The HamburgHammer Column

Theatre of Screams, but who cares? We are going to Wembley!!!

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Needs must! I think you will all be happy to join me in congratulating our West Ham Women’s team for winning one nail-biter of a semi-final yesterday to progress to the FA Cup Final at Wembley to be played May 4th.

Yes, Wembley Stadium, that great stage in North West London where our first team played one of our three Championship Playoff Finals (great result against Blackpool!) and where we also had the odd FA Cup Final appearance (mixed results).

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I had completely forgotten about the women’s semi-final against Reading and when I returned home after my Cordi matchday (more of that further down) there were still ten minutes to play of the regular 90. If I hadn’t had a quick butcher’s at the blog after sitting down, that game might have passed me by altogether and what a crying shame that would have been!

As you know, as far as the women’s game is concerned I am not exactly a bandwagon jumper, I began supporting and regularly watching the local Cordi Women’s team ever since they were founded the season before the current one. In the course of following their fortunes I have learned to appreciate the female version of football with all its obvious differences to the men’s game.

It is nowhere near as pacy (but still faster than some first team West Ham players this season), the individual quality of the players varies a lot more within the women’s game, but on the plus side you don’t get a lot of playacting or diving, there are no relentless debates with the referee about certain decisions and in general you get to see a lot more fairplay both on and off the pitch. If a woman player stays down for more than ten seconds after a challenge, you can assume she is genuinely in pain or injured.

So I was obviously delighted to be an eyewitness to the latter stages of the Cup drama yesterday afternoon, the tension of extra time and the resulting penalty shootout being a great sporting event and advert for the game.

And what a joy it was to behold at least one West Ham team taking the Cup seriously this season…;-)

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What a great day this will have been for the players, the manager and his staff and everyone rooting for the girls in claret and blue! I was impressed to see a decent crowd at the game and I would hazard a guess that a significant number of our fans might be choosing a day out at Wembley, cheering on our women’s team rather than watching what promises to be a rather meaningless league fixture of our first team against Southampton on the same day. Unless we are still in the race of 7th place, although a day out at Wembley surely is far more special as it’s by its very nature a rare event.

Except for certain teams that had to play their league games in there because their new stadium wasn’t quite ready for service yet…

I for one hope that the Women’s FA Cup Final will be a truly great occasion and the stadium will be reasonably full, the players surely deserve playing in front of a decent crowd. Like the final last year where 45,423 fans had made the journey to Wembley. But that was a London derby between Arsenal and Chelsea. We’ll see how many fans from Manchester will travel down for the occasion.

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As for our lads’ game at Manchester United most of the match-related topics have already been covered at length in the previous articles. Unlike David Hautzig, I didn’t have any issues with my knob on Saturday, the door variety that is, as mentioned by David in his excellent contribution.

I didn’t really expect much from that game, so I was very chuffed to see us conjuring up such a solid performance, surely ranking as one of the very best all season in terms of effort, guts and passing, despite the scoreline not necessarily reflecting that.

Let’s be frank here, at times we played the Manchester version of United off their home turf. They got out of jail. With the warden/referee looking the other way just as the escape artists were swinging their legs over the wall…

In fact I was so relaxed over our performance that I was chatting to my brother for half an hour on the phone while the game was on as he was giving me the highlights after returning from his short holiday break on that East Frisian piece of rock in the North Sea not far from the Dutch border. Apparently the air was very salty, but the beach was brilliant, the local fish dishes tasty and the place wasn’t overcrowded which sounds good to my ears in terms of a short term break to recharge the batteries.

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Once again West Ham were denied by missing golden opportunities, but also by some (dodgy) borderline refereeing decisions which, in doubt, always seemed to benefit the big team playing at home.

Theatre of Dreams ?

On the contrary I thought for a while I was in the middle of a nightmare, watching some of those decisions by the officials unfold! And yes, I was screaming at my TV screen on several occasions! Which doesn’t help.

Of course this wasn’t the first time we have seen a severe case of big team bias, it’s happened before and it won’t have been the last time either, despite the impending and long overdue introduction of VAR to Premier League football.

Don’t get me wrong, I expect VAR to be a massive help and step up in that respect, but overall big clubs should not really lose too much sleep over it. Referees will still find some elaborate ways around VAR in order to continue with giving the more glamourous clubs a little nudge in the right direction if required, although that will likely happen more on a subconscious level rather than manifesting itself in the shape of blatant favouritism. We shall see…

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Did Man U deserve to win the game ? Do vegetarians live on a diet of Ribeye steaks and Beef Stroganoff ?

Having to rely on not one, but TWO penalties, one of them awarded in rather dubious fashion, considering that Anderson’s first goal (chalked off for offside) looked totally legit even after the fourth replay and bearing in mind we played them off the park for long periods in the game, West Ham should have got a draw out of this. At least. I reckon even most Manchester United fans would admit that this was a very lucky escape for them.

The frustrating thing of course is that we should and could have secured so many more points this season if we had played with this much effort and skill against the likes of Burnley, Cardiff, Wolves or Bournemouth. If we get the application levels right for more games next season than we did this season we should be able to see some significant improvement in terms of points gained and goal difference next time around. I have no answer really as to why players don’t look forward to every single competitive game, regardless of opposition, treating every fixture with respect and the effort it deserves.

Should Pellegrini try telling his players that actually we do happen to play Manchester United again next weekend?
And yet again the weekend after ?
I suppose that spiel won’t quite work these days with all them players having smartphones and tablets…LOL

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Looking ahead to the upcoming fixtures, for our first team I would expect the players to at least put a shift in now in all the remaining fixtures. If we then drop points, so be it, but it shouldn’t happen because we didn’t give it our all, now that relegation is no longer on the table. We didn’t move to a 60K+ stadium to just escape relegation season after season, after all.

For our U23s I am keeping my fingers crossed they will indeed manage to stay up, with the odds stacked against them. Our main relegation rivals Spurs (had to be them of course!) have, on paper, the easier fixtures left, but West Ham still have their fate in their own hands and feet here, so starting today (with Wiltshere apparently playing for the U23s today to gain more match fitness) the U23s have it all to play for! It will be nervy, it will be tight and hopefully the lads will surprise us all in a positive way!

The highlight now of course will be the women going to Wembley, I’m looking forward to watching that one on my custard and jelly, if needed with Chinese or Polish commentary…;-))

Hamburg Update

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FC St.Pauli drew their first game with new manager Jos Luhukay in charge, 1:1 at home against Bielefeld, not enough really to stay in the promotion race at this late stage.
Hamburg SV play away at table-toppers Cologne later this evening (live on BT Sport 1) in what promises to be an epic and feisty clash between the two sides most likely to win promotion back to Bundesliga 1. Both of those teams surely belong there too, what with their history, stadiums and fanbase.

Concordia’s first team lost only 0:1 away to one of the best teams in the league, Dassendorf. It was a more than respectable result (I watched the game online) and, despite the defeat, relegation is no longer an issue really although mathematically it is still possible at this stage.

The U23s won their home game 5:2 which keeps them in the promotion hunt, at least in theory. In truth they are relying heavily on other teams slipping up. Which might not happen of course.

I chose to go and watch that game at 11am rather than attending the Cordi Women’s away fixture as unfortunately both games were being played in different locations at the same time and I simply had to pick one at random.

I hate it when fixture clashes like these happen…

To my utter surprise, my smartphone informed me that the Cordi girls had won their away game 6:2, at a very strong side too (Lorbeer). The even bigger surprise was the table-toppers Alstertal-Langenhorn not only dropping points, but getting an almighty spanking in the process, 1:5 at Rahlstedt.
In combination this means that Cordi are now back in first place, with a cushion of three points, but also a much worse goal difference than Alstertal-Langenhorn and only two games left to play.

So, if the girls manage to get at least four points out of the possible six, they will get promoted for the second season in a row, and without having to take a detour via the playoff round first. Fingers crossed!

These are some highlights of the game I found on the internet. If you watch it you will notice that the standard of goalkeepers at that level is not impressing.
Watch out for Cordi’s best player, Michelle “Mini” Hille, shirt number 7.
I have been raving about her on here before, maybe you will begin to understand why after checking out the video…

The HamburgHammer Column

Only the hard, only the brave: The Battle of Stamford Bridge - 2019 version

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The Battle of Stamford Bridge is one of the more illustrious ones ever fought on English soil that’s gone down in history. It took place in 1066 between a Norwegian Viking leader called King Harald Hardrada (translating as The Hard One, no cheap laughs in the backbenches please!) and local boy, King Harold Godwinson. The latter guy’s brother, in a dramatic twist of fate, was fighting on the side of the enemy Viking which added some spice to the slaughter.
Brother against brother – I’m sure there’s a Hollywood script in there waiting to be written here…

So, Harald against Harold. You might also have called it “The Battle of the Aitches“. If this had been a Game of Thrones episode.

In this instance the local lad won, butchering loads of Norwegians with long beards in the process, and historians tell us that this victory represented the beginning of the end of the Viking Age although it definitely did not altogether mark the end of armed conflict in Britain, Scandinavia or continental Europe over the centuries to follow.

Of course, the mentioned battle took place oop north somewhere in Yorkshire not far from the city of York. Far from London. Whereas 953 years later West Ham will have only a reasonably short journey across town to Fulham to face Chelsea FC in a rather different kind of battle at a rather different Stamford Bridge on Monday Night.

I wouldn’t expect too many Norwegians present there this time and their lives are unlikely to be in any immediate danger. But similar to the 1066 encounter, we cannot be sure quite what to expect…or who is going to take victory from the battlefield. But it will get feisty for sure.

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I have to say that I feel slightly uncomfortable posting my column for publication on a Sunday. This is a bit unusual both for you as readers and for me as a writer.

But Iain asked me to do this due to the unfortunate timing of the Chelsea game. Usually Dan would take over my Monday slot in such a case with his brilliant as ever match preview while my column simply would go up at a later date, match review and all, on Tuesday or Wednesday, whenever there was a gap to fill.

However, after recruiting some new/old authors to the blog at short notice, there probably won’t be any gaps available in the upcoming week (which is brilliant of course!), so I am trying to rustle up something here without having the benefit of an actual match performance to mull over.
So forgive me if this one comes across a bit impromptu and makeshift.

I will try my best. First of all, a big Thank You once again to Iron Liddy for delivering her wonderful little birthday tribute to me last week. It was such a nice gesture, so thoughtful, kind and generous that it made me shed a tear or two plus eat some humble pie (or rather humble cream puff) on Wednesday.
It was as unexpected as it was considerate and I really really appreciated it a lot, not just the end result but also the effort that must have gone into creating it in the first place.

Next I’d like to quickly welcome Daz the Hammer and Kigel Naan, sorry Nigel Kahn to our blog as contributors. Undoubtedly both will add a lot of character and flavour to the site with their articles and subsequent debate.
Every author on here brings a different angle, a different ingredient to the West Ham stew and it should taste all the more better for it. Good to have you (back) on board!

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Right, over to Stamford Bridge again, the London one, where one young gentleman pictured above will tomorrow meet his former employer and instructor again, a club that (un)wisely decided when he was just 14 years old that he didn’t quite hack it and was unlikely to get far in football, not PL quality anyway and definitely not England material. Well, even a wonderful club like Chelsea can get things wrong on occasion. And boy, did they get it wrong this time!

Mind you, it’s hard to make the right judgment every single time when you have what feels like 146 youth and loan players at your club in any given season. There is always one likely to slip the net and thank God Declan did just that and swam downstream to East London quickly. The rest, as they say, is history although Rice’s history has only just begun. With him making his full England debut recently and putting in top performances for West Ham regularly as he has done this season, it’s easy to forget the lad is just 20 years old and has already achieved more at this stage than most players do in their entire careers. The amazing thought here is that he is likely to get even better as a player in the coming years.

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When you look at the upcoming game, most people would confidently predict a home win. And why not ? Despite plenty of Chelsea fans moaning about their season and their current manager not being up to it, frankly, it’s really complaining on a high comfort level. They are a top 6 team, they have numerous top-class players, but other top 6 teams this season have been better, more consistent, more dominant – deal with it!

When I look at their home stats this season they have won 10, drew 5 and only lost once. Scoring 32 and conceding 10 in the process. That’s not a bad record.
But of course you could also make a case for various other layers to this game, separate story lines that may play their part here.
Surely the pressure to perform is mainly on the home side, should they fail to score early it could lead to a very edgy home crowd – advantage West Ham.

Then, of course, you have Declan Rice, desperate to rub it into Chelsea’s already sore conscience that they dropped an almighty clanger by letting him go.
If this was a film, Rice would have a MotM-level performance to help his side to a narrow and most welcome away win. Advantage West Ham.
And Chelsea are not Cardiff or Burnley. Our players seem to have a (subsconscious) tendency to play differently when facing lesser sides, resulting in less endeavour, work-rate, run-rate, concentration levels etc.

Better sides at least tend to lead to West Ham showing the right application which is not to say it always delivers the right result. But I am not scared of playing Chelsea.

It’s what I like to call a free shot game. When everybody expects you to lose, there is nothing to lose really. And after the Everton shambles our players should be out for making amends right away. It goes without saying that I would prefer us to show the same level of effort in every single game, but we are not quite there yet methinks.

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When I sit down on Monday evening, I wanna see us compete. if we do that, anything is possible. If our players simply go through the motions, well, then it’ll be the Chelsea fans leaving the battlefield at Stamford Bridge victorious with the West Ham heads on their plates as trophies.

I shall go for a 2:2 prediction, a game with plenty of action, shocking defensive blunders on both sides and at least two incidents making fans crave for the premature introduction of VAR. COYI!!!

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Hamburg update:
Well, my brother’s family have left for a short vacation in the relaxing atmosphere of Spiekeroog, one of the East Frisian Islands in the North Sea, with a population of 805 and no car traffic.
This is to celebrate that both his gastroscopy and his CT scan came back with negative results (for traces of cancer) which in turn of course is a very positive result.
Good for them!

Meanwhile, in German football, St.Pauli wasted a 1:0 lead and a man-advantage, losing 2:1 at Kiel. Promotion is slipping away from them now.

Hamburg SV, just like West Ham, play on Monday Night, at home against Magdeburg, a team from a town in East Germany, but one located alongside the same river that runs through Hamburg.

On Friday my Concordia lads won their home game 4:0 against Osdorf, a side filled with youth players (their regular starters had played in a more crucial cup tie just a few days earlier). The win was bloody nice to watch and vitally important as it almost guarantees that Concordia at least will not get relegated which is about the only real positive thing to take from this utterly disappointing season. Finishing in 12th or 13th place is not what Concordia are about, they always need to play at or at least near the top 5 places.

I was briefly chatting to one of the regular Cordi supporters and he nudged me and asked if I was actually able to still visit games in England after Brexit. He was talking in jest of course, but I was briefly taken aback by his blunt question. Shows you how important my few but regular visits to London have become to me that I cannot bear the thought of not going anymore.

Both the U23s and the Concordia Women’s team play later today.

The HamburgHammer Column

Hammers can't score for toffee or against them - but some positive personal news

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We won’t go down. We won’t get to 7th. The season is now likely to peter out or even end in a damp squib. The Everton game was one of the most painful to watch this season and there has been quite a bit of competition in that respect. It’s baffling how professional footballers can look like complete strangers on the pitch at times, despite training almost every day.

Right from the start the West Ham players were second best to their Everton counterparts in almost every single way, be that effort, distance covered, successful passes, pace, shots on goals, headers/tackles won in midfield, you get the picture.

It’s a bad sign when even a diehard West Ham nut like myself is staring at the game clock in the corner of the screen with more than ten minutes still to go and urging time to go faster to bring the match to a much appreciated end.
Everton were like a ruthless cat, playing games with a defenceless three-legged mouse suffering from arthritis and shortness of breath, before getting bored and killing it in casual and professional fashion.
That mouse, unfortunately, was us.

As usual this season, our first half performance was a shambles, leaving the team with yet another mountain to climb in the second half. It got ever so slightly better after the interval, but that wasn’t a massive surprise with the bar of skill and effort having hardly left the ground in the first 45 minutes.

Indeed I can only really applaud the performances of Fabianksi and Rice, maybe Ogbonna, on the day. The rest were scoring marks somewhere between mediocre, shambolic and did-he-actually-play ?

The starting XI looked utterly confusing to begin with – I know there were issues with certain players suffering from jet lag after playing international football a few days ago.

Anderson had a minor ankle issue apparently while Mark Noble was grieving the death of his grandmother, having missed training as a result.
I’m not sure those two players would have helped us enough to get even a draw against Everton, but they surely would have given us that little bit extra and at least make us compete. Either way, once again the team didn’t turn up when there was a massive chance for us to stake a serious claim in the late season battle for 7th place.

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It’s worth to begin mulling over what might happen this summer. Surely there will have to be changes to the squad and I wouldn’t expect just some minor adjustments there either.

Quite a few players will leave, including one or two we might prefer to keep, but our finances seem to dictate that we might have to cash in on certain players with decent value, should there be offers on the table which are too good to turn down.

I feel though it’ll be vital to keep Pellegrini onside as much as possible.
So you really want the gaffer to have a major say in any player transaction taking place and not rub him the wrong way by interfering with his efforts to build a squad according to his playing style and footballing philosophy.

By now I reckon he will have a more realistic idea about what he can expect from our board in terms of transfer funds (and what’s pie in the sky territory), but Husillos and Pellegrini have already shown they can unearth a bargain or two with their knowledge of especially the South American market and their finger on the pulse of the top flight in Spain. So they don’t necessarily need pots of money in order to improve our team, however, they clearly need another well funded transfer window to build on last summer’s business.

As a club we have rarely done that in our past, building further after laying a solid foundation. With West Ham it’s usually one step forward, then two back again and start over at square one. I still believe, and quite strongly, that Pellegrini is a great manager and it’d be foolish to let him go at this early stage when we are still very much at the start of the journey/the project and nowhere near the end.

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It’ll be my birthday later this week and if I can have just one West Ham related wish it would be to see another quality transfer window for us in the summer. Not necessarily one where we spend another 80 million quid. But surely it has to be more than 25 million. It has to be said, when watching our games from the comfort of my armchair, that the stadium does look impressive, fantastic even, especially under the lights. It looks like a big club should be playing games in there, one that plays great football and tries to perform for 90 minutes in every single game – and I don’t mean the away side!

From my experience, West Ham fans are an extremly realistic and loyal bunch. We don’t expect miracles or ask for the moon and stars, we know our dreams have a tendency to fade and die, but we also have a finely adjusted sense/antenna telling us if we are being done up like a kipper or not.

That’s not gonna wash in the long run. If the board expect 50.000 fans, give or take, to renew their season tickets despite some hefty hikes in asking prices in some bands or for young fans/kids especially, then the board need to do their job properly as well.

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Quick word on the blog. I was glad to read Iain’s parish notice that he will keep the blog alive and kicking, so this is not going to be one of my last ever columns on here as initially feared when I started writing this article, however, the future of the blog very much depends on how our community deals with certain unsavoury or unpleasant elements such as abuse, bullying or trolling. Or losing authors.

My view is that we seem to go through a cycle sometimes of regular authors packing it in (or taking their articles elsewhere) and that obviously makes it hard to put out a new article every single day. However, I reckon rather than closing down the blog completely, our readers can live with less articles for a certain period until new contributors and guest authors come on board which I’m 100% certain is always going to happen eventually.

We have lost a number of esteemed authors in the past, but this blog has always bounced back, going strong regardless. Like mentioned by others before, the blog has also helped to assemble a great community of people, a forum that works well in a number of ways and on several levels. It works for those who simply like to exchange views and banter on our club online.

It has also helped to answer vital questions for overseas fans travelling to games on rare occasions or even facilitated matters with regard to sorting out tickets, transport or even accommodation.

Some fans have found comfort in kind words and advice from fellow fans when going through rough times on a personal level. Genuine friendships have been formed, crossing borders, nationalities, creeds, even political views.

For some this community has indeed become something almost qualifying as a second family. Surely that alone is valuable enough to keep the site going and put up with the occasional lack of new content, the odd troll showing up, spreading bile or even authors feeling underappreciated or overcriticised.
I for one would be very sad to see this blog disappear. And I believe, no, I am 100% certain that I am not alone in feeling this way.

West Ham have started a new journey into uncharted territory with the move to London Stadium and the hiring of Pellegrini. This blog should and will continue to be along for the ride for many years to come, chronicling the ups and downs of this club we all love. May both club and WHTID continue to grow and prosper. COYI!!!

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Hamburg Update:
Quick personal update as I had the most amazing news last Friday, just as this site was in a state of limbo. I had driven my brother to his local hospital for another of those regular tests he will have to endure for the rest of his life after fighting (and surviving) cancer of his oesophagus about a year ago.

Friday was the day of his scheduled gastroscopy and, thank God, they found no remaining traces of cancer whatsoever. After anesthesia he was in no condition to drive, obviously, so I picked him up afterwards as well. And naturally I was over the moon when he told me the good news.

He will have to undergo another MRI screening later this week, in order to kick any remaining shred of doubt into touch, but things are surely looking a lot better than they did about a year ago when his life was very much hanging by a thread. So there is increased hope now that I will be able to take him (maybe joined by his wife and kid) to London later this year for a long weekend and maybe a home game as well.

He has been to London before (and Upton Park too, but not the London Stadium), however, it’d be the first time in London for my sis-in-law and my nephew.

As for the football, the two big Hamburg clubs each played in goalless draws which didn’t exactly enhance their promotion chances.
Condordia’s first team didn’t play (it was cup weekend – and they were out already).

The U23s won their cup game in extra time and have now qualified for the semi-finals.

Yesterday I watched the Cordi Women’s team win 8:0 away at the bottom team of the league. The ladies remain in second place, but are unlikely to catch the table-toppers as those have a vastly superior goal difference and are unlikely to drop points in the remaining fixtures.
So the girls will have to go the extra mile and try to win promotion by way of winning a series of playoff games.

The HamburgHammer Column

Sick, tired and confused - Hammeritis is incurable

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Being ill sucks. Being ill when you’re single is even worse. You have to make your own tea, if you want a bowl of chicken broth you have to prepare it yourself and of course there is also no one to shower you with an avalanche of sympathy…or even simple things like taking your temperature. Not long after I had returned from my recent England trip I was struck down by God knows what kind of virus. I didn’t leave the house again until it was over, so I don’t know what exactly I had caught – and if that bug was a souvenir from London or a local villain from Hamburg.

Result was, I got fever, shivers, body ache, making me sleep for long hours, but not very well, I didn’t eat for two days solid (always a sign that I’m unwell), drank copious amounts of peppermint tea and wasn’t capable of much else than finding a position to lay myself down in a way that made my headache halfway tolerable. In short: I was miserable.

Then West Ham lost to Cardiff and Cordi lost to Altona, not exactly a great remedy in my state of being. Luckily, shortly before the Huddersfield fixture I felt better again, indicated by my desire to cook and devour a meal again.

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After the shamble of a performance at Cardiff I was reasonably sure that even at West Ham lightning wouldn’t strike twice against another club from the bottom end of the table. And in fact it didn’t, lightning did actually strike thrice, as Huddersfield played themselves into a much deserved 3:1 lead.

What the heck was going on there ? Will we ever learn to approach every single PL game with respect for the opposition and the right attitude to boot ?

To be fair though, I was disappointed of course when we went 3:1 down, but I had seen enough of Huddersfield that season to be confident we would score more goals against them. And so we did. When Ogbonna’s header went in I was certain we would get a draw at least. When Hernandez equalised with a nicely converted header I knew we could push for the win. Three points is three points of course, but conceding three against Huddersfield at home, a side who had scored just 15 times in ALL previous league games this season, well, that’s even harder to swallow than your averagely bitter cough syrup.

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However, coming back from any 1:3 deficit within 15 minutes to win a game of football by a 4:3 scoreline, that takes cojones, guts, desire and spirit. We at least showed that after not really showing a lot for 75 minutes. Which is disappointing. But it all comes down to the fact that this is still very much the beginning of the road for Pellegrini, very much a season of transition with a lot of squad makeover work ahead in the summer.

We clearly have a few players in that squad who are no longer in the plans of Pellegrini long-term. There will need to be a complete clear-out in the striking department.
Of the current crop I would only want to keep Hernandez – and not just because he scored two goals against Huddersfield. He is the most natural finisher we have.
Pellegrini’s style of football should make our team create far more opportunities in and around the box next season – and that’s where Hernandez will give you 15-20 goals a season, not as a lone striker, but supported by another striker or at least a few creative and pacy attacking midfielders.

I was happy that our special guests on Saturday, Toddyhammer and Copenhagen Hammer, got to see one hell of a contest, highly entertaining and three points in the bag.
And of course we are still in the race for 7th place, although realistically we will probably finish somewhere between 8th and 10th. Not bad at all for the first season of any new manager at West Ham.

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I am still in the process of making up my mind about renewing my season ticket which would set me back £555 this time. It could be argued that for the clubs ticketing income is just a small bonus anyway these days, dwarfed by TV and sponsorship income. Then again, the board will be happy to test out a new pricing threshold. They will be counting on a few thousand not renewing their season tickets, but if everyone else does, the club would still be quids in.
Of course they will try to increase prices and I’d expect them to get away with it too.

Only if 15K season ticket holders were to pack it in and the club would struggle to sell those tickets elsewhere, they might have a bit of a rethink.
But most fans tend to renew at the end of the day and I can see myself ending up that way too.

Although as of yet I haven’t got a Scooby if and how my travel routine is going to change if and when Brexit finally happens, chances are I will still travel to London 2-3 times a year. I also want to take my brother and nephew to a game, hopefully next season. So in that respect it helps if I have at least one ticket sorted out already.

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Of course I still have a few weeks to ponder that decision. But West Ham is actually the only really bad habit, if you will, in my life as I don’t smoke, I rarely drink and I don’t do drugs. So these little London trips are something I would really hate to give up on. So, we shall see. Bit of a break coming up for West Ham now which gives me a chance to focus a bit on local football again. Which these days ain’t no picnic!

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Both big Hamburg sides lost their respective games, Hamburg SV after being 2:0 up already, so both have lost precious ground in the promotion race in Bundesliga 2.

Concordia failed to win their home game yesterday, after playing more than 45 minutes against ten men – a 1:1 scoreline was not enough really to make significant strides away from the relegation zone. There is still a seven point cushion for the time being which sounds comfortable enough on paper, but the local league is utterly bonkers and highly unpredictable, so I wouldn’t consider Concordia to be safe just yet…COYI!!!

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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