The Blind Hammer Column

It’s Only a Game- ? The Passions of Football

Blind Hammer argues that Football is much more than a game.

England departed the World Cup last night after what the BBC described as the “heartache” of defeat. England fans shared in the disappointment which has afflicted the vast majority of sides departing this competition.

The BBC did not exaggerate. The emotions involved in supporting Football teams are sometimes raw and very real. These emotions emerge in the support of both our national and club sides. Genuine tears of both joy and anguish are shed every year as critical events determine the outcomes of crucial fixtures.

Some people do not get this. They look on from the side-lines; bemused, often murmuring “it’s only a game”.

Yet I think following the fortunes of a football team is so much more than simply playing a game. Supporting England over the last few weeks provided the opportunity to reach out to a sense of community and national identity. Very few activities offer similar opportunities. Sport in general and most definitely Football in particular offer safe access to a range of emotions we would never otherwise encounter in our lives. Football can literally provide a safe arena where we can experience the range of human emotions, both positive and negative, in a way we could not otherwise enjoy or endure.

One of the most thought provoking books I have ever read was Pinker’s “The Better Angels of Our nature”. What he assembles in this book is a mass of archaeological, anthropological and historical records to show how violent Human Societies have been over the millennia of our existence as a species. In more ancient times we would, as tribes, clans or simply vassals of a feudal lord, have experienced more routinely the very real collective thrill of victory or trauma of defeat. The adrenaline high of victory achieved against real risk to life and limb can, nowadays, only be imagining by most of us. On the other hand we would shy away from the raw emotions accompanying defeat the grief of bereavement, mutilation or enslavement.

Happily most of us no longer live in societies where the risk from death, injury or imprisonment is a daily threat. Despite this I think there is something in our collective psyche which yearns for these emotional highs and lows. A safe window to these passions can be opened by Football. Sadly to fully realise the joys of victory we normally have to realise the disappointment of defeat. The joy of England winning their first ever World Cup Penalty Shoot-Out was undoubtedly heightened by our relief from the disappointments of previous tournaments.

The experience of most Football supporters, certainly West Ham Supporters, is that of experiencing both the joy of victory but the disappointment of defeat. The contract between these high and lows provide a relief from the hum drum routine greyness of our lives. They provide dramatic memories which stay with us for all our lives. Those who say it” only a game” just do not get it. They are the ones missing the unforgettable experience of unconditional collective joy. The grabbing and hugging of a stranger, both celebrating in the success of a West ham goal.

Despite the disappointment of eventual defeat our lives are enriched by the safe access to these emotions.

We can only hope that the upcoming season offers compensatory joy for West Ham supporters.

COYI

David Griffith.


The Blind Hammer Column

Heaven or Hell?

Blind Hammer examines a possible unexpected downside to an England World Cup triumph

Like most West Ham supporters I have been cheering on the progress of the England team. Tuesday’s game was an agony I don’t want to repeat even if it did in the end deliver ecstasy. During the penalty shootout I decided that I definitely needed to do the washing up. Once Henderson missed his penalty I went one step further and turned my Five Live Commentary off. Luckily my wife was made of sterner stuff. She stayed in the living room, doggedly watching the Television, and shouted through the glad news of Colombia’s Penalty miss. I turned Five Live back on to hear Pickford’s save and Dier’s winning strike.

There is always a danger of counting chickens before they are hatched, or as they apparently say in Russia “sharing the Fur before the Bear is shot”.

Nevertheless the extent to which England’s half of the draw has opened up is extraordinary. I will be personally cheering Belgium on against Brazil. It is possible that England could win the World Cup with just 3 more victories against Sweden, Croatia and Belgium.

The chances are still that England will stumble at some stage but with each hard fought match they succeed in the expectations will rise exponentially. It is likely that England will never have such a cleareropportunity to win the World Cup in most of our lifetimes. Many West Ham supporters will not have been born in 1966 to witness England’s triumph.

Nevertheless a huge chunk of our pride as West Ham Supporters is built on our club’s contribution of star striker in Geoff Hurst, a hat trick hero in the final. The subtle but lethal midfield skills of Martin Peters, who also scored in the Final,, and of course above all the supreme defensive and captaincy skills of Bobby Moore.

Despite our relative trophy starvation in the intervening years this contribution to our World Cup triumph was unmatched by any other Club. Nobody could claim anything like a similar contribution.

This could potentially all change in the next 10 days. If England wins the World Cup, West Ham will not have contributed a single player. The situation for Tottenham will be very different. Not only will they have contributed England’s star striker in Harry Kane, but also Kane as a talismanic captain. It is likely that England will again rely on the Midfield skills of Tottenham’s Dele Alli. It is possible that Eric dier will feature in either midfield or defence. It seems likely that Danny Rose will enter the team to cover for Young’s injury.

In other words an England World Cup Triumph could be built upon the key contributions of not just 3 but 4 Tottenham players. Over a third of the team could be provided by our North London rivals.

So whilst we may still hope for the delirious Heaven of an England World Cup victory this would be tempered by the longer term Hell of facing the smugness of our North London Rivals. We would never hear the last of it. The Tottenham supporting media would have a field day. How the Spurs of 2018 had exceeded the West Ham contribution of 1966.

This is a price we would have to endure, be grown up about, in the interest of a once in a lifelong National opportunity. However if England do fail to achieve their World Cup pinnacle I will at least have the consolation of not having to endure any overweening Spurs self-satisfaction in the months and years ahead.

COYI
David Griffith


The Blind Hammer Column

Whither Snodgrass?

Blind Hammer evaluates Snodgrass.

Robert Snodgrass argues he did not have a fair chance at West Ham. Despite West Ham inmvesting investing a significant transfer fee, He claims he was prevented from playing in his strongest position. He was mystified to learn he was intended as a Payet replacement.

Snodgrass found he was largely deployed on the left rather than in his preferred role on the right. This hindered his West Ham performance. However it is striking that, reflecting on his career as a whole, it seems that only at West Ham that he has failed.

His success at Hull and other clubs were built upon his proficiency on creating assists and goals from the right. This record in assists motivated his original recruitment. He replicated this success in his Championship stint at Villa.

I do not recall West Ham ever deploying Snodgrass in his preferred role. It was not surprising that he was off loaded to Villa. What was surprising was that once at Villa he suffered the bizarre derogatory comments of Brady and Sullivan. Even if Brady and Sullivan did share negative views, it surely did nothing to enhance his transfer value.

As last season’s panned out, with Antonio’s loss of form, injuries and disciplinary travails, Snodgrass may well have proved a useful option. Moyes was reportedly interested in an early return but the loan terms did not allow this.

So Pellegrini will finally have the option to run the rule over Snodgrass. What is in Snodgrass’s favour is his proven record in delivering goals and assists. He also has skills at delivering set pieces. We are also depleted in midfield creativity due to Lanzini’s career threatening injury.

Pellegrini’s assessment will be affected by 2 main, longer terms, factors which could count against the Scot. Firstly Pellegrini’s desire to recruit further midfield talent is widely known. The second is that messages are emerging that the priority now is for pace to be introduced all over a new athletic West Ham. Snodgrass does not fit this pace profile.

Yet Pellegrini will need squad depth as well as quality. An exciting first 11 will always be vulnerable to injury. Snodgrass may be the quality needed to tackle lower league opposition in early rounds of both the League and FA Cup. Snodgrass is also that rare commodity, a proven performer at Premiership Level, even if he has not shown this at West Ham yet. There is a risk with all recruitment, the risk for Snodgrass would not be that great.

Snodgrass’s eventual squad replacement is likely to emerge with the developing talents of Nathan Holland. Yet Holland has already shown vulnerability to injury. Snodgrass has vast experience and could provide a useful mentoring role for Holland. He could provide a steadier role model than the more erratic example of Antonio. If Snodgrass can help develop Holland’s game awareness he may justify his retention on these grounds alone.
COYI
David Griffith


The Blind Hammer Column

The World Cup and the Premier League England Expects?

*Blind Hammer compares Premier League and National teams *

England’s defeat against Belgium was perhaps a timely reality check. Given that both sides did not field their first 11, it was a game allegedly neither was keen to win; Belgium nevertheless demonstrated greater squad depth and skill.

Despite entering this World Cup with more realistic expectations, excitement had grown after England’s initial victories. The record breaking score against a poor Panama side, in particular, awakened optimism that this side could unexpectedly advance.

The defeat against Belgium suggested that the new dawn may not be as bright as some hope. Russia’s performances against relatively poor sides also came to a grinding halt when they came up against Uruguay.

As West ham supporters we are all used to managing expectations in the Premier League. In an idle moment it started me thinking of possible equivalence between competing National sides and teams in the Premier League. Such an equivalence could guide realistic expectations.

The point is that we all know that West Ham can beat Chelsea, Manchester United or Manchester city on their day. However we have realistic expectations of the chances of this happening.

So can we draw some equivalence between the status and expected performance of national sides and PL clubs? It may stretch a point but I would offer the following for discussion.

Brazil -Manchester City
As clear competition favourites Brazil have the match winning combination of stars which can blow away any side in the world .
Like Manchester City they start favourites against any team they face. Like City they are not invincible. Despite dominating large parts of a game they can have periods of defensive vulnerability.

*Belgium – *Liverpool
Belgium, as the new kids on the block, are providing the match winning performers to break the traditional mould of the World’s elite sides. This is much the same as for Liverpool who are now gate crashing the PL’s traditional top four. Both sides rely on attacking flair rather than defensive solidity.

Spain – Manchester United
Like Manchester United Spain have immense tradition and resources to draw upon. Barcelona and Real Madrid provide access to a powerful pool of football talent. Like Manchester United Spain are not the power that they once were. Despite their tradition it is not clear that they are delivering the success that their followers expect.

Argentina – Arsenal
Like Arsenal in the PL Argentina are not irrelevant to the World cup. However both are definitely a faded force. Their supporters look back to days of past glory rather than any prospects of new achievements. Both sides need serious rebuilding if they are to re-emerge at the top table.

Uruguay – Tottenham
Uruguay most resembles the Tottenham of the pack of competing Nations at the World cup. They are the outsiders unexpectedly poking their noses and elbows in at the top table. Despite the flair of Tottenham, compared to the solidity of Uruguay, they most resemble each other as the once outsiders now intruding.
France – Chelsea
In the same way it is not impossible to imagine Chelsea winning the Premier League next season it would not be a complete shock if France departed Russia with the trophy. However both sides are also in the process of starting to to rebuild. The situation is not as serious as for France and Argentina but it does take the gloss of considering either of them as the finished article at the moment.

England – Everton
England is are definitely outsiders for this competition. Nobody expects them to win it. Yet Leicester won the Premier League against expectations. Despite this I think England is higher than Leicester in terms of normal expectations. . England most resembles Everton in terms of expected performance. There is a level of consistency which always gets them out of the qualifying groups but we have rarely looked like achieving any serious hope of landing silver ware in the business end of competitions.
And finally
Colombia – West Ham
It feels most disloyal to equate West ham with Colombia on one level but this is the most likely equivalence I can find. In Rodriguez Colombia have a match winner who can perform against any competition. On their day Colombia could possibly beat any team in the World, despite this they would rarely expect to do so. Sounds familiar to me.

Of course this is all for discussion only and not for serous argument!

COYI
David Griffith


The Blind Hammer Column

Whither Kouyate?

Blind Hammer analyses Cheikhou Kouyate’s World Cup.

Cheikhou Kouyate’s World Cup has not gone to plan. During Senegal’s Qualification he was ever present. He had earnt a promotion to Captain. The 2018 World Cup was envisaged as his proudest moment, the pinnacle of his football achievements.

As Captain he faced the media to stress how important the competition was.

“”The World Cup is a competition that takes place every four years and it is not given to everyone to take part, we have the chance now to participate and we will prepare well to please the Senegalese people. We want to write our own story.”

Kouyate’s status as Captain and his evident poise in front of the media has not, however, persuaded Senegalese Manager, Aliou Cisse, that he merited a start either against Poland or Japan. Kouyate is not reported as suffering from or carrying any injury.

Kouyate appeared only as a late substitute, 7 minutes from time, to help Senegal resist late pressure in their victory against Poland. After initially struggling, manhandling a Polish attacker, Kouyate made an important tackle to help Senegal preserve their lead.

This did not persuade Cisse to start Kouyate against Japan. Kouyate was however, introduced after 67 minutes to help counter act Japan’s midfield dominance. He could not, though, prevent what was, in Senegalese eyes, a disappointing draw.

Kouyate’s introduction into midfield was interesting. It was confidently predicted before the World Cup that he would, unlike his role at West Ham, play a key role in the centre of the Senegal Defence. This was in no small part due to Aliou Cisse’s desire to build a midfield around the undoubted talents of Everton’s Idrissa Gueye. Gueye had achieved outstanding performance ratings in what was an awkward season for Everton.

Yet Aliou Cisse has, so far, resisted any opportunity to deploy Kouyate in this alternative defensive role, preferring the partnership of Salif Sane and Kalidou Koulibaly.

This presents a worry for West Ham. If Kouyate is not performing at a sufficient level to force his way into the Senegal team, it becomes questionable as to whether he still has the capabilities to dominate Premiership Midfield battels in the way he once did.

There may be a ray of light for Kouyate though.

Aliou Cisse has a ruthless streak. As well as dropping his captain for the first 2 games he took no prisoners after Senegal’s disappointing draw against Japan. He expressed dissatisfaction that Senegal had twice conceding an equaliser. He had no compunction in pointing the finger of blame at Kalidou Koulibaly and Salif Sane. He stressed the need for rigour and concentration.

The extent to which Kouyate has fallen out of favour will be illuminated by Cisse’s selections for their final game against Colombia. Cisse lambasting of his team’s defensive performance seems to suggest that there is at least a possibility of a recall for Kouyate. There may just be a chance that he can make a belated contribution to a Senegal cause which may finally kick start his World Cup. This ironically may come most significantly in a knock out game against England. If Kouyate can reclaim his place and confidence we may just have the player back we once admired. At worse a positive World Cup legacy will enhance any incoming Transfer fee. West Ham supporters should be keeping a keen eye on the performances of Senegal and Kouyate in particular.
COYI
David Griffith


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