The Blind Hammer Column

Why Capacity Matters.

Blind Hammer looks at why this week’s agreement is a significant victory for West Ham

The agreement that West Ham can now apply to increase seating to 60,000, and further can now plan investment to increase this to 66,000 will unlock a key part of the new Stadium Project.

There are of course pessimists who dismiss West Ham’s ability to sell these seats. Pessimists predicted, before the Stadium move, that we would not sell the required Season Tickets. Many, as recently as last year, claimed that we would not even sell out this season.

However these pessimists have consistently been proved wrong. West Ham already has the largest number of season ticket holders in London. This figure will now rise.

I am convinced that we will fill not just 60,000 but the 66,000. What is certain is that games against Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea, Liverpool Manchester United and City will continue to sell out even at 66,000.

West Ham are rightly confident because of the demand for Premier League Season Tickets and the relative competitiveness of the prices they can offer. This is the massive advantage that the London Stadium and the lack of a requirement to repay Capital costs provide. MY own season ticket offers extraordinary value at £299, a concessionary price for a Blind Supporter.

There are 2 unforeseen consequences of this policy. The first is that West Ham have attracted adverse comment because not all seats sold are always filled. I think that club insiders have admitted that there is an issue with the 10,000 £99 Season Tickets sold to children. Not all of these seats are filled for every game, especially midweek fixtures. Despite this I personally support this investment in building a new generation of supporters. They are West Ham’s future. However expanding the Children’s scheme still further should not be a priority now.

I understand that the club is also taking steps to monitor those enjoying these reduced prices, but who do not attend. People who regularly miss games because they have a cheap ticket in effect devalue their rights. It is an enormous privilege to attend Premier League fixtures on these terms. People who regularly miss fixtures should expect to have their continued right to a ticket queried.

Secondly, the doubling of the Season Ticket Holder Customer base attracted some who were not necessarily lifelong supporters. I have personal knowledge of a Disabled Season Ticket Holder who supported Liverpool. He was attracted to purchase a Season Ticket because of the excellence of the Disabled Access and the ability to watch Premier League teams at an affordable price.

Yet an interesting thing is happening to this supporter. Despite his previous allegiances he is now turning up wearing a West Ham shirt and scarf. He is no longer a “neutral”. He is now celebrating goals and suffering disappointment alongside lifelong supporters like me.

This is part of the natural evolving and building of a new supporter base. People who start to attend games may not initially present an encyclopaedic knowledge of the clubs history and traditions. This will come over time. My father was a West Ham supporter when they played at the Memorial Ground, and was a supporter when they first moved to Upton Park. At both these ground traditions and history had to be built. The same will happen at the London Stadium.

The London Stadium now offers thousands more the opportunity to watch West Ham. These extra thousands, especially the younger new supporters, will evolve their passions and history in the same way as supporters have always done.

The great attraction for West Ham is that the infrastructure is largely there. Extra toilets and services will be required, but seating areas are already existent in the ground. Filling these will improve atmosphere still further.

Finally capacity really does matter. . Manchester United organised 75,000 seats at Old Trafford. Tottenham were determined that their new 62,000 ground was bigger than Arsenal’s 60,000 Emirates Stadium. Chelsea are fretting because they are trapped on 42,000. . Newcastle with 52,000, Liverpool with 54,000, and Manchester city with 55,000 all invest in Stadium Capacity because it matters. A recent analysis attributed Everton’s long standing competitive disadvantage to Liverpool as directly attributable to the inequality in capacity between Goodison and Anfield. Liverpool’s entertainment of 14,000 more supporters creates a massive commercial advantage over not just one season, but decades of seasons. Over time hundreds of thousands more supporters will watch Liverpool as opposed to Everton. Engagement and passions of supporters will always build greater in a Stadium as opposed to the more passive TV experience. That is why Everton are so determined to build a new ground.

Brady’s bravura performance at the London Assembly, allied to the disaster awaiting any continuation of E20 ill-fated legal obstructionism, has finally forced an abandonment of previous petulance. Both LLDC and E20 will apparently now seek a positive commercial partnership with West Ham. The scandal of their failure to attract a naming rights sponsor for the Stadium should now be resolved. There is no doubt that a stadium with a capacity of 66,000 should have a far greater opportunity to sell these rights.

COYI
David Griffith


The Blind Hammer Column

Can VAR Help West Ham?

Blind Hammer looks at the evidence for VAR aiding West Ham.

This season José Mourinho has trotted out a number of excuses. His explanation for the inept performance against us was the lack of VAR. He insisted that it would have disallowed 2 of West Ham’s goals.

It is fascinating that Mourinho should favour VAR. It is especially interesting given the benefit that Manchester United have received from referees over the years. You might expect that Man United, more than most, would lose out under VAR.

We should remember the 2016 FA cup quarter final at Old Trafford. Then our Payet inspired team were denied by 2 crucial refereeing mistakes. Firstly Payet was denied a clear penalty when Rojo slid in from behind and was nowhere near the ball. The second error was arguably even worse. Bastian Schweinsteiger held goalkeeper Darren Randolph immobile and prevented him responding to Martial’s late equaliser.

There is a wide perception that Referees favour bigger teams with key decisions. Some try to deny this. They argue for example that Manchester United and other “bigger” clubs receive more free kicks and penalty awards as a natural consequence of spending more time in and around opponent’s penalty areas. It is their reward for pressure and attacking play.

Recently Mark Halsey angrily denied on TalkSport that Referees are biased towards the big team. He insisted Referees entered games with no agendas and tried to adjudicate as objectively as possible.

Yet Halsey completely misses the point. Nobody seriously suggests Referees are consciously biased. However there is increasing evidence that they are unconsciously persuaded. There is academic evidence, for example, that Referees decisions are affected by the pressure of home crowds.

Graham Poll admitted as much in a recent interview for the Daily Mail. He described his belief, whilst refereeing, that there was no favour shown towards big team. Now however, he is retired he can see that bigger teams benefit. However he insists this is an unconscious process that Referees are not aware of.

The point is that there is, now, enormous scrutiny on referees. Any contentious decision given against a high profile team will expose a referee to a tremendous examination. This inquest will be led by pundits across the media. Videos will be inspected microscopically to identify the slightest error.

This scrutiny places a pressure to err on the side of caution when making a key decision against a “big" team. In contrast, the consequence of making a contentious decision against a lower profile team is far less.

All this is supported by 2013 Leicester University research which tested referees by asking them to adjudicate on key decisions by watching videos. In one sample they asked Referees to make decisions with sound muted. They then played these incidents with the full crowd noise associated with the incident. Not surprisingly the research showed a clear influence from crowd noise which influenced referees to adjudicate more in favour of the home team.

All this proves is that Referees are human and can be influenced by pressure as much as anybody else.

The safety net of VAR may just give Referees the confidence to make decisions they may otherwise feel too intimidated to make. Manchester United, alongside other big clubs may become the biggest losers under VAR.

On the face of it, the impact of VAR on West Ham, as opposed to the bigger clubs, is not so clear. There is little reason to expect that, in the general round of matches, West Ham will benefit more or less. The often quoted cliché is that “over a season these things will even out”.

Yet this indifference ignores a deeper consequence of VAR. If West Ham are to ever win another Trophy they will almost certainly have to overcome a bigger team like Liverpool, or Manchester United or City.

This task is difficult enough without a referee unconsciously pressurised to make mistakes which favour the bigger teams. In 2016 Martin Atkinson allowed this pressure to force him into key mistakes which prevented West Ham progressing to a Semi Finals.

Although we will suffer as well as benefit from VAR in the years ahead, it is precisely against the bigger teams, in these key matches, that VAR may just help to even things up.

COYI
David Griffith


The Blind Hammer Column

Good riddance

Blind Hammer considers proposals for a European Super League

The perennial “spectra” of a European Super League has raised it noisome head again. This story is trotted out from time to time as the European Super Rich clubs attempt to exhort even more money from TV Companies at the expense of smaller clubs.

This story is based on an arrogance self-justification that only these tiny elite have teams that people want to watch. The often quoted slight is that “nobody wants to watch Stoke”. Despite the fact that Stoke have slipped into the Championship the idea that nobody wants to watch them is news to the many thousands of loyal season ticket holders at the bet365 Stadium. Certainly the atmosphere generated by passionate supporters at Stoke far exceeds that routinely produced at the so called glamour clubs.

Arsenal’s emirates Stadium is famously nicknamed the “Library”. Manchester City players have expressed concern about the lack of atmosphere at the Etihad whilst the BBC reported that Manchester United planned to distribute song sheets" to try and wake up their somnolent crowd. The idea that the super-rich clubs routinely produce exciting football clashes is a complete fallacy. The endemic lack of atmosphere and excitement is precisely fueled by inequality and predictable match outcomes for many games.

There is a section of our support which whine relentlessly about our so called “Soulless Athletics Bowl”. Despite this, some of the “neutral” sighted guides who take me to the London Stadium cannot understand this negativity. They report that the London Stadium has far better atmosphere than they experience on their visits to the emirates and Stamford Bridge. When we play well, the Stadium rocks.

Not just the rest of the Premiership, but in fact the Championship also has crowds and atmosphere exceeding some of the so called “Elite” European teams.

The tragic Helicopter crash at the king power stadium returned Leicester’s dramatic title winning season to the limelight. Their success was described as a once in a life time defiance of 5000 to 1 odds.

Yet before the distortion provided by unequal foreign investment and the ossification of the “top 4” by Champions League riches, Leicester’s success would never have attracted such astronomical odds. Derby won the First Division after a similar triumph in Division 2. Teams like Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest were not only able to win the Title but go on to conquer Europe. Few supporters of those clubs, after their European triumphs, could have imagined that we could have created a league structure where only a tiny minority could ever realistically win.

This frozen dominance of the “Gang of Five” is achieved by the tremendous disparity in revenues they have managed to perpetuate. If we read their intentions now they want to force an even greater disparity in resources, allowing them to hoover up even more of the cream of the world’s football and managerial talent. All the rest will be structually forced to act as “also rans”. . Turnover figures do not lie, in general over time, those clubs with most revenues will win most. This pattern persists across all of Europe.

This creates a weary predictability for the outcomes of most matches involving these elite clubs. Manchester City, with the resources of not just a billionaire, but an entire oil rich country should, theoretically, hardly ever lose. They has assumed an almost ridiculous superiority. Manchester United looks on enviously, whilst Liverpool Arsenal and Chelsea circle around for the trophy scraps left by any failure by City.

Some competitive interest is provided by Tottenham, whose recent attempts to break into this elite has created terror amongst Manchester United supporters that they may fall from this elite.

Curiously Tottenham are not invited to the top table. Money talks and their turnover does not currently approach even that of teams like Liverpool, let alone Chelsea United and City.

The depressing result is that fans of these so called “elite” clubs turn up to largely silent stadiums for most matches outside of the “top of the table” clashes". This silence is fueled by a quiet expectation of success and lack of competitiveness. One of my guides described his visit to Arsenal’s 5-1 victory over Everton as one of the quietest games he had ever attended. Nobody is surprised when City put 6 goals past Southampton. This inequality led predictability reduces drama, decreases the chance of shock results and generally stifles tension and excitement.

Despite my pleasure in attending West Ham’s demolition of Manchester United I refuse to be intimidated by any threats to leave by these arrogant “Super Rich” clubs. Last weekend’s success against lowly Burnley gave the lie to the claim that "nobody wants to watch these games.

If the Super Rich want to saunter off into a privileged "Super League”, with no threat of relegation then just let us wave them goodbye.

In reality a “Mega Elite” almost certainly led by Manchester city and PSG will emerge even in this elite tier. Both city and PSG have benefited from massive resources artificially injected by their Billionaire owners. UEFA FFP rules are demonstrably ineffectual and fail to prevent owners proceeding with relative impunity. Even former giants of Global Football , Real Madrid and Barcelona, are reportedly struggling to compete financially against these new European Goliaths .

Most of the rest will again become also runs. Without the threat of relegation such a league would quickly lose it critical tension and competitiveness. Only a few top games would really count. It would eventually become exhibition fare , a footballing equivalent of the \Harlem Globetrotters.

England is not Scotland where only Rangers and Celtic attract mass audiences. There are plenty of clubs remaining with massive support to engender competitive interest beyond the narrow geographical confines of North West england and London. . A PL denuded of the so called top five might just be more interesting with clubs like Leeds united, Sheffield United, Nottingham Forest, Norwhich and Aston Villa joining the fray.

The result might just be that clubs like West Ham will again have a realistic chance of Title success. The available resources, whilst reduced will almost certainly be shared more equally without the distortion of foreign investment and ridiculous wages.

COYI
David Griffith


The Blind Hammer Column

Was This Result Really Season Defining?

Blind Hammer reflects on a double blow inflicted by the Cockerels. *

A lot of West Ham fans will be, like me, down in the dumps this morning. The 2 home games against Tottenham were set up to be season defining games. The second game last night, in particular, was hard to swallow. West Ham had an ideal opportunity, at home against a Tottenham stretched to spread their resources over 2 games in 48 hours.

However despite this disappointment, some perspective is needed. Steady nerves are required in the important weeks ahead. We already knew that this squad does not have sufficient quality in depth. The first game against Tottenham exposed this. Recent bad injuries has revealed fragilities in a developing squad. When you sign several players you will rarely find all the recruits find form and fire immediately. Anderson continues to disappoint, but the bright performances Diangana, Rice and Diop are all plusses from our situation last season. Snodgrass has been rediscovered as a squad resource. Balbuena is definitely an upgrade and Zabaleta has delivered form I never believed he had for a second season.

Last night reinforced the case for squad strengthening in January. I argued last week Mario should be ushered back as soon as possible. Other early target are required to resolve the obvious lack of support and cover for Arnautovic up front. Sadly Chico has not taken his opportunities. He looks on his way out now.

Yet those who really believe our season has been defined for the worst last night would do well to remember that exactly 12 months ago Marco Arnautovic was slated as a waste of money and languishing on the wing. He recovered to become Hammer of the Year.

The season is, in reality, in its infancy. There is still time for Wilshere and even Anderson to come good. These strengths are required for the weeks ahead, not least starting with our game against Burnley on Saturday.

So let’s try and keep the faith on a difficult morning.
COYI

David Griffith


The Blind Hammer Column

Time To Go Again In January

Blind Hammer looks at Squad Depth Ahead of January.

Despite record investment, the injury curse has hit West Ham again. Two important summer recruits, Sanchez and Yarmolenko have suffered season terminating injuries, whilst Wilshere’s predictable enforced absences have materialised.

Obiang’s absence from the Spurs game exposed our wafer tin midfield and reminded us to his previous injury proneness. A similar injury now to Rice or Noble would place us under enormous pressure.

Parallel pressure is evident up front where Arnautovic is playing through the pain barrier. Hernandez and Antonio are both struggling through injury / illness to find any form.

Predictions for the return of Lanzini are probably as reliable as the perennial optimism as to the imminent availability of Andy Carroll. The sad fact is that for Lanzini, and indeed Yarmolenko a successful return from these serious injuries must be seen as a bonus and not a certainty.

The value of West Ham retaining Snodgrass is evident now he has shown flexibility in covering a variety of midfield roles. Whilst Grady Diangana’s promise is undeniable, we cannot yet build a team around him.

The player we should be building the team around, Anderson, is finding life in the PL difficult. This is not surprising. Last season Mario experienced similar initial challenges.

However Mario eventually showed he could thrive, and I would be knocking on Inter’s door now for his return.

Only 7 days ago I thought left back was a primary recruitment goal, but Cresswell has shown he remains a PL performer, and there are now other priorities.

Centre midfield needs bolstering in addition to Mario’s return. Central defence also seems thin.

Above all we must organise some support for an increasingly frail looking Arnautovic. This is important not just to ensure his season long availability. It is also important to prevent West Ham becoming predictable. We cannot become “one trick pony”. We must prevent opponents strategising “stop Arnautovic, and you will stop West Ham.”

In the summer the last thing we thought we would need was a busy January. This though is the situation we face. We must identify targets now so that they arrive early, rather than late in the window. Solid recruitment is needed rather than speculative expectations of returning injured talent. We cannot gamble on revived performances from long term absentees such as Carroll, Lanzini, and Winston Reid.

Any pruning of a temporarily bloated squad will have to wait until the summer.
COYI
David Griffith


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