In less than eighteen months, West Ham fans will be taking a different trek towards a home game. Stratford Station will be a vastly different place on match days. Anyone with a “usual” car park space near Upton Park will have to come to terms with finding another one in Stratford. The walk up to the Olympic Stadium will be an exciting one I am sure as a big brand new stadium beckons. It certainly will be different. I am not going to get into the pitch views from inside the stadium, I think that has been done to death already, although I am sure there will much more to come on that subject.
The goings on at West Ham recently have certainly deflected much of the attention away from the impending new home. Big Sam’s tenure, Nolan’s legs, Reid’s contract and our current form have given us all enough to talk about. But what will be that first match day experience be like? I think it will take time for it all to sink in really. The first time will be like a kid opening a Xmas present. The big questions will be “is it what he wanted”, followed by, “will he want to keep playing with it?” No doubt our first game there will be a packed house. But will that continue? Results and playing style will be paramount, especially the former despite what many will say.
The atmosphere debate is starting to wear a little thin with me to be honest. As a regular spectator back in the late sixties and through to the early eighties, and I am sure readers who were there at the same time as me would agree, the atmosphere at Upton Park has already disappeared. On rare occasions it starts to bubble at Upton Park nowadays, but nothing like a few decades ago. My theory is that if we don’t fill the new Stadium the singing could become even more affective. The echo affect comes into play then – something to do with acoustics I believe. Anyone who was at Wembley two hours before kick off against Arsenal in 1980 could testify to that. The singing in a half empty big oval stadium was the loudest I have ever heard, until the other 50,000 turned up! Then the echo all but disappeared. Seriously though, I do hope we fill it for obvious reasons.
So there will be many of you that go to Upton Park nowadays that have a regular pre-game boozer, or a parking spot, or just a match day routine that is going to be broken. Even our own Mr Dale will be thinking Ken’s Cafe is a bit out of the way now. It will take time to make new traditions, but they will come and they will cement themselves over the coming seasons. I only get back to games every few years now I live in Australia, but for me the train ride to Stratford from Loughton will be easier for sure. Will I miss Upton Park? – yes, you bet. But for me, going to the Boleyn ground today is vastly different anyway. My fond memories were of the West Stand overshadowing three tin sheds! The North and South Banks continued well after the Chicken Run was transformed. Halcyon days indeed! It all looks a bit flash nowadays.
So, not long from now, the opening home game of the 2016 season will be upon us and many of you will be taking those first steps to making new traditions. The big shiny new stadium will come into view and the pulse will be racing. All I hope for is that is does not end up like 1923! Many Hammers fans made the trip to the new Wembley Stadium for a Cup Final and got a lot more than they bargained for. Have a look at the clip and take a trip down memory lane. Hopefully the OS will be a bit more organised?
The Brian Williams Column
I’ll be honest with you from the start – this is not going to be the most coherent article you’ve ever read on WHTID. I’ve been grappling with it for a while now in an effort to marshal the kaleidoscope of thoughts and emotions that I have been left with after Saturday, but they remain a jumble. Still, I hope that by trying to piece them together it will give you some idea of what it means to me to be a West Ham supporter.
Let’s start with the amazing display of generosity from you fine people that has helped to swell the Bobby Moore cancer fund by £500. The copy of ‘Nearly Reach The Sky’ that Russell Brand autographed and was then put up for auction sold for a staggering £125. The final total was boosted by donations from other readers and a small top-up from Iain and myself.
I’m not going to “out” anyone by revealing their WHTID identities. But I would like to thank, in particular, Geoff, John and Graham.
What intrigued me most about the whole process was the bid that was made on the understanding the individual concerned was happy to pay as long as he DIDN’T get the book signed by Russell Brand. I think this opens up a whole new line in fundraising. I don’t know about you, but I’d pay quite a lot to own something that hasn’t been signed by Nigel Farage or Natalie Bennett, for example. So, what am I bid for this freshly printed copy of ‘Nearly Reach The Sky’ that has not been inscribed by Vlad The Impaler? All proceeds to the Bobby Moore fund via Jonjo Heuerman.
On the subject of Jonjo, I’m still trying to clear my lungs of the two-stroke fumes generated by the cavalcade of scooters that heralded his arrival at the Champions statue as his latest marathon challenge reached its climax on Saturday morning. Where did they come from – 1964? Talkin’ Bout My Elder Borther’s Generation!
Spectacular though it was, I do think the club could and should have done more to mark Jonjo’s remarkable fundraising achievement. At the very least he should have been presented to the Upton Park faithful at half time, when he could have been given the standing ovation he so richly deserves. A lap of honour wouldn’t be out of order, either.
I was lucky enough to be able to have a brief chat with Jonjo’s mother, Donna. She began by asking me to pass on the entire family’s thanks to WHTID readers for the support you have shown, which I promised to do. I replied by heaping praise on her remarkable 13-year-old son and all he has achieved, at which point she looked me straight in the eye and said: “He is up for adoption, you know.” I must have looked quizzical for a brief moment, because Donna gave me a very wicked grin and added: “I hope you like walking!”
Trust me, that boy is in good hands.
It would have been a real pleasure to have accepted their invitation to join them for a pre-match cup of rosie in the East Ham Working Man’s Club, but I was unable to abandon my post outside the fabulous Newham Bookshop, where I was signing copies of my book.
Never having written a book before, I’ve never done a book-signing – so I had absolutely no idea what to expect. I was nervous to begin with – which turned into full-on trepidation when the awesome Viv, the shop’s proprietor, suggested I parked myself outside to attract passing custom. Well, I say “suggested.” But when Viv suggests something, people tend not to argue!
I’ve done some strange things in my time, but sitting behind a desk in the Barking Road on a match day with nothing more than my deluxe West Ham book-signing pen and a wistful expression that is trying to convey the message “please don’t hurt me,” has to be right up there with the strangest.
Not that I had any reason to be concerned. In fact, it was a truly delightful experience – not least because it gave me a chance to meet a lot of WHTID regulars and put some faces to the names. (OT – see, I’m getting the hang of this social media malarkey – is it common practice to refer to people who follow a site but don’t actually comment as “lurkers”? The reason I ask is that in the newspaper game we call people who buy the paper but don’t feel the need to write a letter to the editor on a regular basis “readers”.)
I also finally got to meet Pete May, author of – among other things – Hammers in the Heart and Irons in the Soul, both of which are essential reading for anyone who bleeds claret and blue. Pete has been something of a journalistic hero of mine for 30 years – ever since I read a piece by him in Midweek magazine in which he recounted one of the funniest lines ever to come out of the Chicken Run (and that really is saying something).
The story goes that the West Ham side of the mid-Eighties that had gone from being title-contenders to relegation fodder within two short seasons was struggling against a particularly robust team of northern heavyweights – with a back four composed of giants who towered over Tony Cottee, who had been left to play on his own up front. The frustration in the stands was on the point of turning ugly when the cry went up: “Never mind Cottee – Snow White and the other six will be along to help you out soon!”
The guy who came up with this particular gem went on to launch Fortune’s Always Hiding with Pete and Phil Jupitus among others.
But I digress. (To be fair, I did warn you I was going to ramble this morning.)
Saturday also gave me the chance to lend my name to the petition that is part of a a campaign to ensure that when developers Galliard finally get their hands on the Upton Park site at the end of next season it is not given over entirely to luxury flats and there is some social housing as well. Keep the rich off the pitch!
I really fear for the future of East Ham when the ground is demolished. Independent traders such as the Newham Bookshop are bound to suffer as a result. They simply must not be allowed to go under (not that I could ever picture the indomitable Viv being beaten by something as minor as the football club that has been the heart and soul of the area for more than 100 years clearing off to another postal district).
In fact the Newham Bookshop, which has been in existence since 1978, has become something of a heartbeat in its own right. Poet Benjamin Zephaniah can certainly put it more eloquently than I could ever hope to.
“This bookshop has helped local people pass exams, fall in love, meet authors, become authors, get work experience, learn to read, understand Britain, understand the world and understand themselves.”
As I said earlier, Saturday really was a rich, warm casserole of a day for me. Oh yes, I nearly forgot. We also had a game against Palace. That was diabolical. But, hey, in the immortal words of Tina Turner, “What’s football got to do with it?”
Guest Post by DC
How do we measure whether a football club is making progress on the pitch – or not as the case may be? Bagging 40 points last season compared to the 46 points we bagged two seasons back is hardly progress you might argue.
Personally, I prefer to take at the very least a ‘mid-term’ view when measuring progress (unless of course a Manager drives me to despair in terms of playing one-dimensional soul-destroying football) – Nudge, Nudge, Wink, Wink, No What I Mean? No What I Mean?
So how do the Stats of the ‘Stat Man’ himself Mr. Samuel Allardyci stack up over 3 Premier League seasons for the Hammers?
WEST HAM’S LAST 3 PREMIER LEAGUE SEASONS WITH ALLARDYCI Played 103, Won 33, Drawn 26, Lost 44, Goals For 125, Goals Against 146, Goal Difference -21, Points 123
WEST HAM’S LAST 3 PREMIER LEAGUE SEASONS BEFORE ALLARDYCI Played 114, Won 29, Drawn 32, Lost 53, Goals For 132, Goals Against 181, Goal Difference -49, Points 119
Win – Allardyce 32% | Pre Allardyce 25.5%
Draw – Allardyce 25% | Pre Allardyce 28%
Lose – Allardyce 43% | Pre Allardyce 46.5%
Goals per game – Allardyce 1.21 | Pre Allardyce 1.15
Goals conceded per game – Allardyce 1.41 | Pre Allardyce 1.58
Goal difference – Allardyce -0.20 | Pre Allardyce 0.43
Points per game = Allardyce 1.19 | Pre Allardyce 1.04
Pick the Bones out of that!
I sincerely hope that the squad will learn the short-term lessons, galvanize and put another winning run together between now and the end of the season. In the longer term, West Ham must maintain its forward movement as a club. As I wrote on here months ago, the board are duty bound to consider their options where the manager is considered. If a superior manager becomes available (and I assume that they are currently exploring that) they will seriously consider making the change. Whilst there is no point appointing a new manager who is not a significant upgrade on the current incumbent. And I feel that the management situation will ultimately be resolved this summer in these exact same terms. But what I will say is if they can attract the right candidate then I personally would favour change at this forthcoming juncture. Ideally, what I would like to see in a replacement is a manager/coach who can develop the club’s young players as well as operate effectively in the transfer market.
In terms of the playing staff, we must continue to upgrade the squad. We need a new keeper to compete with Adrian, whilst developing the potential of Spiegel and Howes in the longer-term. One of the successes this season has been the effectiveness of our full-back/wings. Jenkinson and Cresswell have been a revelation, this season, and brought a whole new dimension to our play. We must resist any bids from Man City for Cresswell and attempt to land Jenkinson on a permanent contract. The arrival of Stephen Hendrie should give us more strength in depth and selection options; while I would definitely sign another right-back, in addition to Jenkinson, and if Glen Johnson is available on a Bosman, he would be a good addition. That would give us real strength in depth in those key positions. And with the likes of Oscar Borg coming through the Academy the future looks promising.
If Winston Reid leaves in the summer (as looks likely) then we need a top quality addition. Diijk, at Celtic, has been linked with us, but the club almost certainly has a number of other targets identified. The important thing is to ensure that any addition is an upgrade on Reid. It was undoubtedly the right decision to retain Reid for the remainder of this season and, if necessary, secure a replacement who can settle in over pre-season. Encouragingly, Tomkins seems to be realising his full potential and we now have Don Henry, Reece Burke and (the exciting) Reece Oxford in the pipeline; while Collins is probably good cover for another season or two, while the younger players come through. Who knows, perhaps Reid might even confound us and sign a new deal, although that seems unlikely in the present circumstances.
In midfield, Alex Song is a class act and his addition in the summer would send out the right message. Noble has signed a new 5 year contract and Kouyate has become the influential player that I confidently predicted when he signed. Plus there is much more to come from Diego Poyet and hopefully he will figure more in the first team before the end of the season. Controversially (as far as some are concerned) there is an argument that Nolan should see out the final year of his contract, with the proviso that his role is as club Captain and impacting from the substitutes bench. Nolan is a great Captain and influence on the squad and it might be a good idea to keep him for another season. Of course, much will depend on Sam Allardyce’s future, the first team plans of a managerial successor and whether Nolan is happy to see out his contract on that basis? Amalfitano has done well this season (prior to his transgression against WBA) and could be offered a new contract. Similarly, the prospect of finally signing Lassana Diarra is an intriguing prospect. Further forward, it would be good to see another creative play-maker added to compete Stewart Downing. Might we resuscitate our earlier interest in Yevhen Konoplyanka or even go for a promising youngster like Derby County’s Will Hughes?
Up front, there are a number of questions. Firstly, can the club afford to continue with an expensive, injury prone, striker like Andy Carroll? That aside, does he facilitate a style of play that we want to see at the club? Personally, I think if he is fit then he stays, but not as a permanent fixture like under Allardyce. Carroll offers something different and can compliment our other strikers. Ultimately, it will be interesting to see if the Lakaku rumours are true? If so, then it could be that Carroll will eventually make way for him. In terms of our other strikers, we arguably need to retain the services of Sakho and Valencia.