The HamburgHammer Column

2 goals, 1 Cup - and (still) plenty of injured players

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So, the new year has arrived…and West Ham haven’t slipped over the first banana skin lurking on the pavement towards Wembley aka the third round of the FA Cup.
I remember us going out against minnows too often on those occasions, Wrexham springs to mind, way back when I was still living in Barking. Or Allardyce feeding the kids to the wolves of Nottingham Forest to the tune of a 0:5 defeat.

For that reason I shall always be grateful for a cup game win for West Ham. Thrashings of lesser sides do still happen of course in the competition, but they are rare and it doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things if we go into the next round after beating Brum by 2:0 or 5:1. It’s more vital that certain players got a well deserved rest while others got some much needed gametime to improve match fitness. Nasri got more than an hour and looked very promising and Carroll lasted for much longer than the 30 minutes Pellegrini had claimed he was capable of delivering.

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Some people said it was a boring game. I can’t agree. I thought Brum were very brave out there, pushing us hard all the way. Yes, we wasted opportunities galore again, but we had a lot of the ball and bear in mind this was a very unusual line up for us which needed some bedding in. And of course things didn’t get any easier when Arnautovic came off as a precautionary measure, giving Carroll a chance to show us what he can do.

He didn’t really show us anything we didn’t know already. We had the collective deja vu feeling of “here we go again” when he quickly went down like a lead balloon after what seemed like a pretty standard challenge, clutching his shoulder. As a West Ham fan you immediately think: “Is it gonna be just a minor injury (two weeks), a regular one (2-3 months) or a serious impact injury (rest of the season and way beyond) ?”

Then there was a long spell when the game pretty much passed Carroll by.
He was not quick enough, he couldn’t hold up the ball well and he missed an absolute sitter, put to him on a plate beautifully by Anderson. That’s one side of Carroll. And then he gave us his trademark leaping salmon routine. Showing us his other side. Powerful header, well placed, no doubt about it, unplayable, 2:0, game, set and match, next round, here we come!

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I have mentioned before that I reckon Carroll’s time at West Ham is coming to a natural end, with his contract expiring and the Geordie not really fitting the profile of a Pellegrini-style forward. Let’s take every contribution of his as a bonus, as a little bit of reward for all the times he was out injured for us over the years while still drawing the kind of wages you’d associate with a player who is pretty much leading the charts in all major performance categories for his team.

Which leads me back nicely to my pet topic as far as our great club is concerned – and that of course is the burden of the badger. The ridiculously long list of injured players.

I honestly don’t remember the last time a West Ham manager could pick his strongest team because there were either no injured players at all or those that were injured were only second-stringers or bench warmers anyway.

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None of us has a Scooby how good a West Ham team could be that has Diop, Balbuena, Rice, Lanzini, Wilshere, Yarmolenko, Anderson, Arnautovic and/or Hernandez together on the pitch at the same time.
I for one cannot wait to find out.

There seems to be some light at the end of the tunnel (and hopefully it’s not just the lights of another train approaching) insofar as Fredericks, Hernandez and Balbuena have all been rumoured to be nearing a return to training this week.

Of course this doesn’t necessarily mean those players will start games again straight away. But at least chances are they will be part of the upcoming matchday squads which should give us a strong bench. And that is what we need if we have to turn games around again which may be quite useful as we have been the kind of team recently to concede a goal or two first before starting to play some football with interest and intent.

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For me the persisting injury issue at our club is something that needs to be addressed by Pellegrini, at least a process needs to be started where everything at the club needs to be geared towards minimising the risk of players getting injured and improving the chances of getting players back to fitness as quickly and as effectively as possible.

I am under no illusions here, injuries are part of football, always have, always will. Some unfortunate knocks and challenges you can do little or nothing about.

But you can try to create a training environment that is state-of-the-art, not just for the sake of having a nice looking facility to present to new players but also to provide the best training and medical support you can get for a team expected to perform in the Premier League. It also requires the scouting network to monitor players thoroughly with regard to their injury history before signing them, evaluating whether a deal is worth a gamble or not.

In the short term this will cost a bit of money (as shown by plenty of clubs in England and beyond), but clubs are still building those modern training complexes and I suppose they have a good reason for it. Also in a economical sense. If you can keep your players healthy and fit, you don’t need to buy or loan replacements…money saved!
You can field your best side more often which should translate into better understanding on the pitch, better performances, more wins, better league position…more money in the bank from TV deals, merchandise sales etc.

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I think it’s something we shouldn’t even have to discuss, talking about a PL club willing to improve and go places. If you are a PL club at a certain point you need to not only keep talking about being one but acting like one too, looking like one, training like one, presenting yourself like one.
With Pellegrini in my book we have a very good, highly experienced and skilled football managaer, with a good pedigree and the knowledge of how it’s done.

I am confident he can at the very least start a process where we can begin to get the injury shenanigans under control to reach a normal degree, in comparison to other clubs. Having the highest number of injured players in the league for one season can be bad luck. If it happens several seasons in a row that excuse alone won’t wash any longer.

Arsenal coming up next weekend, a game I’m looking forward to a lot. Because most would expect Arsenal to win. We always seem to fancy those occasions and for some reason the players seem to be more up for those big local derbies. It’s a game I would expect to be high on intensity, high on incident and high on drama. Let’s hope we see a strong starting XI, a strong bench and a rocking London Stadium! COYI!!!

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Hamburg football update
Concordia have started the new year in style, winning the traditional Wandsbek Cup (indoor football tournament with ten teams from East Hamburg) for the fourth time in a row, beating the same opponent in the final for the third year in a row. I had my brother and my nephew with me and it was good fun overall. Things got a bit heated betweens certain sets of fans though and my little nephew nearly got into a shouting match with some rival fans who were saying nasty things about Concordia.
He was close to dishing out some colourful language and x-rated expletives back to them – I wonder where he got those from – but his dad and uncle told him to rise above it and focus on the fact that Concordia won their first (and most probably only) trophy of the season.
The Concordia teams are kicking off with their regular training schedules this week.
HSV and St.Pauli are still in the winter break.

The HamburgHammer Column

Too cocky for the clarets ? Hammers end 2018 with a whimper

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That was not what I had expected. And please don’t blame my brother either. He had agreed to watch the game with me (he supports the Hammers too now, due to my supporting them) and pretty much everything was pointing towards a West Ham win, stats, previous performances, run of form, even our starting XI on paper looked a handful for a team like Burnley. But this game has come as a timely reminder to NEVER get too cocky when it comes to football in general, especially when West Ham are concerned.

I won’t go too much into analysing the game, that can be dealt with fairly quickly. From the first whistle we were never at the races. There was no sense of urgency, no fight, no guts, no desire and precious little effort on our part.
Our players looked sluggish and were second to almost every ball.

Burnley, on the other hand, couldn’t believe their luck. They could pass at will, had almost the entire midfield to themselves and despite wasting numerous opportunities (some of which were saved really well by Fabianski, in my view the West Ham player who left the pitch with the most credit by far on the day) Burnley still managed to score twice. That’s a team, by the way, that had only won once in their previous twelve attempts.

Once again, as so often in our history, West Ham had managed to make a very average outfit, to put it mildly, look like Liverpool or Barcelona on one of their better days.

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I thought we had reached a stage by now where we don’t act as convenient confidence boosters for struggling sides anymore, but that’s exactly what we did. I wasn’t overly concerned when we conceded first, after all we had shown in previous games how to turn around scorelines quickly, what with the quality and pace we have in our side now.

But still there was not much of a fight. No collective rolling up of sleeves and making things difficult for Burnley. I cannot for the life of me understand how Burnley managed to keep a clean sheet against us.

Maybe it’s because we decided to head our very few goalscoring chances straight towards their keeper. I don’t think putting Heaton in goal instead of Hart made too much of a difference on the day.

We simply didn’t offer enough, at both ends of the pitch and Burnley might have kept that clean sheet even if they had played their U16 goalkeeper.
It was that bad a game from us. Burnley didn’t play like a relegation candidate, we did.

My brother and I had talked a lot early on in the game, then we began complaining and cursing, we were soon shouting and gesturing wildly at the screen, we wanted West Ham to fight back and put Burnley under pressure.

Towards the end of the game we were merely shaking our heads. I couldn’t believe our display of non-performance and my brother couldn’t either, especially after seeing the highlights of the Southampton game earlier.

It was a bad day at the office, but what’s more important: It was a big opportunity wasted and Pellegrini needs to find out why the entire team capitulated the way they did. Were they just tired and exhausted due to far too many injuries among our squad ? Did they underestimate the opposition and task at hand right from the first whistle ?

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I just hope we can use this game as part of our learning curve, making sure we approach every single game against every opposition team with the same level of desire, effort and application. If we can do that, this shambolic performance will at least serve a purpose for us for the rest of the season.
We cannot approach games against Brighton or Birmingham with the same lackluster and careless attitude.

But let’s put the Burnley game in perspective. We are still in a good position to climb the table as we enter 2019. Hopefully, with some players finally returning from injury, we can continue to grow and improve as a team.

And Pellegrini in my book is the perfect manager to make sure we do just that. I reckon he was in a foul mood after the Burnley game, he will let the players know in no uncertain terms what he thought of that performance and will push them hard in the upcoming training sessions to make amends.

We are not yet the kind of team unfortunately that will ALWAYS beat the so-called lesser teams, we simply aren’t quite there yet. But the journey will be an exciting one for sure!

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So when I usher in the new year later with a glass of bubbly and a jam filled Berliner (traditional German donut traditionally eaten after midnight at New Year) I will not dwell on the Burnley defeat anymore but focus instead on the wonderful news that Declan Rice has committed at least his near future to West Ham, surely one of the best news for the club since we brought Pellegrini to the club in the summer.
It promises to be another highly interesting year for West Ham fans worldwide – COYI!!!

I’d like to wish every single WHTID reader, author and contributor a very Happy New Year! May 2019 bring you health, joy and good fortune in abundance! It’s been a pleasure writing for you all! Looking forward to talking West Ham with you in 2019. Bring it on!

The HamburgHammer Column

Nightmare on Elk Street - Watford try to spoil Christmas for Hammers

Allow me first of all to wish everyone at WHTID, readers, lurkers, posters, contributors and authors alike a Merry Christmas and some days filled with peace and joy surrounded by friends and family members. May Santa treat you all kindly this year!

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As the big day in German Christmas festivities is indeed December 24th (which is today) it means that by the time you’re reading this I may already be on my way to my brother’s house to assist with some final preparations before we will all go to the afternoon church service, to be followed by the moderate exchange of some presents and what promises to be the traditional feast of goose, red cabbage and potatoes/dumplings with gravy, with baked apples and custard for afters.

Christmas of course could have started early with a fifth win in a row against Watford, but it wasn’t to be. This time it was us wasting numerous goalscoring opportunities, hitting the woodwork (which is actually plastic these days, innit ?), the grass or thin air, everything but the back of the net while Watford ended up being the more clinical side on the day, greedily taking all points with them from Stratford to their neck of the woods.

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Maybe it’s because I’m looking forward to Christmas a lot, but I won’t be allowing myself to get overly frustrated about this defeat. Yes, I was on the edge of my armchair for almost the entire game, my screwdriver was going into overdrive as time was ticking away and we still couldn’t put one over the line. It was a highly entertaining game, intense, end to end stuff, terrific pace – a great advert for the Premier League. But West Ham lost, not just one of our best defenders to injury but also the game as a whole.

You won’t find me jumping for joy obviously, but I will gladly put this game into perspective. Watford are indeed a much better side than I was prepared to give them credit for before kick off. I will never join the Hamburg branch of the Troy Deeney fanclub, neither in this life nor the next, but they worked incredibly hard for this and as a football fan I simply have to doff my cap to them. Overall I felt we deserved a point, but then again they scored and we didn’t, so one cannot exactly insist upon Watford not deserving the three points.

Before the game I didn’t know too much about Watford, other than there is the Elton John link of course – even people with only a passing interest in football know that!
But I wasn’t aware that Watford had so many nicknames: The Hornets, The Golden Boys, The ‘Orns and probably a few more. They also have an elk’s head on their crest. Or is it a moose or deer ?

Maybe it’s a local thing – we at West Ham have our (cursed) badgers, they have immigrants of the deer variety from Scandinavia apparently. ..;-))
At least it makes their crest quite original and unique that way…

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The great thing about Christmas, at least in England, is the fact that it is a very busy time football-wise. So rather than dwelling on the Watford defeat, our boys can nibble on their christmas puddings before taking the pitch again and making amends straight away. I am quite optimistic for a variety of reasons.
For once we seem to be a team this season that is quite good at bouncing back. The players will have hated that defeat against Watford, so they will be very much up for the next game, albeit against a born again Southampton side who will be tricky to play against, them having a new spring in their step after the arrival of Mr.Little-Hut-of-Hares.

We should have some of the injured players back for that one, Arnautovic could feature if things go well in training, Perez could be back too. I somehow don’t see us shooting blanks in two consecutive games, so fingers crossed we shall go back to winning ways soon. I have treated myself this Christmas and booked flights for the upcoming game against Newcastle which will still fall into the pre-Brexit period.

But that is still quite a few weeks away, I must dash as I have an appointment with a crispy leg of goose with dumplings and red cabbage. I hope my next column will be about a great performance and yet another win for the might Hammers again! Enjoy the festive season and thanks for reading! COYI!!!

Hamburg football update: St.Pauli won again, so they are really making a bit of a statement here in terms of promotion to the Bundesliga proper at the end of the season. Long may it continue. Hamburg SV hit a bump in the road, losing away in the northern derby at Holstein Kiel.

The next Concordia highlight will be the traditional local Indoor Tournament with ten teams from East Hamburg competing against each other on January 6th. As a special treat (and also a more useful present as a pair of socks or a voucher for a clothes shop) my brother and my nephew will join me for that event, so it should be another thing to look forward to. Concordia have won the previous two tournaments, so I’m hoping for three in a row.

The HamburgHammer Column

We're winning in the rain, just winning in the rain

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Riverside picnic with riparian entertainment – that is a key phrase from one famous episode of “Keeping up appearances”, one of my favourite British sitcoms. To this day I’m not entirely sure what exactly this kind of event would look like, but it sounds bloody impressive and is bound to include food!

Fulham of course have in Craven Cottage one of the most traditional football grounds in the entire Premier League, with bags of old-school charm and you cannot deny that the location right by the river adds to the overall appeal.

I have always had a soft spot for Fulham, the Cottagers or Lilywhites – Lilywhites always reminds me of the shop on Piccadilly Circus where in 1996 I used to buy rugby shirts, cricket bats and also had a butcher’s at the new collection of PL shirts at the start of the new season. Strange, the things you remember…

Anyway, the game had another element to it – literally, the elements. It was coming down in buckets, cats, dogs and badgers, with some stair-rods thrown in. Playing football in those conditions is challenging for the players, but it makes watching even more fascinating for the supporter, especially if he can watch from a comfy armchair in a well heated flat, a mug of steaming hot tea in one hand and screwdriver in the other…

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What West Ham gave us was a highly professional, breathtakingly clinical and well-executed team performance. We did what the hosts didn’t on the day: Take our goalscoring opportunities. Fulham had plenty, yet we kept a clean sheet, thanks to some fantastic saves by Fabianski (especially early on in the game) and solid defending on our part which obviously includes our back four in general, but especially our CB partnership of Diop and Balbuena (who was my MotM).
But every West Ham player got stuck in, including Anderson, which was nice to see.

Here is a flair player who is not above tracking back and tackling hard in midfield in order to stop a counter-attack from developing by kicking the ball into touch, good on ya, Felipe! The goals were the end product of two great passing moves, aided by shambolic defending by Fulham, but they were emphatically taken by Snodgrass and Antonio.
Go back in time to the start of the season and we score neither of both opportunities. Snodgrass and Antonio were brimming with confidence though which is why they took care of business the way they did.

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I saw a team out there that was genuinely working and functioning as a unit, players running the extra mile to help out their teammates. Our substitutions were spot on in my view which means that I would have made exactly the same choices as Pellegrini did. It’s all coming together now and for me the astonishing thing is a) how quickly it’s actually happening and b) that we are doing it with nearly an entire team out with long- and medium-term injuries.

That’s my main gripe still and while some injuries are down to freak incidents such as in the cases of Lanzini, Reid and Sanchez, those you can not do a lot about, I was not too thrilled with the signings of both Yarmolenko and Wilshere due to their well documented injury history. Personally, I wouldn’t take these gambles anymore but rather go for players who may be not as good technically but who can give you 30 games a season. Players who are out injured cost wages without being being able to contribute on the pitch.
Other clubs are potentially able to cope with that, we can’t long-term in my humble opinion. Although we seem to do pretty well right now, despite the injury curse still hanging over us.

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Jack Wilshere is an exciting footballer when fit and I love watching him play. However, both of his ankles have now been affected by separate injury issues. I have an uncomfortable inkling he might be heading towards a similar fate that Dean Ashton eventually had to suffer. I’m not saying his career is already over. There will probably be several attempts of comebacks for him on the pitch, playing a few games before succumbing to another knock, hairline crack or ankle sprain. I obviously wish it doesn’t happen like that.

I simply hope that in the not too distant future we will have a season for once where at any given time only 2 or 3 of our players are out simultaneously, and the layoff is weeks rather than months or an entire season. But that would probably involve more rigorous scouting and another overhaul of our training facilities. But that’s a different debate altogether.

Other than the injuries life is pretty good at West Ham these days, innit ? As supporters we can look forward to games rather than dreading another drubbing. We are playing football that is very pleasing on the eye, the players look motivated and as if they’re enjoying themselves a lot out there. Also, we seem to have cut down the number of silly individual mistakes (which more often than not have directly led to us conceding goals).

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For me this all comes down to Manuel Pellegrini, it begins and ends with him. Here is a manager who obviously knows what he is doing. Contrary to some of us fans, myself included, he didn’t panic when we lost four in a row at the start of the season. He had a roadmap of how he wanted us to play and followed through with teaching the players his philosophy and ideas which obviously takes a bit of time – but it’s all bearing fruit now.

Remember this is not even our best starting XI which is playing, still we are winning games now. When your team is taking the pitch full of confidence and with a bit of swagger, results will pretty much take care of themselves. It must be a much more fulfilling feeling coming to training during the week after having won another game.
I suppose as players you don’t ever get bored of winning, you get addicted, you want more of that winning feeling.

Which is why I am confident for our last fixture before christmas, the home game against Watford, a side that has gone the opposite path really, starting the season well and going downhill from there. Watford are still probably the strongest of all the sides we have played in the past four weeks. Another good performance is required to keep the points in East London and continue our amazing (and highly satisfying) winning run.

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Perez may be back again for this one, hopefully partnering Chicharito upfront, probably developing another level of chemistry between the two strikers. But even if Perez doesn’t start, Pellegrini seems to have found a way to send out a team desperate to perform and hell-bent on winning the game. At this point we look like a force to be reckoned with. Other teams don’t fancy playing us anymore. Which is a wonderful change in the weather for us. How often in recent past did we provide a much needed boost for failing teams ? Pellegrini appears to have stopped that altogether.
If you want to beat West Ham these days you need to take your chances and play well – despite the festive season West Ham are unlikely to hand out any gifts on the pitch anymore. Long may it continue…COYI!!!

Hamburg football update: Winter break for lower league football. All Concordia teams are resting up, returning to training in January and competitive football in February.
Despite a shambolic first half of the season, Concordia’s first team will keep their current manager at the helm, but they have already announced certain player movements, new (hopefully better quality) players will be brought in replacing those who rarely got minutes on the pitch anyway.
Hamburg SV and St.Pauli have both won their respective fixtures and are right in the middle of the promotion battle, HSV waving from top spot in the table, St.Pauli chasing from behind, trying to make up a six point deficit.

The HamburgHammer Column

16 stone, eyes of brown - double H is back in town

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Boom! Another great trip in the bag! In the true sense of Christmas it was all about meeting friends/WHTID family members, having a jolly good time, share some banter while enjoying the odd beverage accompanied by a little snack here and there. Meeting former West Ham legends. Making sure West Ham got the three points against Palace by being the good luck charm I happen to be when watching our boys kick a ball in person. But also not forgetting about our previous/true West Ham home in Green Street.

Don’t be surprised there are no personal photos included here – I think Safehands or BSB posted one of me on a previous thread in which I clean a van, wearing a hi-viz best in a Dagenham car wash.

Apart from that (and my avatar of course) you already know my ugly boat, so in the interest of aesthetics I have decided to leave out the various pics of me clearing another plate of some local delicacy, but don’t you worry, you will hear about it regardless…so, where shall we start ? Maybe at the beginning…

Thursday, December 6th

Even less sleep due to an even earlier start this time, compared to previous trips. As my plane was leaving at 6:30am I had to be at a different bus station this time around, at 4:15am, to get to the airport on time. This would lead to an early night for me as at some point I simply couldn’t keep my minces open anymore later in the afternoon.

I had booked my airbnb room in a house in Stratford, one I had already used before, which was conveniently located in the triangle between Stratford Station, Plaistow, Upton Park and Abbey Road (DLR), hence giving me plenty of options travel-wise.

I went there straight after arrival, dropped my suitcase in my room, freshened up a bit, put on a fresh shirt and was off to my first West Ham related event – meeting up with some WHTIDers in Spitalfields, the hunting ground for a certain bloke named Jack.

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The Ten Bells Pub was my first port of call, a place where every day hundreds of tourists doing the famous Jack the Ripper guided walks convene to hear stories and down a pint in chilling memory of some of Jack’s victims who might well have enjoyed their final ever tipple in that very pub before getting their throats slashed down a badly-lit rotten side street in Whitechapel.

But I digress. First guy there was our own Ennate, easily recognisable even from behind by his quite unique hairstyle (definitely no short back and sides, thank you very much!).

We were joined by CRB, Voice of Reason, Irons1959, TorontoHammer and Iron Liddy (thanks for the West Ham books by the way, nice and unexpected Christmas present that was!).

We shared some banter and then moved on to a place nearby called Williams Ale & Cider House. Quite a lovely venue with a decent menu to pick from.
I went for the quite boring, but nonetheless tasty Fish&Chips. It was a great start to the trip, meeting all of those posters from the blog again and chewing the fat (although my fish didn’t have a lot of it) about West Ham, football, music and life in general. I was back in Stratford late afternoon, had the telly on for a while and tried desperately to stay awake, but I think I lost that fight sometime between 8 and 9pm. Another day with another highlight was beckoning though…

Friday, December 7th

Visiting Newham Bookshop in the Barking Road is part of my routine now whenever I come over to London. So I was obviously relieved to hear that the book shop would indeed NOT close its doors forever but simply move two doors further down and remain open. I had the pleasure of walking into busy refurbishment work, done by brilliant and enthusiastic volunteers, I also met an elderly gentleman in the shop who approached me about this blog and my articles.

There was also a young girl filling the shelves who is a passionate Hammer too (it was a pleasure meeting you, Etta)…and of course there is Vivian Archer.

She’s raking in all them praises and accolades from left, right and centre and rightly so. She is the good soul, the life blood and heartbeat of this shop.
As on previous trips, I got my cup of tea, my mince pie, we had a lovely chat about West Ham, the local community, Brexit and the new layout of the shop…and of course I ordered my customary three books which will be sent over to Hamburg this time though, due to weight limitations on my luggage thanks to the regulations stipulated in my flight booking.

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If you have never been to Newham Bookshop, GO! It’s only a short Antonio throw-in away from where the Boleyn used to be, on the corner of Green Street and Barking Road, down towards Canning Town, in glorious view of the World Cup Heroes statue.
If you have been to the book shop before, GO AGAIN!

The new shop, once completed, will look a little less cluttered than the original version (I quite liked the cluttered look though, it reminds me of my own basement), so it will have a more orderly layout, but the main thing is still going to be there: An incredible varied selection of interesting reading material plus a friendly and well clued up staff to help out with finding something which is to your taste.

They have loads of books on West Ham, sports and football in general, English and local London history, a gorgeous section for children’s books, classics like Dickens, Kafka or Orwell, modern fiction, philosophy, poetry, religion, photo books and tons more. I dare you to go there and NOT find at least one book you’ll find interesting! You won’t succeed.

I usually come in with the intention of buying one specific title. Which I do get. But I also ALWAYS find something totally surprising, an outside-the-box title, fantastic little nuggets I would probably never find in one of the big chain shops.

If you like reading, go on and treat yourself, take your Mystic Megs down there and let Vivian find some books for you, books you never were aware to be out there in the first place!

I didn’t venture out further into London that day (to a gallery or museum or whatever) as I wanted to keep my energy levels up for the true highlight of the trip.

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Six foot two, eyes of blue, Billy Bonds is after you!
Well, I was going after him really. Although I have obviously never seen him play for us in person as I only became a Hammer in 1996, I think I have a pretty good idea in what regard William Arthur „Billy“ Bonds is held by West Ham fans. I have seen highlights of him on DVD. So I understand that he is one of the best players ever to wear the claret and blue of West Ham. I even know some fans who consider him to be the best former Hammer, full stop, even ahead of Bobby Moore. I will not throw myself into that debate, but I was happy enough to meet the man and hear some great stories of West Ham history. “An Evening with Billy Bonds” it was called, but it was a lot more than that!
I could also conveniently tick another food box as double pie double mash was being served, get in there!

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We had booked a table for ten in a wonderful venue I knew from a previous visit, on the premises of Dagenham&Redbridge FC. The knights of the round table in our case were Iron Liddy, Mr.Lids, Hugh Jardon, Ebi from near Cologne (the most popular WHTID Kraut these days apparently) and his son (who had come over for his first ever visit to the London Stadium), the one and only Nigel Kahn, Russ (the original one), Safehands, BSB and a certain geezer from Hamburg.

Was it sheer luck or fate ? Our table was just opposite the one where Billy Bonds was sat, together with some other former players like Ray Stewart, David Cross, Steve Jones and the host of the evening of course, Tony Gale, my regular commentator for West Ham games when watching from my armchair, clutching me screwdriver!

I could literally stretch out my hand and pat Billy Bonds on the shoulder! He was later kind enough to sign a poster and a photo for me and we also had a little chat about his games in Germany.

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Someone must have told the former players there were Krauts present in the room (Ebi got great cheers, being addressed as Juergen Klopp all evening…LOL) because during a break David Cross came to our table, asked if I was one of the Germans and when I confirmed this he told me all the four words of German he had learned during his career, he also sang a song to me which was apparently in German but which I had never heard before and also couldn’t really understand the words, it sounded Irish to me, however, it was lovely chatting away with a guy whose goals I had only witnessed at home on TV in shape of a “200 West Ham Goals“ DVD.

I was surprised anyway how friendly the whole atmosphere was. The former players/celebrity guests were all totally at ease and highly approachable.
They were in good spirits, willing to have banter with the fans, sign things and crack jokes. I know they were all earning money from this, but they seemed to really enjoy being there. They clearly appreciated the fans.

They sensed the admiration and respect coming from their audience and the supporters reciprocated in similar currency.

Brilliant questions were being asked (and answered) and, not unexpectedly, Iron Liddy had saved the best for last when asking Billy if he had ever approached his wife in the bedroom with the notorious words *Six foot two, eyes of blue, Billy Bonds is after you!" Cue laughter all around and a slightly embarrassed Bonzo taking it on a very red chin at that point!

Oh, our own Russ was lucky enough to win a lovely West Ham shirt in the raffle, signed by all players of the famous “Boys of 86“ team.
And Ebi spent quite a fortune bidding for and ultimately buying an Upton Park bus sign.

Talking of fortune, that kind of left me when trying to catch (and ultimately miss) the last train back to Stratford. As I didn’t want to spend the night on a park bench, I had to bite the bullet and hire a minicab taking me back to my place for 40 quid. I know better ways to spend £40, a nice curry dinner, a new West Ham jacket, books, whatever.

But ultimately it couldn’t spoil a glorious evening spent with great people, filled with fun, banter and laughter.

Saturday, December 8th

Having arrived back in Stratford by minicab at 2am it was a short night.
I never sleep long on a matchday anyway and this day was no different.
I was hanging around Westfield at noon already, doing some window-shopping until Russ saved me a few hours later, so we quickly walked over to the stadium, had a quick snack and a beer, together with his son and Ray the Hammer.

Usually I sit with BSB or Russ whenever I can, but BSB wasn’t there and Russ was sitting elsewhere, so I was basically on my own watching this one.
I also unfortunately didn’t get to greet Dan Coker and his dad again, neither before nor after the game at the usual meeting point at the 238 steps which was a shame as I always enjoy our conversations.

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What a game! Usually I only bring 1:0 home wins, but this was a five goal thriller, highly entertaining with some beautiful goals scored. And even the first half was captivating, with both teams going for it, despite frustration being the main feeling for the home fans throughout the first 45 minutes.

There were dozens of passes going astray and if we could only have found some better balls into their box, I am sure we would have raced into a lead easily, courtesy of Messrs Hernandez and Perez, even in the first half. The desire to play good football was clearly there for all to see.

Now, West Ham in recent years seem to have developed a tendency to score some absolute screamers against Palace for some unknown reason.
Think Payet’s dipping free kick at the Boleyn (I was behind the goal in the Sir Trevor Brooking Stand when that went in!) or Andy Carroll’s bicycle kick.

And now another landmark: Robert Snodgrass scores his first ever league goal for the Hammers and what a beauty it was! Definitely in my personal top 3 of West Ham goals I have seen live and in person.

I thought it would go past the post on the wrong side of goal, the way it was bending. Judging by the slightly delayed goal celebrations in my section of the stadium other fans seemed equally surprised…and delighted when it went in! I couldn’t have written the script for the game any better.

Snodgrass has really beaten the odds, being virtually out of the club’s door already, having to read some silly and nasty remarks about him by the club hierarchy (or their offspring rather) on top of that, only to come back better, more determined and more willing to sweat blood for this team.

I usually don’t care who scores our goals, but I was over the moon that it was Snoddy who turned this game around for us. McMessi he’s called by some now. Braveheart you might call him too although Bravefeet might be more appropriate.

What do they say in East London ? Nobody likes a grass ? Well, we all love our Snodgrass now, don’t we ?

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Chicharito then timed his run wonderfully for an Anderson free kick to score a typical Chicharito goal, pouncing on the rebound, to send the London Stadium crowd into a frenzy that got even louder when Felipe Anderson scored a goal not much later that would make Payet take his ball and walk back home sulking, hanging his head in shame, before washing his hands and sitting down to eat his bowl of pumpkin soup.

Tell me what you like, the moment that ball left Anderson’s foot, curling and dipping towards goal, the guy knew exactly where it was going to hit the net and at that point he was surely already planning his celebration!

It was a great team performance, our players all look happy now (especially during the goal celebrations) and Pellegrini appears to be able to bring out the best in each and every one of them. We try to play football the right way (yes, THAT’S the West Ham way Mr.Allardyce!) and we appear to be able to do it on a more regular basis now.

Nine points out of nine, that, my friends, is what we call a winning streak in football! At West Ham we haven’t been familiar with winning streaks in recent years, but I now feel totally relaxed, optimistic and full of confidence with Pellegrini at the helm. Looks like he’s got the players behind him and if we now could somehow address our injury problems too, who knows how far we may come!

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That victory got celebrated in style with a nice Ruby in a Pakistani restaurant in Whitechapel where Irons1959 had taken me before on a previous trip. This time we were joined spontaneously by Ennate which made it even more enjoyable. We finished off the evening in style in a local pub, watching the first half of the Spurs game.

I want to thank Irons1959 for his repeated hospitality and company which really put the icing on a very tasty matchday cake.
Having a telly in my room I could even watch our goals again in all their glory on MotD before hitting the pillow.

Sunday, December 9th

No museum. No gallery. No street market. No Sunday walk in Hyde Park. Dagenham it was and that can only mean one thing: BSB time, starting with Full English at his tried and trusted caff. After losing a World Cup related bet, BSB treated me to a plate of one of the various set breakfast options and this time around I was desperate to try some Black Pudding with it…for the very first time.

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Black Pudding is quite popular in Germany too, only in my neck of the woods we don’t fry it up for brekkie, we have it cold-cut style with bread, like you’d have it when ordering a Ploughman’s. I had never tried Black Pudding before, cold or fried up, but I absolutely loved it. The taste gets even better when you try to forget what’s actually in it…LOL

After that it was back to BSB’s place (which feels a bit like home from home almost, thanks to BSB), having long chats, watching some of the afternoon’s football, getting text updates on my tablet that Concordia were losing their cup game 2:5 and the Cordi women’s team winning 5:0, and then BSB’s lovely missus Karen arrived to get busy in the kitchen preparing one hell of a Sunday/Christmas roast dinner with all the trimmings and pints of gravy to go with it. Now, some of you know me, I love my food and it shows. I can eat big portions if absolutely necessary…,-))

But even I couldn’t finish that enormous pile of food arriving from Karen’s kitchen. It was one of the loveliest roast dinners I ever had, but at some point even my tummy was waving the white flag in desperate surrender. Anyway, it was all the hospitality and more I had experienced with our most favourite cabbie on previous trips and at one point he has to come back to Hamburg so I can repay him accordingly with some generosity of mine.

Monday, December 10th

Did I happen to tell you I hate days of departure ? Not just because of leaving London behind (and missing it already).

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I headed to Westfield around noon, picked up some papers and a nice West Ham 2019 calendar and got myself to the airport with plenty of time to spare. And then things got delayed, for more than an hour. There were turbulences during the flight over the channel, so it got a bit bumpy. The plane’s parking position at Hamburg airport was so far away it could have been Bremen. In passport control things got held up by elderly Turkish people in wheelchairs due to a language barrier, it took the staff ages to find someone who could translate. Then I missed my connecting bus and had to take a detour by tube and an alternative bus route.

The bells of my local church were tolling half an hour to midnight when I entered my road. Knackered, but happy I went back into my flat, my head full of memories, emotions and thoughts. I’m actually planning another pre-Brexit trip now, maybe for the Newcastle game. Talking of Brexit, the news of the parliament vote being cancelled for the time being was the first news that greeted me when watching the late night news. God knows what’ll happen next! Which also applies to West Ham of course! COYI!!!

Thanks to each and everyone of you who shared time, banter, food, drink and joy with me during my stay! You all know who you are and your kindness is both cherished and appreciated by this particular Kraut Hammer…

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