The HamburgHammer Column

Brave Bilic the key to better days ahead

Take a bow Slaven Bilic! Our manager has been through what must have been a few miserable months, capped by the last seven days which surely will have been not your average rollercoaster of emotions for our Croatian manager, more like the Nemesis ride at Alton Towers. Now, initially I had planned to try and write my column without even mentioning Dimitri Payet just in order to prove a point. But frankly, while a lot of us may consider him to be history already and prefer to move on without ever hearing his name again, the truth is that he is still legally a West Ham player and until his sale has been completed he is still the massive bullfrog (or yellow-bellied toad if you prefer) in the room so to speak, so he will of course feature in my column after all.

But first things first! What a fantastic team performance that was. That’s right, TEAM. Which translates as Together Everyone Achieves More. The keyword being together.
Our team hasn’t been together for a long time, I would say not from the very start of the season, coinciding with Payet’s return from the Euro Championships.
Where surely he was tapped up, maybe multiple times. I’m sure by now everyone will have read about how our club and also Bilic bent over backwards in order to make Monsieur Payet feel wanted, loved, appreciated – hindsight is a wonderful thing, and in hindsight it appears that we have rather overdone the royalty treatment.

We’ll see what comes out eventually about Payet’s true motives of wanting to leave NOW rather than wait for the summer when apparently West Ham were quite ready to sell him at that point for the right price, not wishing to stand in the way of an unhappy or homesick player.
The way though in which Payet basically shat on everything he had at our club, not acknowledging the role of our club in making him the household name he is in international football today is truly sad. And a bit pathetic.

From the very beginning he was welcomed and worshipped like a true legend by the Hammers fans, it felt as if he had been at West Ham for years already rather than being a new signing. It indeed was a love affair, alas affairs tend to usually end a) rather quickly and b) rarely on amicable terms – the love between the player and the club, manager and fans is totally lost now for obvious reasons.

But you know what? It’s a mighty relief to finally have identified the main root of our problems this season, at least in terms of the team (ignoring the stadium move for a minute). It looks like indeed Payet’s special treatment he got from the club and management drove a massive wedge right through the dressing room and also the training pitch at Rush Green. It must have been so frustrating for the other players seeing it all being about Payet without our star player backing up all that admiration (and money) with even halfway decent performances on the pitch. The rest of the team obviously felt disrespected and undervalued – and all over a guy who essentially has been a one season wonder for us. Yet the board tied him down to an improved long-term deal while refusing to afford our manager the same courtesy, citing their desire to find out if Bilic was a one season wonder first…

We will now see if the club are willing to let Payet rot for half a season in order to get the right price for our prize asset or cave in and sell on the cheap, just to get rid. With Chinese clubs becoming interested in him too now Payet can not expect to go back to Marseille for ten million quid and six bottles of vintage claret, although both he and Marseille for sure would prefer that of course. I want the club to show some backbone here, sending out a clear massage to the world that no West Ham player (no matter how good he is) can just down tools and strop in order to push through a transfer to his prefered destination for peanuts despite having signed a long-term contract (and a loyalty bonus of 1 million quid too) just recently.

Players are on long-term contracts for a reason. They can ask for a transfer obviously if they no longer wish to stay, but certainly not on their terms. Clubs need to be protected in a way that they get at least their fair share should a player want to leave well before reaching the expiry date of his contract.

So, to finish off the Payet issue: Sell him as quickly as possible, yes, but only for a price that mirrors his true market value for his next club. That is much closer to 35 or 40 million rather than 20 in my book. With China involved maybe even 50 million. How our owners will decide to spend that kind of money, if they spend any that is, is anybody’s guess though.
I’m confident we will make at least a few signings in January, not necessarily for NOW as we are pretty much safe from relegation already, but maybe we will pick up some players for the future (like Hogan) now in order to not miss out on them in the summer (similar to what we did when we picked up Byram).

It was a pleasure to see our team perform, well, like a team on Saturday, especially in the second half. All the players suddenly seemed to have found another gear or two being freed from the shackles of forever running about in the shadow of the French Messiah (he’s not really, just a very naughty boy!). The lads played (and celebrated the goals) like a team should, together, happy to sweat blood and guts for each other. It also seemed to unite the crowd at London Stadium and Lanzini’s jump into the stands was a nice touch.
(Although only West Ham players seem to get punished with a booking for this kind of thing these days.)

I am not sure if Lanzini did it on a whim or whether it was premeditated (as a nod to the Tevez celebration after he scored his first for West Ham or as a subtle hint in the direction of a sulking Frenchman that he was neither needed nor wanted back in the team anymore). Either way, it felt incredible to hear the whole ground singing Slaven’s praise and boy, did the man deserve it!
If there is one guy this club should be built around, if our fanbase should rally round one chap capable of putting some pride back into this club it is not a player, but our manager.

Sure, he makes mistakes too as he is only a human being after all (trying to turn Antonio into a RB obviously was a massive clanger). But for me he is the perfect link connecting us to the passion, traditions and values that are so dear to loyal Hammers fans all over the globe. If we want things to improve for us in the next few years, we need to make sure to keep Bilic at West Ham for a long time, so rather than throwing money at another bigger than his boots primadonna player I would offer Bilic a contract extension NOW.
Send out a signal that Bilic is our man for the future and then bloody support him with transfer funds too. It’ll be money well spent in my view.
(Well, Bilic didn’t know that Tore would get a long-term injury at West Ham, did he ?)

A final word needs to be said about Andy Carroll. That was a world class goal indeed and it’s highly encouraging to see him score goals like that because it very much proves that on his day he is so much more than just a battering ram, thundering in headers or knocking balls down for his teammates. We may have to wait for another goal of that quality at London Stadium for another 20 years or so.

The key for him will be to look after himself and stay injury-free, then the sky will be the limit for him really. Oh yes, also try to play with two strikers more in future.
I don’t even think it matters that much if it is Sakho, Fletcher, Martinez, Calleri (or Hogan?) – as long as you have another outlet upfront, staying close to Carroll, pouncing to exploit any space or opportunity created by Carroll’s presence we will begin to score more goals on a regular basis.

What a great feeling to be talking about positives again for a change! It’s vital now that our board don’t rest on their laurels or sit on their hands and wallets. Our fanbase deserve to see investment in our team. Our manager deserves support in his endeavour to build a great team. A great team for West Ham will always be more about players working well as a unit, a well-oiled machine, rather than trying to keep superstar primadonnas happy. Maybe that just isn’t the West Ham way.

Maybe it’s a lesson learned the hard way with Payet. Maybe we don’t need 40 million quid players after all, even in a 60.000 seater stadium. Maybe we just need to sing more songs for Bilic and keep him happy, it’s certainly worth a try! COYI!

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The HamburgHammer Column

We've had Payet - I just don't think anyone understood, including our board

Warning ahead: Usually my posts tend and try to be rather positive, but this one may get rather gloomy and our atrocious performance against Man City was merely the latest punch, not the main reason for my downcast demeanour here. Quick positive sidenote (obviously not West Ham related): My Concordia boys won their first football of 2017, a local indoors tournament against nine other local sides. The 300 quid or whatever the winning fee was will come in handy for the clubs finances…:-)

Now then, where to begin in terms of my beloved West Ham (or what is still left of it anyway) ? I will put my neck on the line here and predict that Dimitri Payet, one of the best players ever to wear the claret and blue, will be gone in January. I have no club source and neither do I socialise with Payet’s agent, but I look at Payet’s body language, especially compared to last season’s, I look at current performances and for me it is evident that this relationship is coming to an end. We all know he has signed a long term deal at West Ham, but if a player’s head’s been turned contracts don’t mean a lot anymore these days, they merely add a few millions to the transfer fee.

What I believe has happened is that Payet, like a lot of fans, players and Bilic, bought into the project of moving West Ham into the Olympic Stadium, growing and developing as a club, bringing in better players along the way and subsequently getting to the proverbial next level. Our board had (just like the one after the Boys of ’86 season) a window of opportunity to grow the club and take the next step forward. Instead we have gone cheap on the project though, cheap on the stadium rental deal, cheap on the new players coming in (a lot of them on loan deals, others being unknown quantities or young lads for the future). In that respect the board deceived not only Payet, but also the manager and last but not least, the fans who still forked out for season tickets and merchandise.

Our club has a plethora of issues to deal with and sort out. On various fronts. The matchday experience is still suffering from stewards not being used to oversee football games and subsequently antagonising a lot of fans in the process. The atmosphere is unlikely to improve significantly while the distance between the front row seats and the pitch remains as it is (which also goes for the gaps between Upper and Lower tier). It’d also help if fans were made to feel welcome to attend games as actual football fans, not as audience members going to see a play at a theatre or a West End show.

I know that times have changed and are still changing, also in terms of watching football. We’ve gone from proper football grounds with standing terraces to all seaters, and now we seem to get to an era where West Ham fans are expected to sit all game, politely clap a great pass or a goal and otherwise remain shtum, but still buy loads of merchandise and overpriced food and drink. It’s not a trend I particularly agree with and like others it’ll cause me to make a decision if I still want to go and see games in person or prefer to watch from my armchair or in the company of fellow fans in a pub.

As for our club the cold hard truth is that while us fans are the one constant factor in the ups and downs of West Ham it actually no longer is our club. Our current owners have changed the club on so many fronts that it’s hard to find any reminders of the club most of us started supporting. They seem to have a very clear idea what the club should look like and especially what the new supporter should look and behave like.

I have said it before, but our board appear to be out of their depth of running a club playing in a 60K seater stadium. It requires a certain type of team to fill a stadium like that on a regular basis. Payet was a good start, but Payet cannot do it on his own. I am aware we are not in the financial situation (yet) to buy several 20-30 million players in one transfer window, but the least we could and should have done is to bring in players of a decent enough quality to bring out the best in Payet.
Payet losing interest is an indication we are moving in the wrong direction (coupled with the fact that most of the players who arrived in the summer have already left again or are in the process of leaving West Ham).

We have missed a massive window of opportunity in the summer and that window is closing fast now, Payet was the one to build the club around. If he really decides to leave we are back at square one. I find myself hoping for new owners more and more each day and while I know that we’ll still be stuck with the stadium at least we may be able to find owners who can actually back up their words with actions in the transfer market. How did we end up going from offering 25 or 30 million for Bacca to offering 3 million for Snodgrass (or money plus Fletcher who was supposed to be a great talent for the future) ?

It is yet another crucial game coming up, against our favourite former manager, Mr. Clean Sheet himself and a pretty weak Palace side. Of course I shall be watching and of course I will be rooting for a Hammers win of any sort really. But the truth is: West Ham winning or losing no longer stirs up the same kind of emotions it used to, not for me.
There are just too many things going on at West Ham now that seem to drive me away from the club emotionally. It’s a weird feeling.

I still love the club, of course I do! My interest may still wane further though as long as our current board are still in charge. Should they start to listen to the fans, my interest and involvement may grow again, also if new owners came in showing some respect for the fans, the history and traditions of our club, similar to what the owners at Man City did. I have seen some crap games, players and performances at West Ham in my time so far, but none of them had such a farfetching effect on my support than the current lot.

Let’s hope we get a few convincing wins under our belt to lift the mood. Let’s hope Bilic can turn things around and stay for a few more years. Let’s hope we bring in some decent signings in January to help him with that. And let’s hope we can regroup, even if Payet leaves West Ham. No man bigger than the club and all that!
Will West Ham ever be united again? COYI!

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The HamburgHammer Column

Foxes, fondue and faith in our transfer window

Ich wünsche allen Lesern und Autoren von WHTID ein frohes, neues und hoffentlich gesundes Jahr 2017! (Wishing all readers and authors on WHTID a happy new and hopefully healthy 2017!) While some may still be nursing a bit of a hangover from the New Year celebrations there is no time to waste as the games are coming thick and fast for our Hammers this week.

My quick recap of the game against the Foxes is still a positive one overall, despite a disappointing scoreline. While I was getting myself up and ready for the New Year’s Eve family do at my brother’s place I found myself busier with watching the game than choosing clothes though. It was a fantastic game of football, end to end stuff, with some fierce challenges being thrown in, plenty of incidents and West Ham had the Foxes under the kosh for long periods of the game especially in the second half.

Of course we failed to score which was the big downside in this game (apart from potentially losing Noble for a few games due to the Leicester player trying to determine the strength of Noble’s kneecap). It’s been discussed at length on various other threads, but we are still making too many mistakes, sending passes astray, not chasing the opposition enough to win the ball back and I also noted how many set pieces we wasted against Leicester. I know we are the most successful team in the Premier league this season so far when it comes to scoring from set pieces. But unfortunately it didn’t show this time, with both cornerkicks and freekicks too often not finding a West Ham player, but sailing into no man’s land.or wide of the goal.

We certainly lack some pace when trying to switch from defending into attacking mode. We still lose or give away the ball too cheaply and while I love Carroll to bits for what he does on the pitch it limits our overall game in other ways. We will also lose Ayew and Kouyate for the duration of the African Cup of Nations.
This transfer window will once again put our board to the test: Will they learn from past mistakes and finally strengthen the positions we have failed to address in several windows in succession ?

Will we finally bring in someone who will make the RB position his own for years to come instead of being a stop gap ?
Will we bring in a proper striker who can actually score goals on a regular basis, preferably someone who gives us something different than Carroll ?
I would love us to bring in a pacy forward, someone who can make runs into space and who isn’t afraid to take defenders on.
I don’t have a fixation with a particular player like Bacca or Defoe, Hogan or Long. I just hope it’ll be a player who can help us out straight away, not some dodgy last day signing from the Bolivian Second Division.

I am confident that instead of just trading water our board will be looking to fix the holes in our squad to make sure we not only stay in the league (minimum requirement) but finish as high in the table as possibly. The Man U game coming up will be a tough one, it is a game I would have loved to see live in London, but it wasn’t possible for me to travel at such short notice and so shortly again after my recent visit.

Games against a Mourinho led team always have a little bit of extra spice, passion and entertainment value. We tend to raise our games against the big boys, so I hope it shall be the same this time. As most Germans tend to do on New Year’s Eve my brother’s family and I had a lovely fondue dinner. One thing you need in order to enjoy your fondue is to be patient as it takes time for your meat to cook through properly and the pieces are relatively small, so it takes a while until you have your fill, but it is ultimately very satisfying and also very communicative around the table (and of course there’s also salad and bread and so forth).

I hope our performance against Man U will be just like that, little steps, a patient approach, calm and composed with a result that will be ultimately satisfying. You all know how much I despise Mourinho as a manager and person (at least in terms of the public persona he displays in the media and public eye), so getting one over Manchester United has become that much more enticing for me.

Let me tell you once again how much I’m enjoying writing on here and I hope to be able to continue doing so on a regular basis in 2017 too. I know you will never please everyone all the time, but that’s the beauty of this blog, It offers something for every Hammers fan out there. So if you don’t like my stuff I trust that you may get more enjoyment from reading the articles of my fellow writers which I’d recommend you to read anyway.

Final note on Concordia as some of you were interested. There is a winter break until mid-February (despite mild temperatures), but the next action for the lads is on Sunday, an indoor footie tournament against nine other local sides in the same venue in Wandsbek where the Klitschko brothers had their first profesional fights after they had moved to Hamburg full time. In general I am not a fan of indoor football, but I shall be making an exception here as I do need my regular football fix and there’s no way I’m gonna wait another six weeks for my next game. COYI!

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The HamburgHammer Column

Nordt rest you merry, Gentlemen - comfort and joy of three wins in a row

Hope all you Hammers out there had a lovely Christmas and I need to begin by also wishing some of you a quick recovery after getting struck down by flu in similar fashion as I did about a week ago. It’s not nice to live on a diet of peppermint tea, lozenges and bits of toast, but surely our Boxing Day win in Wales should have helped the process of getting back on our collective feet massively here.

Never in doubt that victory over Swansea – right ? Crisis ? What crisis ? I think we can now reasonably expect a slightly calmer ride throughout the next few fixtures and while we will be without a few players due to the African Cup of Nations we will also play some games now against Premier League teams that are not exactly setting the league alight at this point, so we should be able to further consolidate our midtable position. That’s what three wins in a row can do for you, they make you shoot up the table in no time and even more important: They give you what is nigh on impossible to buy or simply talk into your dressing room: CONFIDENCE!

Finally we have that confidence back in our team now and I honestly don’t give a monkey’s if it needed the odd dire performance against some weak opposition in Burnley, Hull and Swansea. You can only beat what’s in front of you on the pitch and that’s just what we did. It nearly was a third clean sheet in a row too and I feel slightly sorry that Randolph had to concede a late goal he had absolutely no chance of keeping out. Before that he had made several decent stops and impressive key saves to keep our lead intact and Swansea’s confidence low throughout the game. All in all Randolph was my MOTM because it was his solid and calm performance between the sticks that was key to us being as comfortable in a game as we’ve been all season.Our defense looked a lot more settled too as a result of it.

All the other lads did their bit too and I won’t be mentioning every single one here, but after some harsh criticism hurled at him in recent weeks and months my special mention goes to our resident Viking, Norwegian Good, Mr.Havard Nordtveit. With more gametime under his belt he seems to be getting his swagger back and I’m so happy for him that finally other fans are beginning to see his value to the team too. He is no Zidane of course, he will not get you off your seat with mesmerising dribbles past four players, back heel flicks and nutmegs galore, but he is a solid defender who can read a game, make a tackle, intercept a ball or two and play the ball out comfortably.

Like with the rest of the team all confidence was gone from him entirely and he looked scared to even touch the ball out of fear of yet another misplaced pass or conceding another penalty. Nordtveit is proof of how vital a commodity confidence is in football and as a team it’ll see you overcome stronger opposition on any given day as long as you have enough of it. It was also good to see Kouyate shine in midfield again, Carroll being a nuisance for Swansea all game (while getting another 90 minutes or so unscathed) and also F&F (Feghouli and Fernandes) having some immediate impact on the game when they came on.

And how good is it to finally see Bilic smiling again! When I arrived in London just in time for the game at Liverpool away he was apparently quite close to getting the tin tack.
Four games later and he seems to be a lot safer in the Stratford saddle and as you all know I’d love Bilic to stick around for another season or ten if possible.
I still firmly believe that he deserves more support from the board in the upcoming transfer windows and once that happens we could be in for some more seasons of magic like the one we had with him in our final season at the Boleyn.

Bilic in my view is the one thing capable of uniting the fanbase at this point. London Stadium won’t be able to provide that as a significant number of fans (myself included) simply are unhappy with it in terms of being a suitable center for our matchday experience for home games. Also the board won’t be able to to get the fans to rally behind them as they have been drawing criticism (and rightly so) on several fronts, ranging from various stadium migration related issues to underspending in the transfer window and generally disrespecting and casting aside our traditions and history as a proud club in East London.

Linked to this uncertainty surrounding our fanbase, we keep hearing rumblings about Red Bull being interested in buying a Premier League club and in that situation it is very easy for a lazy journo at The Sun to have a bit of a punt in suggesting that West Ham are a prime candidate. Nevermind that a sum of £200 million will be unlikely to convince our board to even pick up the phone, contemplating a sale of the club. The rumour has been strongly rebuked in due course, but it’s still worthwhile to prepare ourselves in this respect. Are we all really buying into the notion of our board that Sullivan&Gold will keep the club and pass it on to their kids ?

I’m not buying that. Gold may be a genuine fan deep down inside, but he also cares about money. Which applies even more to Sullivan and Brady. So the question of selling the club is not really a matter of IF but rather one of WHEN, to WHOM and for HOW MUCH. It’s a tough one really deciding at this point which owner might be a suitable one and which one is likely to be the final nail in our coffin in terms of having any kind of identity left.

People mentioned to me how happy they were that West Ham was still in the hands of British owners. I never quite got that point because nationality or even being from the local area doesn’t make you immune from making terrible decisions. So in that respect I’d rather have Chinese owners if they are less likely to make the wrong move(s).
In the case of Red Bull there is a very distinct modus operandi whenever they acquire a new franchise, be that in football or Ice Hockey.

They totally exploit the club to grow their brand while throwing vast amounts of money at their club in order to protect said brand. If they really managed to get their hands on us I very much doubt they’d be interested to keep anything at West Ham as it is right now. That is simply not what they do. They would try to buy the stadium sponsorship which is fine by me, London Stadium or Red Bull Bowl doesn’t make much of a difference to me.

They would also put their bull on the club’s shirt, again, not a problem for me, however, they would also put the bull on the crest, maybe even ditching the Hammers altogether, and while the league would probably stop them renaming us Red Bull Stratford, we could easily end up as RB London Hammers.
Moreover, forget about West Ham playing in claret and blue anymore, in footballing terms they are much happier with white shirts and red shorts apparently.
All of which would result in me losing interest straight away.

Then again I am far from happy with our current owners at this point. I am only just hanging on while Bilic remains calling the shots in the dugout. The proof in the pudding will be the upcoming transfer window. There will be quite a clearout with Zaza, Tore and Arbeloa pretty much out of the door already. Surely we need another defender in January, preferably a proper out and out RB. And a solid, experienced and reliable striker. I don’t care if it’s Bacca or another, but if we want quality we need to pay for it.

I hope against hope our owners will begin to spend some money to make sure we improve rather than standing still as a squad, being overtaken by other clubs where the owners put their money where their mouths are. 2017 surely will be another very interesting year at our club and I’m sure this Blog will continue to monitor and discuss all the ups and downs at what at this point is still (only just) our club.

May 2017 be a healthy, good and kind year to all of you! COYI!

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The HamburgHammer Column

Don't tell him Pike! - The London Stadium is not a football stadium - Musings of another great trip

HHLondonStadiumTourShowingSeat

Alright, I brought a nasty little cold back home from London, so while I’m typing this out I’m sitting wrapped up in a warm blanket, enjoying one blackberry flavoured lozenge after the other while drinking camomile tea from my West Ham mug, a sure telltale sign I’m under the weather. Still, I cannot lie in bed all day, so I might as well do this.

Right then, here’s the quick rundown/stats of my recent ten day trip back to London:
Five games of football watched in ten days.
Among them three West Ham first team games – Two wins and a draw, 4 goals scored, 2 goals conceded.
7 points out of 9.
Met a lot of WHTIDers I already knew and some more I hadn’t had the pleasure of meeting before.
Saw both our new stadium and the old one again.
Ventured out for a great day into Kent.
Had a bit of a piss up in a brewery.
Finally managed to see what the end of the District Line (Upminster) looks like.
Bought (too) many books, had plenty of mince pies, a lot of pizza, some hamburgers (obviously), BSB’s fantastic chilli con carne but NO pie and mash.

What follows is another more detailed account, with loads of name dropping, but not a lot of personal pics as frankly I couldn’t be bovvered and you all probably know what the Barking Road looks like anyway. Or the inside of a brewery. Or Stratford. So let’s go, hope you enjoy the ride:

December 9th, Friday, day of arrival
Despite the usual sleepless night (all that excitement!) before my trek to Hamburg Airport, the following flight to Stansted Airport and drive on to Stratford by coach were mastered with German efficiency and precision and I arrived at my lodgings in Canning Town in no time. It was the first time I had used airbnb and I chose it because it was in Canning Town (and because Iron Liddy had recommended it). I had been to the area before and obviously due to the various historical links to West Ham United I was happy to stay 50 metres away from where West Ham United were founded in 1900 on the first floor of what is now the Station Cafe.

The fact that my hostess was a masseuse from Latvia gave us all a solid foundation to create various witty remarks and silly banter in the following days, so just to get this out of the way early: I don’t think she was that kind of masseuse and there certainly was no happy ending for me (thanks to Iron Liddy and Russ telling me about this wonderful phrase, only the first instance where this trip proved to be highly educational…).
Canning Town of course is not the nicest area to be in these days, but on the plus side it features plenty of shops and food outlets :-) which turned out to be very useful along the way.

I then met up at noon with a lovely group of people (Liddy, Russ (The Original One), VoR, Irons1959, Ennate and ChickenRunBoy) and had a lovely lunch at a pub (which had been recommended to us by toddyhammer) near Bromley-by-Bow Station (which is still in the Cockney Inclusion Zone I believe). I had some liver pate as a starter which looked like cat food but tasted better to be fair and the afternoon was filled with great banter, witty remarks and generally good spirit (not just in the glasses either).

Liddy then (as usual) had another trick up her sleeve, taking us on a lovely walk along Bow Creek (where the Thames Ironworks used to be), with a little whistle stop to have some tea and cake (what else?) at the fabulous Bow Creek Cafe and a swift round in the Black Lion pub in Plaistow. As it had been a long day most of us (myself included) turned in early though and I left the pub shortly after 8pm.

A great start to a fantastic trip.

December 10th, Saturday
Spent lazily with London’s best cabbie BSB in his place in Dagenham. Had a first opportunity to taste his wonderful homemade chilli con carne, he said it was minced beef, I still believe it was badger and squirrel, but it was tasty nonetheless. Watching telly and checking out our individual betting sites online we stumbled upon the fact that Dagenham&Redbridge were just about to kick off their first round tie in the FA Trophy against Worthing. How did we miss that ? As the ground is in walking distance to BSB’s flat we got a move on and arrived just in time for kickoff. I had seen the ground before but not on a matchday. What a splendid proper little football stadium that is, oozing character, and guess what ? You can actually read the names and numbers on the shirts of the players as you are close to the pitch!

Alas, Worthing did some giant killing on the day, winning with a 2:1 scoreline. Respect to the Worthing away support, their support was top notch and they had both BSB and me in stitches when after a Dagenham player had fouled one of their lads the whole away end chanted “You dirty Northern bastards!” Looking up on a map where Worthing is located I suppose they sing this quite a lot when they follow their team over land and sea! After the game we just had a quiet beer or two at BSB’s place again before turning in early yet again as we had a long and eventful day ahead of us: Liverpool away! Off to Anfield! COYI!

December 11th, Sunday
You could surely have picked an easier fixture as your first away game than Liverpool away. But then again, watching a game at Anfield should be on the bucket list of any serious football fan, no matter where he or she is from. BSB picked us up in Canning Town early morning, we then collected VoR, had a quick breakfast (I had Full English with liver on the side which I usually don’t have, but maybe subconsciously I figured it might give us an edge playing against Liverpool later, the weird things that go on in this German brain sometimes…).
The drive up went incredibly well, so we arrived with time to spare and watched some of the Man United game in BSB’s car, in the stadium car park, on his mobile.
When Mkhitaryan scored BSB had me in stitches when he put on his best Scouse accent praising “Mickey? My Mickey? Mickey-Mickey-Mickey-Mickey-tariyan”.
It was like Pavlov’s dog really, only in this case the conditioning was such that BSB during the following days only had to do his Liverpudlian impresssion to make me collapse in a heap of laughter. Ask him to do this impression next time you meet him, it’s Live at the Apollo worthy material…:-)

What to say about Anfield ? A proper football stadium, gobsmackingly out of this world good, if you offered me that with claret and blue seats somewhere in East London I’d be snatching your hands off. Plus maybe your arm and a leg as well. The Hillsborough memorial, the location smack in the middle of the community, the fans and families making their pilgrimage into the ground from all four sides, all of that combined oozes vibes of tradition and shows the class of what is simply a very well supported club.
I am not a Liverpool fan by any stretch of the imagination, but I cannot deny the fact they are a massive club.

Funnily enough in my mind I had imagined the ground to be even bigger, but it is compact, beautiful and even more amazing under the lights, but I couldn’t hear much of the home crowd that day to be honest because standing among the Hammers’ away fans I virtually only heard West Ham songs and chants all game long – the funniest one being the one about feeding the Scousers and letting them know it’s Christmas time. After a topsy-turvy game (why do we have to concede goals early in a half so bloody often ?) we drove back home in a good mood and I celebrated in the proper way – with a late night meal at McDonald’s in Canning Town (remember that Liverpool is a long way away and we only had breakfast and a burger at Anfield all day).

December 12th, Monday
Back to my old hunting grounds it was to Barking. I had planned to visit my old colleagues at Hapag, but as I came over totally unannounced and the place was extremly busy before Christmas unfortunately my former boss had no time to see me at such short notice, so I merely had a quick stroll down memory lane or rather Barking Park (where I had spent many afternoons while living right opposite in Wilmington Gardens 20 years ago) and I also did some quick shopping in the local shopping center. As with the West Ham stadiums, that shopping center in Barking is on quite another planet altogether when compared with the spick and span glitter and glamour of Westfield Stratford. It’s up to each of us to decide which one we prefer…I would like something in between to be honest.

After a quiet afternoon it was back to Dagenham (God, poor old BSB must have begun to feel sick at the sight of me at that point) – for the development squad’s game against Swansea. West Ham lost 2:3, but showed great character by coming back from a 0:3 scoreline. As for the players I was still impressed by my favourite player, winger Dan Kemp, but equally impressive were Marcus Browne, fellow striker Toni Martinez, Vashon Neufville and young Alex Pike (I couldn’t stop shouting “Don’t tell him Pike” whenever he was touching the ball). Both BSB and I couldn’t quite understand why the manager’s son, Sam Westley, was starting at RB. He didn’t control or pass the ball well, and the other players seemed to avoid giving the ball to him for that very reason. It was rather painful to watch and Westley was substituted at halftime.

For once I made BSB laugh out loud when the Swansea manager was shouting instructions at his players from the sidelines, obviously in a heavy Welsh accent.
Instinctively I raised my voice and gave him a good old “Speak English you c***!”. The irony didn’t escape us of course.

Quick regards need to go out to Dave and Barry, two Hammers fans I met at halftime when queuing for a tea (for BSB) and a hamburger (for me). They were chatting about the London Stadium Tour one of them had recently been on and as I was interested I asked them about it, and obviously we were soon enough embroiled in a discussion how a German lad from Hamburg came to support the mighty West Ham United. I still find it incredible how welcoming and embracing (most) West Ham fans are, they really don’t give a monkey’s where you’re from, if you are rich or poor, or what the colour of your skin is, as long as you support West Ham you’re alright. I love that.

HHLondonStadiumTourShowingSeat

December 13th, Tuesday
And I followed up the recommendation from Dave and Barry and took the Stadium Tour at London Stadium. I was joined by a temporary flatmate of mine from the Canning Town accommodation (the one with the Latvian masseuse), a Sri Lankan geezer with Scottish and Dutch ancestors, working in Oman, supporting Liverpool but visiting relatives in London. If yer Loaf hasn’t exploded while trying to process that, congratulations! That guy was keen on visiting some of the London football grounds so he was happy enough to tag along.

I can really recommend that tour, even if you don’t like the matchday experience or maybe even consider giving up on attending home games altogether.
They give you a multimedia device with earphones and you are guided from station to station taking in the posh corporate lounges, the tunnel, showers, dressing room, Slaven’s office, the flash rooms where they do the post match interviews and of course, as the highlight of the tour, you get to go pitchside which is the moment you really begin to pity Bilic as it is indeed a bloody long walk from the dugout to the pitch.

They also show you some nice little films about the history of West Ham, Bobby Moore, the Olympics and our glorious final season at the Boleyn and frankly those videos are quality. I also felt my heart beating that little bit faster when we were in the dressing room, with all the shirts hanging there as if the players were just about to enter.
(Did you know that every first team player gets a fresh set of three shirts for every game, meaning that they actually no longer wash the matchday shirts or use them again?)

In general the guides that are manning the various stations are all from different backgrounds, some used to work at the Boleyn, some of them for many years (and already missing it terribly), some don’t even support West Ham, but still do a nice enough job, having read up on the relevant data in order to take up their posts. We met a Spurs fan (!!!) who was working as a guide in the dressing room when we entered, he was a good fella to be honest and nice to talk to. The cheeky bugger tried to test my West Ham credentials when I was silently touching Bobby Moore’s retired #6 shirt, so he enquired if I knew who the last West Ham player was wearing #6 before the shirt was retired.

As if he could embarrass me like that in front of a Liverpool fan from Sri Lanka: I said “Well, it was a player who was never fit to wear that number in the first place, Matthew Upson.” It wasn’t a difficult question of course, but I was still happy that a Spurs fan didn’t get one over me about an issue relating to MY club. I then accompanied my Sri Lankan mate for a nice riverside walk from Tower Hill to Blackfriars Bridge (quick pint in The Blackfriars, my favourite Central London pub) and then returned to Upton Park for this:

NewhamBookshop

I like reading, I love West Ham and I’m also curious about East London’s past. And I had heard good things about Newham Bookshop, located right where the Barking Road meets Green Street. Funny I had never been there before. They had a special Christmas sale on (20% off for all books) with late opening hours, so I entered into a wonderful world, filled with piles and shelves of books, plenty of community spirit, friendly banter and a warm welcome. The latter was delivered by Vivian Archer, proud manager, heartbeat and soul of the shop and an absolute institution. Due to the fact her parents hail from Germany she quickly caught upon the fact that I was from the same country. After being greeted in German I told her about being a fervent West Ham fan, how I came to support them in the first place and then I was dumbfounded to hear her ask if I was HamburgHammer by any chance.

Yes, alright, for a brief minute I thought I was actually a minor celebrity in East London now (which served as the spark for various jokes and set ups both online and at the stadium, everyone knowing about HamburgHammer becoming somewhat of a running joke among the WHTID community). The quite logical explanation though is that Vivian apparently reads the blog every day, so when she met a German West Ham fan in her shop she took a punt with her guess – and frankly, how many other German West Ham fans are likely to walk into Newham Bookshop on a Tuesday evening ? Probably not many.

I felt at home right away. Mince pies and nice winterly spiced hot drinks were being served up to the loyal customers (I got some too despite being a first time visitor) and I obviously also bought a few books (and some more a few days later). The shop felt more like a community center and I got the impression that there are plenty of customers there who have been buying their books from Vivian for ages. I just love shops like this and I hope it keeps on trading for many years to come.

I had some lovely chats about West Ham, Brexit and Germany, both with Vivian and John Newman who also works at the bookshop and I want to thank them a lot for their hospitality and putting up with me. If you enjoy reading more than just your gas bill leaflet or the sports pages of the tabloids, go there!
They have a great section of children’s books, but also a lot of stuff on West Ham, football and sports in general, biographies, history, travel books, fiction, non-fiction, classics and obviously a lot of books about East London. They will probably order the latest John Grisham bestseller for you if you ask for it, but if you are looking for something a bit more special, just put yourself in their capable hands and minds, you won’t be disappointed and leave the shop happy and eager to get your nose between the pages of your new books sharpish.

They probably know the right book for you before you even know it yourself! Oh, how I would love to have that bookshop in my neighbourhood in Hamburg!

December 14th, Wednesday
I have rarely ventured away from London on my trips so far, but thanks to Russ (still The Original One) that all changed with a fantastic day spent in his local neighbourhood in Kent. Travelling to Ebbsfleet from Stratford only took 10 minutes on the fast train where Russ picked me up for a grand tour of the major Medway Towns (Strood, Rochester, Gillingham, Chatham) which I had never heard of before but I really liked the look of both the towns and the surrounding countryside.
Russ told me a lot about the history, about Charles Dickens living there and he was in general a fantastic host throughout the day.

The Medway Towns might actually be a good area for me looking for accommodation I could actually afford in the event if I should decide to move back to England.
Throw in the pretty decent travel connections to London, why not ?

We had a quick look at Gillingham’s stadium (albeit only from the outside), spent a few hours in beautiful Canterbury (without meeting CanterburyMike though) before heading to the highlight event of the day: The visit of England’s oldest brewery, Shepherd&Neame in the charming town of Faversham. Russ had organised the tour, but he wasn’t to know that we would enjoy the privilege to have one lovely chirpy tour guide named Helen all to ourselves. We had also arrived at a critical time in their calendar as they were getting ready for their traditional Christmas do at Shepherd&Neame later in the evening, the proverbial piss up in a brewery looming large, maybe that’s why we only encountered smiling faces in the brewery during the tour.

We had a great tour, some nice chats with Helen and, with me, being a bit of a smartarse when it comes to beer, probably asking far too many questions, but Helen coped incredibly well which also goes for the tasting at the end of the tour. They give you six small glasses (about a pint in total) with six different beers produced there (lager, ale, stout), and you get to evaluate and judge the colour, clarity, smell, texture and of course the taste of the tipple. The guide drinks the tasting portions same as the visitors and as they probably do three or four tours every day I can only wonder how they manage to drink such copious amounts every working day.
I wish I could have stayed in Faversham for the evening, witnessing the Christmas do in that famous old brewery, especially considering what was to follow with the Burnley game at the London Stadium.

Truly one of the worst West Ham games I have ever been to, but luckily enough finishing with the right scoreline, a 1:0 win which meant my perfect record in terms of recent West Ham games attended does remain intact still, considering we won the Hull game in similar fashion by the same scoreline.
Oh yes, there was a highlight at the Burnley game, apart from the goal, I briefly met Safehands again and got the chance to say Hello again – it would have been a shame to leave London without seeing him again. Geez, he gets bigger and stronger with every visit! We could have used him at Anfield, but then again Safe is allergic to everything Scouse I understand.

If our next home games end with a different scoreline than a 1:0 win you all know who to blame. I wouldn’t mind seeing us win all our remaining home games 1:0, but hopefully with some better football to go with it…

December 15th, Thursday
The day started off badly as Nigel Kahn had to cancel meeting me later to sort out some personal business of his unexpectedly. So I got some more books from Newham Bookshop, read and posted a bit on WHTID, trying to find a kind soul to accompany me and do something in London at short notice. After a bit of toing and froing I hit the jackpot really, with Liddy inviting me to join her and her husband Mike aka Mr.Lids #2 for a pizza in Upminster in the evening. I obviously didn’t know I hit the jackpot at that stage but that is exactly how the evening turned out to be and once again I realised that spontaneous get togethers are often the best and most memorable ones.
Overdoing the German efficiency for once I arrived in Upminster one hour early so I had a quick stroll up and down the High Street and returned to our meeting point, The Junction pub, where, as Liddy has also been mentioning in her comments, she spent many a day in her past and which has been a focal point in her life for many years now.

Ordering a coffee to pass the time I drew mocking comments from a geezer next to me and bang, I was engulfed in another conversation about West Ham with a total stranger.
Mind you, I could have used some subtitles for this one as he was a Geordie living in London and while I can cope with most British accents by now I have to admit I was struggling with that one. Finally I was being saved by the arrival of Lids and Mike and what a true pleasure it was to see Mike again (which I wouldn’t have otherwise as he refuses to set foot inside the London Stadium for a West Ham game ever again). We were chatting, drinking our drinks, comparing pictures of our cats (What are you smirking at, you muppet?), discussing the new stadium and the Boleyn when who else would walk in than Liddy’s first husband, the one who had taken her to her first West Ham game all those years ago – what a coincidence!
(Then again he might spend three hours in there every other day…what do I know ? :-))

After we left the pub Liddy and Mike took me to their local pizza place, Pizza Express (I thought it was a chain similar to Pizza Hut, but I’m glad to confirm I was very wrong).
It’s always nice to come to a restaurant which your hosts have frequented for ages, so there was a lot of kissing, hugging and smiling going on. I drew some laughters when I asked the waiter where in Italy he originally came from as I thought he sounded just like Paolo DiCanio. With a smile as broad as his pizzas he said he was from Albania.

We had some nice food and drink (all paid for by Mike I am ashamed to admit, but they wouldn’t accept to take any money from me, bless them!) and some really personal, deep conversations. It was like we had known each other for 20 years already, not 2 and I cannot begin to thank them enough for one of the very best evenings I had in 2016. Both of them are salt of the earth material really and I am proud to count them among my friends now. Hospitality, kindness, warmth, heart, intelligence and wit personified, and I can only extend my invitation to them again to come over and visit me in Hamburg whenever they fancy.

December 16th, Friday
Nigel Kahn phoned me up to confirm he had sorted out his stuff and was ready to meet me in the evening. Meeting up at Canning Town Station he took me to the London Thames Cable Cars, taking us to the wrong side of the river where the O2 stands. It was a lovely clear evening with great views over the riverfronts and the London Skyline and I had to smile at Nigel reacting to the running commentary in the cable cars aimed to impress the tourists presumably, boasting about the Olympics and the regeneration of East London. Suffice to say he wasn’t having any of it, but then again I wasn’t expecting Nigel to go along with the marketing and PR crap.

We then moved to Brick Lane, but I found it to be depressingly touristy, so we didn’t have our curry there and opted to walk back towards Plaistow and Canning Town.
On the way not only did we discover that there is a decent overlap in our musical tastes (Smiths, Morrissey, Iron Maiden) but he also showed me various places dear to him, where he was born, where he played as a kid, where he met his wife etc. We also tried to discuss and establish the exact boundaries of the Cockney Inclusion Zone, but I’m still not quite sure what or where they are, if it’s about being born in earshot of the Bow Bells or about the postcode or where you went to school, but I’m pretty certain Hamburg is definitely outside, so I will unfortunately never be a true Hammer…:-)

Arriving at the Barking Road we had a lovely curry in that restaurant I had been to before for my birthday curry after the Palace game last April. While waiting for the food we discussed all kinds of West Ham blogs and individual posters, who is a true fan and who isn’t and various other issues. Nigel is one of a kind really and let me assure you he is much different in person than his online persona. The mere fact that he was spending so much time with a foreigner, and a German at that, speaks volumes really.
The evening ended with a swift pint in the Black Lion in Plaistow and I’d like to thank Nigel for being fantastic company, dining and drinking with a Kraut, the enemy so to speak…in relative peace and quiet…

December 17th, Saturday
Matchday! Surely this was going to be it. A convincing thrashing of lowly Hull. A footballing celebration delivered by our lads in claret and blue! As we all know it was again a very dire performance and I still don’t quite know how Hull didn’t get even one much deserved point out of this. One has to say though it was an entertaining game, end to end stuff. But the whole stadium experience simply doesn’t do it for me. I have visited numerous football stadiums in Germany, England, Scotland, Spain, Czech Republic, Denmark, Sweden and France. Nowhere else have I felt this detached from the game on the pitch. I know they play football behind a running track elsewhere, but it just isn’t for me. Although the atmosphere during the game seems to have improved, the whole surroundings don’t sit right with me, the fact that you cannot even choose the route you wanna take when leaving the stadium, the whole Stratford area with the Shopping Center and all those poncy flats and lofts.

It simply doesn’t say “West Ham United” to me, but then again I’m just a silly middle-aged fart, way too set in my ways to adapt.

I know things change and progress, but how we have gone from one extreme (location, feel, smell and matchday experience of The Boleyn Ground) to the other in Stratford, well, that’s frankly too much change for me all at once and I will nail my colours to the mast here and say I won’t be buying another season ticket next season. I will still try to pick and go to the occasional home or away game. But other than that I’m more than happy with watching us on the telly. To go and watch Concordia. Or, whenever I come over to England, watch the Daggers, our development squad or the U18s. It’s not glamourous, there’s no popcorn, but the football is the center of attention, the way it should be.

I shall not forget to mention finally meeting the one and only Dan Coker and his dad John before the game, they were both great company to have and Dan did confirm to me that indeed he is doing all the match previews by himself and doesn’t rely on a well trained and qualified staff of researchers and writers as I would have thought. At the game I also met CarlinSir and his wife and BSB once again kept the running gag going by setting me up at halftime. After I returned from a quick visit to the toilets (the only thing I really consider to be an improvement compared to Upton Park) I was approached by a young fella in the row behind us (gramsci from WHTID) asking me the now customary question “Are you Hamburg Hammer?” When he was asking for a photo with me on top of that I had an inkling that once again BSB must have been plotting away to take the mickey and they all cracked up with laughter again.

Gramsci then joined a little group of us including CarlinSir and wife, Ennate, VoR and Heedsy (just back in the country from Spain) for some post match drinks a bit further afield from Stratford in Hackney Central. We found a pub nearby and it wasn’t packed to the rafters and you could actually have a decent pint and conversation in there which is just what we had. I switched from beer to softdrinks though after the first round as I was beginning to feel under the weather, the early signs of the flu I am still suffering from. So it was still early when it was back to Canning Town for me in order to pack my things and get to bed early as my trip was coming to its end (just as this article).

December 18th, Sunday
I wasn’t happy. I didn’t fancy flying back, I hadn’t slept properly due to a sore throat and blocked nose and I wasn’t looking forward to the trek to Stratford and on to Stansted.
And I hadn’t even watched MOTD as there was no bloody telly at my lodgings. Who came in to save the day once again ? Yes, the fun poking cabbie from Dagenham East.
He sent me a text message inviting me to come to his place, he would put me on his sofa, cup of tea and a biscuit, to be followed by a second helping of his now famous (or shall I say notorious?) chilli con carne and watch MOTD first and the Bournemouth vs. Southampton game after that.
Being the star and gentleman he just is he also dropped me off at the airport in his car (with his wife Karen who I vastly prefer to the one running our club also giving me a mince pie to take home as a nice little memory of this pre-Christmas trip).

The football I saw, especially in the home games of the first team, was atrocious. If it had been for these games alone it would have been a waste of airmiles.
However, as I also got to see Anfield and some nice old-school football at Dagenham’s ground and as I also met all those lovely people mentioned above, it was yet another trip to savour for a long time. If I can find the right kind of job in England and also make it work financially I might seriously consider moving back to England, despite Brexit and all that.

Would I miss Concordia and Hamburg ? Of course I would. But for some reason I feel extremly happy and comfortable whenever I’m in England. And that has given me a lot of food for thought (cue the puns about pies, pizza and burgers) for the new year. Thank you all for making this such a great trip! Hope to see you again soon!

Wishing you all Frohe Weihnachten und einen guten Rutsch ins neue Jahr! (Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!) COYI!

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