Guest Post

Life in the bus lane - Away Days with the Infirm City Crew

Guest Post by the Voice of Reason

Not all members of the Infirm City Firm went to all of the away games we attended but the organisation (I use that word very loosely) was represented in some form or another at 13 of the matches during the 2016-17 season.Of the 13 games we went to we won 3, drew 5 and lost 5. That works out at more than a point per game and any of you who have spent more than 10 minutes supporting our club will realise that, by our standards, that ain’t half bad as we have never been the most solid away team around. Not as good as the previous season but that was an exception.

The birth of the Infirm City Firm:

Infirm City Firm

It’s actually the previous season when the green shoots of the Infirm City Firm started to sprout.

I had been going to away games regularly but over the years the guys I went with drifted away. I say drifted but that’s not entirely true. One drifted (or his wife drifted him), one moved abroad and another had the audacity to pass away. This meant that for the previous few seasons I had mostly been going to games on my own from what was then my base in Gloucestershire.

BSB had, in years past, been a rabid away fan but had not been for some time and was now just rabid. He got the flavour back, however, when he went to the FA Cup game at Blackburn (Emineke’s finest hour) and decided that he would like to start going again.
Safehands was also keen to go (when filming permitted) and, as I had by now moved back to London, the three of us went to some games in the second half of the season.
The games at West Brom, Stoke and Manchester United in the Cup passed without incident and we just managed to keep Safehands out of the massage parlour opposite where we parked at Leicester, dodging certain mayhem.

So we decided that we would go to away games on a regular basis and it was the three of us who started off although Original Russ (previously an Away Virgin) soon became the fourth full member. It was the branding and marketing expertise of BSB that developed the Infirm City Firm name, although he hasn’t come up with a logo yet.
The full time members fell easily into positions of responsibility:

Director of TravelBSB

BSB bus

Deputy Director of Travel – Russ
Ticketing and Logistics – VoR and Safehands
Executive Distributor of the Mints and Smoked Salmon Rolls – Safehands

We also picked up some Associate Members who attended one or two games with us over the season. These include Chicken Run Boy, Irons 1959, Tom and his son and my mate Stuart.

We were even honoured with the presence of the Earl of Canning Town, Nigel Kahn, on one occasion as well as a state visit to Liverpool with Hamburg Hammer.
It was HH’s first away game and I will never forget the looks of awe on the faces of the Liverpool fans as he strode purposely towards the burger stand. “Isn’t that Hamburg Hammer?” they whispered to each other. “Wow, we are in the presence of greatness”.

HH on food counter

They might have been in the presence of greatness but, by the time HH had had his fill at the burger stand, they certainly were not in the presence of many meat-based snacks.

The Good:
From a football point of view the three away wins we saw (at Palace, Middlesbrough and Southampton) were all obviously good days but there were also good performances / results in the draws at Man United and Liverpool and the only times we were truly under the cosh was the first half at Man City and the second half at Arsenal where, having defended well in the first half, it all went the shape of a well-known fruit once they scored their first goal.

Another really positive happening came at Bournemouth where, inside the ground, a member of her Majesty’s Constabulary spoke to Safehands by name which, at the time I found unusual. This was actually a rozzer from West Ham who attends away games so there is prior knowledge of any trouble makers. Once I realised this it all fell into place as Safehands would obviously be known to many of the boys in blue. Made me feel safe being with our own inbuilt security and having the police touching their forelocks in recognition.

The Bad:
I still think that the way the club sell away tickets could be improved. I fully understand the points system and it’s right that regular attenders are first in the queue for tickets. The system that means you have to go online on a particular day at a particular time must cause problems for some people as they have to work and cannot guarantee being able to do it at their allocated time.

We were fortunate that one of either Safehands or myself was always available at the right time and, with the exception of Bournemouth, we were able to get tickets that we wanted. The Bournemouth issue was due to the small away allocation but, due to a couple of Liddy’s friends being unable to go, Safehands and myself went on their tickets.
Unfortunately, we had tickets for two games that we were unable to get to due to unforeseen circumstances. Swansea, where they unfortunately went to waste, and Burnley, where the tickets were taken up by the Leader Elect of the newly formed Northern Branch of the Infirm City Firm, a man, David Murray, who is suitably qualified due to both age and experience. I guess that this last bit of information could be in the “Good” section instead of the “Bad”.

The Ugly:
Like every other club we have our share of ‘Erberts following the team, although it has to be said that the vast majority are fine. There is, however, a group of young guys who get perverse pleasure in chucking their beer in the air on the concourse (and, at West Brom, in the seats) and soaking anyone who happens to be in the vicinity. I guess we just have to hope that they grow out of it eventually and become miserable gits like the rest of us.

There were also cases of “doubling up” in the ground when someone had not got a ticket near his mates so goes and stands with them. This almost always means someone’s view is interrupted and happened notably at both Palace and Stoke. An indication of a complete lack of awareness of the people around them.

The 2016-17 Infirm City Firm Awards (made with no discussion with anyone else):

Best Away Performance: Any of the three wins we saw could win this but my view is that the 1-0 at Crystal Palace was the best. They had been playing well and we had been struggling but we turned in a very good professional performance.
Best Individual Performance: Andy Carroll at Middlesbrough. I’m not his biggest fan but he turned in an almost complete centre forward’s game that day.
Best Stadium: For me it is Liverpool. A proper football stadium with a great atmosphere. Others may plump for Old Trafford, I guess.
Best Car Park: Bournemouth. Right by the ground and £1 entry – plus the politest car park attendants you could meet. “So where exactly would you like to park sir?”……
Best Pies: From a Pie Shop in Middlesbrough, discovered by Russ when he went hunting for change for the car park. Homemade, proper pies for £2.40. What’s not to like?
Best Pre-game Location: Longton Rugby Club at Stoke. Easy parking, bar, food, table and chairs, carpets on the floor, football on the TV, fans from both teams, nice people, 15 minute walk to the ground.
Best Medical Support: Sunderland. Those there with us will understand. The rest of you don’t need to know.
Most Patient Law Enforcement: Two policemen on the train between Watford Junction and Watford High Street who resisted using their tasers in the face of severe provocation from one of our number (clue: huge person, likes cake).
Least Legroom: A tie between Man United and Everton where you can only just get your knees between the seat when you are standing up!
The Fat Fingers Award for Sat Nav Operation: This goes to BSB for taking us on a tour of rural Staffordshire and ending up in a farm gateway 15 miles from the Stoke ground. He claims it was a malfunction by Google but I am not so sure. And he claims to have done the Knowledge!

Next Season?
Who knows, but we will probably go through it all again.
I would imagine that there will be a big demand for tickets at Brighton and Newcastle coming back up is good news as that is one of the best away fixtures in one of the best weekend cities.
I can’t say that trips to Middlesbrough or Hull will be greatly missed but all away games are good, sometimes in a masochistic way.
If you are at an away game next season, look us up.

Infirm City Firm Sign

From the Archives

Cup Final Day: Memories of 2006

It’s FA Cup Final day – a magical day in the English footballing calendar. I’m sure, for many Hammers, memories are evoked of Ronnie Boyce popping up out of a trapdoor (as Sir Geoff Hurst describes it) to nod the Irons to victory in 1964; of Alan Taylor’s fox (or should that be Sparrow?) in the box routine against Fulham in 1975; or Sir Trevor Brooking stooping to conquer in 1980. Any Hammer born between the late ’70s and late ’90s, however, had been starved of such memories. And although victory was to agonisingly elude us, the FA Cup Final of 2006 was one that could never be forgotten…

13th May 2006 – Gnarls Barkley was number one with ‘Crazy’ and I, along with thousands of others, was on my way to a pretty mad game of football. My day started at around 6.30am in sunny Bracknell, from where I travelled to Oxford to meet up with a friend from university, a fellow Hammer. From the dreaming spires we took the train to Cardiff – standing room only in a carriage full of Scousers, a sea of red shirts and scarves and a cacophony of laughter. We shared stories of our seasons so far and previous trips to The Millennium Stadium for both sides – the time flew by.

Before long we were in a pub near the stadium singing ‘Bubbles’, a converted theatre where the acoustics made the famous old ditty sound that bit extra special – the whole day, the whole experience was just that, a bit extra special. The previous time the Hammers had reached the FA Cup Final, I was still three years away from being born. For any Hammer currently under the age of 40, 2006 is the only Hammers Cup Final we have any memory of – we’re not all lucky enough to have seen 1964, 1975 and 1980 with Moore, Hurst, Brooking and Bonds only seen in TV clips rather than in the flesh. The 13th May 2006 was our time to create memories…

Having met up with a few more Hammers to soak up the atmosphere, we headed into the stadium for the third time in three years; we were directly behind the goal in the second row from the back of the upper tier. ‘Abide With Me’, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone and ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’, red and white and claret and blue – a feast for the senses.

Team news was positive – Matthew Etherington and Dean Ashton fit enough to start, although neither would last the 90 minutes, let alone the 120. The noise from the 71,140 in the stadium was a cracking crescendo at kick-off – and on 21 minutes, one end of the stadium erupted. Deano found himself in space and played a delightful ball in behind the Liverpool backline for loanee right-back Lionel Scaloni to run onto. The Argentine’s cross for the lurking Marlon Harewood was intercepted at the near post by Jamie Carragher, the Liverpool centre-half only succeeding in diverting the ball into his own net.

Seven minutes later, we really were in dreamland – Etherington, my favourite player at the time, jinked his way into a shooting position before firing in a drive which Reina should have held but spilled. Ashton, seizing the moment, darted in to steer the ball into the net. 2-0 up in the Cup Final – a deafening chorus of ‘Ole, ole, ole, ole, Deano, Deano’ rained down from the stands. Dreamland: entered.

The Reds halved the deficit within four minutes – Steven Gerrard pinged a ball over the heads of Danny Gabbidon and Anton Ferdinand, the West Ham centre-halves who had enjoyed such a fine season. Djibril Cisse expertly volleyed beyond Shaka Hislop – “what a Cup Final we’ve got here now” exclaimed John Motson, commentating for the BBC.

Half-time, 2-1 up, but we all remembered Istanbul – the year before, Liverpool had come back from 3-0 down at half-time against AC Milan in the Champions League Final. On 54 minutes, they had their equaliser, Gerrard pouncing on a loose ball from a Peter Crouch knockdown to fire home. But back came the Hammers, Konchesky’s speculative cross finding the far corner of the net past a stranded, grasping, desperate Reina. 3-2 with 64 minutes played. Dreamland: revisited.

The next 26 minutes seemed like an eternity – longing for the whistle as our heroes in white battled for every ball, doing us proud with every tackle, every pass, every block. With the 90 minutes in their dying embers, the ball was kicked out by West Ham to allow a Liverpool player treatment. The Reds returned the ball from the throw but Scaloni was put under pressure – instead of shepherding it out for a goal-kick or coaxing a foul, Scaloni whacked it with neither direction nor distance. It fell eventually to John Arne Riise who played a ball forward which was, again, cleared but only as far as Gerrard, 35 yards out. The PA announcer declared there were four minutes of added time – keen to see out every last second and not be left aimlessly wondering when the whistle would sound, I looked to my watch for a split-second. When I looked back up, the ball was travelling like an exocet into the corner of Hislop’s goal. I hadn’t seen Gerrard’s boot connect with the ball but I saw the net bulge and the red wall behind the goal rise in relief. I slumped in my seat, dejected – the first time I’d sat down since getting out of the car in Oxford all those hours before.

On to extra-time – again the Hammers plucked up their spirits and were the more likely winners. Nigel Reo-Coker helped on Yossi Benayoun’s free-kick, only for Reina to turn the effort onto the inside of the post, the ball rebounding to a struggling Harewood who couldn’t capitalise on the gift. The 125th FA Cup Final went to penalties – Bobby Zamora missed the Hammers’ first but Sami Hyypia saw his effort saved by Hislop, Teddy Sheringham scoring to level the shoot-out. The dream faded when Reina saved from Konchesky and finally died when the Spaniard kept out Ferdinand’s spot-kick, Liverpool winning the shoot-out 3-1.

Unlike many disingenuous losing fans in recent Cup Finals, the majority of the Claret and Blue Army stayed behind to watch the victors lift the Cup. Some of us even joined in a chorus of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ – it was that kind of day. Spilling out into the streets, Liverpool fans offered their commiserations, shaking our hands and informing us that, had we had their number eight, the trophy would have been London-bound.

Obviously, 11 years on, the result still hurts. But the disappointment is outweighed by a pride in West Ham United that day – we produced an incredible performance that will live long in the memory, not just of our club’s history, but in that of the best club competition in the world. They say no-one remembers the losers – I don’t think that’s true of West Ham in 2006. The day, the game and the experience were all totally magical and the fans and players of Liverpool had a decent part to play in that too.

Let’s see if Arsenal and Chelsea can serve up a similar feast later this afternoon…

Liverpool: Pepe Reina, Steve Finnan, Sami Hyypia, Jamie Carragher, John Arne Riise, Steven Gerrard, Mohamed Sissoko, Xabi Alonso (Jan Kromkamp), Harry Kewell (Fernando Morientes), Peter Crouch (Dietmar Hamann), Djibril Cisse.

West Ham United: Shaka Hislop, Lionel Scaloni, Danny Gabbidon, Anton Ferdinand, Paul Konchesky, Yossi Benayoun, Nigel Reo-Coker, Carl Fletcher (Christian Dailly), Matthew Etherington (Teddy Sheringham), Marlon Harewood, Dean Ashton (Bobby Zamora).

Zaman Siddiqui's Match Review

End of Season Review

TRANSFER UPDATE: We’ve just signed Zabaleta! Statement of intent.

To start off, sorry that I haven’t been able to publish my reviews at the usual time but I’ve been doing my exams. Last season, I only had one fixture overlap with exams; this season, I’ve had two fixtures overlap. It is quite frustrating, as just the one overlap would’ve been the optimal result. So, going into our final fixture against Burnley, I really wanted the season to be over, not just for the sake of my exams, but because we’ve played so poorly. How we staggered across the finishing line in 11th is beyond me! Truth be told, I couldn’t bare to watch us play against Liverpool when we conceded for the umpteenth time this season. Speaking of exams, if there’s one thing I learned from my GCSE English Literature exams, it’s analogies. Specifically, our staggered performance against Liverpool served as an analogy of our season: lack of support from the fans at home and a team that has played so poorly it needs to beat Liverpool to barely break even.

Before we all start fist pumping with our finish in 11th, it is worth keeping in mind that only six points separate the teams finishing in 8th through to 17th. Had we lost to Burnley, we would have finished in 14th. That said, if our goal difference was better than that of West Brom’s, we would have ended our campaign in the top half. Lots and lots of ramifications could have meant a lot of different things to different people. Personally, I have to say our finish of 11th is good, but that the style in which it has came has been rather lacklustre.

Of course, it is worth keeping in mind that you can never predict the rapid change of events in football. Just to give a random example, Victor Moses didn’t play well for us last season, but has played phenomenally well for Chelsea this season winning the title. Likewise, it would be absurd to assign blame where none exists. For instance, the number of injuries that have beleaguered our team this season is simply ridiculous. We honestly never could have accounted for that (with the exceptions of Carroll and Sakho). Additionally, the Payet debacle was certainly rather unexpected. Taking all of these things into account, the management of all this has to be applauded.

It isn’t particularly difficult to connect the dots as to who successfully managed these events. Slaven Bilic has done a great job with the team, albeit his lack of tactical awareness during matches. That said, he has managed the Payet situation and the move to the London Stadium very well. In my honest opinion, I feel if there’s one thing we needed in a manager this season, it was certainly the administrative part. This season was unlikely to be based on results. With teething problems at the LS and effectively creating a new club vision, we needed a manager who understands what we are about and how to get the best out of the team. And we’ve got just that.

Slaven is a highly sought-after manager. In Paul Merson’s PL season review, the Sky Sports pundit hopes that Slaven stays and that if he doesn’t, then teams like “Crystal Palace would definitely take him”. But let’s not beat around the bush. We finished in 11th for a reason. As good as Bilic was in the backroom, he certainly has some way to go on the pitch. One of the main problems we have under Slav is consistency. We need to start winning games we are expected to win. This is something from the Allardyce era that we need to regain.

As I’ve stated countless times before, the majority of pundits (myself and Merse included) believe that the board simply have not bought in the right sort of players. Recruitment has been an absolute disaster. It is a real shame that it is this way given our reputation as The Academy of Football. I think that we have all learned that we cannot simply just splash the cash. Buying ageing players like Snodgrass and Fonte isn’t going to do it. We need to consider the sustainability of getting such players. There are numerous positions that need strengthening. If lucrative signings aren’t made in the summer, then the fans will likely turn on the board. This is why they need to be able to communicate effectively on such matters. And that certainly doesn’t include Jack Sullivan tweeting the names of our targets!

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Transfer Gossip

Quality, Not Mediocrity Has to be West Ham's Recruitment Watchword

The priority for the West Ham recruitment team over the next few months is surely very simple. It is to recruit better players than we have already in a number of different positions. Sam Byram will be none to impressed that Pablo Zabaleta looks likely to be our first pre-season recruit, but can anyone really deny that he wouldn’t improve the quality of our first eleven. Hardly. And that’s what it’s all about.

So what other positions do we need to improve on? I’d say the goalkeeping position would be one, although it may not be the first priority. Excellent goalkeepers are hard to come by but if we could sign Begovic, Hart or Butland I’d certainly say they were better than either of our current goalkeepers. It’s good to see Adrian back in form, and he hasn’t really put too much of a foot wrong since his return, but given the choice of him or Begovic, I know which one I would go for. But any of the three keepers I have mentioned would cost relatively big money, so I am not holding my breath on that.

In central defence we certainly need to think about bringing in one top class defender. Jose Fonte has never looked the answer to our defensive problems and paying £8 million for a player his age looks to be verging on madness, given his performances since his arrival in January. Winston Reid continue to be injury prone and James Collins isn’t getting younger. Angelo Ogbonna has played really well but is also prone to injury. Reid has played 30 games, Collins 21 and Ogbonna 19. We have Reece Oxford and Reece Burke coming through and it’s surely time one of them became a key part of the squad. We also have Declan Rice who’s emerged this season. I still think we should be looking to bring in one top quality centre back.

At left back we are well covered with Cresswell and Masuaku, who to me has been a brilliant addition to the squad.

In central midfield we are also well served with Kouyate, Obiang, Noble and Fernandes. I suspect Nordtveit will be sold, but given Josh Cullen’s season at Bradford he is quite capable of stepping up to the plate.

Out wide it is certainly the truth that Feghouli, Snodgrass and Ayew have all been disappointments to one degree or another. Michaeil Antonio is rightly our player of the season and Lanzini has run him close, but again, a top quality wide player ought to be a must. If it were down to me I’d sell Feghouli, Snodgrass and Ayew and invest the money in one world class player.

Up front it all depends on who we sell. It would not surprise me if Carroll were sold to Newcastle and it may be that Sakho demands to go (again), but both their injury records are horrific. Hopefully we can offload Valencia, and Calleri has already gone. Ashley Fletcher hasn’t broken through, despite appearing very bright whenever he has come on. There’s no doubt we have been very short of quality up front and we certainly need one marquee striker to come in. Hopefully that will be Batshuayi, but I wouldn’t bet my mortgage on it.

So, a goalkeeper, a right back, a central defender, a winger and a striker (or two). I reckon we need to spend at least £80 million.

Talking Point

It's All About the Head

Guest Post by Rugby Irons

A couple of you have commented about the club’s finances, in which we have no say. Fair enough. But on the playing side we have plenty to say, and quite right too. However I believe the squad isn’t that bad. Now I say that with everybody being fit (and I felt you all shrug then!) But compared to some comparable clubs (i.e. not the top six) we should be doing better. It’s my opinion we have two major problem areas – injuries, which frankly over the years have always been there and always cost us and secondly mental competence. Now I’m not a Doctor so the injuries are for someone else to deal with, and I do wish the owners would get a grip on this as ultimately it’s costing them far more in table placings than new players. If we had Andy Carroll, Sakho and Antonio all fit every game this season does anyone not really believe we would not be pushing for top 8 minimum?

But it’s the mental side I want to address. We don’t seem to have any mental fortitude. We have thrown away so many points from leading positions its ridiculous. On the pitch we can score and get ahead, home and away, but we just can’t hang on. I fully accept we don’t have a real leader, other than Noble, but the players themselves have to look at themselves or more importantly their head shrink does.

Zlatan has his own personal head shrink and when you consider his success record just as a player in himself, his record is literally second to none. I am told that his influence at United has meant more players are looking at this side of the game and Rashford in particular. So, as in many other sports can we continue to ignore this part of the game? I already said that the overall quality of the squad isn’t that bad it just doesn’t perform to a higher level. I understand some will lay the blame at Slaven’s door, and I do on occasions, but ultimately if they won’t perform what can he do. Well he might consider the same approach himself and get a Psychologist who will inspire him to get amongst them when he needs to.

Now, to be fair, I’m not a psychologist either and so to what levels you can take this I’m not sure but I will say this, this club through its previous managers especially Mr Greenwood have changed the face of football before and taken us to the next level with some fairly average players. If the club had the foresight and perhaps bravery to seriously look at bringing in quality sports psychologists (like, I should add Leicester City did last season through Loughborough University, and Andy Murray did when he finally became a winner), and it worked, West Ham could become so much better. The cost of these head shrinks would easily be covered by a single placing higher up the league .If the team made such a marked improvement and got us back into Europe then this means even more money but if you dare to dream (Leicester did) and we got top four, then who knows what we could achieve.

With the current owners we are just not going to get top class players coming to us until we can offer more than we do now. So this means (again like the Foxes) that the players we do have would have to step up and get to a new level by pulling together as a collective of individuals prepared to work as a team. Let’s face it from last season, Schmeichel aside, we had better players and even now I think we have. We just need to move them to a new level. And I might add that whatever the Under 23’s are doing (and they can come back from behind and hold a lead) is moving in the right direction. Perhaps because they are still in a learning mentality and trying to secure a future, they have more open minds to change and progress. If the first team had the same I still think we have a good enough squad (when fit) to move upwards and onwards. And to make the point clearer , if other clubs do it and we don’t , we’ll be back to becoming the next Sunderland , scraping around the bottom after a stadium move , and eventually getting relegated with nothing to come back up with.

We are now entering a really critical period for West Ham United. The owners are not going to change. We are no longer strangers to our home ground. We have a stable manager. We have a poorer training facility and weak backroom staff but the success of the loanees and under 23’s gives real hope on the playing side for next season. All you can do is dream.

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