The GoatyGav Column

Skill Affluence – Things Ain’t What They Used To Be

One of my best ever football playing memories was one from the streets. My good mate and I used to play footie together often. We developed quite a good understanding. If we weren’t down the rec we were playing jumpers for goalpost games. We also played small sided matches on the road outside our houses with tennis balls. The particular memory was triggered by a Facebook post by Graybo in which there was, of all things, a link to a Daily Mail piece on ‘The West Ham Way’ developing, in part, in the Stadium car park in the early ‘60s and onwards. You can read it at the following link .

Some preparation for those cup adventures came from the club car park – Harry Redknapp
- Mail Online Article, 14th Sept ’17.

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On a hot Summer school holiday afternoon my mate and I were challenged to a game by three lads who all played for their respective school teams. Despite becoming a reasonably good, and definitely quite lanky and quick, winger, I never got a game for my school. My German teacher ran the team from the first year through to the end of the fifth and, let’s just say, we didn’t get on very well. Despite both male games and PE teachers putting pressure on him to play me the German teaching football team manager never gave me a single minute. Got on the bench once against Alsager school where our lads played out a frustrating 0-0 draw. A half decent and quick winger might well have made a difference but, nope, not a sniff of an appearance sadly. Anyway, enough of my baggage/issues, back to the ‘overload’ game.

My mate and I stroked the tennis ball around and moved well. We’d played footie together countless times and developed a good understanding along with the difficult soft touch needed for the smaller, difficult to control, ball. We absolutely smashed it in the, first to ten, game. Barely gave the three players a touch. Ended up winning by ten goals to seven. Ok – so we made ‘extra men’ with wall passes against the kerb but that was all part of the game that we’d developed. Thinking about this now I’m pretty sure those games contributed to my preference to a quick, slick pass and move style. I try my best to coach it in to the U13 team that I manage (another challenge altogether).

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There’s something to be said about the link between the lack of skill developed by British players, over the last thirty to forty years, and the disappearance of ‘Street Football’

The above anecdote is, no doubt, one of millions of ‘stories from the street’. “That’s great Gav but where are you going with all this?” you might ask. Well I’m convinced that there’s definitely something to be said about the link between the lack of skill developed by British players, over the last thirty to forty years, and the disappearance of ‘Street Football’. Anyone who has read Paulo DiCanio’s autobiography, published in 2000, will recall the fond memories for street football that the mercurial Italian recounted. He put a good deal of the skill he developed down to having to dribble the ball on concrete and up and down steps whilst avoiding concrete bollards, walls, kerbs and the occasional washing line of the Quarticciolo district whilst taking on opponents one on one. Don’t get me wrong. I fully understand the reasons for Street Football disappearing. Compare the picture of the street above with the one below and one of the key reasons becomes obvious.

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Playing small sided matches with tennis balls on concrete, or tarmac, surely developed touch, awareness and intelligent movement. The kids who used to play in these games didn’t need to be taken to clubs to train. There was no cost for fees and kit involved. When they finally got to the clubs many of the raw materials were already in place – the clubs developed and adapted those skills in to the eleven a side game.

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When my two lads started their school days I soon found out that playing football in the playground was a weekly privilege. I guess this was for health and safety reasons. Now around GCSE age this hasn’t changed much. The playground Football games were simply an extension of the street football games – often played with tennis balls as well.
So how much did playing in the street help develop ball skills in the last century compared with how kids can develop today? Personally I feel that, in today’s game, there’s higher level skill development for the elite only. I accept it. After all Sir Trevor Brooking was a strong advocate of this ‘skill affluence’ during his time in charge of development at the FA. I once had a sniff of making this point to Sir Trev, who I idolised, but didn’t get the opportunity at the annual Pro Am Golf day the company I worked for used to organise as others were monopolising the conversation with him. Sadly the one and only time I’ve ever had the opportunity to chat with the great man.

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As a youth team manager myself I endeavour to give the lads I coach the best I can. I do need to do more FA courses which I’m determined to complete but on reflection there’s no way they could get the Football education that many of us who grew up in the last century had. It’s a lament, I know, and the only constant is change which leads me to wonder what environment the kids playing the game in thirty to forty year’s time will be in? Whatever or wherever that may be the over-riding aim is that they keep ‘Loving The Game’ even if they never get to the affluent elite level.

COYI! West Ham 4 The Cup!

The GoatyGav Column

We Support Our National Team

Many English clubs, and their fans, have been called out for their apathy towards their country. I’m proud to be part of a great support at West Ham for both club and nation. I can distinctly remember being at Old Trafford one season and singing ‘We support our national team’ to the home fans without any response coming back. In fact this goes beyond the beautiful game where West Ham are concerned. I also have fond memories of listening to the brilliant West Ham faithful give Villa Park (I was on a corporate gig in the Trinity Road stand) a great rendition of ‘Swing Low – Sweet Chariot’ whilst the English Rugby team were beating the Aussies. The Villa fans caught on a few moments after the Hammers present and started their own chorus (they’re always a bit slower than our fans – bless ‘em).

No coincidence the Germans are so successful and have a 5 week winter break

During the international break this week I’ve watched some great football. Not necessarily from England. Undoubtedly the best game of the bunch that I saw was Spain vs Italy. The Spanish were back to their, quick and slick, best in a beautifully executed demolition of the capable Italians. The Malta game was on in a bar while I was on hols and I caught the Slovakia game at home. For the first 20 mins of the second match the English lads were slow to start but, once they had a foothold, improved greatly. There are, undoubtedly, some good players, who look pacey and dangerous, that have come through but there’s a long way to go until we will threaten the best in the world. Listening to John Motson being interviewed on 5 Live yesterday morning he put a valid point forward about how the Germans always seem to come good, at the right time, in big competitions. In a nutshell Motty said that it’s no coincidence that the Germans do so well at the Major Championships and that they have a five week winter break. There’s something in that for my money.

When it comes to club vs country we’re also known for supporting England. Ok – perhaps this is more to do with the fact that we don’t have so many England internationals as other clubs however I can’t remember a West Ham player ‘retiring from International football’ or the club refusing to send a player when called up for England duty.

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The whole club vs country argument rumbles on and on. A few years ago I remember a conversation on this very site where the subject was broached ‘off topic’ on a thread. Someone replied to me that they’d rather see West Ham win a trophy than watch England win another World Cup. I can understand that viewpoint. Frankly I agree. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t want England to do well. I do. In fact I follow England at all levels and watched nearly all the U19 games in their brilliant World Cup finals where they became champions.

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Perhaps West Ham’s close affiliation with the England team was strengthened back in ’66. “We won the World Cup” is the oft used, tongue in cheek, comment to remind fans of other clubs that we had all the goal-scorers in the final as well as the greatest ever captain leading the team during the nation’s only ever winning campaign. The terrific trio of West Ham players’ contribution was huge and we look back with great pride at their endeavours over that famous Summer. Personally it sends shivers down my spine when I see the Bobby Moore Statue standing guard, majestically, outside the main entrance to Wembley Stadium just as much as the ‘World Cup Winners’ statue opposite the Boleyn Pub on Barking Road (you know, the one that Karren Brady told us would take pride of place at the Olympic/London Stadium). Goose-pimple time in a big way.

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If there were a league table of fans of teams in the Prem with the most passionate England supporters at the top then, personally, I think West Ham would be a top 6 without question. It’s not everyone’s bag, I’m fully aware, but overall the links are strong.

Bearing in mind the stat the came out this week, about England having the highest attendance numbers for home games of any team in the world, the support for England from our club is something to be rightly proud of. Perhaps more so than the performances of the various teams since those halcyon days in the ‘60s.

Notwithstanding all that I’m glad to have the Premier League back again this weekend. Let’s hope for a great first home game of the season on Monday night and three points on the board.

Hope you’ve enjoyed reading about a topic away from our recent woes at the club.

COYI! West Ham 4 The Cup!

The GoatyGav Column

Close before the window close

Working in sales since leaving school, and with a Saturday job at Dixons Macclesfield beforehand, I’ve learned one thing above many others. A deal’s not done ‘til it’s signed.

‘Close the deal’ became the mantra of many a sales professional during the ’80’s. The phrase became widespread – branching across to become a euphemism for conquests in many areas of life.

Leaked image of Arnoutovic holding the shirt

The only time I’ve done this recently was when pictures of Arnie were leaked holding the shirt

So the signing of a football player, to me, hasn’t happened until the paperwork has got the signature of all parties, is ratified by the various organisations and is officially announced by the club. I avoid getting involved in the speculation of this player or that player being ‘spotted’ in a taxi heading East from Heathrow or South from Stanstead. There’s so much of it about that it’s difficult to keep up but I never buy in to, or get involved in discussion about, the next player who’s going to sign until after it’s become official. The only time I’ve done this recently was when pictures of Arnie were leaked holding the shirt which, pretty much, constituted comment. Hardly speculation really Please don’t get me wrong – it’s a personal thing. I have no truck with anyone who wants to discuss it. Knock yourselves out. I just don’t particularly want to get involved myself. I’ll happily watch the rumours and maintain radio silence whilst those ITK share their words of wisdom with us.

Transfers are a complex process depending on many factors. There’s a medical. There’s the official player registration. There’s often work permits involved. There’s eligibility for various competitions (as we learned in the quarter final of the 1995 League Cup when Manny Omoyinmi took the field as a sub). There’s player terms. There’s the sale price and terms between the clubs. Then there’s also those agent’s fees. Those sales people who hold so many of the cards when it comes to deals getting done.

Lately there’s been a great deal of media coverage regarding the Transfer Window in the UK. Many Premier League clubs have got together to put forward proposals about the introduction of a new, club self imposed, window that will not interfere with the start of each new season. Going back to our friends the agents (who, incidentally, I personally believe are partly responsible for football becoming beyond the means of the average working class family to properly follow) for a second it appears that the current set-up is geared towards their maximising opportunity to move players around. When players move they make their money. Ok – they also make money when their ‘clients’ sign new contracts with existing clubs but some less scrupulous agents have certainly ‘engineered’ moves in the past.

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I wouldn’t say no if I were Neimar’s agent

It’s not a jealousy thing. All the best to them. I wouldn’t say no if I were Neimar’s agent. There are certainly some good ones out there. Many of them have genuinely got the interests of their player’s at heart but their fees are certainly not contributing to bringing down the price of season tickets and that, in a nutshell, is how they affect fans themselves.

Despite these acts of self interest by the less scrupulous agents the window does play a part. Deals get done. Without a window the opportunity to put a timescale on ‘closing the deal’ disappears. Working in sales I can appreciate that. Frankly I believe the windows are helpful but the Premier League clubs desire to move the window back a few weeks would, undoubtedly, shift the power a little more in their favour.

A quick word on Reece Oxford’s progress (or lack of). No game-time for him in the 2-2 draw at Augsburg unfortunately. I try to keep an eye on how things develop with our higher profile loans and it looked to me like Borissia could have done with him. After a promising start to his time with the German club, with a goal against Malaga in pre-season none the less, he’s yet to break through and make an impact. Would be a shame for him to warm the bench again like he did under Stam at Reading last season. Good luck to the lad – hope he enjoys the experience and returns an improved player.

After a promising start to his time with the German club, with a goal against Malaga

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A few words describe my feelings whilst watching the shameful display last weekend

Lastly a word on Saturday’s horror show. In life you feel what you feel. Nothing anyone says or does can change that and nobody should ever feel unjustified in their feelings. If you state how you feel about something nobody has the right to tell you that you should ‘feel’ differently. A few words describe my feelings whilst watching the shameful display last weekend. Anger is up there. Frustration is probably the over-riding one. Candidly speaking I was disgusted. The fact that I raised a few eyebrows in the Costa del Sol bar with my rantings at their TV didn’t register with me at all. As I downed my San Miguel and turned my back before the inevitable third goal, which I didn’t even watch, all I could muster was a ‘Gracias’ and a small tip for them putting up with me, the grumpy Englishman, shouting abuse in their hostelry. I love West Ham. I’m a big supporter of Slaven’s but he’s got a helluva lot of work to do with this defence. I agree wholeheartedly with Dan Coker’s comments about the manager being given plenty more time to sort things out. I said so myself in my ’They’ll be a while’ piece but a couple more losses and we’re up the proverbial creek.

Internationals this week then. Hope our lads who are on duty do well.

COYI! West Ham 4 the Cup!

The GoatyGav Column

What the Doctor Ordered

Before you read another word I should explain. I’m on holiday and, at time or writing, have shared a couple of bottles of local tempranillo and a jug of Sangria with my good lady wife whilst out for a family meal. I watched last night’s (by the time you read this) game in a ‘Costa del Sol’ restaurant and took notes on an A5 sized reverse side of a boarding pass. Despite all that there is certainly plenty to talk about.

I would like to draw comparisons to the, now famous, boys of ’86

Tonight showed me, and my boys, numerous positives. To date I would like to draw a comparison to the, now famous, boys of ‘86. A losing start. Amongst others a new striker and midfielder added to an, already talented, squad. Everyone writing off our chances and expecting nothing. Personally I’m extremely excited about what I believe we can do this term. So much so I’m off to the bookies to add West Ham making the top 6, and winning a cup, to my accumulator. Seriously folks – another couple of wins and things are going to start looking extremely good. If we can avoid injuries to key players in ‘17-18 we’re going to be a group of very happy Hammers come May!

So we fielded a, supposedly, weakened side. Adrian, Byram, Og, Ginge, Masuaku, Fernandes, Rice, Nobes, Obiang, Sakho & Ayew. If that’s a weakened side then, frankly, I’m confident of a strong squad for this season. OK – so in midfield it looked quite defensive but there was some great experience mixed with youthful talent on show.

Around the 5 minute mark a nice footballing move ended in the ball being slightly overrun and the keeper smothering it on the line. A few minutes later (excuse the vague references to timings but the screen I was watching cut off the clock and score) Ayew was wasteful with good options around him following another quick break shortly before a beaut of a ball down the line from Byram found him in headless chicken mode.

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We got lucky after Cheltenham created their first opportunity. They found our defence flat but the resulting shot constituted nothing more than a pass in to Adrian’s arms. Shortly after they threatened around the edge of the box but Rice expertly watched the striker, with great body shape, to deny even a sniff of an opportunity to shoot. Cheltenham aimed a speculative ball at our back line that found Ogbonna in time and space and under no threat. I wasn’t impressed by his lack of confidence as he had time to bring it under and find a team-mate but opted to head it straight back to the opposition. Perhaps he didn’t get the shout he should have but I expect better from an international CB – especially an Italian one. After that, however, he did show great confidence and was unlucky to see his powerful header cleared off the line shortly followed by a shot from the ever busy Sakho saved well. Diafra chased a lost cause to gain a free kick on the Cheltenham goal line. Great attitude and application from the Senegalese striker put him in a great position to receive a lovely slide rule pass on the edge of the box. A lovely touch and turn followed by a well placed finish saw us one up. Vintage Sakho and well deserved IMO.

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Personally I am a fan of Diafra. In our last Boleyn Ground season I took both my boys to the Half Term open training session and shirt signing. We queued with shirts in hand in the club shop. My older lad wearing his own, orange, club colours of the team that he was playing for at the time. When we got to the table Payet and Og were nice enough but didn’t really engage with my lads at all. Diafra showed interest and spoke to both – commenting “Good Man” to my oldest. Maybe it was a language thing but I got the impression that he was more a ‘club’ man than the other two. That definitely turned out to be the case where Payet was concerned. On the pitch he’s a handful for any defence. He’s a natural finisher who works like a trojan in the channels – creating time and space for others. My lads think a great deal of him and so, when they found out there were accusations of common assault against him leading to his reported arrest, they were crestfallen. Later rumours of him being sold by the club didn’t cheer up my boys either but last night, for me, he showed us what he’s all about. I know Ginge got MOTM, and Declan Rice was in contention for that too, but Diafra was equally in the running for the award for my money. I’m hoping to see the name Sakho on the scoresheet for us several times alongside Hernandez and Carroll this season. Would be great to see Martinez get a few too. Only question I would ask is ‘was he putting himself in the shop window’? I prefer to believe that he’s been motivated by this Summer’s signings and that we’re going to see the best of him this term.

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Three minutes after the first goal the lads broke quickly again and, this time, Ayew showed us what he’s about. He slotted a good finish to make it 2-0 following good movement and nice give and go football. Overall the first half was good but there’s still one or two concerns for me.

It saddens me to say it but Nobes was inconsistent

It saddens me to say it but Nobes was inconsistent during the game. Two occasions spring to mind in particular. Early in the second half he headed the ball back towards his own goal straight to a Cheltenham player in a very dangerous position. Later on he took on two men in Red & White shirts – but back towards his own goal before losing control and giving away a silly free kick in his own half after he found himself in a good position in the right half of the pitch. On a more positive note he did use the ball well when linking things up with one touch passes in the middle of the park but I’m concerned for him this season. I’m a big fan of his but I wonder whether he’ll start less games. Remains to be seen. You watch Nobes in games like the Spudz at the OS/LS and you can’t deny his impact but how often does he have games like that and why does he not get so up for ‘normal’ fixtures?

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Ginge certainly staked a good claim for more future starting berths. Again he looked like the rock that finished last season so well. He blocked, dominated in the air and, overall, inspired confidence in front of him. As the team grew in confidence you felt that they ‘smelled’ goals. When Chicha came on Ayew immediately showed a good understanding with him. It was good to see Cheik take the field again as well as Quina get a run out and Rice play yet another good game.

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This game couldn’t have come at a better time for the team. The fact that the forthcoming weekend’s opposition had a poor game is a bonus. It’s more about us though. Like a much needed shot in the arm it will boost confidence and morale. St James’ park is a tough place to go but I genuinely believe it’s going to kickstart our Premier League campaign.

COYI! West Ham for the Cup!

The GoatyGav Column

View now the dust has settled - They'll be a while

A 4-0 defeat is tough to take at any time. When excitement and expectation ahead of the first kick of the season is still at play it’s even more of a let down. That said did any of us really expect to go up there and win? After a few days of reflection, and with emotions running at a far lower level, it’s good to have a more detached ‘hindsight’ view.

The tactics were quite plain to see. Try and contain by sitting deep and protecting the defence. The sight of Chicharito completely isolated in his ‘lone furrow’ role in the first half was frustrating watching but there was a plan. Not necessarily the right one IMHO – but a plan nonetheless.

So half time arrived and we were getting battered but still only one goal down.

For me the second half was better viewing. Yes – we were still being outplayed in the most part but there were occasions where we started to move the ball quickly with some incisive, one touch stuff, that was better viewing for sure. Problem with that was the defence became more exposed and it lead to 3 more goals. Lukaku loves playing on the break. He loves playing on the break even more against us. I know his second goal didn’t come by this route but, let’s face it, he could have got 5 on Sunday afternoon. So would it have been better to continue to sit rigidly and keep the score down? Not for this Hammer. It’s not ‘The West Ham Way’ but, more importantly, it wouldn’t have been the right approach for that particular situation. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and as I sit here typing it’s clear, to my mind, that we should have ‘had a go’ from the first whistle. Lessons to learn there by my reckoning. By having a go I really don’t mean in an Ossie Ardiles or Kevin Keegan ‘completely abandon defence’ way – just don’t sit so deep your’re practically on your own goal line. There were some positives to take out of the game btw but more of that later on.

Last season we saw the addition of squad players in the transfer window. For the right, or wrong, reasons it was a case of quantity not quality. I fully understood those reasons. A bigger squad of players was considered a key requirement but then we got drawn against our bogey European part time team again and that was that. So many squad additions became more of a burden than a boon.

This time around it is a completely different story. Player positions that needed strengthening were recognised and the club worked hard to bring in the right quality to improve, not simply grow, the squad. On that score the club has certainly delivered.

So, with all four new signings taking the field at Old Stretford, the appetite was well and truly whetted. Let’s consider that for a second. Four completely new players to the team all thrown in at once. “Ah yes but they played together pre-season,” I hear some mutter. Doesn’t count for me. Pre season is about fitness and the intensity of a game with points at stake cannot be replicated. Results and performances have little relevance before the first official whistle of the season. So numerically not on the same scale as 2016-17 but four from eleven is a big percentage of the team all the same. Here’s the rub. A team with so many new additions really needs time to gel. I’m constantly hearing, from virtually every football pundit, that time is not a luxury afforded you in the Premier League. Be that as it may you can’t ‘demand’ understanding and confidence amongst, and with, team-mates. It takes time and, for me, Sunday was more about players looking like strangers than it was individual poor performances. Don’t get me wrong, there were some howlers with the defence leading the hit-list of culprits (Masuaku looks like the man who started last season again, not the one who finished it, and Reid clearly hates playing Lukaku), but it’s going to take a few games before the team starts to buzz again IMHO.

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“The bite and fight in this lad is on a Mike Tyson level”

On to those positives I mentioned earlier. If you were to list those positives Declan Rice’s performance would have to be right at the top. Frankly the academy product showed other players the desire and hunger that they should have been displaying. The bite and fight in this lad is on a Mike Tyson level. And not without quality either. You only have to compare Obiang’s passing to his and you can rest your case. Young players not getting played because they make costly mistakes? Yeah – right. Go compare in this game Mr Wenger? This was a Premier League game not a Sunday afternoon stroll and Declan Rice seemed to be one of the few that understood that. Of the others who ‘put in a shift’ Chicha stood out. We’re going to love this player. The only thing that’s a little frustrating is his passing, and speaking to a Manchester United mate of mine it’s clearly a common theme amongst fans of clubs he’s played for, but his crossing certainly is not . If he could have only been on the other end of his own sublime ball from out wide in the second half we’d have halved the deficit and, perhaps, played with a bit more confidence in the last quarter of the game. My advice – work harder to get there Chicha ;) .

“Young players not getting played because they make costly mistakes? Yeah – right. Go compare Mr Wenger?”

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“If he could have only been on the other end of his own sublime ball”

I’ve not even mentioned the players we were missing. For me the most creative, most powerful and most combative weren’t able to take the field and that was a huge contributor. But that’s not the point I’m trying to illustrate here. A good cake depends on quality ingredients and this group are going to improve us from a flat Victoria Sponge to a ‘Great Bake Off’ contender. It’s just going to take some patience and careful, expert, mixing, rolling and baking (not sure the analogy carried through there but you know what I mean ;) ). I have a strong belief that all four additions this Summer are going to be great. In contrast to 2016-17, come May, we’re going to be gutted to see the end of the season.

Lastly a big thanks to Iain for the opportunity to contribute here. Looking forward to ‘chatting’ and exchanging views with some of the ‘blast from the past’ names I recognise and others I’ve yet to ‘meet’ on WHTID.

West Ham 4 The Cup – COYI!

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