The HamburgHammer Column

Finally some pride and passion (with rice in the side) - there is still life in West Ham!

So it wasn’t the anticipated humiliating defeat from hell yesterday, no double digits, not even a 0:5 scoreline. We actually gave one of the best teams in the world an almighty scare.

Yes, of course Man City dominated possession and especially in the second half there was wave upon wave of attack on our goal, with numerous goalscoring opportunities created (leading to a number of very fine saves by Adrian). I actually believe Man City vastly underestimated our team in the first half which is why they were struggling initially with the crowd getting on their backs accordingly.

Embed from Getty Images

We even took a very surprising lead after a well taken header by Ogbonna. But it was obvious we couldn’t hang on. After all, Manchester City as a club are so much more professional than us on every level, on and off the pitch. They do a lot of things right (granted, with some serious financial backing), so I can’t really deny them my respect.

Like most other fans I expected a drubbing of epic proportions. So I changed my game watching routine, trying to do my bit for the cause – I was wearing a West Ham shirt I usually don’t use for armchair purposes.

Then it was out with the screwdriver, in with a tiny pair of tweezers to keep my nerves in check and my fingers busy. I expected us to concede a truckload of goals and I had an inkling the first Man City goal would be one of many, serving to open the floodgates – how wrong I was!

I watched the game by way of muttering to myself with every passing minute that we still hadn’t conceded, like a Buddhist monk saying his mantra: “First minute survived without conceding, COYI! Two minutes gone without conceding, well done lads! Three minutes without conceding, not too bad West Ham!” You get the picture. Once our goal went in I tried to suppress the natural upsurge of hope within myself because I knew that under the circumstances a win or even a draw was still highly unlikely.

Embed from Getty Images

Ultimately it was all in vain of course, no points to show for all the effort and considering that even a draw was possible if Sakho had scored with his shot very late in the game we could have approached the upcoming tasks against Chelsea and Arsenal with a lot more swagger.

Still I saw plenty of guts, desire and effort. And organisational shape. Our lads defended really well overall. We managed a number of promising counters. Every player looked up for it. Which is exactly what is required as a bare minimum if we want to stay up.

What do I take from the game ? Well, for me Adrian deserves to keep the shirt after pulling off one great save after another. Hart may be the England goalkeeper, but that doesn’t help West Ham if his performances for us leave a lot to be desired.

He seems to be a goalkeeper on the decline and I’d rather see us keeping faith in Adrian and then sign another goalkeeper in the summer (as it’s probably not feasible to terminate Hart’s loan in January).

Also I was impressed with young Declan Rice. He will benefit from games like these no end and should play more often now. I also feel our defensive setup looked a lot more composed and solid while upfront I prefer it if we play pacy guys like Sakho or Antonio. We don’t have enough pace in the side as it is, if we don’t even use the fast players we still have we might as well not bother turning up for games at all.

Embed from Getty Images

At the very least our performance has given me a bit more hope my upcoming visit for the Chelsea and Arsenal fixtures won’t be a total disaster. Usually I tend to enjoy my time away from the actual West Ham game a whole lot more than actually watching the game itself. Maybe, just maybe West Ham will do me a pre-festive favour and pull off one almighty giant killing against either of our London rivals.

I am flying in on Friday morning and I shall be staying in a convenient location close to the stadium, basically situated between Stratford High Street and Abbey Road Station.

Of course I’m looking forward to meeting plenty of you good people again, some of the regulars as usual but also new faces. I’m only flying back to Hamburg the day after the Arsenal game, so there is plenty of time to meet up and share a few drinks and mince pies. Six full days in London, lovely jubbly!

I also understand there will be a feisty encounter between the West Ham U23s and Spurs U23s on Monday evening (December 11th), so this might be a good opportunity for some of you to come over to Dagenham and cheer the boys on!
I for one will make sure I’ll be there!

Embed from Getty Images

Just for a brief mention of the issue of the Mayor of London getting involved in renegotiating our stadium deal. I think we can agree that the Olympic Stadium saga has been a comedy of errors, very costly ones at that!

Virtually every mistake that could have been made along the way, from designing and building the place, preserving a post games legacy, the bidding processes, finding a naming rights sponsor, the retractable seating and so forth was made with pinpoint precision, with numerous people getting in on the act – all of them contributing in varying measures to the cul de sac we now find ourselves in.

Nobody seems to be happy with the way the move went, apart from our owners.
The taxpayers are up in arms over the deal of the century, most West Ham fans are underwhelmed with our new home, rival fans are fuming and I can’t see the Newham locals being too impressed with their council flushing millions down the drain.

I can’t see West Ham moving out of that place anytime soon. I can’t see West Ham buying the London Stadium (who should pay for that ?). And I also don’t see the stadium being converted into a proper football stadium. They may probably find an alternative venue for athletics to get rid of the expensive need to switch between modes twice a year. But even then the stadium will remain as a highly disappointing botch job of a multi purpose stadium, a compromise made of brick, mortar and false promises.

Embed from Getty Images

Coming to the Cordi update and in accordance with the Game of Thrones TV series I can confirm: Winter has come to town! The Christmas markets are open. In the morning you hear the predictable symphony of people scraping their car windows.

It’s freezing cold. And that traditionally is the time when football in Germany is grinding to a halt, having a two month winter break. That includes Concordia, but on Saturday there was one final home game to be played against Wedel.

There was mulled wine available in the club house, telltale sign that indeed winter is finally here. Also bear in mind that the floodlights at Cordi are notoriously bad (at the far end of the pitch it’s like watching at the London Stadium, you can’t read name and number on the players’ shirts) and it’s easy to understand why only 80 people opted to leave their warm and cosy living rooms in order to buy a ticket for the game in East Hamburg. For those who were brave enough to weather the cold they were duly rewarded with Cordi’s best performance of the season and a 5:1 victory.

Some of the goals came from well worked counter attacks, with some glorious high risk shots from the edge of the box thrown in for good measure. This win was much needed and it brought some smiles to the players and staff which was nice to see before going into the long winter break.

I was happy enough at the final whistle to get invited by some of the local sponsors (who are genuine fans attending every game) who had laid on a dinner for the team in the club house afterwards and it was good to discuss a 5:1 win over roastbeef with fried potatoes, chips and chicken wings (plus beer, wines and softdrinks).

The goalkeeping coach and Everton fan was also there, with his massive Rottweiler called Neville (named after former Everton custodian Southall) in tow. He was obviously happy with Everton’s recent results but also told me he would have prefered Moyes back at Everton instead of Allardyce.

I also discussed West Ham with some of the older sponsors who have been supporting Cordi for 30 or 40 years and these guys are genuine football fans. They were very interested to hear my thoughts on the Premier League, the new stadium and West Ham’s current plight.

At the end of the evening they were all wishing me well for my trip, expressing their hopes West Ham would start winning games again, securing their league status for another season.

Embed from Getty Images

So, not long to go now before hitting the airport again. I hope the trip will yield some pre-Christmas pressies for me in the shape of some decent performances from our boys (and maybe the odd point or three). I already know tea and mince pies (and a nice chat) are waiting for me at Newham Bookshop.
And I may give the new West Ham Supporters Club in Stour Place near the stadium a try for a nice pre game breakfast.

Other than that ? No idea, again my itinerary is reasonably empty for the time being, I shall be taking things as they come when I’m over. Some of the best days are there to be had when they are just allowed to happen.

So, the German once again has gone against the natural trait of his fellow countrymen by not having pre-planned every single hour ahead. I reckon the trip will be a good one as usual though. Maybe even a brilliant one. We’ll see.

COYI!!!

Click here to view the leaderboard

The HamburgHammer Column

There will always be a West Ham and anyway, we will stay up this season!

At least not another embarrassing defeat. In previous seasons, under normal circumstances, a 1:1 draw at home against Leicester would not have yielded the kind of enthusiastic support and raucous noise from the West Ham home crowd. But from what I could gather from the comfort of my sofa the atmosphere at the London Stadium last Friday was fantastic, a proper defiant reaction from our fanbase, displaying a fierce in the trenches corral mentality.

The current circumstances at West Ham are anything but normal, but at least the fans did their bit and it seemed to rub off on the team who gave a much more spirited performance. They looked like they actually gave a monkey’s.
The effort was certainly there, the running was a lot better, the pressing too and while there was still a clear lack of creative quality in our side this should come back in due course once the new gaffer has settled in properly and the team begin playing with more confidence and according to a clearly defined gameplan.

Embed from Getty Images

There has been a lot of talk in recent days about former members of the ICF taking things into their own hands in terms of letting the board know that most of our supporters are anything but happy (and why that is the case), so those guys will try and compile a list of the most pressing issues and tell the owners accordingly. It is then up to the board to act upon the suggestions from the fanbase or face significant backlash in the shape of various fan protests over the coming weeks and months.

I applaud those guys for their efforts and wish them every success, alas I am less than hopeful it will have the desired effect. The board will follow their financial roadmap to the letter, cashing in their interest payments for another three or four years until they can sell the club without the shackles of having to share a portion of their profit with the LLDC/taxpayer. Then – and only then – will they seriously consider getting out of the club.

I take a degree of comfort though from the thought that there will still be a West Ham worth rooting for in some shape or form once the current lot are gone and hopefully the latest initiative from the “Real West Ham Fans” group will help in uniting our fanbase again, making sure that as much of our club’s soul as possible can be preserved, despite the actions of the current owners.

Embed from Getty Images

I am confident that there are still plenty of sons and daughters out there who will follow in the footsteps of their parents, uncles, aunties and grandparents and grow up to be staunch West Ham supporters. West Ham are more than just a football club and it still has a place in the hearts of thousands of people all over the globe. That must count for something.

I have no doubt that our team is good enough to see out the season with a modicum of professional pride and reach the beckoning shore of Premier League safety.
It will probably not quite be another Great Escape a la Tevez, we look far too minimalistic on the pitch for that, so it’ll be more like a Late Escape than a great one, but escape we will. Of that I have no doubt.

The upcoming Everton game should be a thrilling encounter as surely Everton too are nowhere near where they expected to be in the table at the start of the season.
The pressure on them should be even bigger than on us which might work in our favour on the night. We should also have players returning back into the fold, like Hernandez and Antonio, giving us a few more options in terms of how to approach the game.

Embed from Getty Images

It looks to me like a switch has finally been flicked and I have no doubt that both results and performances will continue to improve as long as the players persist with showing better effort and application as that alone can and will trigger the kind of support from the Hammers faithful that is paramount if we want to maintain our league status.

In other, local German news I told you in a previous column about the agreement of the local Regionalliga Southwest to play the Chinese U20 side in a series of friendly games, not affecting the league table, but giving the lower league clubs some much needed financial boost while affording the Chinese players the opportunity to play some competitive games to get themselves ready for the Olympic Games.

There was a lot of criticism even before a ball was kicked, now the experiment has been stopped until further notice due to some football fans deciding to make a political statement by taking Tibetan flags to the first game of the Chinese team which obviously didn’t go down with their players, officials and the football authorities back home.
On the one hand of course you could argue that sporting events like these should not be overshadowed by political campaigning.

On the other hand there is the right of free speech in Western Europe, so taking a flag to football should not be a reason to eject supporters from the venue or abandon the game. Then again West Ham fans have learned in recent weeks that you don’t have to take a Tibetan flag to the stadium to get yourself in a spot of bother.
I never thought the idea with the Chinese U20 team playing in Germany was a brilliant one to pursue and if a Tibetan flag in the crowd is all it takes to rile up the visitors then maybe they should get their Olympic preparations done elsewhere.

Embed from Getty Images

To quickly update you on Reece Oxford and his exploits at a team from Germany (Borussia Moenchengladbach) his loan club surprisingly managed to deal the mighty Bayern Munich its first defeat in what felt like five years or so, beating them 2:1. Moenchengladbach are now only five points behind the league leaders from Munich and The Foals Eleven (as they are affectionately known in the country of the sausage munchers) are well on course to secure Champions league football coming to the Rhineland next season.

It’s not ideal for Reece Oxford on the face of it as Moenchengladbach have no reason whatsoever to play him as things are going very well as they are at the moment, without Oxford getting any significant gametime. On the other hand they are known for developing and bringing through youngsters in a very strategic and patient manner, so his time may come, but Moenchengladbach may take their time in watching his progress and maybe even decide to buy him if they are convinced he is right for them.
They certainly won’t be playing him just to do West Ham any favours.

Embed from Getty Images

As for the quick Concordia update (haters, please skip this section accordingly), the trip to Buchholz in Lower Saxony (representing the longest away trip of the season with their ground being 30 miles away from my flat) yielded mixed results. On the pitch it was an unmitigated disaster, with Cordi losing 0:4 to a side fighting relegation.
Concordia this season are certainly not pulling their weight and at this rate can forget any ambitions of going up one level at the end of the season. Not good.
Talking of weight though, for a food aficionado like me Buchholz offer a unique selling point to the carnivorous groundhopper: Grilled sausages made from horsemeat.
In the Oberliga Hamburg no other club serves these, but Lower Saxony is horse country, hence their unusual (and very tasty) offer on the matchday menu.

Before you kill me, I don’t have a special bond with horses. I never spent any holidays on a ranch as a kid, I have never ridden a horse in my life, I don’t bet on horses and I also eat pork, veal, beef or chicken. And besides, Cordi only play away at Buchholz once a season, so please forgive me if I treat myself to a horsemeat based snack once a year. And believe me, right now I am particularly grateful for any treat I can get.

Which brings me to a bit of a parish notice, closing out my column for this week. In the upcoming weeks my column may be a lot shorter than usual. There may even be certain weeks where I won’t feel like penning an article at all. This is due to personal circumstances/family reasons. Quite simply, I may be absent-minded when it comes to West Ham in the next few weeks/months (although I will still come over for the Chelsea and Arsenal games), so please accept my apologies should my column not go up quite as regularly as you have been accustomed to.

COYI!!!

Click here to view the leaderboard

The HamburgHammer Column

New brooms, old dirt and lack of confidence

My column today will be a lot shorter than you are used to, for a variety of reasons. Part of it is to do with a long matchday at Concordia yesterday, yielding mixed results and also the fact I then only joined the stream of the Watford game shortly before the halftime whistle when we were already 1:0 down and Arnautovic was just missing a golden double goalscoring opportunity.

1:0 down at halftime was not exactly an unexpected scoreline of course, meaning I still had reasonably high hopes that the new broom effect would properly kick in for us during the second half.

Embed from Getty Images

Alas, it wasn’t to be. Earlier on Sunday it was a reasonably fine day in Hamburg, with mostly clear skies, but it was incredibly cold. Cordi’s second team won the early game against their neighbours in the table, 4th placed Vier- und Marschlande with a 1:0 scoreline, with the game itself not doing a lot to raise either blood pressure or body temperature, but a win is a win.
Then in the afternoon it got really really frustrating though and I inititially thought West Ham had just been beamed to Concordia’s home ground at short notice.

Why is that ? Well, the unbeaten table toppers of Dassendorf had come to town. Not just unbeaten in fact, but as a team that had won all its 16 league games in a row so far this season, yet Concordia had them on the brink, taking a promising 2:0 lead with 35 minutes to go. But, in best West Ham fashion, the Cordi boys managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, despite putting on a commendable and brave fight against the Invincibles from the countryside.

The guests were there for the taking but if you needlessly concede a penalty, allowing your adversary a path back into the contest, then you also cannot really complain if your goalkeeper makes one fatal blunder right at the end to basically gift the opposition a late and slightly undeserved winner. I was gutted. Shellshocked. Cordi had been oh so close to a massive upset. But no cigar. And no grilled sausages either due to rampaging youngsters vandalizing the club’s barbecue grill a few weeks ago.

Well, at least there still was the West Ham game, they would be there for me surely and cheer me up with a decent away performance – with a new gaffer in charge surely there would be an upturn in miles covered, effort, guts and results of course.

Embed from Getty Images

If only football was so simple. There were quite a few opportunities when West Ham could have turned their game around. But we missed every single goalscoring opportunity on the day. The defending still looked incredibly shaky.
And I have to say that I was still mightily disappointed with the overall running and pressing effort from our guys. For a team that already is smack in the middle of a relegation scrap we still look fairly disinterested, not really bovvered. So a new broom, but still the same old dirt and dust by the looks of it.
Of course it can’t be easy if you are in a downward spiral anyway – football is a game where confidence is key. Confidence can only grow with results and those will only begin to change for the better if we stop shipping goals and start scoring them.

As a club we need to stop hiding behind excuses. Players should no longer hide behind the manager. The board shouldn’t point the finger at the manager or the fans.
Moyes won’t hide at this point anyway as he is still very much in the process of finding his feet at his new club. So he will and should be getting some time to change things for the better.

Everyone at the club needs to pull their weight, take responsibility in his or her respective role. The thought of relegation doesn’t even register yet. There still is plenty of time to turn it all around. And turn it around we must. But we need some decent performances and results sharpish for that to happen in order to gain some much needed confidence. Confidence is key and that’s where the manager and team have to deliver. Us fans can do our bit, but once the whistle sounds the players have to play, kick the ball and perform.

Embed from Getty Images

This season feels very strange to me, I feel quite distant from it all emotionally, and maybe this will all change with my upcoming visit when I can actually watch another two games in person.

Usually the West Ham game is among the highlights of my week, at this point I still watch when I can, but I am no longer anticipating the games as eagerly as before.
Right now it feels very much like a force of habit watching our beloved Hammers and I really hope the pure and undiluted joy I used to feel when getting ready for the next game will come back to me over the course of the season.

Luckily enough there now is no international break on the horizon, in fact West Ham can put things right as early as Friday evening, against a Leicester side I am simply unable to figure out this season. On paper the game is definitely winnable. As the game will be played on a football pitch though, and a bloody big one at that, God only knows what is going to happen.

As usual I shall be hoping for the best. But changing the tyres on my motor this Friday, finally putting the winter tyres on, may prove to be a more exciting and also ultimately more successful enterprise than watching West Ham’s efforts to beat The Foxes in Stratford.

Mr.Moyes, please prove me wrong, get the lads back on the training pitch, make ’em work their socks off and give us a win. Surely Leicester should present us with a better chance to do that than upcoming opponents like Arsenal or Chelsea. COYI!!!

Click here to view the leaderboard

Nostalgia

The game that got me hammered for life: March 1996 - West Ham vs. Man City 4:2

Right, in the last few days we have seen some fantastic contributions from Dan Coker, Goatygav and Mike Ireson and a lot of what the boys said was the kind of stuff I had intended to put in my column. So I will just say at this point that it’s a blank canvas approach for me when it comes to David Moyes.

I hope he gets the most out of our current squad and should he be able to do this, hopefully he will get the chance to develop and carry out a long term strategy in terms of building a decent footballing side at our beloved West Ham United.

So, with not even the entire squad back at training yet due to the international break, let me take you along with me on a little trip down memory lane, just where it leads into Green Street and the Barking Road, let’s mind the gap, step out onto the platform at Upton Park Station to quickly check our watches (smartphones and internet yet to hit the mainstream market) before turning right, joining a sea of claret and blue: It’s Saturday, March 23rd 1996 and West Ham are playing Manchester City at home.

You may not be aware of it yet, but as you enter the stadium you are going to share the matchday experience with a first time guest, the fellow who will eventually leave the game as HamburgHammer, but who entered the Lyall gates as just a young German geezer, feeling a bit homesick, being stuck in Barking and trying desperately to distract himself by attending a football game, after having already seen the Tower of London, Madame Tussauds, the British Museum and all the usual tourist destinations.

English football had an almost mythical reputation back then – every two months or so as a special treat they gave us Krauts ten minute highlights of a selected Premier League game in the Sportschau, Germany’s version of “Match of the Day”, games like Man United against Liverpool, Spurs against Arsenal or Villa against Nottingham Forest.
The big names. Watching English football in Germany in 1996 was like gold dust. Rare. Special. An occasion to be savoured, if only for ten brief minutes.
The football was so much more intense, physical and pacy, compared to the Bundesliga. I couldn’t wait to see what it was all about. In the flesh. For 90 minutes.

Embed from Getty Images

As most of you will know already, I had chosen West Ham as it was only two stops away on the tube from Barking, because they were the local side and because many of my colleagues supported them and had told me bits and pieces about the club during our teabreaks (remember them?).
Plus the ultimate clincher I could actually manage to still buy a ticket a few days before the game.

The ground, at that time, was going through a massive transformation. The cardboard turrets were not yet gracing the Western approach to the stadium. The Bobby Moore Stand was still reasonably new, having been built in 1993. The newest stand was the aptly named Centenary Stand which had just been opened the previous season.
At that point there were still supporting pillars in the West Stand Upper where my seat for the occasion was. Back then you could easily get yourself to the ticket office in your lunch break a few days before the game and could get yourself a ticket without having to be a club member or having some other sort of official attachment to the club.

If I remember correctly I paid roughly the same for my seat then as I do now: About 25 quid. I was in the West Upper near the corner flag, almost in touching distance to the Bobby Moore Stand.

The lineups were as follows:

West Ham: Miklosko, Bilic, Breacker, Dicks, Rieper, Rowland, Bishop, Williamson, Hughes, Dowie, Dumitrescu. Subs: Sealey (GK), Dani Carvalho, Potts

Man City: Immel, Brightwell, Frontzeck, Curle, Symons, Brown, Clough, Kinkladze, Lomas, Summerbee, Rosler. Subs: Quinn, Hiley, Mazzarelli

You should notice several things here:

a) Only three substitutes allowed in those days.
b) Man City didn’t even bother to put a substitute goalkeeper on the bench.
c) In Dani we had a Carvalho in our squad back then, even though he was not a £30 million rated holding midfielder. But he arrived from Sporting nonetheless…
d) By rights I should have supported City that day as they had THREE fellow Germans in their starting XI.

Embed from Getty Images

It’s funny how there are certain things you clearly remember when it comes to watching your first West Ham game while completely forgetting about others. For instance it wasn’t until I watched highlights of the game on youtube again that I realised how awful the condition of the pitch was on the day. It was almost as bad as St.Paulis pitch which was notoriously shabby, muddy and bereft of grass at the time.

I also don’t remember that there were only three substitutes on the bench around that time, but I suppose it didn’t register as peculiar as it was just the order of the day.
For me of course it wasn’t a normal game for a variety of reasons. First of all as a debut visitor you are highly occupied with taking in a lot of new information and impressions with all your senses: The sight of the crowd and the four stands towering over the pitch, the sounds from the tannoy, crowd noises, singing, even the smell from the burger vans drifting in through the corners…

After all, I was watching a team of strangers, playing league football in a foreign city of a foreign country, in a stadium I hadn’t been to before. Exciting!

I knew from highlights on the telly what West Ham’s colours were of course and I almost immediately had fallen in love with claret and blue – it was a unique combination of colours to my eyes, later of course I learned that in Britain alone there are several clubs sharing the same colours and In Turkey too, but there isn’t a German club playing in claret and blue to my knowledge.

Then there was the constant singing of one particular song (Bubbles) which I was desperate to join, but didn’t as I couldn’t figure out all the words straight away – cut me some slack, it was my first game! But I loved the fact it wasn’t the worn out old “You’ll never walk alone” which even in 1996 was being sung by several fanbases in Germany already. Here was a unique song, reserved for one particular team and sung with a degree of pride and passion that it almost brought a lump to my throat.

Embed from Getty Images

Then of course there was the little matter of a football game to follow and my eyes needed some time to adjust to the sheer pace of it all. I also had to get used to the game being allowed to flow, with challenges being deemed fair that most German referees would have rewarded with a freekick and a booking. Again, I loved it!
And what about those fullbacks ? In Germany most of them rarely crossed midfield, here a certain Tim Breacker was running up and down the wing the entire game as if he had a little built in Volkswagen engine driving him forward.

And there was a striker called Iain Dowie who on that day looked like the best striker in England, scoring twice in lethal fashion, I suppose first impressions can be deceiving.

Embed from Getty Images

The official attendance figure was 24.017 but it sounded like twice as many, the noise was incredible, especially when Dicks scored with that piledriver of a shot.
I reckon in that moment at the latest the die was cast, I knew I would come again. And again. Even when soon enough some proper crap games came around I was already sucked into it too much to turn back again and run. I was stuck with West Ham and they were stuck with me.

Portakabin Shop

The week after my first game I went to the club shop which at the time was the portakabin affair pictured on the left. The ramshackle exterior did fit the club though and it reminded me a lot of the St.Pauli club shop. In the portakabin I got my first two Hammers shirts, the Centenary home shirt with #2 Breacker on the back and the away shirt without name or number, the light blue one with the two claret hoops. In the following weeks and months I returned both to games and the club shop and got West Ham related presents for my family, sweatshirt for my brother, pint glass for my dad, coffee mug for mom and I also told them that for my stay in London I had found a home from home.

Funnily enough, in the days before internet and social media it was very hard to get your fix of West Ham rumours. I was always looking forward to the latest monthly edition of Hammers News Magazine, sometimes I also bought a fanzine and then of course there was teletext. In a way it could be frustrating at times, but on the other hand it wasn’t the sheer constant madness and mayhem which the internet and social media have brought with them.

Embed from Getty Images

Another crazy thing is that back in 1996 I didn’t socialise with fellow fans. I am sure I must have crossed paths with plenty of you good people on matchdays (I got a season ticket in the 96/97 season), but I never went for pre- or post match drinks in the usual watering holes near Upton Park. I usually headed straight back to Barking, picked up a Kebab or Chinese takeaway along the way to 15 Wilmington Gardens and that was pretty much my matchday done and over with.

Sometimes I had a celebratory pint in one of the various Barking pubs (hardly any left now) when we had won, but those occasions were few and far between when I started out as a born again Hammer. Not an awful lot has changed in that respect in 20 years, but so many other things at our club have.
I don’t have to spell them out to you again. You all know.

Embed from Getty Images

I don’t think I chose West Ham, I got picked by fate. Most of us become fans that way. Or maybe we all have been sentenced by destiny to forever follow this nutcase of a club.

I could never have imagined when I went through that turnstile in March 1996 that I would be writing a regular column for fellow fans on a thing called the internet 20 years later, from my flat in Hamburg. I could never have imagined I would still be going to West Ham games in 2017, albeit in a different stadium, I never thought we could or would leave The Boleyn Ground. Ever.

I also could not foresee that I would one fine day meet so many great people who share my love for West Ham, so many years after getting my first claret and blue fix.

Some of the most common questions asked by West Ham fans begin with the famous words “What if…?”.

So let me close out our time travelling walk down memory lane, just where it leads into Green Street and the Barking Road, with a question I have asked myself numerous times since March 1996.

What if Iain Dowie hadn’t scored twice that day, what if that piledriver from Dicks had sailed over the bar and what if Dani had fallen over his own two feet instead of scoring late in the game from a tight angle ?

In short: What if West Ham had drawn or even lost that first game I attended ?

Would there even have been a second time for me, a third game even, many more games actually and subsequently a lifelong love affair with this club and its fans that is still going strong ?

I’d like to think so. After all, for West Ham it’s never been purely about winning or losing a game of football. It’s just as much, or perhaps even more, about how you do it. Which by the way has always been the approach of my slightly more local club, Concordia Hamburg, too.

For my first ever West Ham game EVERYTHING pretty much fell into place on the day which is quite rare and unusual for our team. So I do feel very grateful and honoured that I was given the opportunity to witness a 4:2 win in my first visit to Upton Park. Nobody warned me back then about the rollercoaster ride I was about to embark on.

Nobody told me I couldn’t get off the ride whenever my tummy felt slightly squeamish. But I’m actually glad no one did.

I would have had to miss that amazing feeling when shooting out from one looping knowing the next crazy turn just lies ahead before yet another looping on the way. COYI!!!

PS: Unfortunately I forgot to buy a programme of that first game and so far I haven’t been able to track one down. So should one of you have said programme of the Man City game of March 1996 and would be willing to part with it and sell it to me, plse let me know in the comments.


The HamburgHammer Column

Thank you Slaven! The end of the Bilic era - the beginning of what ?

After the game against Liverpool, another demonstration of unprofessional ball watching by the tools jogging along the pitch in claret and blue, and after watching that conveyor belt of schoolboy errors in defending (or rather lack of it) everything now is pointing towards the end of the Slaven Bilic era at West Ham. It may well be that he is no longer our manager once my column goes live, he may have resigned by then or given the boot by Sullivan (probably a Russian army boot matching his hat).

Embed from Getty Images

So I feel it’s appropriate to begin by thanking Slaven Bilic, wholeheartedly, for his time at the club, for being the kind of guy he is, extremly likeable, infectious passion for the game, a deep affinity for our club and the fans ( and our old stadium too), he simply was a breath of fresh air after the Allardyce years, and of course we shall be grateful for that wonderful final season at the Boleyn which will never be forgotten.
He gave us a bunch of memorable wins over the big boys too, especially Arsenal and Liverpool away.

Alas, there comes a time when even a Bilic disciple like myself has to face the fact that Bilic no longer has any means or power left to get this squad of professional footballers to play anything remotely resembling the beautiful game of football.

Personally, I love Bilic to bits. If I was a footballer I reckon he’d be the kind of manager I’d go through brick walls for, take a bullet and then donate a kidney too if need be.

Shame that some of the players and our board no longer share that view, if they ever did to begin with. I will miss Bilic a lot and it might be a bit easier to take if I had an ounce of confidence that his replacement will be an awe inspiring rather than a convenient one, but I reckon there’s more chance of a cat balancing a plate of scotch eggs on its rear legs while doing a handstand than West Ham attracting a top class manager and paying the guy accordingly. (More of the next manager issue later).

Embed from Getty Images

Earlier on matchday I was dealing with a different set of tools, in my case a branch cutter and a spade, to clear an area of my local sports club from various bramble bushes (thorny business that), but I didn’t mind as the weather was fine and I could talk football with my co-worker (a staunch Hamburg SV fan) while we were hacking, digging and cutting away for four hours solid. So, with my bit for the community done for the day I headed back to my flat in eager anticipation of our game.

With my West Ham mug of tea waiting for me on the table, I took my seat in the comfy lower tier of my armchair (great view!), wearing my lucky West Ham shirt for the occasion with the famous screwdriver moving gently from one hand to the other. Then, unfortunately, the game got in the way of everything. Most of you will have seen it yourself, ball watching galore, virtually no pressing or chasing back, precious little effort, glaring lapses of concentration and focus, a multitude of defensive blunders and a well deserved 1:4 loss.

It’s not like Liverpool were breathtakingly magnificent, they were not, in fact they looked painfully average on the day. Which, however, is more than good enough these days to still beat West Ham comfortably. Die to the reason that we usually beat ourselves, gifting goals galore to the opposition.

More often than not they don’t even have to unwrap those presents, a lot of them come along on a silver plate, unwrapped already and ready to be scored at will.

Embed from Getty Images

So, how does one cope with a defeat like this coupled with the likely consequences for our club and manager ? Well, I have been accused on here previously of being too negative in my musings when penning my column. So allow me to focus on the positives for a bit:

a) Our goal scored by Lanzini was fantastic, great skill and technique, wonderful to watch. A truly great goal.
b) The pitch at the London Stadium looked amazing, plush green and in top condition.
c) I’ve overreached myself with c actually…

Okay, so sarcasm and irony doesn’t quite work here. I have also been accused of being too much like a broken record playing the tune of bashing the owners.
Be that as it may, I think more fans are now realising where the root issues at West Ham are buried – and I am not talking about the cursed badger rotting away under the soil of our training pitches.

Embed from Getty Images

Now, when I have it in for our board I can’t claim it to be personal. How could it be ? I’ve never met or socialised with any of them and it’s not likely to happen in my lifetime for obvious reasons.

I can only judge them by their actions, by how they run the club, what decisions they come up with, what they do and don’t do in the name and on behalf of West Ham United. Based on all that I can’t pretend and say with conviction that they are good for West Ham and the overall future of our club.

Let’s look at the likely replacement for Bilic. Rumours are it could well be David Moyes assisted by Phil Neville. Would that kind of decision ooze confidence, ambition and wisdom ?

Would it show that our board know what they are doing, making a tough decision for the wellbeing of West Ham, even if it involves spending money ?

Of course not. IF David Moyes were to come in as the new gaffer it is because he is available, he is cheap and he won’t hassle the board too much with wanting things his own way. He would also be on an emergency short-term (cheap) contract anyway.

A stop gap. A reasonably priced gamble on staying up. Spend as little as possible while still making a change – then hope and pray it’s enough to get your club 17th place at the end of the season.

Embed from Getty Images

I’m sorry, but after the Avram Grant experience, this would be borderline insanity. Under normal circumstances I would welcome any new manager at our club with wide open arms (okay, maybe I’d be using a certain finger instead if it was Allardyce coming back), but are these normal circumstances we are facing ?

I do understand why some fans were ultimately resigned to wanting Bilic out, he is no saint for sure and has to accept his part of the blame, looking at the state of the majority of our performances in the last 16 months or so. Training routines and setting up the team tactically for the games, that’s very much the gaffer’s responsibility, granted.

But the players have got it far too easy at West Ham and yet, even now Bilic is still holding his hands over them, shielding them from criticism. In my opinion though the players do deserve a bit of the good old hairdryer treatment actually.

You may not see eye to eye with the manager, you may not like his training methods or even roll your eyes at the gameplan – once you are out on the pitch on matchday, whistle sounding in a full stadium in front of a home crowd you give your all, you run, you tackle, you play your guts out. Not just because you are being paid handsomely for the privilege, but because the fans in the stadium deserve to see effort and desire.

That in fact is the bare minimum requirement. Maybe your opposition player on the day has more skill than you or better technique in which case you cannot match them in those departments.

But you can always match or beat the opposition in effort and desire, especially in front of your own fans.

Embed from Getty Images

I personally don’t leave matches early, but I do understand those who left the stadium in droves against Liverpool during the second half. Losing as such ain’t the issue, it rarely has been at West Ham throughout our history, we are used to losing football matches, but right now too many things are plain wrong at our club at the same time.

On and off the pitch. In the boardroom and the dressing room. On the matchday pitch and at the training ground. In the manager’s office and our club HQ at Stratford.

In the past, after a bad loss, it still hurt of course. But as fans we could cling to familiar things like the stadium for comfort. Chatting about the game with mates in your favourite post-match boozer. We could cling to the characters in our team, players that sometimes were lacking in skill but who made up for it in effort and shedding of sweat tenfold.

There is precious little of West Ham left in West Ham these days I’m afraid.
Some of that is down to natural change in the world of professional football in general and the Premier League in particular where things have been revamped beyond belief in the last ten, twenty years.

So that change basically is a force majeure, a given. Then there is the stadium move, and again, other clubs have done it, struggling with it initially, but it can be done.

The circumstances at West Ham, however, are such that we have moved into a stadium which is essentially the direct opposite of what we used to have, a vast stadium, not purpose-built for football, but nonetheless supposed to serve as a home for world class players.

Yet, we are being owned by people who are unwilling or unable to pay the kind of money needed to attract world class players and a world class manager to our club.
In my view only top players and a top manager can make the stadium move work for our club and the fans eventually.

Without it the newbie fans will leave as quickly as they came while the old guard will be gone already, while others may not see much reason to keep coming back for more of the same . Unless of course you are one of the brave diehard Hammers who will continue to go quite simply because “it’s what we do”, no matter what!
Kudos to every single one of them!

Embed from Getty Images

The board will do what they want when they want. And one fine day they are likely to walk away with some degree of profit once their era at our club is finally over.
I wonder what West Ham will look like at that point or if we will still be called West Ham.

As for me I don’t fear relegation. I certainly don’t like it, but at the same time it wouldn’t stop my support. I will continue to follow our club one way or another.
Although I have to admit that I am looking more forward to watching our U23s play next month when I’m over again than going to the London Stadium for our first team games against Chelsea and Arsenal. Of course I will still go and hope for the best, but the U23s in my book are always a joy to watch and I hope the same can be said about our first team again very soon.

I forgot to mention a positive thing actually – on Saturday I received my membership card for the West Ham Supporters Club, so it’s definitely something to look forward to for my upcoming visit for the Chelsea and Arsenal fixture.

I’m excited also at the prospect of meeting some of my fellow Hammers again, sharing a chinwag, a drink and hopefully a laugh or two, even though admittedly it’s getting harder to find reasons to laugh at this point.

But maybe it’s the only viable option we have – laugh adversity in the face.
West Ham have survived numerous bumps, earthquakes and even scandals.
I doubt even the current board have enough in their locker to kill this club for good, although they seem to be trying awfully hard.

Whoever comes in as our new manager now, I hope you can bring some much needed joy and positivity to our club. I wish you all the best and hope you will get more out of our squad than Slaven could at the end. That is going to be your only chance as you are unlikely to see a lot of trust and support from the board otherwise.

COYI!!!

Click here to view the leaderboard

Copyright © 2017 Iain Dale Limited. Terms and conditions. Cookies.
Website by Russell Brown.