Dan Coker's Match Preview

Match Preview: Stockport v West Ham

The Predictor League for Stockport is open. Enter your team HERE. Deadline is Monday at 6pm. If you’ve already chosen Haller or Snodgrass you way want to edit your entry!

Blast from the past

West Ham United have met Stockport County in the FA Cup on three previous occasions. The third of these meetings was in the fourth round at Upton Park in front of 36,000 on the 25th January 1958. Elvis Presley was number one with ‘Jailhouse Rock’, Jools Holland was born the day before and, three days later, baseball star Roy Campanella was involved in a road accident that ended his career and left him paralysed.

The Second Division Hammers had beaten First Division Blackpool 5-1 at the Boleyn Ground in the third round to earn safe passage through to this fourth round tie against Third Division North side Stockport. Willie Moir was Stockport’s player-manager – he had FA Cup pedigree having captained Bolton in their defeat to Blackpool in the 1953 ‘Matthews’ Final. Visiting goalkeeper Ken Grieves was an Australian cricketer who made 452 first-class appearances for Lancashire and made a county record 555 catches. He also played as a goalkeeper for Bury and Bolton before representing Stockport, and later played for Wigan.

Centre-forward Bill Holden gave Moir’s visitors a shock lead four minutes into the second half but Ted Fenton’s Hammers equalised two minutes later when inside-right Eddie Lewis bundled the aforementioned Grieves, and the ball, into the net (pictured). Shortly afterwards, Grieves fumbled Bill Lansdowne’s strike from distance and centre-forward Vic Keeble, a hat-trick hero against Blackpool in the previous round, gave the Hammers a 2-1 lead. The 23-year-old Lewis notched his second of the game after 73 minutes when he converted a pass from Malcolm Musgrove but winger Ken Finney pulled a goal back for County with ten minutes remaining through a fine shot.

The Hammers held on to win 3-2 and marched on to the fifth round, where they would be defeated 3-2 by London neighbours Fulham in an all-Second Division encounter at Upton Park. Bolton would win the 1958 FA Cup, beating Manchester United 2-0 at Wembley three months after the Munich air disaster. The Irons would go on to win the Second Division title and win promotion to the top flight after a 26-year absence. Andy Malcolm was voted Hammer of the Year and John Dick was top goalscorer with 26 goals in 48 appearances.

West Ham United: Ernie Gregory, John Bond, Noel Cantwell, Andy Malcolm, Ken Brown, Bill Lansdowne, Mike Grice, Eddie Lewis, Vic Keeble, John Dick, Malcolm Musgrove.

Aside from this fourth round win in 1958, the remaining FA Cup record between the two clubs is as follows:
1935 – West Ham 1-1 Stockport (Third Round)
1935 – Stockport 1-0 West Ham (Third Round Replay)

Club Connections

A small group of players have turned out for West Ham United and Stockport County. Divided by playing position, they include:

Goalkeeper – George Kitchen.

Defender – George Kay.

Midfielders – Danny Whitehead, Adam Nowland.

Strikers – Ian Moore, Sam Jennings, Billy Brown.

Today’s focus though is on an inside-left who played for West Ham United before later representing Stockport County. George Dick was born in Torphichen, Scotland on 12th June 1921 and was a Scottish Guardsman during World War Two – he was part of the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR) after the conflict. A cruiserweight boxing champion, Dick worked as a waiter in Blackpool after leaving the army – he had a trial at First Division Blackpool in August 1946 and was signed within ten minutes. He played in a star-studded Tangerines side which included Stanley Matthews and Stan Mortensen in the 1948 FA Cup Final, a match they would lose 4-2 to Manchester United.

The 1948 FA Cup Final would prove to be Dick’s last appearance for Blackpool – he moved to Second Division West Ham United in August 1948 for £7,000 in the hope that he would solve a goalscoring problem at Upton Park. The 27-year-old Dick (pictured) made his debut for Charlie Paynter’s Hammers in a 1-0 home defeat to Luton on 30th October 1948 and scored what would be his only goal for the club in a 3-1 win at Leeds on 27th December of that year. Dick’s final match for the Irons was a 4-0 defeat at Cardiff on 12th March 1949. He moved to Carlisle in the summer of 1949, having scored one goal in 15 appearances for West Ham United.

Dick signed for Stockport in 1951 and regained his scoring touch, registering 12 goals in 25 games for the club before signing for Workington later that year. He retired from playing in 1953 and embarked on a coaching career on the continent. Dick managed Racing Club Ghent in Belgium, joining the club in 1953 and departing two years later. He coached the US Army in Germany in 1956 before accepting the managerial post at Danish side Boldklubben 1909 the following year. He moved to Turkey in 1958 to manage Galatasaray for a year before returning to Boldklubben, with whom he won the Danish championship in 1959. Aged 39, George Dick was tragically killed in a road accident in Carlisle in September 1960.

Referee

Monday’s referee will be Cheshire-based Mike Dean; 2020/21 is Dean’s 21st as a Premier League referee. Since West Ham United achieved promotion back to the top flight in 2012 Dean has refereed 26 of our league matches, officiating in ten wins for the Hammers, eight draws and eight defeats.

Embed from Getty Images

Dean refereed our final match at the Boleyn when we famously triumphed 3-2 over Manchester United. His decision to send off Sofiane Feghouli just 15 minutes into our 2-0 defeat to the Red Devils in January 2017 was later rescinded. Dean’s three Hammers appointments last season were the 5-0 opening day home defeat to Manchester City, our 0-0 draw at Aston Villa in September 2019 when he sent off Arthur Masuaku and, most recently, our 3-1 home defeat to Arsenal in December 2019.

VAR will not be in use for Monday’s match.

Possible line-ups

Stockport boss Jim Gannon was a West Ham supporter as a teenager growing up in London; he was part of the County side which knocked the Hammers out of the League Cup in 1996 and is now in his third spell as manager of the club. Stockport have lost their last five FA Cup ties against top-flight opponents, last knocking out a top-flight team back in January 1994 against QPR, when County were a third-tier side.

33-year-old goalkeeper Ben Hinchliffe joined the Hatters in 2016 and has made over 200 appearances for the club. 31-year-old centre-half and captain Liam Hogan moved from Salford last February; 28-year-old centre-half Ash Palmer has spent most of his career in non-league football. Hogan and Palmer could form a back three with Jamie Stott, 23, who came through the youth ranks at Oldham.

24-year-old Welsh right-back Macauley Southam-Hales joined the club in the summer from Fleetwood. 31-year-old Lois Maynard, an international who has been capped by Saint Kitts and Nevis, could anchor the midfield; 26-year-old England C international Ryan Croasdale should start in midfield alongside him. 25-year-old left-back Mark Kitching came through Middlesbrough’s Academy and has played league football for Rochdale.

30-year-old attacking midfielder John Rooney, brother of Wayne, can be a key man for County. The Hatters are likely to play two up front, with Alex Reid and Richie Bennett leading the line of late – Reid is a 6’4 25-year-old product of Aston Villa’s youth system while Bennett, also 6’4, is a 29-year-old who has played league football for Carlisle, Morecambe and Port Vale.

West Ham United have Arthur Masuaku on the injury list while Ryan Fredericks has tested positive for Covid-19. Lukasz Fabianski is a doubt.

Possible Stockport County XI: Hinchcliffe; Hogan, Palmer, Stott; Southam-Hales, Maynard, Croasdale, Kitching; Rooney; Reid, Bennett.

Possible West Ham United XI: Randolph; Johnson, Balbuena, Ogbonna, Cresswell; Soucek, Noble; Yarmolenko, Lanzini, Benrahma; Antonio.

Enjoy the game – Up The Hammers!


Opposition Q & A

Opposition Q&A with Stockport County

*The Predictor League for Stockport is open. Enter your team HERE. Deadline is Monday at 6pm. If you’ve already chosen Haller or Snodgrass you way want to edit your entry!"

This Week West Ham travel North to play against Stockport County in the FA Cup on Monday night. My mother’s family hail from there so obviously I know a little bit about Stockport County: my classmate’s uncle, Les Bradd turned out for them for a few years at the back end of the 1970’s. I know that the great George Best played a few games for them after he walked away from Man Utd, and of course we all know that Stockport County provides the answer to the Trivial Pursuits question: ‘Which Football Club is located closest to the River Mersey?’ Ahead of the game I chatted to my cousin, hardcore County fan, Alan Dakin to him for his thoughts about the game, and football at the other end of the professional game from the Premier League.

Hi Alan, Stockport is one of those teams that hung around the bottom two Leagues for years, but now you’re one of those ex-Football League clubs that are trying to get back in. How is that struggle going,?I know you’ve had a few changes of ownership as well as ground issues?
FIrst your classmate’s uncle is a player people still talk about to this day and is a MASSIVE County Legend, and has his own chant still to this day ….. “Les Bradd….scored a hat trick trick at Barnsley” (repeat) simple as that: 4-1 down at Barnsley with less than 10 mins to play, with fans leaving the ground and some already in their cars on the way home. You guessed it Les scored a hat trick to make it an incredible comeback to draw 4-4!
Getting back into the football league is still a struggle since we dropped out in 2011, many thought we would bounce straight back and would not be in the Conference long…..they were right, we got relegated again into the Conference North and turned part time. It then took us 6 years to get back to the Conference by winning the North title in 2019. But we have a harder job to get promotion again as there a lot of big ex league clubs with us, all trying to do the same. We have had a few people running the club during the bad days, most them ****ing half witted morons, but once we had people running the club who were County through and through, and knew what is was to be a fan, things slowly started to turn round and included bringing Jim back as manager (for a third time).
As for the ground, this now owned by the council and leased to us, after the council purchased it off the former owner who had moved Sales Sharks (Egg Chasers) to Edgeley Park years earlier, and we become their tenants. Thank God they have gone and we have the ground back as a football ground.

West Ham fans tend to get upset if we don’t get into the top half of the League, or that we’ve got to walk a mile to a ground we don’t really love to watch our team. What upsets Stockport County fans the most?
Not being in the Football League is a little upsetting, but what gets me is being patronized by supporters of so called big Premier league clubs…….I started supporting County (over 35 years ago) because they are my local team, not because we are in the top division, that is too easy, we are not sheep.

I see that your old ‘fan favourite’ Jim Gannon is your manager again: didn’t I read that the fans at one point demanded he be reinstated?
When it comes to the Manager there is no one who has done a better job than Jim in the last, how many years. Many have tried and failed (most miserably).
Jim IS Stockport County he gets what it is to be a County fan, he is a County fan. How many Managers have 3 spells at the same club as manager and keep returning? He has County in his blood.

West Ham fans will sympathise with you as to your ownership issues. Do the fans still own the club, or have you managed to get a rich benefactor to come in?
The ownership of the club was with the Fans Trust but that went tits up after 2008, when we went into admin and as stated previously we had a succession of idiots in charge and were as close as you can be to going out of existence. A very scary time as a supporter! But as of early 2020 we have been bought by a local business man called Mike Stott who has got plans to get us, not just back into the football league, but to the Championship and has so far delivered on what he has said, with the massive improvements to the ground and we now actually have our own training ground, not a local school. But with the current climate we are yet to see these in person only virtual tours.
On the playing front we returned back to being full time and money has been made available to bring in players to make that push back up. Money that are have not had for many many years: some might say never really had. I hope that we don’t just start buying anyone, like previous teams have tried to do and buy their way through the leagues, we need to build a legacy for the future and invest all the way throughout the club from top to bottom. Something that we have slowly been doing.

All clubs have suffered through Covid, but I expect at the level Stockport are playing the suffering is a bit more acute: how are you coping with the crisis?
As the new owner took charge just before Covid struck he has still gone ahead with ground improvements and we are a lot better of than most, but I dread to think what situation we would be in if it this was a couple of years ago, when we were struggling in the Conference North…..Very Scary

Another thing I remember about Stockport is they used to play on a Friday night to avoid the competition with your close rivals up the A6 in Manchester. Did that still apply (until Covid intervened)?
‘Friday night is County night!’ is a thing of the past. We have a fantastic fan base, all you need to do is look at the crowds we were getting compared to clubs in Leagues 1 and 2. And the away support is on another level, the Conference North Clubs will be missing the money we would bring in with the crowds. Who care about the clubs up the A6. WE ARE COUNTY.

I know that West Ham have played Stockport County twice (three including replay) during my lifetime (and not won) the last time in ’96 when I was conveniently living in Jamaica, and managed to avoid the ignominy. Did you go to the game, and if so what memories do you have of the occasion?
Who can forget the that night in 1996, and yes I was there and I remember the atmosphere being electric and we knew we had a chance with the form we were in. The fans had a feeling that an upset was on the cards as that season we feared no one, and had a tremendous team and it was a Team.The weather was bloody awful with non stop rain but we played our normal game and the goal from Iain Dowie (OG) has gone down in County history. It was a brilliant header.
We all went mental then suddenly looked at each other thinking …..‘Did he really just do that?’ Then: ’Sod it! Who cares!

He was a great header of the ball! Which of your players are most likely to cause us problems on Monday night?
If on form then John Rooney could be the player to look out for, can blow hot and cold but has a good goalscoring record this season…. you never know in a game like this.

How can we expect you to line up against West Ham on Monday? Players/formation please.
You never can tell what team Jim will put out, he always keeps us guessing.
But if on form then John Rooney could be the player to look out for, can blow hot and cold but has a good goalscoring record this season, you never know in a game like this.
On formation he will also keep us guessing until we see the team, then we might have a idea, as Jim likes to mix and match, could be 3 4 2 1, then change it….Who knows?

Finally are you confident of victory? Prediction for score please?
I don’t take a lot of notice when Premiership games are on unless my wife Fiona is watching the Faded Blues from up the A6. But with the money and squad you have, you should cause us problems, but will they like playing up north on a cold Monday night? I don’t care who puts on the Shirt of County as long as they know what it means to wear it and play with pride and realise what an honour it is to wear the Blue and White and remember it is a Team game, so no social loafers. (Long running joke from a description of players that Jim took over in his 2nd spell as manager, from Deitmar Hamman……yes that Deitmar Hamman).
Predictions …….If you play the kids then we have a slim chance, but you should still win, so as we long as we don’t disgrace ourselves. So Hammers to shade it 2-1. (I’m normally wrong). Just look what Chorley did to Derby…….you never know what happens in the Cup.

Well many thanks to Alan for his thoughts, it’s always interesting to get a different perspective of the game. We think we’ve got it bad! I have to commend him on his optimism as well, as I think that we should run out easy victors, but so as not to tempt the footall gods to punsh me for my hubris, I’m only going for 0 – 3 to West Ham. COYI

Embed from Getty Images


Dawud Marsh's Photo Diary

Player in Focus: Aaron Cresswell

*The Predictor League for Stockport is open. Enter your team HERE. Deadline is Monday at 6pm. If you’ve already chosen Haller or Snodgrass you way want to edit your entry!"

Aaron was born on 15th December 1989 and made his first team debut for Tranmere Rovers on 1st November in a League One match against Milton Keynes Dons after joining their youth team system when he was released from Liverpool where he worked his way up through the academy.

The young aspiring footballer grew up in Liverpool idolizing star striker Robbie Fowler of Liverpool. On the pitch, his performances would see his stock rise as multiple Championship sides were trying to get his signature. Although he was offered a new contract to remain at Tranmere, manager Les Parry expected Aaron to turn it down saying “Aaron has got four or five Championship clubs trying to sign him; if I had a guess I would say Aaron might be leaving us this summer.

In June 2011 Ipswich Town won the race to secure his services, with the likes of West From and Doncaster Rovers fighting for his signature. The clubs had initially failed to agree a fee and after a transfer tribunal a 3 year contract was announced. Cressy debut for the club was on 6th August 2011, starting in a 0-3 away win against Bristol City at Ashton Gate. Aaron scored his first goal for Ipswich on 17th March 2012 in a 3-2 home win against Peterborough United. Making 46 appearances in all competitions in his first season at Portman Road, Cresswell won the club’s player of the year award.

He made 130 appearances for Ipswich Town over 3 years and his steady and consistent performances with Ipswich Town made Premier League sides take notice of the defender with reported interest at the time from Aston Villa.

But in July 2014 West Ham United signed him to a five year contract, reportedly worth £3.75m and made his debut against Tottenham Hotspurs in a 0-1 defeat at Boleyn Ground. Cressy scored his first goal in a 1-0 victory over Newcastle on 29th November and in 2015 was voted Hammer of the Year and Players Player of the Year.

In July 2016 Aaron suffered a knee-ligament injury in a 3-0 pre-season victory over Karlsruher SC. It was initially expected for Cresswell to be out of action for four months, but he recovered to return to first team football in a 1-0 away victory against Crystal Palace on 15th October, assisting Manual Lanzini for the winner. But 2 yellow cards in the matter of a few minutes saw him sent off, cutting his comeback short.

In September 2019, Aaron scored a 25 yard free kick against Manchester United at the London Stadium helping to securing a 2-0 victory. Hitting the back of the net again a week later in a 2-2 against Bournemouth Cresswell scored in consecutive league appearances for the first time in his career. Cressy signed a new 4 year contract to stay at West Ham until 2023. In the new system employed by Moyes this season, Cresswell is definitely a player West Ham are looking to hold on to averaging 2 key passes per 90 in the Premier League this season.

He earned his first England cap against Spain at Wembley Stadium in November 2016 but has only played 3 times for the national team.

Cresswell has become an integral member of the team, popular with players and fans alike and a committed and reliable player on the pitch. When asked about this seasons improved form Aaron says:

“I think the togetherness we’ve got at the moment, we’ve got a very good team spirit,” he observed. “Certainly, since the lockdown last season, when we played nine games to get out of the relegation battle we were in, we did it with a couple of games to go and I think we’ve just carried that form right through up to now.”

“The league is really tight this season which means we’re right up there, so it’s a good start, but it’s still early doors.”

In Cresswell’s 7th season at West Ham, he observes that it’s “one of the best dressing rooms we’ve had here for a long time.”

This season Cressy has played in 17 premier league matches with 18 tackles and 4 assists. Most recently against Everton Aaron almost scored from a free kick and provided the assist – albeit deflected – for Soucek to score the winner in the 86th to give Moyes a first win against Everton at Goodison Park since leaving in 2013.

Cresswell has received plenty of feedback on his revised form under Moyes, which he has highlighted himself and spoke about how happy he feels in the role he is playing in the team this season.

Josh Verrills @WestHamJoshV on Twitter said: “Credit where it is due, the formation Moyes has employed this season has suited Cresswell down to the ground and he is playing better and more consistently well than he has done in the last three seasons or more. Good to see such a long serving player returning to good form.”

@TheWestHamYank says ‘Our most improved player since last season”

Benrahma @Ethan34790376 says “Always been a fan of cress. He’s been reborn this season”

Lets hope Creswell continues to flourish in his role and we carry on with our good form throughout this New Year.

Be safe everyone.


Guest Post

Guest Post: On Being a Hammer and Being Human: Family Bubbles, Now and Then

*The Predictor League for Stockport is open. Enter your team HERE. Deadline is Monday at 6pm. If you’ve already chosen Haller or Snodgrass you way want to edit your entry!"

Guest Post by Southeast Ham

My youngest stepchild is endlessly enthusiastic about sport – any sport – so really, he didn’t stand a chance. I had big plans: shortly after Hugo arrived from Canada with his four elder siblings (yes…I suddenly became a full-time stepfather to five Canadian, home schooled, vegetarian children…and have thus far lived to tell the tale), I was going to take him to a West Ham game. But Covid put paid to that plan.

The kids and their mum landed at Heathrow mid-May, mid-lockdown. Two weeks later I gave Hugo a West Ham t-shirt and a goal net for his 8th birthday – not quite a trip to the stadium, but he was happy nonetheless, understanding instinctively that in cheering for this team, he and I would have a bond.

I used all the tools at my disposal, showing him videos of the West Ham songs and chants, goals by Paolo di Canio and Andy Carroll. I wooed him with a West Ham pencil case and backpack as the kids got ready for their first ever school year in a new country. What better time to introduce Hugo to the “Academy of Football”?

I make no apologies for my tactics: this was a kid who, after all, started skating at age four and was playing elite ice hockey by age seven (in Canada they have elite hockey for seven year olds; Hugo was on the ice for six or seven hours a week). The Canadian passion for their favourite sport rivals India’s passion for cricket, and (just to add to the emotional intensity) playing hockey was my stepchildren’s surest way to get time and attention from their father. So in classic Canadian style, they were coached by their dad and played together on their backyard rink.

“Oliver, why did you pick West Ham?”

Ah. Well.

I was born near Frankfurt to an English mother and German father; I was five when he died and my mother moved us back to Southeast London, to Sidcup, where she’d grown up. While I learned the language quickly enough, I think I always felt a bit like an outsider.

When I was about eight, I sensed that it was time for me to pick my team; my younger brother picked Liverpool (everyone was picking Liverpool). When I found out that my stepfather’s dad was born in West Ham, the choice felt obvious. I remember, later, seeing the man’s birth certificate, worn and yellowed, with the name “West Ham” printed in old typeface. Particularly given that the only other local choices were Millwall or Charlton, an East London team seemed like the perfect choice for a Southeast London man.

My first child – a son — was born into my second marriage; the subsequent divorce led to a long custody dispute. I did my best to make the most of my son’s visits, especially after his mother took him north and I saw him less and less. He couldn’t have been more than eleven when, at a game in the new stadium, fellow Hammers roaring a rousing rendition of “Bubbles” after beating Chelsea in the cup, he turned to me, beaming, and shouted, “I’m a West Ham fan, Dad!” Only two months later, on our way to another game, I asked him if he was looking forward to the match.

“Not really. I’m not a West Ham fan anymore.”

“Oh? Why not?”

“I don’t have to do things just to make you happy.”

I never had a clear picture of what his life was like when he wasn’t with me.

One doesn’t need to be a lifelong fan – or even a fan at all, or even British — to understand football’s place in the British soul. My eldest stepchild, aged fifteen, can play every ice hockey position (including referee), but he came back from school one day and told us – with some irony — that he’d experienced “his most English moment yet” playing football. So many of his PE classmates were home self-isolating that his teacher simply brought the remaining students outside for some footy. Blazers tossed onto the ground for goals, ties flapping about, the only thing missing, my stepson said, was some rain.

But for me, being a lifelong fan has, in retrospect, been a way to articulate my place in the world – specifically, my belief that I needed to work that much harder to belong.

Hugo is trying to learn “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles.” It’s not an easy melody to catch hold of, but he keeps working on it. The logic, however, escapes him: he’s far too young to understand why a team song would celebrate perpetual hope despite a history of perpetual loss. Why would anyone get excited about new dreams coming in the morning if their hopes are always fading and dying?

No matter how the club does on the pitch (success is fleeting, failure is to be expected), “Bubbles” always signifies West Ham’s melancholic celebration of the reality that life and loss walk in lockstep. But we keep hoping anyway.

Some years have more loss than others: this New Year’s Eve was particularly loaded with the desire to leave an annus horribilis behind and start fresh, our hopes pinned on the promise of new vaccinations and a return to “normal” life.

This great reckoning we’ve been going through has led many of us to ask questions about sport – questions we’ve never asked before, at a time when gathering to play a game of footy is actually unsafe. Do we really care about grown men chasing a ball around a field when the world is falling apart? Borders are closing, industries are being wiped out, hospitals are overrun, thousands are dying, and yet…chasing a ball? Really?

But that is, in the end, the whole point: we are taken from places we love; we lose the people we love most; we recover as best we can, and we find new places and new people. We love the constants in our lives – the traditions and rituals — and hold onto them, even if they clarify and often remind us of what we’ve lost. We don’t forget about the hopes that have died, but we keep chasing the ball.

And this is how I came to find myself striding full force, with maximum optimism, into my third attempt at family. With five children who were all raised playing ice hockey.

“We won again, Hugo. Against Everton.”

“Yes! When do we play next?”


Nostalgia

The Four Days that defined Sam Allardyce at West Ham

In an article about Dennis Bergkamp’s career-defining goal against Argentina in 1998, Rob Smyth summarised that ‘adulthood is what happens when you’re busy making compromises on your youthful ideals’.

This is essentially correct; we are all familiar with taking jobs you hate to pay the bills, sacrificing your body at the altar of cheap and convenient foods and silently loathing yourself in the process. Quite frankly, it’s a truth most of us would rather not ponder on.

Smyth’s theory can also be applied to watching Sam Allardyce manage your football club. The game essentially exists as escapism for the masses, no matter how much the latest bombastic Sky Sports advert tries to convince you it’s a matter of life and death.

Turning up on a Saturday to see Allardyce prowling the touchline is the equivalent of hearing your joyless supervisor chunter on about hitting targets at the expense of enjoyment. This feeling was amplified at West Ham, a club more protective over their ideology of skilful football than most.

It can be argued this is slightly harsh on Dudley’s answer to Rinus Michels. Having inherited a fractious and demoralised squad in 2011, Allardyce got West Ham promoted from the Championship and ensured three mid-table finishes afterwards.

There’s also the consensus that the memorable final season at Upton Park could not have happened without the defensive discipline installed under Allardyce. Once this started to unravel during the run-in, his replacement Slaven Bilic was effectively doomed.

Yet this ignores the numerous flashpoints that marked Allardyce’s spell in east London such as dismissing the ‘West Ham way’ in his very first interview, the fan’s revolt at Peterborough and cupping his ear to the dissatisfied home crowd after a mind-numbing win over Hull.

Like most relationships, there is often a point of no return – where the benefits of the union are significantly outweighed by the cost to your self-esteem. For many this occurred during when West Ham shipped 11 unanswered goals to Nottingham Forest and Manchester City over four bleak January days in 2014.

Most Hammers fans, realising their chances of winning the league title are slimmer than the chance of dating Maya Jama, cling to the cup competitions as a beacon of hope. Allardyce not only mangled these dreams, he drove over them in a jeep and reversed over the twitching carcass to make sure any sign of ambition was extinguished.

Such miserable pragmatism was rendered necessary due to a disappointing start to the 2013-14 season. Having finished 10th the year before, most supporters expected another year of no-thrills consolidation.

Things would quickly deteriorate. Having spent the majority of that summer’s transfer budget on Andy Carroll, with the spare change used to buy Stewart Downing to supply him, there was precisely zero amazement when the Geordie artillery gun was decommissioned until the new year. Carlton Cole, having been released in the summer, was hastily re-signed.

West Ham toiled without him. By December, the team were floundering around the relegation zone having been involved in more goalless draws than the entire Bundesliga.
Having secured an impressive victory at Tottenham with a strikerless formation, Allardyce persisted with the experiment for another six matches with diminishing returns. Rumours have circulated that clips of November’s stalemate against Aston Villa are still used as insomnia medication in some countries.

Amid this gloom, the League Cup was providing some unexpected relief – the crowning point being Modibo Maiga securing cult hero status with his winner at White Hart Lane in the quarter-final. The semi-final draw was unkind – their opponents would be the prolific Manchester City rather than David Moyes’ Manchester United or Sunderland, but it was still an occasion worth awaiting.

Before then, West Ham faced a tricky FA Cup tie at Championship side Nottingham Forest. ITV, licking their lips in expectation of an upset, decided to make the match the centrepiece of their Sunday afternoon output.

In the event, West Ham negotiated the game with all the finesse of an alcoholic tackling a garlic naan in Wetherspoons. Allardyce chose to rest most of his first-team regulars for the challenges ahead, giving debuts to youngsters Danny Whitehead, Callum Driver and Sebastian Lletget, as well as handing George Moncur his first start.

As a statement of intent, the team sheet may as well have come in the form of a hand-delivered white flag. Forest attacked with relish and were quickly ahead – Moncur, proving he was a chip off the old block, tripped Jamie Paterson in the area and Djamel Abdoun nonchalantly chipped home the penalty.

The afternoon passed in a blizzard of apathy and resignation. Paterson helped himself to a hat-trick, while 2004’s Andy Reid capped West Ham’s misery with the fifth and final goal. The camera operators frequently cut away from the action to show visiting fans yawning and one young fan crying in the stands. Allardyce was unrepentant about sacrificing both the club’s chances of Cup success and the well-being of his academy players.

Therefore, the away support travelled to Manchester for the first leg of their League Cup semi a few days later with the confidence of Mark Corrigan taking on Busta Rhymes in a rap battle; City were destined to win the Premier League title that season, scoring over 100 goals in the process. West Ham lined-up with George McCartney at centre-back and Mohamed Diame up front.

If it were a boxing bout, the two opponents would never have been allowed in the same ring. Given the pantomime they would serve up, it was fitting West Ham were wearing their snow-white away kit.

The demolition job started early, with Alvaro Negredo scoring twice in the game’s first quarter. Yaya Toure, in the form of his career, lofted a perfect long pass over Negredo’s shoulder for the Spaniard to lash home the first, while his second was a fine angled finish that exploited the absence of any defensive nous from his opponents.

The game was already a write-off for the thousands that had trekked across the country to watch this midweek massacre. Having already celebrated winning an early corner with the enthusiasm of a goal, City’s next strike would prove to be night’s defining moment.

In a desperate attempt to reinforce his injury-hit squad, Allardyce had bought in Wolves defender Roger Johnson on a short-term loan deal. Johnson had been relegated in the previous three seasons, once with Birmingham and twice at Molineux. Having turned up to training drunk during his time as club captain, it doesn’t take Captain Hindsight to tell you that Wolves wanted rid.

In time-honoured fashion, West Ham took the bait. With the appearance of a snooker player and carrying the nickname ‘The Relegator’, Johnson was precisely the last person to inspire confidence in a team already full of jobbing triers.

So when Toure advanced down the centre of the pitch, the new centre-back panicked. Inching backwards, like a crab doing the moonwalk, Johnson failed to close the marauding midfielder down. Barely having to break into third gear, Toure progressed to the edge of the penalty area before tucking home City’s third goal.

As a sign of sheer ineptitude, Johnson’s backward shuffle was impossible to beat and a strong contender for the worst piece of defending of all-time. Supporters of Sam Allardyce point to his ability to install defensive resolve in his teams, yet the sight of one of his backline making a wretched attempt at stopping the opposition was enough to dispel the myth entirely.

Johnson became the subject of countless internet memes and suffered the ignominy of having his shirt thrown back to him at the end of the match. His spell at Upton Park was understandably short-lived.

By now the patience of the away support had snapped. As the match continued, with City settling for only three more goals, the words ‘F*** off Sam Allardyce’ echoed around the Etihad Stadium. Standing on the rain-swept touchline, the manager could be forgiven for reaching for his bottle of brandy and a revolver.

The press reports were damning. Phil McNulty, writing for the BBC, described the performance as a betrayal to the club’s supporters and said: ‘the lack of resistance or passion on show was nothing short of pathetic.’

The Guardian’s Daniel Taylor went further by saying: ‘the most alarming part for West Ham was that their opponents were still a good notch or two below their optimum. The bottom line is that City did not have to be at their best when the gulf was so considerable.’

To illustrate the chasm between the teams, Edin Dzeko thought City had only scored five and had to be corrected in his post-match interview.

With the club in turmoil, owners David Gold and David Sullivan reasoned that the best man to help West Ham avoid relegation was still Sam Allardyce. This assumption would be proven right; with Carroll returning to fitness, the team scrapped 40 points and a 13th place finish. Within the year, Allardyce would be gone.

While Big Sam did a solid enough job for West Ham, memories of those four days in January 2014 ensure he’s never been missed by the club’s supporters.


Copyright © 2021 Iain Dale Limited. Terms and conditions. Cookies.
Website by Russell Brown.