The HamburgHammer Column

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The HamburgHammer Column

The art of the substitution - we need the squad to stay up

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This will be a fairly short column, by my standards, as David Hautzig has covered the unlucky defeat against Arsenal in his brilliant article better than I could ever hope to achieve. I have not much to add to that, mainly because I only started to watch our game after the 40th minute.

Due to a lengthy injury break the Concordia away game had taken much longer than anticipated, so I had started following the progress in the Arsenal game from the passenger seat in the car by way of updates on my smartphone, finding myself in the comfortable position of having been offered a drive home by a fellow Cordi fan.

So, it was still 0:0 when I started watching and what I saw after that was quite impressive from our boys. We really looked the more likely team to score throughout. The stats confirm this. While we had far less possession of the ball we still managed 14 shots on goal, six of them on target – significantly more than Arsenal. But, alas, no goal for us and no cigar.

The Gooners caught a lifeline with a little help from VAR – they were lucky getting the win not so much because of VAR ruling rightly in their favour but because they didn’t really do enough in the game to deserve the win.
But football isn’t always fair – we missed enough chances that on another day might have won us two games, but it wasn’t to be.

We did at least continue with a positive line up, including Bowen, Antonio, Haller and Fornals, causing Arsenal plenty of problems in the process. But we didn’t tuck those chances away. Being more clinical in front of goal has to be the top priority in training now for Moyes and the other coaches to work on down at Rush Green.

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Which brings me to my little discussion topic of the column: The art of substituting players. Some managers seem to be quite brilliant at it, always finding just the right moment to bring a player on who then scores a vital goal within five minutes of entering the pitch.

Other managers seem reluctant to make early substitutions (unless they have to make a switch due to an untimely injury to a player), being of the opinion it’s best not to upset a formation that has been playing reasonably well for 60 minutes.

Whichever way you look at substitutions, they can be a valuable tool for any manager to affect a game, to catch an opposition team by surprise, to react to a weakness spotted in the other team during the game or a weakness in your own line up for that matter.

There are valid arguments for both schools of subs. If you have a tight unit on the pitch, playing together regularly, with each player knowing the running patterns and movements of his teammates it might appear foolish to upset that chemistry and balance.

But if you need to mix things up a bit, change the tactics on the pitch, if you’re desperate for a goal or two – then sometimes you have to make changes. And any player on the bench worth his salt is itching to come on and put his stamp on proceedings anyway. Bench players can be a fearsome weapon. If you give them half a chance.

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In my book, there is nothing wrong with making changes early on, maybe even after half an hour or at half-time when you see that a gameplan just isn’t working or one of your players keeps being targeted as a weak spot in the line up by the opposition. I firmly believe that any player coming into a game from the bench needs some settling in time to find his feet, to get into the rhythm of a match. The earlier you make a change the better the chances that the player can have a positive impact.

David Moyes seems to be reluctant to use early substitutions. Most of the changes he makes happen around the 70 minute mark. Which massively increases the pressure on the substitute player as there is less time to affect the game. I strongly feel we have a good chance to stay up this season as all the teams down there with us have been struggling in recent games too – no other team has pulled away significantly from the relegation zone yet.

But I also feel we need to use the entire squad to give us the best chance to survive. We need squad rotation, competition for places and high energy levels out there on the pitch.

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Pace and pressing are crucial elements in our battle for staying up. That’s why I reckon Noble will not and cannot play 90 minutes of every game we will still have to navigate this season.

I have no inside information why it is that Ajeti is not even on the bench for us these days, if he has been throwing any toys out of any prams lately.
But he, for instance, is a clinical finisher. He has even done it in the CL for his former club. If you look at the goals he used to score for Basel they have been of an impressive variety, scored by foot or head, left foot and right foot, close-range efforts and piledrivers from the edge of the box.

If we want to start turning good performances into goals and wins we need fresh legs out there, we need to put more effort in than the opposition, we need to run more and we need to take our chances. I am confident we can do this as our fate is now in our own hands and feet. We don’t need to look (and neither should we) at what the other teams around us are doing – just approach every game as our own little cup final and go for the win every single time. Premier League survival will sort itself out for West Ham then in the end. Luck and VAR will be on our side if we keep pushing hard.

But it’ll be very tight around that relegation zone and not for the faint of heart.


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The HamburgHammer Column

Oh when the Saints get West Ham going (and marching)

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Utter relief, that was my overriding feeling after the game on Saturday. There is a tendency for inflation when it comes to identifying must win games.
We certainly needed all three points in this one, mainly to find some confidence and team spirit for the upcoming battle against relegation.

While the league title is pretty much in the bag for Liverpool already, and has been for quite a while, despite their bewildering defeat against Watford, things are a lot more interesting and competitive at the other end of the table with seven teams (at least) including us being in the mix for the drop.

Newcastle and Brighton are on awful runs of form, they could get sucked into the relegation scrap properly now. If I had to pick three teams today, my top candidates for relegation at the end of the season would probably be Norwich, Villa and Brighton.

As for the Southampton game, there was a lot to like about our performance and hopefully also a few pointers for Moyes as to how to approach the upcoming fixtures. First of all, and most importantly, there was effort and application galore from our players out there. Everyone ran, fought, tried to make things happen. In football usually you get rewarded for that kind of performance from the entire team.

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Just two minutes before the start I was in a bit of a panic as I couldn’t find my tried and trusted screwdriver, my preferred tool to help calm my nerves down when watching West Ham. I couldn’t ask the FA to delay the kickoff at such short notice, so I rummaged around frantically on and under my living room table.

However, just seconds before the first whistle the screwdriver miraculously appeared under a newspaper and a half-full bag of liquourice. It’s not where that screwdriver belongs, but I digress.

We scored first, fairly quickly in the game, and it was Jarrod Bowen who didn’t take long to have a measurable impact in his first start for the Hammers, finishing brilliantly after a world-class pass by Fornals (who was my personal MotM). It’s always nice to see a new player hitting the ground running like this. It was even better to see Bowen busting a gut all game – and when he was asked afterwards by a reporter about his intensity levels during the game he merely shrugged his shoulders and called it a given.
If only every player in claret and blue saw it like that…

Another crucial factor was the way Haller was finally able to show what he can do if you give him support by players upfront, be they strikers, wingers or attacking midfielders.

Bowen, Antonio and Fornals were always making runs, providing outlets for Haller and the Frenchman was a constant thorn in Southampton’s side as a result.

I feel we need to keep this attacking formation in most games from now on, not only because it will help us getting the best out of Haller, but also because we need to ensure we score more goals than the opposition and we don’t seem to be very good at keeping clean sheets anyway, so let’s go and cause the opposition some defensive headaches as well.
We are essentially a counter-attacking team (I think we had only 36% of possession against Southampton) and we need to make our opportunities count whenever we break. We won’t score many with an isolated Haller upfront.

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Playing the likes of Haller, Antonio, Bowen and Fornals all together in the next few games, allowing them to build some chemistry, I am confident they will pose a nightmare of significant proportions to most PL defenders. You may be able to mark one or two of them out of a game for some time, but certainly not all four at the same time all the time.

They offer pace, power and creativity and guys like Antonio and Bowen also chip in with an additional nasty element of unpredictability which can only help us in our attempt to pull away from the relegation zone.

We kept our intensity for most parts of the game too, with Rice being particularly good through the middle, but also our back four looked fairly solid and composed.

Special kudos has to go to young Jeremy “Sideburn” Ngakia who looked mature far beyond his years. Not perfect throughout, by no means, but learning fast and you can almost see him getting better all the time (to quote a famous line from a Beatles song).

I cannot begin to express how happy I was with the three points on top of a very decent performance as hopefully this will give the team the confidence our players need to be more positive and attack-minded in future games.
They will also be more at ease and less afraid to try and play football.
Confidence after a win will do this to you.

It’s awfully hard to believe you can still win football matches in this league when you haven’t done so for two months. The victory against Southampton showed that our players can still do it after all. This win should be our blueprint now for the difficult tasks ahead.

Mr.Moyes, you have found a line up and formation that worked pretty well, now put your trust in those lads and see if they can also do it in games against the likes of Arsenal or Wolves.

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With players returning from injury gradually, Soucek, Yarmolenko, maybe even Wilshere – we may even finally get proper competition for places.
And who knows what could happen if Anderson and/or Lanzini re-discover some form again. We have given ourselves a good platform for the road ahead now, it’s up to the manager and the players to keep on improving, to play hard, to fight for every ball and win the points we need to keep our league status. It may not always be pretty, but it needs to happen for the sake of our club.

Which brings me, very briefly, to the march that took place before the game on Saturday. I wasn’t on the Greenway with the protestors of course, but you will not be surprised to read I would have gone on the march if I had been over. Estimates vary, but apparently between 5.000 and 7.000 marchers were there to voice their discontent with West Ham’s owners/custodians.

I do understand not everybody is happy with West Ham fans protesting in this manner or any other way, shape or form. I understand that the Hammers United folks cannot and do not speak for the entire fanbase and I don’t think they claim to do so.

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I do respect their motivation and reasons for protesting though and it’s a wise move they are doing it outside the stadium, not in it while a game is on.
Surely, they have every right to express their dissatisfaction with the way the club has been run over the past ten years, the way the stadium move was handled, the hopeful promises and all the other bits and bobs, the blunders, the bravado and various astonishing decisions that have affected our club and its performance on and off the pitch as well as our fanbase in the recent past

By the same token I don’t begrudge any fan their desire and prerogative to express their happiness with and gratitude towards the board, to have their own march, create their own GSB FOREVER messages on banners, shirts and flags and parade them around Stratford. They also wouldn’t speak for the entire fanbase of course.

But it is up to each individual to decide if they want to march at all, if they want to protest against the board or for it. Or if they want to remain indifferent and away from picking sides. If you want to sit on the fence when it comes to the ownership at West Ham, that’s a legitimate choice as well, same as everyone is free not to cast his or her vote in general elections.

It is fairly obvious though that quite a few fans’ patience with GSB has run out, that they no longer trust the board and want them out, even at the risk of getting new owners in their place that may not necessarily be much better. Again, not every fan is going to share that view, but I for one can appreciate the protestors’ reasons for standing up for what they believe in.

It didn’t seem to affect our players adversely, by the way. The support from the fans during the game was positive throughout, as far as I could tell from my armchair. If it took a march of that proportion to get us the home win, maybe we should make those protests a compulsory pre-match ritual, every little helps, you know…;-)

Who knows what our owners will do though ? Will they speed up and intensify their efforts to find a buyer ?

Or will they try to sit this out and just let the protests wash over them ?
We shall see.

I still believe this club, or what is left of it, is still worth rooting and cheering for. However, if we want that to still be the case in 10 or 20 years then I do feel we may need to find new owners eventually.

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But for now I’d be quite happy to see our players busting a gut for 90 minutes in every single remaining game we play this season. Will we win every game that way ? I doubt it.

Will we stay up that way ? 100%. COYI!!!

The HamburgHammer Column

All hands to the pump - can the West Ham ship be saved from sinking ?

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The Brighton game was a kick in the guts, make no mistake about it. Holding a two goal lead late in the game and still not coming away with three points is hard to take.
As we all know, being a West Ham fan is a test of character, time and time again. This game was one of those character-building instances, with potentially massive ramifications for our club at the end of the season.

I needed cheering up before starting to type out the column on Sunday, so I followed the progress of the U23s at the away game against their Sunderland counterparts via my betting account game tracker, basically a boring old stats screen showing which team is currently attacking, shots on goal, possession of the ball and so on.

Sunderland were dead last in the table and the West Ham lads of course chasing promotion, albeit without the luxury of counting on budding prospects like Holland, Coventry, Powell and Kemp for the rest of the season.
But other guys were back in contention, like Xande Silva and Mesaque Dju.
So I expected a glorious win to give me a West Ham related lift. Easy, tiger!

It didn’t look good for the first 80 minutes as Sunderland had other ideas and somehow managed to go into an unlikely 2:1 lead, courtesy of a brace scored by their striker Joe Hugill (isn’t it ironic ? Actually, I have no idea if the lad is related to our own Jordan “Can’t wait to walk out here with all the bubbles” Hugill, but I couldn’t help but notice that name).

Then West Ham equalised ten minutes from time and went on to romp to a 4:2 victory in the course of just five frantic minutes of clinical efficiency. Including goals from our substitutes Silva and Dju. That’s how you do it! Three crucial points in the bag in the race for promotion, goal difference improved further, giving us an edge over promotion rivals Manchester United.
One tiny step closer to the next level…

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So, my mood finally was good enough to sit down at my keyboard and begin gathering my thoughts about our first team. Snatching a draw against Brighton from the jaws of victory is not something to get ecstatic about. We needed that win desperately. For confidence more than anything. We didn’t win a point. We lost two.

19 points lost this season from winning positions. That’s not the way to stay in the Premier League.

We neatly giftwrapped those goals for Brighton and had two massive defensive brainfarts to thank for our downfall.

But, just for a change, I will try to focus on some positives in my column today. Not easy for me to do at all, but try I shall. All the other business of owners, training facilities, net spend and apologetic statements by Sky Sports will take care of themselves anyway.

Let’s see then, shall we, what positives we still have going for our fight against relegation. And there still are some that might just about be enough to see us through…

Those brainfarts we suffered on Saturday are what they are, they happen occasionally, even to decent players, but they are few and far between in professional football.

Only at West Ham two of these could happen in quick succession in the same bloody game. But even at West Ham they are unlikely to happen much more often this season. I would hope so at least.

Fabianski will probably punch a clearance onto a teammate’s back like this once every 80 games, so that’s out of the way now. Ogbonna and Diop will have learned their lesson as well, maybe continue to work on similar situations in training, so next time a ball bounces around that dangerously close to our own penalty box, one of them will unceremoniously belt that ball into Row Z++ of the Lower Tier. Or into the Upper Tier, but I’m not sure it’s possible even for a PL player to kick a ball that far…

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What else ? Ah, yes, Tomas Soucek had his debut, freshly arrived in the most recent transfer window. Our new midfield chief of staff who I prefer to call Sous Chef, but that’s just me being silly and interested in good food…LOL

Like others on here I was really impressed with his first game. Considering he can’t have been 100% match fit due to the winter break in the Czech Republic, he showed everything I want from a good midfielder: Graft, constant running, an eye for a pass and the desire to help his team. He also was a leading figure on and off the pitch at Slavia apparently and you can never have enough leaders in your side when your back’s against a relegation wall.

When he joined the goal celebrations he looked like a seasoned old West Ham stalwart who was in the middle of his 143rd game at the club, not his first. To see him celebrate with Snodgrass was like watching two good mates who had known each other for ages when they had probably just been introduced 48 hours earlier.

Soucek is still young, a good all-around player, highly spoken off in his country and his previous club Slavia Prague. And he is bringing some fresh impetus, unstained yet of any negativity surrounding our club at the moment.
Apparently his biggest strength is his positional awareness, so he will rarely be caught off-guard which should mean our midfield won’t get overrun quite as easily and often as before.

My hope is that his arrival, drive and enthusiasm will rub off on his teammates (rather than the other way around) and he can help make all his teammates perform and play better in the process, whoever David Moyes may choose to pick in the remaining games. We need players running, tackling and playing their hearts out. Only then do we stand a chance to be a PL team in August.

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The same very much goes for Jarrod Bowen who arrived on Deadline Day from Hull. YouTube highlight reels can be misleading, but he certainly looks like a very useful attacking player, one of the most effective at Championship level, having his feet in plenty of goals, scoring a lot, assisting quite a few.
If he turns out to be a slightly healthier and more robust version of Antonio we have another weapon in our armoury as we certainly cannot expect Antonio to feature in every game from now until the end of the season, unfortunately, as Antonio is pretty much our personified “Get out of jail free“ card.
The more he plays for us, the better our chances of winning.

More positives ? Well, we are in the bottom three at this point and we have the two worst imaginable games coming up next, Man City and Liverpool away. Two games that the entire world, the football gods and their goldfish expect us to lose. Heavily at that.

So, two massive footballing lessons on the way there, with 5 goals conceded in each one ? Possibly, but not necessarily. For me, those two games are free hits. Go out there, try to frustrate them, nick whatever you can get in terms of goals or points. We have a tendency to raise our game against the big boys on occasion. Both City and Liverpool may consider those games as easy pickings, so they may rest some of their top players, maybe putting them on the bench.

And our new boys, Soucek and Bowen, will cherish the opportunity to play in these games against two of the top club sides on the planet. No way will they approach these fixtures as lost causes before a ball has been kicked. Again, I’m counting on their enthusiasm and fresh impetus to shine through and give our team a shot in the arm. We all know football is not being played on paper.

Liverpool and City are massive favourites to wipe the floor with us, on paper. But maybe, on the pitch, they will have a brainfart or two of their own to work in our favour. Maybe they have a really bad day at the office and we a surprisingly good one. Silly ? Maybe. But what reason would I have left to still watch those games if I wasn’t clinging on some faint and tiny hope at least ?

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Oh, I have more positives! Felipe Anderson should return to the fold in the not too distant future, adding some much needed pace and creativity to our play.
And if you look at the table there are more than just three teams involved in this very relegation scrap. Whereas the battle for the title is pretty much decided already, the fight against the drop features six or seven teams.
And all of them have very difficult games coming up in their respective fixture calendars.

They will also take some points off each other in certain fixtures.
Very difficult for any of the teams in the bottom 6 or 7 to put winning runs together. This will go right down to the wire.

If you look at their squads they don’t have better players at their disposal than us, they are simply getting more out of these players at this point, but that can easily change. Confidence is key. It’s probably fairly low for our team right now, but again, it doesn’t have to stay that way.

Bottom line: We have to make sure that we’re better than three other teams this season, no more, no less. It’ll not be easy, but it can still be done.
West Ham have looked atrocious so far this season, in quite a lot of games unfortunately.

But so have Norwich, Villa, Watford and Bournemouth. Palace and Brighton too are far from safe yet.

It’s frustrating, of course, that at this point we cannot simply look forward to our games as opportunities to watch beautiful football or guaranteed wins. But at least the players now have a clearly defined aim and task in front of them:

To run, sweat and fight in order to keep West Ham in the top flight.

It’s not quite the aim we envisioned at the start of the season, but, like it or not, we now need to navigate this ship called West Ham around those rocks and shallows of another relegation scrap and somehow reach dry land.

But it requires the crew of our vessel to really work their socks off at the pump to get all that bloody saltwater out of the boat that threatens to sink our ship. Players need to stand up and be counted. Go the extra mile. Players need to get this club out of the relegation zone and keep it outside the relegation zone.

Do it for good old-fashioned pride. Do it for the shirt. Do it for West Ham.

Do it to make yourself a transfer target for bigger or better clubs in the summer, if need be.

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Or maybe just do it for the myriads of fans who still want West Ham to win every game, those who go to the stadium or watch the Hammers on the telly from afar. This club is still loved by hundreds of thousands of supporters all over the globe, breathing and bleeding claret and blue.

And there is a new generation of fans growing up as you’re reading this, blowing bubbles, dreaming dreams, learning to be claret&blue and West Ham till I die.

For kids today this may entail buckets of popcorn, overpriced bags of pick’n’mix and watching the team play in a big bowl that was built for athletics events, but still these kids join their dads, moms, uncles, aunts or grandparents at the football and go to the games, watching their beloved Hammers. Join the others in singing Bubbles. And probably end up crying bitter tears of disappointment at the final whistle whenever we lose.

If not for us old moaning gits, make those kids proud to be West Ham.
Give them something to cheer. Something to hurl back in the faces of their smug mates at school who support Arsenal, Chelsea or Manchester United.
The best way to do that is to show heart, play good football and win some games. Staying up will then be a realistic (first) target.

Afterwards we can worry about other, bigger things again. About progress, development and next level. But we simply cannot afford to go down.

So, in that spirit:

Dear West Ham team, you all know how to play football, every single one of you, otherwise you wouldn’t have made it this far. You are in the PL for a reason. Start showing the fans (and the pundits) you deserve to be PL players and you will get all the support from the West Ham fans you could ever wish for.


The HamburgHammer Column

Football's not always a piece of cake - neither is life at times

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I wasn’t sure if I should even post a column this Monday as I have a bit on my plate at the moment, what with my brother being in hospital again, the rising levels of negativity surrounding my club(s), both at West Ham and Concordia and yet another league game, this time against a club with, similar to us, a recently appointed manager at the helm which unfortunately didn’t result in three more points for us. Still, was it a point gained ? Or two points lost ?

But I will do try and write at least a bit, gather some of my thoughts and invite you all, as usual, to post comments below as news, transfer rumours and quotes from the manager, players or the board may roll in throughout the day.
I will also try to tone myself down a bit as, frankly, football is not worth getting into a frenzy, especially if one of your loved ones is battling for dear life.
Which means I will still post, but probably stay away from fighting the same old wars on here time and time again.

For that reason I am not going to speak about the fan protest which took place in Stratford on Saturday shortly before the game. This has been thoroughly discussed on here in the comments and previous articles and, like it or not, the topic at hand is likely to continue to instigate debate and argument in the coming weeks and months anyway, without me adding fuel to the fire.

You all know where I stand on this and some people have already been moaning about all the board bashing, the repetitive negativity on here and other blogs, so for the time being I don’t intend to add further to it, not in this article anyway. But I cannot guarantee I will never again refer to these issues in my comments. Simply because how this club is being run does affect what happens with the team on and off the pitch – and what a manager, any manager, is able to achieve at West Ham in 2020 and beyond. It’s all connected and at some point in future we may even have no team left to support at all, so when fans criticise and protest, more often than not it’ll be because they love the club and care a lot about it being well.

We are without a shadow of a doubt officially in a relegation dogfight now – and we are likely to remain in that dogfight for the rest of the season, hopefully with a positive outcome at the end, meaning Premier League safety and the soothing comfort of the television money it brings for another season.

David Moyes certainly has his work cut out for him, the current situation at our club being one hell of a challenge that would prove tricky for any manager really, the injuries to our better players ain’t helping either (Antonio always struggling with his hamstring, Fabianski still out, Anderson out for 2-3 weeks apparently with the back injury he suffered when he landed hard and awkwardly on the pitch late in the Sheffield United game, Wilshere never being available etc.).

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At this stage you need players to stand up and be counted, guys with cojones and guts. Preferably with some skill at playing football as well.
I wouldn’t expect any of those to arrive in the transfer window, so they will have to come from within the squad we already have.
Moyes will have to work his magic with the current hand of cards at his disposal. Will that hand be good enough ? Or can he at least bluff our way out of trouble ?

Who then will be our committed and vocal leaders on the pitch for the rest of the season, galvanising their teammates to the level of effort and desire we desperately need to win games now ?

Do we actually have the quality to stay up ? On paper for sure, but we don’t play the beautiful game on paper, as we all know. We had a team back in the day that was deemed “too good to go down” and they did just that at the end of the season. That team contained players such as David James, Paolo DiCanio, Trevor Sinclair, Joe Cole, Jermain Defoe and Michael Carrick.

Names alone don’t keep your team up, skill, effort, desire and good old-fashioned teamwork on the other hand do.

I have full confidence that under Moyes we will be more solid defensively. But will we also find a way to be more clinical in front of goal ? We were pretty wasteful against Everton in that regard, in a game we could and should have won as Everton weren’t playing well on the day.

It’s going to be a long, hard and bumpy road for the rest of the season, yet, as for now, I still have faith we can stay up.
Not necessarily because of our own sheer brilliance but due to three teams playing even worse, saving our neck at the end of the day.

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There’s not much time to ponder and reflect as games are coming thick and fast these days. Beginning with a tough away trip to Leicester on Wednesday, followed by the arrival of an old friend in the shape of former West Ham player and manager Slaven Bilic who will bring his West Brom team to the London Stadium on Saturday for what promises to be a feisty FA Cup encounter.

Usually I would wish Slav and his team every success in football, but this Saturday I hope we do beat West Brom any which way we can, if only to raise our collective spirit and mood among a fanbase that surely could do with a lift. COYI!!!

As the game against the Toffees has shown though, football rarely is straightforward, nevermind a walk in the park or a piece of cake, be that a slice of Black Forest gateau or a nice chunk of chocolate roulade, if you prefer that. Sometimes football is a tough old hard biscuit. Or even an egg and cress sandwich gone bad.

I certainly don’t expect Leicester or West Brom to make it easy for us this week out of pity for the underdog or because their manager is still a much respected hero for many West Ham fans. It’s going to be a tense week, also for myself on a personal level – as you’re reading this I shall be on my way to seeing my brother at his local hospital after his most recent surgery last Thursday.

He is slowly recovering now from his operation, feeling bored senseless lying in bed all day, waiting for any news about his upcoming therapy which may include more chemo, maybe another surgery or probably some outside-of-the-box solution (some procedure aimed at deliberately causing the body to develop fever symptoms with unusually high temperatures in a controlled environment, if I understood it correctly), just in case the regular remedies aren’t working out. We shall see.

Let’s just say it gives me another thing to worry about other than just West Ham. Or Concordia who have also been struggling in their most recent winter break friendly yesterday afternoon against a very motivated young ETV Hamburg U21 side which beat the Cordi first team by an embarrassing 3:0 scoreline.

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It says it all really if the grilled sausage at halftime represents the highlight of the entire matchday experience…;-))

Hamburg SV and St.Pauli, by the way, will resume their league fixtures midweek after the coming weekend.

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