The HamburgHammer Column

You look like the Ant that swallowed the canaries - 4 goals, one step closer to safety

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I had quite a choice of puns this time around with several more in the pipeline to pick from for my column’s headline after our away win against Norwich.

Eventually I simply picked my personal favourite.
Which came to me just after Antonio had scored his second goal just before halftime.

Also in contention were “Canaries buried in goal mine collapse”, “Canaries’ survival hopes have flown south“, “Don’t be Kruel – No Mercy Antonio strikes!”, “The Canaries have ceased to be in the Premier League, this is an ex-canary!“ or, for all you Beatles fans out there, “And your bird can sink”. And how about “Canaries pining for the swords!“ ?
Maybe even “Killing 11 birds with one Antone“.

All brilliant of course…but I needed only one headline…;-))

Shame that these birds have flown now, Norwich are such a lovely source for finding all kinds of witty puns and you all know by now how much I just love my play-on-words. Is punability even a word ? ;-)
If it is, the Canaries are definitely in the Champions League of punability.

Be that as it may, more important than even the funniest pun could ever be is of course the fact West Ham now have three more vital points in the bag! Which spells trouble for both Villa and Bournemouth accordingly, despite the fact they won their respective fixtures too yesterday. But there’s only three games left. Which means every game is a Cup Final now…

OH YES!!! If you had offered West Ham fans the world over this result and performance before kick-off, I bet that Hammers everywhere would have snatched all your arms and legs off without thinking twice, regardless if he or she was following the game in Hackney, Hainault, Huddersfield, Hamburg, Helsinki, Honolulu, Hanoi or Houston.

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What they saw was a solid team performance against a home side that was frankly so harmless and tame it was actually painful to watch at times.
Like an experienced and armed hunter walking into a petting zoo of cuddly and furry guinea pigs, bunnies and kittens.
It never felt like an actual contest between equals.
Men against boys more like. With us being the men for a change.

No wonder then that Norwich were the first team this season to have their relegation status officially confirmed. On the strength or rather weakness of that performance they won’t be missed much in the PL except as a courteous opponent dropping plenty of points. And for being very punable of course…;-))

But you can only beat what’s in front of you and our players certainly did their bit to ensure we will see PL football being played at the London Stadium next season after all, be that with fans inside the stadium or not.
Every single player did contribute in a positive way for us. Nobody had a stinker of a game for West Ham. Which was nice and rare to see.

We are not mathematically safe yet, I am aware of that.
But looking at the remaining fixtures, the league table and, more importantly, current form shown over the recent FIVE games played by each team, then Bournemouth and Villa don’t just have still quite a mountain to climb in order to stay up during the final stage of this crazy season, they will have to do it barefoot, without rope, cord or webbing, in a hailstorm with no gloves on, without the guiding light of a headtorch while the peak of the mountain lies somewhere way up shrouded in fog.

They need a lot of other games going in their favour while still winning at least two of their own remaining games. It’ll be incredibly hard for them.

So, in short: I don’t see either of them two reaching the top of that mountain. Neither will be in the Premier League next season.
And I still believe this to be the case despite Villa and Bournemouth winning their respective games yesterday.
They have closed the gap a bit to make things a bit more interesting. I still don’t see enough in both the Villa and the Bournemouth side to keep them up now. Too little too late. I think. And hope.

Where then to start with our win against Norwich ? With Michail Antonio of course! It is rare for any player to score four goals in a single PL game. Even if you are a very good striker. It gets even harder if you’re a West Ham player. We simply don’t score four goals in a game often. We concede four or more, no problem! Scoring them is a different matter.

Still, Antonio did it. Against a woeful defence, granted, but he took his opportunities in clinical fashion. Like the lethal striker he probably is after all despite actually having played mostly as a winger in his career – not to mention the occasional stint at RB. Maybe Antonio is a great goalkeeper as well, who knows ? Maybe we will find out next season. LOL

So Antonio scored four, with a bit more luck it could easily have been seven or eight goals in total for us, with Bowen, Soucek, Fornals and Antonio missing several more opportunities to add to our tally.

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You have to go back all the way to September 1981 by the way (I was nine years old at the time) to find the most recent West Ham quadruple goalscorer in a league game for West Ham, prior to Antonio.
It was none other than David “Psycho“ Cross against Spurs.

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Cross is a wonderful man, not just because he scored four times against our friends from North London (a feat very likely to guarantee yourself instant legend status at West Ham), but because I got to meet him and have a chinwag at an event in Dagenham a while ago and Cross is such an easy guy to root for, very approachable and chatty, with both feet firmly on the ground and still a big West Ham fan of course. Not a Psycho at all these days…

Saturday was very much Antonio’s day but every player in our team put a proper shift in. To be fair, Norwich pretty much handed our players the key to the city on a velvet pillow, our lads had so much space and time on the pitch that it was not only almost farcical at times.
I was also already chilled and completely at ease once we had managed to score the first goal at Carrow Road.
It felt like game, set and match there and then.
From that point onwards Norwich looked like a relegated team, a beaten side. And not even a good one at that!

Of course we didn’t have a perfect performance, not every pass of ours found a teammate, not every shot was on target, but we looked composed throughout and all that confidence which was gushing from the Norwich players in buckets seemed to get soaked up readily and gratefully by the boys in claret and blue.

If only we could play like this more often against better sides too. But at least our team should now be able to approach the upcoming games with a bit of swagger and freedom. Maybe play with a bit weight lifted from the players’ minds and shoulders, to perform more freely and just enjoy their football again. As that would translate into the fans as well being able to enjoy watching West Ham afresh.

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A key player for us on Saturday was Mark Noble who always seems so much better and more driven when starting a game after a short spell on the bench. He was also being played in a more advanced role which I thinks suits our Mr.West Ham just fine. When he has to do a lot of defending, tackling and sliding his socks off in the midfield engine room he tends to pick up (unnecessary) yellow cards from late tackles and such like and he is also not really in a position then to play key passes near the opposition’s box.

Playing further forward on the other hand allows him to chase defenders around, win balls for the team and bring others into play with pinpoint passes or chipped balls into the danger zone. He looks more efficient that way, it’s definitely a role Noble might and should play more often now and also next season.

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I’m trying not to get too far ahead of myself mentally in terms of next season. I’m pretty sure we’ll be playing in the PL. I’m also certain we might be losing a player or two that our fans will not be happy to see depart. Rice being the obvious elephant in the room. Anderson another name on the list. Or Sebastien Haller. Some fans may also wonder if we will actually be able to sign Soucek on a permanent deal or if a bigger club will step up now, trying to tap up the Czech midfield maestro and strike a deal with him and Slavia, thus nicking him away from Stratford.

We will see. What will be will be. Financially it’s paramount for our club to still be in a plush and comfy seat in one of the carriages of the big money gravy train bearing the Premier League logo.

You don’t want the turmoil and financial chaos associated with another relegation at West Ham, not in the current climate, not while we’re playing home games at the London Stadium, not while we’re trying to find new owners in the short to medium term.
Sullivan and Gold won’t be around forever and they neither have the funds nor the nous to take this club further.

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Can David Moyes take this club further ? I have never been his biggest fan. Never have been, unlikely to ever be in future. But more than anything at this point in time we need stability and continuity at the position for a while.

I certainly hope that Moyes is the kind of manager who can spot some decent and affordable talent from the Championship (Bowen) and abroad (Soucek) while also bringing more youngsters closer to and into our future first team matchday squads. That’s, in my view, how Moyes can really help our club with steadying the ship. Building a younger, hungrier and cheaper squad in financially trying circumstances at West Ham while making sure we don’t find ourselves in a relegation dogfight time and time again.

A lot of other issues are up to the board though which is where our real limitations a s a club currently lie. But that’s a discussion we’ve been having on here a lot in recent years.

My gut feeling tells me it’ll soon pop up again in conversation on here, especially once the transfer ballyhoo starts rearing its head once more in a few weeks’ time.

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Right, Watford next. Loads of players available for selection, maybe even Anderson and Snodgrass. Guys like Wilshere, Lanzini, Yarmolenko, Haller, all itching for a start in a crucial game against local rivals and current neighbours in the league table. Another very winnable game for us.

A point will probably be enough for us in the end, thanks to our cushion and goal difference, and push us over the finish line. I would very much prefer though if we took the momentum and swagger of the Norwich performance right into the Watford game and get another three points. This season has been a gruesome test of endurance for our fanbase and a rollercoaster of emotions, Alton Towers Nemesis style, in more ways than one.

Let’s reward the faithful Hammers fans wherever they may be with another good performance, more goals and our next PL win. COYI!!!

The HamburgHammer Column

Slog on the Tyne, all whine all whine! Still one more point towards safety

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Close, but no cigar! Not even an electronic ciggy. Only a faint smell of cold smoke, the whiff of if-only and stench of what-might-have-been. Just a single point then on Tyneside which so easily could, should have been all three! There were a lot of things though I did like about our performance (and I also did my personal bit in terms of wearing my lucky shirt again and drinking from my lucky West Ham mug of our recent-win-against-Chelsea fame!).

We had quite a bit of possession, we created loads of good scoring chances, we attacked Newcastle in their own half when they had the ball, we caused them problems throughout the game.

All importantly, we started on a really positive note with a very early goal, highly unusual for us (I couldn’t believe how open Antonio was, before picking his spot he had ample space and time that would have allowed him to set up a deck chair inside the box and pour himself a longdrink prior to scoring), we actually took the lead twice, but predictably couldn’t hang on. Twice.

No other team this season has lost more points from winning positions in the PL than us (24!!!), so this one didn’t come as a massive surprise, but it’s still frustrating of course. And definitely something to work on with the players.
At least we’re league leaders in one category, although it’s not one to be proud of. Not the kind of stat you want to put on a T-shirt and flog in your club shop, is it ?

Newcastle’s first equaliser I could sort of live with as a fan of the beautiful game, because it was a great passing move, crowned by a masterclass in finishing by Almiron whose positioning was spot on. Made our defending look bad, but still, a quality goal and Newcastle of course can play a bit too, so we were always unlikely to keep a clean sheet against them what with the current run they’re on.

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But I haven’t got much sympathy for the way we let the second equaliser happen, a mere 60 seconds or so after we had taken the lead again through Sous Chef, our new Czech mate Tomáš Soucek who really begins to look like a great signing for us. As a team, collectively, we seemed to switch off after his goal – and you can never ever do that in this league. Punishment is never far away from cockiness. Power napping does have its merits in life, scientifically proven and all, but not during a game of football. Or while being behind the wheel on the M25.

Boot the ball unceremoniously into touch. If need be, stick your leg out, stop the Newcastle attack, takethe booking for a professional foul on the chin, but DO NOT concede the equaliser straight away!
I’m convinced if we had kept our calm for five minutes after scoring, we could have held on and brought all three points back to London. As it is, thanks to other results going our way again, we now have a very useful cushion of four points coupled with a superior goal difference.

Looking at our remaining schedule and that of the other teams down there in the doldrums of the PL table, that cushion looks like a valuable asset at this point.

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We really only need to equal what our relegation rivals will manage to gain on the pitch, points-wise, in order to stay up. The pressure now is very much on Norwich, Bournemouth, Villa and Watford, far more than us. While we have a run of very winnable games ahead, that certainly is not the case for Watford, Villa or Bournemouth. Plus, we can now pick from an almost fully fit squad.
Of course I want us to win ALL our remaining games, for confidence reasons and in order to create a positive spirit around our club for the coming months in preparation for next season.

This season overall has been a shower of ice cold crap for us, let’s try to finish it on a high at least. What’s lifting my mood somewhat is the fact we are scoring goals again and those goals are coming from different goalscorers and usually involve plenty of players in the build up. When we score it’s a real team effort. That is something to look forward to in the coming matches.

But let’s not party too hard just now, it still was a game we could and maybe should have won. Our turd has been polished a bit, but it doesn’t smell of roses. Our away record is still atrocious.

Plus there is another bit of news I really wasn’t impressed with over the last few days. West Ham (usually spelled incorrectly as Westham) very rarely feature in the sports news section on German teletext.
When we do, it’s usually due to bad news. And indeed it was.

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The news involves Sebastien Haller and West Ham missing/delaying a recent payment to his former club Eintracht Frankfurt. A transfer fee instalment to the tune of 6 million Euros was apparently due for payment, on May 18th, to be precise. But West Ham didn’t pay. Frankfurt didn’t get their money. For one reason or another.

We don’t have the full details of the matter at this point of course.
West Ham are saying the delay was due to a legitimate contractual dispute of some kind. What exactly that dispute might have been about and how it could warrant West Ham not paying the €6m on time I do not know.

What I know is that is doesn’t look good. Or professional. Eintracht Frankfurt obviously saw a strong enough case to complain to FIFA and ask for them to intervene. Again, this sort of business doesn’t do you any favours if you’re a professional football club plying your trade in the Premier League. Words travel fast in footballing circles…

It’s things like these that make me feel really uncomfortable with the people running West Ham as of now. As fans we don’t expect our team to be world beaters. We lose a lot more games than we win on average. Our football isn’t always brilliant. But I’m sure as fans we would expect our club to pay their bills on time, to generally act in a professional and honourable manner and to not find ourselves in the news for all the wrong reasons. I suppose we will find out more about this sorry affair in the next few days.

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Final bit of news in terms of a very brief Hamburg end of season football update: Once again Hamburg SV have failed to gain promotion back to Bundesliga 1, so it’ll be a third consecutive season for them in Bundesliga 2. As usual they have also sacked their manager and finances may dictate that their goals for next season are more about consolidation and living within their means rather than gunning for promotion again. Looks like modesty and a more realistic approach is going to be the new motto for them now.
Similar really to St.Pauli who only just escaped relegation and as a result they have sacked their manager too.

As for Concordia, the season has been cancelled of course, but transfer dealings in the background have been sorted in a highly efficient fashion to overhaul the squad once more which is now pretty much complete already with about 12 players leaving and 10 replacements coming in. And the Cordi Women’s team (who have been promoted to the top tier of local Hamburg women’s football, their third consecutive promotion by the way) have also announced their first two new signings early on, a new goalkeeper named Lisa and a midfielder called Steffi. You can never really go wrong with a Steffi when it comes to German sports legends…;-))

Let’s hope that by next Monday when my column is out once more we will have made even more significant strides towards PL safety. COYI!!!

The HamburgHammer Column

Are West Ham ready for lift-off ?

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So there was no West Ham game over the weekend just gone, but if it has been all a bit too quiet for our collective liking, well, that’s merely the last remnants of calm before a very long and potentially season-defining storm: Seven games in just under four weeks is one hell of an ask for any football team, not to mention our gang of walking wounded yet highly “professional“ athletes.

Ice hockey teams are used to playing 3-4 games in 7 days regularly, baseball teams during a normal regular season play almost every single day, 162 games in total.

In our current situation it’s all coming together: A mad fixture calendar, bursting at the seams, with every game now taking on the significance of a cup final almost, with our club perched ever so fragile just above the relegation zone, having one eye on our own results and the other on the games of four or five other clubs, all of whom will be desperately trying to cling onto the buffer of the last wagon rumbling along at the rear of the illustrious PL gravy train, or rather liquor train in West Ham’s case of course!

Strangely enough our player availability doesn’t seem to have benefitted much from lockdown, so as usual we already have 3-4 players out with injury or niggles limiting our options. With so many games coming up in quick succession, rotating players in the final seven games will not just have to be a tactical ploy chosen by our magnificent manager but a decision dictated by the sheer necessity of circumstances. Some of our players may need to sit out every other game to prevent knocks or fatigue-related potentially season-ending injuries.

Pub quiz question: (It’s not really because there is no definitive answer.)
How many players need to be injured before we see Ajeti getting a start ? Has he said something nasty in training about Scotland or David Moyes’s missus to deserve continually getting the cold shoulder treatment from the gaffer, even with our top striker Haller still unavailable ?
At least Ajeti is a proper striker by trade…

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I said before we would stay up by the skin of our dentures – and I’m sticking to that view after seeing our relegation rivals struggle to find wins in their most recent games over the past few days.
Teams escaping the drop usually do so by scraping two or three wins together during the final stretch, not by getting three draws and two defeats in five games.

Don’t get me wrong. When I’m watching us play these days I am not impressed with our football. Far from it. Our performances don’t fill me with confidence. And David Moyes doesn’t exactly ooze confidence or tactical nous, neither does he appear to have the guts required for a relegation tussle.

Still, come along for the ride, fasten your seatbelts and remember this is a non-smoking relegation battle. Our cabin crew will be with you shortly, offering you a selection of tasty snacks and drinks, followed by a vast sample of our extensive range of duty-free items at unbeatable prices…oh, nevermind! ;-)

The way I see it West Ham and at least three other teams are presently out in the savannah sun, blundering on without a tour guide or a clue after getting lost on safari, suddenly being chased by a hungry lion, representing relegation from the rich hunting and grazing grounds which is the Premier League.

Now, West Ham of course are not particularly well equipped to outsmart or outmuscle this big cat, we don’t run particularly fast, neither can we boast any decent level of stamina or brute strength to save our skin.
Which already is heavily sunburnt to an unhealthy and aching degree, our liquid supply is down to just half a pint of warm and stale H2O and we also haven’t eaten (won a game of football) in quite a while.

What we do have is a shotgun and ammunition, however, the cartridges we are carrying are actually for the other rifle we left behind in the gun rack by mistake three days ago when we left the safari lodge.
We are weary, depleted and probably already have given up hope of ever shaking off that fearsome and irritating monster that is closing in behind us now by the way, being still very peckish. Does the lion maybe care that we shouldn’t even be out here among this bunch of losers/potential prey in the first place ?
Do ostriches spread their wings and fly to Europe every summer on holiday ?

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Under normal circumstances we wouldn’t stand a chance, but the other chaps running for their lives as well now, beside or right behind us, could actually be presenting us with an unexpected escape route here.

You see, one of our fellow sufferers has a bad hip, bless him, and only one bullet left in his rifle, if he misses the target with the only shot he has, his hands trembling with fear and horror, he is toast. Or rather ragout.

The other one has underestimated the problem altogether, having known only those docile lions from his local Birmingham Zoo and they get fed beef leg and pork shoulder, regular as clockwork, don’t they, so why then would a lion, any lion, even want to eat a human ? AAARRRGHH!!!
While he’s still busy pondering this undoubtedly interesting question the big cat in the meantime has latched onto his chest, providing a straightforward, yet cruel answer. Today it’ll be human leg and tourist shoulder for dinner for a change…what a treat!

And finally there is a third bloke, another poor soul who is really not that different from us at all, in terms of stature, strength and weaponry (or lack of it), alas, he just happens to find himself in the unfortunate position of being a step or two behind us.

So the Panthera leo (I’m mentioning the Latin name especially for you, Mr.Rees-Mogg, in case you’re reading this!) gets the other guy first (while West Ham are still slogging along unscathed, relieved to be able to tell the tale) and despite fighting back bravely with bad breath, colourful language, the courage of having nothing left to lose and the blade of a fake Swiss army knife picked up from a souvenir shop in Nairobi, the poor geezer just behind us represents the final course of the predator’s all-you-can-eat buffet this season.

After feasting on three humans the cat’s enormous appetite has been satisfied at last and there’s no need for the king of animals to hunt again…until next season…

So, there you have it, West Ham staying up, not thanks to our own admirable effort or footballing brilliance, but rather through rotten luck and ineptitude of other clubs.

That’s my rather bleak prediction and it’s with that picture in mind that I shall be watching the upcoming games. Not my idea of fun. It’ll be a chore. I think I prefer washing the dishes. But you never know for sure, maybe it’ll be brilliant and the lads will finally discover their shooting boots after all!

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It doesn’t make much sense to think ahead to next season at this point.
Will the boy in the picture above still be blowing pretty Premier League bubbles once September comes around ?
Or will we be playing the likes of QPR, Reading or Wigan (all of them former PL clubs at one stage) – not in the Cup but in league fixtures ? We’ll see. I probably won’t, as broadcasts of Championship games are harder to come by. Which then would certainly affect the future of this column.

The West Ham players still have the destiny of this club in their own hands and feet.
I’m not sure that’s much of a comforting thought at this point.
Two or three wins might be enough to see us through, looking at our rivals’ current form and squads, all fighting their own battles down there at the bottom of the league.

But should West Ham United even be in this awkward situation, time and time again ?

I don’t think so. So, let’s show some effing pride, passion and desire for once and JUST STAY UP!

We can sort out the rest later. COYI!!!

The HamburgHammer Column

Thrown to the wolves - it's football, but not as we know it!

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Welcome back my fellow sufferers of chronic WestHamitis!

Long time no write. It’s been a while since my column was available on here as your Monday morning breakfast read, the way it used to be before that barsteward of a virus took centre stage basically in every single country which has Hammers supporters living in it.

Not surprising then, unfortunately, that I developed a serious case of writer’s block in the process of dealing with the sample platter of crap we have all been served the past three months or so courtesy of the pandemic.

It didn’t help that on top of public life ALL football came to a grinding halt too, unless you were prepared to develop an outside-the-box passion for exotic foreign football and begin following the top league in Belarus all of a sudden as a last resort…which I really didn’t.

I’d rather feast my eyes on a decent amateur stare-out contest at a bus stop in Bavaria than watch competitive football from Belarus, but maybe that’s just my cynical self being a bit of a self-righteous snob.

Truth be told, being in lockdown hasn’t been easy at all, not for me, not for my readers I would assume, wherever you are. When the highlight of the week is the 500 yard trot to your nearest supermarket (which happens to be an Aldi in my case) once every seven days or so it is a clear sign that something in the world has been knocked upside down and inside out.

Which at this point is pretty much still the case of course for most of us.
I know it can be hard for families being crammed together in a flat for weeks on end, but as a bloke living on his own, let me tell you, it’s not easy being on your own almost 24/7 for a few months – thank God lockdown is slowly being lifted now in my neck of the woods – I’ve been out to have my barnet done, I’ve had cake with my brother on his 53rd birthday and I’ve been out swimming for the first time this year as well. All of which felt strangely luxurious, despite just being little things that used to be normal once.

The Wolves game has given me a great opportunity to ease myself back in with regard to writing again as the contest wasn’t really that exciting anyway, literally not much to write home about, so I can justify only writing a short(ish) match analysis for a change. Coupled with the fact that my beloved Concordia Hamburg still aren’t playing at the moment (and I have lost virtually all interest in Bundesliga 2) it means there’s not much point for my usual Hamburg football update either.

I tried to resurrect my matchday routine on Saturday as much as I could in order to create some make-believe version of normality, you know, screwdriver positioned on a stack of books in comfy chair range, wearing my claret vintage shirt with Bobby’s #6 on the back, West Ham mug in front of me with some nice steaming Rosie Lea in it, milk, one sugar – ready to go!
But somehow I just didn’t feel it. The game never gripped me and I wasn’t really in the mood that evening for repeatedly reaching out to cling to it either.

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Once the game started it was all weirdly wrong…or should that read wrongly weird ? Sure, it was nice to SEE Bubbles being blown into the Stratford sky by them pitch-side machines and it was nice to also HEAR Bubbles before and during the game, even if it was just the canned “Post-Corona-playing-behind-closed-doors-but-still-staying-up-Remix“ coming through my telly. But as soon as the ball was in play I was prepared to get excited. For a while at least.

Come on West Ham, show me why we have missed this game so much! Try to lift our spirits again if you can, if only for 90 minutes!

Initially I really tried to get in the zone. Which lasted for 15 minutes or so. West Ham by the looks of it very much stuck to the distancing advice provided by the medical experts, staying away from both ball and opposition players as much as possible. Flattening the curve in this respect was leaving my excitement levels as flat as a pancake. Or a blown out tire.

The game was lacking pace, endeavour, I would even say it was bereft of effort on the part of our players. Which seemed strange after such a long break. As the first game back I probably didn’t expect a fireworks display of sheer passing perfection on the pitch, but I also didn’t see this snorefest coming either. Wolves too did hardly break any sweat in 90 minutes, but still scored twice to settle the contest. We made it very easy for them.

Wolves are not the kind of side you’d expect to beat as a matter of course. Especially not a team like ours after a limp and lame performance at “home“.
Wolves are simply a better and more rounded outfit than us at this point.
Without at least matching their desire on the pitch we never really stood a chance. It was like a pack of wolves chasing a herd of dazed rabbits.

We will need to collect our points for survival elsewhere. Like in upcoming games against for example, ahem, Spurs, you know…YAY!!!

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No West Ham player covered himself in glory on Saturday really, although Rice looked much better than the rest (which isn’t saying much), other than that forgive me for briefly picking out Ngakia who didn’t exactly put on much of an advert for a club to break the bank to sign him up after that kind of display.

Granted, he’s very young, far from being the finished article and the Wolves attacking players running at him all game after probably identifying him as a weak spot early on were more than a handful, but Ngakia also wasted plenty of opportunities on the break to deliver any useful crosses from that right side. After this game I feel more relaxed about the answer to the question whether we will be able to keep him or not. I know some on here thought he had a decent game, I wasn’t convinced personally.

On the one hand it’s quite nice to have PL football back, on the other hand it is all so different now, so surreal even that my disappointment over losing 2:0 to Wolves had pretty much evaporated after just half an hour on Saturday evening. There, I’ve said it!

My priorities simply have shifted, especially to more personal matters.
(Feel free to throw the first stone now if you think that’s deserving of a good stoning!)

Today, as you’re reading this, I’m looking forward to driving my brother to another therapy session of his later this afternoon, something I haven’t done for three months now – for obvious reasons we didn’t meet during lockdown (the local rules issued by the authorities simply didn’t allow it) but his cancer treatment to my eternal gratitude has continued throughout without ever missing a heartbeat or appointment – and the first scan just recently showed that the treatment is working as well as the doctors could have wished for in their wildest, yet still realistic dreams.

He will still have to go under the knife one more time in a few weeks to get the remaining tiny shreds of tumour lasered into oblivion, but chances are he will eventually come out of it all healed. Cancer-free at last (or rather being in remission of oesophageal cancer to use the more accurate phrase).

After going through three years of hell, pain and being worried sick.

Fingers crossed and all that!

Of course I shall gladly take West Ham staying up as a very welcome bonus on top of that. But let’s not kid ourselves, we are still surrounded by massive trees on all sides, the relegation forest we’re in does have at least one exit somewhere, but we are definitely not out of the woods yet.

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The games will be coming thick and fast now, we will win some, we will lose some, but at the end of the season I am fairly certain we will stay up. Just. With maybe goal difference saving us. Not necessarily because we are such a great side, but because three other teams may end up having shown even less skill on the pitch and suffering even more rotten luck than us. The next few weeks won’t be pretty. It won’t be my idea of fun.

You certainly won’t want to buy the DVD with our season highlights after the last game has finished. But I am optimistic that West Ham will survive.
And then the rollercoaster will start again. This time in autumn probably.

To be fair, I wouldn’t mind a Ferris wheel style season at West Ham for a change, you know, moderate excitement, no big drama, no sudden turns or loopings, but just nice steady progress combined with an occasional nice view to enjoy.

Less upsetting for my sensitive tummy too…

Stay safe, everyone!
Forgive me, if I go over the top occasionally in my comments. The politics, the virus and all that other non-football stuff that occasionally can get people so riled up that they start swearing or dishing out insults on here (or even write an email to Iain to complain).

I’m sure all of that is going to mellow out once things begin to return to something resembling normality and everyday life. Whenever that may be…


The HamburgHammer Column

Football in 1996 was different, so was West Ham, so were the times

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With no football to look forward to in the coming weeks and likely months, Iain has asked us to still keep the articles coming somehow. And as I cannot discuss recently played West Ham games, missed chances, wrong formations, weird starting lineups, not even local Hamburg football including Concordia (all those games have been cancelled too, until the end of April at least), well, I might just have to travel back to good old 1996 instead.

Which was and forever will be one of the most important years of my life.
Mainly because I discovered West Ham United in 1996, I saw my first game at Upton Park and got hooked/sentenced for life there and then.

It certainly was one of the most intense years ever for me personally as I was living away from home for a significant number of months (18 in total) for the first time in my life. It was the first time this Hamburg lad got taken out of Hamburg. A social experiment. An experience. A journey.

A fish out of water comes to mind, but thank God it didn’t stay like this for long…

Thinking back, it has to be said I probably never felt more alive, neither before nor after, than during my time in Barking, Essex in 1996/97 (of course I also spent time in Central London, Cardiff, Pembrokeshire, Norwich and some other places during that time).

Back then every day was like a big adventure for me, but also a rollercoaster of emotions – with new things learned, seen and heard every single day. Improving my spoken English, the understanding AND the speaking bit, was key, practising this on the job, literally, with my colleagues in the Barking office presented me with the challenge of having to cope with English accents the likes of which I hadn’t encountered yet (Cockney, Essex, Estuary) – not at school, not while being a trainee at the shipping company I was working for at the time in Hamburg, not when watching English-language films without German dubbing.

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So I was always alternating between feeling like being on top of the world due to working only a few stops on the District Line away from Central London, for me still one of the most interesting and great cities in the world to this day, and suffering painful bouts of homesickness: Terribly missing my parents, my brother, my mates, even the sights and sounds from back home in Hamburg.
It didn’t help much when speaking to my folks via my landline phone in the Barking house I was staying in.

No mobile phones back then. Sometimes a flatmate would kindly take a message from your loved ones for you when you had been out and about in town, missing the phone call while doing some shopping, sightseeing or taking a walk in the local park.

That homesickness almost naturally drove me to football as a welcome distraction because the English brand of the beautiful game enjoyed legendary status among football enthusiasts in my neck of the woods back then (Kick and rush!). And like most Germans I was very much into football despite not having been very gifted as a player myself, being a left back at SC Poppenbüttel for a few years when I was a young lad.

Luckily, when arriving in England I wasn’t strongly bonded with one of the two big clubs in Hamburg as my dad had merely been an armchair fan who had never taken much of an effort to get tickets so that my brother and I might have an actual matchday experience and eventually support either of those two clubs.

We only ever watched a game with my dad inside a ground once if I remember correctly – and that was at a Concordia home game around 1990.

So, with my heart free for a proper football relationship and several of my claret and blue supporting colleagues at Hapag-Lloyd rabbiting on about West Ham during our tea breaks I decided fairly sharpish in March 1996 I would buy a ticket for the upcoming home game against Manchester City on Saturday, March 23rd – and find out if West ’Am could be my home from home, my surrogate family in England. A perfect match, on and off the pitch, maybe ?
At that point I only had been away from home for three weeks!

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As most of you will recall, we won that game 4:2. Iain Dowie scored twice, skipper Julian “The Terminator” Dicks added another with a piledriver from outside the box with Portuguese loan striker/photo model Dani providing the final nail in City’s coffin who were destined for relegation that season. They had three Germans on the pitch that afternoon, but it didn’t save them.

And I was past the point of saving too – I had hopelessly wholeheartedly, foolishly fallen in love with West Ham United, the club colours, the singing of Bubbles, the humour displayed by the fans, the passion on the pitch, the raucous atmosphere in that weird and wonderful stadium (I had to look past a supporting pillar during my first game, I still saw everything as I was pretty close to the pitch still, even from the West Stand Upper).
I was even impressed with seeing police horses in action which were unheard of in German football at the time, police dogs for sure, fierce Alsatians on duty for local derbies, they were a common sight on German matchdays, but horses ? Not really.

The rest, as they say, is history. So, what was different, football-wise ? It’s funny what you remember from your own matchday experience from 24 years ago and what you can only remember after refreshing your memory by watching highlights of the game on Youtube or DVD.

There were only three substitutes allowed on the bench back then, if I remember correctly. The Upton Park pitch in March 1996 showed precious few patches of green and quite a lot of brown, muddy spots (like the St.Pauli pitch used to in those days).

There were only just over 24.000 fans inside the stadium, but at times it sounded like at least 15.000 or so more. That noise bowled me over…and it got me hooked, wanting more of it.

News on the club in the days before the internet were hard to come by.
You actually had to buy a newspaper in the hope they might have some West Ham related bits in the sports section that day and you used to eagerly wait for the latest issue of Hammers News Magazine to arrive on the shelves of your local newsagents once a month, picking it up from WHSMITH at Barking Station in my case.

Pubs ? As far as Barking was concerned I was surprised how many pubs there were back then, I hadn’t expected quite so many outside the city centre.
Back then I used several of those, a main one to watch the football and to drink with the colleagues on a Friday night (Legends), others to enjoy a Real Ale (The Spotted Dog, The Bull) or take mates or family members when they were over from Germany (The Barking Dog or The Spotted Dog).

From previous visits I knew that pub culture was a big thing in England, but there were around ten pubs crammed into a relatively small area in Barking back then and I wondered how on earth they all found enough trade to thrive. A few years later, of course, plenty of those pubs were boarded up, so I guess that answers the question.

Of course back then West Ham were losing a lot of games and spent the majority of the 1996/97 season fighting relegation, just like today. But it all used to be part of being a Hammer, taking the rough with the smooth. Knowing deep down you’d never really challenge for the title, but beating the big boys occasionally was very much on, same as going on a decent Cup run or just cheering on the players running their socks off against opposition with players five times as expensive as the West Ham squad was certainly good enough in those days. It felt good to support the local team, the likeable underdog from an East London community where tourists rarely stepped off the tube to have a butcher’s. Everybody’s second team.
The club of Moore, Bonzo and Brooking.

Thing is, it was easy to accept all the shortcomings back then because we didn’t know any better. We didn’t miss the internet or social media in 1996 because it simply wasn’t available yet. The talk over a pint after the game was the 1996 version of social media.

You didn’t get riled up about news coming from the West Ham board or even another club being run better than yours because all those news and bits and bobs weren’t readily available unless you bought and read plenty of newspapers, fanzines and club magazines or listened to the phone-in shows on the radio.

Now, with Sky and BT Sports, with social media, twitter accounts, blogs and forums plus all the usual debates on TV and radio you are exposed to all the football news and rumours 24/7.

Again, this is the reality now and we have to live with that. The media will never return to its 1996 version. And us fans, we have grown older as well and changed with it. Some more than others, but none of us is the same person today than they were 24 years ago.

We all use the internet regularly now, without even thinking about it much anymore, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this blog.
Who of us actually still buys the same newspaper (paper version) every day without fail ?
Who of us is still using a landline phone – and no mobile phone as well ?

In some cases this 24/7 overkill of news and rumours can be frustrating, annoying, tiresome, but in other cases it can also be very useful, entertaining and worthwhile.

So, was I happier as a West Ham fan in 1996, compared to 2020 ? Not really, it was different for sure back then, but as always with West Ham there were ups and downs.

For me, certainly, it was more exciting in 1996 as my Westhamification was merely beginning to take shape, everything was brand new back then, everything was fresh and interesting, it was like going on a date with West Ham every weekend, learning more about the club every week and I will never forget the first time I was able to join in singing Bubbles at Upton Park all the way through because I finally knew all the words…;-))

Back then, I have to say, the stadium wasn’t a massive factor in my supporting West Ham, simply because I took the place for granted and as we all know, there are things in life we only begin to miss once they’re gone.
Like with a loved one you sometimes argue or fight with, but once they’re taken away from you by a twist of fate, that’s when you start to realise how lucky and happy you were to have that person in the first place…

Let’s all hope then that eventually we will get our football back. And our West Ham. Only now we are all beginning to find out how big a part football plays in our everyday lives and weekend routines. After all, it’s only 22 blokes in shorts running about and kicking a ball, but we still love it to bits, don’t we ?


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