Summers are all about holidays, they are all about fun. I like my holidays and I like taking them in August. The only downside is that more often than not it means missing the first few games of a season and missing the excitement, fizz, merriment and wonder of the new term.
Here we are then – on the dawn of a new era – a new stadium beckons and a new manager is starting to find his feet. The must be real emotions for everyone as we play our last season at the Boleyn Ground – it holds so many memories for all of us – but I have always supported the move to the Olympic Stadium and I still do. Of course, there are worries and doubts, but I think it must be the right move for the club. In ten years time, we will all wonder what all the fuss was about…….I hope.
It is great to welcome back Slaven Bilic to the club and his appointment has been widely, and rightly welcomed. It is so important that we have a great last season at the Boleyn Ground and leave Upton Park on a high note, ready to face the future and all that it holds for us. We cannot go limping into the new stadium on the back of a mediocre performance. We need a good season and we need Slaven to take us to where we want to go. I was never the biggest fan of Sam Allardyce, to put it mildly, but it is important that we all wish him well in whatever he does in the future – he provided a vital service to the club when we needed him to and we should be ever grateful that he secured promotion for us. I am confident that Slaven is the man to take us forward. I met him once in Zagreb when I was a Government Minister – but that’s a story for another time.
So – what of this season so far? Well, we could not have asked for a better start. In between trying to update live threads on-line – BBC, Sky and others, trying to watch live-streaming – not a very successful idea, catching intermittent reception of Radio 5 Live – I had a really hard time, halfway up these wonderful French mountains, trying to follow West Ham’s progress against Arsenal at all. Half the time I heard more from the sheep on the mountain than I did from various commentators or journalists.
Happily, I was in the company of the son of friends who were staying with us – who just happened to be a Gooner. He didn’t say that all Arsenal had to do was turn up to secure three points; he didn’t say he hoped West Ham would play well but everyone says this is Arsenal’s season; he didn’t say Arsenal was already a great team, but with the addition of Petr Cech it was now a brilliant team and that West Ham were about to get hammered. He didn’t say any of that but as we got into the game I knew that’s what he was thinking – because that’s how Gooners think.
In fact, as the game progressed, he didn’t say much at all – and by the end, I was on cloud none, floating above the Pyrenees, and he was down in the dumps with the rest of the Arsenal.
It wasn’t just that it was Arsenal, or that it was away, or that both goals were so superbly taken – it was that it looked like there was a real team out there, that worked for each other and played well together. Now I know that the way I watched, listened and strained to read various vid printers on the progress of the game wasn’t the most ideal way to follow events, but the manner of victory seemed as important as the victory itself. Which is why, having endured an even more difficult time following our first home game against Leicester, the reports of the manner of the defeat were more worrying – the team spirit was lacking, the guys weren’t there for each other and it was all a little lacklustre.
There is also something a bit ominous about a cracking start away from home and no success at home. We have learnt from experience that the cracking away wins start to fall away as the season progresses and teams lock up shop at home – by which time a team has to have sorted out it’s home form. A good strong season befitting of our last at Upton Park – with all the history, legacy sentiment and hope that it could inspire – will be built on the solid foundations of a home record we can be proud of – not stunning and very very enjoyable away wins like that at The Emirates – even if I had to endure it halfway up a mountain in France and by testing modern day technology to its limits.