The HamburgHammer Column

Grave decisions ahead for West Ham - and a memorable visit to the local cemetery

I know, it’s one weird headline this, but bear with me, it’s been a strange week and the sun has also been beating down relentlessly in my hometown.
So maybe that’s what brought me to Hamburg-Ohlsdorf cemetery, more of that later…

First things first: Congratulations to you all as England have indeed made their way into the WC semi-finals which in itself is an amazing achievement already, especially when you consider you have also managed to win your first penalty shootout in WC history along the way.
Enjoy your moment in the sun, cherish it and be proud! But please don’t think the title is in the bag just yet. Anything can still happen!

Germany of course have won numerous penalty shootouts in the past, but that didn’t help us this time around as the Krauts went out as quickly as they possibly could.

To add insult to injury they even managed to finish last in their respective group. Pathetic of course, but the bad vibes were there in the German camp even before a ball had been kicked and if you had asked German fans beforehand most would have shoulder-shruggingly predicted an early exit, although probably not quite this early…

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Concordia have started their preseason schedule and I have managed to watch the odd training session as well as a few games of both the first team and the U23s already.
It’s always a great feeling going into a new season as new players arrive and try to gel quickly with the rest of the lads. The opportunities are endless, at least in theory every team can dream to finish top of the table when the first games of the season proper finally kick off.

Concordia are no exception here and I’m buzzing for the new season, but as they have actually finished all their transfer business already I can now focus on the goings on at our beloved West Ham.

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The past week has been quiet on the transfer front, if you’re talking about deals concluded. The deal for Felipe Anderson appears to be moving further away from happening.
But there is a good chance that the signing of Jack Wilshere on a three year deal will either have been announced already as you’re reading this or it could well happen sometime later today.

Wilshere would then join up with the first team at their preseason training HQ in the Swiss Alps. I won’t have to tell you too much about Wilshere, he’s a well known commodity in England. His career has been blighted by numerous injuries in the past although it has to be said that he didin’t miss any games due to injury last season.

The pessimists are going to say now that the law of statistics is telling us that his next injury is waiting just around the next bend. The optimists will say that he might finally be over his injury troubles, ready to hit a lengthy purple patch at West Ham.

The biggest points in the pro column are the facts Wilshere is a West Ham fan (or at least used to be one as a kid before joining Arsenal) and that he would come reasonably cheap. There are no free deals anymore in this day and age of course, but saving money by avoiding a transfer fee, with Wilshere lowering his wage demands at the same time, makes this a potentially very decent deal for us, especially with Lanzini out for anything between 6-12 months.

Wilshere surely knows what to do with a football, boasting sublime dribbling and passing skills and I would welcome him at West Ham 100% with wide open arms.

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Another player rumoured to be a potential signing for us (who might even have a medical scheduled for as early as today) is Andriy Yarmolenko, a 28-year-old Ukrainian attacking winger/striker, currently playing for Borussia Dortmund.

Yarmolenko would probably be the cheaper alternative to Felipe Anderson. Yarmolenko has featured many times for Dynamo Kiev as well as for the Ukrainian national team.

Two words to describe him: Strength and confidence. And his passing ain’t too shabby either. Plus it’s not exactly easy to get the ball off him within the laws of the game.

He can be inconsistent, drifting in and out of games, but that is an issue affecting most players. He’s had a bit of an off year at Dortmund last season, however, a change of scenery, a new challenge at a club like ours might suit all parties.

An interesting aspect is that Yarmolenko is a similar case as Arnautovic, but the other way round. Arnautovic was converted from winger to striker at West Ham and we all know that has worked a treat for us.

Yarmolenko on the other hand started out as a striker earlier in his career, but has been more effective in the recent past when being used as a winger.

Another positive is the fact that the guy is very much down to earth – he had numerous offers to go to bigger clubs in his career, but up to now he has always decided to pick clubs where he could start games on a regular basis, even at the price of earning less money by staying put.
Yarmolenko would be another decent addition to our squad.

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Finally there’s Fabian Balbuena, centre-back and skipper of Brazilian outfit Corinthians. He will be 27 years old next month and is well known for being dominant in the air, very focussed throughout games and more than capable of instigating quick counter attacks by picking a decent pass after intercepting a ball.

As he hasn’t been a permanent fixture for the Paraguay national side there could be an issue with obtaining a work permit, but if the deal was to happen we’d be getting a strong defender here, a natural leader on the pitch and a guy the rest of the league might just learn to hate with a passion before you can even say “clean sheet” three times.

Surely transfer business will now begin to pick up in earnest, not just for West Ham but everyone else too. Only at the end of the window can we even begin to judge if it’s more of the same old same old (razzle dazzle and all that) or the beginning of a new era at West Ham, ushered in by Pellegrini and Husillos. We shall see. Which brings me to my final little episode which is completely unrelated to football or West Ham, but probably you will bear with me anyway and be glad you did once you’ve finished reading. I certainly hope so.

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The cemetery in Hamburg-Ohlsdorf is world famous. You don’t often hear that said about something as morbid and dark as a graveyard. But Ohlsdorf is a bit different, it’s the fourth biggest graveyard in the world for starters and the biggest rural cemetery in the world – and even listed as an attractive sight to visit for tourists.

Emanating from a concept of English architect Sir Christopher Wren a rural or garden cemetery is not just your average burial ground but rather a tranquil place that uses landscaping to great effect. It makes burial plots feel much more like a well designed park or forest walk than a gloomy graveyard.

That’s what Ohlsdorf essentially is, a giant park with 12 miles of road for car traffic leading through a vast area which stretches for nearly three miles in length and one mile in width.

You can walk there for hours on end as the different garden pathways within the cemetery confines run for more than 50 miles! Boasting numerous different kinds of flowers, bushes and trees.

You will find numerous graves of famous Hamburg celebrities, singers, actors, politicians – including Hans Albers, Carlo Karges (Nena’s guitarist), the famous composer and local lad Johannes Brahms as well as former Hamburg mayor and German chancellor Helmut Schmidt.

Plus of course many non-celebrity Hamburgers, like my beloved parents. Last week I paid them one of my rare visits.

Rare because I believe that only the ashes of the remains of their weak and old bodies are buried there anyway and I don’t necessarily need to be in that precise spot in order to pay my respects and cherish their memory. Or feel connected to their immortal soul/spirit or whatever you wanna call it.

This time though I’m actually glad I did go there because literally 200 metres away from my parents’ grave I found this, a place I had been loosely aware of before but had never really taken an effort to visit and acknowledge properly, until now…

It’s the Hamburg Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery. An utterly beautiful and atmospheric place where I got lost for over an hour, looking at the various limestone gravestones of people who died as young as 18 or 19, from various regiments in all corners of Britain and the Commonwealth.

The grass is maintained in pristine condition, you could easily play tennis or golf on the surface and it doesn’t come as a surprise to see those graveyards/gardens in such a wonderfully kept state as it is indeed being cared for and looked after by the CWGC (Commonwealth War Graves Commission), employing British gardeners, stonemasons etc.

What’s more, as in numerous other cases the world over, our two countries have struck a deal whereby the CWGC essentially have taken over that plot of land within Ohlsdorf cemetery in order to look after their dead as they see fit.

I only found out later when researching for this article that I had basically made a very short trip to Britain when strolling between the rows of limestone. In legal terms this part of Hamburg belongs to the UK.

So this little plot of Britain right in the middle of my hometown does honour more than 2500 soldiers, their wives and children who all died while serving their nation although not all of them necessarily dying in combat, during both WW I and II.

Not all of those buried here died in or near Hamburg, loads were eventually transferred from 120 smaller, provisional war cemeteries from different areas of Northern Germany like Schleswig-Holstein, Mecklenburg, Hannover, Braunschweig or Oldenburg. The majority of them died as prisoners of war.

Others were taken down by flak guns during the various air raids in WW II.
25 unidentified marines are honoured by a plaque whose submarine was sunk in 1916 close to the Helgoland shoreline.

There are also those Commonwealth soldiers who died during the post-war occupation/liberation in Hamburg, it was an unusually harsh winter in 1946/47 which killed numerous Brits and Germans alike due to unsufficient supply of wood and coals to keep the people warm in their war-torn drafty flats and houses.

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And there is also a memorial tree planted in memory of the crews who passed on during the Berlin Airlift when their supplies helped to keep thousands of starving German men, women and children alive.

The famous “raisin bombers” became part of Berlin folklore and German history and it is only good and proper that those brave British soldiers are being honoured for their sacrifice in my town as well.

Why am I telling you all this ? Because I felt a weird connection to all those people, despite or maybe even because I am the offspring of their former sworn enemy.

First off I was struck by the sheer coincidence that my parents were buried virtually right next to all those Commonwealth soldiers.

I think I mentioned before about my mom telling me dozens of times over the years about her fondest childhood memory (wearing a big smile on her face as she was walking down memory lane) of being given the most delicious candy bar ever (and the first taste of chocolate in years) when a British soldier provided a little German girl, just 8 or 9 years old, with a Cadbury bar – a girl who was later to become a woman and the mother of a very dedicated local West Ham fan and massive admirer of the British way of life.

I was reading on the gravestones which regiments and battalions those brave servicemen hailed from and me being West Ham I naturally was keeping my eyes peeled on the London Regiment (one battalion of which was based in Bow I understand) and the Essex Regiment (based in Brentwood) and so I figured that one or two of those buried and honoured in Hamburg Cemetery must have been West Ham supporters.

It got my mind wandering as I started thinking about what it’d be like if one of them soldiers did return just for one day or a week from their grave (not in a creepy flesh-eating Zombie kind of way of course) and find himself in 2018 Hamburg, an Englishman still in uniform who died in 1945 having a chat more than 70 years later with a West Ham fan, a Kraut at that who has never been experiencing hiding out in a shelter during air raids in his lifetime, a chinwag between a Brit and a German many decades after the two big wars.

I’m sure it would be a most interesting conversation, covering various topics including the modern way of life, politics, music, new gadgets, the internet, football and West Ham United of course.

Maybe that soldier in question would be surprised at being addressed by a Kraut in reasonably good English.

Maybe he would be flabbergasted to see all them flashy cars rushing past, all those bloody smartphones and massive HD television screens everywhere. Not to mention those strange internet blogs!

Maybe he would be incredulous upon hearing that football teams no longer play with five strikers on the pitch at the same time.

Probably he would ask me after all this mind-boggling new information to take him to a bar for a nice cold beer or some cider in the July sunshine to let it all sink in.

And I would happily oblige and probably just shake his hand quietly at the end of the day, thanking him for his sacrifice and service, helping to create an environment where British and German people nowadays can share the same opinion, or debate different points of view in a civilised manner, enjoy some jolly good banter while sharing a beer, a pie or a bratwurst.
Having a laugh. Or sharing pain and even grief at times.

Or just a trivial thing like sharing the passion for the same football team.
One that plays in claret and blue. Where fans blow bubbles and where dreams all too often seem to fade and die.

Unlike the memory of those Commonwealth soldiers.

Maybe there is a novel in there somewhere…

COYI!!!


The HamburgHammer Column

Lucky escapes and staring contests - Waiting for the next signing

Watching Germany at the World Cup can indeed be the kind of experience you’d normally associate with sitting at London Stadium watching West Ham.
Depending on who you’re sitting next to or behind of course. In this case it was me sitting in my brother’s living room, watching the game against Sweden with him and half of my nephew.

I’m saying half because he wasn’t paying much attention to the football really, choosing to focus on reading another chapter of whatever part of the Harry Potter series he’s currently battling with instead – having read them myself I know it can be very hard to put the books down with all those bloody cliffhangers at the end of every chapter!

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The game had several cliffhangers of its own in store and my brother and I agreed throughout that only a win would do in terms of keeping Germany in the tournament.
A very telling sign that my brother is getting back to normal health is the way he was talking and acting during the game, in a fairly miserable, pessimistic, Eeyore-style manner, the kind of which you sometimes get at West Ham home games too.

It’s just the way my brother is, always was, will be forevermore. He moans about the neighbour’s cat taking a short-cut through his garden, he moans about the way other people drive, too fast, too slow, wrong colour of car, in short: He seems to rather enjoy finding things to moan about – and Germany’s performances at the World Cup so far have been a fountain of inspiration for him, feeding his complainy side.

Of course my brother was right with a lot of stuff he said about the game against Sweden, moaning about the Germany players’ body language, their lack of invention, their predictability, their tendency to overdo the sideways and backwards passing, the looming shame of potentially going out of the tournament at the hands of Sweden etc.
Again, I couldn’t really argue much with him as he was spot on, but the moaning was relentless (it must run in the family), he kept repeating the same phrases, but of course all of that misery was wiped out with one beautifully executed freekick in injury time. Take a bow Toni Kroos!

It was the kind of goal worthy of winning any game and knowing how tournaments have gone for Germany in the past, who knows how far Germany will go now ?
If you ask me, not much further than the quarterfinals. I just hope we won’t have to play England at any point as that would require me to stay away from the blog for a while, especially should England win…:-))

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On the West Ham transfer front things have been awfully quiet, with a number of rumours, yes, but apart from Fabianski being confirmed not much else came to fruition really.
It looks though as if the weeks-long Felipe Anderson will he-won’t he saga will finally come to an end now one way or another.
Rumour is a deal has finally been agreed with West Ham paying up to 40 million Euros for him, with a 20% sell-on clause tagged onto the deal.

If true, it’s an expensive acquisition for sure, but one well worth pursuing if he indeed is the cornerstone of what Manuel Pellegrini has in mind for this club. I cannot claim to having seen a lot of games in which Anderson took part, but from what I can gather from the usual sources online he is pacy and a great team player, working hard for the cause and being more interested in setting up opportunities and goals for his teammates rather than doing it all for himself.
Of course it’s frustrating if a transfer takes ages to materialise, but once you start dealing with big, professional clubs there is bound to be a staring contest, trying to determine who loses his cool and blinks first!
It’s a game of poker really and while you don’t want to pay over the odds, sometimes there’s no way around it if you really fancy the player!

Bringing in a technically gifted and quick team player like Anderson sounds promising enough and it might actually also serve as a springboard for other quality additions following suit. As much as I like to read about the odd transfer rumour, I am still fairly old-school though about the way transfers should be negotiated and announced. I still like the behind-closed-doors approach and love transfers that jump out at you like a rabbit from a hat, basically out of nowhere, and I absolutely wouldn’t mind if that was the way in which MP, Husillos and Sullivan were dealing with transfer matters from now on.

It may not give us quite as many rumours as before to talk about, but it might just result in bringing us the players we actually need – I know where my priorities lie in that respect.

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Another player potentially arriving in Stratford from Italy could be Stefano Sturaro, a versatile player from Juventus, with 25 years still at a great age with his peak years hopefully ahead of him. The chap mainly plays as a defensive midfielder (hooray!!!), but has also featured as attacking midfielder on the left or even full back on the right.
He couldn’t nail down a regular starting place at Juventus though, but even bearing that in mind he could still be a good fit for West Ham.
His main qualities appear to be maintaining possession of the ball and supporting his defenders which is the key attributes I would want from a defensive midfielder.

I’m a big believer of having a balanced squad and for that to become a reality you also need players who do the dirty or the unspectacular work that tends to go unnoticed far too often. You cannot have a team with ten Arnautovic-style players. Nor ten Lanzinis or ten Mark Nobles. You need to have a bit of everything and should we really get Felipe Anderson then having someone like Sturaro might just be another missing link for the jigsaw that MP and Husillos are currently trying to solve.

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Italy seems to be a popular hunting ground for us this summer. Apparently we have been talking to Lazio at such lengths that we may also pick another player from them, Lukaku. No, that’s not our nemesis striker with the knack of scoring vital golas against West Ham, Romelu, but rather his brother Jordan whose main job is preventing goals rather than scoring them which comes as no surprise as he is another defensive minded midfielder.

Built like a brick cabin designed for housing a khazi or two, he looks like a player born to showcase his skills on pitches in England. He sounds like the perfect complimentary player to Sturaro as Lukaku is a decent dribbler and passer of the ball. Both players are rumoured to be available at reasonable (in today’s market) prices.
We need to get away from signing players with a famous name or those who used to be great at other clubs years ago.

Rather than that I hope that MP will establish what kind of players are required and then sign those guys accordingly, regardless whether they come from a league we rarely watch or have a name most fans have never heard before. In this respect I am fairly optimistic MP and Husillos can deliver.
We shall have a much changed team for next season and that alone will make the upcoming season one to look forward to with eager anticipation and excitement.

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Closing out with the Concordia update, the club have announced that their squad for next season is complete now. 22 players will try to make amends and give the fans better football and more points on the board next season. The two goalkeepers remain the same, apart from that TEN new players will try to force their way into the starting XI.
It sounds like a decent mixture of experienced heads and young lads from lower divisions who will try to make the step up to Oberliga level.
There is also a young defender who has been promoted from the U23s which is nice to see and of course I will try to watch the U23s as well whenever I can.

The U23s have been promoted as well and they will now play the majority of their away games in places not far from my brother’s house, so he is bound to join me on a few occasions. As long as he doesn’t moan quite as often as when watching Germany play, he is more than welcome. Then again I won’t mind too much anyway, as long as the Cordi boys end their games in similar fashion as Toni Kroos did on Saturday night…:-))

COYI!!!


The HamburgHammer Column

West Ham Episode MMXVIII - A NEW HOPE

Hello my friends! I’m back and no, I have not been hiding under a rock the past few weeks and neither have I been abducted by aliens and forced to become a Coventry City supporter. In fact I was hoping that today there would actually be lots of new signings to discuss at West Ham but, alas, this is West Ham and signings are never quite as straightforward and quick as they seem to happen at most other clubs.

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But two of the more important decisions have already been made anyway: In Manuel Pellegrini we now have a highly experienced and respected manager at the helm plus a well connected Director of Football in Marco Husillos. Both are very good appointments in my book and the upcoming week will be very telling in a number of ways with regard to how things are going to work at West Ham from now on. Apparently as much as five new signings are in the pipeline at this point, in various states of completion, from being a decent possibility or being real close to nearly or factually done.

If we get all those rumoured (yes, I know) signings over the line (or none of them) will at least give us somewhat of an idea of the new West Ham team for the season.
I understand that Pellegrini made sure certain conditions of his were met by our board before signing on the dotted line, otherwise it’s unlikely he would have committed himself to the challenging task of managing West Ham.
He knows that, compared to other clubs, our transfer budget is somewhat limited. Yet he will have insisted on certain funds and I reckon he will have insisted on free reign in terms of spending that budget on players he deems vital for his plans.

Let’s not forget, Pellegrini terminated a highly lucrative contract in China in order to join West Ham. He will not have made this move to get pushed around or told what to do and who to sign.

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One of the key signing this summer appears to be Felipe Anderson, a right attacking midfielder.
Nicknamed Lampadina, or light bulb, he can light up a game in a way few other players can.
He is quick as a raccoon in mating season up a drainpipe, very skilled technically and moreover not shy in terms of helping out his defenders, winning the ball back with a well timed tackle or two.

His excellent first touch keeps getting mentioned and his lightning speed allows him to get past players time and time again. He’s not necessarily a prolific goalscorer, but more of an assists man who makes his teammates look good. Which is exactly what someone like Arnautovic or Hernandez would be craving for.
It’s worth mentioning that Anderson hasn’t really been a regular starter at Lazio, so he is at this point a very good prospect who will probably benefit from getting regular gametime.

There are conflicting rumours if Lazio keep moving the goalposts in negotiations, rising prices or being peculiar about sell on clauses and additional payments or if West Ham so far have simply failed to offer anywhere near what Lazio have been asking for their player right from the start. Apparently Pellegrini himself is pushing hard to make a deal happen and if Anderson is indeed the number one target, that which shall convince other decent players to come to us, then, I’m afraid, we may have to pay over the odds to get a deal done. I know Italian clubs are known for being a royal pain in the bum when negotiating transfers, especially when an English club comes knocking, but in this case West Ham may just have to bite the bullet.

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Other targets seem to include a CB from France called Issa Diop, young Swansea defender Alfie Mawson, goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski, West Ham fan Jack Wilshere and Javier Pastore, an attacking midfielder from PSG. All players I would welcome with open arms at West Ham, but it remains to be seen how many of those deals we can get over the line. Apparently both Pellegrini and Husillos will be back at West Ham HQ from today, so things should really begin coming along with our transfer business at this point.

One deal, well, the only deal we have already concluded is that one for young RB Ryan Fredericks, 24 years old and fresh off the boat from a promotion winning Playoff Final with Fulham. I welcome his signing for a variety of reasons. a) I love the idea of playing a RB at the RB position for starters. I know Zabaleta did a reasonably fine job there last season, but he is not getting any younger (or quicker) and that’s where Fredericks comes in with pace very much the theme again here.

This should help our counter-attacking moves, especially as Fredericks is very unpredictable. Not only is he he very quick (have I mentioned this before?), unlike other fullbacks he also isn’t afraid to venture into the middle of the pitch with the ball sometimes which is highly unusual for a fullback and can catch the opposition on the wrong foot at times.

He is also a good tackler and if there is one thing he needs to improve on it’s end product. If Fredericks can crown his speedy forays into the opposition half with more crosses or passes that actually find a teammate to score, then he’d be as close to the perfect fullback as you can get. I’m happy to see him in a claret and blue (or teal) shirt next season anyway.

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I am cautiously optimistic for next season, both in terms of the transfer business and our performances. I see Pellegrini as a very welcome breath of fresh air as I think he let’s his teams play football the right way. He also strikes me as a gentleman and someone who has been there in football, done it, bought, well, probably not the t-shirt as he is more of the nice ironed shirt and dinner jacket type of guy.

Pellegrini and Husillos together at this point are a massive window for opportunity for us. If the board let them do their job with FULL support (including financial) West Ham have a chance to become, at least on the pitch, a proper football club, professional, good to watch, probably even acknowledged and respected (again).
I hope we do see some more signings at West Ham, starting this week, which will also make watching the World Cup a lot more fun.

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As for the WC, at this point it’s too early and too close to call. I wish England well for their first game against Tunisia. You don’t need me to tell you that a lot of things need to go right for your guys if England are to reach even the semifinals in the tournament. England teams always promise much at the start of tournaments with a strong squad of fantastic players, but for some reason rarely is the whole greater than the sum of its parts for the England team.

Saying that, usually Germany are a well-oiled machine, getting more efficient as the tournament progresses. Not this time though. As Ozil and Gundogan decided it was a great idea to pose with the Turkish president for photos (despite playing for Germany obviously), giving him signed shirts with a personal devoted dedication, it has caused a massive shitstorm among German fans and pundits alike and this unnecessary distraction is not going to help Germany’s chances to retain the trophy I’m afraid.

If you threatened me, pointing a tofu roll under my nose right now, I’d say Brazil for the title, Uruguay as dark horse number one. England out in the round of last 16, Germany out in the quarter-finals.

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Talking Hamburg football, well, it’s the summer break and the World Cup, so no preseason games just yet. The two big clubs Hamburg SV and St.Pauli will now for the first time in history meet in Bundesliga 2. Which means two feisty and highly policed derby games in a season when HSV will be trying their best to win promotion back to Bundesliga 1 at the first time of asking.

Concordia funnily enough have a lot in common with West Ham this summer: After a disappointing season there is a new manager in place and there is a massive overhaul in player personnel afoot with at least 7 or 8 new faces coming in and similar numbers leaving. For sure it’ll be exciting to see how the new team will get on and how quickly the players can develop an understanding on the pitch. With Cordi’s U23s playing better opposition teams now they have been promoted to the next level the days of winning games with 8:1 scorelines will be coming to an end. Still, it’ll be fascinating to see them adjusting to playing one league higher now.

That’s all from me for now. Let’s hope it’ll be a great week for West Ham on the transfer front and again, all the best to England and Germany in Russia! COYI!!!


The HamburgHammer Column

From Upton Park to Gotham City - Random ramblings about an unusual end of season trip

This trip was necessary and long overdue – due to my only brother’s fight against the big C (and my mind being subsequently otherwise occupied) I had merely managed three games this season so far (Spurs, Chelsea and Arsenal), so I had to get my London fix once again. Of course when my Ryanair plane lost touch with German soil West Ham were already guaranteed their league status for next season, but that didn’t bother me. Maybe with the pressure off our team could play more freely and knock in a few goals to compensate for what had been a shockingly bad season for West Ham on various levels.

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Friday, May 11th

This trip was to prove very unusual for the simple fact that our trusted cabbie BSB was on a well deserved holiday in Spain and as we usually meet up at least once when I’m over to revisit our usual Two Ronnies’ routine this time there was no trip for me to Dagenham. Instead I arrived with the early morning flight, finding myself in Stratford at the ungodly hour of 9am.

I couldn’t check in at my accommodation in Boleyn Road (!!!), Upton before noon, so had some serious time to kill.

Almost without thinking my way led me through the Gotham City themed film set called Stratford/Westfield towards the London Stadium. I had been in two minds about whether to renew or not. A proper internal fight of wills. There were good and bad points on both sides of the battlefield. I had spoken to BSB beforehand and finally his arguments resonated the most with me.

So I actually did it, I renewed my season ticket using my accumulated club cash in the process.

I wouldn’t want to miss out on watching any West Ham game of my choosing when making a trip back to London. I couldn’t really miss my regular, yet limited in number, matchdays watching the Hammers. Not necessarily because of our great football but for meeting friends on a matchday, sharing banter, food and drinks.
Yes, I know, I said I didn’t want to give the board any more money, but give me a break!

At least I haven’t bought any merchandise for a year now and the way I see it, my season ticket money doesn’t go to the Daves anyway, it’s representing in fact a small portion of Mark Noble’s or Declan Rice’s weekly wages…:-))

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On it was then to my little room in Boleyn Road. The residential area it was in reminded me of the road where I used to live during my Barking days, so the size, state and outward appearance of most houses didn’t come as a shock to me.

What was a bit of a shock was seeing plenty of women in burkas, leaving only their eyes visible to the outside world. Those are a very rare sight even in Hamburg where we also have a sizeable percentage of Muslim people, but most Muslim ladies in Hamburg seem to be content with wearing headscarves. But anyway…

My first box to tick was my first (and final) visit to Nathans Pie&Mash shop in the Barking Road. Of course this is an institution for many West Ham fans and since I got introduced to my first pie and mash just two years ago (although one might think, gazing at my girth, that I must have had my first pie and mash as a toddler without ever looking back since) I needed to check out this place.

My verdict: Lovely people. Atmospheric decor with loads of references to West Ham. Decent pie, bland mash. But food wise no comparison to BSB’s place in Dagenham where the taste, portions and value for money are all better.

But I suppose with Nathans it was very much a traditional thing, you went to the game with your father or later your own kids and had pie and mash there before a game, as part of the ritual. I doubt too many people ever had a pie and mash there on non matchdays.

My visit to Newham Bookshop has now also become a personal ritual for every trip and once again the brilliant Vivian Archer and John Newman provided tea, book recommendations and lovely banter.

They also recommended a German themed pub on the other side of the river, but more of that later.

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While still in Newham Bookshop I got a text message from Iron Liddy, leading to another chapter of what has become another much cherished ritual for me, having pizza with Liddy and Mr.Lids in their local branch of Pizza Express, so it was the District Line Eastbound for me later that evening.

As usual it was a fantastic evening, having our li’lle jokes (that’s little in received pronunciation folks!), chewing the fat about West Ham, life in general and also personal stuff, but time flew by (as it tends to do when you’re enjoying yourself) and we parted ways to meet again on matchday.

I can only thank Liddy and Mr.Lids again for their kind and over the top hospitality and try offering to repay them their courtesy once they finally find their way to my town – they will get the right royal red carpet treatment from me, you can be sure of that…

Saturday, May 12th

Our blog’s own Corkiron had recommended a breakfast cafe in Bethnal Green where I could tick my box of having at least one Full English – and so to Bethnal Green I went.

Of course I had heard all the stories about the Kray Twins growing up in the area and similar to Upton I found it a vibrant and diverse neighbourhood full of life, shops and market stalls, with surprisingly loads of pubs lining the Bethnal Green Road on both sides.

When I arrived at E Pellicci there was a queue outside and there still was one when I had finished my breakfast, always a good sign if people are willing to wait to get in.
I love family establishments like this and as I learned this place has been around since 1900, serving food and a heartfelt welcome to their customers, a tradition being passed on through the generations the latest of which was represented by a bubbly fellow called Nevio Jr.

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Now this guy was not just a waiter, he was basically entertaining and conducting the whole neighbourhood audience with gestures and gazes that would have made Di Canio proud in his West Ham heyday, sharing little jokes and banter not only with the guests but also employees from nearby shops and stalls, or customers picking up takeaway orders. Coupled with some rare sunshine it made for what was almost a carnival atmosphere.

It was like a scene from the Notting Hill flick, I almost expected Hugh Grant to sit down at the adjoining table next, asking me to chuck him over the bottle of brown sauce.

Only when paying for my breakfast did both Nevio and I find out that this business transaction might never have happened under normal circumstances as he had strong Tottenham leanings with my being a Hammer obviously creating a certain tension in the air.

His professionalism won over though, so having cottoned on to the fact I was German he was cramming around in his brain for the only German phrase he knew and being of Italian heritage it wasn’t surprising to hear that this phrase was “Ich liebe Dich!” (I love you!). I shouted back “I wouldn’t go that far mate!” across the pavement before making my way back to the tube station.

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Getting off at Vauxhall station, strolling alongside the Albert Embankment with views of Tate Britain and the Houses of Parliament, past a new development of luxury riverview flats called The Dumont (with sale prices for each unit probably approaching half the GNP of most African countries) I went to the pub that had been recommended to me in Newham Bookshop the day before.

“Zeitgeist” is located in a pub in Black Prince Road which used to be the Jolly Gardeners pub for 120 years.
Apparently Charlie Chaplin was one of the famous locals there; it is said his father was playing frequently on the house’s piano to entertain the local community.

Today the entertainment comes mainly in the form of Bundesliga football being shown on a big screen, German food staples like Schnitzels, Sausages and Flammkuchen (thin dough bread pizzas served with various toppings) and 16 (!!!) different German beers on draught.

I was scouting the premises for suitability for a special purpose.
Maybe this could be a lovely venue for a future informal meetup of WHTIDers, if some of you should be interested going there when I’m over next, at the very least it’s a bit different than other pubs and a jolly good laugh for sure.

Yes, it’s on the wrong side of the river, it’s full of Germans and you won’t get pints of Carling, Boddingtons Bitter, Spitfire Ale or Old Speckled Hen there.

But don’t be afraid, you won’t be surrounded by Krauts only, with no English being spoken at all, there are Brits drinking at that place as well and all the staff are British too, as far as I could tell…with the odd Aussie thrown in for good measure.

I watched (and suffered) the relegation of Hamburg SV on the big screen, sharing a table with a fellow Hamburger, a Moenchengladbach supporter and two Dortmund fans. The pub was packed solid when the games kicked off and they were showing the Bundesliga conference which is like Soccer Saturday but with live pictures, so they switch from one stadium to another whenever goals are scored or penalty shots have been awarded.

The reactions from the crowd were interesting. In most cases it was obvious which club they supported as different corners of the pub went berserk when certain teams scored. But the loudest cheers, unfortunately, came whenever goals were scored against Hamburg (or for relegation rival Wolfsburg) and also once the relegation was finally confirmed.

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It didn’t come unexpected, but it hurt this proud Hamburg boy more than I had anticipated (and I don’t even support them), especially with those other fans in the pub rubbing it in with glee and mocking chants of “Cheerio!”.

I hope they will get treated with a bit more respect from rival fans should their own team ever find themselves in the unfortunate position of getting relegated.
I went back to Stratford, watched some of the Boro-Villa game to take my mind off relegation and turned in early as a busy matchday lay ahead…

Sunday, May 13th

MATCHDAY! Our own Russ phoned me up late morning about meeting up at Westfield which we did and I was relieved because he obviously knew the shortest way to the Supporters Club at Stour Space where we got ourselves match ready with a burger, chips and a cold hop-themed bevvy. We were then joined in quick succession by Hammers West (who had come all the way from California), Voice of Reason, Heedsy, Nigel Kahn and Sean Whetstone.

Plus the most popular German Hammer on WHTID these days, Ebi from near Cologne who now also qualifies as the more passionate German Hammer compared to me as he apparently saw 12 games in person this season, myself only clocking in with a measly four in total which makes me a glory hunter, armchair supporter, malcontent and keyboard warrior all rolled into one I suppose…;-))

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Once arrived at the 238 steps on the concourse there was more banter before and after the game with Gramsci, AndyHammer, Dan and John Coker, Irons1959, Toronto Hammer and Dorset Lurker. I’m sure I have forgotten one or two, but as always it was great company and the perfect build-up towards kickoff (or setup for the post-match drinks).

No Hugill! Not even on the bench. Not only did that kill my predictor (at least I got the final score right), I was also genuinely hoping this guy would get a few minutes in this game. Still, it was obviously one of our better games, with some lovely free flowing football and three absolute peaches of a goal – all in one game.
This also helped to lift the general matchday atmosphere at the stadium and in my book it is the only way this stadium will ever develop into a decent home ground for us.

We need a team with quality players, performing in a way that gets the crowd going and off their seats time and time again. One thing that made me smile was the kids who were sitting around us, shouting all the way down over the gaps and the lower tier towards the pitch, they are like li’lle, sorry, little adults, aren’t they ?
Shouting “Book him ref!” or " Shoot the ball Mark Noble" with their high-pitched young voices. Brilliant!

A bittersweet moment was the (final?) appearance of the Ginger Pele, playing out the final few minutes of our season wearing the captain’s armband.
What a loyal and true servant to the club he’s been. Hopefully we will see him for at least one more season.

After the game, a group of us, including Mr.Lids who was looking as happy as a cat sunbathing on a milk float, congregated at the Heineken Bar for some end of season review banter. Personally, I had the pleasure of prolonging said banter in the company of Hammers West, Voice of Reason and Heedsy in The Crate (where I had to remove all my West Ham gear before being allowed in). Still, fantastic company, decent beer, great pizza with cheese and courgettes (another word I had to learn, in Germany we know them as Zucchini).
Brilliant matchday.

Monday, May 14th

Days of departure are always a bit crap. You usually spend too many hours twiddling your thumbs at the airport as you are too scared to do proper things in London for fear of missing your flight as a result of milling around in a museum, gallery or park, forgetting all about the time. Still, I went back to the Olympic Stadium once again, walking through the ever rising and already towering skyline of Gotham City, pardon me, I mean Stratford of course, sitting down on a bench in the Olympic Park, reminiscing about the Everton game, my season ticket renewal, my dear friends in England and our beloved club.

I got to think that while I will always struggle with the shape of the stadium and the distance between the fans and the pitch it’ll still be alright providing a matchday experience as long as our team play some nice passing and attacking football, scoring a few goals in the process. As it is, some people will never love or even like the stadium, others already are getting used to it, because, frankly, what’s the alternative here ? We already have kids in the stadium now who have never seen a game at the Boleyn Ground.

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For them the London Stadium is the only West Ham ground they have ever known. It’s easier for them as you cannot miss what you never had in the first place.
Yes, I like clean toilets, a variety of food stalls and seats with plenty of legroom all of which a modern stadium brings.
But as a football fan I also like football stadiums which afford the opportunity to be close to the pitch and feel connected to the game and the players.

Many of you will have passed the advertising hoarding as you enter the Olympic Park via Westfield. It showcases the various events at the London Stadium which are supposed to draw the punters in. I was intrigued by the West Ham section, with a picture of Antonio and Sam Byram locked in a goal celebration (joined by Edimilson Fernandes I believe).

I wrote it down in full, so I could quote it to you word by word, let’s see what you think:

WEST HAM UNITED F.C. – West Ham take on a host of Premier League rivals at the London Stadium as they attempt to climb the table. See the stars of the Premier League battle it out on the pitch with both teams going for the win in these top-notch clashes.”

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Interesting to note the advert says West Ham United FC, not West Ham London. Also the statement seems to veer from the realistic, to the optimistic towards the downright bizarre (as marketing or PR campaigns have a tendency to do). For sure West Ham have much better hope of climbing the table than actually challenging for trophies.
Both teams going for the win ? A nice thought, but how realistic is that when you watch Premier League games in general ?
Top-notch clashes ? Again: It may be the Premier League but I have seen plenty of games already at the LS that were anything but top notch, like boring as hell 1:0 wins against Burnley or Hull.

Still, as one season goes into the archives with another one looming large, with a transfer window and the World Cup to entertain us all in between, I am sure it will be yet another rollercoaster of emotions at this basket case of a club we all love so dearly. I’m already looking forward to whatever games I shall be able to make next season.
Thanks again to all of you for putting up with my ramblings and special kudos to those of you looking after me again in such a lovely and kind fashion!
(You know who you are!)

As a consequence I don’t even mind getting taken the mickey out of time and time again – I wouldn’t have it any other way! Onwards and upwards! COYI!!!

PS: Hamburg football update:
So you already know that HSV got relegated and you probably also know St.Pauli have escaped relegation which means both will meet in the famous and feisty Hamburg derby twice next season in Bundesliga 2. The local fuzz are already busy cursing their luck!
Concordia have failed to win promotion and will finish the season in midtable (7th or 8th).
Cordi’s U23s have been promoted as Champions, same as the Concordia Ladies team.
Another local club I sometimes watch because their ground is in walking distance to my flat, TSV Wandsetal, have also been promoted as Champions.


The HamburgHammer Column

The Noble escape - relief beats frustration

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Never in doubt! I speak in jest! I suppose most Hammers fans were a bundle of nerves on Saturday, with bums making a noise resembling more than moderate squeaking.

Personally I was confident as Leicester had been in self-destruct mode in the past few weeks. But when it comes to West Ham things of course are never that easy.
We have a tendency to give teams momentum who haven’t won in ten games. Goalscorers with a bit of a barren spell cherish playing us while defenders far too often this season got an easy ride from us.

Saying all that I was mightily relieved to find Leicester still in “kicking a ball casually about on a beach” mood. By now most of you will know about my West Ham watching routine when I follow our games from the comfort of my living room: Screwdriver at the ready to give the nervously wrangling fingers something to hold onto.
“London Calling” blasting from my stereo a few minutes from kickoff (only for home games though).
And a strict rule to enjoy a cold beer (or two) after the game, but only if West Ham have won.
Looking at our stats this season you can see I’ve virtually lived the life of a teetotaller in the last 10 months for that reason. But not on Saturday!

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It was a decent away performance from the lads, minus some shocking individual errors, Cresswell’s moment of handling stupidity the most glaring one. Other than that all players put in shift in, Adrian chipped in with some confident takes and solid saves and overall we did enough to deserve the three points on the day. And how vital those three points were! And wasn’t it just poetic justice that Canning Town’s best footballer ever scored that crucial second goal ?

And no, it wasn’t your regular Noble penalty kick or a ball deflecting in over the line via Captain Fantastic’s magic shin, it was a belter of a volley, textbook technique, with the ball flying off his foot like a homerun off the sweetspot of a baseball bat. Struck with power and precision. I suppose only Noble himself was more surprised than his teammates and the fans it went in like that. Sure, guys like Messi, De Bruyne or Salah probably score these five times in every training session and several times a season in competitive games, but Mark Noble ?

Yes, people keep telling me his legs are gone and he passes only sideways. But if he was to pass more balls into the far corner of the net like this next season, I won’t be complaining too much!

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My first thought when waking up on Sunday morning ? No, not “I need to go to the Khazi” or “I smell bacon from the neighbour’s flat, it must be Sunday!”.
It actually was “West Ham are staying up! Another season of Premier League football!”

Which of course means our club hierarchy now can and HAS TO begin making plans for next season, transfers in, transfers out, Moyes to stay or new guy to come in.
A brutally honest analysis of what went wrong this season, a straight up assessment of who messed up and what can be done so it doesn’t happen again.
Make no mistake: We have been incredibly lucky with staying up this season. We simply cannot rely anymore on three other teams being worse than us.

We’ve been over this numerous times. But our club needs to be run more professionally on and off the pitch. Spending a bit of money is one part of the solution.
But other clubs who have only spent moderately still have been far more successfull on the pitch than us this season, sides like Burnley or Newcastle.
So they must be doing something right. Or at least better than we seem to do.

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The next few weeks surely will be highly interesting for all of us and it should give us a bit of an indication if next season will be more of the same or if finally some changes may be afoot. As fans I feel we do deserve a bit of good fortune after one shambles of a season. The fans who have been supporting us for more than ten years know we have no sense of entitlement at West Ham, not in terms of trophies or top positions in the table anyway.

Basically we want to see a team of players in claret and blue, busting a gut in games against superior opposition, leaving blood, sweat (and sometimes tears) on the pitch.
Most of us are happy with us giving it a go, especially in the cups, but also watching characters like Arnautovic, hard grafters like the Ginger Pele or Noble, young Hammers like Rice and Cullen.

And I’m sure as fans most of us would like to see some better treatment from our board overall, some signs of goodwill, of a genuine desire and effort to improve us as a club and a team. If we are customers now, surely customers deserve better service, care and communication. But again, this has been debated on here already over and over again.

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As you will know by now I will be coming over next weekend for the Everton game, a fixture which now no longer holds significance apart from playing for pride and getting one over our former managerial mastermind. I am still in a bit of a pickle though, I know my way will lead me to the ticket office eventually and I will have to make a decision there and then, maybe a rather spontaneous one too:
Will I renew my season ticket or downgrade to a mere club membership ?

There are two trains of thought here. On the one hand I would like to put my e-cash (club cash) to good use as I am aware it will be lost if I do nothing (I have nearly 100 quid). It pains me to give more money to our owners than necessary, so a club membership would still give me a shot at watching selected games next season.
On the other hand I feel that as fans we have been there before and we will still be there (at least most of us) once GSB are long gone and merely a rather frustrating chapter in our club’s history.

If I give up my season ticket now, God knows how many years it’ll be before I could get another one. And my trips to London, meeting up regularly with some of you good people, still are dear to me and the football on offer doesn’t really change my general happiness when meeting up with fellow fans on matchdays or on a day before or after a matchday too.

So, who knows what’ll happen in the next few days until that moment I will finally face the West Ham ticket office staff in Stratford.

It is “West Ham Till I Die“ after all. As our own Longtime Lurker so eloquently put it, there are no conditions attached to that phrase regarding ownership, manager or transfer budget. So I have an inkling what could happen down that ticket office…

I hope to see out the season in style by sharing a beverage or two with some of you guys on Everton matchday, hopefully basking in some glorious London sunshine while cupping our collective ears to the Dudley dinosaur.

COYI!!!

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Finally, for those of you interested, a quick update on the footballing situation in my hometown:

Hamburg SV have a very small chance of staying up on the last day of the season next weekend. All they have to do is beat Moenchengladbach at home while having to pray that already relegated FC Cologne can nick an unlikely win at fellow strugglers Wolfsburg. Not impossible of course, but very unlikely though.

FC St.Pauli have won their home tie against Bielefeld, guaranteeing them another stretch in Bundesliga 2 (where they are likely to meet their hated crosstown rivals Hamburg SV next season). Concordia’s first team lost away to Niendorf 0:3 in a meaningless game, I didn’t attend as half the team are leaving in the summer and it shows in their recent performances. A season to forget as Concordia were expecting to challenge at the top, now they will be lucky to finish in 7th place.

Instead I once again attended the Cordi U23’s game, away to Guelzow, out in the countryside (not far from that zoo I mentioned in my column last week actually).
A 60 mile roundtrip, but lovely sunshine all around and a 3:1 win made the trek worthwhile. Cordi’s U23’s promotion was of course already confirmed the previous Sunday, the only question now left is if the lads will be promoted as Champions (likely) or runners-up.


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