successful club servant been treated in such an unacceptable fashion?
I have always been largely supportive of the current board, their plans to stabilise the club and move to the Olympic Stadium. They have done a good job salvaging the club from the Icelandic era financial crisis and moving it forward to where we find ourselves today. But, at the end of the day, it must always be about being a ‘critical friend’ and reserving the right to constructively challenge and criticise as necessary.
As such, the club would be well-advised to apologise to Tony Carr and restore him forthwith to his former role as a club Ambassador. In the past (under former regimes) the club has allowed schisms to form with such club legends as Bobby Moore and Billy Bonds. This present board has done much to compensate for past mistakes and try to heal old divisions, recognising Moore’s iconic status as our greatest player, working closely with the Moore family/charities and bringing Billy Bonds back in to the West Ham fold. So, it would be ironic and deeply counter-productive if they were to now let a similar type of rift form between the club and Tony Carr. The club really should avoid treading that path once again!
Conducted on Saturday 23rd July 2016 by the Voice of Reason and Chicken Run Boy
Having sampled a couple of pubs near to Stratford station a couple of weeks ago in the company of Barney, Original Russ and Safehands, with the intention of finding a convenient watering hole near the new stadium, we decided to move areas and start at Hackney Wick station which, incidentally, is closer to the stadium than Stratford station (16 minute walk v. 18 minutes – and that’s before they put the Stratford diversions in place).
Now, for those who are unaware, Hackney Wick has become Hipster Central which, having been born in Hackney, I can’t really grasp – and I certainly don’t understand.
It would appear that the characteristics of Hipsterism are:
• Large beard (I have a small one but could get planning permission to extend, I’m sure)
• No socks (I never wear them at night)
• Talking bol**cks (I am highly qualified)
Where I appear to fail is my inability to graffiti any vertical surface to enhance the verbal bol**cks with some visual ones. Chicken Run Boy also failed in this respect once I had thrown his aerosols into a convenient bin.
Anyway, we met outside Hackney Wick station well aware that we could find some drinking establishments that were not really ideal for several hundred West Ham fans but we travelled in hope and expectation.
Here’s what we found:
1. Crate Brewery & Pizzeria, Queens Yard, off White Post Lane
4 minutes from the station, 13 minutes from the stadium.
Craft beers, excellent pizzas (we sampled them) and, on a warm day which it was, great to sit outside by the river / canal (even Liddy doesn’t know which it is). Appeared to be very much a destination location with beards and bare ankles coming from every direction.
I’m not sure how well lots of football fans would go down here and the outside seating would become superfluous during the winter months.
2. Howling Hops featuring Billy Smokes BBQ
Same address as Crate, above and the same distance from the stadium.
We didn’t actually go in this one and only noticed it as we were leaving Queens Yard.
Stuck our heads inside to see a large room with a bar at the end and long tables laid out very much like a 1930s Munich Beer Cellar.
Pretty empty apart from a goosestepping bloke at the back with a comedy moustache
Verdict: Hipster with fascist overtones.
3. The Lighthouse
421 Wick Lane
14 minutes from the station, 12 minutes from the stadium but that’s all pretty irrelevant because…..
it was closed and doesn’t open, according to the sign on the door, on either Saturdays or Sundays and when they do decide to give it a go they close at 9pm.
We heard later that it might have closed down altogether but this is unconfirmed.
Verdict: Neither Hipster or Herbert, or anything else for that matter.
4. Eleanor Arms
460 Old Ford Road
19 minutes from the station, 17 minutes from the stadium.
A proper, community-type pub which was open. Hallelujah, a drink at last! Well, two or three actually as it was a hot day and we had walked a long way.
Not a sports pub at all, no TVs, but pleasant enough.
5. The Builders Arms
302 Stratford High Street
25 minutes from Hackney Wick station but only 7 minutes from Stratford station. Directly opposite Stratford High Street DLR station. 15 minutes to the stadium.
Sizeable pub, sport shown on several TVs, some outside seating and the beer appeared to be cheap. We had a few here so can’t actually remember the prices.
We decided to call it a day after this one. Well it was a difficult task but we didn’t mind taking one for the team. What is becoming fairly evident is that there are not that many pubs conveniently situated for the Olympic Stadium which will no doubt please the bean counters at the club as it increases the chances of fans drinking at the venue itself.
In terms of travelling to the stadium, I think that going to Hackney Wick station will make it easier to get to the Stadium than Stratford where the majority of the crowd, including visiting fans, will surely go. Other options, depending where people are coming from, are DLR stations at Pudding Lane and Stratford High Street.