The GoatyGav Column

Super Fab? Footballing Cycles & The F.A. Cup

Second week on the spin for disparate subjects but bear with me as there is a link.

In the Burnley match I heard a few choruses of “Super, Super Fab, Super Fab Balbuena!” Before then I was singing a similar song but with Fabianski’s name instead. Seems there might be a bit of competition for who claims that particular chant between ‘The General’ and our Polish number 1.

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When he first arrived at the club there was some discussion over whether ?ukasz Fabia?ski would establish himself as first choice between the sticks for us. He had his work cut out, IMO, because of the cult hero status of Adrian. Whatever happens to our current Spanish keeper he’ll always have a special place in our hearts as fans. Yes, he’s been capable of the odd howler of a game, but for the most part he’s proven himself an excellent shot stopper. It’s as much, however, his attitude, clear love for the club and the genuine, heart on the sleeve, honesty of the man that so many of us admire. So when he was displaced by LF the new signing had a job to convince us. I’m pleased to say that the Polish stopper has come through the test with shining colours. He’s been incredible. How much of the Balbuena & Diop confident partnership that’s developing is down to the keeper should not be underestimated. Maybe it’s the other way around? Well – yes, that can be argued but what you can’t deny are so many of the excellent saves that he’s made so far this season.

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With Fabianski’s first clean sheet, since the Macclesfield rout in September, now registered I wouldn’t back against the former Poznan, Warsaw, Arsenal and Swansea man to go on to play the best football of his career with us. Now 33 years of age he has the commanding presence that his extensive experience lends him. When you look at some of the saves he’s made since joining you might be mistaken, if you weren’t aware of the fact, in believing he’s much younger – such has been his agility and conditioning.

Successful teams all tend to have a very solid base of the ‘spine’. Our current two Centre Backs and Goalkeeper provide a sound basis to build upon. With all three new signings in these positions now adapting, both to the league, in the case of the outfield positions, and to each other, the confidence seems to grow with each passing game. This weekend the likes of Anderson and Noble, deservedly, took the plaudits. The unsung heroes, however, were Diop and the two ‘Super Fabs’. What remains to be seen, or heard, is whether our Paraguyan defensive rock or our 6ft 3in stopper retains the ‘Super Fab’ chant. Either way it’s, sadly, hard to see Adrian staying beyond January as, at 31 years old, he’s going to want first team football. From a selfish point of view I hope I’m wrong and we manage to retain both goalies but I wouldn’t hold it against the Spaniard for wanting to play more regularly. Whatever happens we’re unlikely to have a keeper who cares as much as Adrian San Miguel del Castillo cares about us again in the future.

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One thing that I’m not finding so difficult, away from the thought of losing our glove shedding, penalty scoring, goalkeeping hero is the belief that the team’s confidence can keep growing. I think that 8th position should be the expectation along with a cup run to be proud of. Tonight’s draw saw us pitted against Birmingham, in an excellent home draw, in the 3rd round. Always my favourite footballing weekend of the year the 3rd round is the most dramatic stage of the season for me. The magic of the cup never died in my view. So what if Manchester United once decided to pull out? Who cares if pundits and media suggest it’s had it’s day? The David and Goliath matches where the underdogs punch above their weight, sometimes providing the most theatrical and interesting of shocks and stories (second, maybe, to Leicester’s Premier League win), are where it’s at. The cups also provide clubs like ours with their best opportunity to win silverware. I know I’ve written about this before but this cup, this year, offers a very special chance.

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Listening to a sports phone in last night I was amused and entertained by one caller in particular. I have to admit that it was quite easy listening as I smiled wryly at the Manchester Unite fan explaining how he’d ‘had enough’ of the current manager, the way his team is playing, being outside of the top four and the lack of recent success. I couldn’t be absolutely certain but I guessed that the ‘supporter’ was of a certain age that, most probably, meant he grew up in an era when his team were winning awards practically every season. Premier League titles, Champion’s League trophies, Cups and international tournament accolades galore year in year out. The thing that occurred to me was that this fan was completely unaware that periods of footballing triumph go in cycles. Arsenal dominated in the ‘30’s. Liverpool reigned supreme in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s. His team, under Alex Ferguson, won the lot in the ‘90’s and noughties. Saying you’ve ‘had enough’ because your team ‘only’ won the League Cup the previous season and are lying in 7th in the league this term provided all the evidence I needed to back up my opinion that this fan was naïve enough to think his team should be dominating ‘ad infinitum’. Sam Allardyce once, foolishly, called us deluded. I don’t think it would be too far off the mark to suggest that many of the same generation of Manchester United fans, to the aforementioned caller to the radio show, are deluded in their belief that they should always be winning games and gongs season after season.

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Bringing it back to West Ham I’ve got a gut feeling that the cycle I referred to above is about to turn our way. I’m not saying that we’re going to win anything. I hope with all my heart that we do but I’m convinced that exciting times are ahead for us. As for the very special chance the cup offers us? A good cup run this season could well act as a start of that cyclical return to a highly competitive West Ham and, especially for the West Ham contemporaries of those Manchester United fans who’ve grown up on nothing but success, that’s what we all want.

So off to Cardiff tonight – looking forward to a great game and a couple of beers as I’m not driving :) .

COYI! West Ham 4 The Cup!


The GoatyGav Column

Nasri, Man City and Cup Fever

Samir Nasri – Who Is Looking To Sign Him?

Always in the market for a bargain. Our owners are businessmen at heart and a big part of running a profitable business is cutting your costs. So when a striker with Premier League experience, who has won titles and plied his trade in the Champion’s League, becomes available on a free surely any club owner worth his salt much be looking to take advantage? Well, as we all know, football is no ordinary business.

Nasri was found guilty of an anti-doping charge involving micronutrients being delivered in excessive amounts via sterile water administered through a drip. While feeling ill on holiday his former girlfriend, Dr Sarabjit Anand, provided an initial diagnosis over the phone. The drip was subsequently set up in his hotel room and the 500 millilitres of hydration received. Wada rules state that a limit of 50 ml infusion is allowed over a 6 hour period for active athletes. During the time Nasri was on the drip he posted pictures from the hotel room which were later used in the case against him. Fundamentally Nasri didn’t use a banned substance rather employed a prohibited method in accordance with sub-section M2, par. 2 of the WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) prohibited list. Putting that aside would he really be what the Manager is looking for?

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So who’s signing would Nasri be should he arrive at West Ham? Manuel Pellegrini has managed the player before at Manchester City. If it’s true that the manager gets the final say on signings then it would seem that he would be the one pushing to get the player on board. When Pellegrini arrived in the Summer many commented that he wouldn’t be prepared to put up with any decisions being made outside of his control regarding comings and goings. So one can only presume that he’s the one trying to make the deal happen.

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Either way it’s going to depend on Samir Nasri coming up to speed in training and impressing sufficiently to get a deal with us. Personally I always saw him as being an average forward playing in a good team – both at Arsenal and Man City. I know that others disagree. There’s no disputing he has explosive pace and likes to take players on but, at 31 years of age, can he even get back to former levels of play? If Marco Arnautovic does move on in January I certainly hope that Nasri is not seen as his replacement as this would be a clear step in the wrong direction for my money.

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On the subject of last weekend’s fixture I, like many others, have mixed feelings. In terms of scoring opportunities we had 8 shots at goal compared to Man City’s 8. I’m not sure where the Xg (expected goals) ratings came from but, quite frankly, the big difference is that City are composed and clinical in front of goal. Perhaps that was it, or maybe it was the dominance they enjoyed in possession, but there’s no disputing that they are looking every bit the champions that they are and favourites for the title again this time around. A little annoying that a sublime moment of skill was ommitte from the MOTD coverage. Anderson’s ‘Flip Flap’ or ‘Elastico’, if you prefer, on the touchline in front of us in the West Stand (still have to re-orientate myself between the BM & STB stands in comparison to the Boleyn Ground) was a thing to behold. I’ll be recording the ‘Showboat’ on next Saturday morning’s Soccer AM as I’m sure it will make it on there.

The most irritating aspect of the match was the way in which they seemed to waltz through our back line. It was like a knife through butter for the majority of the goals so I sincerely hope that lessons are learned.

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In the second half we improved defensively. I know it doesn’t make a massive difference but I think a clean sheet in that second half would have left us feeling a little better. So when Gabriel Jesus was put through before he crossed the ball, in an offside position, I felt it we were robbed of that, last 45, clean sheet. Scott Ledger wasn’t quite up with play and so didn’t spot the marginal, but clear, off side when Mahrez played it through to him. No massive thing in the great scheme of things but 4-0 certainly looks worse than 3.

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We now face a run of games that provide a decent chance of putting points on the board. Our next opponents could displace us in 13th position if they win this evening. If that’s the case we would have the opportunity to pull away from them again and put further distance between ourselves and the bottom of the table. As ever I’m optimistic. I genuinely think things are moving in the right direction and am hopeful of a top half finish after the season’s final whistle goes in May.

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Speaking of May, and the Cup, I’m looking forward to this time next week when the draw for the 3rd round will be made. After some interesting looking ties those progressing will be hoping to draw the big boys in the next phase. For me the 3rd round is my favourite weekend of the footballing calendar. Our best chance of a trophy win is now in this competition and so I’m hoping that the draw pairs us opponents in a kindly manner.

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COYI! West Ham 4 The Cup!


The GoatyGav Column

England Football's Rapid Evolution

Under Gareth Southgate England have come a very long way in a very short period of time. Linking back to my post from last week England, for decades, were a predictable team who the bigger teams found easy to beat. Simply ‘playing at pace’ was, so often, rolled out as being England’s supposed “strength” (no apology for the inverted commas) it became laughable.
We’re now seeing the folly of the aforementioned ‘strategy’ employed by successive England managers. Frankly, there was a time, I believed our (well – most of us) national team would never move on from the dark ages. Praise whatever supreme power you believe in – the ‘Three Lions’ have now moved on.
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Our very own Trevor Brooking deserves a great deal of praise for the part he’s played in the St George’s Park revolution. The successful installation of the ‘England DNA’ has been, in no small part, down to much of the input and guidance that Sir Trev has provided. Not that he got much praise for it. In actual fact he endured a political campaign to discredit much of the work he put in to setting up the elite system that is now producing world-beating players and squads throughout the various age groups.
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The results are there for all to see. Reigning World Champions at both U17 and U20 levels. As more and more players progress through from those squads the full national team are getting stronger and stronger. Even the likes of Pep Guardiola, with all of the talent that he has at his disposal, is encouraging and bringing through the likes of Phil Foden – giving him more and more game-time in the Manchester City first team as the months roll by.
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I’ve previously written about the bravery of Gareth Southgate to blood youngsters, who aren’t even established regulars at their clubs, in to England matches. Chicken and egg – they play well for England, ergo, they find that there’s pressure to play them in the Premier League & not, as traditional, received wisdom suggests the other way around. What I like most about Southgate is that he adapts. He’s a modern manager for the modern game. Would you have seen Delph and Rashford replaced by Lingard and Sancho in bygone days? Frankly I wouldn’t have made those changes but they turned out a masterstroke.
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The other aspect of yesterday’s match (as I write) that, particularly, pleased me was the way that England bossed the game. Listening to Stuart Pearce on Talksport today he was bang on with his comment that England could have found themselves 3-0 up by half time with the chances that they created. There are often games where you do boss possession and create considerably more than your opponents but find yourselves level or behind. The great thing about this England team seems to be their, unstinting, belief in the system they play and their team-mates ability to see the plan through. Yesterday England were in control of the game in the first half by dominating possession against one of the best teams in Europe. There’s a confidence about the England squad which, given time, I believe will develop in to a swagger. The achievement of coming top of a group of 3 containing Spain and Croatia should not be underestimated. It’s a fully deserved achievement that should get all the credit that it’s due IMO.

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The only thing that does concern me about the new ‘England DNA’ and St George’s Park Elite lies in the fact that it is an ‘Elite’. Earlier this month, and in October, major concerns were raised by some in the game about the lack of funding finding it’s way to ‘Grass Roots Football’. As a manager of a local U14’s team I can say, with complete conviction, that the lack of funding at our level of the game is embarrassing when compared with the likes of Germany, Spain, France and Holland. For me the ‘National Game’ is not just for an ‘Elite’ – it’s for all. St George’s Park is built and, now, just requires that it be maintained. Why should such a large percentage of the money in football remain at the very top echelon, when there are thousands of teams up and down the country cancelling training and matches when the inclement weather kicks in, while those at the top of the game congratulate themselves on the achievements of the Elite. You can, probably, gather this is something of a bugbear of mine. It gets right up my nose in-fact. Something needs to be done to ensure that kids, who are desperate to play, aren’t left sitting at home, looking, longingly, out of the window wishing they were pitting their wits against their league rivals or learning and growing because match and training pitches are waterlogged or cut up so badly they’re unplayable. In the, aforementioned, European countries there are more than enough all-weather and indoor pitches to cope. In, competitively, footballing affluent England there’s a massive shortage that needs addressing. All of this when obesity rates in boys and girls in this country are going through the roof. If you don’t believe what I’m saying about the ‘Elite’ access then have a look at how much it costs youth coaches in this country, personally in most cases, to fund an equivalent UEFA B Licenced Coaching course compared to those other European countries. And where does that, hard earned, coaches cash go to? Doesn’t seem fair to me.

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Back down off my soapbox I have to admit that I’m a very happy England fan today. Apologies to those who visit the site who aren’t England fans, I hope you found the article of some interest to you, but it’s been a long time since England have had as good a year as 2018 has been so it’s great to write about it. Long may it continue but it’s my, heart-felt, wish that those at the top of the game are considering those at the bottom of it at the same time.

COYI! West Ham 4 The Cup!


The GoatyGav Column

Why You No Longer Hear The Phrase “Tippy-Tappy”

Strange isn’t it. Was a time when the derogatory phrase would be rolled out with a, tired and worn out, regularity by those who subscribed to the Charles Hughes school of POMO. Based on the ideas of a World War II Wing Commander, named Charles Reep, Hughes, backed up by statistical evidence, promoted a system of play that, he suggested, would increase chances to score goals. With an impressive win ratio while managing the England Armature and Great Britain & Northern Ireland Olympic teams Hughes commanded great influence at the F.A. In essence the POMO (Positions Of Maximum Opportunity) system worked on the premise that most goals were scored with moves containing 3 passes or less that delivered a final ball in to the area from which you would be most likely to score. In other words you get the ball in to forward scoring positions as soon as you possibly can. Don’t get me wrong – it wasn’t all Route 1, stick it in ‘The Mixer’ Hoofball. The system advocated getting quality crosses as a main source of supply which, I think, is a productive art form in itself. Can be very entertaining too but, for the most part, it’s an uninspiring system which will only put bums on seats when resulting in ‘winning’ football.

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Associated with the ‘Tippy Tappy’ phrase was a presumption that a ‘soft underbelly’ would accompany. As fans of West Ham we have all heard the various comments from opposition fans who’s team have won trophies down the years. Even down to the level of individual players comments like “he doesn’t travel North well,” were not uncommon. Often described as ‘pretty but ineffective’ pass and move has tended to be out of favour with many at the top of the English game for many years.

All well and good but, time and again, the tactic developed by Charles Hughes has been proven to be one dimensional. For years the England team would underperform against the world’s biggest and best because they were too predictable.

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So where are the critics of passing football now? With 15 goals in the last 3 games Manchester City, with their manager, Pep Guardiola, are one of the main reasons that football that’s pleasing to the eye is now being lauded and not lambasted. Following this weekend’s instalment of Pep’s passing masterclass a goal involving, no less than, a 44 pass move was hailed ‘mesmerising’ by Graeme Souness. And who can argue with him. From the moment that Fernandinho tenaciously won the ball, until Gundogan finished the move off with the goal, all 10 Manchester City outfield players touched the ball.

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Steeped in a long tradition, that began with Rhinus Michels, incorporating the great Ajax Amsterdam teams before being passed to Barcelona by Michels’ understudy, Johan Cruyff, who, in turn, had a huge influence on Guardiola, ‘Tippy Tappy’ tends to, now, be known by the, less derogatory, term ‘Tikka Takka’.

Overall my feeling is that the English national game is finally ‘growing up’ to meet the demands of modern football. As recently as this time last year you could still hear the battle-cry of the POMO merchants stating that Pep’s ‘Tippy Tappy’ style hadn’t won, and wasn’t going to win, the English top tier title. Those guns are now silent and, in this fan of football’s opinion, that’s a great thing.

Key for me is a subtle difference between the two, opposing, philosophies of the game. Whilst POMO produces opportunities to score the, more attractive, clever passing and movement of ‘Tikka Takka’ produces ‘better’ opportunities to score. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Just look at how many goals are being scored by Guardiola’s team.

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As far as I’m concerned I hope POMO is consigned to the dark ages where it belongs. Thankfully we now have a manager who has complete and utter belief in a system of play that incorporates pass and move – and long may it continue.

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Since starting the composition of this article West Ham have been linked with the signing of Samir Nasri. The former French international player’s ability is not as much in question as his actions leading to his doping ban. So should we question his signing. Manuel Pellegrini has managed him before and seems willing to have him back. Is it a question of ‘good enough for the gaffer is good enough for me’ I wonder? I’m sure that other articles will go in to far more detail than I will here and I’ll be very interested to read the various opinions and comments over the coming days here. Next up are MP, and Nasri’s, former employers Manchester City. It’s a game I’m looking forward to watching. I wonder if Nasri will be in the line up to face them?

COYI! West Ham 4 The Cup!


The GoatyGav Column

London Stadium Rocking – Pundits Rate Atmosphere.

Last weekend the Match of the Day and Talksport pundits were extremely complimentary about the atmosphere at the ground. Driving back from Birmingham, this afternoon, I was tuned in to Hawksbee and Jacobs when they had John Motson on. He praised the match as a spectacle, saying that it was one of the most entertaining games of football that he’d seen this season and that, were it not for the, otherwise deserved, attention given to the Leicester game at Cardiff, the match would have been the main talking point of this weekend’s fixtures.

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Not always known for his positive comments towards our club Motty went on to describe the atmosphere at the London Stadium, like other pundits have suggested recently, as “rocking.” I’ve always found the sheepskin coated one quite scathing about our club in his analysis so it would be fairly safe to assume that something has changed to influence a shift in his opinion.

So what is it that’s got us belting out the songs and chants at the top of our voices? The brand of football on display on Saturday afternoon would be an understandable reason for the raised decibels but what about the noise in and around the first whistle before the first goal? And how about the other games where the team haven’t played such an enterprising and entertaining game? So often you hear away fans out-sing the home support – definitely not in our case so far this season. The Burnley supporters were almost silent by comparison.

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Last season I voiced my disapproval at the way that Season Tickets were being allocated. I found it amazing that the club were unable to track a supporter’s match attendance history before offering an ST to them. I suspect that ‘tourist’ fans and opportunists from other clubs who regularly ‘sell’ their Season Tickets seem to be dwindling in numbers and genuine supporters of West Ham are taking their place. I still overhear other fans discussions about this subject – one recently stating that a solitary Arsenal fan currently holds 20 (twenty) seats that he sells each game. But as fans of other clubs move on it seems that they’re being replaced by those, who’ve been on the waiting list, that are lifelong fans.

At one point during the Burnley game I stopped signing, which doesn’t happen very often, and just took in the sounds. It was definitely one the best, if not the best, noises I’ve witnessed at a ground since all seaters came in. Motty’s ‘rocking’ adjective was certainly apt. Remember – this wasn’t Manchester United or the Spuds – this was Burnley that we were playing.

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On to on-pitch events there were times, well – two of them to be precise, where I though the team wouldn’t get their just deserts. That sinking feeling we’re so familiar with kicked in after both of the Burnley goals. Front of mind was the recent goalscoring rate making it feel unlikely that we’d get another even if our play did deserve it. The crux of the issue has been finishing. Against Brighton, Leicester and the Spuds the boys created enough chances to win the games but spurned opportunities to score. In the League Cup match you could also put the loss down to individual errors/lapses of concentration but the game would have looked very different if the efforts would have ended up in the back of the net.

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In spite of London Underground’s best efforts I’m so glad that I, just about, made it in time for kick off and the wonderful joint tribute to the Leicester Helicopter crash victims and fallen heroes of the wars. I thought the club did a fantastic job of the ceremony. The bugler was also tremendous and played the ‘Last Post’ brilliantly whilst those of us standing in front of our seats observed the minute’s silence impeccably.

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When you boil it all down I do still miss the Boleyn Ground but, admittedly, I’m warming to the London Stadium all of the time. For the League Cup match last week I went with my brother. We’ve been to quite a lot of matches together down the years. It’s always great to catch up and this time was no exception. Added to the usual busy conversation I was very interested to know what he thought about our new home as it was his first visit. In fact he hadn’t been to the Olympic Park site until last Wednesday evening. I was quite pleased to discover that he thought it was quite good. Added to the enjoyment was my first beer after successfully navigating a ‘dry October’ (nearly made it the whole month – bar a few hours). Perhaps that added to the enjoyment of the afternoon and evening but I don’t think that the experience needed any sort of input from me to sell it to my brother.

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The lads now have a couple of day’s more rest than Huddersfield’s ahead of this coming weekend’s fixture. Back to back wins, going in to the International break, would be absolutely brilliant. Should that come to pass then, all of a sudden, I’ll start looking up the table instead of down it. Optimistic as always I’m hopeful we can bag the three points and close the gap on those above us.

Until then have a great week all.

COYI! West Ham 4 The Cup!


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