The HamburgHammer Column

Bonzo's tears, Fabianski's mug and Jellied Eels: HH's final pre-Brexit trip to Blighty

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Now, that was a bit different. My trips always tend to consist of a combination of well practised routines and boxes to tick – this time some of these much cherished routines couldn’t be adhered to unfortunately (more of that further below), but the kind support and spontaneity of people from this blog who simply step up to the plate and deliver time and time again once again guaranteed it was a much cherished and valuable trip after all.

So, if you fancy it, step on and have a butcher’s at what this Kraut Hammer has been up to this time…

Thursday, February 28th

It was basically summer already already when I stepped on that plane very early in the morning at Hamburg Airport and the flight and subsequent transfer to Stratford proceeded without incident.

Irons1959 had kindly offered me the opportunity to stay at his place in Ilford again, so this time around I spent far more time on the Central Line rather than the District Line. Once I was in Ilford around 9am I gave poor 1959 a ring. I say poor because he had been travelling to the Man City game the night before and for obvious reasons hadn’t enjoyed a full night’s sleep when I rang him up, telling him I had arrived. Still, as in the following days, he was good as gold and was ready expecting me at his front door with a nice mug of tea and some first-hand reporting on West Ham’s performance.

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I then made my way to Newham Bookshop (one of those boxes to tick) as I was anxious to finally collect those books I had bought on my last trip shortly before Christmas but which got lost in the post somewhere along the way and never reached Hamburg in the first place. It wasn’t the three books pictured by the way that I picked up and I also found another one which should be a good read, a kind of autobiography by Billy Bragg. I got to know his music from watching West Ham in 1996 as his songs used to be played out over the tannoy during pre-match warmups.

The Newham Bookshop has been done up nicely now, it looks less cluttered but what’s more important is that the excellent staff are still there. They are great to have a chat with, but they also know what they’re doing in terms of recommending books. And the choice of interesting reading material is vast. They are in the running to become Independent Bookshop of the Year as they are among the London finalists already. If you go to their homepage there is a link where you can support them with your vote.
Again, I urge you to go there if you haven’t been yet (or your last time was a while ago). I know some people don’t read much, others do it by ordering stuff online or download books on e-readers. I am old-fashioned in the sense that I like to browse, I like to hold a book, to turn pages made of paper, the feel, the smell, maybe even the subconscious memory of reading tons of book as a kid. Anyway, it was a pleasure to see the Newham Bookshop still around, stronger than before and surely here to stay now for a long time.

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I later got in touch with Dawud who met me in Bow Road early evening to take me to his exhibition in a local library/cafe near the London Stadium. Of course I had seen most of the photos displayed there on this blog already, including the one showing me, the one with Liddy’s claret boots or the shouting lady with the long finger.
The photos were a nice backdrop for a fantastic conversation about Dawud’s talent for capturing great moments and moods on camera, how he does it, but also about West Ham in general and life itself. It was a lovely end to my first day back in London. But it had been a long day, I was cream crackered and needed some sleep. So it was an early night in Ilford.

Friday, March 1st

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This was going to be an exciting day because I was destined to meet Sir Trevor Brooking later, in person! But before that I had no other plans. Unfortunately this was my first WHTID trip where I didn’t get to meet Iron Liddy due to her feeling poorly unfortunately. Our meetings are always interesting and great fun, so of course I was disappointed I had to do without this time, Liddy, I hope you’re feeling better soon and we may meet again eventually.

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Again, Irons1959 came to the rescue. He suggested we could go to the Docklands area, have a nice riverside walk with views on both river and docks and we did just that, alighting at Pontoon Dock DLR Station.

He knew the area quite well as he had been looking at property around there in the recent past and I did totally get why. Being from Hamburg, I like salty air, blowing winds, riverside views and the odd ship coming into view.

So that was a lovely way to while away the hours. Later that afternoon I headed over to Dagenham where another event had been laid on with Hammers legends of the past.
And there are few legends at West Ham bigger than Sir Trevor Brooking…

I had some more time to kill, so headed over to the trusted Pipe Major pub, had a swift half of cider and read a bit more about Brexit in the paper I had bought. I was hoping the journos of the Daily Telegraph might enlighten me why Brexit is a brilliant idea after all, but I was none the wiser really after reading their opinion/comment section.

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Then it was over to Dagenham&Redbridge’s ground where the event was about to begin. We got in the drinks and our table was seating the most popular Kraut on this blog, Klopp-lookalike Ebi and his son Thomas, there was Russ, Safehands, VoR, BSB, Hugh Jardon (birthday boy!), CRB and the one and only Nigel Kahn. Oh, and the author of this column. It was the usual mix of stories of former players reminiscing about their first game, best goal, best player ever played with or against etc.
It was jolly little games, auctions and finally a Q&A session.

Positives ? Lovely pie and mash. Some good banter between Sir Trevor and presenter Tony Gale (Machine Gun Gale I like to call him due to his unrelenting and quickfire barrage of mocking remarks and punchlines).
Sir Trevor and Tony Cottee signing my West Ham legends poster was good. Having nice chats with the WHTID knights of our round table.

Negatives ? An unruly audience which got rowdier the longer the evening went and the more beers were consumed. People were talking in loud voices over the players trying to tell an anecdote, not giving a hoot if it might spoil things for others.

Boozed up twats were shouting in remarks or new questions while Sir Trevor was still in the middle of answering a previous one. It was highly disrespectful and I was both annoyed and ashamed by it.
Frankly, I was expecting better from West Ham fans, especially when it comes to how we treat proper club legends. Maybe not…or at least not today.
The day after would be different of course, honouring Billy Bonds with naming the most impressive looking stand in the stadium after him.

Thanks a lot to VoR who was kind enough to spare me the nightly bus ride through East London by offering me a seat in his motor, dropping me in Ilford near the doorstep of my Ilford guestroom in Irons1959’s house.

Saturday, March 2nd

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Late kickoff, so plenty of time. Certainly time enough to invite my host to a lovely fry-up in one of his local caffs and to watch the North London derby in a nearby pub afterwards.

It was genuinely the first time I was actively cheering an Arsenal goal!
I suppose any goal scored against Spurs is a good enough reason to cheer.
It was a nice warm-up for later, after the game finishing (with bloody Spurs equalising later unfortunately) I headed over to Stratford to meet in another pub with Safehands, VoR and two of his mates, one of whom was a Newcastle supporter. Still, no punches were thrown…LOL

We were heading over to the stadium a bit later than I would have wanted. As the ceremony of the opening of the new Billy Bonds stand was imminent, I sacrificed my beloved rib roll with hot sauce from The Ribman and went straight to my seat in 227, near the front of the upper tier in the Sir Trevor Brooking stand.

I didn’t actually get to see Bonds cutting the ribbon (the angle on the big screen didn’t show his hands and my view on Bonzo himself was obstructed by other people around him), but I could feel the collective emotion in the air, the outpouring of respect for probably the most revered player who ever wore the claret and blue of West Ham United.
I reckon there weren’t too many occasions in Bonzo’s life when he was shedding tears, this was definitely one. And I was proud that by accident I had picked this game to attend this glorious occasion in person.

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Oh yes, there was a game too that evening! I saw Declan Rice score his second goal and it happened right in front of me. I have to say that the view from my seat is beginning to grow on me. I usually don’t watch my football from behind a goal, but if it allows me to watch West Ham when I’m in London, I’m happy enough with that. The atmosphere ?
It very much depends on the performance, doesn’t it ? Which was similar at the Boleyn to be fair.

I am not a big fan of Stratford as a place though. It’s architecture, shopping center, winebars etc., it doesn’t do a lot for me or the matchday experience. And you could do so much more around the Olympic Park to enhance the atmosphere before and after the games. But I cannot knock the experience of watching the lads perform. Another win in the bag for me, my record at London Stadium still stands proud – only one defeat witnessed there in person for me so far. Just one draw, the rest all wins, lovely jubbly!

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After the game I found my way into the club shop (despite my vow never to set foot in there again until our current owners are gone). The place was absolutely heaving with punters, buying shirts, jackets, duvets and foam fingers. I had to buy a scarf, as requested by the Concordia groundskeeper and for myself I had chosen another West Ham themed coffee mug. They do very nice ones now, of selected players, with the club crest and national flag of said player in the background.

I first thought about taking the Declan Rice one, but once he moves to Man City or Barcelona one or two years from now, it would be hard for me to drink from that cup.
Jack Wilshere ? That mug looked nice too, but the shop staff were telling me that apparently the Wilshere mugs break easily…;-))
So I did in the end decide upon the Fabianski/Poland one. Not only because I have distant relations in Poland, but because Fabianski has probably been our most consistent performer this season. I already have about ten West Ham themed mugs at home, but what the heck! This one is a bloody nice addition.

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In order to celebrate our great win against Newcastle and also to thank Irons1959 for his hospitality I invited him to one of his favourite curry houses in Wanstead, a tiny corner shop basically with no more than 14 seats, but the food was lovely, especially the naan breads, although I never knew that Jalfrezi could be quite so hot. They didn’t do yoghurt-based drinks, so I had to ask for a glass of ice water to make the spicyness bearable. We arrived back at his place just in time to watch the highlights of our game again on Match of the Day. Overall, a very emotional but successful matchday!

Sunday, March 3rd

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This time I really was in limbo. You see, the Sunday routine for my trips to London, thanks to our most favourite cabbie BSB, used to be coming to his place, order a pizza, watch some football or cricket, chat away or do things in and around Dagenham. This time though he had to fulfill family duties, looking after his grandchildren.
So no trip on the District Line eastbound for me this time. BUT: Out of nowhere came the Longtime Lurker, offering me an escape route to Leigh-on-Sea.

Iron Liddy kindly passed my number on to the Lurker, he told me how to get there and one stop before Leigh-on-Sea he stepped onto the train to greet me. He lives locally and again I can totally see why he likes it there. In a way Leigh-on-Sea reminded me of places my family used to go on weekends when I was a kid, seaside towns with sweeping winds, seagulls dancing in the sky and nicking chips from unsuspecting humans, narrow streets of cobblestone winding their ways along the seafront, with pubs, shops and seafood restaurant and stalls lining the streets.

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The Lurker of course knew that I love my food. So he went and got us a sample platter of, wait for it, whelks, cockles and…..jellied eels!!!
My final box to tick in terms of London traditional food, the Marmite of the sea, the proverbial East London love it or hate it dish!

We were doing it in ascending order, starting with the potentially least challenging option, the cockles, moving up a level to the whelks before taking on the ultimate challenge of the jellied eels.

I passed every stage with flying colours. As a Hamburger I have eaten plenty of seafood in my time, even as a kid. There are few fruits of the oceans and rivers I haven’t tried. Any kind of seafood is usually a big hit with me. So while all three of the above dishes were unknown to me as of yet, I found them all pleasant enough.

Cockles don’t really have a distinctive taste, they have a slightly dodgy, soft texture and you only get a hint of saltiness from the sea. The whelks I found similar to mushrooms really, with a similarly chewy texture, but again a very mild, almost bland taste. You could still get a whiff of the salty seas it came from.

And then the jellied eels! Smoked eel is a very traditional food in Hamburg, we used to have it regularly on New Year’s Eve. The jellied version ? I’m not a big fan of jelly and I think they rather overdid it with the quantity of the jelly, but the eel itself was lovely, the little piece of fishbone was easy enough to tackle and remove.

Maybe the Lurker was hoping for me gagging, my face distorting in agony or repulsion, but it was none of the sort. Jellied eels will never be my favourite dish, but I would order them again in future.
It would be better though if they were removing half of the jelly. More eel, less jelly, then it might be a more appealing dish to more people.

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After that we had a few beers in the brilliant Crooked Billet pub, a perfect setting for some really interesting conversations with the Lurker on West Ham, Europe, Brexit and beautiful cities to visit. Hopefully the Lurker will find himself on a business call in Hamburg in the near future so I can return some of his very kind and generous hospitality.
Thanks Lurker for a brilliant afternoon in a wonderful setting. Back in Ilford storm Freya was beginning to cause havoc, but Irons1959 was already waiting for me with a most welcome hot mug of tea. Watching MotD2 I didn’t miss much by not watching the Liverpool derby…

Monday, March 4th

Usually I hate days of departure as I’m too anxious about potentially missing the flight, so I tend to not do any sightseeing on the final day. But thanks to Irons 1959 this time was different. He had told me the day before already that the Docklands Museum was well worth a visit and that’s where we went. Of course it’s too much information in there to digest in two hours or so, but the setting alone in an old warehouse with wooden beams and ceilings was magnificent.

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I come from a port town myself, so I have an affinity to all things maritime, the sea and the vessels that sail on it. As I also intend to bring my brother and nephew over to London eventually, I also immediately thought how this would be the kind of place for them too. Absolutely fascinating exhibitions in there although of course they couldn’t refrain from mentioning the war! Mind you, in Hamburg there are quite a few places too that do just that. Hamburg got flattened in the war too, you know…

Irons1959 then had an inkling he couldn’t send me on the way with an empty stomach, so he rustled up a quick lunch which was highly appreciated before dropping me off at Barkingside Station for the quick tube ride to Stratford before heading back to Stansted Airport. That flight back got very exciting/frightening when we were descending during the Hamburg approach, encountering strong winds, leading to the heaviest turbulences I have ever encountered on a flight before (was it storm Freya again ?).

The wings were moving heavily, the plane was bouncing and dipping unexpectedly like mad, it felt like riding the Nemesis in Alton Towers, only when you are on a Ryanair flight you have far less legroom than riding the Nemesis where your legs are dangling in the air freely. Still, we got down all in one piece and I got back home shortly after 11pm.
Although I was knackered I did watch the highlights of the Newcastle game again before hitting the pillow, dreaming of my next trip to London again. COYI!!!

As you may have guessed, my biggest gratitude this time belongs to Irons 1959 who provided accommodation, tea and toast in abundance (and other food) plus plenty of useful suggestions and historical background too. He, like others before him, has shown what the West Ham family is all about and I hope I can repay some of his kindness if he comes to my town (again) one day. And I also want to say Thank You to the Longtime Lurker too, that afternoon was an unexpected, but highly satisfying highlight of this trip which proves that sometimes the best experiences are those you don’t plan and organise but rather those where you improvise and go with the flow. Cheers mate!

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The HamburgHammer Column

Cottagers cheesed off - and HH looking forward to Magpies & Mash

Three vital points won in another one of those potential banana skin contests. Fulham gave us an almighty scare or two, especially early on in the game when they could have been up 2:0 within the first ten minutes if it hadn’t been for Fabianski pulling off yet another fantastic save…with his face, so he probably didn’t know a lot about it, but he surely felt it, he took a painful one for the team and that “save” was probably more meaningful in terms of winning this game than the “Hand of Pea” goal, more of that further down.

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I was happy with the win because on another day we could easily have lost that. Fulham are fighting for their lives near the bottom of the league table and what with their abysmal away record coupled with our reputation for being the perfect host in terms of helping out struggling sides, I kind of expected a disaster waiting to happen, especially after the first ten minutes. But credit where it’s due, we created chances, we did play some decent football during several spells along the way and we ultimately secured all three points.

Was it a great performance or anywhere near perfect ? Of course not! But it was an entertaining enough contest with plenty of incident. We have been discussing at length on previous threads the Hernandez goal. Did he really cheat or was it unintentional that the ball went in via a detour off his arm ?

Tricky one for me. Deep in this football romantic’s heart I love to see players showing displays of proper fair play, like Di Canio catching that ball (still in play at that point) all those years ago when the Everton goalkeeper was down injured. That was a proud moment for every Hammer near and far, over land and sea!

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I don’t think it was intentional handball by Hernandez, in my view he meant to head the ball straight into the net, but the header went astray, hitting the arm. There would have been no cause of complaint really if the ref hadn’t given that goal and I can fully appreciate why the Fulham players were unhappy with the decision. VAR will take some of those uncertainties away from next season. Some of them, not all. I understand FIFA are also currently working on clarifying the regulations concerning handball incidents, making it a bit easier for referees to make those calls and of course VAR will also assist in that respect.

What I get the hump with here is the hypocrisy involved, mainly on part of the pundits, the sporting media and some fans. Cheating is a part of the game, it’s always been there and even after the introduction of VAR players will still try to manipulate and fool the referee, there will still be divers, players feigning injury, players trying to get their opposite number sent off.

I don’t condone it. But it should be criticised and punished evenly, regardless of the crest on the shirt of the culprit or the status of the offender as a superstar player.

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To see, hear or read how Sky Sports are reporting certain incidents differently, depending on whether the player is Liverpool or Leicester, Manchester Utd. or West Ham, is neither professional nor fair.

It’s big team bias and the media may think it’s fine because most among their target audience probably do support one of the big teams. But that doesn’t make it right.

I didn’t hear too much talk about cheating when Liverpool’s blatant offside goal against us was allowed to stand. It got brief mentions halfway through match reports, but not in bold headline letters, as in the case of Chicharito’s goal. But again, VAR will take care of the more blatant incidents, and it should take away the element of big team bias somewhat.

My personal highlight of the game, unsurprisingly as most of you will agree, was to see Lanzini back on the pitch again. Not just back on the pitch way earlier than most of us would have anticipated, but back on the pitch with a vengeance, looking hungry, sharp and fearless. Coming back from a knee injury can’t be easy and it must play tricks on a player’s mind when returning to the pitch, but Lanzini in his brief cameo looked as if he had been out there with his teammates all along, picking passes and making runs all season.

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He even got into positions to score which of course would have been the icing on the cake, but we don’t want to get too greedy here. Our squad looks a lot better now in terms of strong options on the bench too, with Lanzini, Balbuena and Nasri back in the frame – and an outside chance of seeing Yarmolenko, Wilshere and Sanchez too returning before the season is over.

Manchester City away next (on the day before I’m flying over to London again, it’s about time!) and another of those “Can’t get anything from this anyway, so why bother travelling oop north at all?” games.

I say: Bring it on! Everyone is expecting a 6:1 thrashing anyway, so what’s the point of worrying or going all rabbit in the headlights ? This game is a free shot for us. Manchester City have the far stronger squad and they are competing for the title whereas we are trying hard to finish in 8th or 7th place.

But the pressure for City to win (with Liverpool and Spurs still breathing down their necks) is immense and with West Ham ANYTHING can happen. Yes, it could be 6:1 to them.

Or 1:0 to us, with a City player getting sent off and us scoring from a penalty. That’s the undying appeal of football: Most of the time we simply don’t know what’s gonna happen.

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So, I shall be flying to London once more on Thursday (last pre-Brexit visit by the look of things), looking forward to the Newcastle game and meeting some of you lovely folks in person again. I have a few plans already (seeing Dawud’s photo exhibition for a start, visiting Newham Bookshop as usual, getting a rib roll covered in hot sauce from The Ribman before the game), but the itinerary is nowhere near written in stone.

Apart from a definite appointment with my three trusted East London friends: Pie & Mash & Liquor. I may even bump into Sir Trevor Brooking along the way if I have a bit of Donald Duck (Cockney alert!)…;-))

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Either way, my trips to London rarely disappoint and that’s not exclusively down to the food or football but to a large extent due to some pretty special people I initially came in contact with on here before later sharing time, banter, laughter and food with me in person.

Kudos to all those salt of the earth Hammers, you all know who you are! All of you have a long-term open invitation to come over to my town whenever you fancy a nice long weekend – I will certainly try to return some of your hospitality and kindness if you do decide to have a butcher’s at how Hamburgers live. COYI!!!

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Hamburg football update: The “boys in brown“ of St.Pauli won a fierce contest 1:0 against Ingolstadt and they are staying hot in pursuit of promotion, possibly by way of a two-leg playoff final against the 16th placed side from Bundesliga 1 which is likely to be against one of Stuttgart, Hannover or Reece Oxford’s Augsburg.

Hamburg SV lost 1:2 at bogey team Regensburg after leading 1:0 until late in the second half and had two players sent off. They failed to consolidate their position as league leaders.

Meanwhile the Concordia lads lost their away game 0:5.
I left that game early with my mate (with the score 0:5 after 71 minutes), so we could catch the second half of the Cordi Women’s team’s home game – funnily enough they won 5:0.

The HamburgHammer Column

Panic at Palace ? No, patience will pay off for us...eventually

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I only watched the last 60 minutes of our game. You see, it was Concordia’s first league game of 2019, the lads are in a bit of bother league position wise, so I had to be there with them really. Thankfully, the Cordi boys won 3:2 in a weird rollercoaster of a contest, on a wet and windy day, on a heavy, soggy grass pitch.

One player from each team got sent off with two yellows, there were 11 yellows in total, my lads took a 2:0 lead, then ended up conceding the equaliser in the 90th minute only to crown the last attack of the game in the 95th minute in style with a glorious header, giving them a much needed away win against relegation rivals. Phew!

In between I had ascertained our starting XI for the Palace game and I was happy to see our lineup before getting back to the car. I then dropped off a fellow fan near his place and drove home as quickly as German traffic laws would permit.

When I parked my car it was the 25th minute of the game and it was still goalless. So far so good. Up the stairs to the second floor, into my flat, telly on and we had just taken a 1:0 lead through a Mark Noble penalty. I was both chuffed and dumbfounded – we never get penalties, do we ?

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I was impressed with what I saw from us until halftime. Nice fluid play, endeavour, the team was very much up for it, just like a few days before against Liverpool.
I don’t know what happened in the second half really, why we only manage on rare occasions to play a game where our performance levels are solid in both halves.
Second half it was backs to the wall stuff, relentless pressure from Palace and to see them waste a number of clear cut opportunities was relieving to see on the one hand, but shocking on the other, when seen through the eyes of any neutral fan potentially watching the game.

It has been discussed at length in previous threads how lenient the referee was towards at least two of their players who could (or should) both have taken an early shower, getting double yellows. I think it was McArthur and that geezer with the Yugoslavian name. I know refs have a difficult job, but is it really asking too much to properly apply the rules of the game ? In both cases the offences were punishable by bookings, the fact it would mean the second one and an automatic sending off shouldn’t make a difference really.

On balance of play of course we cannot complain really. We wasted a lot of opportunities in the first half, Palace did the same second half but got very lucky with Zaha being successful with a shot from close range that was unintentionally deflected into the net by Diop. It’s a travesty that it only took a tactical appeal ploy by Palace to give Zaha the opportunity to play in the game to begin with. And in another game Dops’s deflection might have easily gone out for a corner kick. But again, overall an away point is not to be sneered at and it keeps our momentum going.

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We now have a bit of a break which should allow some of the walking wounded returning to training or even into matchday squads when our next fixture comes around.
I understand there is a chance Lanzini may be ready for the bench at least against Fulham. Balbuena may have an outside shot too to be available again sooner than anticipated. Nasri definitely should be ready to get picked by our manager at least to be a bench option. Wilshere ? God knows if he will resume training again soon or if they may decide to shut him down completely till the summer in order to heal properly which might be the more sensible and conservative approach.

I wasn’t the first to mention it, but it’s very much true that this is indeed a transitional season for us anyway. You can’t bring in a new manager, with a new team of staff, a whole new philosophy of training and playing, and expect him to work wonders straight away. If anything, I can only applaud Mr.Pellegrini for the job he has done so far.
Look at what he had to deal with so far this season.

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Almost from the first game we had a minimum of five players out, at some stage it was 10-11, basically an entire team. And not just bench fillers either. We had some dodgy calls from referees, potentially costing us more points. We had the distraction with Arnautovic’s “will he-won’t he” get a transfer to China. Still, there we are, mid-February, practically safe already, with a shot at 8th place, maybe even 7th, should things go well for us for a change.

I am really happy we have Pellegrini at the helm and I cannot wait to see what he can do with a team once our injury situation clears up significantly. For sure he will continue to shape our squad according to his plans in the summer. And hopefully at one stage we will have a deep and solid team at West Ham which will require the manager only to make little adjustments when it comes to transfer windows. Next time we may still have to bring in six new players or so, shipping several out at the same time.
In future, hopefully, it will only be 3-4 per summer.

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Let me express my deepest sympathy and commiserations for the friends and family of Mabel Arnold. I would like to pay my respect to what must have been a truly remarkable lady. I obviously haven’t really met her in person, but from what I heard and saw I would have loved to have a chat with her. I became aware of her at the Palace game at the Boleyn, the 2:2 draw in which Payet scored THAT impossible freekick. Her birthday was announced and she was put on the big screen, waving to the crowd.

Already I had a bit in common with her because I was looking forward to celebrating my own birthday with a few of my WHTID mates (my birthday is just one day after Mabel’s).
It is a thrilling thought to consider how long she has been supporting the club, what West Ham as a club looked like when she started following them and what the club has become now in the year 2019. Consider all the players, the managers, the owners, arriving at the club, spending some time here and then leaving again. Not Mabel.
Part of the inventory. West Ham through and through.

Am I overdoing it by suggesting that the remaining stand of the London Stadium should be named in her honour ? I know that usually stands are named after legendary players or managers, but in this case for me it makes perfect sense. Will there ever be another fan in England who will have supported his club through thick and thin for as many years as Mabel did ? I doubt it. She nearly made it to 103 years. But even at 102 years of age that’s still a bloody good innings if you ask me!

May she forever be blowing pretty bubbles in the glorious surroundings of Heaven. I bet Bobby Moore or John Lyall were expecting her at the gates to show her around.
RIP Mabel Arnold – West Ham legend.


The HamburgHammer Column

Klopp's gorra cob on as Hammers redeem themselves with gutsy performance

When I went out for that birthday buffet dinner at that Chinese place with my brother’s family on Friday evening, I thought trying what grilled zebra tasted like would be far more exciting as watching us get butchered against Liverpool on Monday Night Football 72 hours later.

Wrong on both counts!

First of all, zebra is not all it’s cracked to be, it tastes a bit like horse with a hint of peperoni sausage. I don’t know why it’s such a big hit with lions – I certainly wouldn’t order it again.

And as for that Liverpool game ? Well, how many among our fanbase would have predicted a lucky draw for the Scousers ? Me neither. Realistically, especially after our previous three games, I reckon less than 10% believed we would get even a point from this.

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To think that Liverpool only got the point by way of a CLEAR offside situation leading to their only goal, West Ham fans might even bemoan their luck. But let’s take nothing away from the performance of our lads. There was 100% effort right from the first whistle.

West Ham fans are in general a very modest bunch. We don’t build castles in the clouds and rarely have pies in the skies. Our trophy cabinet has plenty of spare room to fill.

All we ask is to see our players breaking sweat out there on the pitch, putting some good effort and honest graft into it during a game, running, fighting, trying to play some neat football too if possible and generally giving it bifters. Which apparently is a Liverpudlian phrase meaning “giving it your best shot”.
Which is exactly what we did last night!

We made it really hard for the league leaders. I reckon that several times during the game they couldn’t quite believe what hit them. Our set pieces were lighting a fuse in the Liverpool penalty box time and time again.
Antonio scored our equaliser after one of those clever training ground moves.

Earlier we almost saw Hernandez score his first ever PL goal from OUTSIDE the box. Cresswell had a decent effort on goal and overall had another great game at LB. While Rice could have easily got his second PL goal heading over a wide open net. Noble too had a great game.

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I have a confession to make: Before our game kicked off the St.Pauli game was on, one of those feisty Hamburg-Berlin affairs, this time in the shape of the St.Pauli-Union Berlin variety. St.Pauli were in the lead at the time when West Ham were kicking off, the Pauli game was exciting and briefly I was toying with the idea of playing away for once and checking on the many goals Liverpool were bound to score via online score alerts.

As I was planning on writing my column though I DID watch our game of course, all of it – St.Pauli still won a wild one, 3:2, with the winning goal coming from a penalty in injury time. When our game started I was watching it in bite-sized one minute segments, moving that screwdriver in my hands, saying out loudly with every passing minute “Still goalless, we’re doing alright, still goalless”.

When they did score their offside goal and it was still given, I will admit, I expected the floodgates to open. But one of those smartly executed set pieces was enough to get the score level again.

And after that of course we had a few more opportunities to maybe even nick a cheeky win. But I don’t want to get too greedy here. Nicking is not our expertise, is it ? It’s an artform oop north though. Not yesterday it wasn’t.
Not enough for three points anyway.

Our team on the other hand won back a lot of goodwill with that performance after the previous feeble surrenders.

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This was proof they can compete against ANY team in this league, provided they bring the will, desire and application shown against Liverpool. Thing is, it needs to be the same level of effort against the Newcastles and Palaces of this world, not just when playing Manchester United, Arsenal or Liverpool. Maybe we shouldn’t tell the players in advance who the opposition is, but they all have smartphones, so I suppose they’d still find out somehow…LOL

My man of the match, my pick from a vast choice of great performances, was Felipe Anderson. He is like Payet, but with the willingness to track back, win balls and put a foot in if necessary. Shame some of his passes had a bit too much mustard on them to reach their target. But he was pivotal in winning that point for us. Much more important than the point though is the feelgood factor and confidence that performance will give our club as a whole.

Did you miss Arnautovic out there ? I honestly didn’t. I was happy to see Fredericks play – and a very solid job he did for us out there. I cannot name a single bad performance really. Special mention has to go yet again to Fabianski. He has managed to allow me to remain seated calmly in my armchair whenever a ball sails into our box. The way our favourite Pole is commanding his territory is both amazing and great to see.

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As it’s getting late here, I won’t be saying too much on the Arnautovic issue again or our very quiet deadline day business in terms of transfers.
It is what it is.

In Pellegrini I trust, he has to cope with between 8-10 injured players at all times and still 7th place is well in grasp, despite the injuries, despite Arnautovic kitting out his prams with an arsenal of toys, already having thrown some in the process.

Again, we cannot undo the Wimbledon or Wolves performance. But as a team our players can roll their collective sleeves up and play every remaining game this season as if we were facing Juergen Klopp’s Liverpool. That’s the least we should expect. From my armchair the atmosphere at the London Stadium sounded magnificent, it was loud, it was proud, it had a ring of the Boleyn to it during famous wins witnessed there.

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The season also starts again for my Concordia lads next Saturday. For the time being they will be fighting relegation unfortunately. As for West Ham though, I would expect Pellegrini to give that fight for 7th place a proper go, with whoever among our squad is still standing and available to play. I applaud him for setting up our team for a glorious draw against the league leaders that felt like a win actually. It’s nice to see that at least our manager isn’t planning on seeing our season petering out anytime soon.


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The HamburgHammer Column

That joke isn't funny anymore

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No witty puns. No clever headline. No jolly banter. Like most of you I am just not in the mood after watching that train wreck of a performance. I am still in a state of shock and disbelief really.

In a way, on Saturday we got our old West Ham back for a few hours, suffering yet another embarrassing Cup exit, another blow delivered by lower league opposition.

The feeling for me was the same as back in 1996 when I was watching in The Bull pub in Barking in the company of a complete stranger how West Ham crumbled against Stockport, conceding that bizarre headed own goal by Iain Dowie. Just like against Wimbledon it was cold, wet and windy.
After that game I couldn’t wait to get back home to Hamburg over Christmas.

But let us put that most recent shambles into perspective, on the BBC website I found this interesting little stat:

West Ham have conceded four goals in a single FA Cup game against a side from the third tier or below for the first time since January 1936 when they lost 0:4 to Luton Town in a third-round replay.

Allow that to sit for a minute. 1936. What was Number One in the charts back then ? Did they even call it the charts at that point ? Or was it the hit parade ?
I doubt there were any German West Ham fans around in 1936, that’s for sure!

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For me, there was no doubt we would beat Wimbledon. I was confident it might even be a comfortable win. On paper, that team we sent out was more than capable.

Yes, there had been changes, with a view to resting players for the upcoming Wolves game. But every single player out there on the pitch, with the exception of Diangana, was highly experienced playing regular PL football (or in Fredericks’s case at least Championship football).

Every starter had performed well for us in previous games, proving they are capable of competing. When it came to the Cup game at Wimbledon though, none of them did perform, not in the first half anyway. Why ? No idea. In a good team you have competition for places. Which means not every player can play in every game. But when squad rotation gives you the chance to play, then as a fan you would expect those players to bust a gut, to prove to the gaffer that he should play you more regularly, that you deserve more minutes.

On the evidence of that game we might have to ship out half the team in the summer. For every neutral it was a brilliantly entertaining Cup tie, a giant-killing in testing conditions under the lights.

Great entertainment. Unless you happen to be a Hammer of course!
I’m sure Wimbledon might sell a shedload of DVDs of that glorious evening in their club shop in the coming weeks and months. But for West Ham fans of course it was an evening to forget, without much of a chance to banish that game from memory for a long while at least.

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I don’t know why professional footballers would surrender just like that, showing not a lot of pride and passion out there. Even if the FA Cup may have lost its magic for a lot of these players, it is still a competitive game of football. It is the reason why these players have a career and earn bucketloads of dosh. Yet it felt like our team approached this game like a friendly kickabout with their six year old in the garden. Let Wimbledon win, so they don’t lose interest in playing football.

I am guilty too. I was cocky before kick-off. I had read all the stats about how bad Wimbledon had been throughout the season so far. I felt we had fielded a strong side.
Of course I also assumed that our team actually wanted to play, fight and win out there. I was utterly wrong with that careless assumption. Back to the ground with a bang.
Or rather four bangs, to be precise. Against a side that had scored less than a goal per game previously.

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A bizarre evening then turned completely bonkers when West Ham announced that Arnautovic had signed a contract extension earlier that evening ? I beg your pardon ?
Who forgot to stop that one going public at that particular time ? Surely, that was supposed to be released after us reaching the next round of the FA Cup, not after that humiliating surrender in South London.

Now, I got into some heated debates about Arnautovic with some people on this blog. I was told to stop digging out the player as it was getting pathetic apparently. What word then to use for Arnautovic’s behaviour in all this ?

I was thinking about whether to mention him at all here. But I cannot hold my tongue really. Yes, we don’t know all the facts and details. There is speculation and guesswork involved. But a few things we do know.

Arnautovic wants to play in China because he can earn massive wages there.
We know because his brother told us, eventually confirmed by Arnautovic himself just recently. Fair enough, who wouldn’t want to do better themselves financially, feathering the family nest a bit more ?

The way though he by way of his brother went about initiating that transfer was completely wrong, it put the club in an impossible position and I have no doubt it has caused disruption within the team for two vital games at least. Disruption we could have done without.

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To be fair, I think the root for these issues is not Arnautovic alone.
He is a symbol for other modern day footballers really, we all knew what kind of character he was when he arrived from Stoke and we all knew how he was operating whenever feeling like moving to a bigger or better paying club on pastures new.

I reckon the root is still the disfigured wage structure we have at our club.
We have a situation where the highest earners at our club rarely play and contribute, either because they are injured a lot, because they don’t fit the way we play or because they no longer have the quality they used to have when they signed their bumper deals.

That of course leads to players comparing their own wages and contributions to those of their more generously rewarded teammates. And once a sense of being treated and remunerated unfairly kicks in we do arrive at a situation where more players feel underappreciated and may want to leave as a consequence – and where they may also want to do it quickly and on their own terms, without the club having a chance of getting anywhere near an adequate transfer fee for the unhappy player in question.

So, how do I see this weird contract extension by Arnautovic then ? Trying to leave my personal feelings about Arnautovic aside, it is still baffling actually that the Austrian has now actually been rewarded with a better terms/improved bonus payments after trying to force a move.
The extension exists only on paper, I suppose nobody really believes that Arnautovic will still be a West Ham player in 2020, nevermind in 2023.

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What this is, well, is basically an insurance policy. West Ham have clarified terms of a potential Arnautovic transfer to China or elsewhere. Apparently there is a release fee now which will guarantee that West Ham do get a reasonably decent fee for the player when he goes eventually, reflecting the value of the player to our club based on his (mostly) quite impressive performances and contributions in the past.

That Arnautovic is getting more money out of West Ham after all the shenanigans seems to be another insurance policy, aimed at guaranteeing that Arnautovic will put a shift in whenever he plays, for as long he still is at the club, safeguarding against him throwing his toys out of the pram or not being interested to play to the best of his abilities for West Ham ever again in view of him being denied his dream move to China for the time being.

It doesn’t sit well with me that the club has chosen to take this measure.
At the end of the day the insurance policy approach may be the smart thing to do under the circumstances.

But what it essentially does is rewarding a player purely for doing what he is supposed to do anyway, play for the club and play as well as possible.

Make no mistake here: Arnautovic got exactly what he wanted out of West Ham ever since his brother went to Talksport with that statement of his.
He threw a spanner in our works, scaring the board stiff of having another Payet scenario on their hands – and he got a payrise out of it, a contract extension and the assurance of a big money move if a certain threshold is met in terms of a transfer fee. In my book, the club has handled this badly and they have opened themselves up to other players holding the club to ransom now, time and time again in future.

It’ll be interesting to see how this contract extension will sit with the other West Ham players. Will his teammates accept him back in the fold with open arms ? Will they be annoyed by this or knock on the gaffer’s door sharpish, also demanding a little bit extra or telling a radio station about other clubs they’d be keen to join ?

Interesting times ahead at West Ham for sure, as usual.

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So, Dances with Wolves next. Tough game. Funnily enough, we can still aim for 7th place. We can also beat Wolverhampton no doubt. But only with the right application, with desire, effort and fight. Thank God this is a Premier League game. I doubt anyone will take this opponent lightly. It would be nice to see us performing for the whole 90 minutes though for a change. It’s essential if we want to return even with a point from the Black Country. COYI!!!

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