Talking Point

Overruled! - It is time for video refs

If this sounds familiar to you it is because we’ve been discussing this last year already. Yet again – and very early in the season too – West Ham have suffered from a shocking refereeing display and I am not even talking about the inept efforts at the Europa League qualifying stage.
Anthony Taylor for sure was not in the mood to give anything for the home team on Saturday, his decision near the end of the first half NOT to award a penalty to West Ham and send Leicester’s goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel off for holding out his arm in the box to clearly stop Sakho from following up the ball massively changed the odds for West Ham to turn the first half deficit into a draw or even a home win in the second half.
I hate to blame referees for all and sundry as obviously West Ham didn’t play well in the first half and maybe overall deserved to lose the game.

But it’s become a quite regular occurrance that refs (at least in the Premier League) get one or two big decisions wrong every weekend. I am talking about big decisions here: penalty or no penalty, sending off or just a yellow card, goal scored from an offside position, stuff like that which can really affect final scorelines.
And it’s not German pedantry or nitpicking on my part either. Those big decision can lose a team vital points that ultimately have a much bigger impact: League position, progressing in a cup competition, relegation, qualifying for the Europa or Champions League. Jobs are on the line here and I’m not just talking about the players or managers, it can and does affect clubs in a big way.

The answer is very simple in my view – take a book out of how they deal with these things in US sports for instance. I do follow all American sports with interest, baseball, American Football, Ice Hockey. They all have ways and means to overrule a controversial decision on the pitch. You might say that those sports are very stop start anyway, so a further delay doesn’t really matter so much as it would in football. And I know that football as the globally most loved sport tends to hang on to its rules and traditions a bit longer than might be healthy in some cases. But remember: Rome wasn’t built in a day. It wasn’t too long ago that no substitute players were allowed in football.
There was a time when there were no players’ names on the back of the shirt. Back in the day the goalkeeper could still pick up every backpass without being penalised. There’s goalline technology now and referees are armed with vanishing spray to mark the position of the wall for a freekick.

In all of these cases there were frowns and doubts from diehard oldschool fans initially, but I reckon most football fans are glad that now those changes have been made.
In terms of the substitutes on the bench it is a necessity of course, in my view it’s the same with handing over certain decisions to a video referee.
In baseball and football these are initiated by a manager’s or coaches challenge, in the dugout they have their own TV people who within seconds indicate to the manager if the incident is worth challenging. There’s then two ways of going about this: In American Football the umpire crew on the field checks out the replays on the sidelines, looking at as many replays as they need (but usually this is done within 60 seconds), they can then uphold or overrule their initial call on the field.

In baseball this decision is being handled by an operations center in Manhattan where every single game is being monitored on several screens and from several angles.
It is them who view the replays and then relay their decision back to the umpire crew in the respective ballpark. In this case the video referee does have the final decision.
Again those instant replay decisions usually don’t last longer than 60 seconds.
In Ice Hockey the referees themselves decide to ask for clarification from the instant replay headquarters in Toronto if they are unsure if a goal should stand or not.

I feel it is time to introduce similare measures in football (at least at the Premier League level). As a fan you want the referee to get the big decisions right and with the speed of the game these days and so much hinging on the referee’s whistle it is natural for referees to be a bit overchallenged at times (pun fully intended). It is not about mocking referees in general or questioning their efforts.
It is about giving them some much needed assistance in order for them to get the big decisions right and maybe even gain more respect from the fans in the process.
Give each manager one challenge per half. if it is just one this makes sure that the managers use it when it’s needed for a big call rather than use it in a sinister way to halt the flow of the game or stop the opposition’s momentum.

The time it usually takes for the players to moan and argue with the referee (and for the TV station to show replays of the incident from three different angles) can be used in a much better way for a video referee to have a look and then give his decision on the big screen (like in rugby league). Rather than just delaying proceedings on the pitch I feel this would even add to the suspense and drama of it all. Plus you get more decisions right obviously. Which to me is the main point.
Do manager’s cahllenges and the introduction of video referees in football remove controversy and heated discussions in the pubs afterwards from the equation ?

Of course not. There will still be plenty of incidents to talk about. But you won’t have to talk about referees getting it so wrong in such a shocking way quite so often anymore. Which can only be a good thing.


Talking Point

West Ham Episode CXX - The Bilic Menace

It’s a period of transition for West Ham and their new manager Slaven Bilic. Still trying to cope with the aftermath of their premature exit from the Europa League competition in Romania the Hammers couldn’t have faced a more difficult task for their first game of the season, away to the mighty Arsenal.

Having sacrificed their best players midweek so they could be available for the game at the Emirates the pressure was on for Bilic’s men as an Europa League exit plus defeat in the first league game wouldn’t have gone down well with the Boleyn Alliance members.

Faced with Arsenal’s sinister, pacy and skillful army of players, Bilic had to dig deep to get anything from the game in order to give new hope and joy to his claret and blue legion of followers and set the Hammers on their way for the final year at their beloved home at the Boleyn.

Well, I had meant to write about something completely different in the first post of my column, but Bilic and our team had something different in mind. How can one not be absolutely delighted with what we’ve seen yesterday ? Where to start ? Fantastic energy levels throughout the team, good chasing, keeping possession of the ball reasonably well, frustrating Arsenal all day long on their own patch – and Arsenal are always difficult to play, even when they have a bad day.

Our goals were clinical and coldly converted as a healthy dog’s nose should be, mercilessly taking advantage of Arsenal weaknesses/blunders. Our defence stood well, we had some good ideas in midfield and even without scoring Sakho again was a livewire. Even Nolan and Maiga looked fresh and willing when they came on.

It was a fantastic team performance and very hard to single out a man of the match. Adrian kept the game level numerous times and more than deserved his clean sheet, Reid was a rock marshalling the defense, Payet will be the heartbeat of our team (hopefully for years to come) and would anyone have guessed that Reece Oxford is 16 years old ? He played as if it was his tenth season at this level already.

Zarate took his chance on the pitch well, he tends to keep the ball for too long, losing it in the process, but his goal took Cech by surprise and pretty much set us up for the win. Zarate will be a useful player for us this season.

We will also have Valencia and Carroll back eventually, Song is likely to come in too plus maybe one or two more players. Once they will find some chemistry I’d expect this lot to be both entertaining to watch and successful in terms of winning games and points.

I just hope that despite the injury to Valencia this will not result in Carroll being rushed back three or four weeks early (again).

Make no mistake: West Ham will lose games under Bilic, also against so-called lesser opposition, he will need some time to get his ideas across to the team, a process that will take some time. But the early signs are promising. I suppose we can put to bed the idea here (without tempting fate) that this West Ham team will have anything to do with relegation at the end of the season. I hope this to be the beginning of a wonderful and exciting journey at the end of which we will move. Which I have done already, moving back into my old flat in Hamburg’s East End with my deceased mom’s house finally being on the market.

So it’s a time for transition and change, both for my club and myself in many different ways. The most important thing I take from our win at Arsenal is a strong belief that Bilic is very capable and a good fit for our club. Given time he could build a proper legacy at West Ham and bring genuine pride back to the East End. Combined with proper unity and passion among our fanbase. It was about time…


Talking Point

The Geordie patient - just bad luck or bad bones ?

Some of you may remember an article I wrote around the beginning of the previous season with the headline “Andy Carroll – we want you to play”. Another year on and that desire hasn’t really changed for me. But just like last season things aren’t quite as simple as that (when have things ever been straightforward at our club ?).

Recent news from the usually trustworthy Guardian claim that Carroll could actually be out till mid-October after injuring a medial ligament in one knee during the Southampton game, not being able to come off because all substitutions had been made at that point.

That all happened quite a long time ago, February to be precise. I remember this game so vividly as it was the last game I followed on an internet stream, albeit with a rather absent mind, sitting literally three metres away from my sick mom’s bed, with her still being alive at that point only to die just two days later on Friday the 13th.

While it obviously isn’t a question for me personally what was the greater tragedy of the two, of course for West Ham the latest in a long line of Carroll injuries and niggles was a nightmare of epic proportions, especially considering how much money has been spent on our top earner Carroll in terms of transfer fee and wages and how little the club has received back in the shape of minutes on the pitch and goals in the net.

Since he arrived on a permanent deal at West Ham he has appeared 27 times for us, scoring seven goals. Needless to say that the ratio between outlay from the club and output from Carroll has been quite atrocious. With Carroll as a devoted fan at least you gain some insider knowledge in the field of health and medicine.

Most of us didn’t know before if plantar fasciitis was something to eat, a rare kind of orchid or indeed a very nasty injury causing pain and inflammation of a thick band of tissue located in the heel of your foot. At the end of the day it doesn’t really matter if it is heel, ankle, knee, shoulder, hamstring or the groin.

What is important is that Carroll seems to be injury prone, not helped by the way he tends to go into challenges at full pelt, no matter where on the pitch or what phase of the game. If Carroll cannot change this approach, the next injury is just lurking on the next corner.

Checking out injury data on Carroll on transfermarkt in his time at West Ham alone the Geordie striker was out through injury for a total of 565 days (loan period included), missing a total of 66 games. Talking of positive things, I love Carroll when he actually plays, on his day the man is unplayable and he has a lot more to his bow than just being a battering ram useful for knocking down balls to teammates. Yes, he can do that, but he has already scored some lovely goals with his feet, showing great skill and technique.
The prospect of him striking up a partnership with Sakho, Zarate or a new striker yet to be signed, the vision of him running onto throughballs or converting crosses from Payet or Kouyate is mouthwatering.

All of which obviously will ony come to fruition if Carroll both gets healthy and stays healthy for the majority of the season. The aforementioned Guardian artcile mentioned that West Ham were taking a very cautious approach with Carroll this time, giving him all the time to heal properly, get in shape and match fit in his own time without rushing him back too early or putting too much of a goalscoring burden on him too soon.

I am very hapy with that approach, no matter how frustrating it is to again having to play the waiting game. This is not just about being a slow or fast healer though.
West Ham and Carroll himself need to find a way to somewhat tame his bullish effort and aggression on the pitch.

It goes without saying we want the new Carroll jogging about the pitch lazily. But if it makes any sense, Carroll needs to be more economical with his determination and effort.
I’m sure not only Bilic, but everybody at West Ham, including most fans, would love to see what a healthy Carroll can do over the course of an entire season or at least six or seven months in a row. I want to give Carroll the benefit of the doubt again. Once again I hope this time the worst is behind him and his next big injury, if any, is years away.
It’s time to finally repay West Ham’s patience with more games, more minutes on the pitch overall, more goals.

West Ham appear to be doing all the right things with Carroll this time to prevent another long-term injury from happening. Will Carroll be able to do the same and do his bit ?


My West Ham Story

The Barking Beefburger back at the Boleyn

“You dirty northern b*******!” The terrace chant from our game against Burnley surely was one of the more unusual lullabies I had to sing to myself on Saturday Night (or Sunday morning, whatever way you wanna look at it) in order to get at least a few hours of sleep after an eventful day. Sleeping in the matchday lounge usually occupied by an electrical company and their prawn-sandwich munching guests was utterly bizarre.

I was keen to take in the mesmerising view around the four stands of the Boleyn dimly lit by some moonshine, so I stepped out on the balcony. Only the next morning I learned that the door actually was supposed to be locked as the other sleepover guests apparently couldn’t open their doors.

The West Ham hotel staff might want to check out the balcony doors in room 309. :-)

As my head was hitting the pillow in full glorious view of the Bobby Moore Stand I could try to recollect some of the many things I had experienced on matchday and the Friday before.

The Friday was mainly filled with having a stroll around my former place of work and residence. I couldn’t believe how much Barking had changed – and not necessarily for the better. Numerous pubs were boarded up, some apparently for several years already. The eyesore called Lonton estate had been torn down and not only did Barking now feature a brandnew library with highspeed Internet connection but also, wait for it, some highrise buildings had been erected to offer luxury flats to the rich and famous elite roaming the streets of Barking. Luxury flats in Barking, if ever there was a bigger contradiction in the space of four words I have yet to hear it.

I had also paid a visit to some of my former colleagues at Hapag. How surprised I was when I learned from my former boss that I would be meeting the lovely trainee sitting just two metres away from us again the very next day as she was working as a West Ham matchday receptionist, a fact that should become vital the following day.

Then it was all about getting my ticket sorted out, our most favourite cabbie BSB told me on the phone he’d stop by in his cab, I was supposed to get in, we would drive for a bit and then we would sort out the exchange of ticket and cash. I was skeptical when I heard the idea, but as most of you will know BSB is good as gold and he was the first of the WHTID regulars I met and like the others about to follow each and everyone was fantastic company, witty, kind, welcoming, entertaining.

Next day started out noonish at the first watering hole, the Barking Dog. What used to be a depressing craphole in my memory had turned out to be a very decent pub with good service and a great choice of beer. And yet another smashing fellow in Barney Magrew. We had met only 60 seconds ago and yet we were already discussing various West Ham related issues. Which continued when Iron Liddy appeared. To be followed by Longtime Lurker and his son.

Suddenly we got bad news: Apparently West Ham were making trouble with regard to accepting our suitcases as check in for the sleepover was scheduled to take place no earlier than 8pm. I wasn’t looking forward to carrying my suitcase around all day, so I told Liddy we should make a little detour to the West Ham main reception area.
I was ready to throw a hissy fit, play the irate German who is throwing his toys out of the pram. All as a means to an aim.

What happened then can only be described as piece of p***. As who should we bump into there ? Sophie, the lovely Hapag trainee working her West Ham matchday shift.

It took us about 30 seconds to leave our stuff, give our thanks to Sophie and head on to pre-match pints in the Central where we met up with more WHTID regulars like russ, Heedsy, Toddyhammer. Again at the hazard of boring you to death I have to repeat the fact that every fan I met was a character, genuinely nice, funny and yes, even charming.

On to the game which has been discussed on here at length. It was my first time in the Chicken Run and I was impressed by the level of support there. The chanting never stopped. Nobody sat down there during the game, not for a minute. There were some decent verbal exchanges with the Burnley fans. And constant singing, including all the classics and yes, also the Miklosko song. Straight after the final whistle I made my way towards the Miller’s Well, the catchphrase of the day being “What happens in the Miller’s stays in the Millers!”. Not only did I meet a former mate there, to whose first wedding I had been invited 15 years ago, I saw even more illustrious WHTID guest: Safehands as official instigator of the sleepover, Billy, The Voice of Reason, Toddyhammer, Mr.Lids, Sean Whetstone, Nigel Kahn, Brian Williams plus wife, BSB plus wife and as special guest of honour Tony Hanna plus wife, coming all the way to Newham from Down Under.

What a treat! We drank, we chatted about the game, West Ham, life and death, football in England and football in Germany until it was time to head for the sleepover.

There was a nice evening dinner, more drinks and chat of course and MOTD. One has to say though that for a Premier League club there was precious little going in that West Ham bar that evening. One might even say it was a little bit dead in there.

Which brings me to the final thought about our stadium move.

Previously I had staunchly been pro move. Taking in the atmosphere now on matchday in the Boleyn, in Green Street and the pubs around the Barking Road, seeing and hearing our fans, smelling the stadium food and seeing the fanzine sellers and merchandising stalls, I got goosebumps. After all these years I had been away I had conveniently forgotten how much the Boleyn belongs to the East End. How important the matchday routines are for each and every individual fan.

How Upton Park is going to change once West Ham have moved away. As I was standing barefeet on the balcony of my West Ham hotel room at 2.48 at night I felt my eyes welling up. And I swore to myself to do two things. One: Come again in our final season for a proper farewell to this utterly beautiful and atmospheric football stadium.

And to check out the OS which I did the following Sunday. I paid a visit to the reservation centre. They obviously didn’t show me the virtual views from the seats as I was only a cheeky German tourist and not a bondholder. But of course they gave me all the marketing lingo about how fantastic everything ould turn out for the fans and West Ham.
Yeah, right! I still think overall the OS on our doorstep was too good an opportunity to turn down. The move makes sense from a financial standpoint.

And of course us fans will gradually forge new matchday routines. But the cold, sterile atmosphere from the Westfield shopping complex didn’t fill me with confidence.
I’m sure the OS will be a great place where we can play our games and more fans can get tickets. But will it ever be a home like the Boleyn is ?

Thanks again for making this a weekend to remember for a long time. West Ham fans are special. Especially those who post on here regularly. I am proud to have a second family in East London. And I cannot wait to be back. One final time. In the Boleyn. Next season. COYI!


Talking Point

What West Ham can learn from Bayern Munich

Let me make one thing very clear right from the start: I hate Bayern Munich and most of their fans with every fibre of my being. I hate their dominance in German football and the way they are signing key players from most other clubs in Germany, not necessarily to improve their own team (as usually they end up warming a place on the Bayern bench occupied by other superstars already) but rather to weaken those teams that could seriously start challenging Bayern for domestic titles.
I hate the way they attract plastic fans a la Chelsea, people who claim to be fans, but have never seen Bayern Munich play at home or have any kind of attachment to Bavaria or Munich for that matter.

But there is one thing I seriously admire them for: And that is the way they are catering for their most loyal fans and their families by making sure there are affordable tickets on offer. And when I say affordable I mean extremly cheap, compared to Premier League and especially West Ham ticket prices. The following examples are no typos by the way.
I’ll start with the most expensive season tickets for us normal folk for the current season (no corporate boxes including free food, drink and halftime entertainment).
It’s 580 pounds for an adult and 290 pounds for children up to and including the age of 13. Again, that’s the most expensive seats.
At the other end of the scale you have the season tickets in the safe standing areas: Tighten your seatbelts! 108 pounds for both adults and children.
That’s the season ticket covering 19 Bundesliga home games. That’s just 5.68 pounds a game! Not quite kids for a quid, but remember, this is for a season ticket, so most people can afford not only to still go and watch the football, they can also afford to take their wife and kids if they are so inclined.
Of course there are medium priced tickets available that give you a better view while still being reasonably cheap.

The thing is: Bayern could charge a lot more for their tickets and the Allianz Arena would still be packed to the rafters. Former Bayern president Uli Hoeness (currently let out of prison on parole after being jailed for tax evasion, he still has to return to prison at night) has a very clear stance on ticket pricing.

Quote: “We could charge more. Let’s say we charged £300 (for the cheapest season ticket). We’d get £2m more in income but what’s £2m to us?
In a transfer discussion you argue about that sum for five minutes. But the difference between £108 and £300 is huge for the fan.
We do not think the fans are like cows, who you milk. Football has got to be for everybody. That’s the biggest difference between us and England.”

I know that Bayern’s finances are far removed from our current position whatwith the debt and Bayern having played in the Champions League for dozens of seasons.
But I think the principal approach alluded to in the above quote also applies to a certain degree to English clubs, West Ham included.
The big money in football is no longer made from the ticket sales. It’s mainly coming from massive TV deals, from sponsorship, merchandise sales and catering.
The counter argument seems to be that our club could be losing out on transfer targets if we charge significantly less for tickets than other clubs. Which doesn’t really explain why West Ham tickets at this point in time are among the most expensive in Britain.

I still think it is overall a good concept and could eventually even improve West Ham’s financial status. First of all affordable tickets would allow more of the normal football fans back into the stadium, them and their kids (it’s always good to get ’em hooked early). At that point the club loses a bit of money due to the cheaper tickets.
But the money making machinery starts once those fans (including kids) are through the turnstiles, food, drinks, a programme, a Sakho shirt for the dad, a scarf for the wife, Adrian style goalkeeping gloves for the junior and the West Ham till goas ka-ching!
I have no doubt that people spend more money on these things when actually attending games instead of watching the game at home or in a pub.

Filling the ground to the rafters and generating subsequent income from catering and merchandise will become more difficult, yet more important once we are in the OS.
The TV money is likely to become even a bigger part of a club’s income, so West Ham should seriously reconsider their ticket pricing policy.
They don’t necessarily have to do a Bayern there – but it should be possible to make West Ham ticket prices average again compared to other teams in the Premier League.
West Ham tickets among the most expensive in the country ? It doesn’t fit our heritage and needs to change.


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