I don’t know what happened with James Collins’ sending off, but to get three red cards in five Europa League matches is going some, especially for a team which qualified uner the Fair Play League. This is what James Collins told the London Evening Standard today. You couldn’t make it up…
“We’ve had a couple of tough games and tonight will be no walkover. Everyone expected us to steamroller Birkirkara [West Ham won the tie on penalties] but they were doing everything to get under our skin. We have to be streetwise. James got sent off in Malta and Diafra Sakho the previous match. That can’t happen. We must be more professional."
And to top it all, Slaven Bilic was also sent off.
Apart from if we had lost, this couldn’t have been a worse evening. We now have to go to Romania three days before we got to the Emirates. A 2-0 victory, which looked likely at one stage, would have meant we could send a slightly under strength team. But now we have both Tomkins and Collins suspended, along with Joey O’Brien. Just as well we have a surfeit of central defenders. Sakho will be back, which is just as well as goodness only knows how bad Enner Valencia’s injury is. We really are unlucky aren’t we?
The dreadful BBC London commentator reckoned at one stage that FC Astra were worse than FC Lusitans. As soon as he said that, I thought that comment might come back to bite him on the arse. Or ours. And what a pity that he seemed unable to pronounce the names of most West Ham players. Cresswell became Crezwell. Maiga became Mayger. Adrian because Aydrian. Honestly, does the man not have a shred of professionalism?
I guess the bright spots were the two goals scored by Enner Valencia and more especially Mauro Zarate, which from the commentary I heard sounded a peach of a goal. Valencia is a confidence player and his header will certainly put a spring in his step, assuming he recovers quickly from the injury. From whay I heard Dimitri Payet had a very bright competitive debut, and laid on Valencia’s goal, and sixteen year old Reece Oxford’s confident performance showed yet again that he has an old head on young shoulders.
In the second leg, it’s quite simple. We have to win or draw 3-3. This European lark is a bit more challenging that some people first thought, I suspect.
Seems to be a slow news day today which seems to happen every Thursday in anticipation of our Europa League game. Here are todays titbits for you, my apologies there is nothing more to sink your teeth in to!
The Brentwood Gazette? have Newcastle in the driving seat to land QPR striker Charlie Austin. Apparently they are willing to offer £13million+Harris Vuckic which seems to be a more enticing deal then Kevin Nolan…..I say no more!
West Ham? are set to test the murky waters with Tottenham and step up their interest in playmaker Mousa Dembele. I’ve always been a great admirer of Dembele, despite the team he plays for. He has great vision and if this were a genuine target I would be very excited about it, although I suspect this is just paper talk.
Obviously the main news is that Bilic has confirmed West Ham are still in discussions with Alex Song/Barcelona over a return to Upton Park. I hope this is something that is tied up sooner rather than later, despite his recent operation. I would hate for us to delay a deal only for us to be gazumped by someone later on. Regardless of his poor second half of last season he is still a class act and would improve our midfield for sure.
Astra Giurgiu were founded in 1921 as Astra Romana Sports Club in Ploiesti, a city north of the Romanian capital Bucharest. The club was taken over by Ioan Niculae in 1990 and embarked on its first season in Romania’s top flight in 1998/99. Niculae moved the club from Ploiesti to Giurgiu in 2012 and the club finished 4th in the 2012/13 season, qualifying for the Europa League and ensuring continental competition for the first time in their history. 2013/14 saw Astra record the most successful season in their history finishing 2nd in the league to Steaua Bucharest but winning the Romanian Cup by beating Steaua on penalties. ‘The Black Devils’ finished 4th last season.
Astra negotiated their way through the Europa League’s three qualification rounds to reach the play-off for the group stage in 2013/14, only to be defeated 3-1 on aggregate by Maccabi Haifa. The Black Devils went one better last season though, qualifying for the group stage by defeating French giants Lyon on away goals in the play-off. They subsequently finished bottom of a group containing Red Bull Salzburg, Celtic and Dinamo Zagreb, although they picked up points at home with a draw against the Glasgow side and a win over the Croatians. They did lose 5-1 twice in the group stage, in the away matches in Salzburg and Zagreb.
While Niculae remains the club’s owner, the chairman is former Romanian international goalkeeper Danut Coman, a 36-year-old best known for his two spells with Rapid Bucharest. Head coach Marius Sumudica is a 44-year-old who has recently embarked on his third spell in charge of the club. Sumudica, a former striker standing at 5’10, won the Romanian League with Rapid Bucharest in 1999 and the Romanian Cup with the same club in 1998 and 2002. He has previously managed an array of clubs in Romania, as well as enjoying brief spells coaching in Greece and the United Arab Emirates.
One of Astra’s most notable players is 26-year-old goalkeeper Silviu Lung Junior, who will wear number 1 and stands at 6’2. He is the son of Silviu Lung, who was also a goalkeeper who won 77 caps for his country between 1979 and 1993. Lung Senior represented his country at Euro ’84 and the 1990 World Cup in Italy, where he was captain in all four matches but couldn’t keep out any of Ireland’s penalties as Pat Bonner’s save from Daniel Timofte and David O’Leary’s famous final spot-kick knocked the Romanians out in the second phase. Lung Junior started his career with 57 appearances for Universitatea Craiova between 2007 and 2011, during which time he was the regular goalkeeper for the Romanian Under-21 side. He signed for Astra in 2011 and has since made over 100 appearances for the club. Lung Junior has won six full caps for Romania.
Junior Morais, who will wear number 13, is a Brazilian left-back who first played for Sao Caetano in the Sao Paulo region in the 2008/09 season before moving to Freamunde, a second tier Portuguese club. The 29-year-old signed for Astra in 2011 where he has since scored 5 goals in 140 matches, winning both the Romanian Cup and the Romanian Supercup in 2014.
Constantin Budescu is a 26-year-old forward who will wear number 10. Standing at 6’1, Budescu started his career with Petrolul Ploiesti where he scored 41 goals in 151 appearances. He signed for Astra in 2011 and has since scored 53 goals in 133 matches and grabbed the only goal of the tie in the last qualifying round against Inverness with a dipping, curling free-kick. Budescu has won three caps for Romania.
Blast from the past
Having won the Intertoto Cup by defeating Finland’s Jokerit, Dutch side Heerenveen and French club Metz, and winning through against Osijek of Croatia in the 1999/2000 UEFA Cup first round, the Hammers came up against Steaua Bucharest in the second round.
The first leg in the Romanian capital, a trip which featured West Ham’s players attending the launch of the Romanian edition of Playboy magazine, ended in defeat as goals from Laurentiu Rosu and Sabin Ilie in either half, the second the result of a rare mistake by Steve Potts, put the hosts in charge of the tie on a dreadful pitch. Paolo Di Canio, booked for throwing the ball away in the first half, was substituted on the advice of the Danish referee, who admitted telling Hammers boss Harry Redknapp, “I said for him to be careful of Di Canio because next time he made me angry I would send him off". Frank Lampard almost grabbed what could have proved a crucial away goal on a number of occasions, seeing a late header ruled out for offside, heading against the bar and seeing a free-kick deflected wide.
West Ham United (first leg, 21st October 1999): Shaka Hislop, Steve Potts (Javier Margas), Rio Ferdinand, Neil Ruddock, Steve Lomas, John Moncur, Marc-Vivien Foe, Frank Lampard, Trevor Sinclair, Paulo Wanchope, Paolo Di Canio (Joe Cole).
A frustrating second leg back in London saw the Hammers throw the kitchen sink at Steaua but fail to convert numerous chances into goals. Di Canio was given an injection to play due to an ankle injury and a 17-year-old Joe Cole started with creativity the order of the day but profligacy and a defiant, if unorthodox, performance from goalkeeper Zoltan Ritli ensured the Hammers exited the competition.
West Ham United (second leg, 4th November 1999): Shaka Hislop, Javier Margas, Rio Ferdinand, Neil Ruddock, Trevor Sinclair, Steve Lomas, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole, Marc Keller (Paul Kitson), Paulo Wanchope, Paolo Di Canio.
Bucharest-born Florin Raducioiu arrived at Upton Park from Espanyol for a club record fee of £2.4m in the summer of 1996, having scored his country’s only goal at Euro ‘96. By the middle of winter, however, he was back in Spain, having played just 12 games and scored 3 times.
Raducioiu registered his first West Ham goal in the 1-1 League Cup home draw with Stockport on 27th November 1996. He notched his first Premier League goal against reigning champions Manchester United on 8th December 1996, the Romanian’s strike halving a 2-0 deficit in the 78th minute to kickstart a cracking comeback completed by Julian Dicks’ thunderous penalty.
Raducioiu denies the claim that he went shopping at Harvey Nichols rather than travel north for the League Cup fourth-round replay defeat at Stockport, saying: “It is not true that before a cup game I went shopping and left the team without a striker”. His third and final goal for the Hammers came on 28th December 1996 in a 2-0 win over Sunderland; new Hammers manager Slaven Bilic scored the first goal that day. Raducioiu formed strong friendships with Bilic and club legend Ludek Miklosko before returning to Espanyol for £1.7m in January 1997.
Speaking to the official website in 2009, Raducioiu stated: “I am very sorry about what happened. I was an important signing for West Ham at that time and I remember Harry Redknapp wanted me a lot and Ilie Dumitrescu was a good friend of mine and playing there. I made a mistake, I wasn’t ready for English football. The way of training was completely different and it led to problems. I’d like to say a big ‘sorry’ to the great fans at Upton Park. My character was a bit aggressive. It was something between two people but I don’t want to offend anybody at West Ham. I had my faults, I should have worked much harder to adapt to the English system”.
West Ham United were one of a number of clubs the striker represented in a career that began at Dinamo Bucharest and included spells in Italy (with Bari, Verona, Brescia and AC Milan), Spain (Espanyol), Germany (Stuttgart) and France (Monaco). In doing so, Raducioiu is one of only two professional footballers, alongside Christian Poulsen, to have plied his trade in the top five European leagues (Germany, Spain, Italy, France and England). He is best known internationally for his four World Cup goals for Romania at USA ’94 – in total he won 40 caps for his country, scoring 21 goals.
Raducioiu, now 45, retired in 2004 after a short stint with modest French side US Créteil-Lusitanos. He had a brief spells as a sports agent and as sporting director at Dinamo Bucharest. He has since taken his coaching badges at the Italian FA’s training centre in Coverciano with a view to returning to football and moving back to Brescia, his wife’s home city, permanently.
Thursday’s officials are from Switzerland, with the referee being 32-year-old Adrien Jaccottet; he was the man in the middle for FC Astana’s 2-0 Europa League qualifying second round second leg victory over NK Maribor last week. Jaccottet showed five yellow cards and one red in that game.
Slaven Bilic is likely to name his strongest available line-up. At the time of writing, James Tomkins has not had his appeal heard and remains suspended (this preview was written early – I’ll be on holiday in Cyprus by the time this is published) while Winston Reid is injured so James Collins and Angelo Ogbonna could form the central defensive partnership. Enner Valencia could start and Dimitri Payet should make his first competitive appearance for the club. Martin Samuelsen could also start after Morgan Amalfitano and Matt Jarvis both played for an hour in Tuesday’s win at Norwich. Diafra Sakho remains suspended so Mauro Zarate is likely to play.
Astra are expected to line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation. As well as the aforementioned Brazilian Junior Morais, Astra can boast a few foreign talents to play alongside their Romanian contingent. 30-year-old right-back Pedro Queiros and 34-year-old midfielder Felipe Teixeira both hail from Portugal – Teixera used to play for West Brom and Barnsley. 29-year-old holding midfielder Takayuki Seto is Japanese and has been at the club for eight years. 26-year-old attacking midfielder Fernando Boldrin and 23-year-old left winger William, who scored in the 81st minute of the 1-1 Europa League group stage draw against Celtic last season, are both from Brazil. Astra were accused by Inverness’ David Raven in the last round of underhand gamesmanship and “going down when they hadn’t been touched” – considering the recent dismissals of James Tomkins and Diafra Sakho in European competition, this could be something the Romanians target against the Hammers.
Possible West Ham United XI: Adrian; O’Brien, Collins, Ogbonna, Cresswell; Noble, Kouyate; Samuelsen, Payet, Valencia; Zarate.
As you may or may not have gleaned, Iain has asked me to commit to a regular weekly column to appear on Wednesdays. I have agreed with a degree of trepidation because I’m not a sports journalist or a professional writer, just a claret and blue blogger with West Ham in my heart. I know that I’m prone to epic articles and getting bogged down in detail but I hope that as my confidence and experience grows they will become more succinct, not to mention more quickly produced!
As the rest of Iain’s squad of authors are eminently more qualified than I am to analyse the tactics of the game and the merits of players I have decided to focus on the cultural and social side of West Ham and football in general, with some current football affairs thrown in for good measure. My articles won’t be to everyone’s taste but I hope you’ll appreciate that they’ve been produced with the maximum of effort and the best of intentions to inform and entertain you.
Last week I was invited by my former schoolmate and fellow Hammer Rich to see Patrick Marber’s new play The Red Lion at the National Theatre on London’s South Bank; a drama set within a cash-strapped non-League football club. Rich is already a fan of Marber’s work, having previously seen his acclaimed plays Dealer’s Choice and Closer, but as I was unfamiliar with his oeuvre I decided to do a bit of background reading beforehand.
I discovered that despite his success as a playwright and comic writer in the 1990s (his work on The Day Today and with Steve Coogan on the Alan Partridge shows preceded a move into high-end theatre) Marber had suffered an extreme case of writer’s block and had almost given up on writing completely after failing to produce anything for several years. During this protracted fallow period Marber moved out of London to rural Sussex with his wife and children. Unfortunately the peace and isolation of the countryside only served to compound his creative block and he was in real danger of a permanent place on the literary subs bench. To distract himself from his frustration he decided to take his son to The Dripping Pan to watch Lewes FC, although he is actually an Arsenal fan. It proved to be a turning point for both Marber and the struggling football club.
In an interview with The Guardian in 2010 Marber describes how he reconnected with the essence of the beautiful game and the effect it had on his life and the future of the club:
“We came to our first game at the beginning of last season and I just had the best time I’d had at a football match for years, in terms of a very pure footballing experience.
“Obviously, I’d enjoyed greatly supporting Arsenal for years and still do but in terms of the game it just reawakened my love, reminded me why as a kid I’d loved watching and playing it.
“And being close to the pitch: I’d forgotten what it was like to be close, and to hear the players and the ref and the linesman, and feel the atmosphere in a completely different way, because I realised that sitting at the Emirates Stadium you experience the atmosphere by proxy, through the crowd, because you’re one of them, whereas here you’re kind of in it.
“So I thought: ‘Great, we’re going to carry on coming, we’re going to support Lewes FC as well as Arsenal, this is a good thing.’ I went on the website to find out more about the club I was now going to support and found out it was in dire peril. It owed HM Revenue & Customs about a hundred grand at that point and there were messages on the website from the owners saying please contact us if you can help. Please contact Steve Ibbitson the manager if you can help.
“My first thought was I could afford to donate a bit of money to the club: a couple of grand or something, if that would be of help, so I phoned Steve Ibbitson and said: ‘Look, I’m just a bloke who’s started supporting your club and I don’t want to see them go under and I do know a few people with some money who might be able to help.’
“We had a three-hour cup of tea on a very rainy day and he took the time and had the courtesy to explain to a complete stranger how the club works and how they got in this financial strait. At that time it looked in serious shit, it was going to go under.
“Once I’d met with Ibbo I was in for life. There was nothing I could do. This is a man who loves his club and he’d been working around the clock, had given his own money to the club, wasn’t being paid and was just doing it for love. And I thought: ‘I want to get involved with this man, with this club. I’m in.’ I just couldn’t stand aside. I went home to my wife and said: ‘I have some bad news.’”
Marber’s enthusiasm for non-League Lewes was to help add their name to the growing legion of community-owned clubs. He threw himself into an ambassadorial role, persuading his showbiz friends and local Lewes people to join him in investing in the club. As a result, in their 125th year, the Rooks swerved bankruptcy to become Lewes Community Football Club.
Marber went on to say:
“We need plumbers, we need electricians – we certainly need more supporters – and we need people to come and make sandwiches, we need sponsorship, we need more stewards: the whole club is a volunteer club. This could be a disastrous experiment and go tits up, and just be a silly dream, or it could work fabulously, and become a model for other clubs to follow, just as we’ve followed AFC Wimbledon and FC United of Manchester.”
At the time of his interview in 2010 Marber revealed that his creative juices had thankfully started to flow again and that he was working on two new screenplays, while simultaneously helping to manage the football club. He insisted then that his foray into club management was not background for a prospective drama.
“There’s a fabulous play to be written about this takeover. I could write it tomorrow. It’s not research but there’s been fantastic material, as you can imagine when there are six blokes who don’t really know each other at the beginning, get together to take over a football club and have to negotiate with the owners. It’s very rich. But I’m not going to write about it. It’s too good.”
True to his word he didn’t go on to write the story of Lewes’ takeover but he was clearly inspired by his rekindled passion for non-League football and the result is his latest play The Red Lion, which opened to very good reviews earlier this month.
Armed with this background information I hopped on the Fenchurch Street line with Rich last Tuesday, keen to see how the story of a small time semi-pro football club would translate to the stage. The only other staged football events I’ve seen before have been several Hammers Heroes shows and a West Ham fans forum, where the audience has always been predominantly male. I fully expected the theme of the play to attract a similar gender bias but could immediately see that Marber’s reputation as a playwright has transcended the subject matter to attract a demographic more typical to the National Theatre than a football stadium.
The first thing we noticed as we took our seats in the stalls was the smell. The set designer Anthony Ward has cleverly used the distinctive odour of horse liniment to instantly evoke the musty, fetid atmosphere which has pervaded men’s football changing rooms for generations. Not that I’m in the habit of frequenting such places you understand but I’ve stood and shivered outside enough of them to be immediately transported back to a cold wet side line at the slightest whiff of white horse oil. I was sure that I could also detect undertones of sweat and damp mud but that might have just been the realism of Ward’s dank and dilapidated dressing room where the story unfolds.
The play is a chamber piece populated by three characters instantly recognisable by football fans and they’ve been very well cast.
Peter Wight’s aging and overweight Yates is a faded, gently paternal figure whose former status as the club’s star player has been gradually eroded by a humiliating spell as their manager and personal tragedy. Despite dedicating his life and soul to the club, he now cuts a lonely and rather sad figure as the lowly kit man, comforted only by his match day rituals and memories; making his nickname ‘Lege’ as a former club legend all the more poignant.
By contrast Daniel Mays plays the vain and strutting manager Jimmy Kidd, whose inflated view of himself as some kind of non-League Jose Mourinho is matched only by the size of his ruthless ambition. Despite his bravado Kidd’s insecurities and desperation in the face of his crumbling marriage and mounting personal debts are clearly visible just below the surface.
Calvin Demba is equally convincing as rising football star Jordan, with a physique that wouldn’t look out of place on any Premier League pitch. He perfectly captures the paradox of self-conscious lack of confidence and defiant arrogance that comes at the cusp of manhood. His character is both morally idealistic and corruptible and we see him wage an internal war influenced by both Yates and Kidd.
As the play opens Yates and Kidd seem to have a difficult and strained relationship but as it progresses it’s obvious that there’s also an underlying affection and respect. Their relationship is tested in full as the The Red Lion’s winning streak is jeopardised when a rival club poaches their best player and Kidd is under pressure from the board. Potential salvation appears in the shape of Jordan, a young player with exceptional promise, and his arrival reignites both men’s passion for the game. It hits Kidd like a drug as he envisions not only glory and success for himself and the team but also a way out of his personal problems. Yates’ response is much gentler and his fatherly concern for the young player is driven by his dream of reviving the spirit of the club’s glory days before they were corrupted by the unscrupulous ethics of Kidd. Over the course of the next three games we see the two older characters battling for control of this boy’s future and, ultimately, their own. Kidd employs Machiavellian tactics to achieve his aims while Yates relies on his word of honour. What neither of them realise is that Jordan is harbouring a secret and troubled past which could wreck the future of all three of them.
At this point of the play I couldn’t help but be reminded of our own wayward and damaged player of recent times, Ravel Morrison, and I felt a new level of sympathy and understanding of the pressures these young players face from diametrically opposed controlling influences.
The first half of the play begins fairly slowly and by the interval it was still difficult to see where it was going. Inevitably Rich and I discussed our views on what we’d seen thus far and I was surprised to learn that he thought there were homoerotic undertones and that Yates’ looks of longing at Jordan were sexually charged. I didn’t get that at all and I thought his yearning was caused by his romantic idealism of the game and a longing to relive his glory days vicariously through the boy. It made me realise that we live in a culture where the sight of an aging, overweight man massaging the lithe muscular body of a young boy in a sporting context can still cause discomfiture among some men and I wondered if that was a typical response? The second half of the play is much more dramatically charged and the tension between the three characters builds, with tragic results.
While I couldn’t fault the authenticity of the performances I found Marber’s plot fairly predictable, to the point of being hackneyed in places and the best plot twist is revealed too early, which impacts on the tension. It is a character driven play and the dialogue sounds genuine to the football fans’s ear. Mays’ intense and manic performance is mesmerising and the perfect foil to Wight’s finely nuanced delivery. It’s clear that Marber is writing about a world he knows intimately and his play is imbued with his passion for the beautiful game. A noticeable leitmotif is the absence of father figures and the pain and scars that the characters bear because of difficult and abusive father/son relationships.
I noticed that some of the audience found the script comical in places but realised that I didn’t share their mirth. I suspect that had something to do with the fact that I’m so deeply inured in the frankly sometimes ridiculous drama of football and that I’m immune to the comedy of its discourse.
During an interview Daniel Mays was asked if non-football fans would relate to the play and he replied:
“Absolutely. I can’t stress that enough. Football is just the gateway. When you get into the second act, it really becomes about these three individual men and the very universal themes of betrayal, loss and ambition. We see how co-dependent they are and how much vulnerability they have. Patrick [Marber] is a master at shining a light on certain aspects of ourselves that we probably wouldn’t share. It’s about how men can wound or heal each other – I find it a profoundly moving and poignant piece.”
Whilst I agree with him on one level I also believe that football fans will find the play more rewarding than those who have no love for the sport. Everybody knows that football is a never ending source for moral debate and this can be used as a metaphor for life. However, I believe that only those who truly love the game are really able to understand its hold over us. These characters speak more deeply to us than to those who are not fans and I think perhaps only we will truly appreciate Marber’s double layer of meaning.
Initially I wondered at Marber’s choice of name for his team and the title of the play, it seemed more redolent of a pub side than a semi-professional club. At the play’s conclusion I realised that the name and heraldic crest is meant to represent Britain. Our glory days are past, our board have sold all our assets to the highest bidder and we are now a feeder club in a morally corrupt system.
Marber’s timing is perfect, as FIFA implodes amid corruption claims this play shows that bribery, exploitation and dishonesty have now reached grass roots and non-League football. It’s a timely reminder that something needs to be done before football reaches the same tragic fate as one of his characters. I fear it could be too late.
Ultimately the essence of the play is a clash between those who pursue an activity because of a belief in its inherent worth and those who regard it simply as a means to an end. Marber doesn’t make the moral judgement, he leaves that to us.
The play isn’t without its faults but the final verdict of two West Ham fans at the end of the evening is that we would recommend it for an entertaining and discussion provoking night out.
The Red Lion is showing at the National Theatre until 30th September