The HamburgHammer Column

Sour Krauts and Chinese dumplings - For a few Euros more

Thank God the football is finally back! For me at least. Not content with watching old West Ham highlights on DVD or the Confed Cup on the telly, I took myself to my very first football game of the new season and not even for a Concordia first team game but a preseason friendly of Concordia’s 2nd string/development squad/youth team away to ASV Bergedorf, nicknamed Die Elstern (The Magpies) after their black and white home shirts (just like Newcastle), with the main difference that the away support in their ground will never have to suffer from vertigo!
It ended in a very pleasant 4:2 win, so a good first entry into my football diary for the new season.

The Concordia first team will play their first two preseason games next weekend.

I had planned to write about at least one more new West Ham signing in my column, but there is now just no point trying to predict who our next signing is going to be and when it’s going to happen. The simple truth appears to be that indeed we need to remain patient until the big clubs have made their first moves buying their new strikers before we can then sign up their benchwarmers who happen to be our main targets this summer apparently.

Let us now jump into the headline of my column which gives us another off topic story from the lower levels of the German footballing scene, but bear me with as I can see this rearing its head in England too somewhere down the road. Allow me to take you to the 4th level of German football, into the Regionalliga Südwest (Regional League Southwest), a 4th level lower league of amateur or semi-professional clubs covering a vast geographical area of Germany, from the Black Forest in the South near the Swiss border, to Stuttgart in the East, with Frankfurt/Main smack in the middle and going as far up North as Kassel.
If you were to drive from Freiburg to Kassel for a game it’d be like travelling from London to Newcastle (and then some), just over 300 miles one way.

So you can imagine that this league consists of clubs from vastly different federal states and provinces, hence boasting different cultures, dialects, tempers. And like most clubs in the lower leagues there is a distinct lack of money with clubs struggling to sell tickets and pay bills. So one would think some extra money might come in handy for the new season. Add to that the current moves by Germany to intensify relationships with China on various levels anyway (business, culture, football) and the following idea won’t come quite as much of a surprise.

The Regionalliga Südwest at the moment is made up of 19 teams which means one of those teams would sit idle every weekend. On the other hand you have the Chinese Football Association who would like to boost the chances of their national side for the upcoming 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. Which is why plans are now at an advanced stage to move the China U20 side into quarters near Heidelberg and make them play league games regularly against the teams in the Regionalliga Südwest.

The results and points, however, would not count for the official league table with the Chinese team not even listed in the table and they also wouldn’t have a ground of their own to host games. They would basically travel and play away games against every league team on the weekend it’d otherwise sit idle, play each of those teams twice during the season and raise the standards of their young players in the process of playing competitive games week in week out.

Each of the opposition teams as a reward would get between 15.000 and 20.000 Euros per game into their club coffers as part of the deal. Some club representatives have already gone up in arms about the idea, calling it a joke, a circus, a step too far, just another way of selling football’s soul in exchange for some kickbacks. Waldhof Mannheim were the first tclub to outright reject playing the Chinese and instead have begun organising games against one of the teams relegated from the league the previous season, the idea being they’d rather support another local club financially than being the stirrup holders of a team from the Far East, especially a national side, with no roots whatsoever in the local province or community.

What’s your take on this ? A win-win situation for all parties as the Chinese need the games and the German clubs need the money ?
A stupid idea whatever way you look at it ? It certainly is a factor also that the points gained (or lost) in these encounters would not affect the league table.
So how competitive would those games be in the first place?

Would the German teams deliberately rest their main players and treat the games against the Asian Kids as nothing more than friendly kickabouts ?
Or how about the other way around if players suffer bad injuries from over-enthusiastic Chinese opponents dishing out crunching tackles in order to impress their manager ?

Going back to West Ham I will not dare say if we will see a new signing being wrapped up for us this week. If there is a signing though, I really hope it’ll be Kelechi Iheanacho.
The much discussed buyback clause no longer bothers me as frankly it is not worth losing the player over the slim possibility Man City might want him back after two years and we would then “only” make a 10 million profit on his transfer back to Manchester.

Firstly, we’d have the player for at least the next two seasons which is the main thing I care about at this point. Secondly, City would only buy him back if he ends up being among the league’s five top scorers or so. Which means West Ham would also be in a terrific position as a club resulting in Iheanacho quite possibly prefering to stay at West Ham anyway.

If not, however, we’d still get about 30 million from City and would also be in a healthy league and financial position to attract a suitable replacement.
So nothing at this point really justifies letting the player go elsewhere over something as trivial as a buyback clause which may actually never be triggered anyway.

Not far to go now until West Ham arrive on their preseason tour of Germany which will be one hell of an exciting week for me. I think my record in terms of watching Hammers games in quick succession was in December when I watched us play three first team games in succession (one away two home) in the space of just seven days.
This time though it’ll be three games in just five days, a new personal record.

And if I’m lucky, not only will the weather do its bit giving us a few gorgeous summer days, but I may also be able to meet the team in their training camp which is not too far from Hamburg, so I hope it’ll be possible to have a quick chat with Slaven and a few of the players and they will be kind enough to sign a few matchday programmes for me.
To make it all a bit easier for me and to also give the preseason tour a bit of the old away day feel I have even booked accommodation in Schneverdingen and Bremen which will also give me a bit more time to spend with the Hammers travelling army.

The culmination of course will be the game against Altona 93 in my beloved hometown. This game will be packed with a lot of contrasting emotions for me.
As you know I would have wanted Concordia to play this game instead of Altona. But Cordi couldn’t afford the match fee, in contrast Altona apparently managed to find a suitable sponsor/business partner to get the idea off the ground.

You may also know that Altona were Concordia’s fiercest rivals for promotion last season, with Cordi ultimately missing out and Altona making the step up to the next level.
So you can imagine that Altona will never be my favourite Hamburg based club to put it mildly.
With all those games coming up I was busier than a one-eyed cat watching two mouse holes what with buying the tickets, looking for accommodation etc.

Altona was a special treat in that respect as the ordering form where you could buy tickets online was done very ingeniously in a way that I ended up buying home tickets several times (despite clicking the guest ticket option first). I will see how I get rid of those home tickets now.
I then had a long online conversation with the Altona ticket office explaining to me there would be strong segregation and the away section was allocated strictly and exclusively for the English as they put it.

I found this slightly nationalistic as I tried to explain to them there would be loads of Hammers fans travelling over from Scandinavia, Holland, Belgium, other parts of Germany and I also enquired if they were actually planning on doing passport controls for those fans willing to enter the away section. They then came out with the idea that I had to wait on the day if there was still space available and only then could I be let into the ground as a German West Ham fan. Bowlocks!

After arguing back and forth, they finally had to admit there was not much they could do if I bought a ticket for the away section (which I did of course), but somehow they still couldn’t grasp that a dyed-in-the-wool Hamburger could NOT support Altona in this game. Maybe I should have also told them that I support Concordia as well which might have helped them to understand why I want Altona to get a good old drubbing on the day!

For those of you travelling to this game I’ve added the videos above, in one of them there even is an English fan who adopted Altona as his club and moved to Hamburg as well. It’s supposed to give you an idea of both the stadium you are about to enter and also the highly loyal and feisty supporters of this old, traditional Hamburg football club.
For most of you the rusty old charme of the Adolf Jäger Kampfbahn (named after Altona’s version of Bobby Moore) will bring tears of nostalgia to your Mince Pies.

It’s a football ground as traditional as they get, bang in the middle of the local community (does that remind you of somewhere?), with most of the fans standing close to the pitch, forever hopelessly loyal to their regularly underachieving team. The Altona fans also have a fairly dry sense of humour, at least most of them and nowadays they view their much more famous neighbours St.Pauli as nothing but newly rich, posh and uppity primadonna divas. It’s all relative I suppose…LOL

Let’s hope there finally will be some new signings at West Ham soon. Let’s hope the preseason tour in Germany will be a complete success on and off the pitch, with no silly rucks between intoxicated supporters. Let’s just enjoy a few days in the sun, watching our boys in claret and blue, cheering them on and anticipating a new season with better things to come…COYI!

The HamburgHammer Column

A goalkeeper's tears, this transfer window's fears and a Hamburger in Bremen

My duties as an uncle, especially when West Ham and Concordia football are on their dreaded summer break, sometimes require me to take my passion for the game to a whole new level, literally. It was my little nephew Daniel’s annual school footie tournament and the one thing that 8 or 9 year old kids need most for such events is the honest interest and genuine enthusiasm from the so called grown ups – with parents, uncles, aunties and teachers showing up and rooting for the kids as if it was the FA Cup Final.

It had all been organised with a lot of heart and of course your stereotypical German efficiency by all the moms, dads and volunteer coaches. There were 13 different teams/forms with funny names like The Blue UFOs, Superkickers, Red Sharks (???), Owls and such like, moms had created some beautiful banners, designed football shirts and all kinds of gadgets for the crowd, there also were homemade cakes and muffins while the shrewd guy with the icecream van had set up his base pitchside for the duration of the tournament, in short it was all set up to be an entertaining four hours or so on what was a perfect summer day.

As soon as we arrived I was dead jealous. Remember when we played football as kids on hard dirt fields or clay pitches, shedding and bruising skin on our shins and knees in every game ? (I don’t remember a single summer as a kid where my knees weren’t bloody or scurfy.)
Here in June of 2017 the kids were running (and falling over) on training pitches of plush green grass courtesy of the local club side. Not just that, but also proper goals with nets and everything, about 4 meters wide and pretty much the height of regular goals you might find in the Premier League or Bundesliga.
Not to mention proper referees in full kit complete with whistle and cards watching over proceedings in every game (although no video or goalline technology yet).

My nephew’s team were the Teufelsstürmer/Devil Strikers (meaning attack minded devils, not boys from hell on strike) and they very much had, unfortunately, a Man United thing going on with one mom acting as the official devil mascot and everyone cheering them on had been asked to wear something bright red for the occasion (alas, no claret allowed).
As my wardrobe offered only limited options in that respect, I simply wore my red England shirt. (Don’t look so bloody surprised!)
I saw a parent wearing a Premier League shirt as well and no, it wasn’t West Ham but the uninspiring blue of Chelsea. Being polite by nature and with kids in the vicinity, I didn’t tell her where to stick her blue flag though.

My nephew was playing in goal and let’s be brutally honest here: In that age group, guarding a goal of the above mentioned dimensions you are in a no-win situation.
Here’s a lad half as tall (or short rather) as the height of the crossbar, then you have opposing teams boasting several players who have been playing in proper football junior teams for two or three years resulting in a certain ability to control a ball, run with it, pass it and strike it too with both power and accuracy.

Little Daniel’s team had the lowest number of regular footballers. Hence we lost every single game. Once the boys (and girls) got tired (running about in scorching sunshine on a big pitch will do that) the opposition just had to run past them and fire shots at goal from all angles and at a certain height so that Dan more often than not could only helplessly watch the ball flying into the top corner time and time again. Kids at that age don’t accept defeat gracefully and there were many heartbreaking tears of disappointment and frustration (which thankfully could be dried after a while by paying a visit to the icecream van). I had to tell my nephew that not even Manuel Neuer could keep clean sheets with three opponents running at goal with no defender in sight.

Talking of which my favourite player was one of our “defenders”, a stout bulky lad with jet black hair and a winning smile (but slow legs). Why was he my favourite player I hear you ask ?
Because his name was Adrian (blindingly obvious West Ham link) and on top of that he was Croatian too, like our Slaven!

I’ll tell you what the most wonderful thing was in all that footballing misery. Our team was the worst on the pitch, granted!
But the boys and girls played every game with heart and passion and that was reflected and honoured by the support from the moms, dads (and uncles) on the sideline.

We were by far the noisiest, most vocal, most supportive group out there (which was rewarded later with a generous cash donation from the organisers into the coffers of my nephew’s form for future school trips and the like).

Why do I tell you all that ? Because it was just like being at a West Ham game at times. Being brutally outclassed, outplayed on the pitch in every way imaginable, yet no wavering in support from the fans. On the contrary the support seemed to get louder and more defiant with every goal conceded.

And I was happy to see the tournament being played out in good spirits overall.
No bad fouls, no pitchside arguments between overly excited parents, no kids blaming their teammates for letting in a goal between their legs or hitting nothing but air from three yards out. Pleasant to see.

That was my very personal and outside the box fix of football last weekend.

On the West Ham front, yes, there are still rumours flying about and anytime soon the big transfer charade should begin in earnest. Teams playing tag, sending players here, there and everywhere on loan, in part exchange, with view to buy or buy back clauses inserted, with players nearly signed subject to a medical. Or subject to obtaining a work permit. With club negotiators maybe haggling over the odd million or two to be paid upfront or preferably a year down the line.

I mentioned in a comment on Saturday that bringing in two or better three strikers this window would be of utmost importance for West Ham.

I can see three different levels of striker incoming:
A really expensive buy like Giroud or Iheanacho (who will cost between 20-26 million or so), then a much cheaper striker on the side like Braithwaite or Onyekuru who could both be goers for around 9 or 10 million and the compulsory loan deal with option to buy (or option to bust more likely), Batshuayi maybe as pie in the sky material or a yet unknown Italian/Colombian/Polish ace in the hole type, the proverbial Sullivan Special (with chips and peas for me please).

As West Ham fans we have all had more than enough practise of feeling let down, disappointed, hopes and dreams shattered on the altar of being merely one of the also rans, making up the numbers. For what it’s worth by now everyone for sure must have realised what our squad needs are. We needed a RB badly, we finally got one.

We also need several reliable and halfway decent strikers, even the tea lady, Bubbles the Bear and the One Pound Fish man know it!
Which means that Gold and Sullivan probably know it as well. Which is all that matters really.

I read a rumour yesterday that G&S would even ditch their regular summer holiday in Marbella in order to focus on their task of bringing some strikers to Stratford, now that sounds like it could become a common phrase in future: Bringing strikers to Stratford which is pretty much the direct opposite of carrying coals to Newcastle! But I digress.

If it was me I would go for Giroud, Onyekuru and Batshuayi which would be a decent mix of experience and youthful hunger, giving us three guys, each with a point to prove one way or another. If we get Batshuayi on loan all three could come in for 35 million or so which isn’t a bad price these days for getting three strikers who should instantly raise our attacking options to unprecedented levels. A situation where we no longer have to hope and pray for Carroll or Sakho being available will be a blessing.
It’s nice to have them available of course, but it’s even nicer if you no longer have to rely on them two alone.

Other players have already left the club (Stephen Hendrie, that’s the left back, not the snooker player) or are rumoured to be on the way out. Enner Valencia appears destined to become a tiger, not at Hull, but the Mexican version at Tigres. Havard Nordtveit will almost certainly go back to the Bundesliga with clubs like Hoffenheim, Wolfsburg and Bayer Leverkusen all circling to sign him up. While third goalkeeper Raphael Spiegel is on the verge of joining a club in Belgium (probably to get promoted to the status of backup goalkeeper which at least would constitute a step forward). And there is Robert Snodgrass of course who in my book is a fairly decent option as a squad player, but as there are probably several takers out there in the Premier League who will play him as a starter nine times out of ten, I’d happily see him leave to free up some more dosh to put into our transfer kitty for strikers.

I am happy enough to confirm that I will have at least two West Ham games in the bag before the new season begins. As most of you will know the West Ham team will spend a few days in a preseason training camp in Germany, in Rotenburg/Wuemme to be precise, a small town located somewhere in the wilderness between Hamburg and Bremen at the end of July. This will culminate in two games being played over two successive days in two different places against the same opposition, the Boys in Green from the River Weser, Werder Bremen.

So it very much looks as if Bremen will act as the most convenient basecamp for numerous travelling Hammers fans and I have actually decided to also spend a night in a Bremen hotel as frankly the ground in Lohne is too much bother to travel back home to Hamburg from after the game and some post match festivities in the middle of the night.

I have posted the links over the last few days allowing you to buy tickets for both games online and I reckon tickets will be flying off the shelves quickly what with capacity being fairly limited at both grounds.

The game on Friday evening (July 28th) will be in Schneverdingen about 50 miles from Hamburg or Bremen and that ground holds just 4.000 (all standing).
The game on Saturday afternoon (July 29th) will then be in Lohne (Oldenburg) which is about 130 miles from Hamburg, but only 50 miles from Bremen, and the stadium in Lohne holds 7.000 (with 700 seats available).

The natural rivalry between the two Northern harbour towns of Hamburg and Bremen has been going strong for hundreds of years and it applies to every aspect of life: Business, culture, tourism and of course football. I will do something here which may get me in trouble with mates and my fellow Hamburgers, but let me tell you that Bremen is a really nice place to visit.

If Bremen is your basecamp and you are lucky enough to have some time to spare, venture out and discover the charms, beauty and atmosphere of the Hanseatic City of Bremen. Of course you will find numerous pubs, bars and restaurants there as well. Hamburg in my view is still bigger, better and more beautiful than Bremen, but for a few days Bremen should be a decent enough town to visit for any football fan.

I’m very much looking forward to seeing my team play some games close to home for a change (will we finally have some more signings by then?) and I also can’t wait to meet some of my readers (again) who may travel over for the occasion (at least two of which I’m already aware of). As for the transfer window of course there will be disappointments ahead. This is West Ham after all. We won’t see every rumoured player sign for West Ham over the summer, otherwise we’d end up with a squad of 284 players in September.

But we will surely sign a few new faces and some of those I reckon will actually turn out to be good players for us. Some might not though and the sun will still come back up again the next morning (I hope…LOL). There just is no point fretting over the transfer window or being terrified like a cat in a kitchen full of cucumbers (watch some of those videos on Youtube if you are confused by that statement).

To quote the famous words: “Whatever will be, will be.” But I will pass on the opportunity of going to Barnsley if I may please. Wembley maybe, one day…COYI!!!

The HamburgHammer Column

Appetite for Nacho(s), new Dicky Dirt and an attempt to bring back fair play to football

The bloody window is finally open. Yes, that mythical, diabolical transfer window that always promises so much when it opens and rarely delivers before closing shut again.
The windows of my flat are also open regularly now as summer has finally arrived in Hamburg and rising temperatures mean that my 2nd floor flat just below the roof of the house tends to heat up like a Finnish sauna on a regular basis, so it’s open windows all around, considering I’m also using Windows 10 on my laptop while I’m typing this out.

The transfer window being open should get things into gear now for our beloved West Ham as well. As usual we may have to wait for some bigger moves to happen first, forcing other clubs or players to make their moves before we can step in and benefit from the fallout of those early transfers. Reading through the rumours (I’ll make this quick) there is a chance we may finally make our second signing of the summer this week. Biggest names rumoured are as follows and it comes as no surprise they are all strikers:

Kelechi Iheanacho: Like I said before, I like the player – and not just because he has the very appealing “Nacho” bit in his name. Over the weekend the deal seemed to have gone dead with Iheanacho reiterating his desire to stay at Man City and fight for his place in the squad there. On the other hand he has apparently agreed personal terms already with us and why would you talk personal terms with another club if you weren’t even considering the possibility of moving to said club ?
We all know Iheanacho wants more games (which will be hard to come by for him at City) and we all know he wants to stay in England for at least another two years to get his UK citizenship.
I have read that Man City definitely have the intention of selling the player.
I reckon it’s still all about the buyback clause, the fee itself and the exact terms of the buyback, i.e. at what point will Man City be able to buy him back first, when does the buyback opportunity expire and how much will they have to pay anyway if they wanted to buy him back ? At the end of the day though player power still rules, so presuming he does join West Ham, becomes a legend and fan favourite while turning out to be the lethal finisher we have been missing for years now, well, maybe Iheanacho then wouldn’t want to go back to Manchester anyway. Or he would want to go back regardless at which point there’s not much we could do anyway.
So I do hope we get this deal over the line eventually.

Henry Onyekuru: Another player I like a lot, young, hungry, willing to improve and making the next step. He apparently was close to signing for Arsenal, but that move hasn’t materialised yet and reading Onyekuru’s take on it you can understand why. He said he wouldn’t accept a role as a bit-part player.
Apparently money is secondary for him, he wants games.
Now of course West Ham won’t hand him a piece of paper either, guaranteeing him 75 minutes in every game but surely he could expect starting a lot more games at West Ham than Arsenal for instance.

Allegedly he will be having talks with West Ham tomorrow and things might move rather quickly from there. He comes from the Belgian League where he scored an impressive 20 goals in 36 games for Eupen who still only finished in 13th place, despite Onyekuru being joint-top scorer in the league.
Players from the Belgian League seem to adapt particularly well to the Premier League in general as shown by the examples of Thibaut Courtois, Simon Mignolet, Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen, Marouane Fellaini, Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne Christian Benteke and a certain Romelu Lukaku.
Onyekuru seems to be a natural finisher and my former neighbour’s cat who was a good buddy and companion to me is called Henry too, so please West Ham, sign him up! (The player, not the cat!)

Michy Batshuayi: Yet another Belgian and apparently still our top target at the striker position. It does look likely that he will leave Chelsea in the summer, especially if they sign Lukaku from Everton. But that move would open up the possibility of Batshuayi moving in the opposite direction as part of the Lukaku deal.
I have no idea if Batshuayi might prefer to stay in London (which would increase West Ham’s chances of signing him) or if he would be even happier to try and become the new Lukaku at Everton (which I reckon must be very appealing to any young player).
Batshuayi as well is a great finisher and probably the biggest prospect of the three mentioned strikers (and the one with the biggest market value at present), but he is also a bit pie in the sky too, so I’d be very surprised if he ended up at West Ham anytime soon, be that on loan or on a straight up permanent deal.

In other news you may have seen pictures of our new home shirt being leaked online (which I won’t post here due to potential copyright reasons), but looking at the pics which were apparently taken at an Umbro shop in Thailand it seems to be a pretty average shirt, claret of course with a blending of claret/blue on the sleeves and a V-shaped pattern of light and dark claret on the body. It is not my favourite shirt by all accounts, but definitely not a bad effort either. Not a classic really, but a bit of a modern take, in line with the club’s approach of growing our brand on a global level.
Judge for yourself when you see it! And let us know in the comments what you think once you’ve seen it.

To close this out there is a new initiative here in Germany trying to put a stop to the (over-) commercialisation in football these days. One of the most recent ugly examples (although the lady itself is quite a looker of course) of commercialisation gone wrong was when Germany’s most successful singer Helene Fischer recently sang at halftime of the German Cup Final between Dortmund and Frankfurt at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium.

Here is the show as it came across on the telly:

Judging by the acoustics the sound editors must have done a really marvellous job, as the TV audience probably thought “What a great show!” but if you were in the stands it actually sounded more like this:

Nearly the entire stadium in unison had mercilessly booed the darling of the German charts, poor Helene! What had gone wrong ? Well, football fans surely like a singsong and some of them may even love the songs of the Queen of German disco schlager, Helene Fischer. But most certainly not in the context of football, especially the almost sacred Cup Final!

The organisers had thought: “Big event this, it doesn’t get better or more glamourous than Helene Fischer, so put her on the stage and let her sing and dance a bit. Should be cracking for everyone!”
In theory maybe, but not in real life folks!

The fans sent a clear message with the noise they made. They weren’t happy at all with the organisers foolishly mixing football and showbiz (again).
I applaud Helene Fischer for going through with her performance in a professional manner, but it can’t have been a nice experience for her.
She just isn’t used to being booed. Ever. But this was a wake up call for many, some of whom had been alerted well before that Helene Fischer BooFest though.

One reasonably new initiative is called FC Play Fair and it is not directed at Helene Fischer personally, nor was that performance the reason why the club was formed.
The club has been brought to life by several individuals, some businessmen, others scientists, professors, journos and even lawyers.
One of the guys especially knows what he’s talking about, Andre Buehler spent time in England, he even did his doctorate on English football and today is professor for marketing at university and director of an institute for sports marketing as well.

What all the people being involved in FC Play Fair share though is their love for genuine football, not the modern, commercialised version, but the sport as such.

They have taken the effort of conducting a survey among 17.000 fellow fans, asking them what they want from their matchday experience and what needs to improve in German football in general. Note that this is not the Deutsche Fußball Liga (German Football League) itself or the Bundesliga clubs asking these questions, but normal people, regular fans from the stands. Quite eloquent ones though, looking at their professions!

They have identified various issues that need to be looked at:

Games being switched regularly due to the demands of TV stations, regularly keeping schoolkids and employees from attending certain games in person.
The lack of serious competition in the Bundesliga making things boring for everyone. If the only question is who finishes second behind Bayern Munich or how early in the season Bayern may wrap up the title this time, football loses a lot of its natural appeal.

The lads of FC Play Fair want to level the playing field again. At least they’d like to try closing the gap somewhat between the big boys and your average run of the mill clubs who are supported regardless by fans just as passionate and loyal to the cause as the Bayern or Dortmund fans who are spoiled rotten by perennial success and numerous trophies.

Commercialisation needs to step back a bit, not gain ever more power in the game we all love. It’s about the way money gets divided among the clubs and filtered down to the lower league clubs too. It’s about putting the fan first again, acknowledging that the fan is the main reason why the clubs can rake in these ridiculous amounts of dosh in the first place. Fans buy tickets, fans watch games and adverts on the telly, fans buy football shirts and fans create the atmosphere in the stadiums which helps selling the TV rights for the games all over the world.
Football without fans is possible, but not really worth much anymore once fans become disillusioned and lose interest.

FC Play Fair is hopelessly idealistic by its very nature and it remains to be seen what they can actually achieve. Some of their ideas are surely worth mulling over first and acting over second. Like their demand that at least one person representing the fans should sit on the board of directors at every club in order to look after the concerns and interests of the regular supporters.

The idealists no longer wish to remain silent, they want to raise their voices and put the plight of the fans back on the agenda. With the aim to have most games reliably played at the same time again, not spread over four days and seven different kickoff times. To not have only one or two clubs hoovering up all the top players and prospects while cashing the vast majority of TV money, leaving only crumbs for the rest.
Otherwise there will come the day when fans turn their backs on the game in droves, never to return. Football may be killing itself if things continue the way they have been going for far too long now.

The goals of FC Play Fair are highly ambitious. Some may say they are deluded and their efforts as pointless as a one legged cat trying to bury a turd on a frozen lake.
Yes, it surely is an uphill battle. But someone needs to do it. The issues mentioned affect football fans not just in Germany, but Britain, Italy, Spain, France, well, basically most countries in Europe.

Most of us still love football. Just. For how much longer depends on the clubs and the people who run football. COYI!!

The HamburgHammer Column

Munich Jeer Festival, Hammers near Hamburg and Reece going to some team from Germany

This article is going to be a bit of a mixed bag in terms of topics covered, so forgive me if it’s not all strictly about West Ham, but a lack of transfer news means I have to look beyond our beloved Hammers. Although with regard to 1860 Munich there is of course a West Ham link: It was 52 years ago, at Wembley, May 19th 1965, one of the greatest days in our history with West Ham beating 1860 Munich in the European Cup Winners’ Cup Final. I wasn’t around for that one of course, being born in 1972.

But I am sure a few of my readers watched that game live on the telly or maybe even were lucky enough to be in attendance at Wembley, Now then, this famous German club with a great history, who were Munich’s Number One Team for a long time, far ahead of Bayern Munich in terms of success and status, this traditional and much loved club has now been relegated.

Due to the confusing nature of the circumstances affecting the club nobody can say at this point in which league 1860 Munich will actually play next season after losing a two legged playoff affair against Bavarian neighbours Jahn Regensburg last week.

That final decisive game was marred by crowd trouble from frustrated Munich “supporters” who were hurling seats, iron railings and other assorted goods onto the pitch, venting their anger and possibly trying to get the match, which was already lost 15 minutes from time as Munich needed to score three goals at that point, abandoned.
While I have no affiliation with the City of Munich or 1860 as such it does pain me to see a club like this go under and while I don’t pretend to know all the finer details of the inner workings of that particular club it is clear to see that the arrival of Jordanian businessman and sports investor Hasan Ismaik six years ago didn’t quite work out.

He initially saved the club from administration in 2011 by spending 18 million Euros, buying a majority stake of shares in the club. His dreams were big, getting 1860 promoted back to the Bundesliga in a year or two, making the Champions League places five years later, building a new state of the art stadium and moving into its news premises just in time for CL football.

The trouble though is that in Germany there is the so called 50+1 rule, a rule implemented to make sure that no club can be taken over and run by one big company or investor.

In Germany football clubs are still intended to be mainly football clubs, in theory at least as there are exceptions to the rule like the old works club Bayer Leverkusen or Hanover 96.

1860 Munich went through 14 different managers in just 6 years while investor Ismaik and local representatives from the club hierarchy rarely sang from the same hymnsheet.

There were various scandals, affairs, shenanigans which you can easily google if you’re interested, but after spending an estimated 60 million Euros so far, Ismaik has now refused to pay the required sum for 1860 to play in Bundesliga 3 next season unless he gets full reign at the club. Which he obviously can’t due to the 50+1 rule.
Which Ismaik is now suing against. At the other end of the spectrum are the loyal fans who will now have to watch their team play in the Regionalliga Bayern (4th level) at best. Maybe even the Bayernliga (5th level) which is the same level as my beloved Concordia.

I don’t know about you, but I feel awfully sad when I see a club, rich in history and tradition, go down the pan like this through the ineptitude of people in suit and tie, ruining that club from within by being selfish and also pretty clueless about how to run a football club. It’s a massive warning sign this as to what can happen to clubs in a short space of time if you have the wrong people making vital decisions. Money helps of course, but it isn’t everything. It’s how you spend it and how you treat the people working for your club. Dark times then for 1860 Munich and their fanbase.

Some positive news now comes in shape of a rumour that West Ham will indeed play a preseason friendly near Hamburg, albeit not against Concordia, but we have already discussed the reasons why that game ain’t happening anytime soon. However, apparently West Ham will play Bundesliga marinated Werder Bremen in the beautiful town of Luebeck which is about 40 miles northeast of Hamburg. In all likelihood it will happen sometime between July 20th and the end of the same month. I will keep you posted on this as surely some of you will be keen to fly over for that one.

Both Hamburg and Luebeck are places worth visiting, Luebeck boasting a strikingly beautiful Old Town. So if you can make the short trip over the Channel, do it! The football ground in Luebeck holds around 17.500, but I’m not sure at this point how many tickets would be allocated to the away support. Please get one ticket for me as well please.

If I phoned up Bremen about tickets surely they would only sell a ticket in the home end to a German customer like myself.

And before I stand with Werder Bremen fans you will see me sharing a canoe without a paddle on the River Thames with a Millwall, a Spurs and a Chelsea fan.

The next rumour is about young Reece Oxford. After his frustrating loan spell at Reading, he will now apparently leave Britain for an even bigger challenge to join Borussia Moenchengladbach for a season long loan. Yes, THAT team from Germany that Scottish pub owners and football fans alike were struggling/failing to spell, never mind pronounce properly. I will keep my eyes and ears open on Oxford’s exploits in Germany next season and will try to keep you all in the loop accordingly.

As you probably know by now, I do have a lot of time for Moenchengladbach as a club. They were my first favourite football club ever as a kid (as I liked the look of their shirts, back in the days of black and white TV), they are a club similar in size and status to West Ham, steeped in history, renowned for playing a distinctive style of football, renowned for their passionate and truly loyal fanbase, but also notorious for a distinctive lack of trophies in the cabinet.
They also have a history of bringing through and playing young players, hence their nickname Die Fohlenelf, The Foals’ Eleven.

And they do have, in my view, one of the most beautiful football stadiums on the planet. What I would give if we could play our home games in a claret and blue version of that!

Young Reece has a perfect opportunity to kickstart his career there. A prime example of a recent successful loan deal has been Chelsea’s Andreas Christensen who developed into one of the Bundesliga’s most complete young defenders during his two year loan spell at Moenchengladbach. He is now back at Chelsea and will no doubt be a great player for them in the years ahead.

Another positive for Oxford will be the hiring of Otto Addo, a German former attacking midfielder born in Hamburg who played for the Ghana national side and also for Hanover, Dortmund, Mainz and Hamburg SV. He has also been a youth coach at Hamburg before working as assistant manager at Nordsjaelland in Denmark later and now in his current role at Moenchengladbach.

It will be Addo’s job to work exclusively with Borussia’s top prospects, nurturing their talents and skills (which would include young Reece) bringing them up to first team level. Still, Oxford would need to work his socks off as Moechengladbach are pretty well covered defensively, so he would really need to step up and shine in order to actually start games and keep his place in the side. Moenchengladbach tend to loan players for a minimum of two years though, so it remains to be seen if Oxford may be an exception with just a one year deal.

That’s all from me this week lads and lassies! Hope we’ll be hearing some good news on the transfer front soon and also some more details on that West Ham friendly in Luebeck. COYI!!!

The HamburgHammer Column

The PZ seal of approval: Welcome Pablo Zabaleta!

I never thought I would post my column this early already. Usually the summer period, for football fans more commonly known as the silly season, is a tedious one for West Ham fans, a time characterised by a severe lack of football, a plethora of frantic and ridiculous rumours from pundits, ITKs, IKFAs, bloggers and football fans behind a keyboard or at least owning a mobile phone, having the ability to type a sentence or two.

Add to that West Ham’s usual modus operandi in recent years when it comes to transfer windows and I thought my next column would probably come out four or five weeks from now, but lo and behold. We have the first new signing in the bag, and a quality one at that, even before the transfer window has officially opened:
Welcome to West Ham Pablo Zabaleta!

For me this is already the most important new signing we will make all summer – and this is before we have signed a new striker! Which, as we all know, is another position we will desperately need to upgrade in the coming weeks. But Pablo Zabaleta is a quality fullback, experienced, impressive physique, great awareness on the pitch, ready to lay his body on the line for the cause. A warrior. A fighter. An Argentinian version of the Ginger Pele, with less Ginger of course but a lot more of Pele about him than Collins.

Having Pablo Zabaleta at West Ham will do two things for us: We finally have a right back in the true sense of the word playing at RB again. Quality wise you have to go back to the days of Lucas Neill as the last time we had a proper right back in the side on a regular basis.
I hear some of you asking: “Hang on! How about young Sam Byram? He’s a right back!”

You are right of course, but in my view Sam Byram will benefit massively from Zabaleta’s presence in the long run. Short term Zabaleta will take a lot of gametime away from Byram, and rightly so. Byram right now isn’t quite ready, he is quite rash in some of his challenges which may come from trying too much or being not quite in a position yet to read a game and anticipate moves by opposing players.

Zabaleta will be like a beacon to Byram in terms of learning how to be a top level defender. And he will also be a glowing example to every other West Ham player how to be a great professional footballer. The following Youtube clip has already been shared on WHTID, but I will put it on here again, because it truly shows us why Zabaleta even at his age (he’s 32 for crying out loud, that’s probably 20 years younger than the average WHTID reader!) is a great signing.

Zabaleta is held in such high regard among the Manchester City fanbase (who were extremly sad to see him leave) which tells me that not only does he leave a lot of blood (quite literally), sweat and tears on the pitch, but that he must also be a great character in the clubhouse and fantastic in bonding with the fans too. Zabaleta appears to really have a lot of love for life and football in Britain (I don’t blame him!) and what’s even more important: In this day and age of crazy transfer fees, TV money and players spending more money on a car key than people earn in a year or two, Zabaleta hasn’t lost touch to the world of the great unwashed, the little man in the street.

I read that a few days ago he donated a week’s wages (90k) to the victims of the recent Manchester suicide bomb attack. I doff my cap to that Mr.Zabaleta!

I feel very happy that this man will be a West Ham player for the coming few seasons and I also expect him to add a lot of stability to our back four which is most welcome.
If he helps us with his experience, reading of the game and passion on the pitch in such a way that we will concede just ten goals less next season this will automatically translate into more points and a better league position. A more solid defensive unit will obviously help our goalkeepers and the entire team.
Good teams build and improve from the back – so in that respect having Zabaleta at West Ham is the most important bit of business we had to do.

That we have done it this early (the deal must have been in the pipeline for weeks, if not months) gives me hope that we will indeed see a more positive approach in the upcoming transfer window. Do your scouting, your negotiations in the background, wrap up the deal, announce it, Bob’s your uncle!

But we also need new additions in the striker department and by the looks of it we seem to be willing to strike early in that department too (pardon the pun)!
Kelechi Iheanacho is a 20year old great prospect, funnily enough a Man City player too (probably not a bad idea to foster good relationships with a club like Man City for future transfers in both directions).

It’s hard to say at this point how likely his signing is. If a fee has been agreed between the clubs. If Iheanacho would be willing to come to West Ham. I’d love to see us sign the lad. Yes, he won’t come cheap. And he hasn’t been a regular starter for Man City which is why we actually even have a chance to sign him in the first place.
If he was banging in 20 goals a season for Man City they wouldn’t sell and we wouldn’t be able to afford his fee.
I have also read Man City might insist on a buyback clause. Which may be a bullet we just have to bite at this junction.

For me it is important to quickly secure deals for two new young strikers, maybe even Batshuayi. First of all because I think we urgently need new strikers we can rely on to feature for the vast majority of games. But secondly to put pressure on the likes of Carroll and Sakho. Both of them simply haven’t featured enough for us (for various reasons), yet they could expect up to now to still feature regularly whenever healthy again because of their wages and because there were no credible alternatives.

Maybe two new young strikers added to the pecking order at West Ham might “convince” Carroll and/or Sakho to get their act together and get/keep themselves in top shape throughout the entire season (including looking after yourself in the summer break). If they don’t feature much anymore, apart from as impact subs, maybe they will be more inclined to look out for a transfer, that is if they still have a genuine desire to play football week in week out.

I am prepared to be pleasantly surprised by our board when it comes to our upcoming transfer business. Zabaleta was a very promising start indeed and if Gold and Sullivan were to continue in a similar vein now when wrapping up deals for new strikers I will happily breathe a sigh of relief first and heap praise on them next.

I’m sure most of you know that season ticket renewal deadline is coming up fast on Wednesday, May 31st, a date I remember so well because it’s me brother’s birthday.
I know a few on here are still mulling over whether to renew or packing it in next season. I wouldn’t dream of trying to tell other people what to do, it’s a deeply personal decision for everybody, same as it was for me.

But maybe you can let us know in the comments once you’ve made that decision and also what your reasons were for renewing or not doing so.

I expect us to make another signing as early as this week. Please continue going to bed though. You will still get the hopefully positive news a bit later, either the next morning or during the day. COYI!

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