The Blind Hammer Column

Four IS Not Fantastic For West Ham

In his new weekly column it is Broken Record time again for Blind Hammer.

Slaven Bilic knows more about football in his little finger than I do in my entire body. Despite this he does have something in common with me. Whilst I am totally blind he has sporadic areas of puzzling blindness. The Antonio experiment at right back was stubbornly persevered with for months despite the weight of evidence that it was not working. It appears that only pressure from Sullivan caused its final abandonment. Now Bilic seems determined to play four at the back despite overwhelming evidence that it fails against the strongest PL opponents. I and others wrote last week that we needed a more defensive setup against Manchester United and our predictions of a heavy defeat in its absence was wearyingly vindicated.

One narrative which emerged after the Manchester United result was to argue that we should “put it behind us”, recognise that Manchester United are a fantastic team, and that we were stripped of some of our best players who may have made a difference on the day. It was no guide to the rest of our season. We will not be playing United every week.

Such a view is hideously and terrifyingly complacent. The reality is that the Manchester United performance was not a freak one off but part of a continuing pattern which urgently needs addressing. We regularly concede goals at an unacceptable rate. Over the last year we have received thumping’s not just from Manchester United, but also from Manchester City, twice, three times if you include recent pre-season, and Arsenal. This defensive weakness is not just confined to top six teams. Just over a year ago we were, in the space of three weeks, conceding four goals away to West Bromwich Albion and at home to Watford.

Over the Summer I have repeatedly argued that the club analysis of last season was fundamentally flawed. The contention that we flirted with relegation last season because we did not have a fit striker was just plain wrong. The reality was that we flirted with relegation because we had one of the worst defences in the league. We conceded goals at a rate for large parts of the season which inevitably threatens relegations. We conceded more leads than any other team. Our defensive feebleness is long running, pre-dating our entry into the London Stadium. Leaky defensive performances place massive pressure on our offensive requirements. Our team are under a burden to score at least 2 or 3 goals in order to achieve a win or a draw. I won’t go into the stats here as I have repeatedly quoted them elsewhere.

The baffling thing for me is that Bilic has repeatedly shown that he can solve this problem. This is a tactical and strategic challenge which Bilic has successfully confronted. Bilic has proved on more than one occasion that he can set up a team which does not concede goals. He did this in the final season at the Boleyn where, denuded of Payet, Lanzini and Sacko to injury he made us hard to score against and ground out vital points. Even more crucially, last season, when we were confronting the very real prospect of relegation, he revamped the team organisation to make us hard to beat. Critical points were achieved against high flying, title chasing Spurs and just as importantly we finally managed to shut out the Lukaku menace in our home game against Everton.

Bilic deserves enormous credit for displaying the tactical nouse to grind out these results under huge pressure. Both Read and Collins described, after the Everton performance, how Bilic had coached them in the tactics needed to stop Lukaku. Bilic argued that Lukaku could be stopped if you kept him with his back to goal. The critical thing was to avoid him turning and prevent his powerful runs into the box. Read and Collins used Bilic’s tactical insights to great effect. They combined to man mark him, with the “spare” defender intercepting Lukaku’s movement at the point he tried to turn. The result on the night was a justification of Bilic’s analysis and coaching.

This makes Sunday’s tactical response inexplicable. You did not need to be a UEFA qualified coach to identify Lukaku as again the main menace. Why did not Bilic remember the lessons he taught so well last season? I was depressed and confused as soon as I saw the team. I could not understand why Fernandez was playing and Collins was not partnering Obonna and Read. Why had Bilic abandoned the back 3 formation which had worked so well before?

All this matters because in football belief and confidence is everything. We have two important games coming up. Southampton is a team devoid of confidence at the moment, having failed to score at home in 7 attempts. If we provide the habitual 2 o 3 goal advantage to them this will cause an explosion of relief and confidence for both their team and their crowd. If, on the other hand, we do not concede for at least the first half this will rank up the pressure on the home team. Newcastle
Are another challenge looming where confidence may be shaky after their return to the Premier League and a relative lack of investment in their squad. Again conceding an easy goal to them will release pent up anxieties for both their players and crowd and provide momentum that will be difficult for our team to resist.

Bilic himself described Sunday’s performance as “horrible”, a performance which will inevitably cause problems for them in addressing morale this week. Players need confidence not just in their own performance but in the system in which they are playing. No amount of mental toughness will survive regular 4 or 5 goal thumping’s against opposing Premier League Teams.

3 at the back is obviously Plan B for Bilic. His Plan A is to play 4 at the back and fight fire with fire, flair with flair whenever possible. He reverts back to defensive solidity only when backed into a corner by results. In the Payet days we could more easily overcome 2 goal deficits by scoring 3 of our own. We do not have such creative momentum now.

3 at the back is not the easy panacea which will automatically transform West Ham’s fortunes. It was tried in the away games against Manchester City and Chelsea last year and we lost both games. However we were not the recipients of a 4 or 5 goal routs on either occasion. Losing is one thing but the manner of a defeat is also important in building confidence both for players and fans. We may still have lost to Manchester United, they have other potent weapons apart from Lukaku, but a 4-0 reverse was far less likely.

For me the “Plan B” of 3 at the back needs to become a more consistent option, especially in away games. Like in the Spurs and Everton games it may also be necessary to deploy even at home against teams which are likely to outclass us with their squad options. This was why I was so disappointed that 3 at the back has not figured as an option over the summer in either squad recruitment or squad pre-season preparation . We have marched into the season with a “gung ho” approach which ignores lessons from last season.

Bilic has shown that he has the intelligence to deploy different, more defensively secure team organisation. We need to see more of this to help build the confidence which is so necessary in the squad. In financial terms West ham should be challenging 7th in the league. We are no longer minnows with resources outstripped by clubs such as Everton and Newcastle. We should at least be competing in the top half of the table. Floundering in the lower reaches of the league suffering repeated hammerings should not be acceptable this season.

Bilic has shown he has the skills experience and tools for the job which needs to be done. I fervently hope that he does not show his stubborn side and instead shows the flexibility to use the full tool set available to him.

COYI

David Griffith

Please check back after the match for the results.


Talking Point

West Ham Need Three AT the Back

Blind Hammer is puzzled about Bilic’s apparent reluctance to address defensive weaknesses.

Readers of my posts here will be familiar with my concentration on the defensive fragilities of West Ham. This is the 3rd post this summer and the 6th since last year which has tried to highlight this as an issue. There is a risk that I sound like a broken record, but the point has to be hammered home. Like all on here I love West Ham. However I am baffled by the priorities and squad analysis which is highlighted by both Bilic and the Board.

First of all broken record time. 6 weeks ago I flatly and completely disagreed with the publicly stated analysis produced by the club hierarchy that West Ham flirted with relegation because they did not have sufficient strikers last season. I fail to see how any detailed analysis of last season can conclude this. West Ham was plunged into the relegation mire because we could not defend. This was the sad and unpalatable fact. Actually West Ham conceded more points from winning positions than any other team. This was the standout weakness.

Certainly there were other problems. Bilic admitted problems with intensity, commentators criticised fitness and athleticism, and there was undeniably a problem with finding a fit striker to play up front.

Despite these issues it was overwhelmingly the defence which nearly dragged us into the relegation mire. Although we eventually finished 11th, this disguised the real position. In a compressed lower table we were, like many other clubs, in the end only a few points away from the relegation trapdoor. We were certainly far closer to the relegation fight than any realistic chance of challenging the top 7.

In actual fact there were two questions with our defensive performances. The first was that we managed to regularly concede goals against competition from teams around and below us. For example we conceded a lead against Middlesbrough at home, a performance remarkable given Middlesbrough’s inability to score against most of the rest of the PL. The Watford defeat at home was particularly demoralising for the team, with promising attacking play ending up with us being hammered with 4 goals at the other end.

In addition, on most occasions we simply could not live, defensively, with top 6 teams either at home or way. The problem for our fan base is that in general we started to approach games against Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool with an element of fear and apprehension. Expecting a rout at home by 4 or more goals certainly did not help adjust to the new London Stadium.

However I am personally convinced that these terrible defensive performances have nothing whatsoever to do with playing at the London Stadium. The fact is that ever since January of 2016 we have had a leaky defence. The final year at the Boleyn was exciting but we were seeping goals all over the place. I produced an analysis last year to show how we were conceding on average 2 goals a game in the latter half of that season starting with the famous Everton away win during which, even there, we conceded 2 goals. We should remember that in our last two games at the Boleyn alone, despite the excitement of the Manchester United game, we conceded 6 goals, losing 1-4 to Swansea.

So this is a problem which has beset our team for at least 18 months. We go on quite long unwelcome runs during which we on average concede at least 2 goals a game, at times last season we were averaging a 3 goal deficit every game. There is no way on earth a side can plan for success with this defensive record. If a team has to score 3 goals on average to win, or 2 to gain a point we will be in trouble. This will be the case whatever Stella attackers we bring to the club, welcome though they be, If we had Namer, Ronaldo Messy and so on we would struggle if we continued to concede at this rate.

Thankfully, for our survival last season, Bilic adjusted to this problem. The most productive and successful tactic he deployed was to play 3 centre backs. Although this system was tried and failed in the away games against Chelsea and Manchester City early in the season it was deployed with much more success, with Collins as a component in the latter parts of the season. This was the bedrock which underpinned the famous win against Tottenham. It was also the method underlying the shut out of Everton’s Romelu Lukaku to finally stop his scoring run against us. These were important not just for morale, but the eventual critical points they provided us with. Our points total was helped by the away win at Burnley but as Bilic said at the time it might have been very different if the pressure had been on to get a result on that final day.

This makes it all the more baffling is that, as far as I can see, all the club recruitment and pre-season preparation has revolved around returning to the failed 4 at the back formation which has created so many problems. There is only limited evidence that the club has got to grips with this over the summer. Weaknesses in the Goalkeeping and right back position have been addressed. However the critical central part of our defence is completely unrefreshed and actually denuded. We have a suspect central defensive section which is just as much injury prone as our striking section. Collins, Obonna, Reid, and Fonte all have significant injury records. If we are to cover 3 positions at the back it seems irresponsible to me to rely on 4 defenders, none of which have managed to complete a season in recent history.

In comparison and in contrast we have 3 or possibly 4 striking options to cover essentially 1 loan striking position in our normal formation. Admittedly our striking options are injury prone but the same can be said for our defensive options.

It stretches my credibility that we are really intending to rely on only 4 central defenders with inconsistent fitness to cover 3 critical positions in our squad. With our present line up it will, I predict, be inevitable that we will be playing people out of position in central defence to fill the gaps.

This seems a monumental gamble to me. Yet this is a gamble that the club seem oblivious to. 2 of our brightest young guns, Burke and Oxford, have been sent out on loan, with only the promising 18 year old Rice to backup what looks largely like an aging quartet with suspect pace.

Most of you will have the advantage over me in reviewing pre-season performances. I have not been able to access any radio or audio commentaries. We should also be aware that famously pre-season performances may not be a guide to actual Premier League performance. Despite this it appears, from reports, that at no time have we reverted to 3 at the back in our pre-season preparation. I find this baffling given that the only time we looked secure last season was when we deployed this formation.

Despite the unreliability of pre-season friendlies it does not look like that we have achieved any defensive solidity against even lesser opposition. Conceding 3 in a lack lustre display against Manchester City was wearyingly predictable but surely it was not part of the plan for a largely first choice defence to concede 3 goals a few days earlier against the German equivalent of Forest Green Rovers?

Finally and in conclusion I do not insist that West Ham have to play 3 at the back. If we can play 4 at the back and achieve successful defensive solidity I will be personally delighted and race onto this site to eat humble pie. However what I do insist on is that West Ham should at the very least prepare in their squad and team formations for the option of playing 3 at the back, given the critical role this has achieved with past performances. There seems limited evidence that this has achieved sufficient priority in either squad development or the pre-season friendlies. In our first game we will face the agent of multiple previous goals conceded and defeats in the shape of Romelu Lukaku. We overcame his goalscoring prowess with the Payet inspired comeback in 2016. Apart from this The only occasion in 9 attempts that we looked as if we could cope with his threat was when we played 3 at the back against Everton in our home fixture last season. Our pre-season does not seem to have learnt any of these lessons.

Time will tell.

COYI

David Griffith

R

.


Talking Point

West Ham’s Success Yardstick? - Wages and turnover

Blind Hammer looks at financial evidence to guide expectations.

The chastening result against Manchester City in Iceland and the leaky defensive record of our pre-season games has at least operated to manage expectations for this season. This of course begs the question of what should reasonably be our expectations.

Last year in a post entitle “Mind the Gap” I looked at the Turnover Tables for the Premier League. I concluded that financially there remained a massive gap between West Ham and the traditional top six sides. At that time West Ham sat 9th in the Turnover Table.

In the event West Ham failed to achieve results in line with this money Table. , despite being 9th in the 2014-2015 Turnover table us only finished 11th in the real final 2016-2017 Table. I decided to look at how things have changed and what we should expect this season.

Part of the difficulty with these analyses is that we only have financial data a year before the last season. So the latest financial figures available are for 2015-2016. In other words, they relate to the last Season at the Boleyn Ground, and not the most recent season at the London Stadium.

Despite this delayed financial reporting both the turnover and Wages Table are of interest.
The most recent turnover table showed West Ham growing, even before they moved to the London Stadium. West Ham sits in 7th place in this Table. They have an income of £142 million. They therefore climbed up 2 places from 9th. They sit comfortably ahead of Leicester.

Yet in spite of this growth the aforementioned massive gap remains. Spurs, in 6th place exceed West Ham’s turnover by a whopping 50% at £210 million. There is a further enormous gap between Spurs and Liverpool at £302 million. It is sobering to think Liverpool who has struggled to reach the top 4, have resources over twice that of West Ham. As we move up the turnover table the inequality between the top 6 and the rest becomes even more extreme, Manchester United at 515million representing income about 3 and half times that of West Ham and over twice that available to spurs. The gap between the top six and the rest remains with a vengeance.

If we are to look at the Turnover table clubs do sit pretty much in the ball park areas that we would reasonably expect them to be in the real table. A case could be made then that a judicious expectation for West Ham is that we should be at the head of the pack chasing the top elite clubs. In other words we should expect to chase 7th spot.

The full turnover table is provided below.

Turnover Table for Season 2015-16.

1 Manchester United £515m
2 Manchester City £392m
3 Arsenal £354m
4 Chelsea £335m
5 Liverpool £302m
6 Tottenham £210m
7 West Ham United £142m
8 Leicester City £129m
9 Newcastle £126m
10 Southampton £124m
11 Everton £122m
12 Aston Villa £109m
13 Sunderland £108m
14 Stoke City £104m
15 Crystal Palace £102m
16 West Bromwich Albion £98m
16 Norwich £98m
18 Swansea £97m
19 Watford £94m
20 Bournemouth £88m

Of course turnover, aggregating all income accrued by a club only forms part of the picture. Turnover is the resource available for a club to invest in their team. In reality each club may or may not decide to invest in the competitiveness of their team. A more accurate picture of expectations is formed by looking at the wages that each club is prepared to invest.
Looking at the Wages table there are similarities to the Turnover table but also some significant differences.

What is immediately striking is the failed over investment by Aston Villa, who despite having a smaller turnover than West Ham significantly out spent them in Wages. Villa despite dislodging West Ham from 7th spot down to 8th suffered disastrous relegation notwithstanding being the 7th highest wage payers in the league.

In contrast, the opposite case was formed by Newcastle who significantly under-invested in wages compared to competing PL clubs. It was probably this gamble under investment by Ashleigh, who clearly wanted some of his money back, which underlined Newcastle’s tumbling down the table and eventual relegation.

So in the Wages Table, despite Villa’s bizarre over investment, West Ham also led a pack of clubs. We are in a ball park area of competing most directly with Southampton, Everton, Crystal Palace, Swansea Stoke and Leicester for the positions outside the top six.

In addition we should look at the sustainability of wages and transfer recruitment. The average proportion of turnover expended in wages for the Premier League as a whole is 61%.

West Ham’s percentage is broadly in line with this, with a wages ratio of 60%. However some of our competing clubs are investing significantly greater proportions. Both Everton and Southampton are investing 69% in wages. The picture becomes even more extreme when we look at our other competitors.

Swansea is investing a massive 85% of turnover in wages. Stoke City and Crystal Palace is also significantly higher at 79%.
Only Leicester City at 62% approaches the Premier League average.

In general you can say that, for the foreseeable future, Stoke, Crystal Palace, Swansea and to a lesser extent Everton and Southampton will have less turnover resources available to finance transfer fees when compared to West Ham. These clubs can offset this disadvantage either by attracting extra investment, as Everton have done, or by selling existing star players for a profit, as Southampton and Everton have also done. However sustaining recruitment by identifying cheaper replacements for proven performers carries risk over the longer term.

So if we are to consider the Wages Table West Ham appears to have a structural advantage over most of their competitors, when resourced are released into the transfer market. We should reasonably be expected to compete for 8th position.

The full table is below.
Wages Table Premier League 2015-16

1 Manchester United £232m, 45% of turnover
2 Chelsea £224m 67% of turnover
3 Liverpool £208m, 69% of turnover
4 Manchester City £198m, 51% of turnover
5 Arsenal £195m, 55% of turnover
6 Tottenham £100m 48% of turnover
7 Aston Villa £93m, 85% of turnover
8 West Ham United £85m 60% of turnover
8 Southampton £85m, 69% of turnover
10 Everton £84m 69% of turnover
10 Sunderland £84m, 78% of turnover
12 Swansea £82m 85% of turnover
12 Stoke City £82m 79% of turnover
14 Crystal Palace £81m, 79% of turnover
15 Leicester City £80m, 62% of turnover
16 Newcastle £75m, 60% of turnover
17 West Bromwich Albion £74m 76% of turnover
18 Norwich £67m, 68% of turnover
19 Bournemouth £60m68% of turnover
20 Watford £58m 62% of turnover

Now there are developments which can affect these financial profiles. Everton have been promised extra external investment. However West Ham also expect, from their so called “deal of the century” stadium arrangement, to grow turnover from £142 million to something like £250 million for the most recent season.

In the context of these financial resources the owner’s expectations for at least a top 10 finish do not look unreasonable. Even 10th would appear to be slightly under par, 8th would be perfectly acceptable whilst anything above 8th would probably be punching above our financial weight.

The reality now is that the image of West Ham as the poor East London relations of the Premier League is long gone. We are now amongst Europe’s richest clubs, notwithstanding our debt held by the owners, and over time expectations will inevitably rise.

Of course luck and injuries will play their part. Anything can happen in any particular game, but over time money normally tells and pulls its weight in football. Club buy their success as much as they coach and inspire it. Slaven Bilic will have the hidden measure of the Turnover and Wages Table hovering in the background as the yardstick by which his performance in the longer term will be judge.

COYI

David Griffith


Talking Point

Why is the Guardian Anti-West Ham?

Blind Hammer responds to Guardian criticisms of West Ham.

I am a Guardian Reader but have to confess I am becoming increasingly fed up with the negativity of some of the comments published by this August institution about West Ham. Some of this criticism is childish, snarling and frankly unacceptable. The Guardian’s “Fiver” Sports Newsletter thinks it is clever to now resort to name calling, referring to our club as “Taxpayers United”, joining with the BBC in promulgating a theory that if you repeat a lie often enough people will believe it. Apparently the Guardian is blind to the overt measures taken by Spurs to secure Tax payers money as reported by Sean Whetstone a couple of weeks ago, preferring to only launch their barbs with a single eyed determination at West Ham. It appears that the Guardian also somehow now believes fervently that West Ham should be responsible for funding the nation’s commitment to Athletics at the London Stadium. This is the lazy lie which the Guardian and others are pushing about the Stadium’s financial problems, that these are sole responsibility of West Ham cheating the Taxpayer when any fair analysis would recognise that it is only with West Ham that the stadium has any future at all. It is the multi-use of the stadium for Athletics which is creating a financial crisis.

This snarling criticism was echoed by a recent piece by Jacob Steinberg in which he sought to belittle the business done by West Ham in the transfer market this summer. The piece is interesting because I have personally been unaware of the Guardian taking up any agenda against other clubs for their transfer business, beyond reflecting on the general lack of business done. Only West Ham appears to have received criticism for the actual signings made.

If we are to believe Steinberg West Ham has indulged in “short terminism”, signing players approaching the end of their Careers.

This flimsy and poorly argued piece by Steinberg is barely worth taking seriously but for the record he includes the signing of Joe Hart at 30 as an example of short terminism. He then goes on to criticise West Ham for not only signing a player at an advanced age but one who career is in decline. Steinberg appears desperate for what he describes as a ”glamorous“ signing to go sour.

Steinberg does not seem to reflect that if there is this risk then West Ham have done extremely good business by only signing Hart on loan. If things go sour, as he suggests, then the damage to West Ham will be minimised. If on the other hand things go well, then West Ham will be in prime position to consolidate the Hart signing with a buy option. I personally think it is extremely unlikely that if Hart does well, that he would want to jeopardise his international place, by returning to a so called “bigger club” to warm their bench. To describe the signing of a 30 year old keeper as short term by Steinberg would be laughed off as plain silly by most football pundits. Hart could easily have 7-8 years as a West Ham Goalkeeper ahead of him.

Pablo Zabaleta is the other allegedly geriatric players that Steinberg takes aim at. At 32 he is another person apparently up for a last big “pay-day” in a retirement home. Steinberg queries whether West Ham can cope with more slow players, referring to the evident lack of athleticism in the team last season. Now at 32 Pablo Zabaleta will have to answer some questions this season, though the prospects look reasonable, if pre-season is anything to go by. Age, as we know from many examples, including those at our club, is not necessarily a guide to fitness. Billy Bonds at 32 was clearly the fittest player at our club at the time.

However I do not recall Steinberg lining up to criticise Manchester United when they signed Zlatan Ibrahimovi? on an even shorter term contract last year at 35. Nobody is ridiculing Manchester United when they say that they may offer Zlatan Ibrahimovi? another contract in |January if he recovers from his knee ligament injury. It is apparently perfectly acceptable for Manchester United to invest in proven international class players at the end of their careers whilst it is foolish for West Ham to do the same.

Steinberg’s criticism of Arnautovic seems to revolve around the fact that Stoke paid only £2 million for him 4 years ago, and that he is at the giddying advanced age of 28. Now Steinberg’s carping now descends to the silly. 28 are considered by most to be the age at which most footballers are at their peak. The problem for West Ham over the years is that their transfer business has recruited players not at their peak, but players who are either young and unproven, or older and at the end of their careers. Any fair evaluation of the recruitment of Arnautovic would recognise this fact. The fact that he cost only £2 million 4 years ago is just irrelevant. There are hundreds of players who have increased their transfer value whilst playing for a club. Nobody blinks an eye if Chelsea or Manchester City pays a higher transfer fee for a player at his peak who was previously recruited for a lesser fee. Why should it be a problem for West Ham?

Hernandez at 29 is apparently another who is ready for the rest home and the lazy life. Whilst it would have been great to have signed Hernandez at 27, when we first wanted him, to suggest he is over the hill now is again carping. I have seen no articles from Steinberg pointing his ammunition at Bournemouth for signing the 34 year old Jermaine Defoe. If Hernandez has anything like the fitness levels he apparently naturally holds we have a player who can reasonably perform for the next 3-4 years at least. Steinberg’s gloomy assessment of Hernandez’s age does not appear to be shared by other football commentators. Commentators writing for the fan base of Manchester United, Tottenham and Arsenal have all bemoaned the fact that West Ham has achieved the Hernandez coup, when they clearly feel he could have done a job for them. But then according to Steinberg all these commentators from other clubs are presumably also lacking judgement, falling into the “short terminism trap.

There is a risk in all transfer business and we will have to see how these recruitments pan out. It is also possible that the club may still, late in the window, invest in more speculative players for the future. Any fair analysis of West Ham transfer policy over the last few seasons would recognise that this is what they have done. Ashley Fletcher was recently sold for a profit, Lanzini’s worth has climbed astronomically since her was signed. Fernandez and Arthur Masuaku all look like proven PL quality signings on the cheap, as was Cheikhou Kouyaté. Even Payer realised a 250% transfer rise in value whilst at West Ham.

The investment in the Academy appears to be finally paying off with a crop of youngsters who may just possibly form the core of another “golden generation” of West ham youngsters. The investment the club makes year in, year out, in its Academy is the very opposite of short terminism.

So in my view it is time for the guardian to recover some it alleged spirit of “balanced reporting” and stop their anti-West Ham bias and sniping.

COYI

David Griffith.

He

St


Talking Point

Just Like Our Dreams - Patience Is The Key.

Blind Hammer argues that despite our recent signings there may still be a need for patience next season.

Football is an emotionally extreme business. This is why we love it, we may face the despair of defeat but we also experience the joy of success. Compare the contrasting emotions last season at the London Stadium after depressing and inept performances against Manchester City, to the ecstasy of beating Chelsea, earlier in the season, and Tottenham late in the season. In a way the magic of football is that the anguish of defeat makes the happy delirium of victory all that much sweeter.

Football thrives on this emotion. The Board criticism and negativity on West Ham Till I Die comments sections and other forums so prevalent a couple of weeks ago have now been transformed into assertions here and elsewhere that the Board has “played a blinder”. Now there is a new positivity approaching the new season.

However all this positivity could evaporate if we lose our first three games away in August, which is not beyond the realms of possibility. The fact will be that even if this happens we could have a good season, despite the need to start out with three away games in a row.

Our new signings have Premier league success behind them. Which should make the task of settling in easier. Despite this past PL experience, some settling in and gelling may be required. Even Scott Parker took a little time to settle in before producing world class performances. The credentials of Zabaleta, Hart, Arnautovic and Hernandez will not guaranteed that all will hit the ground running at 100%. The first Hart mistake will start a narrative about whether he still has what it takes, Zabaleta may face questions about his age, Arnautovic is already experiencing queries about his commitment and work rate and Hernandez will have to thrive in a team which has, for the most part played with one up front rather than the two he is apparently best suited to. In addition injuries to Antonio et al will mean that it will be some time before we can put out our strongest team.

All clubs experience the highs and lows of emotions. However the issue for West Ham is more sensitive and tricky. We still have the problem of negativity surrounding the move to the London Stadium. It is clear that a section of our fan base will never ever forgive the Board for leaving Upton Park and the negativity surrounding this instantly emerges as soon as results take a turn for the worst or transfers seem slow in arriving. It seems that only winning a trophy or again qualifying for Europe will ever quell this negativity.

All this matters because we materially affect the quality of player’s performances with the quality of our support. The club has, as I reported in a recent post, revealed how some players need emotional and psychological support in dealing with criticism not just from the terraces but from the ever burgeoning arena of the blogosphere and social media.

The extent a crowd can influence games was revealed to me not at West Ham but another club. As a young man I lived in Liverpool between 1973 and 1978. Whilst remaining a true Hammer throughout these years I did stand on the Kop every other week, and Liverpool during this period became temporarily my second team, unless of course they were playing West Ham. The legendary support the Kop gave Liverpool in those years was extraordinary. It is now apparently consigned to history and the Liverpool crowd is nowadays as critical as any other. However in those years the extent to which the Kop could influence games was something I have never witnessed before or since. The support was unbelievably positive. If Liverpool went, on the rare occasion, a goal down, the support became louder. If they went 2 goals down the support got even louder. When Liverpool played St Etienne, in 1977 they were playing a shocker. They lost the first leg 1-0, a margin of defeat which could easily have been more. Despite Kevin Keegan scoring on the return leg, Dominique Bathenay spectacularly put the classy French side ahead again and their superiority seemed assured. Liverpool seemed down and out, requiring 2 to overcome the French away goal. The Kop had other ideas, and roared the team on to eventual victory. First Kennedy equalised the scores before “super sub” David Fairclough scored the winner with 6 minutes to go to send the Kop into delirium. It was for me definitely the Kop that won it that night. I could see in those days. Well enough to see the players faces. Even whilst winning the St Etienne players were clearly being unnerved by the Kop, whilst the Liverpool players seemed to grow and gain strength from this support as the game progressed.

Now I have been similarly witness to fantastic comebacks by West Ham, feeding on support from the crowd, I will never forget the Trevor Brooking inspired comeback to ultimate victory against Eintrecht Frankfurt. However, whilst our crowd can reach the heights, we can also turn on players. During this past era of the 70s I never heard the Kop turn on a single Liverpool player, no matter what mistakes they made. Instead they made them feel 10 feet tall. This unconditional and fervent support was Liverpool’s secret weapon during the 70s. .

Unconditional support like this is probably unrealistic nowadays. People pay incredibly more for their match tickets compared to the 70s and this must increase the sense of grievance when a team does not perform. This unconditional support has vanished at Liverpool as much as anywhere else.

However this upcoming season for West Ham is critical in a number of ways. Upton Park is no more and like it or not we have to make the London Stadium our fortress. Speculating on various disasters or the need to move on to another location will not help the team one jot in settling in. The Board have to my mind, delivered on what they promised at the start of the transfer window. We have, as supporters, just as critical a role to play. When our new look team takes the pitch against Huddersfield. For our first game we need to make them feel they are at home and can thrive on our support. Huddersfield will not be easy and expectations of a victory will be high for us. Our team has struggled with this expectation against so called lesser teams in the past. . Huddersfield will feel like they are at Wembley again in a massive stadium and may well raise their game as a result, as others did last season. Our job will be to make this task as difficult as possible for Huddersfield, no matter how well they are playing, and easy as possible for our team, however limited the levels of their performance. Encouragement nearly always works better than the stick of criticism.

COYI

David Griffith


Copyright © 2017 Iain Dale Limited. Terms and conditions. Cookies.
Website by Russell Brown.