In life, and in football, change is the only constant. As much as any fan tries to view their football team as a solid, tangible and stable thing, that they know like the back of their hands, there’s no getting away from the fact that, in reality, it’s a living, breathing entity that is constantly developing and evolving. At West Ham we’re probably more used to the fact than fans of the majority of other clubs. Nowadays West Ham wouldn’t be West Ham without some news story emerging. The media love our club, and put so much focus on it, for that very reason and us fans are constantly in a state of flux, wondering what revelation will come to light next, keeping us on constant tenterhooks.
Notwithstanding this continual shifting of West Ham’s tectonic plates there’s been an overall improvement in the team management and playing staff over the last few years. Focusing more on the playing staff than the various gaffers that we’ve had recently the the squad has gone from strength to strength. Not that it ever happens but if everyone was fit and firing the current playing roster looks extremely strong. There’s some talk of Lanzini returning to a matchday squad for Friday’s game against Fulham. If it means any risk to his cruciate ligament recovery then I’d sooner he didn’t however the prospect of Manu lining up alongside Anderson and Arnie is a mouthwatering one.
So player recruitment has gone up a notch but the good news doesn’t stop there. From the ranks of the Academy we’re starting to see home grown talent come through again. Declan Rice has to be one of the most exciting products of the Academy for many a season. Game in game out he’s consistently running matches from midfield. I can’t remember the last time Declan had a bad game such is his consistency. Alongside Fabianski you’d have to say that, if the season ended today, he’d be nailed on for Hammer Of The Year. Grady Diangana has also impressed. Not as far along his development curve as Declan is Grady has still ‘cut it’ in the games he’s played in the Premier League. With many others like Nathan Holland, Marcus Browne, Jahmal Hector-Ingram, Dan Kemp, Connor Coventry, Xande Silva, Tunji Akinola and, recently signed, Mesaque Dju queuing up to knock on the first team door we may well see others break through from the youth sides in the near future.
Last night the aforementioned Portugal U19 International signing from Benfica made his home league debut in the West Ham U23 team against Liverpool U23s after a half match taster away to Arsenal U23 (half a match due to the game being abandoned at half time because of adverse weather conditions & not through substitution). Although Dju didn’t see masses of the ball he looked extremely threatening when he did gain possession. Gifted with considerable pace Dju looks like he’s going to be a great asset to West Ham. as early as the 6th minute Dju opened up the oppositon, with three red shirts unable to take the ball off him, before squaring smartly inside the box. Although he was substituted in the second half the Portuguese pace-man showed enough to suggest he’s going to do well.
The game itself was a decent one to watch in the middle of the park. Sadly the quick, crisp interplay in midfield was rarely matched in the final third of the pitch where the Liverpool youngsters defended without any degree of discomfort. The promising play, most notably from Dan Kemp, for West Ham just lacked that cutting edge with the final ball. Others including Hector-Ingram and Kristijan Belic threatened but chances were few and far between with the final ball often over-hit from both central and wide positions. A great shame as the progression of the moves made decent viewing.
Between the sticks I got my first look at Ghanaian born Joseph Anang who was assured when claiming the ball. There wasn’t much he could have done about the Liverpool, and only, goal and apart from that you couldn’t really fault his performance. I’ll be interested to see how his career progresses and the effect that has on Nathan Trott. In defence Aji Alese made some silly, unnecessary challenges and was lucky to stay on the pitch but recovered to make a superb block on the line in the 83rd minute before getting in the opposition half and hitting a stinging drive just over the bar. Ones to watch from the Reds were captain Paul (who the LFCTV commentator kept referring to as Powell) Glatzel and 66th minute sub Yasser Larouci who both impressed with Glatzel bagging the winner when he tapped in from a ball that was knocked on to him from a pass from out wide on the counter attack.
With more competition for places being added to, by those returning from injury, the squad is set to get stronger even before the Summer transfer window. There’s a sense of expectation that this Summer will bring further improvements, with various comings and goings, and, despite our poor fortune with injuries, Manuel Pellegrini’s project will get further personnel to improve the playing style that he’s trying to achieve even further.
With all this in mind it’s hard not to be optimistic for the future – albeit cautiously optimistic.
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 during 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 a 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