Tony Hanna's Musings

Football; the best and worst changes in the top flight over 50 years

Football is very different nowadays. Compared to fifty years ago the game has altered considerably on and off the pitch. I was speaking to a friend the other day who was interested in my views of football today compared to yesteryear. I said to him that some things have changed for the better and in my opinion some for the worst. Here are some of the best and worst changes to the game that I have experienced watching football over the past half a century.

The Best

Without doubt the coverage of games on TV. Whilst the UK does not offer every Premier League game live the coverage is exceptional compared to fifty years ago when there were no League games shown at all – just weekend highlights on Match of the Day and the Big Match. Supporters up and down the country who for whatever reason can’t get to games, can now watch the majority of them plus the best of the other matches throughout the season. Many of those who live outside of Europe can watch any game in the PL at any time which beats listening to a crackly old World Service radio for score updates only, which was our only option until a couple of decades ago.

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The pitches. Today’s are like pristine bowling greens. Compare that to many of the games played on mud baths fifty years ago and the difference is staggering. Whilst we look back and say how good was Bobby Moore, Trevor Brooking and Alan Devonshire – showing the skill they did despite the mud, I am sure they would all have preferred to play on today’s manicured surfaces. It does produce better play and that can only be good for everyone? These improvements have helped produce a much quicker game with fitter players albeit probably leading to a larger range of injuries.

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Season and match day tickets and segregation. The ease of getting into and out of grounds is so much better and safer. Whilst the Stratford experience is not as streamlined as many would want, it beats having to get to a ground many hours before kick-off and without the guarantee you will even get to see the game. Lockouts an hour or more before big games in the 60’s and 70’s could mean you miss out altogether, sometimes after a long journey. Then of course there was the threat of violence as well. Many were “into it” back in those days but the game has moved on and safety has superseded aggro. Being able to have a comfortable beer and chat a half hour before the game starts and then a short walk to take your reserved seat is a light year away from standing in urine on the North Bank for hours before the game started! Whilst I would still prefer designated standing areas for supporters I have no doubt they would be much safer and better patrolled than in days of old should they ever be approved.

Substitutes. In 1965 Charltons Keith Peacock became the first substitute to be used in the football league. Up until then many matches including Cup finals had seen teams seriously disadvantaged when one or more of their players had succumbed to injury without any option of being able to replace them. Even with this one sub rule in place it still had its problems. Take the time when Bobby Ferguson got kicked in the head during the LC semi-final against Stoke City in 1972. Having to replace him with Bobby Moore in goal and play with ten men until a very dizzy Ferguson came back on later in the match probably cost us a Wembley final. Over time the gradual increase of the allowed replacements to three, together with a larger range of players to choose from has not only allowed any injured players to be replaced, including the goalkeeper, but it has become an integral tactical part of the game. One thing I would like to see though is some sort of disadvantage applied to teams that use the substitute in the final ten minutes of the game, mainly to discourage time wasting or attempts to slow down the match.

The Worst

The money in the game has in my opinion hurt the game more than anything else. Greedy agents, greedy players and greedy governing bodies are rife in today’s game. Loyal players are a rare breed now, almost extinct from any club not winning trophies every season. The money has turned players heads and club loyalty is close to a thing of the past. They might kiss the badge but most of them will be gone in two years if their agent can extract a few more pieces of silver elsewhere. As if they don’t earn enough already? I could write until the end of the week about how it has screwed up the game. You all know what is happening. The TV money is great in that it does what it was intended to do – bring football into everyone’s living room. The downside is that it too much of the money is siphoned into the players and agents pockets. This has forced the transfer market to spiral out of control and as clubs go into more and more debt the agents and players are the only ones that prosper. I don’t begrudge players earning a great wage but I do an obscene one. If the Bosman ruling was supposed to be fair, how about making rules that would bring the current market under control and bring stability and some sort of fairness back into the game? In the 60’s West Ham broke a British transfer fee for a goalkeeper and in the 70’s a World record fee for another one. I doubt that could ever happen again and therein lies the problem.

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The cheating. Players back in the 60’s and 70’s were no angels. The tackle from behind was fair game and anyone who remembers Willie Young hacking down Paul Allen when clean through on goal in the 1980 Cup final will know what I mean. There were a small handful of players who would go down a bit easily in the box but by and large players preferred to stay on their feet if they could and most would not want to show weakness in going down easily in any challenge. What we are seeing nowadays is a disgrace. For every rule change to try and make the game better, coaches and players will come up with a way to cheat the rule. For instance – refs are supposed to stop the game instantly when a head knock occurs. Great idea but on the flip side there will be players that will feign a head knock to force a break in play. This can be seen at corners when a team is under pressure – feigning injury can alleviate the pressure and break up any momentum the opposition has. The defending team will then restart the game by kicking the ball back 50 yards to the opposition as a sign of sportsmanship! What a joke. Feigning injury and diving is a real blight on the game.

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The inequality. Just look around the major leagues in the World and what do you see? The same old teams winning everything. This really relates back to the money in the game but still deserves its own place in my article. Between 1960 and 1970 seven different teams won the old English first division. Back then at the start of each season even West Ham fans held credible hope that we might actually win the league. Imagine that! The Champions League, you know that money spinning competition where you can finish second, third or fourth in your domestic league and still compete in a competition for Champions, apparently, is one of the major driving forces of inequality. Just to enforce the fact that the rich must grow richer and the others must stay in their place they devised the ironically named Financial Fair Play rules which stunt the opportunity of any new hopefuls joining the elites.

Finally, the main things that got me personally hooked into going to football matches in the first place have to a larger extent disappeared. Atmosphere – noise – singing. There are a number of factors that have contributed to the sterilisation of crowds over the years. The main culprit though is arguably the merge to all seater stadiums. Noise and singing is what has always put football apart from other sporting crowds. Anyone who used to stand on the old North Bank at West Ham will tell you how the singing and chanting was an integral part of the match day experience. Whether you were singing or just listening in another part of the ground it was what football was all about. But now it is largely missing and with it has gone much of what was one of the most enjoyable parts of going to football. Perhaps one day we will get designated safe standing areas in top flight football grounds again. I am sure it would help rediscover the atmosphere that is lacking at so many grounds nowadays. More and more the appeal for hard core fans is to attend away matches – surpassing the home match experience. The away supporters at games invariably out sings the home supporters as the huddled tribal nature kicks in whilst the vaster expanses of home supporters struggle to find any cohesion to get the party going.

What are your best and worst changes in the time you have been watching the game?
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Talking Point

'Long Live the Boleyn' Photo Exhibition Opens This Week

Guest Post by Freddie Bonfanti

Hello Everyone,

As you may know I self published my photo book, “Long Live The Boleyn” exactly a year ago. The book was fairly successful amongst the West Ham fanbase; a lot of people purchased it as a memento of our past at Upton Park. A month ago, I was approached by Stour Space, an independent gallery near London Stadium, asking if I was interested to turn LLTB into a photography exhibition. I thought it was a great idea and decided to go for it.

The exhibition opens this Thursday, 7th of December, at 8pm. It will run for 3 weeks, until Christmas Eve. There will be some large 8 ft prints and standard 10×16′ from the book, with plenty of memories from the last season at the Boleyn.

I will be donating 20% of all print sales to DT38, Dylan Tombides’s charity.

It would be fantastic to see all of you at the opening on thursday, otherwise make sure you come down after any of the next home games before Christmas. The exhibition is completely free.

Thanks for your time and let’s hope for a win on Saturday!

Freddie Bonfanti
Season ticket holder
Block 148

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The HamburgHammer Column

Finally some pride and passion (with rice in the side) - there is still life in West Ham!

So it wasn’t the anticipated humiliating defeat from hell yesterday, no double digits, not even a 0:5 scoreline. We actually gave one of the best teams in the world an almighty scare.

Yes, of course Man City dominated possession and especially in the second half there was wave upon wave of attack on our goal, with numerous goalscoring opportunities created (leading to a number of very fine saves by Adrian). I actually believe Man City vastly underestimated our team in the first half which is why they were struggling initially with the crowd getting on their backs accordingly.

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We even took a very surprising lead after a well taken header by Ogbonna. But it was obvious we couldn’t hang on. After all, Manchester City as a club are so much more professional than us on every level, on and off the pitch. They do a lot of things right (granted, with some serious financial backing), so I can’t really deny them my respect.

Like most other fans I expected a drubbing of epic proportions. So I changed my game watching routine, trying to do my bit for the cause – I was wearing a West Ham shirt I usually don’t use for armchair purposes.

Then it was out with the screwdriver, in with a tiny pair of tweezers to keep my nerves in check and my fingers busy. I expected us to concede a truckload of goals and I had an inkling the first Man City goal would be one of many, serving to open the floodgates – how wrong I was!

I watched the game by way of muttering to myself with every passing minute that we still hadn’t conceded, like a Buddhist monk saying his mantra: “First minute survived without conceding, COYI! Two minutes gone without conceding, well done lads! Three minutes without conceding, not too bad West Ham!” You get the picture. Once our goal went in I tried to suppress the natural upsurge of hope within myself because I knew that under the circumstances a win or even a draw was still highly unlikely.

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Ultimately it was all in vain of course, no points to show for all the effort and considering that even a draw was possible if Sakho had scored with his shot very late in the game we could have approached the upcoming tasks against Chelsea and Arsenal with a lot more swagger.

Still I saw plenty of guts, desire and effort. And organisational shape. Our lads defended really well overall. We managed a number of promising counters. Every player looked up for it. Which is exactly what is required as a bare minimum if we want to stay up.

What do I take from the game ? Well, for me Adrian deserves to keep the shirt after pulling off one great save after another. Hart may be the England goalkeeper, but that doesn’t help West Ham if his performances for us leave a lot to be desired.

He seems to be a goalkeeper on the decline and I’d rather see us keeping faith in Adrian and then sign another goalkeeper in the summer (as it’s probably not feasible to terminate Hart’s loan in January).

Also I was impressed with young Declan Rice. He will benefit from games like these no end and should play more often now. I also feel our defensive setup looked a lot more composed and solid while upfront I prefer it if we play pacy guys like Sakho or Antonio. We don’t have enough pace in the side as it is, if we don’t even use the fast players we still have we might as well not bother turning up for games at all.

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At the very least our performance has given me a bit more hope my upcoming visit for the Chelsea and Arsenal fixtures won’t be a total disaster. Usually I tend to enjoy my time away from the actual West Ham game a whole lot more than actually watching the game itself. Maybe, just maybe West Ham will do me a pre-festive favour and pull off one almighty giant killing against either of our London rivals.

I am flying in on Friday morning and I shall be staying in a convenient location close to the stadium, basically situated between Stratford High Street and Abbey Road Station.

Of course I’m looking forward to meeting plenty of you good people again, some of the regulars as usual but also new faces. I’m only flying back to Hamburg the day after the Arsenal game, so there is plenty of time to meet up and share a few drinks and mince pies. Six full days in London, lovely jubbly!

I also understand there will be a feisty encounter between the West Ham U23s and Spurs U23s on Monday evening (December 11th), so this might be a good opportunity for some of you to come over to Dagenham and cheer the boys on!
I for one will make sure I’ll be there!

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Just for a brief mention of the issue of the Mayor of London getting involved in renegotiating our stadium deal. I think we can agree that the Olympic Stadium saga has been a comedy of errors, very costly ones at that!

Virtually every mistake that could have been made along the way, from designing and building the place, preserving a post games legacy, the bidding processes, finding a naming rights sponsor, the retractable seating and so forth was made with pinpoint precision, with numerous people getting in on the act – all of them contributing in varying measures to the cul de sac we now find ourselves in.

Nobody seems to be happy with the way the move went, apart from our owners.
The taxpayers are up in arms over the deal of the century, most West Ham fans are underwhelmed with our new home, rival fans are fuming and I can’t see the Newham locals being too impressed with their council flushing millions down the drain.

I can’t see West Ham moving out of that place anytime soon. I can’t see West Ham buying the London Stadium (who should pay for that ?). And I also don’t see the stadium being converted into a proper football stadium. They may probably find an alternative venue for athletics to get rid of the expensive need to switch between modes twice a year. But even then the stadium will remain as a highly disappointing botch job of a multi purpose stadium, a compromise made of brick, mortar and false promises.

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Coming to the Cordi update and in accordance with the Game of Thrones TV series I can confirm: Winter has come to town! The Christmas markets are open. In the morning you hear the predictable symphony of people scraping their car windows.

It’s freezing cold. And that traditionally is the time when football in Germany is grinding to a halt, having a two month winter break. That includes Concordia, but on Saturday there was one final home game to be played against Wedel.

There was mulled wine available in the club house, telltale sign that indeed winter is finally here. Also bear in mind that the floodlights at Cordi are notoriously bad (at the far end of the pitch it’s like watching at the London Stadium, you can’t read name and number on the players’ shirts) and it’s easy to understand why only 80 people opted to leave their warm and cosy living rooms in order to buy a ticket for the game in East Hamburg. For those who were brave enough to weather the cold they were duly rewarded with Cordi’s best performance of the season and a 5:1 victory.

Some of the goals came from well worked counter attacks, with some glorious high risk shots from the edge of the box thrown in for good measure. This win was much needed and it brought some smiles to the players and staff which was nice to see before going into the long winter break.

I was happy enough at the final whistle to get invited by some of the local sponsors (who are genuine fans attending every game) who had laid on a dinner for the team in the club house afterwards and it was good to discuss a 5:1 win over roastbeef with fried potatoes, chips and chicken wings (plus beer, wines and softdrinks).

The goalkeeping coach and Everton fan was also there, with his massive Rottweiler called Neville (named after former Everton custodian Southall) in tow. He was obviously happy with Everton’s recent results but also told me he would have prefered Moyes back at Everton instead of Allardyce.

I also discussed West Ham with some of the older sponsors who have been supporting Cordi for 30 or 40 years and these guys are genuine football fans. They were very interested to hear my thoughts on the Premier League, the new stadium and West Ham’s current plight.

At the end of the evening they were all wishing me well for my trip, expressing their hopes West Ham would start winning games again, securing their league status for another season.

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So, not long to go now before hitting the airport again. I hope the trip will yield some pre-Christmas pressies for me in the shape of some decent performances from our boys (and maybe the odd point or three). I already know tea and mince pies (and a nice chat) are waiting for me at Newham Bookshop.
And I may give the new West Ham Supporters Club in Stour Place near the stadium a try for a nice pre game breakfast.

Other than that ? No idea, again my itinerary is reasonably empty for the time being, I shall be taking things as they come when I’m over. Some of the best days are there to be had when they are just allowed to happen.

So, the German once again has gone against the natural trait of his fellow countrymen by not having pre-planned every single hour ahead. I reckon the trip will be a good one as usual though. Maybe even a brilliant one. We’ll see.


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David Hautzig's Match Report

Manchester City 2, West Ham 1. At Least We Can Hold Our Heads Up.

The dictionary defines apathy as such;

Absence or suppression of passion, emotion, or excitement.

Perhaps the most damning indictment of our club and the way its run, or run down, is that apathy is the prevailing emotion of more than a few supporters. We are the 18th biggest club in the world, and we are a shambles the likes of which even we have never experienced. And that’s saying something. So instead of waking up anxious, angry, or even hopeful beyond reason I simply cannot care right now. I will not prioritize our matches over family fun or even household chores anymore. Not while this gang are in charge. Yes, I’m a little late to the party. But thankfully those that sounded the alarm bells years ago have made it clear there is no ill will towards a former believer like me. Claret & Blue is indeed stronger than whatever the current regime want to replace it with. I turned on the TV at 11:00am sharp, mostly because I didn’t want to hear any of the pre-game funeral planning for our very possible demise.

I have been so tuned out of West Ham news since Wednesday I wasn’t even aware Adrian was in goal until the ninth minute when Rice put the ball out for a corner and the TV cameras showed him. Loan rules, I know. Nor did I know Antonio was inexplicably was inserted as the lone striker until a minute later when I checked the starting eleven. Sakho must be a target of a sniper and cannot be seen in public. Only reason I can fathom.

West Ham created the first goal scoring opportunity of the match in the seventh minute off of a corner. Cresswell curled the set piece into the box and Kouyate headed towards the far post. Antonio dove in to meet the ball but sent it over the bar.

West Ham asked another question in the 15th minute when Masuaku sent a low cross to Antonio, who had beaten Mangala in front of Ederson and for a second I thought perhaps we might open the scoring. But the City keeper gathered the ball before Antonio could gather his thoughts. Seconds later a slightly more ominous event took place when Rice entered Mike Dean’s book.

Adrian did well to keep the game scoreless in the 25th minute when Silva sent a long shot from twenty yards out that deflected off Rice, forcing the Spaniard to dive to his right and send the ball over the bar for a corner. To be fair, it was the first real chance the league leaders had. So as shape went, West Ham had kept theirs rather well up to that point.

In the 35th minute, the Manchester City defense made the kind of mistake in their box that we are used to seeing from our lot on a weekly basis. The error sprang Lanzini in on goal on the right side of the Manchester City eighteen yard box. He took his shot quickly and for a millisecond it looked to be in the back of the net. Unfortunately it hit the side netting.

Late in the first half, my sniper theory took a big hit when Sakho came on for Kouyate. Within a minute he won a corner, which brought a huge roar from the visiting supporters. It paled in comparison to the roar when Cresswell sent a cross into the box that Ogbonna headed past Ederson, and probably sent Pep into an internal apoplectic rage.

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Manchester City 0
West Ham 1

West Ham began the second half rather well, winning an early corner and defending the inevitable City barrage. Jesus had a shot at close range after City had moved the ball around in and around the West Ham penalty area. Adrian made the save, although I think the flag went up. I can only “think” because my satellite hiccuped at the precise moment of the shot.

In the 57th minute City got the equalizer we all knew would come when Jesus made a run on the right side of the box, directly at the West Ham defense. Otamendi was able to get around Rice in front of Adrian and tap the ball into the back of the net.

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Manchester City 1
West Ham 1

City kept up the pressure, no surprise, but to be fair West Ham did well to hold the best team in the EPL to shots from outside. And if you said we looked more confident in front of Adrian than we have with Hart, I might not argue. From a defensive and strategic vantage point, the first seventy minutes deserved praise, regardless of the outcome.

City won a the first of two corners in the 77th minute when Sterling, deBruyne and Jesus combined in the box and a goal looked certain but the final piece of the puzzle alluded them and all they won was another corner.

In the 81st minute, about as against the run of play as you could get, Antonio was sent on a run down the left. He cut to his right and let a long range shot go that forced Ederson into a diving save to his left. One minute later, the winner we all knew was coming came. deBruyne lobbed a pass over the West Ham defense. Like a wide receiver in the NFL, Silva followed the ball over his shoulder and was able to guide it past Adrian.

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Manchester City 2
West Ham 1

The Hammers had two late chances on counters, but with Antonio streaking into the box the cross from Sakho was too high. To add salt to the scratch, Antonio looked to have pulled a calf muscle. In the 90th, Arnautovic was able to win the ball on the right. His pass back to Sakho was excellent, but the wantaway striker missed the target completely to the left of Ederson’s goal. That should have been a miracle late equalizer for us.

Final Score
Manchester City 2
West Ham 1

I was prepared to write a conclusion at halftime, figuring the score would be laughable by that time. But West Ham showed fight and a little bit of nous. I’m still very, very concerned about relegation. But while I am still ashamed of the action of our club off the pitch, at least today I didn’t have to feel ashamed of the action on it.

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Match Thread

Match Thread: Manchester City v West Ham

Manchester City v West Ham
FA Premier League
The Etihad
KO 3pm
TV: Sky Sports
Radio: BBC 5 Live

Please use this thread to comment on the game as it progresses.

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