Guest Post

Dean Ashton on West Ham, England, the injury that changed his life – and his fairytale farewell

Former West Ham record signing Dean Ashton has told Blowing Bubbles how painful it was to watch 2007’s Great Escape from the sidelines, knowing he was powerless to do anything about it.

In an exclusive interview to mark nine years since the final appearance of his injury-curtailed West Ham career, Ashton said it was ‘tortuous’ to watch the team he had been a part of one year earlier go through such torment – before their dramatic final day victory at Manchester United to ensure Premier League survival.

“When I broke my ankle [in summer 2006], obviously that was huge disappointment, but I thought I’d come back stronger than ever, but when six or seven months later I had to go in for another operation and it was clear that wasn’t going to happen, it was infuriating,” he said.

“Once I knew I needed a second operation, that ruled me out completely – there was no way I could have played a role in the Great Escape. I took myself off into my own bubble, away from the club, so I was quite isolated but that didn’t make it any less tortuous, watching and knowing I was powerless to help.”

Read more from Dean Ashton on West Ham, England, the injury that changed his life – and his fairytale farewell – in the latest edition of Blowing Bubbles

The Mike Ireson Column

Burning Fivers For Fun

I’ve got a confession to make. It’s my fault we’ve had a rubbish start to the season.

I should know better. It’s like waking up with a hangover on a work day. You promise yourself you’ll never do it again. Nothing ever good comes of it. But ultimately you know it’s your mouth writing cheques your drinking arm can’t cash.

In this particular case it is having a bet on us pre-season.

You know what it’s like. The long summer starved of any decent football, the app of your bookmaker just a thumb tap away.

We go and make 4 decent signings and hope swells within you.

This could be our year.

Best squad for ages.

Proven quality must pay dividends.

Etc. etc.

Any previous woes are a long, distant memory.

I thought I’d warned myself off of pre-season bets as invariably the opposite will happen to whatever is wagered upon.

I’m still living down last summers terrific bet of us finishing second in the league behind Man Utd. How was I to know our hero star player was to perform the most astonishing role reversal in to despised villain and derail the season?

And the year before that? Well I guaranteed Andy Carroll being injured for most of it by placing money on him being top scorer in the league.

These aren’t bets placed on fact, form or probability. They are the product of too much time spent in the garden, possibly alcohol, and most certainly this claret and blue blood coursing through our veins.

So I had successfully not looked at any odds on anything to do with us until about 2 weeks before the start of the season. But there was that buzz starting. The new signings, the talent we already had. The claret and blue was rushing to my brain and I was becoming weak.

Just one look. Can’t do any harm? Just going to look, yes sir, definitely not putting any money on. Nope. I’ve learnt my lesson.

So as my thumb scrolled through the minefield of weird and wonderful wagers available, one stuck out. The team to be top of the table on September 1st.

Hmmmm, I wonder what we are? Another quick scroll and I swear the phone started to flash and whir and light up like a well worn fruit machine down the front at Southend.

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100/1 !!!!

Now as even as the most ardent non-betting person knows, if something is 100/1 you may as well just go and set light to your money. Either way you aren’t seeing it again.

But instead of moving along, something itched in my foggy brain. A quick re-check of the fixtures for August and the itch became the sound of bongo drums.

3 games, all away, 2 more than winnable and one punt.

Now with this fine looking squad it isn’t implausible we could nick something at Old Trafford, then go and get maximum points at Saints and Newcastle who both are definitely not as good as us. And with all games being away there isn’t the worry of the stadium of doom making us play like we hadn’t met before.

See? Now I say it like that it doesn’t sound that stupid. Does it?

It probably won’t happen, but it could. Wallop. On goes a fiver and I sit back deciding how I’ll spend my 500 quid at the start of September.

I should have just burnt the flipping fiver.

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The law of sod (as always) took over and we ended up not top, oh no. Rock bloody bottom with our pants pulled down round our ankles.

I’m sorry. I promise I won’t do it again. I’ve learnt my lesson now.

In fact next summer I might just have the same bet but put it on Tottenham and see if the curse works on them too.


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Tony Hanna's Musings

Gutted, Fuming and Amazed

Last week was not a great week for West Ham. A week littered with off field problems that proved just how much turmoil there is at the club at present and raised more questions about our current ambitions. To be fair the owners delivered on a right back and a proven goal scorer earlier in this transfer window and that was what most fans wanted. But, to be honest I was absolutely gutted when we failed to sign William Carvalho. Despite all the smoke and mirrors, this was one player that Bilic wanted and the owners failed him. Not many top quality players will come to West Ham as we can’t offer them Champions League football. Here was a player, already playing CL football, and he wanted to join West Ham. Nearly all the teams that play us know they can stop us playing out of the back by using the high press. We end up hoofing the ball up field to Andy Carroll – oh wait, he isn’t there is he? Carvalho is just the quality ball playing defensive midfielder we needed- and how. I can only imagine that our owners have already printed Bilics P45 and are just waiting a few more games so that they can appoint their dream manager, Rafa Benitez, on the promise he has 40m to spend in the January window?

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It is well documented now that we were hours away from appointing Benitez in the summer of 2015, but Real Madrid came knocking and everyone understood why he had to choose the Spanish giants. What is probably not as well known, and this is information given to me at the time, we were actually in talks with Rafa at a different point of time, many months before – during Sam’s reign. He chose not to come. Perhaps the time was not right then as well? But it is now looming large that it may be 3rd time lucky – depending on what your view of a Benitez managed West Ham may look like? Personally, I still hope Slav can turn our season around but it is more in hope than expectation.

Then of course there was the Sakho incident. Trying to force a move “Odemwingie” style. I was gutted about Carvalho, but I was fuming about Sakho. This for me was a new low in how today’s players can show so little respect to their club and its fans. When it happens to West Ham, us, it hits a raw nerve. The player has hardly played in a year, yet the club have picked up the bill. His goal (non) celebration against Cheltenham told it all really. He doesn’t want to be at West Ham and it shows. So why did we not accept any offers for him? We could have used the money to clinch the Carvalho deal. Payet didn’t want to play for us either and we accepted a “measly” 25m for him on the basis it would make for a toxic atmosphere around the club if we kept him. Why didn’t we force him (Payet) to stay too? Or more pertinently, why didn’t we just sell Sakho as well and keep up the tradition of ridding ourselves of players who don’t want to play for West Ham? It is not like this was his first dummy spit or indiscretion.

If all that was not bad enough we then had Robert Snodgrass taking a pop at Bilic following his loan move to Aston Villa. No need to go into the full transcript here as I am sure you have all read it or got the drift. The very unimpressive Snodgrass was played out of position apparently? “The manager didn’t know my best position when I signed, despite paying 10m quid for me?” Well, Snoddy should add short term memory loss to his list of failings because I can remember plenty of times he was played in his preferred position, and he was still pretty awful then too! Despite all the complaints though, one thing that the player did say really got me questioning my thinking regarding Bilic’s pre-game tactics. Snodgrass said: “I was coming on against City and he (Bilic) said “Where do you want to play, on the left or right?”

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The questions I would be asking here are not only how much thought went into the signing of a 10m pound player but how much thought went into the match day tactics? Now I would have thought that any PL managers preparation would have entailed studying our own players strengths and weaknesses as well as our opponents? Perhaps coming up with a game plan to match? Certainly not “left or right son?” Snodgrass was introduced into that game in the 64th minute to replace Obiang, but his true replacement in a double change was Feghouli. Any preference that Snodgrass may have given Bilic at that time will have influenced where Antonio played for the rest of the game! Really? To be honest I am amazed by this revelation. Now, I know we were 3-0 down at the time, but this smacks of Hackney Marshes not the Olympic Stadium. I realise wide players can and do swap during games but I wonder if this example further shows that too many things are far too relaxed at West Ham? In recent games it looks as though we have been sending eleven players out onto the pitch to just get on with it best they can. Perhaps we should not be surprised that what we are sowing at present is actually what we are reaping?

We as fans always look forward to the start of any new season. It is a time where we can start with a clean slate and with the optimism that new players will gel us into a better team. But just three away games into this new season and we are bottom of the table and filling the tabloids with bad press. This weekend’s game against Huddersfield is massive. It wouldn’t matter who we are playing, a win will go a long way to turning a toxic mood into something a whole lot better. It won’t completely alleviate all of our problems but it will be a start. According to reports Bilic has a full squad to choose from, barring the suspended Arnautovic. There will be a few players that may still be a bit ring rusty but I can’t remember us having so many of our best players available at the same time? If we don’t win on Monday night the least the fans expect to see is some cohesiveness back in our play and a very determined effort. Huddersfield are yet to concede a goal this Premier League season and it will not be easy.

As Hamburg Hammer quite rightly wrote in his Monday column – “The owners, just like the manager and players, are merely temporary features of West Ham, custodians on borrowed time. Our fans will still be there, long after Gold, Sullivan and Brady have packed it in, sold up and moved on to pastures new.” He is spot on the money there. I have been supporting this club for over 50 years and many of them have been littered with poor signings, poor managers and a plethora of disappointing seasons. I feel for our younger supporters who have seen us win nothing of note. At least my generation saw us win some Cups. What other club could at best finish 8th in the league with three World Cup winners in it? What other club could play in the 2nd tier of English football with the likes of Brooking, Devonshire, Bonds, Martin, Lampard, Parkes and Stewart in their side? What other club could squander the talents of Joe Cole, Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand and Michael Carrick all before their prime? Yet each new season we lock ourselves in for another ride despite the likelihood of further disappointment. Each bad season seems worse than the last bad season but perhaps memories are short?

We all live this ride together. I have never met a person yet who told me “I used to support West Ham.” Let’s just hope next week is better than last week!

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Talking Point

The Runaway Train That is West Ham United

Guest Post by DC

It’s a funny old game. It has certainly been a funny old few months in terms of ‘breaking news’ on social media. Zabaleta, Hart, Arnie, and Hernandez all signed. All experienced Premier League players fitting in with the general consensus from last season – the need for players who can walk straight into the 1st XI and improve it with immediate effect. “Let Positivity Ring” as Martin Luther King might say. This was however before a single competitive ball had been kicked in anger.

Perhaps one of the unforeseen consequences of the growth of social media is the incredible speed of continual demand for change and improvement. Yesterday is dead and gone. Too much change is rarely seen as a bad thing nowadays, especially where a baying mob is concerned. We are but kids in our very own Premier League Candy Shop.

Admittedly, there’s always been this idea out there that ‘todays news is tomorrows chip paper’. This was out and about when Professional Journalists were solely responsible for generating our news stories. Now it’s quite clearly over to the Ladies and Gentlemen of the street. Uncle Tom Cobley and all (he says being one of them). Fake News is this generations version of ‘Bonking’ Boris, the new on-trend expression to trouble the guys and gals at Oxford English Dictionary.

In terms of West Ham United and the constant breaking news that encompasses all of our wants and needs, I liken the sheer speed of it to a runaway train – a runaway train being a place of sheer panic. The dominant image that raises its head when I think about a runaway train is one almighty Train Crash!

“The runaway train went over the hill and she blew, The runaway train went over the hill and she blew, The runaway train went over the hill and the last we heard she was going still, And she blew, blew, blew, blew, blew.”

We needed a new Right back. TICK. We needed a goal scorer. TICK. Goalkeeper. TICK. We’re in for Arnie. TICK. Defensive Midfielder. X Whoa – The End is Nigh. Sack the Manager. TBC. Sack The Board. Yeah Right! The wheels just keep on rolling.

Whatever we’re given in our Premier League Candy Shop, there’s always Unfinished Business to attend to. Just one more deal, one more tweak and then everything will be rosy in The West Ham Garden. We move swiftly on these days. Mild Chronic Distress is never far from our door.

Yet contrast this to when the Professional Media, from time to time, look back nostalgically at successful periods in English football. We always find the same expression being used. The Shankly Year(s). The Paisley Year(s). The Clough Year(s). The Ferguson Year(s). The Wenger Year(s). The Ferguson Year(s). Mourinho’s moved about too much – but he’s good Press. One Manager at One Football Club. The little ‘s’ wields a lot of power when it comes to the success of a football club. That boring old word ‘Stability’ springs to mind.

Which brings our runaway train down the track to blow out the latest ‘rekindled’ breaking news story, Rafa Benitez, the answer to our prayers. The man who will no doubt change the trajectory and future history of West Ham United Football Club. Without a doubt. A no brainer. Welcome to the ‘New Level’. All will be good in the House of Gold and Sullivan when the new Messiah arrives. The missing piece in this complicated West Ham jigsaw puzzle.

Yet, take a brief look at Benitez’s record and you’ll see that he has managed 12 clubs during his 24 years in Football Management. Besides spending 3 years at Valencia and 6 years at Liverpool – the two clubs where he was most successful – Benitez has spent no more than 2 years (give or take) at any of the other 10 clubs he has managed. His average tenure at those other 10 clubs is just 18 months. It certainly appears that if Mr Benitez is not happy (or up to the job), he doesn’t hang about for too long.

Benitez left Valencia after ‘differences of opinion’ with The Board on positions that he wanted strengthening. At Liverpool, he was at loggerheads with the new owners for 2 years, demanding that they back him in the transfer market so that the club could progress. At Inter Milan, he told the club to back him with new signings or consider whether they wanted to keep him.

Whilst all of this aligns nicely with the media stories coming out of Newcastle, it does raise a question or two in terms of how Benitez might take to life at West Ham and in particular, how he might fit in working alongside Mr Gold and Mr Sullivan. If Benitez were to replace Bilic, I wouldn’t be too quick in cracking open the Champagne. Perhaps leave it on ice for 18 months or so.

If we look at some of the current gripes being aimed at Slaven Bilic, Benitez is also well known for playing key players out of their favoured position to suit a formation, namely converting both Steven Gerard and Dirk Kuyt into right-wingers. As we know from his time at Liverpool, Benitez is one of the biggest believers in Squad Rotation, something he has been hugely criticised for in the past and will no doubt be criticised for in the future. Perhaps the great change that some people might think they’re getting won’t be that much of a change at all.

Now might be as good a time as any to discuss who will replace Benitez?

This runaway train of ours is a fast moving one.
Let’s hope it doesn’t pick up too much speed and crash.

The HamburgHammer Column

Would I Lie To You ? - Is water wet ?

Usually international weekends are as boring as a rainy day in Ipswich, especially if you rarely watch international games like me. But the last few days surely have packed quite an emotional punch, not just because of what DIDN’T happen for us on Transfer Deadline Day, but because of the resulting spin and backlash, with both Sporting and David Sullivan trying to get their own version of events in and claim the morale high ground while telling us exactly what happened…or not.

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I will admit that I was genuinely excited about seeing Carvalho in claret and blue after I had done my research on the player while writing an article in preparation of his imminent arrival, or so I thought. When I wrote that article several ITKs had provided positive indications a deal was close. Now of course there is a very real possibility that the deal was nothing more really than yet another pie in the sky above cloud-cuckoo-land wannabe scenario, playing out in Sullivan’s head. Did a genuine offer ever reach the Sporting hierarchy or was it all lost in translation or in the spam folder of the player’s agent only ?
Or was the offer so embarrassingly low that Sporting never really took it seriously ?

A section of our fanbase never really trusted the owners from the very moment they took over West Ham. A growing number of fans then grew disillusioned too along the way what with various lies and half-truths being spouted about the Olympic Stadium, the signing of players, getting to the next level, the reason for not signing players and so forth. This recent transfer window now could well see the tide turning past the point of no return in terms of the majority of our fans ever trusting our board again. There are only so many times you can lie (or be economical with the truth) to the fans of the club you own and still expect them to believe you the next time you’re opening your mouth.

Anyone remember their ten point pledge when they arrived ? Appoint the right manager. Sign new players. More investment in the Academy. Continue to clear the debt. Freeze season ticket prices for renewals. Build the status and image of the club. Make it enjoyable to come and watch. Get closer to the community. Go for the Olympic Stadium. Listen to supporters.

Well, to put it mildly it’s a mixed bag of results there, innit ? We all have different views on the job our board are doing of course, so fans are also likely to differ when they are evaluating the above mentioned ten point pledge and the likelihood those pledges will ever be fulfilled in their entirety.

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After seeing them run this club for several years now, my mind is finally at this point set on what they are at the club for, what we can realistically expect from them in future and what not.

Gold may be a genuine fan, I won’t dispute that, but he is now pretty much a wingman figure only what with the limited number of shares he owns. So he hasn’t really got much practical say anymore. The show or rather circus is being run by Sullivan and Brady in the main and in my humble opinion they are in it purely for the money, their personal profit and the media attention.

They will do anything to eventually sell the club at a massive profit, preferably without sharing any of it with the LLDC (which is why they may be at the helm for another few years, no matter how vocal or nasty protests from the fans may get over the course of the season. There have been numerous examples of owners who were absolutely hated by their fans, yet it took years before new owners arrived).

The latest news is that our club have apparently mortgaged the OS lease plus all the club’s real estate (Rush Green, Chadwell Heath, Little Heath, all club shops etc.), presumably to secure another loan (with the previous overseas payday loans no longer being an option) to help our cash flow. The owners don’t seem to be able or willing to significantly pay down the debt of our club (to themselves), our cash flow must be appalling. Our net spend is pathetic for a Premier League club trying to grow its global brand and we also now have a manager waiting for the dreaded final talk with the board at any given moment to hear his services are no longer required.

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As a club we are a shambles at this point, on and off the pitch, and if it eventually turns out that indeed Sullivan has told us all big fat porkies about the Carvalho bid(s) and the reasons why it didn’t happen, I would expect the air to get a lot thinner for the board in the coming weeks and months.

I’m not sure though if protest banners, “Sullivan Out!“ chants or even a half empty stadium would actually bother our board too much. I expect them to simply hang in there, sit any issues out, let the wave of discontent wash over them and sell only when they’re ready for it and a takeover offer suits them financially.

Like it or not, for the time being West Ham is their favourite family plaything, but thank God there is still a football team on the pitch, playing in claret and blue and that is where our undivided support and energy as fans should go, yet without ignoring or forgetting the way the board are running this once proud club (into the ground we no longer own).

I have read through some blogs and forums in the past few days and seen fans arguing with each other (again), some accusing others of too much negativity, of saying bad things about the club they support and about the board too and that as fans we should all just focus on supporting the team – and nothing else.

In my view you can very much support the team and manager during the games while being rightfully critical about the owners at the same time.

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Supporting West Ham is no longer the same as it was 20, 10 or even 5 years ago, The Boleyn has been flattened, the matchday experience has totally changed, watching West Ham play feels completely different, more distant, less homely and intimate. And less passionate too (at least in terms of the home games).

I still get a buzz of pre-match excitement before every game, be that watching from my armchair or in person and I am still as desperate for the lads to win as back in 1996 when Dowie was leading the charge for us. That desire of mine to see us win is never going to change. But the way our club is being run and the way our club is now seen by the public, the media and fans from other clubs worries and saddens me.

I would be very disappointed to see Bilic leave, he is a good and honest man, and I would love to see him as our manager for a few seasons at least, but there is no room for sentimentality in the Premier League anymore. He could well be replaced by Terry Westley as interim manager, keeping the dugout seat warm until the Benitez situation at Newcastle has been sorted out. The Spaniard seems destined to be our next manager, yet I can’t see this working out well at West Ham when it didn’t work for him at Newcastle with Ashley at the helm.

Ideally I would love to see Bilic now win a bunch of games like five in a row, if only to spit into the owners’ Bovril for a bit of payback. Bilic doesn’t really deserve to be treated like this from the board. Just recently I listened to some Billy Bragg while driving in my car and the song Goalhanger came on. Listen to it. I instantly thought the lyrics were based on David Sullivan’s life, have a listen and judge for yourself.

As for local football I missed Concordia’s much needed 3:1 away win on Friday evening against BU and I also didn’t go to the Altona-Huddersfield friendly (Huddersfield won 3:0) on Sunday, but instead watched the Cordi U23s win their away fixture at SC Europa 5:1 to take top spot in their division for the first time this season. Who cares if only 60 people were watching and the game was being played on a disgustingly dry pitch made of clay, with clouds of sand dust drifting towards us whenever there was a tackle or the ball bounced near our vantage point on the sidelines ?

I loved it. Honest grassroots (or rather dustroots) football, full of intensity and genuine passion for the game – and no off-field bullcrap. I’m grateful that this kind of football still exists as an alternative to the Bundesliga and Premier League.

As for the Hammers it’s another long week to wait for one of our most important games in recent history, Huddersfield at home. Our first home game of the season and it is September already. A must win game for us and especially for Bilic.
I expect the atmosphere to be highly strung, tense, potentially toxic.

Which can hopefully be avoided by scoring an early goal and I couldn’t care less who puts it over the line for us in what fashion. I hope for all our sakes that the boys give us a reason to smile again for all the right reasons. The owners, just like the manager and players, are merely temporary features of West Ham, custodians on borrowed time. Our fans will still be there, long after Gold, Sullivan and Brady have packed it in, sold up and moved on to pastures new.

We are West Ham Till I Die and the claret and blue rollercoaster will continue to shake us all about with some thrills, some spills and the odd upset tummy. Bring it on! COYI!

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