Talking Point

The Magic of the Play-Offs

While I was writing this post, Charlton and Sunderland were just battling it out in the second of three play-off finals within three days. On the Saturday Newport County and Tranmere Rovers met in the League Two-play-off final with the Rovers earning a spot in League One thanks to a last-gasp extra-time winner, and now the League One-play-off final was to decide which club would win promotion to the Championship next season.

And being the climax of this sequence of play-off games, on Monday the Championship play-off final, this year not being played on a Saturday afternoon but on a bank holiday at 3 p.m., will decide which outfit will be the third club to be promoted to the Premier League for the 2019-20 season. The venue of all these finals, of course, is the same as every year, after the play-off finals have returned in 2007 from their temporary exile in Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium to New Wembley.

An English export hit

The play-offs and the extra excitement which they add to the end of the season have been some kind of an English “export product“ to other countries in recent years, though not only to decide promotion and relegation (e.g. like in Germany where this year the “Irons” from east Berlin, 1. FC Union, are a contender for promotion to the Bundesliga), but also in order to gain the winner a spot in the Europa League. This is the case in Austria for the first time this season.

The Austrian Bundesliga have got a completely new league format in 2018-19, with the twelve clubs being divided into two groups after 22 games and their points tally cut in half (which seems quite unfair, but should make a premature decision of the title race less likely; that didn’t prevent FC Red Bull Salzburg from winning the league for the sixth time in a row though!). Within the top group, after ten more games, the Austrian champion and three or four European spots (dependent on the cup winner’s place in the table) were to be decided according to the league ranking, but then the fifth club to play in Europe is going to be selected via the new Europa League qualification play-off.

From lower tier to Europe

This play-off has added incentive and extra excitement to the “relegation group” of the Bundesliga: whereas the club finishing sixth in the table of the lower tier faced straight relegation (there was no play-off to save Wacker Innsbruck, the lowest ranked team, from the drop, like in Germany where a relegation play-off is played), now a play-off semifinal and a two-legged play-off final is going to decide if the club I support in my home town will play in the Europa League or not next term.

Rapid Vienna unexpectedly could not finish in the top half of the Bundesliga after 22 rounds, and – less surprisingly – could not win the Austrian cup final, losing out 0-2 to Red Bull Salzburg on the 1st of May in Klagenfurt . Therefore the last opportunity to qualify for Europe now is to win the Europa League play-off semifinal (which consists of only one game played out by winner vs. runner-up of the relegation group) and then to claim victory in the two-legged play-off final against the club finishing fifth in the “championship group”.

Rapid’s opponent in the first game on Tuesday will be SV Mattersburg from the eastern part of Austria (Burgenland), and if they proceed to the final they will play on Thursday and Sunday against Sturm Graz (dependent on the results of the last round of the Bundesliga top tier).

A fixture list in the English style

This is going to be a sequence of games which really can be called an “English week” for Rapid: two mid-week-games, providing only one day of rest between the first and the second game, reminding us of the packed fixture list of the English Premier League at Christmas time and New Year. Especially as these games are played at the very end of the season, we can expect a whole bunch of players suffering from cramp in all the upcoming games, not only in the Austrian matches …

I’ve watched live in the stadium a “domestic play-off” only once so far, this game being the Championship-play-off between West Ham and Blackpool in 2012 . What a joy that was when Ricardo Vaz Te scored the 2-1 in front of the claret and blue part of the Wembley terraces! I had flown over to London just for that game and returned home the next morning and, having booked very short-term, I had not informed any friends that I would be in London that day. But, as it often happens “by chance”, I bumped into Sam Haseltine who ran the football blogger platform “Football United” by then after the game.

Now I very much hope that also my second play-off, this time at home in Austria, will be a success! Rapid Vienna did very well last season in the Europa League. They beat Steven Gerrard’s Glasgow Rangers FC in the group stages (pic), providing me with some late revenge for Gerrard’s goal in the 2006 FA Cup Final.

Now, while I’m finishing this post, Charlton have scored the 2-1 at Wembley, the clock showing the 94th minute. Heartbreak for Sunderland and pure ecstasy for Charlton that are sent back to the Championship. I feel sorry for the Black Cats, but this is football, and this is the magic of the play-offs!

The manager who’s celebrating his club’s return to the Championship now, is a former West Ham player, and it was West Ham-loanee Josh Cullen who knocked off a very quick free kick which lead to Charlton’s last-minute winner! Manager Lee Bowyer, who once played for the Hammers in midfield in 2003 and from 2006-2009, has guided the Addicks, which have been his first professional club as a player, back to the Championship in his first full season as manager. And Charlton have been the first team winning the third tier play-off final in seventeen years after having gone behind in this match. That’s an other beautiful story, but it’s also hard lines for Sunderland on the other hand! Clubs play roughly 4,500 minutes in a season and then to lose out on promotion in the last minute is absolutely brutal!

A festival of football

Yeah, anything can happen in football – especially if everything is determined by one odd game! That’s the magic of the play-offs and of the other upcoming finals.

On Monday in Germany, VfB Stuttgart and “Eisern Union”, the “Irons” from east Berlin for whom I keep my fingers crossed!, are going to play out the second leg in Berlin (first leg 2-2) which will decide upon promotion and relegation from the Bundesliga. On the same day Aston Villa and Derby County play each other in the Championship play-off. And just one day after Rapid Vienna’s first play-off game on the Tuesday, the European festival of English football will begin on Wednesday:

English clubs – regardless of Brexit – play out Champions League and Europa League between themselves on 29 May and 1 June respectively.

Let the finals continue!


Dawud Marsh's Photo Diary

Photo Diary 2018-19 Season Review Part 2 The Passion

The second part of my end of season review is focused on the fans – those who travel from far and wide to watch the team in all weathers, families, individuals, groups, from the young to the not so young – disparate people coming together to form a family filled with a shared passion. From the songs and chants as you enter the stadium to the cheers, calls, shouts and exasperations as we follow the fortunes of the players on the pitch throughout the season. We celebrate the highs, those wins that we long for, to commiserations as another game slips through our fingers and we analyse tactics, players performances and the what ifs. Its what makes it a home for me, filled with those who come and make the atmosphere what it is at times – although there are plenty of occasions when you wonder if we have a voice. I actually find it quite emotional to say good bye to those around me as the season draws to a close, hoping to see my family again next season.


Nigel Kahn’s Column

Bloody Karren Brady Sketch

Sometimes when there’s no football to write about my mind starts to wander into “what if” moments. You know…

  • What If West Ham had bought Gordon Banks
  • What if Didier Drogba had signed for us & not Chelsea
  • What If London hadn’t won the Olympics.

Another I like to play with is the “What If” the Daves were actually a real comedy double act, what type of double act would they be?

My first thought was Morecambe & Wise, as I could imagine the Dave’s living together and sleeping together in their pyjamas, maybe dancing around the kitchen while making breakfast to The Stripper music.

Or would they be like Little & Large, one dull and straight, the butt of the funnier other one’s jokes, but then again I’m not sure which of the two could be called large. To be honest though, Little & Little doesn’t have that star comedy ring about it.

Perhaps they are more akin to Waldorf & Stadler the two old men from the Muppett show, sitting in the box criticising from above. I could just see them sitting there criticising performance after performance they see paraded in front of them.

But then it came to me, The Daves are (supposedly) two working-class men with working-class values, so for me, the crème del a crème de menthe of working class double acts would be Peter Cook & Dudley Moore.

Ok, I know Peter Cook was middle class but with his Dagenham boy side kick Dudley Moore, the two of them with their characters, sitting in the pub having a drink just talking are, for me, comedy gold.

So, with that in mind, and using “What If” the Daves were just normal blokes that went down the pub for a drink and a chat, here’s my take on what that conversation may go like. Borrowed heavily though from the Pete & Dud Greta Garbo sketch, I present…

GOLDY & SULLY
In
THE BLOODY KARREN BRADY SKETCH

Goldy: All right then Sully are you?
Sully: Not too bad, you know, not too bad
Goldy: What you been doing lately, then?
Sully: Well quiet, pretty quiet, not been up to much – I had a spot of the usual trouble the other day.
Goldy: Oh, did you – what happened then?
Sully: A spot of the usual trouble – well, I come home about half-past eleven – we’d been having a couple of drinks, remember? – I come home about half-past eleven, and, you know, I was feeling a bit tired, so, you know, I thought I’d go to bed, you know, take my clothes off, and so on, you know.
Goldy: ‘right – well, don’t you take your clothes off BEFORE you go to bed?
Sully: Er – no, I made that mistake this time, got it the wrong way round – anyway, I got into bed, settled down, I was just about, you know, reading “Pure Gold” your autobiography.
Goldy: Good ain’t it
Sully: It’s a lovely book, Goldy, a lovely book – an’ I got up to about page 442, second paragraph, when suddenly – ‘bring, bring – bring, bring’.
Goldy: What’s that?
Sully: That’s the ‘phone, going ’bring, bring’. So I picked up the ‘phone, and – you know who it was?
Goldy: no who?
Sully: Bloody Karren Brady. Calling from scouting players in China, bloody Karren Brady – I said, ’look, Karren, what do you think you’re doing, calling me up half-past eleven at night?’ She said ’It’s half-past seven in the morning over here’. I said, ‘I don’t care what bloody time it is, there’s no need to wake ME up’. She said, ’ Sully, Sully – get on a plane, come dance with me, be mine tonight’. ‘Be mine tonight’ she said – I said, ‘Look, Karren – we’ve had our laughs, we’ve had our fun, but it’s all over’. I said, ‘Stop pestering me, get back to Peschcisoledo – stop pestering ME’ I said. I slammed the ‘phone down and said ’Stop pestering me’.
Goldy: Shouldn’t you have said ‘Stop pestering me’ BEFORE you put the ‘phone down?
Sully: I should have, yes …
Goldy: It’s funny you should say that ’cos a couple of nights ago, you remember, we had a couple of drinks …
Sully: I remember that yes …

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Goldy:… and I came home, you know, I was going to bed, felt a bit tired – I was having a nightcap …
Sully: ‘Course you were …
Goldy:… and I was just dropping off nicely, and all of a sudden I heard this hollering in the kitchen.
Sully: Hollering’?
Goldy: And screaming and banging on the door, you know, and I thought I must have left the gas on – so I go down there – I fling open the door – you’ll never guess – it’s bloody Franco Zola, up to his knees in pasta, screaming at me – portami cuocere, mi permetta di essere ancora il vostro gestore!’
Sully: Italian.
Goldy: Italian, yes, he wants to be our manager again –anyway he was covered in mud, he grabbed hold of me, he pulled me all over the floor – he had one of them old Macron tops on …
Sully: one with the stickers that peel off …
Goldy: … Yes, and we rolled all over the floor – I hit him, I said ‘Get out of here! Get out of here, you Italian … thing!’ I said. ‘Get out of here’, I said …
Sully: ‘You Italian thing …’ a good thing to call him.
Goldy: Yes … I said. ’Don’t you come here and mess up MY pasta again, mate’.
Sully: I should hope not. I had the same bloody trouble about three nights ago – I come in, about half-past eleven at night, we’d been having a couple of drinks I remember – and I come in, I get into bed, you see, feeling quite sleepy, I could feel the lids of my eyes beginning to droop – a bit of the droop in the eyes – I was just about to drop off, when suddenly, ‘tap, tap, tap’ at the bloody window pane – I looked out – you know who it was?
Goldy: Who?
Sully: Bloody Karren Brady again, flown back from China! Bloody Karren Brady – stark naked save for a shortie nightie. She was hanging on to the window sill, and I could see her knuckles all white … saying ‘Sully, Sully I want you…’ well you know how she bloody goes on – I said ‘Get out of it!’ – bloody Karren Brady. She wouldn’t go – she wouldn’t go, I had to smash her down with a broomstick, poke her off the window sill, she fell down on the pavement with a great crash …
Goldy:: She just had a nightie on, is that all?
Sully: That’s all she had on, Goldy, just a …
Goldy: See-through?
Sully… a see-through, shortie nightie. Nothing else – except for her dark glasses of course. Dreadful business.
Goldy: Well, it’s funny you should say that …
Sully: Yes, it’s funny I should say that.
Goldy:… after the Southampton game, I come home, we’d been having a couple of drinks …
Sully: Couple of drinks, yes …
Goldy:… I come home, I come through the door, and – sniff – sniff, sniff, I went – you know – funny smell, I thought, smells like aftershave …
Sully: Brute Aftershave, Goldy?
Goldy: what ones brute aftershave
Sully: its the aftershave of choice for norvenors Goldy
Goldy: Funny you should say that, because I come in the bathroom, you know, I thought, ‘bit stronger here’, you know, ‘funny – I come in the bedroom – it’s getting ridiculous, this smell, you know, so I get into bed, you know, turn the covers back – it’s a bit warm in bed – I thought, ‘funny’, you know, being warm like that – and – I get into bed, I put out the light – and, I was just going off to kip – and suddenly I feel a hand on my cheek.
Sully: Which cheek was that, Goldy? … Come on – which cheek was it?
Goldy: It was the left upper. I said I thought, you know, ‘funny’ … I turned on the light – bloody hand here, Black fingernails urgh…
Sully: Who was it?
Goldy: You’ll never guess – but bloody Sam Allardyce
Sully: Sam Allardyce?
Goldy: Sam Allardyce, in bed with me, stark naked – I said ‘Sam’ …
Sully: with the huge…
Goldy: With the thing. Yes.. I said, ‘SAM’, I said, ‘get out of here’ …
Sully: Get out …
Goldy: ‘Get out of here’, I said, ‘you may be mean, arrogant and magnificent, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s all over’. we sacked you and you’re not coming back So I threw him down – I chased him out of bed, threw him down the stairs – I threw his Adidas coat and his stupid headset after him, I threw them down … and his Bolton Wanderers scarf … I said ‘Get out of here! Get out of here, you fraud!’ … I threw his chewing gum – I threw a bucket of water over him, I said ‘Get out of here, you fraud! ’Take your long
Sully: Ball?
Goldy: Ball…Yes, long ball I said, ’don’t come in my bed again, mate, it’s disgusting!’ Terrible … I was shocked to the quick.
Sully: You’re quite right, you got to do something about these bloody ex-managers who pester you …
Goldy: What you doing tonight, then?
Sully: Well … I thought we might go to watch Cardiff City play.


The GoatyGav Column

So Do You Want A Multi-Billionaire Owner?

So Do You Want A Multi-Billionaire Owner?
It’s not always easy finding new subjects for a regular column. One of the aspects that needs to be considered is if a topic has been covered before. As I looked back through my more recent posts I decided to read one of them again – along with the comments made.

One article that I returned to was posted on the 18th December last year entitled ‘The Eye Of The Beholder, What We See in Players And A Tribute To Luca Campanaro’. As I read through the comments I happened upon one posted by ‘The Academy’. I had replied to The Academy’s comment as, it appeared that, he may have refereed the match that the U14s team I manage played in the previous weekend – where the Minute Silence was observed for Luca. I’m glad I checked back as, by the reply I’ve now read five months later, it turns out that The Academy was, indeed, the referee for the match in question. Small world isn’t it? Thanks for your kind comments about the team mate – the boys always make me feel proud. Your encouragement at Half Time and Full Time were greatly appreciated. If you’re around at any of the tournaments this Summer I may see you there.

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The main reason I went back so far was because I was positive that I’d already written about the pros and cons of having a mega-rich investor take over the club. As I don’t generally do closed season transfer speculation, choosing only to comment when a player actually joins the club, the Summer months tend to be a quieter time with posts not forthcoming on as regular a base as they are during the football season. The subject matter of the articles, therefore, tend to look at club issues from a more structural and behind the scenes view.

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In two season’s time David Sullivan and David Gold, the owners of West Ham at the time we moved to the OS/LS, will be in a position where they can sell the club without incurring any financial ‘legacy’ penalties. This fact, alone, considerably increases the likelihood of West Ham being sold at that time. As much as the club owners profess to be ‘in love’ with the club and are fans like the rest of us they are, at heart, businessmen. If I were cynical, which I’m not but if I were, I would suggest that the plan has been to take the club to the Olympic Stadium, make some money out of selling the Boleyn Ground, before selling the club on at a huge profit when able to do so while making some extra bunce in interest payments in the interim. Only time will tell if this will come to pass but, regardless of the speculation and as a supporter of West Ham, you have to ask yourself if this is the outcome that you want. Are the current owners that bad? Are you enjoying life as a West Ham fan or would you prefer it if a mega-rich investor ploughed over a billion quid in to the club, and team, to ‘buy’ success?

I was listening to Johnny Vaughan being interviewed on the radio a few months ago. A fully paid up Chelsea fan the celebrity spoke extensively about his longing for a time when he felt closer to the club and it’s struggle for success. He went on to describe how exciting it was to put one over on the big teams and never know what result you were likely to get from games against teams around you in the league. By contrast he doesn’t have the same enthusiasm about games against teams in the lower echelons due to the expectation of victory which usually transpires. Big victories meant so much more. Players seemed less mercenary and more like ‘one of our boys’. Going to matches was a more exciting experience and one that Vaughan longs for a return to. At present Manchester City fans are basking in the glory of their various titles but, I believe, it won’t be long before many of them will start to feel the same way.

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For me nothing is ever going to take away from enjoyment of good football. No matter how ‘corporate’ things get at our club I’ll always be vociferous in my support from the stands, enjoy a few beers on match days and encourage the right brand of the game to be played. Frankly the club is already becoming a more commercial animal. You only have to look at operations like the merchandising and club shop, sponsorship deals (although I think the mascot sponsorship is an outrageous liberty), corporate hospitality, food & drink and general environment that the LS is located within to get far more of a ‘big club’ feel to West Ham. An observation backed up by a Manchester United supporting friend who joined me for the Arsenal game this season.

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Actions like the current one by UEFA, against Manchester City and Chelsea, might prove prohibitive, and a dis-incentive, for a mega rich investor anyway. We may never see the kind of investment that those in the top six clubs have enjoyed in recent years because the obstacles being put in the way of team investment may be sufficient to put the investors off. Notwithstanding UEFA’s actions under financial fair play the goose continues to be fattened. A sale during the Summer of 2021 looks a distinct possibility despite Aleksander Ceferin’s best efforts to exercise the rules to bring English clubs to heel.

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Signing off I wanted to congratulate the youth team on making it to the semi-fianls of the HKFC CITI Soccer 7s Tournament. Losing out to Rangers 1-0 the boys did very well and showed some lovely stuff in the group stages. Newcastle United pipped Rangers in the final to retain their title. Seven a side is a quick and entertaining format of the game that’s great to watch. I look forward to seeing West Ham compete again in next year’s tournament.

COYI!


Talking Point

Looking Back Over My Shoulder

As the season has come to a close, and teams are already releasing the new kits for next season, I thought it appropriate to reflect on several of the best moments in the season. I think it is important to reflect on things and try to learn from them, and in a week which has seen me finish my undergraduate degree, I am feeling rather contemplative.

As fans of West Ham, along with fans of most other clubs, you come to expect ups and downs. The opening four games were certainly not positive but, as the season has progressed, we have seen improvements in individual players and as a team.

The 3-1 win at home against Manchester United in late September was brilliant, and was made better on a personal note given one of my best mates and housemate supports United. I dislike Manchester United at the best of times (sure I’m not alone there. Incidentally, Man U is the only other club my Dad would have objected to me supporting) but to see them fall from the dizzying heights of the Ferguson era, to that dismal side that we deservedly beat was very satisfying. Anderson’s silky first goal for the club was great, and it is a shame we couldn’t see an attacking trio of Anderson, Arnautovic and Yarmolenko for an entire season. This result was exactly what Pellegrini had emphasised when stating the club needed to have the mentality of a ‘big team’, and given my friend Louis down the years has been able to poke fun following results between the two teams, this result was very enjoyable to say the least. To witness a Manchester United fan realise his club is at the moment very mediocre has also been entertaining. I hope (as Yazz yodelled back in the day) the only way is up in East London! And like the Quo: down, down, deeper and down for Man U…

Furthermore, the 1-2 away win against Southampton just after Christmas was very satisfying. I was at the pub with friends and I recall not feeling overly confident due to a slightly depleted squad and the Saints had started well under Hasenhüttl. After going 1-0 down to a slightly dubious goal, we struck back instantly with a brilliant goal from Felipe, and then counter attacked to great effect to score a second and win the game. The game was by no means a brilliant performance but, given that Antonio was at right back for example, it was a performance that highlighted Anderson’s quality as well as the team’s resilience.

The 1-0 home win against Arsenal again demonstrated how well we can play against the bigger sides and, while the performance was very impressive, it was Rice’s debut goal that was the real highlight. I remember texting my mate who’s a season ticket holder and saying ‘I’m so happy for him’, and you could see the genuine happiness from all of the players when he scored. The England international had a fabulous season in holding midfield, and I’m sure he will only get better.

Of course the 0-1 away win at Spurs was fantastic. I have one friend who supports Spurs, and I know along with the rest of their fans they really did not want the first team to score and win to be us. It was an excellent performance from the team with everyone working for each other. Antonio’s celebration was random but made the goal all the more iconic! Last team to win at Highbury, first team to win at the Emirates, and the first side to win at the Tottenham Hotspurs Stadium. If every other team could kindly build new stadiums, we’ll be contending for the league!

Finally, along with the Spurs result, the six points gathered from both Southampton at home and Watford away was a great way to conclude Pellegrini’s first season. The form in particular of Noble in the final few games was great to see, and it’s always nice for him to silence the critics he has always had, as well as several pundits recognising his underrated ability.

The 2018/2019 season was a transitional one allowing for Pellegrini to implement his attacking style and assess the squad. After the summer window, we should have a good idea where we are. I am usually optimistic regardless but things do appear to be on the up at the London Stadium. Hopefully whatever I do now that my time at University is over is as positive as West Ham moving forward!

Hope everyone is well, have a good week.


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