The HamburgHammer Column
The weekend started stormy for me on Friday evening, literally. Final day of the Hamburg Oberliga season, a final meaningless home game against already relegated opposition. Even the 50 or so spectators who had made their way to the ground more by force of habit rather than uncontrollable enthusiasm for the game didn’t look like they wanted to be there. Neither did the two teams. Due to the very obscure local noise control regulations the game had to be played on the adjoining grass pitch rather than the artificial one usually used on the premises as it was a Friday evening game.
The game was played under a constant supply of drizzling rain. It was as exciting as a wet weekend in Wigan and then middle of the second half with the score at 1:1 the heavens opened for a furious crescendo. Freezing cold water hitting us from all sides, accompanied by heavy thunder and lightning, directly above the pitch. The referee had no other option than to abandon the game (and thus most likely end the season) and to tell the truth not a single soul was unhappy with that. The Concordia lads will now have to do some reshuffling over the summer, replacing some departing players, in order to then strive for promotion again next season.
The Concordia vice president once again told me over a beer he was very much looking forward to joining me on one of my West Ham trips next season with a few more guys from the Cordi hierarchy, so I may be asking you for some help with regard to providing a few tickets for that cause sometime next season.
As for our West Ham game I was in the bizarre situation of not being able to watch via one of my usual streams and I wasn’t confident enough about using some of the other suggestions as I didn’t want to put my laptop at risk of being attacked by spy- or ransomware. So I “watched” the game via the stats screen of the betting site I use which is a bit like watching one of those dodgy first video games that came out on one of those old Atari gaming consoles, but coupled with the WHTID thread it did the trick.
By all accounts we delivered a solid performance with the bare bones outfit we sent out onto that pitch, we were even one man short on the bench – with one of those substitutes being a rather short man too in the shape of my favourite youth player, young Dan Kemp. I was chuffed to bits for the lad even though he didn’t get to play, but we got a good win at Burnley which not only pushed us up the table into a very respectable 11th place but the result alone should send Hammers far and wide into the summer in a much happier mood compared to the mindset we might have had to endure after yet another defeat or draw in that final game.
Apparently we now have an additional £19 million to spend in the summer, either on transfers or to pay off some more debt. I don’t want to go over the season just ended in meticulous detail, and at the hazard of sounding like a broken record I need to reiterate that I consider it a minor miracle how we ended up in 11th place after this shambles of a season.
Now be honest: If I had told you at the start of the season that our best player in recent years, Payet, would leave the club in acrimonious circumstances after going on strike in January, that there would be fighting with rival fans, also among Hammers fans, coupled with trouble concerning the stewarding and fan segregation at the London Stadium, that we would have ELEVEN players out through injury for at least two months each over the course of the season, that our Number One striker Andy Carroll once again would be unavailable for more than half of the games this season, that we would ship goals left, right and center to suffer an unhealthy number of maulings against several sides in the league, then throw in a tax raid at London Stadium hyped up for the media to create maximum effect and finish it off with the lack of effort, pressing and even running shown by our team in far too many games this season – and if I then still offered you 11th place in the table, you wouldn’t just have snatched my arm off, but probably a bit of the shoulder and a leg as well.
We all have differing opinions on who is to blame to what degree for the various issues affecting our club this season. I will make no secret of the fact that I doff my cap to Slaven Bilic for the dignity and courage he displayed in what must have been a season from hell for any manager. I maintain that the best managers in the world would have struggled in the same situation, maybe even crumbled and collapsed under the pressure encountered by Slav. But he rarely moaned or pointed fingers at others. He did his best and carried on managing the team. Although I get the impression that maybe he treats his players too well at times, is too much of a mate rather than the manager and chief in command.
Maybe he needs to put his foot down on them more at times, demanding more effort and fight. But maybe that just isn’t his way. He still offers a lot more good than bad traits as a manager as far as I’m concerned.
Let’s not forget, all of the above while suffering from a bad hip, the pain caused by which I dare not even imagine. Bilic deserves a clean slate now (don’t we all?) and apparently he is headed for the notorious end of season review talks in Sullivan’s office today. For me there can only be one outcome here: Keep Bilic and support him with the money to bring in 3 or 4 quality signings. That’s all we need really. Eliminate the negative factors mentioned above, add quality players where we need them (RB and strikers mainly) and we should be well equipped for a top 8 finish next season.
I would actually consider keeping players like Feghouli, Nordtveit and Fletcher as they have rarely been given a run in the side and I reckon there is enough quality in them to be very decent squad players for us.
One of the biggest elephants in the room though is the high number of injuries buggering us constantly over the years. We have moved training grounds, so that’s one cause eliminated.
Is it just bad luck or rotten karma ? I don’t really believe that. The most likely reason for me is a combination of inadequate training/warmup routines and a dodgy medical setup. That’s easy for me to say, with no professional background in physiotherapy or medical science, but this constant flow of long-term injuries has been following our club for years now, so the medical team surely warrants some serious looking at during the summer, same as Slaven’s backroom staff.
But it all starts and ends with the owners. They are the ones who ultimately have to decide what kind of club we want to be and how we can achieve that vision, if they have one for West Ham that is. Talk alone will not do anymore. Social media snippets won’t do. Aloof bragging in newspapers about capacity at London Stadium, number of punters on the notorious Waiting List, sizes of digital screens or increasing net worth of West Ham won’t do. In the style of a famous quote by Bill Clinton:
“It’s the football, stupid!”
The Premier League is a money business like never before in its history. If you want to tango with the big boys, you need to spend big and on top of that you need to spend wisely too. If you are very lucky sometimes you can get away with spending reasonably little money as long as you are still spending it extremly smartly. But that surely is a pretty rare event and a makeshift approach that will not get you up the table long term.
Now the summer is upon us then. A long summer with very little football to be found. Of course there is always the silly season, but I sincerely hope West Ham will have learned their lesson and will only come out with stuff once players have actually signed on the dotted line, holding that shirt up while grinning like a Cheshire Cat (why are cats in other counties not capable of the same facial expression I wonder).
So I reckon I won’t be writing my column quite as regularly as normal throughout the summer, unless there is West Ham related stuff to discuss of course. I am still surprised that people actually read my articles and sometimes even seem to enjoy them, so hopefully I can continue in the same vein, with renewed hope and enthusiasm next season.
As a final bit of fun, I’ve been talking in previous comments about a German TV host and comedian being the spitting image (in my view) of our skipper, Canning Town’s own Mark Noble. The guy is called Jan Boehmermann and I have to admit the likeness somewhat varies, depending on what the guy is wearing, from what angle you watch him, how he’s moving etc.
But I still think he looks like one of Mark’s brothers, separated at birth and shipped off to Germany…LOL
Judge for yourselves!
Wishing you all a lovely summer and I hope to see you all again next season!
Or online of course if you occasionally still feel you want to talk about West Ham on a warm summer’s day. COYI!!!