Talking Point

A Question of Perspective

Blind Hammer puts the Sunderland game in perspective.

There will be few West Ham supporters not disappointed with the manner of conceding 2 points on Saturday. Not only did we concede points late in the game, yet again, but we contrived to let the most ineffective attack in the league score twice.

On a straight comparison we did not, for large parts of the game, achieve any sort of dominance against, what the table tells us is the worst team in the league. This inevitably invited the observation that we are little better and actually lucky not to be relegation material ourselves.

Whilst we are in the midst of one of the worst injury crisis Bilic has had to cope with, Sunderland, also were similarly deprived of key performers through suspension and injury. The observations of fans after the game made for gloomy reading.

An often quoted maxim is that “the table does not lie”. My point in this piece is to argue that in contrast, it often does.

Every football match is a competitive event and to that extent each individual match is relatively unpredictable, depending of course on the relative strengths of the protagonists. If we wanted evidence of this we need look no further than Sunderland themselves. Despite their position it was only a few weeks ago that this self-same team, allegedly incapable of scoring goals, actually scored 4 goals without reply against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park. Wind forward a few weeks and this same Palace team, so ineffectual against Sunderland, were in the space of 7 days defeating Chelsea away and Arsenal at home. This unpredictability is the stuff on which football thankfully thrives. In the Championship Reading can, in the space of 7 days lose 7-1 away to a struggling Norwich team having a dreadful run of form, but then in the same week go to Villa Park and win 3-1 against a side who had previously won 7 out of 9 games.

None of these results make any sense at all when referenced against the table and the form book. If we are to believe the table and form guides West Ham are unlikely to pick up a single point between now and the end of the season. Hopefully this will not prove to be the case.

If we are to give any credence to the maxim that the table does not lie this relates to a general assessment of position at the end of a season. It does not necessarily relate to any particular match

When we beat Chelsea in the League Cup, earlier in the season, nobody sensible could claim that we could now be compared to Chelsea, simply based on this one result. Similarly the result against Sunderland whilst disappointing, did not condemn us as the worst current team in the league.

It is not generally a happy time to be a West Ham supporter. However some perspective needs to temper our disappointment. . Remember to celebrate and savour the successes just that more when the good times arrive again.

COYI

David Griffith

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Match Report

Reasons to Be Cheerful

The Blind Hammer Swansea Match Report

West Ham 1 Swansea 0.

West Ham won, to our massive relief, a difficult game with a solid performance under the most pressure they have endured this season. The game was variously described as the most important since our Blackpool Playoff final, the last chance for Bilic, a 6 pointer, and the most massive game of the season. Coming into the game neither Carroll nor Sacko was considered fit enough to start. Our defence had suffered injuries depriving us not only of Cresswell but more importantly Read and Obonna, in the latter cases, out for the rest of the season. The team was also weakened because one of our most recent effective midfielders, Obiang is also out for the rest of the season.

Despite the lack of these important resources, against the heat of the most intense pressure they have endured all season the team ground out a crucial win. It certainly was a 6 pointer. If we had lost Swansea would have been only 2 points behind us with a much easier run in. Instead tonight we sit 8 points clear of Swansea. Swansea now has to win three games to catch up with us, with games running out. It was a massively significant result.

Not only had we lost 5 games in a row but five of the previous 7 games at the London Stadium have also ended in defeats. In these reverses we demonstrated vulnerability to punishment on the break. Error strewn loss of possession cost us dear. This was compounded by general fragility in defence to an extent that we were also conceding from set pieces, especially corners in virtually every game.

Anybody who therefore turned up expecting West Ham to play an attractive expansive style which swamped Swansea needed a serious reality check. In mainstream media the game was described as “poor”. This may have been the view of the outsider but we new what were needed were guts and application, perspiration and dedication, character and determination. I am proud that our team proved to me that when the chips were down our team had those qualities in abundance.

I have heard descriptions that the match was a “poor game”. This seems completely unfair. The match was always likely to involved nervousness. The importance not just of the clean sheet but not conceding first cannot be over stated. Those bemoaning the lack of a flowing thrilling side to our game in the first half need to consider further. Consider what the impact of conceding first in a game like this would have been. When a team is riding high on confidence, conceding first may not be a disaster. Tottenham conceded first against Swansea but could still run out easy winners. Our confidence is in stark contrast to that of Tottenham. Comparatively our confidence is in shreds. Leading up to this game West Ham have conceded an average 2 goals a game, most often recently 3. We simply cannot continue like that, we need to win ugly for a while, draw boringly.

So the risk of conceding first against Swansea was enormous. If we had conceded first all the negativity of the memories from games such as the Leicester defeat would have come rushing back.

Instead whilst we were not thrilling, we crucially nullified any threat which Swansea could pose. Byram according to what I could hear from a combination of stadium commentary and Radio London had his best game in a West Ham shirt. Collins whilst never comfortable in possession was responsible for leadership and crucial marking and blocking throughout the game. Masuaku had a confident performance at the left side of the defence and looks like he should be a first choice for the rest of the season.

Whilst this may be described as an “ugly win” Kouyaté’s winner in the first half was apparently a thing of beauty. Kouyaté is a class player who apparently experiences stress and sleepless nights when worrying about relegation. His delight at scoring was demonstrated by his goal celebration for which he was sadly booked. Kouyaté will probably, along with other members of this side only return to his rampaging best when he is hopefully able to play in a team without fear. A dream for next season.

In the meantime it was Kouyaté who was able to illuminate our afternoon with the injection of class which was enough to see us grab three crucial points.

So we must celebrate this win. It was ground out of overwhelming negativity coming into the game. I have queried Bilic’s judgements in recent weeks but for me he got things absolutely spot on. He put Carroll and Sacko on the bench as insurance for a desperate last 20 minutes but he did not have to call on them. Most importantly he showed that he could set up a team which did not routinely concede. It is a lot easier to win a game when you do not need to score 3. A chunk of my confidence in Bilic has been restored so this is a reason to be cheerful.

Further reasons to be cheerful are there in the application and grit shown by Collins, Byram, and Masuaku. Despite our depleted resources we held onto a clean sheet. With that background the brilliance of a Kouyaté strike could then prove the difference. In future weeks a solid rather than expansive performance may possibly allow our other class performers like Lanzini and Carroll to make similar telling interventions with their undoubted ability. If they can do this in a game where the team is not shipping goals then they could be much more effective.

The final reason to be cheerful was the crowd. I have read a lot of nonsense about the London Stadium, including allegations that the ground is riddled with people who are not really West Ham supporters. Whilst there may be individuals like that I am convinced that this afternoon I sat in a stadium of over 50,000 supporters who overwhelmingly really cared. The relief at the final whistle was palpable. For those of you who turned up and supported our team in this massive game, I am proud to call myself a fellow Hammer alongside you.

COYI

David Griffith

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Talking Point

What If?... Contingencies for Relegation

Blind Hammer looks at contingencies for relegation.

At the time of writing we have slumped to our 5th successive defeat against Arsenal. Our ineffectual defence is conceding regularly 2-3 goals a game against even struggling sides and we have some ominous fixtures approaching the end of the season. Currently we will not be expected to take any points in our home games against Tottenham and Liverpool and even Everton will be favourites to take all 3 points at the London Stadium. Our last fixture will be against Burnley who over the season having provided tough opposition for everybody in the league at home. Swansea this weekend and Sunderland away provide our best hope for salvation.

Relegation is not by any means a certainty but it is now most definitely a possibility and we will have to cope with that if this is what transpires out of this calamitous season.

The stark fact of relegation is an emotional horror which we have had to cope with before. We can turn away from it and use terms like unthinkable, disastrous and catastrophic but some planning and assessments will have to be made. It may feel like the end of the world, but it will not actually be the end of the world and positively planning to bounce back will be the order of the day.

Certainly the squad would need drastic surgery. The problem is that some of our high wage earners, specifically Carroll, Ayew, and Fonte will struggle to attract transfer interest from other clubs given the massive wages that they currently draw. Newcastle appeared to have successfully gambled by retaining most of their Premiership Squad and it may be that certainly in relation to Carroll there may be mileage in West Ham adopting a similar strategy. In relation to Ayew and Fonte the best approach may be seeking loans elsewhere to reduce the wage bill.

All efforts should be made to retain Lanzini; it is unlikely though that he will agree to perform in the Championship, especially as he has already indicated an interest in returning to Argentina. He is another who may reluctantly have to be let out on loan.

Above all the jewel in the Crown is Antonio, who is not only our most potent force but also has recent Championship experience which may be vital. A Payet like agreement to ask for one more season, with a release in January if there is no prospect of promotion may have to be agreed.

Players like Cresswell, Noble and Read, all of whom have Championship experience will need to continue leadership roles at the club. Possibly a rethink on extending Collins presence would also be justified.

If there is to be any silver lining in the spectre of relegation it is in remembering how the experience of playing at Championship level actually helped develop players like Reid, Noble and of course Tomkins. Oh how we could do with Tomkins now! We should remember that prior to relegation last time Read was not the stalwart of our defence that he was to become and was very shaky in our relegation season.

There will be similar opportunities for player development in the Championship. Players like Byram, Fletcher, Oxford Burke, and possibly others like Samuelson may all have the opportunity to develop games which can see West Ham return to the Premiership as a younger and stronger squad.

The other silver lining may actually be the London Stadium. When all is said and done the Stadium is only costing West Ham £2.5 million a year, possibly reducing in the event of relegation. This will cushion West Ham from some of the massive financial hit which will arise from relegation.

The final question is whether we could trust Bilic to bring us back. Gold and Sullivan famously backed Steve Bruce after Birmingham were relegated. He rewarded their faith by leading an immediate return to the Premiership. Should they have similar faith with Bilic?

Sadly my instincts are that Bilic has got too many crucial judgements wrong. He has made several wrong judgement calls in crucial matches. We desperately needed to stop conceding goals but he bafflingly picked a team packed with attacking players against Hull. His transfer judgements have been pretty poor. There is little doubt that the recruitment of both Ayew and Fonte, for example, were not just sanctioned but urged by Bilic. They do not look like players worth a combined £28 million. Above all for over a year now West Ham has conceded over 2 goals a game. It is not sustainable to develop a successful team based on scoring at least 3 goals to win a game, even in the Championship. I think Bilic knows his future at West Ham will be decided in the next 4 or 5 weeks and this is probably how it should be.

COYI

David Griffith

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Book Review

Black Players and Inclusion - Our Finer Traditions

Blind Hammer finds cause to cautiously celebrate West Ham’s traditions of inclusion of Black Footballers.

I have spent much of the last week reading 3 books, all of which include considerations of the problem of historic and current racism in football. These books are Clyde Best’s “The Acid Test”, Leroy Rosenior “Its Only Banter” and Paul Connonville’s “Black and Blue”.

We all like to think there is something special and honourable about the club we love and support, even us if we do tend to look at things through Claret and Blue spectacles. I am increasingly convinced that there is a definite case for highlighting some little commented on historic positives for West Ham.

SJ Chandos has already posted an excellent review of Clyde Best’s autobiography but what I want to do is compare the 3 books. reading the 3 books together in one week is particularly striking and powerful. I would never be naïve enough to say West Ham has been historically free of all racism but I think there is a tradition we should cautiously celebrate.

Paul Cannonville’s account of his time at Chelsea is painful to read. His description of the twisted and malevolent, hate fuelled vitriol which poured off the terraces towards him is distressing. Cannonville describes how shocked he was to be the brunt of this hatred, simply for the colour of his skin, from people who were supposed to be supporting him. He describes how this abused poured of the terraces before he even kicked a ball for Chelsea. Whilst he was warming up to come on for his debut as a substitute for Chelsea the abuse roared off the terraces with the chant “We don’t need no F*****king n**gg*r”. He describes his amazement that it is his own so called supporters with blue scarves who are leading this vile abuse. He describes how the walk from the tube to Stamford Bridge on match days was a tense affair with him likely to receive fresh abuse. He describes how in 2006, when Chelsea invited him back to be interviewed on the pitch at half time this caused him sleepless nights. He dragged himself back to the ground, dreading going back to the scene of his nightmare abuse, but steels himself to do it.

All of this is in sharp and striking contrast to the accounts Best and Rosenior describe of their time at Upton Park. For Best and Rosenior their time at West Ham provided the fulcrum of the positive height of their footballing careers. . Neither man is blind to problems at West Ham. Best describes how he was frightened by the threat of an Acid attack referred to in his book title, and Rosenior is particularly critical of the macari regime in the way his injury is treated. Both men had their initially promising West Ham careers terminated early, Rosenior by career ending injury, and Best probably because expectations were too high for a still very young player, and support too limited after his promising early performances.

What unites Rosenior and Best’s account however is their description of how they are embraced by the “West Ham Family”. In Best case literally so with his virtual adoption into the Charles’ family. Both men developed lifelong affection for the club and became Hammers for life. Rosenior describes how he stood along with all the other West Ham supporters singing “Billy Bonds Claret and Blue Army” after Webb’s disgraceful sending off of tony Gale in the infamous FA Cup Semi Final against Nottingham Forest. Both Best and Rosenior buy into the “West Ham Way” in concept and belief. They both feel that there is something warm and unique about West Ham.

Rosenior describes the level of abuse he received in other settings at other clubs, racial abuse to such an extent that his family found it too upsetting to go and watch him play. He describes how his family told him it was his own supporters who were abusing him because of his race.

Rosenior does not describe any of this at West Ham. Instead he describes the highlight of his life as standing in the centre circle at Upton Park receiving the adulation of the crowd. He is not unaware of unsavoury elements. He describes nervously awaiting the approach of hulking skinheads looking ready for trouble whilst he is standing in a hotel lobby. They surround him and say, in the Hotel lobby, “Are you Leroy Rosenior?” When he confirms this lead skinhead pulls out an ICF calling card and says – “You are one of us- you need any help – you get in any trouble- you just call us and we’ll sort it out for you”.

Whilst it is probably stretching it to describe any moral compass to the ICF the reaction and acceptance of even West Ham hooligans to a Black player is strikingly different to Cannonville’s Chelsea experience.

Clyde Best in particular feels West ham have not done enough to celebrate their positive trail blazing role. He points out how West Ham were the first team to field 3 black players in a team a full decade before West Brom’s more famous “Three Degrees” of Regis Cunningham and Batson. Best, Coker and Charles did not achieve the same fame as West Brom’s “Three Degrees” but as Best points out if West Ham had not done this it was less likely that the West Brom trio would have made it. Best describes how Regis had personally told him that it was the fact that Best had played as a centre forward in the top league that provided belief and inspiration it could be done. The end of Clyde Best Autobiography is littered with statements from other black players such as Garth Crooks who all took inspiration from the fact that West Ham were playing black players.

Best describes the warmth and support of players like Bobby Moore; harry Redknapp, Geoff Hurst and above all Ron Greenwood. He complains at the unfair lack of recognition and acknowledgement to Greenwood’s revolutionary approach. He argues that it was above all Ron Greenwood who was determined to allow black players to succeed at the top level. It was Ron Greenwood and not Ron Atkinson who was the true trail blazer.

Karen Brady’s infamous and incorrect depiction of Best receiving “bananas” racist abuse at West Ham is denied by Best himself. Best describe how it is at the away games he gets abuse, in particular at Leeds and Everton. It is only at the very end of his West Ham career when performances dip that he receives stick. He describes his love and mutual affection for West Ham as being so great he could not emotionally contemplate playing for another club in England, potentially against West Ham. Wolves and other clubs were apparently ready to sign him but he opted to go to the USA instead.

Rosenior has similar feelings of warmth, a degree of warmth not felt towards other clubs he played for . I cannot help feeling we should make more of this. This is a facet of our club that we should truly celebrate.

I know there were racist West Ham supporters and even now racism can rear its ugly head. I am disgusted by the antic of those who at the London Stadium now think they are somehow sharing in a racist tradition of West Ham. They personally appall me and I wish that they would take their bitter twisted hatred elsewhere. I am also not naïve enough to believe that this racism has never appeared behind the scenes at the club.

In the meantime I think there is a better, nuanced, and more honest truth about West Ham. Warts and all they have reason for pride as well as shame. We can condemn historic and present racism but let’s celebrate where our club has done well.

COYI

David Griffith

All 3 books are available from Amazon on Kindle.
“Black and Blue: How Racism, Drugs and Cancer Almost Destroyed Me” by Paul Canoville: £6.99.
“The Acid Test – The Autobiography of Clyde Best” by Clyde Best £8.99
“Its Only Banter” by Leroy Rosenior £9.99.

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Match Report

Time to Fire Up the Coaches?

After the Leicester defeat Blind Hammer looks for answers for how West Ham could resurrect their season.

It has been a pretty miserable season for West Ham as we endured our 7th defeat at home against Leicester. We all know now that we have one of the worst defences in the league which concedes an alarming 2 goals a game but it was still a shock to be 2 -0 down after 6 minutes. The sad fact is that our defensive performance is providing a mountain for our offensive players to climb most games.

I was hampered in my insights by the club failing to provide a commentary headset. Luckily Radio London covered the game though I seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time listening to reports from games against Rotherham etc. .

Despite this several things seemed obvious. The first is that the energy levels of Leicester were superior to West Ham for between two thirds to three quarters of the game. It was only in the last quarter of the game that Leicester started to look like the team which had played an emotionally and physically draining performance in mid-week. West Ham looked the team with the lower energy levels for the majority of the match despite their having the whole week to prepare. In the first half in particular Leicester outfought West Ham for possession and was more aggressive, though Drinkwater was treated particularly leniently by the referee.

This inevitably draws attention to the level and intensity of preparation our team is receiving before games. Many have noted that the squad has to perform on a larger pitch. One of the insights of the BBC Commentary was that we seemed to have few players who have the athleticism to cover the pitch properly. Antonio and Fernandez when he came on being honourable exceptions.

Last week heated media words were exchanged between Bilic and Japp Stam at Reading. Stam had explained that young prospect Oxford was not getting game time at Reading because he was not fit enough and that he had found the intensity of training at Oxford a shock compared to what he was used to at West Ham. Bilic flatly denied this was an issue but questions linger and to a certain extent his defence sounds hollow.

The problem for Bilic repudiation of Stam’s current claims is that he has actually already admitted it. Bilic himself claimed after the December humiliation of a 5-1 home defeat against Arsenal that the team lacked intensity, not just in performing on the pitch, but in training also. Apart from this admission there is other evidence. Zazar in his reflections on his calamitous West Ham loan specifically pointed out how the lack of intensity in training compared to what he was used to at Juventus made it difficult for him to adjust to the physical rigours of the Premiership. Valencia also has commented on how much fitter he has had to become in order to compete for a place in the Everton squad.

It may just be that in our efforts to repair what an inordinately high injury record with key players such as Carrol and Sacko, a more kid’s glove approach to training has reduced the overall fitness and effectiveness of the squad. The larger pitch would certainly expose any drop off in performance. There is no doubt that coaching nowadays is a science. Players need intense preparation for games, whilst avoiding being injured in this intense preparation. There is little evidence that the coaching setup is performing at the correct standard. The recent higher exposure of the squad to the coaching team in the Dubai trip seems to have set the squad back rather than advance it.

So who are the men behind the scenes responsible for managing this difficult balancing act? The personnel available to Bilic are Nikola Jurcevic who appears to be his right hand man. Edin Terzic is our First Team Coach whilst Miljenko Rak seems to have a key role as First Team Head of Performance. Julian Dicks has a role described as First Team Coaching Assistant and Chris Woods completed the team as Goal Keeping Coach.

Whilst Julian Dicks is the name most familiar to us it seems unlikely, given his job description as “Assistant” and as previous coaching experience in Women’s football or lower league football that he has a genuine leadership role in technical coaching at the club.

So apart from Bilic himself this leave the following coaches who in my view have some questions to answer. Nikola Jurcevic may or may not from his job description have a fundamental coaching role. From job descriptions alone Edin Terzic has the main responsibility as our First Team Coach whilst Miljenko Rak is required to take responsibility for fitness levels as First Team Head of Performance.

Whatever the qualities of these men in general are, they are not producing in the heat of competitive cauldron of the Premier League. In the light of evidence of poor defensive organisation, obvious to all, in the light of poor fitness intensity, obvious to most, a review of the coaching infrastructure seems strongly indicated. This is something which can be addressed now. We have to an extent been here before. When under Allardyce, we were having the opposite problem, struggling to score goals; we recruited in Teddy Sheringham to good effect. Fresh blood recruitment into the Coaching setup may well be advantageous now, especially doing the international break.

Only insiders at the club will know if any of these coaches are not up to it and need to go. Part of the judgement in my view would relate to how adaptable they would be to others suggesting solutions and accepting what is currently offered is not enough. They need to be open to correcting what appears to be the current technical coaching deficit. It may just be time to start driving and if necessary firing ups the Coaches behind the scenes.

COYI

David Griffith

Julian Dicks
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