This season so far has been one of several highs but quite a few lows. All in all, we probably deserve to be where we are in the table, although it could have been very different – both positively and negatively. I think we all feared the worst when we lost our first few games, yet in December we all got carried away and there was talk of getting into the top seven. Since then we’ve shown some very inconsistent form, which included the humiliation of being dumped out of the FA Cup by AFC Wimbledon. Mind you, it saved us having to host Millwall this weekend. I dread to think what the consequences of that would have been A lucky escape, indeed.
Given our terrible injury record, it’s quite remarkable we have reached mid table mediocrity. How many teams could afford to lose Lanzini, Yarmolenko, Reid, Wilshere and Sanchez for the whole season and then on top of that lose Arnautovic, Cresswell, Balbuena, Carroll, Fredericks and Hernandez for parts of the season too? Not many.
There have been a number of keys to our recent more successful form. The first is the partnership if Balbuena and Diop, who came to look as if they had been playing together for years. The sooner Balbuena comes back, the better. Secondly, the form of both Fabianski and Declan Rice has been outstanding. I can’t remember either of them having a bad game. In addition, after a very shaky start Felipe Anderson is now showing that he can be the player we all hoped he would be. He’s still too inconsistent but has started scoring some very welcome goals. Michail Antonio is also coming back into form after struggling with injuries for far too long.
Our weaknesses remain at left and right back. We’ve looked better since Aaron Cresswell has returned to the team. He may not be as adventurous as Masuaku, but Masuaku is simply not a defender and takes too many risks. On the other side Ryan Fredericks has had a difficult start, but against Liverpool we saw the first signs that he can do the job he was bought to do. Zabaleta never lets anyone down but I suspect he will call it a day at the end of the season.
So far, we have played 26 games and bagged 33 points. Assuming we continue with that average points haul we’ll end up with 48/49 points.
We have home games against Fulham, Newcastle, Huddersfield, Everton, Leicester, Southampton
And away we have Manchester City, Cardiff, Chelsea, Manchester United, Spurs, Watford
I reckon we’ll get 17-20 points from those games, predominantly from the home games. That would put us on 50-53 points, which I suspect most of us would settle for as of today.
Quite a few players will be playing for their place next season. Others may have already mentally departed. I fear that Arnautovic may fall into that latter category. I fear Michail Antonio doesn’t see his future at the London Stadium either.
The message is that even though we’re certainly not going to be relegated and we won’t be challenging for a European place, the final 12 games of the season are going to see some interesting developments.
As we head to the final third of the season, we have time to reflect. The team are on a warm weather training break in Malaga, where the temperature is 16 degrees. Today is a perfect day in London, where it is 14 degrees. Should they have bothered?
So, this is an example of whether we look at the world as a glass which is half full or half empty. The answer is that, of course, they should go, as this is more an exercise in team bonding.
So, continuing the analogy, those who believe our glass is half full will say that we are 10th in the Premier League and that’s a minor miracle given that we lost the first four games. We have ended protests against the Board. We’ve invested in new players and a new manager. Players are starting to return from the injury list. And this is the best that can be hoped for unless one’s team is owned by a country, oligarch or multi- billionaire.
But, we are football fans and most of us usually see our team through a glass which is half empty. So, here goes for all you pessimists. This is your therapy for the day.
We continue to get players on the cheap. We are football’s version of webuyanycar.com. We are interested in players whose best years are behind them. Jack Wilshere is being paid £100,000 per week to sit on his backside, even though it was well documented he is prone to injury. We took the thirty seven year old Patrice Evra and paid £75,000 a week and he played three games. Nasri, Hernadez and Zabaleta fall into this category. Pelegrini is past his prime.
Our games continue to be frustrating. The second half against Crystal Palace was diabolical. I watched the Spurs’ Champions’ League Game, where their second half was fantastic. They went forward (even though Robbie Savage thought they should retreat), whereas we went backwards. Was it a tactical error, or were we knackered?
We’ve had fantastic performances against Arsenal and Manchester United, but were pathetic against Bournemouth and Wolves. The loss to AFC Wimbledon has got to be our worst performance of all time.
So, are we unfit or tired because they’ve trained too much? There was a documentary broadcast about Brian Clough and the most interesting comment was that he believed rest was as good as training. Sean Dyce who was a young player at the time at Nottingham Forest has said,’ Even then, the structure of the week, you’d be off Sunday, off Monday, in Tuesday, off Wednesday, off Thursday, train Friday, play Saturday. Amazingly, it seems madness, but everyone was motivated to play because you went in hungry.’
Also, am I crazy to believe we have more injuries in the modern game than we have ever had in the past? Is it anything to do with the training?
The stadium will never be another Boleyn. Apart from the fact that the crowd are too far from the players, there seems to be something wrong with the acoustics. There seems to be a lack of co-ordination between the chants which emanate from different parts of the stadium. Perhaps it has to do with the speed of sound.
But could we do more to engender crowd participation? Perhaps Karen Brady could devote part of her £17,100 part-time week to this problem.
Weren’t the drums the drums of the Borussia Dortmund fans fantastic (how did they get those into the ground)? Our away fans are fantastic. We need to get this involvement flowing at the London Stadium. Perhaps we should have the sound of hammers hitting a gong. Does anyone remember the Rank Organisation and the Man with a Gong (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uie4YqrhNHQ0 ? I suppose the Hammerettes are a thing of the past.
So, drink up what’s left in the glass. Here’s the thing though. If you’re unhappy with your marriage, you can get a divorce. If you don’t like your job, you can leave. But, I’ve never, ever met a football fan who has stopped supporting his club.
On Valentine’s Day our thoughts turn to love; and what better day to say a fond valediction to a remarkable woman, West Ham’s oldest season ticket holder and best loved fan, Mabel Arnold. In fact, Saint Valentine plays a bigger part in this story than you may think; if it wasn’t for cupid’s arrow Mabel may never have begun her long love affair with West Ham United at all.
As “the war to end all wars” raged across the globe, Mabel Rose Harris was born in Camberwell in South London on Sunday 2nd April 1916. She was the ninth of Reuben and Phyllis Harris’s ten children and the family home at 47 Edmund Street was just a couple of miles west of The Den, the ground of West Ham’s arch rivals. If geography had prevailed and the course of true love hadn’t intervened we could quite feasibly have lost one of our most loyal and long-standing fans to Millwall! Thankfully for us and unbeknown to baby Mabel the two great loves of her life were waiting for her just across the water.
As Mabel came into the world the little boy who was to become her first love was still a grubby-kneed six year old busy kicking stones around Ricardo Street, the road where he was born in Poplar; while her second true love was in a state of flux.
When war was declared on 4th August 1914 it was expected that the Football Association would follow the example set by cricket and cancel all matches. However, despite opposition, matches continued to be played in the Football League throughout the 1914-1915 season and the FA Cup was held as normal. It was during this season that the formidable striking partnership of West Ham’s Syd Puddefoot and Dick Leafe produced 31 goals between them and contributed to the team’s fourth place finish in the Southern League, resulting in their election to the Football League.
Unfortunately for the Hammers their ascent into the upper echelons of professional football was immediately interrupted as the Football League programme was then suspended for the remainder of the First World War. However, clubs were still allowed to organise regional competitions and the London Combination League was inaugurated in 1915 with the following twelve founder members: Arsenal, Brentford, Chelsea, Clapton Orient, Croydon Common, Crystal Palace, Fulham, Millwall, Queens Park Rangers, Tottenham Hotspur, Watford and West Ham United. First team matches were played until 1919 and thereafter the reserve teams took over as the Football League was resumed. Croydon Common and Watford dropped out and were replaced with Charlton Athletic and Southend United.
West Ham finished a respectable 4th in the 1915-1916 London Combination League (LCL), although unfortunately behind Chelsea, Millwall and Arsenal. However, by the time baby Mabel had celebrated her first birthday the Hammers were riding high and they went on to win the 1916-1917 LCL with 65 points; 7 points clear of South London rivals Millwall, who had to settle for second place.
At this stage of her life Mabel was probably oblivious to the two teams of dockers slugging it out in competition for her affections and in fact she’s on record as saying that the only football match that she attended in her youth was at Charlton. I doubt that as a seven year old in 1923 she was even aware that West Ham had made it to the first FA Cup Final at Wembley; I can’t imagine that there were many people shouting that particular piece of news from the rooftops of Camberwell.
However, all that was to change, as Mabel blossomed into a beautiful young woman cupid was busy nocking an arrow bearing her name onto his bowstring.
Mabel had a tough start in life as her father and mother sadly passed away in 1930 and 1932 respectively, leaving her an orphan at the tender age of 16. By the age of 18 she was a young girl about town, living independently in the West End and supporting herself with a job just off Fleet Street.
As Mabel recalls in an interview with Iain Burns of the Barking and Dagenham Post in 2016:
“I ended up at the YWCA and in a hostel on the Tottenham Court Road while working in Fetter Lane.”
It was at this point that cupid let Mabel’s arrow fly and it pierced the heart of that little boy from Poplar who was now a dashing young man called Richard Herbert Arnold. It was 1934 and for their first date Richard invited Mabel to go to a game with him at Upton Park. As she recalled:
“I had just met my husband-to-be the week before and he said, "Would you like to go the football?
“We stood on an old chicken run watching the game. I fell in love with Richard so I had to take West Ham with it. I didn’t have a choice.
“After that, neither of us ever looked at anyone else again; as the days and years went by, I only loved him more.”
During her first season as a Hammer Mabel would have been privileged to witness the twilight of West Ham legend Vic Watson’s career with the club. Watson, a centre forward, played 505 times for West Ham between 1920 and 1935. The club paid just £50 for Vic, bringing him in from Wellingborough to provide cover for Syd Puddefoot. To this day Vic Watson remains the club’s record goal scorer with 326 goals to his name; 298 scored in the league and 28 in the FA Cup competition.
In 1935, the same year that the young couple were married, Mabel would have stood alongside Richard in the Chicken Run and applauded during the historic moment that Vic Watson said farewell to the Hammers. He went on to play for Southampton for just one season before hanging up his goal scoring boots for good.
A few years later English football was interrupted once again by war and Mabel’s husband Richard, or Dick as he was known, joined the RAF. His role in WW2 was as an engineer servicing the Lancaster bombers which took part in the famous Dam Buster raids. Mabel’s pride in Dick’s role was palpable when she said during an interview in 2016:
“He helped stop the Germans getting the atom bomb.”
In recent years Mabel kept a small model of a Lancaster bomber in her home which she bought in Dick’s memory. She said:
“I always told him that I’d buy him a plane one day, so I bought him that last year.”
In 1940 Mabel and Dick moved into the house in Amesbury Road in Becontree that was to remain Mabel’s home for almost 80 years. As they settled into life in Dagenham and began to raise their family of four children the couple were to become even more entrenched in the West Ham community. Dick became involved in coaching local lads and his passion for football was eventually spotted by the club, who offered him an administrative role with the West Ham youth team. Mabel also became involved behind the scenes and sometimes used to stand in as tea lady at the Hammers’ training ground in Chadwell Heath. It was at this time that she first encountered the 15 year old Bobby Moore who impressed her with his manners when he politely asked her for a glass of water.
Almost a decade later Mabel enjoyed a more significant encounter with the Hammer’s famous captain following the 1964 FA Cup final, when West Ham beat Preston North End 3-2 at Wembley. She recalled:
“All the staff and their wives, right down to the toilet ladies, went to this hotel and stayed the night after the game. After the dinner Bobby asked me to dance because he knew Richard was a dancer and I was quite nifty on my feet too.
“I said "You’d better ask Richard because he has the first dance wherever we go.” Richard said yes alright, so I danced with Bobby Moore.
“All the girls wanted to dance with him but we only got down the length of the room. He didn’t dance very well our Bobby. He had football feet.”
Sadly Mabel’s husband Dick passed away in 1981 but she continued the legacy of their love affair by continuing to go to games with their son Graham, who they had been taking to Upton Park since he was 4 years old.
Even away from football Mabel had a strong sense of love for her community and she became well known locally in her role as councillor for Barking and Dagenham and during her office as mayor between 1987 and 1988.
In 2013 Mabel was back behind the scenes at West Ham when Graham contacted the club and nominated Mabel for a Christmas treat as part of the club’s ‘Just Like My Dreams’ programme.
The club were obviously impressed with 97 year old Mabel’s record as a West Ham fan because 3 years later her 8 decades of loyalty were rewarded as the club ensured that her 100th birthday was celebrated in style during our last home fixture against Crystal Palace at Upton Park.
As Mabel reflected on her 80 years of memories of The Boleyn that day she said:
“Upton Park, it’s been our life, it gives you something to grab hold of and look forward to.
“But moving is progress. I’ve worked in business and everything changes. Some of the old West Ham boys, they make me cross.
“They say they’re taking our club away from us. But if we don’t go and support them what are they going to do then?
“The boys are going somewhere else, so of course we’ll still support them, because at the end of it all, they still need us. And of course, we need them.”
Mabel clearly believed in the notion of a West Ham family and coincidentally that was probably best demonstrated in her encounter many years ago with a young lad who was to go on to become a well-loved member of our very own West Ham Till I Die community.
When he was 14 years old the member of WHTID known as Big Safe’s Buddy (BSB) went through a very difficult period in his life. I won’t go into the details here but his circumstances brought him into contact with Mabel and Dick Arnold. When they learned of his situation the couple went out of their way to show him kindness and compassion. They spent time with him talking about West Ham and they even bought him a season ticket in the old West Stand at a time when they were the only seats available.
Although he only kept the season ticket for year and then moved into the Chicken Run BSB has never forgotten the kindness and generosity that Mabel and her husband showed him at that time; and he sincerely believes that if it wasn’t for the guidance of them and their social group he could so easily have taken a wrong path in life. As he moved into adulthood BSB lost touch with the Arnolds and he doesn’t know if they would have even remembered that troubled young lad that they took under their wing all those years ago but he will certainly never forget them.
Anybody who has watched the extremely touching video of Mabel celebrating her 101st birthday with Slaven Bilic and the team at the Rush Green training ground will know that she was a beautiful soul who radiated love for her family, her football team and for her community as a whole. How fitting then that the name ‘Mabel’ derives from the Latin name Amabilis which means ‘lovable or worthy of love’.
I think that every West Ham fan took Mabel Arnold into their heart and her life truly was a West Ham love story. You were a remarkable woman Mabel and your loyalty to your club will never be forgotten. May you now rest in eternal peace with your beloved husband Richard.
Blind Hammer remembers what could have been for West Ham and Gordon Banks.
The death of Gordon Banks means that we have lost another of the Golden 1966 World Cup winning generation. Younger readers might not realise this, but for nearly 20 years England produced the best Goalkeepers in the world. Shilton and Clemence were both world class goal keepers but it was Gordon Banks who started this dynasty and was the undisputed original master.
Banks is always remembered for his wonder save against Pele. Yet I remember him not so much for the spectacular saves but for the calm assurance he provided. He was the epitome of the “Safe Hands”.” He dominated his penalty area and provided countless unruffled and calm collection of what would have been, for other keepers, difficult crosses.
What is less known is that Gordon Banks could have been a West Ham legend?
Despite his 1966 triumph with England, by 1967 Banks was available for transfer. Leicester had the young Peter Shilton coming through and was ready to cash in.
Banks had made it known to his England teammates Bobby Moore that he was not at all averse to joining him at West Ham. Banks would have then joined not just Moore but also Geoff Hurst and martin Peters as familiar faces from the England setup.
West Ham was on the cusp of their greatest ever national and international profile. They had won the 1964 FA Cup, and then conquered Europe in 1965 to win the Cup Winners Cup. Moore, alongside the midfield guile of Peters and goal scoring heroics of Geoff Hurst then formed the creative heart of England’s 1966 World Cup Winning team.
The mystery was why a team with 3 acknowledged world class performers were not dominating their league?
The answer was that despite the mastery of Moore, West Ham had a fatal weakness in defence.
Sir Trevor Brooking reflected in his biography that the 1960s team had a soft centre, we were vulnerable from crosses, and what is worst everybody knew it. Brooking, alongside other Hammers, knew that Banks was the person who could repair this and propel West Ham into true league greatness . He was the missing piece in the jig saw.
Fatefully Banks became available after Ron Greenwood had already made a “gentleman’s agreement” to sign Bobby Ferguson for a world record fee, for a goalkeeper, of £65,000 from Kilmarnock. Greenwood, ever the gentleman, refused to renege on this agreement.
Ferguson, a respectable but average performer could never hope to match the class of Banks.
I am convinced that Banks would have been a revolutionary signing. He would have transformed our soft defence. With the world class talents of both Moore and banks solidifying our defence the history of West Ham could have been transformed. The period of the late 60s and early 70s would have been re-written from under achievement to achievement.
The failure to sign Banks came back to haunt West Ham in 1972. West Ham had won the first leg of a league cup semi-final at Stoke 2-1 and was clear favourites to proceed. . However Ritchie had drawn Stoke level at the return tie at Upton Park. With 3 minutes to go West Ham won a penalty to give the opportunity of reaching Wembley. Half the West Ham players turned away, unable to watch as Hurst confronted Banks in goal. In all the years I watched West Ham Geoff Hurst never again failed with his bullet penalties but it was inevitable if there was ever going to be a miss it would be against his friend Gordon Banks. Banks later described his penalty save against Hurst as his greatest ever save, an extraordinary save from a gallery of remarkable saves.
Banks was to triumph as a League Cup winner with Stoke, eventually overcoming West Ham after two further replays, which included the drama of Bobby Ferguson having to be replaced in goal by Bobby Moore. Moore, to cap the drama, himself saved a penalty.
Banks was a great goalkeeper and the biggest missed opportunity in our history. He could have transformed our fortunes and created a much bigger club. We would be enjoying this legacy now. I sometimes still dream about what could have been. COYI
He may not be flavour of the month at West Ham but, at the risk of flying in the face of popular opinion, I had some admiration for Jurgen Klopp last week. The reason I had for seeing the positive in the German manager was his handling of one of his young players – Nathaniel Clyne.
There can be absolutely no doubt that the Liverpool manager has acted in the best interests of the young player and not himself and/or the club. Putting the welfare of others ahead of oneself is one of the most admirable human traits. I wouldn’t describe myself as a religious man, by any stretch, but there’s a great deal that can be learned from the teachings of the various religious texts – and selflessness is the one that stands above all for me. Treating others as you’d like to be treated yourself encapsulates so many virtues it’s not surprising that it was voted the most important of the 10 commandments a few years back. So when loaning Clyne out, to Premier League AFC Bournemouth, Klopp ran the risk of leaving his own back line short on numbers. And so it came to pass that injuries depleted Liverpool’s back line however, rather than disrupt Clyne, and Bournemouth, the loanee was allowed to stay at the club where he’s learning and flourishing. Fair play to the German manager I say.
It’s not always the case that clubs operate in the way that Liverpool have in the case of Clyne’s loan. Casting my mind to one of our own club’s youth prospects I wonder if the same can be said. I don’t pretend to know what goes on behind the closed doors of West Ham, so I may be wrong, but it would appear that the club’s onwers have ‘hedged their bets’ in the case of Reece Oxford. When he burst on to the scene at 16, becoming the youngest player to play for the club in a league game following his debut against FC Luscitanos, he turned a great many heads in the press. The season ‘15-’16 opener, and first game in charge for Slaven Bilic, was one that West Ham were not expected to come away with anything from . After a terrific performance, and a creditable one nil win, at the Emirates Stadium many in the media were talking about how Oxford ran the midfield. Sadly Slaven Bilic withdrew Reece from the squad, after a couple more appearances, not giving the youngster a sustained crack at the whip. When compared with Declan Rice, who made similar errors to Oxford, it would seem that West Ham, perhaps, learned a lesson.
Reece enjoyed his time on loan to German Club, Borussia Mönchengladbach, and seemed to want to remain there. Having worked hard to get in to the first team an initial bid, reportedly for £15M, from Borussia was turned down by the club and the player recalled before, eventually, being loaned back to the German club again. It was reported that another bid came in for Reece after he, once again, broke in to the first team at Mönchengladbach but, once again, he was recalled. It seemd that West Ham neither wanted Oxford to establish himself in Germany or sell him. Once again I don’t profess to know what goes on behind closed doors, and it could be that Reece Oxford wanted to return to West Ham to fight for a first team squad place, but, on the face of it, it does seem that he’s been made to feel extremely unsettled and, to a degree, left in limbo following a further loan to Augsburg FC. In Oxford’s two games for Augsburg, one in Midfield and one at Center Back, the fortunes of the team seem to have taken a turn for the better with two consecutive victories before a loss against an on form Werder Bremen.
What now for the talented Oxford? At twenty years old he’s still developing and is, seemingly, in the best place to do so but will West Ham finally allow the player to move on?
Ultimately football is a business and players are assets. Anyone who thinks differently is, probably, being naïve. That said, and with the benefit of hindsight, it would have been sensible for West Ham to have taken the first offer that came in for Reece. As things now stand his contract runs out this June and, with that knowledge, it’s very unlikely that West Ham will receive any money for the twenty year old.
Many other clubs, especially those with large budgets at the top end of the Premier League, seem very keen to retain the services of as many young players as possible when the majority of them stand little chance of breaking in to the first teams. Jordan Sancho, while at Manchester City, was given the option of signing for another Bundesliga club, Borussia Dortmund, who sit proudly atop the German top tier. Having made thirty three first team appearances for Dortmund, scoring eight goals, his development is coming along nicely. That was great for Manchester City and great for the player but, sometimes, the club will want to keep hold of their ‘asset’. Take Phil Foden, for example, who looks like he may have a bright future under Pep Guardiola. I’m not suggesting that Manchester City, or Liverpool, are perfect in their dealings with youth players however they do seem to have some guiding principles when it comes to their best interests.
It’s not just about youth players. A duty of care, of course, should extend to those at the start, the middle and end of player’s careers. There are countless examples of good and bad treatment of playing staff by clubs which I’m sure you’ll use to make your points on this subject.
In many cases, like the song by Sting goes, ‘Set Them Free’, rather than stifling players in the reserves until they become a free agent, is the best way to a win/win scenario. It’s incredibly hard to make it in Professional Football so why make it harder for all concerned?