Opposition Q & A

Opposition Q&A with The Villa

After the International break enforced absence, West Ham return to Premier League action with a visit to Birmingham on Monday night to play newly promoted Aston Villa. Before the game I had a chat with James Rushton, managing editor of Aston Villa blog 7500 to Holte to chat about everything Claret and Blue.
Congratulations on your return to the Premier League after a three year absence, at what stage of last season did you think you had a good chance of promotion?
Cheers Jeff. It’s nice to think about the success of last season, and thanks for bringing me on to talk Villa: honestly, it wasn’t until quite late into the ten game run that we went on that I started to feel like promotion was possible. It was all rather doubtful until we got into the playoffs, and even then it wasn’t a given. The final and the victory was a real ‘pinch yourself’ moment. It didn’t seem possible.
You’ve had a few managers over the past 10 seasons, how does Dean Smith stand up against the rest? Any of those past managers that you wish were still at the helm?
We’ve been all over the place for a long time and the worst thing? Nobody really knows where we stood with certain managers, especially so with the interviews they give down the line… So I can’t really say that I wish any one of them were still at the helm. For instance, we all assumed Gerard Houllier was a great coup for us, but he didn’t get on with our top performers and seemed to be going nowhere. We all assumed Alex McLeish was awful (and the football was), but the players seemed to be galvanized under him according to recent interviews. All of this hindsight has created a mess and leans us into using recency bias. Steve Bruce was decent enough for us, but couldn’t go the distance. Dean Smith has been a breath of fresh air and isn’t afraid to bet on his talent. I love that.
Apart from the loss of a few familiar faces, e.g. Arsene Wenger, and the arrival of your neighbours Wolves as a Premier League powerhouse, what other notable changes have been you seen in your absence?
Honestly, everything is new. The Premier League is a better league than the one we left and each team boasts elite talent. It’s rough! West Ham’s ‘new’ stadium is a big change for us – and in all honesty, most things are new so it’s difficult to pick out a big change. If I had a gun to my head I’d probably go for the elite tactical styles on display. Manchester City and Liverpool are capable of real genius, and that wasn’t so evident in 2015. They are trendsetters.
As expected you’ve had to boost your squad since your promotion, from what you’ve seen of them so far, who of these signings is going to most improve your team?
Tom Heaton, without a doubt. Jed Steer was a top goalkeeper for us, but Heaton is amazing. He’s capable of genius and he’s the type of character we need to keep us up. It’s testament to Tom that I’m saying this with how much we’ve spent. He is superb.
Do you think you are better equipped to survive this season than you were the years ago when you were relegated?
Absolutely. We’ve got a humble manager with the ability to adapt, we’ve got a good setup and we’ve got a strong team. The pieces are in place for a decent season, but nothing is guaranteed.
Where do you hope/think The Villa will finish the season?
I hope for 12th. I think we will finish 16th. That’ll be a good achievement for us, considering that as the Play-Off winners, we enter at the bottom of the pile.
How about West Ham, where will we end up?
Keep this start up and you might hope for 5th or 6th. West Ham are tricky to predict – and anything can happen, but it’s early so why not go overboard with the optimism.
Early days yet, but who do you think will end up being relegated?
I think Watford, Norwich and Newcastle (as well as ourselves) will be in that conversation right now – so I’ll lean with the former three.
Who are your picks for the top 4? In order.
Liverpool, Manchester City, Tottenham, Chelsea
In the Premier League era you’ve had a few old West Ham stalwarts turning it for you. How do you Villa fans remember the likes of Joe Cole, Nigel Reo-Coker, James Collins and Marlon Harewood?
All of them have fond memories, and some more than others. Harewood is a bit of a cult hero, Nigel Reo-Coker was steady. Collins was a warrior and Joe Cole was sometimes a spark in a dead-and-buried team. I’ve got nothing but good things to say about those lot.
That’s good to hear. Is there any of the current crop of West Ham players that you wouldn’t mind swapping Claret and Blue shirts? If so why?
I’d want to back this Villa side, but I’d like Haller. He’s very good and he’d be a great option for us up front while we find out what we have with Wesley. I’d pick other options but I’d feel then like I’m damning half this Villa team without seeing some of them play!
Any memories of West Ham/Villa games of the past?.
I destroyed my Premier League memories when we got relegated – but I think about our last matchup often. It was the day hope ended for us when Jordan Ayew threw an elbow on Aaron Cresswell. Up to that point every player showed fight. It ended with that game. We died and fell apart.
How will Aston Villa line up against West Ham on Monday? Prediction for players and formation?
It’ll be a 4-3-3 with our DM dropping into the centre halves. Heaton in goal. Fred Guilbert will be the RB and Neil Taylor on the opposite side. Mings and Engels will be the centre back duo. Douglas Luiz will anchor the midfield while Jack Grealish and John McGinn push up.
Trezeguet, Wesley and Jota will be our forward line.
Are you confident that you will be able to best us? Prediction for score?
I think we can be a threat at home, and I think that gives us an advantage in this one. You’re a good team, but sometimes that means nothing when the atmosphere gets going and the game develops. 2-1 to the Villa.

Well many thanks to James for his time and thoughts. I love his optimism for both Villa and West Ham, but, surprise, surprise, I am going to back West Ham to win this one. I am going to reverse his forecast and go for 1 – 2 to the Hammers. COYI

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Dan Coker's Match Preview

Crossed Hammers & Three Lions: John 'Jackie' Morton

Welcome to the latest in a series of articles designed for international matches – a look back at former Hammers players who wore the Three Lions of England.

Today, with England having faced Kosovo in Euro 2020 qualifying at Southampton earlier this week, we look back at a former Hammers and England outside-left – Jackie Morton. John ‘Jackie’ Morton was born in Sheffield on 26th July 1914 to parents Colin and Lily. Jackie, who once worked in a Sheffield steel mill, turned pro at the age of 17, after learning the ropes with Woodburn Council School and Woodhouse Alliance before joining Gainsborough Trinity. He became the first of West Ham United’s many successful signings from the Midland League club when he joined for £600 in December 1931.

Morton made his debut for the Hammers at the age of 17 in a 1-1 draw with reigning champions Arsenal in front of 34,852 at Upton Park on 26th March 1932 and scored his first goal for the club in his third match, a 7-2 defeat at Blackpool on 2nd April 1932. The Hammers, though, would be relegated at the end of the 1931/32 season.

1932/33 saw Jackie make 42 appearances, turning in many sterling displays and scoring 13 goals, including the first of his four braces for the club in a 4-3 defeat at Southampton on 24th September 1932. The Hammers finished 20th in their first season back in the Second Division – it was a traumatic campaign which saw Charlie Paynter take over from Syd King as manager, with King committing suicide within a month of his sacking. 1933/34 was less profitable for Morton in terms of goals but represented a better season for the Irons, who finished seventh with Jackie scoring six goals in 44 appearances. The Hammers came within a whisker of promotion in 1934/35, losing out on goal average to Bolton in the race for the second promotion spot after both sides finished on 56 points – Morton contributed seven goals in his 42 matches. At the end of that season, on 8th May 1935, Jackie had the honour of being chosen for the Anglo-Scots XI in the King George V Silver Jubilee Match.

West Ham again came close to promotion in 1935/36 as they finished fourth, three points adrift of Charlton in second with Jackie scoring five goals in 26 games. Morton really came into form in 1936/37, scoring 14 goals in 41 appearances, the highest he was to score in a single season in east London. Four goals in two games arrived in February 1937, with a brace in a 2-2 home draw with Nottingham Forest on 6th February 1937 followed by another double the following week in a 4-1 win over Norwich, again at the Boleyn Ground. The Hammers finished sixth in the Second Division.

Such fine form was rewarded when the 23-year-old made his England debut in a 5-4 win against Czechoslovakia at White Hart Lane on 1st December 1937. In doing so, he became the 11th West Ham United player to represent England, playing outside-left with Hammers team-mate Len Goulden playing inside-left. Jackie marked what would be his only England appearance by scoring after 20 minutes – according to The Times, “he was put through cleverly, beat his man, and finished with a fine shot just out of Planicka’s reach”. On Morton’s opposite flank, the great Stanley Matthews contributed a hat-trick – just over six months younger than Morton, it was to be Matthews’ only treble for his country. Jackie would almost certainly have won more caps but for an untimely injury which resulted in Arsenal’s Cliff Bastin taking his place – he could count himself unlucky not to have won more recognition.

The speedy Yorkshireman, standing at 5’9 and weighing in at 10st 4lbs, was described as a “frail-looking winger, fast and possessing a multitude of tricks and a good shot”. He made 40 appearances in 1937/38, scoring three goals as the Hammers finished ninth. He played 35 games in 1938/39, scoring eight goals. He struck his fourth and final brace in a 5-2 win over Swansea at the Boleyn on 8th October 1938. Jackie’s final goal for the Hammers came in a 6-2 win at Norwich on 11th March 1939; his final match in claret and blue was as a 24-year-old in a 1-0 defeat to Luton at Upton Park the following week, on 18th March 1939. Jackie Morton had scored 57 goals in 275 appearances for West Ham United.

The outbreak of the Second World War effectively ended Jackie’s footballing career. He served in the Royal Air Force and worked as a bookmaker in London’s East End after the war. He is pictured here in 1962. Jackie Morton died on 8th March 1986 in Milton Keynes, aged 71.

The previous articles in the series are:

Vic Watson
Jack Tresadern
Billy Moore
Ken Brown
Bobby Moore
Johnny ‘Budgie’ Byrne
Sir Geoff Hurst
Martin Peters
Frank Lampard Senior
Sir Trevor Brooking
Alan Devonshire
Alvin Martin
Paul Goddard
Rio Ferdinand
Stuart Pearce
Frank Lampard Junior
Joe Cole
David James
Kieron Dyer
Robert Green
Stewart Downing
Joe Hart

Nigel Kahn’s Column

What Difference Has Pellegrini Made?

All men have secrets and here is mine
So let it be known
For we have been through hell and high tide
I think I can rely on you…
And yet you start to recoil
Heavy words are so lightly thrown
But still I’d leap in front of a flying bullet for you

Has Manuel Pellegrini’s time made a difference to the club? After all, he is the most decorated manager the club have ever hired, not just in the Daves’ time here, but also in our entire history. All men have secrets, but what is his and is it touched with magic?

Before coming to West Ham, he had won titles abroad and here with Man City and taken two unfancied teams in Spain, Villareal and Malaga, into Champions League qualification. Can he repeat that with West Ham though and get the owners out of the next level hole they dug for themselves? Will he be the difference between actual real tangible success in the league, something West Ham has never achieved in top flight, or will he be dragged down to West Ham’s level and in between the great performances the usual story of don’t travel well and having a soft underbelly will continue as it has done for virtually every other of the 16 or 17 if you include Sir Trev, managers that came before him?

So, what difference does it make?
So, what difference does it make?
It makes none
But now you have gone
And you must be looking very old tonight

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Last season Pellegrini came in a big fanfare, bringing with him optimism and allowing the overtly ambitious West Ham fans to think top 6 here we come. Four games in, the doom merchants were predicting relegation and implosion, as we achieved as much as Norway used to in Eurovision song contest. Null points.

Then the green shoots of recovery were sown with a battling point against Chelsea and we followed that up a few weeks later with victory over Man United, that then spurred the hammers up the table to a point where maybe 7th spot was a possibility, but as the season ended the same old West Ham was just as evident. The cup defeat to Wimbledon showed that no matter the pedigree of West Ham’s manager, the soft under belly is still there at times.

The devil will find work for idle hands to do
I stole and I lied, and why?
Because you asked me to!
But now you make me feel so ashamed
Because I’ve only got two hands
Well, I’m still fond of you, oh-ho-oh

I must admit, except the fat sham, I have generally enjoyed watching West Ham under every manager I’ve seen, and my first game would have been in the Greenwood era. Those that failed or are perceived to have failed had some form of success. Macari’s record is not as bad as many believe, and he rightly can point to his success being the players he left Bonds with, possibly far better than any Bonzo signed and nearly all lasted longer than Bonzo did.

Glen Roeder achieved the 2nd highest premier league finish or 4th highest top flight position if you prefer in his first season, and the worst manager for me, Avram Grant, I still will never forget the United win in the snow and he had us 45 minutes away from Wembley in the League Cup Semi-final before the typical implosion in Birmingham.

Pellegrini so far has had the same good games and poor games under his watch, as nearly every other manager we have had.
so I do ask….

So, what difference does it make?
Oh, what difference does it make?
Oh, it makes none
But now you have gone
And your prejudice won’t keep you warm tonight

In the transfer market is perhaps where we see a difference in the way West Ham have operated in the past and how we are operating now. Previously under the Daves it seems we were always looking to sign the finished article of a player, normally aged 27 or above and generally has had no resale value when they have left. I have heard it claimed that under the Daves we have stopped being a selling club, but that may be that we haven’t had the players the bigger clubs wanted, so we never got to test the selling club tag.

Under Pellegrini, we have had 3 Transfer windows, and you can see the improvements in the quality of player being signed, not necessary for massive money either. Diop and Balbuena easily could be sold for more than we paid, Anderson the same, resupposing we would want to sell them. But if we acknowledge that other clubs are interested in our players, that must mean we have improved the playing stock from the days when no one wanted to steal our stars.

Here it is evident that Pellegrini surely has made difference if only in his team helping to educate DS, who still is involved in transfers, in the quality is the key, not quantity, and quality can be found anywhere, not just in signing players who are tried and trusted in the Premier League.

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Oh, the devil will find work for idle hands to do
I stole, and then I lied
Just because you asked me to
But now you know the truth about me
You won’t see me anymore
Well, I’m still fond of you, oh-ho-oh

Pellegrini, though, does not come cheap, and though we are earning more money as a club, that is mainly through the PL TV deal rather than anything else that then has allowed us to spend more than usual. He actually now needs to show the extra finance in him, and his back-room team is worth it. If we fail this season and next to break top 7, then he wouldn’t have made any difference in the actual advancement of the club. Problem I see is, If Pellegrini can’t advance this club, who can, and who or what is stopping that from happening?

The Dave’s gamble on hiring the highest calibre of manager they ever had rests on can Pellegrini change the owners and take the club from its historical position of constant under achievers to finally become the club many of us think and believe we are or should be.

But no more apologies
No more, no more apologies
Oh, I’m too tired
I’m so sick and tired
And I’m feeling very sick and ill today
But I’m still fond of you, oh-ho-oh
Oh, my sacred one…

Talking Point

Anderson fillip

We are only four games into the season, and I’ve already seen some West Ham fans predicting our final league position and who we may or may not finish above! The opening day hammering from Man City is the exception to what has been a positive start for Pellegrini’s men, and there is definitely reason to be optimistic.

After the first weekend of Premier League football, we were rooted to the bottom of the table with a -5 goal difference but since then we have drawn one and won two conceding only twice and netting six times. While I think our defence this season might at times be slightly unconvincing, I have no doubt Issa Diop will continue to improve. The former Toulouse defender is integral to the back four, and has been a mainstay ever since coming into the side early on last season away at Arsenal. While he might have his defensive frailties, Arthur Masuaku was brilliant against Norwich achieving an assist for Haller’s first home goal and an 8.8 rating on ‘WhoScored.com’ earning him a place in the team of the week. There’s definitely room for improvement in both Masuaku and Frederick’s games, and I have no doubt that both players are working hard to get better. The more games we play with a consistent back four will certainly help both full backs, and they will hopefully contribute to more clean sheets as well as providing added impetus on the right and left flanks.

It speaks volumes about the performances of the team in recent weeks that £25 million pounds worth of talent in Pablo Fornals can hardly get a look in. The Spaniard has admitted he needs time to adapt to the intensity of the Premier League, but the competition for places is fantastic and must please all fans. Manuel Lanzini has started the season in wonderful form accruing 2 assists and has created 14 chances which is only two behind Kevin De Bruyne, not bad company given the Argentinian spent the majority of last season out injured. Pellegrini often praises Wilshere as well, so Fornals will have to ensure he takes his chance when he next features.

The only real negative for the club and fans so far this season is Michail Antonio’s hamstring injury. Antonio looked to be in good form after coming off the bench in both the Brighton and Watford games, and making a really positive impact particularly at Vicarage Road. Whilst it’s unfortunate that the former Nottingham Forest wide man will be out for a reported three months, a positive is that Andriy Yarmolenko appears to be returning to form. With more game time we have to hope that the Ukrainian will continue to get better and chip in with goals and assists because if he’s firing we’ll be very dangerous on both wings.

After his performance against Norwich, Felipe Anderson deserves his own paragraph! He worked really well down the left side with Masuaku and when he plays like he did against the Canaries he’s an absolute joy to watch. The pace, skill and effectiveness of our Brazilian winger was tremendous to see. I was on a train from Hemel Hempstead back into Euston while we were playing Norwich, and I checked Twitter to see one of his nutmegs and I laughed at loud it was that good (probably looked a bit weird to other passengers). Anderson was inspiring and I have no doubt that most Premier League teams would love to have him, but fortunately he’s all ours!

In terms of other players so far this season and particularly against Norwich, I’ll briefly mention them. I feel very safe with Fabianski in goal and he’s just a very good keeper, and by all accounts he put in a stellar display the other night against Arnautovic’s Austria! Declan Rice continues to go from strength to strength and while some fans from other teams might criticise him in an England shirt, he’s still only 20 and very rarely puts a foot wrong. I thought he did his job very well against Bulgaria, nevertheless he’s loved by West Ham fans and that’s all that matters. Mark Noble puts in his trademark performances and leads in exemplary fashion, is it a coincidence we’ve won two games since he’s been back in? I think not! Let’s not forget our new talisman, Sebastien Haller. I already love the Frenchman to be honest, he’s scored three so far but he offers so much as well as goals. It’s actually amusing watching English pundits who know very little of him describe him. The likes of Shearer describing him as a big target man on Match of the Day after the Watford win, but he’s far more than a big lad. Haller can hold the ball up, but he’s also very skilful and brings the likes of Anderson, Lanzini etc. into the game. While hopefully scoring a lot of goals for us, I firmly believe he’ll be one of the most creative forwards in the league.

A positive start overall for us and in my last article I predicted a win against Norwich, I think we should leave Villa Park with three points as well. I saw a statistic that Aston Villa have allowed their opponents the most shots per game so far this season with 19.25. We will need to defend well as Villa will be desperate for their second win, but I think we’ll have too much for them going forward. Haller hat trick maybe, let’s hope so!

Hope everyone is well, have a good week.

Talking Point

Victory for the Forest

I usually hate international breaks. In football I am a “club over country” guy, and therefore I’m not looking forward to international games so much as other football fans may do. But this international break feels different for some reasons.

First because we went into it on a high, with West Ham mustering back to back wins in the League, and the Irons are undefeated in four games now (including the League Cup). Therefore this time we aren’t eagerly awaiting the end of the international break because our club were in desperate need of securing more points to get out of the lower ranks of the table. West Ham now comfortably sit in 7th with seven points out of four games, and they have almost evened out the the poor goal difference that resulted from the heavy loss to the champions in the first game of the season. Therefore everybody can relax, have an eye on the outcome of the Euro qualifiers, and look forward to the Monday evening game against Aston Villa.

And also very important for my positive mood was that I was tasting victory with my hometown club Rapid Vienna before the international break too, in one of the most anticipated and important games of the season: The green-whites won the first Vienna derby of this year, defeating FK Austria Wien 3-1. Those results make it much easier to tolerate this break with no games of our beloved clubs within two weeks.

Unbelievable things can happen on a football pitch

But there is also a different – and much longer – kind of break for league football this autumn in a certain stadium located in Austria’s southern province of Carinthia. Yeah, there are more unbelievable things which can happen on a football pitch these days than a shock victory of an underdog from time to time! Or would you have ever thought that a modern football ground could be transformed into a forest?

That’s exactly what’s taking place for seven weeks now in the Wörthersee Stadium in Klagenfurt, Austria! An art installation consisting of 299 trees was opened to the public in Austria’s most beautiful stadium last Sunday. The installation called “For Forest” can now be watched for free every day, forcing football out of the stadium until October 27th.

The project was conceived by Swiss artist Klaus Littmann (pictured below) – who saw a pencil drawing “The Unending Attraction of Nature” by Austrian painter Max Peintner (above; forforest.net) more than 30 years ago – and finally was able to turn this artist’s striking dystopia into a much disputed, controversial reality together with landscape architect Enzo Enea.

About time for this art installation, but wrong timing for the footy

Peintner’s pencil drawing originates from the 1970s and is a statement against the threat to our natural environment by imagining a time when forests will exist only as exhibition objects. Austria’s largest public art installation seems to come at the right time when the implications of climate change become more and more obvious. But its realisation also means that Carinthian football club Wolfsberger AC, which have qualified for the Europa League for the first time in their history, will not be able to play their group games in their federal province of Carinthia, but have to shift their matches against Borussia Mönchengladbach, AS Roma and Turkish outfit Basaksehir to the Styrian capital Graz.

The Wörthersee Stadium, which is named after the adjacent beautiful lake, is home ground to second tier club Austria Klagenfurt. They now have to play their games on the training pitch of the stadium, as long as mixed woodland is occupying the original stadium, before it will be transferred to a place somewhere nearby (where it will keep growing as a memorial forest). The adapted training venue can host 2500 – 3000 spectators, hence Austria Klagenfurt have lost the opportunity to attract much more spectators to their upcoming ÖFB (Austrian Football Association Cup) game against first division outfit Sturm Graz!

With multi purpose use, conflicts are inevitable

Nevertheless in my opinion the realisation of this art project is a brilliant idea and from the pictures I’ve seen so far it looks great (pics: Christian Rainer; https://instagram.com/chri.rainer?igshid=8ntstnzvfc3l). But I have had a lot of discussions with friends, some of them heavily criticising the installation which temporarily prevents the ground from being used properly. Though according to its building permit the Wörthersee Stadium is not only to be used for sports, it is a multifunctional arena which also hosts concerts and other events throughout the year. And without this multi purpose use the stadium never would be viable.

As West Ham fans we already know that in a stadium which isn’t used for football only, conflicts of use do emerge from time to time, as it was the case two years ago when West Ham had to start their season with three away games because of the athletics. In Klagenfurt without doubt it would have been better to let the installation take place earlier in the year to avoid a conflict with the Europa League. But on the other hand the recent conflict of use is an other evidence to demonstrate that Carinthia and Austria need this 30,000 football stadium.

The ground has been built for the European Championship 2008 and often been dubbed a “white elephant” since. It is used from time to time for games of Austria’s national side (Austria beat Germany there in June 2018!) and has hosted the Austrian cup final several times. The Europa League would have been a perfect fit, but let’s hope Wolfsberg or even Austria Klagenfurt qualify for Europe in years to come and then get the stadium filled again with 29,900 football fans instead of 299 trees.

I’m a fan of the “For Forest” project, as I already said. I know the Wörthersee Stadium quite well and have been to it quite often, not only to watch football games but also because of my profession as lawyer representing the City of Klagenfurt in the environmental impact assessment and the construction law procedures. Our law firm also have organised a Symposium on sports law there for some years. And after having been there supporting Rapid Vienna together with Austria’s loudest and most enthusiastic supporters, though without success twice within three years, now I wonder how it will feel to visit a very quiet Stadium, watch the trees from the terraces and hear the rustle of leaves instead of the chants of the football fans. Victory for the forest this time …

A victory for the Greens at last?

Well, you may know that my hometown club Rapid Vienna’s colours are green and white, and they call themselves “the Greens”. Unfortunately Rapid have already been defeated twice in the Austrian cup final in the Wörthersee Stadium by Red Bull Salzburg. So for once I could be relishing in the rare sight of the “greens” having occupied the pitch, celebrating their victory, though they aren’t wearing shirts and shorts of this colour but green leaves. Could that be a good omen for the next game in this year’s ÖFB Cup when Rapid meet Salzburg as early as round two in a „premature cup final“ on the 25th of September?

Anyway, let’s hope league football will make a glorious comeback after the international break, and “claret and blue” as well as “green and white” will delight us with beautiful goals and cracking victories on the football pitch next weekend! But until then, why not have a debate on what you think about “For Forest”, the controversial art installation on the Klagenfurt pitch?


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