Firstly, I pray all WHTID readers and your families are well and safe.
On the recent suspended match day decided to grab my camera and go to the ground where we were scheduled to play Wolverhampton Wanderers at the London Stadium.
With all top flight matches and many other sporting fixtures suspended until 30th April, many grounds across the country remain empty and the usual match day roar silenced in these difficult and uncertain times due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
It was a weird feeling walking around the stadium, trying to imagine the crowd bustling around the stadium, the smell of food and the sound of music pumping out, chatter and song of supporters as they go through their usual match day routine before entering the stadium full of anticipation, the bubbles floating around everyones heads to the sound of I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles as the teams spill out onto the pitch.
It felt like the calm before the storm, that strange feeling you get before something major is about to happen. An uneasy sense of uncertainty that weighed heavy in the clouds over casting the ground and park.
In the absence of football, I’ll be posting some short, photographic articles on specific players from this season and I’ll be digging up some historical images and exploring football photographers who have captured some special moments in our clubs history.
In the meantime, here are my photos of the stadium walk around with just a few people going about their day like any other non-match day.
In my much younger years during the mid/late 1960’s, the kids next door to me were all Spurs supporters. I didn’t pick any particular team to follow at the time so I went with the neighbours’ lot. Spurs were doing quite well most of the time in that era so all the talk was of Pat Jennings, Alan Gilzean, Cyril Knowles, etc. My favourite player though was Jimmy Greaves be it either watching him for Tottenham or England. So when Mr. Greaves got tangled up in the Martin Peters West Ham/Tottenham transfer situation in March 1970, my club allegiance was tested until a few weeks later, my 13 year old self changed colours to the claret and blue of West Ham United. My friends next door wondered why would I leave a club that was consistently pushing for titles and cups for a team that was always behind them in the old first division. Jimmy Greaves was the reply.
A typical goal poacher, his scoring record (at MOST of his clubs) was up there with the best. I suppose I thought he could do it for the Hammers as well. Not so.
But I was determined to keep with West Ham no matter what. As luck would have it, a kids’ team I played for at the time arranged a trip to see West Ham play Liverpool at Upton Park on March 28th 1970. Among the crowd of 38,200, we made our way to the rear of the North Bank. Being a six foot teenager had it’s advantages and I managed to watch Pat Holland score the only goal of the game in front of the South Stand past Ray Clemence in the fifth minute. From that game/day out onwards West Ham were my team, Jimmy Greaves or not.
The team that day was; Peter Grotier, Bobby Moore, Alan Stephenson, Bobby Howe, Billy Bonds, Frank Lampard, Peter Bennett, Peter Eustace, Pat Holland, Jimmy Greaves and Geoff Hurst.
Jimmy Greaves left the club the following year in 1971, not even making 18 months with us. I didn’t though and this year, March 2020 will be my 50th year supporting West Ham United.
Desperate days call for desperate measures and football in total closure three quarters a way through a season is in a desperate place.
The baronesses call last Saturday for the league season to be void didn’t go down well in many quarters but it did have some sympathy with many fans backing the idea. Though most seemed to be those that hate Liverpool and would take great delight in them being denied the title they deserve to win this season.
The problem at the moment there seems to be no end in sight of football being able to be resumed with fans in the stadium, which frankly is the whole part football is played in my opinion.
The baroness’s option of voiding does leave many questions for the authorities to deal with, If they give the league title to Liverpool, as they deserve, how do they decide the Champions League spots for the following season. Who gets promoted up, the top 2 in the championship are not cut adrift from clubs below them and the way games pan out in that league it is possible that neither W.B.A or Leeds would get automatic promotion.
If the season s voided then the problem of how the distribution of money the league awards to clubs will be possible be challenged.
Firstly, The TV companies will not be handing over the full amount as contracted as the full games of the contract has not been played. Then there will be the argument over how league placing money will be distributed, especially considering Aston Villa have a game in hand which if they won could push them 3 places higher which equates to about 5 million pound extra, aside from the fact it would take them out of the bottom 3 and possible relegation if the league decided to continue with that outcome.
There are so many outcomes it is laborious to list so what I outline is how I believe football should restart once we get the ability to play games with crowds in the stadiums.
Its possibly extreme but it could work, but it would change possibly forever the calendar that football is played to.
I would be now looking to restart the leagues on the 8th of August, allowing for 9 weeks of league football, 2 free weekends to enable International fixtures to resume, playoffs for Euro 2021 are still required, and also 3 Weeks to finish the FA cup and hold a final, the season would then finish with the FA Cup final being held on the 30th of November.
To enable this all football contracts would mandatorily be extended by 6 months, with no players being allowed to leave any clubs.
December would be left football free to allow the player 4 weeks of not playing and allow an 8-week transfer window to open.
The new league would begin on January 1, 2021, and would run for 9 months until the end of September 2021. Scrap the league cup for that season and just play the FA cup as a midweek tournament in its place. Once the season ends by September 30th, this would then allow for one month of conditioning training before the cancelled international tournaments of 2020, Euro Championship and the Copa America to take place across November 2021.
All football will then be in close season again in the December of 2021, again allowing for the transfer window to open.
The 2022 season would then start again in January and play out in the same way as the 2021 season. The league campaign will again end at the End of September allowing a short 2-week break for all footballers before the World Cup squads join together and play friendlies at the end of October, Early November before the Qatar 2022 world cup is scheduled to start on the 22nd of November.
The World cup has been shortened and is due to finish on the 18th December, this will allow players some time off before the league campaigns can begin again the following year.
It is at this point the league has a decision to make, it could decide to have an Eight-month break and return the league to its traditional August to May running order, or, it could stay as a yearly league starting in January and finishing at the end of September, early October.
Even without the current cessation of football, the league calendar would have been disrupted by the World cup in Qatar in 2022, this will play havoc with clubs whose players will need to be free in November and not be available again till the January. What I have outlined above actually will allow the world cup to take place with no disruption at all to league football.
The big flaw in what I propose is it destroys our traditional football way of life in not just this country but across the whole of Europe. It would need agreeing not just by the Premier League, nor the EFL, but would need all leagues across Europe to agree so it would need sanctioning by UEFA as well and possibly FIFA.
What it does do is give the authorities the chance to standardize world wide the football calendar so all International tournaments across the world would, World Cups, Euros, Copa America and African cup of Nations, as well as the Asia Trophy could all now be in November/December months so no more domestic clubs losing players through their domestic season to play in these continental tournaments.
This is football chance to revolutionise and standardize itself around the world, Do I think they will take it. Not a chance, but I live in hope.
Feel free to criticise below in the comments but don’t just call me an idiot and run away and hide, explain why you think I’m an idiot, we can then discuss as adults,
And then agree I was right.
It’s never just about the music. A tedious refrain perhaps but, while time machines remain the preserve of science fiction, music has the power to effortlessly transport us back to certain times in our lives. Whether it evokes the festival where you came of age, the song playing on the car radio while digesting difficult news or the soundtrack to the first eye contact with your future spouse, humans have the ability to invest their own meaning onto a subjective artform. An innocuous noise for one person can equally be life defining for someone else.
While not as universal as music, goals hold a similar place in the lives of football fans. Some are shared by many – fans of a certain generation will all remember Gary Lineker’s equaliser against West Germany at Italia ’90 or Eric Dier’s winning penalty against Colombia at Russia 2018. Equally, it can be as individual and unique as the first goal you ever saw live.
However, there are also the goals that represent moments of unadulterated joy. When Saturday Comes described the typical outlook of a football supporter as a ‘fusion of cynicism and stoic despair’ but some goals represent times where pessimism is trumped by hope. When, against all ingrained instincts, you believe this might be the moment where your team finally achieves tangible success. The moments that remind you why you fell in love with football.
Four years ago this month, Dimitri Payet scored an stunning free kick to put West Ham ahead in their FA Cup quarter final against Manchester United. The team’s outstanding player, Payet was the focal point of West Ham’s best season in a generation. At Old Trafford, his goal had put the club to within twenty minutes of the FA Cup semi-finals, where their opponents would be either Crystal Palace, Everton or Watford. At the time, it tentatively felt as if West Ham’s name was on the Cup. Looking back, it all seems as remote as the possibility of personally witnessing the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
It also seemed unlikely in the summer of 2015. After four years in charge, West Ham parted company with manager Sam Allardyce. A balanced individual with a chip on each shoulder, Allardyce claimed he was treated harshly by the club’s owners. While he had re-established the club back in the Premier League, the team was unarguably going stale under his tutelage.
In fourth place over Christmas 2014, Allardyce’s decision to reinstate Kevin Nolan and Andy Carroll to the starting line-up destabilised a previously successful first eleven, playing in a 4-4-2 diamond formation. The team limped to 12th by season’s end and Allardyce’s time was up. Nevertheless, he left behind a solid if unspectacular squad that was crying out for some creativity.
Enter Payet. A squat, diminutive attacking midfielder, Payet seemed a throwback to playmakers from previous eras where technique trumped physique. The Frenchman had created the most goalscoring opportunities in Europe’s top five leagues with Marseille the previous season, so it was a coup when new manager Slaven Bilic managed to convince the player to move to Upton Park. Proving that even broken clocks are right twice a day, co-owner David Sullivan exclaimed the Hammers had signed a ‘world class player’.
Supplemented by another summer signing, obscure Argentine midfielder Manuel Lanzini, West Ham were a revelation during the 2015/16 season. The previously stodgy football played the team seemed transformed by the introduction of midfield creativity and the club started picking up some notable scalps.
There were eye-catching victories away at Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City, alongside a home win over Chelsea where Jose Mourinho was sent off at half-time for arguing his innocence with the match officials with a conviction only held by the truly guilty. Successive wins over Sunderland, Tottenham Hotspur and Everton left West Ham just outside the Champions League places by March 2016.
The promising league form was accompanied by an FA Cup run. Wolverhampton Wanderers were dispatched in the Third Round, followed by Liverpool after a dramatic winning header by Angelo Ogbonna in the last minute of extra-time in the Fourth Round Replay. In the Fifth Round, Championship side Blackburn Rovers were demolished 5-1 with a man-of-the-match performance by Payet.
Two goals, including a free kick described as a ‘humdinger’ by Guardian reporter Jamie Jackson, crystallised the view that West Ham possessed one of the form players in world football. A season that had started with fears of relegation in the final season at Upton Park had turned into something much more romantic – attacking football sound-tracked by Billy Ray Cyrus. Consequently, 9,000 West Ham fans travelled to Old Trafford for the quarter-final with quiet confidence.
This mood was also down to the travails of Manchester United. By now firmly stuck in a post-Ferguson funk, United were below West Ham in the Premier League table amidst protests at the quality of football on show. Under the management of Louis van Gaal, a man with such preposterous self-confidence that he made Boris Johnson seem like Mark Corrigan, United played the kind of slow-paced possession football that saps enjoyment from players and supporters alike. Tellingly, the midfield was anchored by Wayne Rooney, his attempted metamorphosis into Andrea Pirlo hampered by crab-like athleticism.
Eliminated in the group stages of the Champions League, and subsequently the Europa League by arch-rivals Liverpool, a consensus began to grow that only an FA Cup victory could potentially save van Gaal’s job. Alternatively, many Stretford End regulars hoped that defeat against West Ham would hasten his departure. By the time of the quarter-final the stakes were high.
As is often the case with such occasions, the first half failed to live up to expectations. West Ham created the better chances despite having less possession while United failed to have a shot on target. The presence of Marouane Felliani, a player almost exclusively composed of elbows, in a midfield once graced by Paul Scholes demonstrated their decline.
Payet had a quiet first half, although he demonstrated his class with some nifty footwork to release Aaron Cresswell to cross for the half’s clearest opportunity. Emmanuel Emenike, an otherwise forgettable loan signing, headed straight at David de Gea when a header into either corner would have put West Ham ahead.
By contrast, the second half was later described by journalist Rob Smyth as ‘wild, desperate and richly enjoyable’. Payet became increasingly influential, picking up a booking for a foul on Jesse Lingard and was the centre of the game’s first controversial moment. Escaping Felliani with the ease of time escaping an alcoholic, Payet fell just inside the penalty area under the challenge of Marcos Rojo.
Subjectivity comes into play here. Howard Webb, working on the match with BT Sport, claimed it was a clear penalty. His manager, Slaven Bilic, argued the same point vehemently after the game, offering to ‘defend my point at Cambridge’ presumably having mistaken the post-match interview for an episode of University Challenge.
A more balanced interpretation would suggest Payet had dragged his foot to ensure there was contact with Rojo, attempting to win a penalty. Certainly, it would have been a soft decision and referee Martin Atkinson waved away the claim. However, if Payet was adjudged to have dived, by the letter of the law he should have been shown a second yellow card and dismissed. This ambiguity would impact what was to follow.
Minutes later, West Ham were awarded a free kick around thirty-five yards from goal. There was no doubt who the travelling fans wanted to take it; Payet’s chant filled Old Trafford with enough intensity to suggest the game was being played in London. On BT Sport, co-commentator Michael Owen remarked how Payet was practising free kicks in the pre-match warm-up without ‘hitting any on target’.
What happened next was described by Smyth as ‘close to perfection’. With a five-step run-up, Payet hit a curling right-footed free kick that managed to curve inwards and beat de Gea. Deliciously, it hit the inside of the right-hand post on its way in – it is one of football’s truisms that a goal that hits the woodwork before crossing the line provokes immense satisfaction. Demonstrating Nemo-like memory, Owen cried that ‘practise makes perfect!’.
In his post-match report, Daniel Taylor emphasised the ‘almost impossible amount of curl’ Payet had put on the shot and it was generally agreed to have been a magnificent goal. Typically, Paul Scholes commented that de Gea should have saved it. It was all a long way from Sam Allardyce.
It could be argued that Payet scored an even better free-kick weeks later against Crystal Palace. From just outside the penalty area, Payet managed to lift the ball over the defensive wall and just below the cross bar – many Palace fans behind the goal initially jeered an effort that seemed to be heading into the crowd.
However, this was more than just a terrific goal. BT commentator Ian Darke emphasised that West Ham were ‘on their way to Wembley’ and many neutral viewers would have agreed. After the game, van Gaal agreed that his team had been ‘second best’ up until that point and given the trajectories of both club’s seasons, it seemed likely that West Ham would go on and win. Elusive success seemed tantalisingly close. Like Di Canio and Tevez before him, Payet seemed to have scored a famous winner for West Ham at Old Trafford.
Some things are just too good to be true. With the withdrawal of Felliani, United belatedly pressed for an equaliser and found one ten minutes from time. Ander Herrera lifted a cross to the far post and, with the considerable aid of Bastian Schweinsteiger’s backside, Anthony Martial had an empty net in which to turn the ball home. West Ham protested afterwards that Schweinsteiger had fouled goalkeeper Darren Randolph but to no avail. If Payet should have been sent off before, then Martial’s goal should have been disallowed. For all its deserved criticism, VAR would probably have ruled it out.
The game petered out into a 1-1 draw. At this point, West Ham were favoured to win the replay but goals from the emerging Marcus Rashford and Felliani saw United win 2-1 at Upton Park. Despite winning the competition, manager van Gaal was sacked almost immediately afterwards.
For West Ham, the feeling of lost opportunity was overshadowed by immense satisfaction with the season as a whole. Finishing in their highest position since 2002, with a positive goal difference for the first time in the Premier League era, the club seemed well-set for a period of sustained success. Payet, included in the PFA Team of the Year, was central to these hopes.
There was to be no fairy-tale ending. By the following January, the team were mired in a familiar relegation battle and Payet wished to leave. He claimed that a 1-0 win over Hull, in which the man of the match award was given to the goalpost that saved three certain Hull goals, was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Rumours abounded that his wife wanted to return to Marseille and that Payet had to be talked into staying after starring at Euro 2016 with France.
Whatever the truth, it cannot be denied that he defecated upon his West Ham legacy from the height of the Eiffel Tower. Images of him that adjourned the London Stadium were hastily removed and the club felt inclined to accept a £25 million offer from Marseille. In less than a year, Payet had captured the imagination of West Ham fans and managed to squander this affection. Like many intense relationships, the ending was bitter and acrimonious. No wonder he was quickly re-christened ‘le snake’.
Yet to solely remember Payet by his departure masks the cherished moments he provided. For one season, West Ham possessed a player that was the envy of English football and fitted the image of maverick playmaker the club has always craved. His goal at Old Trafford encapsulated the feeling that success was just around the corner, that the club was on the verge of something special.
As Tim Canterbury said in The Office, ‘Life isn’t about endings is it? It’s a series of moments’. In this context, Payet’s free kick deserves to be remembered without being overridden by his complicated legacy.
If the words to ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’ summarise the feeling of supporting West Ham, Payet’s goal was the moment the bubbles nearly reached the sky.
Our partners Blowing Bubbles have pledged to send a copy of their latest issue to West Ham supporters in self-isolation because of the coronavirus crisis.
Editor David Blackmore has said there are only a limited number of copies left but he was keen to make sure they go to those in need in the UK.
“As coronavirus engulfs the world, with increasing numbers putting themselves in self-isolation as a response to the growing pandemic, it is easy to become swept up in the doom and gloom.
“But I want West Ham supporters to know there are kind-hearted people out there – particularly those I’ve seen on social media – who are shrugging off the sense of apocalypse by offering to lend a helping hand to those in need.
“At the end of the day, no matter what we look like, where we live, or how much money we have, getting sick reminds us that at our core we’re all just human. And in every country it’s the old, the sick and those already struggling who will be affected worse.
“That’s why we want to hear from those in self-isolation, or from the friends and family of those in self-isolation because we want to do our bit to make sure that no one in our community is being left to face this crisis without any act of kindness towards them.
“If just one person feels less lonely or isolated when faced with this pandemic, because they’ve had our latest issue posted to them, then our team will feel better about it.”
Contact David on firstname.lastname@example.org and make sure include your details, and the details of those in self-isolation.