The Blind Hammer Column

Why I Am Just as “Real” A Hammer

Blind Hammer argues that supercilious arrogance has nothing to do with the West Ham way.

When you write a weekly column read by thousands, even if, hopefully, they are like-minded supporters, you need a thick skin. If I was faint hearted, I would simply stick to writing my column about blindness and guide Dogs. Actually even this can be controversial. Yet Football is far more emotional. Passions can run high. Mostly I accept people’ will have different and fervently felt opposing views. This is all part of the great expressive debate that is football and West Ham. People care, which is why Rupert Murdoch pays so much money.

Just occasionally though an example of such supreme supercilious arrogance emerges which penetrates even my normal sanguinity. Recently a self-professed “Real West Ham” action supporter magnanimously accepted I had the right to opinions about the Watford game, however I had no right to make comments about the Brighton game as unlike the “Real Supporters” I was not there.

This article is not about the protest March. I support the right of protest even though I personally feel the March aims are confused contradictory and ultimately futile. Still I don’t think they are any less of a West Ham fans for marching. Why then do so many consider themselves TO BE BETTER “real” West Ham supporters as opposed to people like me who are apparently lesser or even “fake”?

I detest the notion that there has to be a “hierarchy” of supporters and that only a “real” aristocracy have views that should have any merit. Nevertheless for the record what are my credentials to a “real” West Ham identity? Well actually it is pretty steeped. My Father predated West Ham and was around at our formation. He was born in 1891. He lived in walking distance not of Upton Park but the Memorial Ground and the Thames Ironworks. I did not get the chance to ask him but I often wondered if he missed the Athletics Track at the Memorial ground after moving to Upton Park.
After serving in the royal navy in the First World War my father lived as a passionate Hammer in the East End during the 20s and 30s. He served in the Fire Brigade in Shoreditch during the Second World War. My brother attended his first game with our Father in 1949 and my Sister stood with them on the North Bank for the first time in 1952.

I, born in 1956 did not attend my first game until 1968. By 1970 I was a season ticket holder in the East Stand. I was at the FA Cup triumph at Wembley in 1975 and for our League Cup draw in 1981. My biggest regret is that I could not afford the ridiculous tout price for a ticket in 1980 so missed the Brooking final. During the 80’s I went to home and away games before blindness robbed me from attending. Nowadays West ham provides fantastic accessible support, including a free commentary service and space for both my Guide dog and a sighted carer. I don’t attend away games as access may not compare.

However I have news for those who claim to be “real” West Ham supporters simply because they attend away games. Attending away games does not make you any better or more “real” than the rest of us. My brother attended away games for decades but nowadays only goes to home matches. Yet despite being in his late 70s he travels over 200 miles from Manchester to take up his season ticket. Actually like many he supported the move to the London Stadium. Howe dare people claim that they are any more of a “real” supporter than he is?

I dispute that you even need to attend home games to be a “genuine” supporter. Supporting West Ham is about family and inclusion not sneering and posing as an “”exclusive” elite. ” my sister, now also blind, despite going to games in the 1950s, has not attended Upton Park for over 50 years. Yet she listens to the radio commentaries and feels the pain of defeat, the anger and frustration of disappointment and the joy of victory as much as anybody else. I was in exactly the same position when my blindness stopped me attending. I was never less of a real supporter then, and she is not less of a supporter now.

My Mother, who never attended games would have thought you were stark raving crazy to describe her or any of her family as anything less than ”real West Ham Supporters”. We were defined as a West Ham family. West Ham have always been larger than the numbers who at any one time attend games, and rightly so. West Ham supporters can live thousands of miles away but feel just as much, experience joy and despair in equal measure alongside the rest of us. West ham is so much more than just the congregation of supporters lucky enough to see them in the flesh. Those who claim otherwise have horizons which are too narrow, insular and exclusionary. Ultimately such inward looking elitist thinking is self-defeating. It hinders the vibrancy and health of our club. It stops us turning outwards to appeal to wider communities. In fact rather than drawing inwards into an elitist clique we should want to grow the support of West Ham not just in London and Essex but even wider, and yes even globally into World markets. The arrogant self-possessed sit on their high East end horse and sneer at world markets but I have no difficulty in finding common cause with Hammers across the world, be they Australian Hammers, Norwegian hammers, Hamburg Hammers, Florida Hammers or Austrian Hammers. I would never dream to think I am somehow better or more genuine a supporter because I live in London. They are all welcome as far as I am concerned.

To be a West Ham supporter it is not compulsory to munch Pie and Mash or even jellied eels before a game. I won’t even scorn or look down on you if you indulge in the apparently heinous crime of enjoying Popcorn.

I welcome everybody who wants to share my pain into the West Ham family. This welcome is pretty much unconditional; it does not matter to me if you attend all games, some or none. If you declare as a West Ham supporter that is good enough for me. I don’t expect you to have to prove it. I don’t expect you to have to pass a club knowledge test. I don’t look down on “new” supporters just because they did not attend Upton Park. If you are prepared to stand behind the team, in good times and most crucially remain true in bad times that is good enough for me. We are a family inclusive club still. Come in and join the roller coaster drama that is supporting West Ham.

David Griffith

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Tony Hanna's Musings

Possible Moyes changes and the slippery eel

Sometimes you just have to take defeat on the chin and the weekends game at Liverpool is one of those times. Whether Mark Nobles comments about it being a free hit were taken in the wrong context or not, whether you agree with the formation or team selection, on the day Liverpool were just too good. Manchester City found out just a few weeks ago at Anfield that a Liverpool side with Salah, Firmino and Mane all on song are difficult to stop. They let in the same as us too – four. In fact this was the third consecutive match where Liverpool have put four past us. With games to play at Arsenal and Chelsea together with home matches against both Manchester clubs we must hope for more resolute defending if we have any ambition of gaining points from these games. In Sam’s days he would have targeted the forthcoming home matches against Burnley, Southampton, Stoke and Everton. Avoid defeat in these four matches and win two of them and we should be safe. The bookies have us at 10/1 for the drop but it is impossible to have the same confidence as this log jam of relegation candidates shows no signs of clearing any time soon.

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What will be interesting is to see if or how David Moyes reacts to the weekends loss. There are a few players that could come under the microscope. Firstly there is the goalkeeping situation. When Hart was dropped for Adrian, Moyes insisted that Hart would get his opportunity and play Premier League games again this season. I thought at the time that perhaps Moyes thought there would be a time when Adrian’s position would again come under scrutiny. My preference would be for Adrian to stay between the sticks but after conceding three at Brighton and now four at Liverpool I would imagine if Hart was to get his chance again it may be now. Another who could be making way is Ginge. Winston Reid was warming the bench on the weekend and whilst he hasn’t had the best of seasons this is another change that Moyes might consider. It is also conceivable that Cresswell could be the one making way for Reid in a back three and with Evra certainly showing some steel in the tackling department on his debut the back five may well have a very different look about it against Swansea. Whilst showing some nice touches at times it would be surprise me if Mario retains his place. A fully fit Lanzini offers a deal more and I have my doubts that Moyes will play the two together too many more times this season.

I would like to dedicate the remainder of my weekly article to a former player who earlier last month turned 65 years of age.

Every once and a while a player comes along that gets your blood pumping. That happened to me, and I am sure many others, when Johnny Ayris broke through into the West Ham first team in 1970. The little right winger stood just 5’5” tall and weighed nine and a half stone but with his superb dribbling skills he was to prove as slippery as an eel. At first sight he had the swerve of Stanley Matthews and the trickery of George Best and he seemed destined for the top. The next seven seasons were to tell a different story.

Born in Wapping in 1953 Johnny Ayris would spend hours smacking a ball against the sheds outside his parents council flat. He would often kick the ball onto the roof and guess where it would come down before catching it on his right foot. The young kid was addicted to practice and when he made it at West Ham his great love was training. He admitted later that “training was a joy – it was touch, it was pace, it was skill and I was lucky enough to have those attributes. I loved the training perhaps more than the matches and maybe I wasn’t cut out to be a footballer, I should have pushed my case a bit more.”

He made his debut at just 17 years of age at home to Burnley on the 3rd October 1970 and played a blinder setting up all three Geoff Hurst goals in a 3-1 victory. Ron Greenwood gave him a professional contract just two days later and it was not long before the North Bank were singing “we’ve got Johnny, Johnny, Johnny, Johnny Ayris on the wing” to the tune of Ging Gang Goolie. He continued to mesmerise defences until we played Chelsea at home nearly a year later on the 11th September 1971. Johnny was running rings around the notorious Chelsea hard man Ron “Chopper” Harris and the riled defender picked his moment ‘to let him know he was still there.’ Johnny was to later say “I’d been giving him the run around and he was getting really wound up and the crowd were on his back.” One challenge later and Johnny Ayris had flipped over the back of Harris and he landed with a sickening thud. The young winger was all of a sudden having difficulty breathing and he was immediately subbed for Bobby Howe. Hospital tests showed that the injury had caused an air bubble to form in his lung, a condition he was to later to find out could be life threatening. Because of the injury Ron Greenwood would in the future only pick and choose the right games for him to play in, and even then a string of other injuries would curtail his ambitions. John is pictured right at the end of this very notable line up!

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The whole incident had a lasting effect on his confidence but he said he felt no grudge towards Harris. Johnny was also to come off second best to the infamous Tommy Gemmill of Celtic in a match played for Bobby Moore’s testimonial. John was to play only 69 games for West Ham over seven seasons, scoring just two goals. Following the Harris incident most of his time at West Ham was spent on the bench or in the background. Nicknamed “Rat” to his team mates because of his ragged looks, the Hammers fans dubbed him “Cyril Lord” after the carpet king, for his propensity for hitting the turf after having the rug pulled out from under him! Johnny Ayris loved every minute of his West Ham career but an incredible talent was wasted in some ways as his love of just playing overshadowed the real issue of playing professional football in a time where his light weight frame was no match for the battle hardened men of that era. Between December 1973 and October 1976 Johnny Ayris became our super-sub, making twenty five appearances of which 15 were from the bench. In many of the early matches he played though, he was one of the most exciting talents you would ever wish to see.

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The HamburgHammer Column

Mashed up on Merseyside, snowed under in Hamburg

Normal service was resumed at Anfield – not only did they have our stereos, they also kept the three points, taught us a footballing lesson and wouldn’t even share the dead cat which apparently is a treat for some locals if you believe certain football chants.

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The most positive thing was the way our away support honoured the anniversary of the passing of our most famous legend, player and man, Bobby Moore which happened exactly 25 years earlier.
Such a pity we couldn’t give this very special Barking Boy a performance on Saturday to mirror the regard in which he is held by West Ham fans all over the globe.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, it’s easy to say from the relative comfort of my bachelor flat how I would have approached this game as a bonus fixture, how I would have given it a real go, being a lot more positive and attack minded.
I also would have started with both Arnautovic and Hernandez upfront.

We tried to contain Liverpool by sitting deep, packing our defence and hoping for the best. I’m sure it can work like that against the Scousers on certain occasions. Saturday wasn’t one of them.

Liverpool outplayed us, they were so much better than us and were passing the ball around as if it was a training drill or preseason friendly.
As much as it pains me to say, Liverpool are just a wonderful team to watch and I would have admired their performance if it wasn’t West Ham they were mopping the floor with.

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The league table isn’t for the faint of heart these days. We are only three points away from a relegation spot, but could also easily shoot up the table several positions with a win or two from our upcoming run of games. It’s not exactly been an enjoyable season so far, but I’m still confident we are in a much better position than several other teams around us in terms of squad quality (not necessarily squad depth), so I reckon a solid midtable finish around 10th place is up for grabs.

Talking of squad depth I was sad to see Jose Fonte go. It makes a lot of sense from his point of view of course, guaranteed playing time, good money, a bit of adventure and broadening the horizon in the East End of the planet in China. I’m sure the money will come in handy too, balancing the books a bit as we seem to be really skint.
Still we have further weakened an already paperthin squad and we can only hope we won’t suffer any more injuries in the coming weeks and months.

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Talking about the rest of my weekend, it turned out a lot longer for me than anticipated, but with very mixed results. Starting with the good news, my brother is likely to come home from hospital either today or tomorrow. He should have been home last week, truth be told, but on top of everything else he caught pneumonia while his body’s defences were down after the two surgeries. He’ll be allowed two or three days at home before heading off somewhere for three weeks or so for some much needed rehab.

On Saturday Hamburg SV lost their relegation six-pointer against northern archrivals Werder Bremen who won by a single goal margin in agonising fashion, scoring four minutes from time with a goal that at the very least looked dubious due to the goalscorer scoring from what appeared to be an offside position. Seven points adrift already it’s hard to see where HSV’s next win might be coming from and considering the shaky financial outlook for the club they could find themselves in Bundesliga 3 or even further down after relegation as they are far from certain to meet the requirements to play Bundesliga 2 football next season. Dire days indeed for the Bundesliga ever-presents as things stand…but for how much longer ?

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On Sunday I was wide awake at 5 o’clock in the morning with a cuppa in front of the custard and jelly which is rare for me, but Germany were playing Russia for the Gold Medal in the Men’s Ice Hockey at the Winter Olympics in Korea and that in itself was about as rare as West Ham competing for the Premier League title. Or Fiji winning the Rugby World Cup.

In any case I thought I’d never live to see something like this happening.
Every once in a while the sporting deities throw a highlight our way just like that.
And the Krauts even had their gloves on the Gold actually, that is until Russia spoiled the party by equalising just 56 seconds from the end.

My fellow countrymen had stood toe to toe with the mighty Russians throughout most of the game actually and it took a Sudden Death goal in overtime with a man advantage for the Red Machine to get the expected win, but boy, did the Germans make it difficult for them!

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Two quick cups of coffee later I was sitting in a local caff for some Sunday Brekkie to set myself up for the noonish East Hamburg derby between SC Condor and Concordia.

I was being served by a lovely young lady who happened to be a Chelsea supporter (as she pointed out to me when spotting my West Ham beanie). Being a polite person I still gave her a decent tip of course, being well aware that Chelsea tickets don’t come cheap, especially for a waitress travelling from Hamburg…;-))

Then it was off to the nearby ground which was covered in snow from end to end. To everyone’s shock and surprise the referee decided to let the game go ahead regardless, with temperatures at a frosty minus 4°C, but a bright orange ball was kindly provided and the game kicked off.

Some Cordi players had expected (or rather wished for) the game to get cancelled and that’s exactly the way some of them performed, especially in the second half.

Granted, an injury crisis coupled with man flu keeping even more players out, made for grim reading of the squad list: One substitute goalkeeper on the bench plus two midfielders, that was it. It ended in an embarrassing 2:5 defeat and freezing my toes and gonads off as a bonus wasn’t exactly my idea of a pleasant Sunday.

Snow kept falling all day in Hamburg and it was bitterly cold, but at least the radio told us that St.Pauli had won their home game to warm the cockles of this Hamburger’s heart by showing some local pride and passion.

I then wanted to write my column (and warm up at home), but got a call from my best mate just as I arrived back. He had a spare ticket for the Ice Hockey in the afternoon and as he is a married man now and opportunities to meet up have become few and far between and as I also hadn’t been to see the Crocodiles play a game all season I was happy enough to drive right back to where I had just returned from (the ice rink being an Antonio throw-in away from Condor’s football ground).

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That at least brought another win for Hamburg (6:4) and some jolly nice banter with my mate and some other fans as well. Needless to say I would have gladly swapped either of the St.Pauli or Crocodiles’ win against a point or three at Anfield, but life ain’t all guns and roses.

Let’s hope we start to collect the points needed for maintaining our league status quickly now, with some very winnable games coming up in the coming weeks. God knows I could do with some positive football related news over here in good old Hamburg…


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Bilic ON West Ham

Blind Hammer reports on Bilic’s Radio Five Live remarks.

Slaven Bilic was the guest on Five Live’s Sportsweek this Sunday. He made some interesting comments on his time at West Ham.

ON Payet.
Payet was not difficult to manage generally. He was good in the dressing room and not difficult throughout the first season. He was OK for the start of the second season. Bilic did not believe that Payet’s desire to move was about money, as to be fair, the club had rewarded him. However he did want to move back to France. When he could not do this he became silent and withdrawn from the rest of the squad. The other players noticed this and this is when Bilic eventually had to come out in public to report what the issues were. The Manager has ultimate control but in the end you need your best players playing for you, creating or scoring goals. If this is not happening then it needs sorting out.

On his record at West Ham
The first season was incredible but he thought season 2 was very good as well. Season 2 was good because of the difficulties that they had to overcome. This was not only about the difficulty of adjusting to a new Stadium but the incredible amount of injuries and surgeries that depleted the squad throughout the season.

On Pressure
West Ham was not the most difficult and pressured job he has done. The most pressured and difficult job he did was managing Croatia for 6 years WHERE HE HAD TO COPE WITH THE EXPECTATIONS OF A WHOLE Nation.

On leaving West Ham.
Bilic did not have hard feelings about the sack. He said it was done in a “nice and polite” way. Karren Brady was the messenger but of course he knew it was likely to come. He said that he still felt he could have turned things around at West Ham.

Later in the interview however he appears to have more ambivalent feelings about this. He most surprisingly said that actually he should have left West Ham at the end of season 2. He said to be fair that he had been desperately tired, having worked nonstop in management for over 10 years. This need for rest was why he had not already returned to management. He said that he had already been contacted about his interest in alternative management jobs, including contact from Premier League as well as clubs abroad. He had turned them down because he still felt he was recuperating. Unless he received an incredible offer, he did not plan to return to Management until the summer.

On David Moyes.
Bilic felt that Moyes had done a great job since he had gone to West Ham. The big advantage Moyes has had over him was that he was able to come in and go “right back to basics”. This is always easier for a new Manager to do coming in from outside compared to a Manager who already has a history complicated by existing relationships established with players.

The full interview is available on BBC iPlayer.
David Griffith

The GoatyGav Column

How Do You Show Your Passion?

Pitch invasions are an interesting subject. Many now view this after match activity, or tradition, with disapproving opinions. It’s not hard to understand why this might be when you cast your mind back to that awful day at Hillsborough in 1989 when 96 people lost their lives after going to a football match. The image of fans, players, coaches and officials on the pitch is now associated with that horrific event and so I completely get why pitch invasions are portrayed in that manner. If there was a single day that changed the English game more dramatically I’ve yet to hear about it. Before then, however, a pitch invasion was always associated with joy and celebration. The desire to share, congratulate, thank and, essentially, party with the team after a significant win drove fans in their thousands on to playing surfaces up and down the country. Ok – perhaps celebration wasn’t always the motivation for encroachment on to the turf. There were occasions when aggro with opposition supporters was front and center of mind however, in the main, they were after match revelries rather than hooligan related activities. Although not celebrating together opposition fans have even appreciated the other team’s achievements. Man City and West Ham fans proved it doesn’t have to be confrontational when applauding each other after the title win in 2014.

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The partying on the pitch outpouring of joyful emotion was often associated with the passion felt by the fans of clubs and, I have to admit, on occasion, was visually impressive. Images of triumphant players held aloft on the shoulders of fans are amongst the most memorable in the annals of the history of the game. Wrexham’s famous cup win against Arsenal a good example of celebrations – commended by the commentator in the following video (Wrexham’s Steve Watkin on the shoulders of a fan): -

“Some people are on the pitch, they think it’s all over!” Kenneth Wolstenholme continued “It is now!” Was that the worst day in the footballing calendar of 1966 – absolutely runied by mindless idiots invading the grass at the Wembley Stadium?

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I do wonder if attitudes have changed. Listening to the radio on Tuesday I heard ex-professional players sit in judgement of any fan entering the field of play whilst suggesting that it should never happen. Might that be because players simply don’t want to be near fans nowadays? Players of past generations would happily mix with fans. Some even enjoying a pint or two with them in the pubs and clubs around grounds. Is this part of what influences former player, turned pundits, to condemn pitch invading fans and suggesting, for example, by commenting “Why can’t they just celebrate, with their mates, in the stands.”

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The behaviour of the Wigan fans, if that’s who they were, who goaded the away supporters, spat on Aguero and did behave like morons on Monday night, was pitiful. There’s a massive difference between celebrating a win and acting like those people did at the aforementioned game at the DW.

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I guess the question is how far should passion go. Jake Livermore was on the end of some horrible comments from one of our fans in the home game against West Brom. Was it passion that drove that supporter to say what he said? Would that have been his excuse?

Personally I’m not properly fulfilled unless I lose my voice during a game. Going in sounding perfectly normal and exiting the ground sounding like my voice-box has been replaced by a 1972 Cortina exhaust box always re-assures me that I’ve done my bit in making up my small part of the ‘12th man’. My voice bellows to the point where some do look around at me but that’s ok. For just over 90 minutes I’m acting slightly out of character anyway. I become a partisan who isn’t shy of letting a match official know when I believe they’ve wronged my team. I wouldn’t do that when managing my U13s on a Sunday morning, not that I don’t sometimes want to, but at West Ham I enjoy that feeling of freedom to vent my spleen in the knowledge that the officials are higly paid professionals who aren’t going to have their feelings hurt by a bit of vocal criticism from me.

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It’s all about nailing your colours to the mast for me. Yes it’s a tribal thing. I’m one of “David Moyes’ Claret & Blue Army.” (although I’ll always feel compelled to sing “Johnny Lyally’s Claret & Blue Army”). Proud, unafraid and unapologetic to the last. Would I invade a pitch to celebrate? Under certain circumstances, and if the journey to the pitch didn’t make the trip too arduous, then I probably would. I have to admit to a compelling desire to go and congratulate, celebrate and party with the players, coaching team and only constant element of the club, and true custodians, – my compatriots of the Claret & Blue Army. If, like so many in the media, you’re incapable of understanding that then fair enough.

A quick word on the Liverpool game. Each week, as well as a ‘pennies’ bet on an outside 6 way accumulator I have a small bet on either a Treble or 4-way. They tend to be strong favourites in either men’s or women’s football from any of the European leagues. Liverpool came up with strong odds this week. I didn’t have them in my acca as I felt it wasn’t a strong enough ‘dead cert’. If the boys can play like they did against some of the other big teams, like the Spudz, Chelski and Manchester City, by keeping a strong, well organised, shape in defence and carrying a threat on the break then you never know. That said I’ve not had a cheeky bet on West Ham either. Perhaps I should go for the draw. What do you think?

COYI! West Ham 4 The 2019 Cup!

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