The HamburgHammer Column

In your face - and in Fabianski's too!

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As far as goalless draws go, this was one of the more entertaining ones. I have to admit, I was half expecting us to conjure up a silly way to snatch defeat from the jaws of draw late on in the game, as on numerous previous occasions in our history, but we stood firm. As against Everton the weekend before, this was a consummate team performance – we clearly had a plan against Chelsea and every single player worked his socks off to give us a result.

Let’s not forget that Chelsea came into this game as serious title challengers, having won all league games so far this season with a frightening goal tally. To keep a clean sheet against them was no mean feat and for me this goalless draw is like gold dust to us. It keeps morale and confidence high in the dressing room and it should set us up nicely for the upcoming tasks, especially against a Manchester United team that ain’t been firing on all cylinders so far this season.

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Going through the performances in a bit more detail, I can’t give any player marks below 7 to be honest. Starting with our goalkeeper who finally rewarded himself with a clean sheet after not really putting a foot wrong either in his previous games for us.

This time around he literally took one for the team, right in his boat to be precise. I wouldn’t call it the most graceful or textbook save you’re ever gonna see, he probably didn’t choose deliberately to block the shot with his precious mug, but in my book it exemplified what Lukasz Fabianski is about as a custodian. He’d rather lose a tooth or two than a clean sheet or a game of football, and I doff my cap to him for his commanding presence and courage in a West Ham shirt.

Indeed it’s been a long time since I’ve been this relaxed watching a cross fly into our box or a shot drilled towards our goal. Make no mistake: Fabianski is a very good goalkeeper (maybe it’s unfortunate for him he hasn’t got a gig at a real big club so far, well, apart from West Ham, obviously!).

He appears to be developing a nice understanding with his defenders too, creating an environment where he is boosting the confidence of his defenders while they are making him look very solid in return by doing a decent job of, well, defending, you know, the thing that’s right at the top of page 1 in their job description.

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There can be no denying that Chelsea kept and moved the ball extremly well, for any neutral football fan out there they must be a joy to behold and it says a lot about our own performance that they failed to find the net with their team of superstars against our brave little West Ham United Nations Mark II team of players.

I reckon our back four have now very much cemented their starting berths for the time being, there is no reason, injury permitting, why you would want to rotate any defenders for the next few league games (the Cup game against lowly Macclesfield is a different matter though).

Successful teams tend to be those that have the luxury to field the same defenders for consecutive games. Decent performances start from the back and if our defenders continue their fine run of recent performances we will get very hard to beat. Let’s keep in mind that we have had to endure probably the toughest set of opening fixtures in the entire league. We are still in that tough opening run.

Once we start to play the more average clubs, the Huddersfields, Cardiffs and Newcastles of this world, we should see our lads climbing the table consistently.

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Our midfield showed a good mixture of solidity, pace and no-nonsense tactical discipline, not always beautiful to watch, but effective. It can only be a matter of time until Declan Rice gets a much deserved contract extension which will mirror his value to our team.

Also Anderson keeps improving, maybe he just needs his first league goal to boost his confidence further.
What I liked about him was the way he was tracking back, trying to win balls and making it difficult for Chelsea to just play their way into our box.

I won’t praise Mark Noble again because frankly by now every fan should have grasped the concept that we are a better side when Nobes is in it. He is by no stretch of the imagination our best player, but he makes things a lot easier for us, allowing his teammates to do their thing, keeping focus and effort levels up in every minute he is out there on the pitch.

As for Yarmolenko I cannot fault his effort in the game, but missing that header late on was reckless and painful to watch.

With the goal gaping wide, this should have been our Golden Ticket to nick all three points and I would expect any Premier League striker worth his salt to hit the target from that kind of distance.

But let’s not get too greedy here, a point under the circumstances was a good haul. I was fearing the worst when Arnautovic didn’t even make the bench, so to see us getting that result without our Austrian good-luck charm on the pitch was a relief of epic proportions.

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Kudos to Manuel Pellegrini, looks like those training sessions are beginning to rub off on the players, long may it continue. Things are certainly looking up for the Hammers now and watching our team no longer feels like a waste of time or an exercise in masochism, like it used to do far too often in recent times.
The journey for sure has become a lot more interesting again.

COYI!

Hamburg football update: A pretty crap weekend from a local perspective. At least St.Pauli got a win, 1:0 away at Ingolstadt. Hamburg SV got absolutely walloped at home against lowly Regensburg, losing 0:5 (FIVE) !!!

To put this in perspective, Hamburg had started the game at the top of the league table and there were just under 45.000 fans inside the stadium watching a Bundesliga 2 fixture here. Embarrassing!
Not the fact they lost, but the way they did it.

On Friday Concordia’s first team lost their league game by a 1:2 scoreline away at Süderelbe under the lights (on the wrong side of the river, at the league’s Millwall equivalent, so to speak) while the U23s were unexpectedly off on Sunday as the opposition team unfortunately couldn’t find eleven players to take the pitch for them (Welcome to the glamourous world of lower league Hamburg football!).

At least the Cordi youngsters invited their most loyal fans into the home dressing room for some sarnies, softdrinks and beer to make amends for the cancellation of the game.

Nice gesture, lads! (And before you ask, no, I didn’t eat all the sandwiches by myself, I restrained myself and had just the one egg and mayo sandwich, washed down with one bottle of beer and that was it. Honest!)


The HamburgHammer Column

Trick or treat ? Both! Toffees for tea

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I am a bad fan! For some weird reason I couldn’t bear to watch our game against Everton live as it happened. I was just too nervous. Too much was riding on this one.
I have long given up the foolish concept that I necessarily have to watch the game live or need to wear a certain West Ham themed shirt in order for our lads to get a much needed win on the day.

So I changed the routine for this one around completely, driving out to the riverbank on the southeasterly outskirts of town, an area nestled between dykes, sheep and orchards, to watch Women’s football, Concordia style.

Neither the first team, nor the U23s (the male versions) had won their respective games in previous days (both losing by identical 1:3 scorelines) – and I wanted to see at least one Concordia side leave the pitch victorious over the weekend. Which the Cordi girls did, only just, winning 3:1 against a shockingly bad team but it wasn’t much to write home about. So I drove back to my flat, with the West Ham game waiting for me to be enjoyed in all its glory.

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And what an entertaining game it turned out to be – and with the right team winning as well! It wouldn’t have been a West Ham performance though without your typical head in your hands, hiding behind the sofa, heart in your boots moments. In short: It wasn’t all plain sailing, it’s clear we are (still) a team in transition – and we will continue to be just that for some weeks and months to come – but at least you could see our lads developing some gradual understanding on the pitch against Everton, playing some neat combinations on the floor, some beautiful passing moves and also a very decent conversion rate on the day.
It was also very obvious that the players had done some soul-searching in the last week, playing with a lot more endeavour, desire and effort.
Which of course is just what the doctor ordered!

Congrats to Andriy Yarmolenko for getting off the mark with a brace, both of his goals were fantastic efforts. Our third was the pick of the bunch though and I simply loved the way Obiang put Arnautovic clear through. Also our back four looked a lot more solid and composed overall, the odd glitch permitting though. On the other hand I wasn’t too impressed with the way we picked up numerous bookings, although it has to be said that the referee seemed fairly lenient in that respect towards the Everton players, but we got the three points anyway which is the main thing.

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I am getting more impressed by the day by the performances of our new goalkeeper. Fabianski could turn out to be our signing of the summer eventually and hopefully we should see him spending the peak years of his career at West Ham. Very solid effort from Lukasz again. In fact I thought it was a very decent team effort all around with no West Ham player coming out of this game with egg on his face.

One win – and we’re already out of the relegation places, just like that! But of course our next games are still very much a tall order. But this rare win at Goodison has given us the most precious commodity in football – and that is confidence and swagger. Which should come in handy when we play flavour of the month, table-topping Chelsea next.

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I have no doubt that Pellegrini has a very clear idea of what he wants to do with this West Ham team and we are just at the very beginning of the journey. The glimpses I saw against Everton were quite promising. Watching that game was highly entertaining, far away from the painful chore-like dross we’ve had to endure so many times in the last two years. It’s also great of course that the mood on this blog should be a lot more upbeat now for the rest of the week. It was about time!

Final little bit of Concordia aside: Prior to the home game last Friday the club president introduced me to a new signing, a young Yank midfielder from Atlanta who is keen to make it as a professional footballer in Germany, even if a gig at a Bundesliga 3 club (equivalent of League One) could turn out to be very much his ceiling. But you gotta start somewhere and he will make his first steps in that direction at Concordia.

As his German is close to non-existent the president has asked me to translate for the guy, talk to him and help out with bits and bobs to help make him settle in his new surroundings. Which I will be happy to oblige, maybe I can convince him to watch a West Ham game on the telly as well. Or if he’s feeling homesick, some NFL football or NASCAR.

And if it helps the Concordia cause I may even put his hometeam Atlanta United on. COYI!!!


The HamburgHammer Column

Can't score for toffee ? Maybe we can at least score against the Toffees.

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International weekends in football aren’t what they used to be. Back in the day I could muster at least a modicum of excitement whenever Die Mannschaft, as the German national side have been known for a few years now, took the field for a game. Not anymore. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I don’t think the (non) performance at the most recent World Cup is the main issue here. Club football is just so much more important, at least that’s how it feels for me.

All I know is that Germany were apparently playing a team from deepest darkest Peru in a friendly over the weekend. And there were plenty of international matches in a new-fangled competition called UEFA Nations League. Apparently it’s not quite as complicated as it seems and sounds. Once I have figured out for myself what the point actually is and if it is a good idea, I shall get back to you on that one…

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So, what has been happening in the world of West Ham lately? Not much apparently, other than some more posturing and legal wranglings delivered by the highly competent owners of the stadium we play half of our season’s fixtures in and our club hierarchy. I understand the latest issue is about the colour and costs of a new stadium carpet.
On another level it is about certain people realising that West Ham’s rent on its own isn’t sufficient to actually keep the stadium going, not without eventually selling the naming rights of the stadium and/or increasing the rent.

Whatever the ifs, buts, pros and cons are here, please don’t ask me to talk much more about this shambles of a situation (again). Me old strawberry tart can’t handle that kind of crap as well as it used to a few years ago. It is a massive can of worms for sure, a display of stupidity and stubbornness of epic proportions – a sad state of affairs all around.
I suppose that’s why our club happens to be right in the middle of it, we seem to be attracted to situations like these just like flies do to a fresh pile of horse poo. Only at West Ham!

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Thank God West Ham football will be back next week and hopefully we will be seeing a positive reaction from the team and at the very least a fighting performance.

I remember learning a few things about Everton from a former colleague of mine at Hapag (who looked a bit like Darren Anderton) when I was working in Barking – I once shared a room with the guy during some sort of company weekend trip and for some reason which escapes me at the moment he turned out to be an Everton supporter.

I learned from him that Everton were actually based in Liverpool, and no, I didn’t know that when I arrived in Britain in 1996, same as I wasn’t aware that Villa were in Birmingham. I also had no idea whereabout in England Sunderland might be.

Be that as it may, my colleague told me a few things about his team, for instance why Everton were commonly known as The Toffees (I do like toffee, but not so much that I would have contemplated switching my allegiance to Everton there and then). Many years later of course I met the Concordia goalkeeping coach who happens to be an Everton supporter as well, a guy owning a giant Rottweiler dog called Neville, named after Everton goalkeeping legend Neville Southall.

Having seen video footage of Neville the goalkeeper – and live performances of Neville the dog – I have to say that the name doesn’t really fit the canine: The dog used to be a much better jumper than the guy (at least before the Rottweiler developed arthritis in old age) and also he was nowhere near as fat as Southall in his Everton heyday…

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I really don’t know what to expect from the Everton game. We don’t usually travel well when it comes to Scouseland, as a rule of thumb, no matter if it’s the red or the blue corner of Liverpool.

But we do need to see some vital signs coming from our lads. And at some point this season we will need to start putting some points on the board. So why delay any further actually ? Why not give it a proper go, try to minimise the number of on-field blunders and get a highly unexpected first away win of the season ?
Mr.Pellegrini, over to you!

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Hamburg football update: No games for the big clubs due to international weekend, and with no West Ham game on the box either I filled my Cordi boots with a tripleheader of games over two days, with mixed success. The first team lost on Friday evening, 0:1 away at Victoria in front of nearly 300 spectators (don’t laugh, it’s a decent crowd for league games at that level).

On Saturday came the news that Cordi’s director of football had left his position at short notice and by mutual consent. Rumours are he messed up the transfer of two players who are now allegedly not eligible to play until January while still drawing wages from Concordia. Looks like someone forgot to fill out a form or put the wrong stamps on the envelope.
Sounds like something West Ham might do, doesn’t it ? ;-))

On Sunday the U23s surprisingly lost their home game 1:2, against a side of bullies, loudmouths and brutes from the outskirts of town. The referee on the occasion was very young and inexperienced though and I can understand why he was very cautious not to blow his whistle against the visitors too often. Even I got slightly scared looking into some of those boats. Frightening! But parts of the matchday experience reminded me of Upton Park. Where else nowadays would you expect to see heated verbal exchanges between players and fans ?

As the weather was lovely and the Concordia women’s team was up next, well, it would have been impolite to leave, so I watched them win their game 5:0 (finally a Cordi victory!), with three of the goals being almost identical. A very gifted, but small winger named Michelle “Mini” Hille was running the show, easing past her opponents on the right wing almost at will, pulling the ball back into the box into the very same spot three times resulting in three goals from three different scorers. Lovely to watch.

Women’s football will always be slower in tempo than the male variety, however, it does have its merits. Less playacting, less unsportsmanlike conduct in general, no nasty fouls, risking injury to fellow players, no crowds around the referee whenever a foul is given and a far more relaxed and family-friendly crowd, if you know what I mean…;-))

PS: Next Friday will see Concordia hosting Altona (anyone remember them of 3:3 preseason fame?) Altona always bring plenty of fans to away games, so this one might well be a rare sellout at Concordia, guaranteeing a lively atmosphere in front of a full house which in Cordi’s case means 500-600 fans.
If you fancy it, there will be a free stream available again:

www.sporttotal.tv/spiele/oberliga-hamburg-spiel-84-concordia-1-altona-93-1-8-spieltag-


The HamburgHammer Column

Gaffer, do we really have to play football this Saturday? Again?

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It’s Monday and I’m still fuming, even after having two nights sleep after the Wolves game, trying to digest it all and put it into perspective, weighing up the positives against the obvious negatives and so forth.

But I am still spitting fire and not just because we lost. I know we were reasonably close to a goalless draw, but I won’t even blame Sanchez for losing the ball late in the game in an impossible position close to his own penalty box, allowing Wolves to nick the game in classic daylight robbery style.

It is very rare that I agree with a certain Alan Shearer, but this time I couldn’t help it. He complained about West Ham players’ body language. I concur.
He mentioned complete lack of effort. Walking. Jogging. Yep, that’s what I saw, but couldn’t quite believe either.

No intensity whatsoever. If you perform like this, you’re going to get nowhere. Yes, I seem to have bought my crystal ball from the same shop as Mr.Shearer because mine is saying exactly the same.

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Call me naive or call me hopelessly old-fashioned, but the very least I expect from every player putting on the claret and whatever blue is left on the shirt is effort, desire and the willingness to leave everything out there on the pitch after 90 minutes plus stoppage time of Premier League football.
I do expect that especially from professional players who do this for a living and are being paid very handsomely for the privilege.

I am fully aware that we are in for another transitional season, I expected us, at the start of the season, to finish slightly higher than last season, but not a lot, between 10th and 12th probably. I stick to that prediction. But the cold hard facts are that we have played four games now and have yet to win a single point. And we have some very hard fixtures lurking after the international break, so it may indeed be quite a while yet before we should begin climbing the table from rock bottom upwards.

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Please be so kind and explain this to me Mr.Pellegrini:
We have played only four league games so far this season, the new campaign is still young. Yet our players already look as if they can’t be bothered to play football. Why is that ? Too knackered still from preseason ?

The league game should be the pinnacle of every footballer’s week. Showing tricks and flicks or busting a gut in training is nice of course, but out there on the pitch on matchday is where it counts. Where your character and application as a ball-playing athlete matters.

At this stage of the season every player should be itching to put on the West Ham shirt and get the home crowd off their seats with a scintillating performance delivered in front of a full stadium. And impress his manager too in the process.

And I’m afraid having to admit that I see more effort in every single game that even the Concordia U23 lads (amateurs) play than what our boys did against Wolves. Losing a football game is one thing, losing without looking remotely interested is a different matter altogether.

I heard an interesting quote from, sorry, the Concordia first team manager who has brought in a few more signings before the local transfer deadline, why ? Because he felt some players, maybe subconsciously, felt too secure of their position and role in the team due to the overall (decent) quality.

He said that if a player, nevermind several players in the same team, decides to put in only 70 or 80% effort instead of 100% because there are other quality players around him to mop up any shortcomings, well, that’s when you are just missing out by inches (or yards on winning a challenge, a tackle, an interception during the game.

So as manager you do want the players to know that they either have to put in a proper shift or their shirt will be worn by another player for the next game who is indeed willing to leave blood, sweat and tears on the pitch for the sake of the entire team, the club and the fans.

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Against Wolves I saw too many West Ham players pointing out mistakes to their teammates, shrugging shoulders, shifting blame left, right and center. Of course you need a general or two on the pitch who direct, encourage and yes, also get out the hair dryer for their teammates if need be, but every single player needs to put in a shift. Preferably without having to be told so in advance. Again, they are professionals.

That’s the only way you can or will win games in the Premier League.

I have no doubt that Pellegrini is a very good football manager, so I am confident he will address his team in the right manner after the Wolves (non) performance.
If all players put 100% in, we should be a match for most teams in the league and I include opponents like Everton, Manchester United or Spurs here.
We can beat these teams, we have quality players in our squad, however, not much is going to change if only three players put the effort in with the rest of the team merely practising their ball-watching as pedestrians and passengers.

I wonder how our upcoming training sessions will pan out, I surely hope MP will put the players through their paces and demand a proper reaction for the next game.
West Ham fans are a bunch that’s accustomed to seeing our team lose games. We are used to seeing blunders and gaffes. We are used to seeing the lads snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and still we always forgive and come back for more.

What we don’t forgive, in my experience, is players who show a lack of effort and desire. Players who perform like they just don’t care or can’t be arsed.
West Ham fans do like a battler and a trier though. The 2018 version of West Ham need to try harder. COYI!!!

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Hamburg football update: St.Pauli lost a wild one, 3:5 at home against Cologne. Hamburg SV’s game on Saturday was cancelled at short notice as the county of Sachsen couldn’t provide enough staff to police the game in Dresden due to a high number of ad hoc protest marches after the shenanigans in Chemnitz earlier.
You may have heard that there is a growing mob of right-wing protesters/neo-nazis here in Germany taking to the streets, showing ever more confidence and anger, causing quite a stir, especially in certain parts of East Germany. Let’s hope enough people in my country have learned our lesson from 85 years ago…that’s all I’m prepared to say at this point…

Both Concordia teams won their fixtures, the first team on Friday, 2:1 at home against Niendorf and the U23s on Sunday afternoon (4:2 win), away, in the middle of nowhere beyond the south-easterly outskirts of town (60 mile roundtrip). The stadium was surrounded by meadows, with cows and horses on them, you get the picture…


The HamburgHammer Column

Hand me the straitjacket - if you haven't got one, some painkillers will do!

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Call me crazy, call me mental or even call an ambulance, but I ain’t panicking yet! I actually saw a lot of things I liked about our performance at Arsenal. Of course you never really enjoy watching your team lose a game of football, but I reckon Arsenal were extremly lucky on the day. They of course converted their opportunities while we on the other hand didn’t convert some outright sitters. Goals don’t lie, but they don’t always tell the entire story:

Arsenal won, but I’m not really sure they deserved it.

In several stretches during the game we were all over them, time and time again easing past their midfield thanks to the scintillating pace of Felipe Anderson, of Antonio or Masuaku. If there had been more of an end product and we had just shown a bit more confidence in front of the opposition goal we might even have won that game.

Alas, it was not to be and matters didn’t improve on a personal level when a nasty toothache coming out of nowhere began ruining my entire weekend!
I got through it all somehow with the aid of some painkillers, but that didn’t provide points on the board for West Ham!

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It may sound bonkers, but I was quite impressed with the way we played, yes, despite the 1:3 scoreline! We are still looking shaky at the back (and this will probably be MP’s top priority for now), but in terms of switching from defence to attack our lads looked both pleasing on the eye and promising for the upcoming games, we looked like a proper team, with players making good runs and fighting for each other.

Also Fabianski pulled off a number of very decent saves and if it hadn’t been for him it might have turned into a very impressive Arsenal win instead of merely a lucky one.
The much maligned Sanchez also looked quite useful in his defensive midfielder role and I’m excited to see more from him.

Let’s not forget that Manuel Pellegrini is building a new team here, a squad of his own, playing with a distinct philosophy, style and swagger. This won’t happen overnight, same as Rome wasn’t built in a day. This is a marathon, not a sprint and why would anyone want to throw in the towel after just three games of the season ?
I know that football fans tend to take fickleness to whole new levels time and time again and I’m not excluding myself from that reproach.

However, if every fan got frustrated after three bad games (nevermind a whole season going badly or several in a row) I suppose one would have to find himself or herself a new club an awful lot or look out for a more successful team to support that may throw, kick or pass a differently shaped ball around…

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I don’t like losing, I think I’m pretty bad at it and this also applies to West Ham of course. It’s not nice coming into the Concordia clubhouse being greeted by players or staff asking why the heck West Ham lost again. While I consider it a small victory that plenty of those guys now check the West Ham scores regularly due to my supporting them I would love to report back to them not only about decent performances but also some wins sooner rather than later.

I am sure those wins will come, they may even pile up once we begin to get a taste of them. I have full trust in MP and his staff of coaches, I reckon the players trust him as well and it will take some time to keep the faith and improve together. It’s a long season and while we’re already with our backs to the wall after gaining zero points out of a possible nine we now of course have a decent opportunity to get things right in the upcoming cup fixture against Wimbledon…underground, overground, wombling free…oops, sorry, I forgot, NO SINGING!!! :-))

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Every cup game is a potential banana skin obviously, but I see this one more as a perfect opportunity to kickstart our season. I have no doubt that we have some decent players in our squad now, what these guys need is some confidence and they will get that once things start to click and results begin going our way. They will also gain said confidence if the support from the stands continues undiminished. Patience is key here, we have got all the ingredients in place, we just need to find the recipe and start cooking.
I’m sure the finished product will have been well worth the wait. COYI!!!

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Which brings me to the Hamburg football update: Hamburg SV are playing Bielefeld later today in the Monday Night game.
St.Pauli suffered a heavy defeat (1:4) in the capital at Union Berlin, but at least both Concordia teams won on Sunday, the U23s at home (4:1) and the first team away (4:0).
I was present for the away win and it was such a relief to see the Cordi lads play like a proper team, playing nice attacking football, scoring plenty of goals (they could have scored even more) and finally keeping a clean sheet on top of that!
The Cordi manager was so happy with the performance that he decided in the post-match huddle to give the boys some time off, so as an exception to the rule there will be no training this evening. Indeed the Cordi lads deserve it!

Hopefully something similar is going to happen at West Ham after a great performance against Wimbledon…


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