My duties as an uncle, especially when West Ham and Concordia football are on their dreaded summer break, sometimes require me to take my passion for the game to a whole new level, literally. It was my little nephew Daniel’s annual school footie tournament and the one thing that 8 or 9 year old kids need most for such events is the honest interest and genuine enthusiasm from the so called grown ups – with parents, uncles, aunties and teachers showing up and rooting for the kids as if it was the FA Cup Final.
It had all been organised with a lot of heart and of course your stereotypical German efficiency by all the moms, dads and volunteer coaches. There were 13 different teams/forms with funny names like The Blue UFOs, Superkickers, Red Sharks (???), Owls and such like, moms had created some beautiful banners, designed football shirts and all kinds of gadgets for the crowd, there also were homemade cakes and muffins while the shrewd guy with the icecream van had set up his base pitchside for the duration of the tournament, in short it was all set up to be an entertaining four hours or so on what was a perfect summer day.
As soon as we arrived I was dead jealous. Remember when we played football as kids on hard dirt fields or clay pitches, shedding and bruising skin on our shins and knees in every game ? (I don’t remember a single summer as a kid where my knees weren’t bloody or scurfy.)
Here in June of 2017 the kids were running (and falling over) on training pitches of plush green grass courtesy of the local club side. Not just that, but also proper goals with nets and everything, about 4 meters wide and pretty much the height of regular goals you might find in the Premier League or Bundesliga.
Not to mention proper referees in full kit complete with whistle and cards watching over proceedings in every game (although no video or goalline technology yet).
My nephew’s team were the Teufelsstürmer/Devil Strikers (meaning attack minded devils, not boys from hell on strike) and they very much had, unfortunately, a Man United thing going on with one mom acting as the official devil mascot and everyone cheering them on had been asked to wear something bright red for the occasion (alas, no claret allowed).
As my wardrobe offered only limited options in that respect, I simply wore my red England shirt. (Don’t look so bloody surprised!)
I saw a parent wearing a Premier League shirt as well and no, it wasn’t West Ham but the uninspiring blue of Chelsea. Being polite by nature and with kids in the vicinity, I didn’t tell her where to stick her blue flag though.
My nephew was playing in goal and let’s be brutally honest here: In that age group, guarding a goal of the above mentioned dimensions you are in a no-win situation.
Here’s a lad half as tall (or short rather) as the height of the crossbar, then you have opposing teams boasting several players who have been playing in proper football junior teams for two or three years resulting in a certain ability to control a ball, run with it, pass it and strike it too with both power and accuracy.
Little Daniel’s team had the lowest number of regular footballers. Hence we lost every single game. Once the boys (and girls) got tired (running about in scorching sunshine on a big pitch will do that) the opposition just had to run past them and fire shots at goal from all angles and at a certain height so that Dan more often than not could only helplessly watch the ball flying into the top corner time and time again. Kids at that age don’t accept defeat gracefully and there were many heartbreaking tears of disappointment and frustration (which thankfully could be dried after a while by paying a visit to the icecream van). I had to tell my nephew that not even Manuel Neuer could keep clean sheets with three opponents running at goal with no defender in sight.
Talking of which my favourite player was one of our “defenders”, a stout bulky lad with jet black hair and a winning smile (but slow legs). Why was he my favourite player I hear you ask ?
Because his name was Adrian (blindingly obvious West Ham link) and on top of that he was Croatian too, like our Slaven!
I’ll tell you what the most wonderful thing was in all that footballing misery. Our team was the worst on the pitch, granted!
But the boys and girls played every game with heart and passion and that was reflected and honoured by the support from the moms, dads (and uncles) on the sideline.
We were by far the noisiest, most vocal, most supportive group out there (which was rewarded later with a generous cash donation from the organisers into the coffers of my nephew’s form for future school trips and the like).
Why do I tell you all that ? Because it was just like being at a West Ham game at times. Being brutally outclassed, outplayed on the pitch in every way imaginable, yet no wavering in support from the fans. On the contrary the support seemed to get louder and more defiant with every goal conceded.
And I was happy to see the tournament being played out in good spirits overall.
No bad fouls, no pitchside arguments between overly excited parents, no kids blaming their teammates for letting in a goal between their legs or hitting nothing but air from three yards out. Pleasant to see.
That was my very personal and outside the box fix of football last weekend.
On the West Ham front, yes, there are still rumours flying about and anytime soon the big transfer charade should begin in earnest. Teams playing tag, sending players here, there and everywhere on loan, in part exchange, with view to buy or buy back clauses inserted, with players nearly signed subject to a medical. Or subject to obtaining a work permit. With club negotiators maybe haggling over the odd million or two to be paid upfront or preferably a year down the line.
I mentioned in a comment on Saturday that bringing in two or better three strikers this window would be of utmost importance for West Ham.
I can see three different levels of striker incoming:
A really expensive buy like Giroud or Iheanacho (who will cost between 20-26 million or so), then a much cheaper striker on the side like Braithwaite or Onyekuru who could both be goers for around 9 or 10 million and the compulsory loan deal with option to buy (or option to bust more likely), Batshuayi maybe as pie in the sky material or a yet unknown Italian/Colombian/Polish ace in the hole type, the proverbial Sullivan Special (with chips and peas for me please).
As West Ham fans we have all had more than enough practise of feeling let down, disappointed, hopes and dreams shattered on the altar of being merely one of the also rans, making up the numbers. For what it’s worth by now everyone for sure must have realised what our squad needs are. We needed a RB badly, we finally got one.
We also need several reliable and halfway decent strikers, even the tea lady, Bubbles the Bear and the One Pound Fish man know it!
Which means that Gold and Sullivan probably know it as well. Which is all that matters really.
I read a rumour yesterday that G&S would even ditch their regular summer holiday in Marbella in order to focus on their task of bringing some strikers to Stratford, now that sounds like it could become a common phrase in future: Bringing strikers to Stratford which is pretty much the direct opposite of carrying coals to Newcastle! But I digress.
If it was me I would go for Giroud, Onyekuru and Batshuayi which would be a decent mix of experience and youthful hunger, giving us three guys, each with a point to prove one way or another. If we get Batshuayi on loan all three could come in for 35 million or so which isn’t a bad price these days for getting three strikers who should instantly raise our attacking options to unprecedented levels. A situation where we no longer have to hope and pray for Carroll or Sakho being available will be a blessing.
It’s nice to have them available of course, but it’s even nicer if you no longer have to rely on them two alone.
Other players have already left the club (Stephen Hendrie, that’s the left back, not the snooker player) or are rumoured to be on the way out. Enner Valencia appears destined to become a tiger, not at Hull, but the Mexican version at Tigres. Havard Nordtveit will almost certainly go back to the Bundesliga with clubs like Hoffenheim, Wolfsburg and Bayer Leverkusen all circling to sign him up. While third goalkeeper Raphael Spiegel is on the verge of joining a club in Belgium (probably to get promoted to the status of backup goalkeeper which at least would constitute a step forward). And there is Robert Snodgrass of course who in my book is a fairly decent option as a squad player, but as there are probably several takers out there in the Premier League who will play him as a starter nine times out of ten, I’d happily see him leave to free up some more dosh to put into our transfer kitty for strikers.
I am happy enough to confirm that I will have at least two West Ham games in the bag before the new season begins. As most of you will know the West Ham team will spend a few days in a preseason training camp in Germany, in Rotenburg/Wuemme to be precise, a small town located somewhere in the wilderness between Hamburg and Bremen at the end of July. This will culminate in two games being played over two successive days in two different places against the same opposition, the Boys in Green from the River Weser, Werder Bremen.
So it very much looks as if Bremen will act as the most convenient basecamp for numerous travelling Hammers fans and I have actually decided to also spend a night in a Bremen hotel as frankly the ground in Lohne is too much bother to travel back home to Hamburg from after the game and some post match festivities in the middle of the night.
I have posted the links over the last few days allowing you to buy tickets for both games online and I reckon tickets will be flying off the shelves quickly what with capacity being fairly limited at both grounds.
The game on Friday evening (July 28th) will be in Schneverdingen about 50 miles from Hamburg or Bremen and that ground holds just 4.000 (all standing).
The game on Saturday afternoon (July 29th) will then be in Lohne (Oldenburg) which is about 130 miles from Hamburg, but only 50 miles from Bremen, and the stadium in Lohne holds 7.000 (with 700 seats available).
The natural rivalry between the two Northern harbour towns of Hamburg and Bremen has been going strong for hundreds of years and it applies to every aspect of life: Business, culture, tourism and of course football. I will do something here which may get me in trouble with mates and my fellow Hamburgers, but let me tell you that Bremen is a really nice place to visit.
If Bremen is your basecamp and you are lucky enough to have some time to spare, venture out and discover the charms, beauty and atmosphere of the Hanseatic City of Bremen. Of course you will find numerous pubs, bars and restaurants there as well. Hamburg in my view is still bigger, better and more beautiful than Bremen, but for a few days Bremen should be a decent enough town to visit for any football fan.
I’m very much looking forward to seeing my team play some games close to home for a change (will we finally have some more signings by then?) and I also can’t wait to meet some of my readers (again) who may travel over for the occasion (at least two of which I’m already aware of). As for the transfer window of course there will be disappointments ahead. This is West Ham after all. We won’t see every rumoured player sign for West Ham over the summer, otherwise we’d end up with a squad of 284 players in September.
But we will surely sign a few new faces and some of those I reckon will actually turn out to be good players for us. Some might not though and the sun will still come back up again the next morning (I hope…LOL). There just is no point fretting over the transfer window or being terrified like a cat in a kitchen full of cucumbers (watch some of those videos on Youtube if you are confused by that statement).
To quote the famous words: “Whatever will be, will be.” But I will pass on the opportunity of going to Barnsley if I may please. Wembley maybe, one day…COYI!!!