The HamburgHammer Column

Dire and Rice, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

In an ever changing world like ours it is reassuring to see that at least some things are unlikely to change anytime soon:

* Manchester United can still buy their way out of trouble by picking up the Premier League’s top striker.
* Said top striker loves playing against us as he scores more goals against West Ham than any other team, this game was no exception to that rule.
* Our starting XI is still cheaper overall than Man United’s most expensive signing Pogba.
* Old Trafford is a ground where we rarely perform well, nevermind bring home any points.
* They really do like their half and half scarves in the home end at Man United, don’t they ?

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It was a very bad weekend football wise for me and if it hadn’t been for Concordia’s development squad I wouldn’t have seen a single decent performance from one of my teams yesterday, Cordi’s U23 team won 7:3 at home and that freak result alone illustrates perfectly what kind of league that is, with goalkeepers that have the physique of hookers in rugby and some shambolic defending on show in general (however, we’ve seen some pretty abysmal defensive skills even at Premier League level in the past few days, haven’t we ?).

That game was followed by a truly shocking home performance by the Concordia first team in their league game. A lackluster, inept first half with mindblowing errors galore which allowed the guests from Osdorf to race into a comfortable 3:0 halftime lead. Cordi had probably 75% possession, but that’s no good if you mainly pass the ball around neatly sideways and backwards. Attitude, effort and body language eventually improved in the second half, but one consolation goal was all the Cordi lads had to show for it – at this rate it’s going to be a long and hard season for the boys this time around. Potential midtable mediocrity instead of another promotion push I reckon.

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I only missed the first five minutes of the West Ham game actually and was relieved we weren’t already a goal down when I switched on the telly. It was obvious we’d be under the kosh all game and bearing that in mind I was reasonably pleased with the first half performance, apart from their goal of course, but when you play against top class players the like of which Man United have the luxury of fielding alll over the pitch, then every single error you make tends to get mercilessly punished by ball into your net more often than not.

The clinical way in which Man United put away their opportunities in the second half was brutal to watch, but it also illustrated that there is a shedload of work ahead for Bilic and his staff to sort out our defending in training. We seem to be slow in reading opposition plays, slow in reacting and therefore easy to tear apart at the back. If you defend like this not even the best goalkeeper in the world will be able to keep the scoreline respectable for you.

I really hope we manage to sort our defense out, hopefully new signing Carvalho will take some pressure away from our defenders to begin with and it’s comforting to know we won’t have to play Manchester United every week of course. It was the first game of the season, a pretty dire performance, maybe even a crap one, but I won’t bother getting riled up too much, reading comments at this point from Hammers fans frantically pushing the panic button already. Let’s look at some of the positives instead.

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It was a massive relief to finally see Diafra Sakho back on the pitch again, even showing something resembling a smile when coming on and he looked pretty sharp and up for it, at least until we fell apart later on.

More gametime in the coming weeks should hopefully give him some confidence and some goals should then increase said confidence even further, if he can stay fit of course. We all know Sakho can be a very decent striker for us if his body and mind are in good health and spirits.

Second positive for me was the short glimpse we got of Declan Rice in a competitive (yeah, right!) game. He didn’t look out of place at all when he came on.
He didn’t put much of a foot (or pass) wrong yesterday and even if he has to shoulder some of the blame for one of those late goals, I won’t allow this to cloud my overall positive impression of Declan’s performance.

He obviously couldn’t turn around a game like this on his own, but to me he looks absolutely ready to be in our first team matchday squads now on a regular basis.
It was also pleasant to hear that both Burke and Cullen (The Pooltable Boys from Rotenburg) apparently gave a good account of themselves for Bolton in their game at Millwall. Playing for them regularly should do them the world of good, potentially setting them up for a swift return to West Ham in January. Apparently both are very much in Slaven’s first team plans so hopefully once our guys have settled down in the league somewhat we can start seeing more of the youngsters.

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And then there is the new guy from Montenegrian descent (born and bred in Sweden though) we signed last week, Sead Haksabanovic (great name that!) who seems to be yet another jamboree bag full of tricks, flicks and surprises. I am quite aware of course that not every wonderkid who joins our club today will turn out to be the real deal tomorrow or even the day after. But at the very least he arrives at our club bringing with him a good measure of praise and promise, he also is a versatile chap, being able to play in midfield, either in a central attacking position, on the left wing or even further upfront.

He looks to me like a Swedish version of Tony Cottee, nippy, small, light on his feet, can turn his opponent on an area the size of a beer mat, you get the picture.
They don’t mention any weaknesses on whoscored.com, but emphasise his ability to shoot from distance and the fact he gets fouled a lot.
Looks like he could even be another decent (and regular) bench option this season for the first team rather than the development squad.

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I am now hoping for and expecting a much better performance in our next game against Southampton, with better effort and some more guts. However, with the signings we have made already in this window I am cautiously optimistic there are better times ahead for our club on the pitch.

From what I’ve read there could still be a few new faces coming in, with one or two leaving (hopefully the right ones!).

I have booked flights last week for my first live game this season, our local derby against Spurs in anticipation of another feisty affair. And hopefully another 1:0 home win which has been the customary result during my first season of visits to the London Stadium. That’s a tradition by the way that doesn’t need to change anytime soon as far as I am concerned! Unlike certain other traditions connected to our away games at Old Trafford.

Let’s hope I can be a good luck charm for the lads two seasons running! COYI!!!

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The HamburgHammer Column

Roll Up for the Magical Mystery Tour! (or will it be the magical hystery tour ?)

So the new season is upon us and the summer break has gone as quickly as it came really. What with all the preseason games I watched so far thanks to West Ham coming to my neck of the woods and thanks to Concordia having kicked off their season too I am already in full match going football mode again. Not long to go now until we kick off the new Premier League season with the easiest fixture we could have picked, obviously: Manchester United away!

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The weird thing is, whenever a new season comes around I usually have an instinct, a gut feeling, a vague idea where we may finish. This year though there is nothing of the sort. If I had to predict anything I would say we are highly unlikely to get relegated. Other than that I haven’t got a Scooby (what’s new I hear you asking!).

On paper we have made some shrewd signings indeed. Zabaleta should add experience and swagger to our defense, Joe Hart could prove to be pleasant surprise between the sticks, depending which version we’re actually getting, Arnautovic is a jamboree bag altogether who can be a game changer or an invisible moody primadonna, sometimes over the course of the same game while Javier “Little Pea” Hernandez should continue to score goals because that’s what he’s done at every single club he joined in his career.

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Over all our net spending so far has been extremly modest though and I am confident there will be more new faces at the club soon, especially when Feghouli and Snodgrass do finally leave the club and we may also still need to find a replacement for Adrian should he decide to leave for the opportunity to be a regular starter again elsewhere.

I am feeling neither particularly optimistic about this season nor pessimistic, no emotions of expectant hope or joy, no buzz or excitement, but also no doom and gloom. This time for me it’s the uncharted territory of the “wait and see” approach.

Of course I am hoping our injury issues have been addressed sufficiently, that we will suffer less knocks, strains, pulls and fractures. And I do hope our players manage to recover from any potential injuries they may suffer much better and quicker than in previous seasons. I also hope our new signings will help us to both concede less goals at the back and convert more goalscoring opportunities upfront.

If things fall into place for us this season then getting a European spot isn’t impossible actually. It’s also entirely possible though that it’ll be a similar damp squib style season just like the last one, underperforming for long stretches, the new signings not living up to expectations, players forming an orderly queue in the treatment room all season plus various other off-field issues, resulting in a lower midtable position in the table. I just don’t know what it’s gonna be this time.

Preseason results are never a good indication in terms of what to expect in the league proper. If anything, our preseason performances confused the hell out of me.
I was impressed with every single youth player I saw, yet Cullen and Burke have joined Bolton on loan and I am sure the likes of Martinez, Holland, Makasi and even Rice too may find themselves at various loan clubs in the coming days as well.

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What I saw from the youngsters gives me a good long-term gut feeling about West Ham as I do get the impression we may have a good bunch there, a decent number of prospects with a good chance to make it into our first team squad eventually.

Not to forget Reece Oxford who will be responsible for the fact that I will be watching a lot more Bundesliga football this season. As watching Hamburg SV games does nothing to improve my blood pressure levels in general these days I rarely follow the Bundesliga as much as I used to in the past (as I am occupied enough with following West Ham and Concordia to be fair), but I will make an exception with Moenchengladbach now and will let you know how Reece is getting on playing for The Foals as they are commonly known in Germany.

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As a little bit of fun, despite my gut feeling having gone numb, I will make a few predictions for the new season to get the ball rolling for some predictions of your own, so here it goes:

1) Top goalscorer: Javier Hernandez, 14 goals (league and cups).
2) Final league position: 10th.
3) Hammer of the Year: Pedro Obiang.
4) Young Hammer of the Year: Nathan Holland.
5) Most improved player: Edimilson Fernandes.
6) Premier League Champions: Manchester City.
7) Relegated Teams: Huddersfield, Swansea, Burnley.
8) Number of games played by Andy Carroll this season: 15 (incl. sub appearances)

To close this out, as usual the quick Concordia update. Sunday afternoon’s game away to Wedel was abysmal for a number of reasons, the Cordi boys lost 1:4 after taking the lead early in the first half. They then missed a few sitters and gifted midfield and momentum to the opposition which allowed Wedel back into the game. They took the lead after converting two penalties in a row, at least one of which was a dubious one. The referee never really had a clearly defined line of refereeing the game all afternoon and sent off two Cordi players in the second half, apparently in both cases for verbal abuse/dissent, yet the Wedel players were allowed to constantly address the referee as “dude” or “man” without getting booked. Weird!

Cordi also unfortunately lost a player to injury after a nasty clash of heads, leading to a ten minute stoppage in the game until an ambulance arrived to take the lad to the local hospital for further treatment, his head heavily bandaged. Let’s hope it’s not too serious…

So, the new season in the Premier League awaits. Hopefully it’ll be a joyous one for all Hammers fans, wherever they may be! COYI!


The HamburgHammer Column

Hammers hanging behind in Hamburg

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It should have been a glorious footballing feast…in theory. Okay, at the very least we should have beaten those part timers of Altona comfortably, even taking into account the fact that Altona’s season was already in full swing (having played one league and one cup game already) and West Ham were still trying to improve their match fitness mainly without suffering any injuries to our players at this crucial stage with the first league game at Manchester United just around the corner.

I won’t say anything here about the Monday before the game when I welcomed Fallingegirl to my city as he will pen his own guest article on his Hamburg experiences I understand.

On matchday I met up with Liam early in the afternoon, another fellow Hammer from another West Ham forum who had travelled over for the game from Brentwood.
We shook hands at the entrance of St.Pauli’s famous Millerntor Stadion before going on the stadium tour which surprisingly was still on despite St.Pauli being scheduled to play Stoke in a preseason friendly just four hours later.
So it came as no surprise that our group bumped into the busy St.Pauli kitman in the dressing room who promptly but politely threw us out again after two minutes as he had work to do obviously.

It is such an amazing stadium (just under 30k capacity) despite having been modernised on all four sides about five years ago to effectively replace the older stadium that used to stand there in the very same location.

Despite being a state of the art stadium it still oozes the character, values and traditions of the club that resides there. For example they do have a corporate VIP section of course, but even the guests in those areas don’t get a red carpet treatment. They have to enter through a simple cobblestoned entrance and and have to get to their lounges via the same stairs used by supporters sitting in the cheap seats.

The lounges are special insofar as they all look different and the sponsors using them have kitted each one out in a distinctively unique design and style, so there is a pirate themed bar for instance, a chamber resembling a mountain cabin in the Alps, another one recreating the look of the dressing room in the old stadium and many more.

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When I was stepping out onto one of the balconies of a lounge, looking down at the pitch it reminded me of a moment more than two years ago when I was spending the night at the West Ham hotel at Upton Park, admiring the green grass of the Boleyn just below, so close you almost felt you could touch the blades of grass with your fingertips.
I am sure that 90% (or more) of the West Ham fans would love to watch home games from a stadium like the Millerntor where St.Pauli play (only a claret and blue version of course).

After the tour we met up with the radio guy from the local radio station and took the bus over to Altona and as could be expected the buses were absolutely heaving with fans from both sides travelling to the game. My first action was to buy a half and half scarf. I usually despise those matchday souvenirs, to me they represent part of what is wrong with modern football and I never buy them when attending a Premier League game, but this was a special occasion after all, my beloved West Ham playing a team FROM my birthplace and hometown Hamburg IN Hamburg, nevermind it was the wrong Hamburg team, but still…LOL

I still maintain though that the task of organising this game must have been slightly overwhelming for a club of Altona’s stature.
I had a bad feeling already when ordering the tickets for this game online as the process was flawed and people ended up getting the wrong tickets. This manifested itself further when entering the stadium. I had been told in advance that Altona for some reason seemed keen to use an approach based on nationality when segregating fans.
So German fans were supposed to go in the home ends to the other Germans, no matter if they supported West Ham or Altona while apparently English fans only were supposed to be allowed into the designated away section.

Fallingegirl for some reason ended up entering through the main entrance, watching the game surrounded by Altona fans while being in full West Ham gear. Apparently a lot of tickets weren’t actually checked thoroughly by stewards upon stadium entry. Other West Ham fans from Germany in claret and blue were following in Fallingegirl’s footsteps as apparently stewards had told them to do just that. I was already in the away section when the radio guy nearly got me chucked out unwittingly by telling the stewards about the fact I was a local Hammers fan with a German passport he was doing a feature on.

It turned out there were plenty of German Hammers fans there after all, both from Hamburg and the surrounding area which means I am now officially no longer the only Hammer in the village…:-)
I will now try to stay in touch with some of them and hopefully we can find an Irish Bar or something that will allow us to watch West Ham together on a big screen or telly on a more regular basis, we will see.

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I have spoken before about my disappointment that the West Ham-Concordia game never materialised and my being even more disappointed that Altona were ultimately successful with their bid. I am now more convinced than ever that something doesn’t add up financially here. I actually wrote an email to the local sponsors who were mentioned in the local press when the fixture was announced to get a bit more information on this and how 4th level Altona were actually able to make it all happen.
I wasn’t surprised I never heard back from them…

Again, I cannot confirm the actual match fee asked by West Ham on this blog, but it is a significant sum and surely totally out of the financial reach of a club like Altona.
Even with the help of the local sponsor the match fee would be far too high to warrant the game to go ahead without someone losing money and certainly Altona can’t have earned anything from this in money terms, especially after only selling 5000 tickets when their ground could hold nearly twice as many.

I am convinced that either West Ham lowered their asking price for the match fee to suit Altona or it was a case of someone knowing someone and owing them a business favour. I am highly biased of course as a Concordia fan here, with wounded pride maybe clouding my judgment, but this contest seemed dodgy from the beginning.
I doubt we will ever hear the truth about what really happened there to be honest.

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The game didn’t make a lot of sense in terms of the gulf between the quality of the two teams (even though that gulf of course wasn’t apparent in the game itself). I heard that Altona had to upgrade the dressing room for their visitors at short notice as the standards were not quite up to the standards expected by “posh” West Ham.
Maybe that was part of the problem: West Ham seemed to expect a glorified practise session with spectators in the stands, Altona on the other hand gave them a proper game, wanting it more, running more, being up for it to a degree that apparently surprised or even shocked our players.

There was one punch up in the away section, forcing the police to drop the sausages they were munching on and intervene. Apparently it wasn’t even a West Ham fan causing the aggro but a Halle fan from East Germany sporting fascist tattoos and trying desperately to pick a fight. Halle were even playing a game that day.
So to take the bizarre effort of ordering a ticket for this game weeks ago and then travelling for hours just to pick a fight and ending up being frogmarched out of the ground is quite an impressive display of stupidity.

Football wise there were some positive news for me after all when I learned that Concordia had won their cup game at Wentorf by a 5:0 scoreline.
So at least one of my teams on the night lived up to their status as favourites.

So, what do I take away from the last few preseason days encountered with West Ham ? Well, I was a bit disappointed, with the games itself obviously, but also with the closed training session on Thursday and what seemed to me like players that were not caring about the German fans that much, giving away vibes of being distant, disinterested or bored. To put this into perspective though, I have also heard stories of the team being very good with certain other individuals and kids, making their day in the process.

So maybe I was just unlucky and we were actually discussing this issue during our farewell beers outside a restaurant in Altona on Tuesday evening, me, Fallingegirl, Ebi, the German Hammer from near Cologne and his son Tommy (biggest Tomkins fan on the planet). We all agreed that it’s not really worth it getting attached to the players or expecting any of them to behave in an overly friendly or jolly manner with the fans. You are bound to get disappointed if the players don’t react in the way you would like them to.

Same with the decisions of the board. Owners come and go, but the fans will still be there with new owners in charge. We established there is one thing that really is at the focus for us all when it comes to supporting West Ham and why we will hopefully continue to do so for many years to come: It is the bond between Hammers fans worldwide, helping each other out, having each other’s back, having a good time together and being there for each other.

I have met quite a few new friends in the last few days who share my love for West Ham, fellow Germans, but also from Essex and Greater Manchester. Yes, West Ham are a football club first and foremost and we want to see them win games. Maybe even want to see them get to the next level sometime in our lifetime. But as long as there are still West Ham fans looking out for one another it doesn’t matter too much what happens on the pitch.

We didn’t pick West Ham (or get chosen by West Ham in some cases) for glory or bragging rights. It’s because of, pardon the pathos, being part of the West Ham family.
And the preseason tour of Germany has given me a strong indication that the West Ham family is very much alive and kicking. And that’s the biggest positive I take away from our preseason travels in Germany. COYI!


The HamburgHammer Column

Hammers losing out on gooseberry cup in the German countryside

Why does time always have to flash by when you’re enjoying yourself ? It seems like it was just a few hours ago that I got into my car to drive out to Schneverdingen to welcome my star guests BSB and The Original Russ to my country. Well, I say my country, but of course it was pretty much rural countryside, the backwaters of civilisation almost, like having a Londoner taking you to Norfolk for a game.

Mind you, the Lüneburg Heath is beautiful enough in its own kind of way and BSB was happy enough with the beautiful houses there and the compact and cosy town center.
Still I managed to take us down the wrong road on our way to the stadium (which seems to be a recurring theme now), but then again I am pretty much a stranger in that part of the country myself and we did alright in the end anyway.

To start off with the positives, it is always good to see the youngsters, the future of our club so to speak, playing in the flesh. We had to play a game of “Who is that youngster over there?” initially, but we managed to identify them all and I have to say while some of them impressed more than others, not a single one of them disappointed. Personally I was very happy indeed with Cullen, Rice, Holland and Martinez.

Another positive was the general atmosphere at both games. Not a sniff of trouble, it was basically a paid holiday for the police staff present at the game as they had so little to do. Certain sections of the travelling Hammers have been praising the stunning beauty of the female police officers to the hilt, comparing them to glamour models or girl groups like the Spice Girls. Not sure about that one, but maybe the stunners in uniform helped putting the Hammers fanbase in a relaxed and happy mood for the games which ain’t a bad thing in my book.

There was friendly banter with the Bremen fans too and while I can never truly support Werder being a proud Hamburger I can respect them and if West Ham were to play Bremen on a more regular basis in future preseason friendlies I wouldn’t mind that at all. One of the stewards in Lohne who was manning the entrance to the away seating section (when I say away seating section I mean the bit that had been cordoned off with simple barrier tape, so you basically had both sets of fans sitting right next to each other) was a former Lohne player and he was proudly showing us a picture on his mobile of a newspaper clipping covering a preseason friendly he had played against West Ham in 1983. They lost that game 1:4 on the day and apparently his direct opponent on the pitch got the better of him all afternoon, it was a certain Alvin Martin…

Another positive for me was seeing some glimpses of what Arnautovic could do for us. There obviously is a great footballer in there, when he is in the mood for applying himself for the full 90 minutes (which apparently was an issue at previous clubs), he can be an arrogant so and so, but he now is OUR arrogant so and so which means I shall gladly root for him despite his Austrian accent…:-))

He seems to love taking on three or four players at the same time which can be frustrating to watch if it doesn’t work, but when it does come off, boy, is it a beauty to behold!
Arnautovic is the kind of player that gets fans out of their seats, hopefully there will be plenty of that at London Stadium this season.

My favourite youngster now probably is Josh Cullen, not just because of his composed play but also because me and Ebi (a fellow German Hammer from near Bonn) bumped into Cullen and Reece Burke on Thursday afternoon in Rotenburg when the players had some time off and JC and RB were desperately looking for a pool table. We found out for them where they might find one nearby but I doubt they were successful as pubs and arcades in a small town like Rotenburg tend to open in the evenings only. So I will probably never know now if Cullen and Burke did get to play their game of pool in the end…but they were lovely to chat to and wonderful ambassadors for our club.

Pre-season games and friendlies in general don’t do a lot for me (I made an exception in West Ham’s case because it was close to home and because BSB and Russ were over), but you tend to come away from those games none the wiser really. The manager tends to mix and match lineups, players are busy trying not to get injured instead of getting stuck in (and rightfully so) and those friendlies therefore rarely deliver a proper indication as to how the actual season might turn out for your team.

It would have been great to see Andy Carroll play of course, although the tooth fairy will probably play more games for West Ham next season than AC, but I won’t go further into that topic as I don’t intend to burst a blood vessel. I think it’s time to finally cut our losses, pay the guy off, save a bit of money that way and prepare for life without him. There are enough strikers still available out there who may not be world beaters but who at least will be able to play week in week out and convert some goalscoring opportunities when you create those chances for them.

So we didn’t win the Gooseberry Cup, excuse me, Betway Cup! (I’m using gooseberry here because there was some lovely gooseberry cream cake available before the game in Lohne and because the gooseberry pretty much describes the kind of area where those preseason games had been arranged to take place. I thought it was an odd choice, but ultimately it turned out not too bad a decision after all).

In order to see a proper top level football stadium I took BSB and Russ to the famous Weserstadion in Bremen, but not before we had enjoyed a Mexican style dinner at El Mariachi in the vicinity of the stadium (to celebrate Chicharito’s arrival at West Ham, BSB and Russ had steak). It was one of the rare times when I actually ordered too much food for us (I had never been to that place before and we had no idea how big the servings would be). At some point even I was full up, so I took a doggybag with the leftovers home for the next day as I learned from my war and hunger scarred parents all those years ago never to allow good food going to waste.

It was dark already when we arrived at the stadium and we obviously couldn’t get into the ground, so we took a wander around and caught glimpses of the inside through gaps and fences. My guests were suitably impressed and judged it to be a stadium fit for a big club which Bremen are, not necessarily in terms of trophies and star players as Bremen’s glory years mainly are in the past rather than the present, but the support is top notch and the stadium (which holds almost 40.000) is nearly always sold out.
It is also to my knowledge the only stadium in the Bundesliga where fans can travel in by boat shuttle as the stadium is located right alongside the river Weser where the stadium derives its name from.

Tomorrow I shall be welcoming another fellow Hammer to town who is coming over for the Altona game, so we will have a little Guided Walk around town, with an emphasis on the locations where the Beatles used to perform, drink, sleep (or spend time in a prison cell overnight once) to be followed by the game itself on Tuesday evening.

In contrast to the games in Schneverdingen and Lohne there will be strict segregation in effect between sets of fans for the Altona game and as the ground is right smack in the middle of a busy inner city working-class/alternative/left-wing community there could indeed be some trouble, especially later, on and around the notorious Reeperbahn what with St.Pauli playing a friendly against Stoke of all teams at the very same time in pretty much the same borough.
St.Pauli and Altona are favourite areas for eating out and drinking and there will be four sets of fans doing just that tomorrow evening all likely to bump into each other somewhere along the way: Altona, St.Pauli, West Ham and Stoke.

That’s two Hamburg teams which hate each other’s guts and two English teams that are not exactly friends for life either.

I really hope it will be just the same jolly and relaxed atmosphere on the night than it was out in the country, I wouldn’t bet on it though. What I would bet on is West Ham beating Altona fairly comfortably. Altona deserve a good thrashing too. They are the barstewards after all who got promotion instead of my beloved Concordia.
So, make it double digits please West Ham: Hattrick each for Snodgrass, Arnautovic and Ginger Pele please plus an own goal from Altona. Mission accomplished!

COYI!!!

PS: I didn’t expect my column to go up on Sunday. So quick update on Concordia’s season opener which was won 3:1 this afternoon and was attended by 163 fans, 5% of which were travelling Palace fans, with one Man City and one Wolves supporter thrown in for good measure. Some of these guys have been going to Cordi games for 12 years now and I was glad to finally meet them. We all had a jolly good time, one of the guys is taking the plunge in a few weeks as well (Good luck with that Rob!) and I was impressed with their commitment to football. They must have watched three or four games of football at the lower league levels in Hamburg and Luebeck during this trip and all that because they do love their football so much. So next time you’re watching Match of the Day, look out for the Crystal Palace flag with the Concordia crest in the top left corner. Good lads! They invited me over for a Palace game actually (I know, wrong side of the river and all that), but maybe there is a weekend when it’ll be West Ham for me on Saturday and Palace on Sunday.


The HamburgHammer Column

Mexican Pie, Austrian Cream and Germany's future Number One ?

Usually I begin my column with a little update from the world of my beloved Concordia Hamburg. Not this time though, first thing first, needs must. In the last few days we have signed Joe Hart (albeit only on loan for the time being), plus Marko Arnautovic on Saturday with Javier “Little Pea” Hernandez pretty much in the bag to officially sign with us tomorrow (his transfer to us has been confirmed by virtually every trustworthy media outlet in Germany and the selling club Bayer Leverkusen as well).

After being ultra critical of our current owners in harsh column after harsh column I am more than happy to currently be munching on two or three large slices of humble pie (served with some salsa and guacamole on the side in honour of our incoming Mexican fox in the box).

And apparently our transfer business will not be finished there either.
Rumours of Keita Balde are still flying about, we might also see another Mexican striker signed up to partner Hernandez and even a bold gamble on West Ham fan Jack Wilshere could be on the cards. With maybe some other targets in the pipeline that not a single ITK might even have a Scooby about so far.

So it finally looks as if Bilic will actually be given a very decent squad to better our performances and results from last season. So I gladly doff my cap to Mr.Sullivan and Mr.Gold in that respect, we seem to have negotiated some shrewd deals after all to bring in very decent quality with fairly modest spending. The owners will never really be my cup of tea, but of course they don’t have to be. They own and run the club, I am a mere fan who roots for the team and has a good old moan from time to time. The owners and I are unlikely to be sharing many dinner conversations in future anyway and I don’t work for them either. They may be no more than benevolent bankers for West Ham at this point (no rhyming slang intended), but I have now accepted they will not inject millions upon millions of their personal wealth into the club without expecting their money back with interest at some point. Fair enough! They have every right to do that.

When even Mourinho seems to be looking both incredulously and enviously at our transfer business, when the Daily Telegraph is posting an article about Hernandez potentially being the Premier League’s best signing of the summer it must mean our club are doing something right after all.

Also Arnautovic has the potential to be a big hit at West Ham in my opinion, an Austrian version of DiCanio if you like, a bit of a character with an ego as big as your average mountain top in the Alps. I read that Arnautovic can drift in and out of games, but also has the uncanny tendency to decide a game on his own with a deft touch, a decisive pass, a classy finish. He may not shed blood, sweat and tears for the team over the full 90 minutes, but if he can win us games with just 10 minutes of footballing genius I’m fine with that.

Quick word on our goalkeeping situation: I’m hearing that Adrian is now likely to also leave the club with Randolph having already joined Middlesbrough. That leaves us with only Hart on loan. Which means we probably are confident that Hart could actually be a permanent fixture for West Ham eventually, if we are prepared to ship out our main two goalkeepers from last season in the same window.

Or we are happy enough to just find us another goalkeeper or two out there for reasonable money who will be at least at Adrian’s and Randolph’s level. I hope our scouting department has a few decent options lined up already as we speak. I would have liked to keep Adrian as I love the guy as a person and character (minus the keepy uppy crap in his own box with an opposition player rushing towards him, obviously).

Moving back to Hamburg for a moment, the Royals were in town on Friday, Prince William, with his wife, the Duchess of Cambridge, and the kids too. Before you ask, no, I wasn’t there amongst the crowd, waving my Union Jack or singing Rule Britannia or Bubbles at them, but by all accounts it was a glorious visit with the Hamburgers treating the British visitors like, well, royalty…:-))

From what I read in the local tabloids they visited the recently opened concert hall with Kate owning up to having played the flute in younger years, but when offered the chance to display her skills on the instrument in public, she flatly refused and took the conductor’s baton instead for a while. They also were walked through the Maritime Museum, looking at models of some British ships as well, then meeting the cheering masses of admirers on the streets outside before heading to the local Airbus factory, talking to trainees and attending the helicopter assembly next door which apparently was a personal highlight for Prince William who flies a mean helicopter himself – or so I’ve heard…

I wasn’t a personal witness to all those shenanigans as I am not exactly a big fan of monarchies and royalty, and also because Friday was another summer evening filled with Concordia football for me, joined once again by my brother and my nephew, Daniel, who will celebrate his 10th birthday in August. There was free beer for the 150 spectators in Stapelfeld (I only had a small one as I was the designated driver) and indeed it was the expected easy 5:0 win for the Cordi boys, it was more of a glorified preseason friendly than a proper cup contest, but my nephew was the star of the evening anyway proudly sporting his Cordi shirt (wearing #6 in honour of Bobby Moore), chatting to everyone in sight at random, be that fellow and much older Cordi fans, players, substitutes, physio, club vice president, away fans, whoever cared to listen to the incessant waterfall of words streaming from his mouth, just rabbiting on like a market trader on speed.
(I wonder where he gets it from, must be running in the HH family…:-))

He still has to learn a bit about the finer details of the beautiful game though as illustrated when he screamed at the ref, demanding a penalty to Cordi when one of our lads had been scissor tackled early in the first half. That the foul happened twenty yards outside the box didn’t really bother little Daniel much, the foul appalled him enough to demand a penalty for the offence, regardless of the position of the crime scene.

Interesting thinking really, he may be onto something there, maybe it’s time for a rule change after all…:-))

The biggest laugh happened when he congratulated the substitute goalkeeper (who had played the entire second half) on his masterful performance after the final whistle (one tiny goalkeeper praising his slightly older and more experienced fellow goalie). The Cordi custodian could only grin at that verdict as he had only touched the ball once, kicking it away three times as that was pretty much all he had to do during his 45 minutes, but it was still good to see loads of players giving little Daniel high fives and also asking him when he would start playing for Cordi himself.

Another player had me in stitches when he told my nephew “If even I can play for Cordi, you surely can do the same!”, I love the humour at Concordia! The banter and wit is quite similar to what happens when West Ham fans get together.
The side benefit of this evening apart from the win came in the shape of Daniel now being utterly desperate to join a local football club first (there are three clubs close to where he lives) and learn to play football in a proper team before then joining the Concordia youth ranks in preparation for his future role of the new German Number One in about 2031, obviously…:-))

Don’t get me wrong, I love that he just recently got his orange belt in judo, but every uncle surely wants to see their nephew become a decent footballer rather than a great judoka, or maybe that’s just me…

Back to West Ham the team have concluded their training camp in Austria now and what I’ve seen and read so far is very encouraging, especially as far as our youngsters are concerned. It would be lovely to see guys like Cullen, Rice, Burke, Quina, Holland, Makasi and Martinez stick around and become a more regular feature in and around future first team squads, but we’ll just have to see about that. I’m also blown away by the sheer class of Zabaleta, he may no longer be good enough for a club like Man City but he still looks like a darn nice defender to me.

The way the ball seems to stick to his feet is amazing, the guy just knows what he’s doing and I cannot wait to see him play in person. Which should be fairly soon as it’s going to be an exciting week for me. In the coming days I intend to drive down to the West Ham training camp in Germany, hoping to catch a training session or two, maybe have a quick chat with Slav, with hopefully a few players signing my matchday programmes. No idea if they will let me in to watch or not, but I will give it a try anyway. It would be rude not to pay the team a visit as they’re training only 70 miles away from where I live.

And then it’ll be my record stretch of football games attended in person in the space of just five days. Starting Friday evening in Schneverdingen with the first game against Bremen, followed by the second one on Saturday afternoon in Lohne (games I will attend together with a certain cabbie and a Russ who claims to be The Original One). Returning to Hamburg on Sunday it’ll be the season opener for Concordia at home to Buchholz, followed by West Ham playing Altona on Tuesday evening.

It’ll be emotional for sure. I’ll be as happy as a kitten on Christmas Day snuggling on a warm blanket on the sofa surrounded by a circle of meat based treats seeing my beloved West Ham this close to home for once. I feel a lot more optimistic about West Ham and the upcoming season again, I may even buy a new West Ham shirt this season (even though this German turncoat not too long ago vowed to never again buy any merchandise as I didn’t want to support the board with my dough, but I support West Ham, the football team, first and foremost and as long as the board put the majority of the merchandise income back into the squad I’m fine with that).

I’m a much happier Hammer again, thank you very much! Bring on the mighty Hammers in Germany! The North is ready. COYI!!!


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