Talking Point

We're All A Different Type Of Football Fan

I often find myself discussing anything I can about football with friends, family and quite often, complete strangers. It could be the classic debate of who is better: Messi or Ronaldo? Whether the likes of Pele and Maradona can be compared to players of the modern game. Is a certain player overrated? Should we have won that game? The list really is endless.

The beautiful thing about football is that it is constantly throwing up talking points. Sometimes they drag on for years, and sometimes they are over in an instant. As well as having a continuous supply of material to discuss, we have countless mediums through which we can get our point across. Some of us are fans of social media, while others enjoy voicing their opinion over a pint down the pub. Of course, many of us visit blogs and type out our thoughts for others to comment on.

I know I’m not the only one who feels they could talk about football for an infinite amount of time and that’s what makes the sport so great. The millions of people who have an opinion about the beautiful game and one way or another, they like to express it. But better yet, we are all different. We think a different way, act a different way and even support our team a different way.

It’s impossible to list any specific criteria and say; “this must be abided by in order to be classed as a football fan”. Although some people might think it, it doesn’t work that way. The old adage ‘each to their own’ is widely accepted with good reason, it makes a lot of sense. Yes, some fans might be more passionate than others. Some might be more knowledgeable about the laws of the game. There are those out there with a bank of statistics about every individual player and team for the last 50 years. Does that make them any more of a fan than you or I? No.

You may be wondering what got me on to this subject. As I sat in the pub on Sunday evening, then trawled through West Ham related articles on my way home from a disappointing result before discussing our performance with a friend on the phone once I got in, one thought couldn’t escape me. Everyone has a different view. A different view of the game, our performance, the club, the players, the coaching staff and the stadium. Anything and everything to do with West Ham, the spectrum of opinion stretches further than Green Street to Stratford station. Probably quite a bit further if we’re being honest.

This is by no means intended to come across as negative. It is merely an observation. It is quite interesting to think that some fans think three wins on the bounce and some minor improvements means we can head to Goodison Park expecting an easy three points. Confidence was high going into the fixture and the defence had started to get their act together, but putting the ball in the net was still a glaring problem to a lot of us. Combined with the fact we were coming up against a team with an in-form striker who had scored six in his last six games against us, a 2-0 defeat (and Lukaku scoring) wasn’t the biggest shock in the world.

We created plenty of chances but couldn’t score. Everyone had a stinker apart from Adrian. We deserved to get something out of the game. We were lucky to only lose 2-0. You could go on various sites and speak to a couple a fans and be forgiven for thinking we played two games on the same day. My personal view, for what it’s worth, is that we looked much like we have all season. Struggling for organisation at the back, being too reliant on Payet and Lanzini to create something and majorly lacking a centre forward who will cause problems and has the ability to create a chance for himself.

From my point of view, the Everton game is done and dusted. We now move on to Stoke with three points being a real necessity. They’ve shown how putting a good run together can quickly turn things around. Before successive draws against West Brom and Manchester United, they were languishing at the bottom of the table with Sunderland. Now, three wins later, they are within touching distance of seventh place. We can’t afford to continue this stop start run of performances (in truth, we haven’t even started).

As the season goes on, the various types of football fan will come to the fore. The defeatist is currently pulling the ‘I told you so’ card on all the optimists who couldn’t help but have high hopes for the big move. The realist knows there is more to come from the team we all love and soon enough, the pessimists will be waiting for everything to turn sour. The cynics are probably more interested in what Karren Brady and the board are doing off the pitch, instead of what the players are doing on it. At the end of the day, we all want the best for West Ham.

So many different thoughts, emotions and opinions. But what’s in store for the one thing that brings them all together? November can be one of the most important months in the season. Get left behind at the bottom of the table heading into the Christmas period and we’ll struggle to escape the relegation dogfight tag. Two wins out of three (obviously three would be nice) and we’ll be looking up instead of down as the New Year approaches.

Regardless of what type of fan you are, we know that West Ham are capable of betting things and sooner rather than later, we’ll see evidence of that.

COYI!


Talking Point

The Most Important Game Of This Season Is Always The Next One

I’m sure I wasn’t the only West Ham United fan to breathe a massive sigh of relief on Saturday evening. It might be our second win of the season but for all we’ve been through in the past few weeks, you could be forgiven for thinking it was our first. I previously wrote about how we saw a new West Ham turn up against Middlesbrough (even if we didn’t win) and a win against Crystal Palace at the weekend provided more evidence to give substance to the claim.

I say a new West Ham, but what I really mean is the old West Ham. The team everyone enjoyed watching last season. The team that performed beyond expectation and outplayed several of the Premier League’s top sides. You know, the team that made us all proud to be a Hammer. Unfortunately, we appeared to have lost that team in the early part of this season but hopefully, they’ve now decided to turn up.

I’m a great advocate of positive thinking. Optimism is a beautiful thing but it should also be diluted with a dose of realism every now and again. A win against Palace is great, but it doesn’t really mean much if we capitulate against Sunderland.

While our primary focus should be on the next game, analysing and evaluating previous performances can also help. After watching the game on Saturday, I came away with three standout points to reflect on. Firstly, all hope is not lost and we will get to where we were last season. It’s just going to take a lot more hard work to get there. Secondly, Aaron Cresswell is capable of making the difference everyone thought he would. And finally, I’m glad the club didn’t stump up £27m (rising to £32m) for Christian Benteke.

The first point is an obvious one. We saw evidence of everything that defined our season last year within the 90 minutes at Selhurst Park. Fast-paced attacking football (granted, it was no way near as free-flowing and effective as last year), some scrappy last ditch defending that just about gets the job done and of course, some terrible refereeing decisions going against us.

There can’t be many fans out there that disagree with the second point. Aaron Cresswell brought some much-needed balance to the team. He adds another dimension going forward and has the pace to make a real difference at the back. One thing we’ve missed this season is someone who has the speed and awareness to nullify the threat of a proper winger. The stability brought about through having Cresswell in the team seemed to greatly effect the performance of everyone else. Even Adrian looked like his former self after a few less than convincing displays.

Finally, and perhaps not so universally accepted, the gratitude for not signing Benteke. I know has bagged a few goals already this season (three more than Simone Zaza – a point I’ll go into more detail with later) but I find him incredibly frustrating to watch and would be pulling my hair out if he played for the team I supported. In a game that is heavily influenced by movement both on and off the ball, Benteke offers very little. Far from a lumbering centre forward, he is quite athletic in build and he has no reason to be so lethargic and immobile. He can hang around in the box and is decent in the air but from all of last season and what we’ve seen this year, that’s all there is to him. I have to mention it, he takes a shocker of a penalty as well.

Now, Simone Zaza. He seems to be dividing opinion already. I’ll put my two pence in straight away, I think he adds something to the team. I think he will become a permanent signing and in time, prove all those early doubters wrong. Early on I wasn’t so convinced but game-by-game, he seems to be growing as a player, adjusting to English football and West Ham’s style of play. To put things into perspective, what do you think Manchester United were getting when they paid £89m for Paul Pogba. What about Chelsea shelling out £50m for Torres?

In my view, we haven’t been ripped off, we’ve signed a complicated deal that isn’t as beneficial to the club as it could be but still gives us time to think and “try before we buy”. Unfortunately, strikers will always be judged on their goal return and until Zaza starts doing that, he is only likely convince the minority that he is worth it. Eight games is an incredibly short amount of time to show your full potential, especially in a new country. Providing he keeps putting in the effort we’ve seen in the last few games, I’m happy to have him at West Ham.

As big a boost as the win at Palace was, it’s now time to move on. The most important game this season is the game against Sunderland. After that, the most important game is the game against Chelsea in the EFL Cup. You get the idea. The recovery from the start we made was never going to be an instant one but the team and coaching staff are beginning to show they are capable of turning it around. We know there’s going to be a few more bumps along the way, but we’ll get there.

COYI!


Talking Point

Onwards And Upwards, Because There's Really Nowhere Else To Go

From the moment we kicked off on Saturday afternoon, I knew we were watching a different West Ham United. When Payet drilled the ball towards the Middlesbrough corner flag as if he were looking to find touch in a rugby match, there was something different about the team. It wasn’t a misplaced pass and it wasn’t an attempt to relieve pressure, it was trying to show we wanted to take the game to the opposition. You got the feeling the team really wanted it, they wanted to put them under pressure from the off and try to get our season going.

We didn’t dominate the game by any stretch of the imagination and we clearly didn’t manage to get three points but for once this season, we looked like we could have (even more so than the game we actually won against Bournemouth). In essence, we looked far removed from the side that capitulated against Southampton just over a week ago. We are still miles apart from the levels of performance we reached last season and there wasn’t that much to get excited about on Saturday, but I was just happy to see a team that looked up for it. There was hunger from both the players and the manager. A hunger that many have claimed has been missing since the start of this season.

Now don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten how dire some of (most of) our performances have been this season. I’m just glad that we’ve seen some kind of change. It felt like we were the laughing stock of the Premier League after the loss to Southampton. Rival fans were gleefully rubbing their hands together at the sight of our poor start, whilst pundits and so called ‘experts’ were claiming we were already on a downward spiral. We are still in the early part of the season where the pressure on a team can build quite quickly. As the negative press and mauling of our performances by Chris Sutton and alike begun to mount up, I was starting to worry that we were in danger of hitting a real low in terms of confidence and being resigned to a relegation dogfight before the season was ten games old.

A draw at home to Middlesbrough is not a good result. Especially for a team that looked like it was challenging the top four last season. But you know what, I’ll take it. I quite often found myself claiming our draws last season were good results, even against those who were adrift at the bottom of the table. Why? Because we needed to keep the momentum going and show that we were hard to beat. Okay, so we haven’t got any momentum to keep going at the moment but with each minor improvement, we will get there.

There might be a select few out there who doubt our attacking prowess (even if it’s been lacking thus far) and it would appear the defence is the issue for most of us (just like it was last season). For me, the defence was one of the positives to take away from Saturday. What quite clearly wasn’t our strongest back four managed to shut out Middlesbrough for large periods of the game and were it not for a momentary lapse in concentration from Antonio when defending a corner, we could have come away with a clean sheet.

Collins and Reid in particular put in good performances. Not only were the nerves and moments of indecisiveness of recent weeks no longer present, they looked confident when passing the ball out of defence. I feel absolutely gutted for Sam Byram. It’s obviously another injury that we really could have done without but I had high hopes for a player who so far, hasn’t really been given a chance. At only 23-years-old, he is the kind of player who needs a run of games to get some Premier League experience and show what he can do. Unfortunately, it looks like he’s going to have to wait a little while longer to get that run of games.

Pedro Obiang proved what most of us already knew. He’s a good ball playing defensive midfielder who deserves an opportunity. One thing we’ve been lacking this season is someone in a holding role who does just that. Holds. The spaces left in behind our midfield when defending and in front of it when attacking is what has caused so many problems this season. With Obiang in the starting XI, Noble and Kouyate can commit to supporting the likes of Payet and Antonio without leaving massive amounts of space behind them. Obiang isn’t the saviour of our season but he can play a big part in it judging by what we saw on Saturday.

As surprising as the team selection was from Bilic, I think he deserves a lot of credit. There is a fine line between shaking things up to get a team going and losing the crucial element of stability. When Zaza came on, he looked like he had a point to prove. I’ll admit that he didn’t show bundles of quality on the ball but he put a shift in and I’ll be holding off on a damning verdict until I see a bit more of him. Payet was obviously the catalyst to our creative play and it was good to see his season properly get going. Being able to beat players with consummate ease is something that won’t disappear over night and we can rest assured that when we need that extra bit of quality, he can step up to the plate.

We now have the international break and while the eyes of the media might be on Gareth Southgate and England, my attention will firmly be fixed on West Ham. Some players might be away on international duty but this week is a good opportunity to regroup and really knuckle down. We can be under no allusions that to sort our season out is going to take a lot of hard work. Something I’m sure all of us will agree on is that Slav and the squad have got it in them.

I’m still hopeful and optimistic for the season ahead. We should never be in a situation where we are almost dependent on players returning from injury but getting Cresswell, Carroll and Ayew back is sure to give us a big boost. The next three games against Crystal Palace, Sunderland and Everton could really define our season. Two or three wins and we’re back on track, failure to get a win and we could find ourselves in some real trouble.

COYI!

Note: I just want to say a special thank you to LittleBoyLost for providing me with a ticket on Saturday. Very much appreciated and just a shame we didn’t get to see a win.


Talking Point

We've Heard The Case For The Defence. Now Court Is Adjourned

Well, I don’t really know where to start. I surround myself with words on a daily basis, whether I’m reading or writing, even when I want to, I can’t quite escape them. Very rarely do I find myself in a position where I cannot find the words to articulate how I feel or ‘put things into perspective’. Unfortunately, I now find myself in such a position and it is West Ham United that has put me there. When I left for my holiday a couple of week ago, I was looking forward to a break but what I was most looking forward to was coming back to a rejuvenated West Ham side and the opportunity to wax lyrical about how we’d put the Europa League demons to bed and got on with our season. Alas, it wasn’t to be.

I didn’t want that opening paragraph to be so negative but I just wrote down whatever came into my mind. The truth is, things aren’t actually that bad. Okay, we’ve had an absolute stinker of a first five games and the three points we’ve mustered thus far came in a match we probably didn’t do enough to earn them. It’s important to analyse and acknowledge problems as a means to progress and improve but I believe the players, and us fans, are in danger of being consumed by this poor start.

There’s no getting away from the fact that we’ve had an abysmal start to the season but confidence can be key to a successful campaign. Yes the players need to perform to help breed confidence but to a certain extent, the fans can play their part. I’m not naive and I know that sometimes, the most passionate fans singing the loudest of songs can still watch their team put in a dire display, but we can try.

This is by no means an attack on those that feel like they’ve seen enough already. We have every right to be frustrated and disappointed by what we’ve seen, but trying to find that ounce of optimism, even if it is the proverbial needle in a haystack, can go along way. We know we’re better than the performances against Astra Giurgiu, Manchester City, Watford and West Brom, we just have to hope the team we saw last season turns up sooner rather than later.

Five games into a season does represent some sort of milestone. But I’ve always held the belief that ten games in is when you can really grasp a team’s prospects and what they can expect from the remainder of the season. Before we get to that ten game mark, we face Southampton, Middlesbrough, Crystal Palace, Sunderland and Everton. Teams that before this season begun, we would have been confident in taken three points from. So what makes it any different now?

I’m sure many of you have already pointed out that the defensive frailties we’ve seen so far stem from much further back than the start of the season. Throughout last year it felt like some games were used to get all of our errors out of the way before putting a run together of solid performances. Unfortunately, almost every game this season has felt like the home game against Bournemouth, the trip to Tottenham and the match against Swansea from last year. There’s no reason why we can’t reproduce the positives (the wins against Liverpool, Chelsea, City and United) if we can quite obviously reproduce the negatives.

When watching games, listening to the radio and sitting through the dreadful punditry on Match of the Day, one question has continuously popped into my head: Has everyone drastically improved in the summer and we’ve gone backwards? Honestly, I really don’t think so. I’m not a analyst, a psychologist or anyone that can give a logical explanation for what we’ve seen. I’m just a fan who likes to put down how I feel into words. We’re in a slump, it doesn’t take a genius to work that one out but I am more than hopeful that Slaven Bilic and the team that won so many admirers last season can drag us out of it.

I’m quite happy to take the flack from my mates, I can read about how Bilic’s job is under threat and Payet will want out in January, it really doesn’t phase me. This is what being a football fan is being all about. I don’t mean watching a team incapable of defending, I mean watching the team you love fight back and prove the doubters wrong. The players know themselves they are capable of better and I’m sure it won’t be long until we see evidence of it.

COYI!


Talking Point

A Defeat For The Fans Is A Victory For The Defeatists

It was only a week ago that I was writing an article that called for patience amongst fans. A request for those that had already become too accustomed to last year’s expansive football to sit tight and hold off on the negativity for just a little while longer. Unfortunately, those that would have struggled to take on board the opinions and thoughts put forward last week will now have a wry smile etched on their face, claiming to have foreseen the demise of Slaven Bilic and West Ham before the season even kicked-off.

There’s no escaping the fact that the defeat to FC Astra Giurgiu in Thursday’s Europa League tie was unacceptable. Pointing out that we are missing several key creative players after a Premier League game is understandable, but I’d fully expect our second string, even third string, to put up more of a fight than we witnessed at the London Stadium.

The game was incredibly difficult to watch, with a distinctly sour atmosphere growing as time went on making things even more uncomfortable. I know a lot of us were desperate for some European football this season and it almost feels like the players let themselves down after working so hard last year. I really don’t want this to be taken as the “at least we can focus on the league now” cliché, but getting knocked out by the same opponents in last year’s competition didn’t exactly do us any harm, did it?

I like to consider myself as someone who doesn’t get carried away by either negatives or positives in life. No matter how bad things get, you can always find something to ease the pain and no matter how great life seems, there could always be a nasty surprise waiting around the corner. I must admit though, as our game against Manchester City got closer, I was beginning to fear for the worst.

City have quickly adapted to Pep Guardiola’s style of play and although they’re only a few Champions League qualifiers and Premier League games into the season, they look like a different side to the last few seasons. If we’d put in a similar display to the one we saw in the first half against Astra Giurgiu, 5-0 was actually a realistic possibility. That fear was most certainly prevalent after just 20 minutes but mid-way through the second half, it turned into a game that we could have nicked a draw from. Alas, it wasn’t to be.

Now although we had some great results against the big teams of the Premier League last season, these first three games were always going to be tough. Even before we were dealt a series of cruel injury blows, I was expecting four points at most. We might be out of the Europa League and still struggling to play some of the football everyone is after but to only be a couple of minutes away from my pre-season expectations means we’re far from being in the state of emergency a lot of fans are claiming.

As strange as it might seem to say it, I feel like some fans are happier when the club is struggling. I appreciate that deep down everyone wants the club they follow to do well but that isn’t to say some fans love a good moan. It’s as if West Ham losing or failing to perform has some of cathartic effect on their lives. Those defeatists that can never envisage something positive happening at West Ham and just as things seemed like they were on the up, they were quietly hoping for things to revert to what we’re used to.

That small minority might have got what they had hoped for but I don’t think that will be the case for long. As I previously mentioned, I’m quite good at picking out the positives when times get tough but if truth be told, times aren’t even that tough and it really isn’t difficult to find a few positives. We’ve got several of our top performers coming back into the fold after the international break, a new signing who looks like he can provide what we’re after and eight Premier League games that we can go into being confident that we can get the right result in each and every one of them.

I’m not naïve and I’m not expecting us to turn into the West Ham from the early parts of last season in the blink of an eye but at least we have several winnable games to get us back on track and help give those players who need match fitness some minutes. I honestly hope there aren’t too many West Ham fans out there that can be labelled as defeatists. We’re a spirited bunch who have been through some tough times and know how important it is to support our players through thick and thin. We can be passionate and there’s nothing wrong with having a moan and complaining when someone misses an open goal or puts in a dire performance, but persistently looking for the negatives doesn’t benefit anyone.

You never know, come the end of the season those who get some strange satisfaction out of our great club struggling might be the happiest of all. I for one can’t see it happening and I’m sure most of you feel the same.

COYI!


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