Talking Point

An Irrational Upsurge of Optimism - is this the real thing ?

There was a time when West Ham fans thought that Iceland was the best country in the world, apart from England of course. West Ham had just been bought by new Icelandic owners, fronted by a guy who looked a bit like the main villain from “The Hills Have Eyes”. With them they brought shedloads of cash and the promise of a new era where West Ham would bring in top players on a regular basis and challenge the big teams in the Premier League. No talk of relegation then, but there was a five year plan that included taking part in Champions League football.
The rest of course is history, players like Ljungberg couldn’t repeat the performances that had made them Premier League stars in West Ham’s colours and few countries suffered more from the Global Financial Crisis and the Credit Crunch like Iceland. Plus our owner back then later was revealed as a fraudster and West Ham didn’t actually end up anywhere near the Champions League places, but on the brink of financial collapse. We had just experienced another false dawn and another case of what might have been.

Now it’s 2014 and I can honestly say that I haven’t felt more optimistic about being a West Ham fan and about our future than right now. We seem to have a perfect storm forming slowly, but steadily. Let’s start with the owners, often criticised by fans, sometimes harshly, they have put the club in a position where the external debt to banks will be gone as soon as we move into the OS in two years time. They may have loaned the money to West Ham, true, but it surely is better to own money to West Ham fans than banks that continue to fight for their own survival and may not be willing to keep their faith in the fortunes of a football team.
They have secured the OS for us and struck what many financial and sports experts call an extremly favourable deal.
We should be in a position to generate decent income regularly and be a player in the transfer market for years to come.

Which brings me to our current team. WHAT A SQUAD! The owners brought in a number of players and all of them have contributed and shown glimpses of what they can do, Sakho of course has been downright sensational so far! A proper striker doing what strikers do, scoring goals for fun. Sakho was totally unknown before the start of the season due to him plying his trade in the French Second Division for FC Metz, but for once we seem to have struck gold here.
I read a comment on a forum recently from a Metz supporter who congratulated us on signing Sakho. He had nothing but praise for the player who was not only very skilled and ambitious, but also very level headed and down to earth. In fact the Metz fan was so grateful that he could only wish him well for continuing with his career at a bigger club. Long may his scoring spree continue for West Ham.

We now have proper competition for places all over the pitch. And praise must go to Sam Allardyce (and most of you know that I am not his biggest fan to say the least) for acknowledging the impact of the new signings and playing them. We no longer play as if Carroll was still on the pitch. We name a team and play to the strengths of these respective players. Downing may have found his perfect position on the pitch in the process. Song adds vision and awareness. Amalfitano looks very useful on the ball, Valencia is a beast who may need some more time to gel with the rest of the team and Sakho I’ve already covered.
Cresswell looks like he has played LB for us for two or three seasons already and Jenkinson has started to make an impression too while young Poyet doesn’t look out of place in this league at all. And surely we haven’t seen the best of Zarate yet. Kouyate already is a West Ham legend in the making.
Team spirit plays a huge part in all of this and a massive kudos here must go to Kevin Nolan. It must be hard for him sitting on the bench, but he made sure that all our new faces have settled in quickly. It takes a brave and good man to help players coming into the team who could very well take his starting place away from him, but Nolan appears to have done just yet – he deserves a lot of credit for that!

What I love the most about this team now is the energy and movement all over the pitch. This team oozes desire. They are constantly in the faces of the opposing players, hunting, chasing, breathing down their necks, trying to win back balls all over the pitch. Valencia and Sakho are a living nightmare already for opposing goalkeepers and defenders and the entire team seems to enjoy our current brand of football as do the fans surely.
Allardyce will always love his clean sheets more than scoring three or four goals, but I get the feeling he’s slowly coming around to enjoying attacking football a bit more.

As a West Ham fan you are always aware that the next train crash could be just around the corner: Our best players and fan favourites leaving at the first opportunity, individual players throwing their toys out of the pram for some obscure reason and disrupting team spirit, some dodgy dealings in our finance department being revealed by the media, the OS being not quite so gobsmacking as the owners would have us believe, West Ham in the past have always found ways to self destruct.
But we wouldn’t be West Ham fans if we didn’t continue to dream of better times and the dawning of a new era.
Rarely has a dawning been brighter than this current one. I may be a fool for thinking that this actually could be the real thing this time.

But it surely is a good thing to see what fans on here (me included) have left moaning about. It’s only little things, a tweak needed here and there, but in general we can be nothing but happy with the general direction the club is taking, on and off the pitch. It’s a great time to be a Happy Hammer!

Talking Point

I'm a referee - get me help out here!

Referee causes controversy (again)

Nolan’s goal against Man U that wasn’t given. A red card against Carlton Cole that had to be rescinded later. Penalties being given with TV replays clearly showing it was a dive that would make Tom Daley envious. Let’s get it out of the way early: Referees don’t have an easy job and it is also an incredibly thankless task. People just expect them to get every decision right. Which simply isn’t possible. With so much going on during games with 22 players on the pitch and the pace of the game it is impossible for the referee to be in a perfect position at all times to judge incidents. Also opposing players, managers and fans will obviously disagree if a certain incident has been dealt with correctly by the referee.

I keep hearing this one argument whenever technical support for referees is being discussed: We apparently need controversial decisions in the game to keep the post match discussions going, in the pub, from the pundits in the TV studios, in newspaper articles and so forth.But then I keep thinking with the money involved in the game these days there is too much at stake to get things wrong from the refereeing side of things. A legitimate penalty not given at a crucial point in the game ? Points lost, manager gone after a bad run of results. A player staying on the pitch despite lashing out at his opponent because referee and linesmen didn’t spot it ? More points lost, crucial points that could ultimately decide about European football or not. Staying in the Premier League or going down.
Managers’ and players’ career on the line, jobs at clubs, ultimately even the very existence of certain clubs.

Referees will never get every single decision right, even with technical suport. It’s called the human factor. Different referees have a different way of running things, some are quick to brandish yellow and red cards, others love to let the game run along without having too many stoppages. But with so much at stake they should get the big decisions right. Penalty decisions, goals flagged off for offside when in fact the attacker was level with the defender, red card incidents. And there is a way to get at least most of the big decisions right: By introducing challenges by the respective managers that trigger the use of instant replays to support the refereeing crew with a decision.
It happens in American Sports like NFL Football, NHL Ice Hockey and since the beginning of this season in MLB Baseball too.
It’s dead easy: The manager throws his flag, the referees come together, the decision is then either being re-evaluated by the referee himself or a panel sitting in New York or Toronto to have a look at the replays of the incident.

In a matter of a minute, sometimes just seconds, the decision arrives: Ruling on the field upheld or changed. One can discuss of course how many challenges might be ideal to eradicate most refereeing mistakes, but at the same time won’t slow down the game too much. The latter usually isn’t a problem as there are delays anyway.
While the players swarm around the referee to present their case the TV company fires away with instant replays showing the incident from three or four different perspectives and at different speeds. During these shenanigans it would be easy for a fourth or fifth official to review the incident in ample time and then either go with the decision on the pitch or overrule it. That doesn’t undermine the authority of the referee, it merely helps him to get crucial decisions right and eventually takes pressure off him.

All too often you hear referees claiming after a game they would have decided differently if they had been in a position to see the instant replay during the game.
So I’d like to see that technical support arriving in football soon. Of course it won’t be an easy ride. Football purists won’t like the change.
It was the same when MLB introduced the challenge procedure this season in Baseball: Commentators were sceptical at first bit after just one season everybody involved in the game is happy: Managers, players, umpires (as they are called in Baseball). It simply takes away the most glaring wrong decisions from the equation.
Games are now rarely lost because of a wrong call by an official – and we all know how a bad refereeing decision can sometimes turn the momentum for a team or even derail an entire season.

One final note to the football purists: Even with one challenge allowed per half for each manager there will still be enough (controversial) things left to discuss after the game. Also football has always evolved with new rules being introduced, making the game better to watch. More substitute players being allowed, changing of the backpass rule, introduction of goalline technology, the notorious vanishing spray. It all takes a bit of getting used to. After a while though we ask ourselves how on earth we actually used to watch football without it for all those years.

After a game I’d rather like to talk about a brilliant goal or piece of skill than the bloody referee cheating us out of the game by not giving one of our goals, sending off one of our players for alleged handball that wasn’t or by gifting a dodgy penalty to the opposition. Let’s get more decisions right on the pitch. Let’s give the referees some much needed technical support and help. Because it’s not an easy job you know…


Breacking Good - My unsung hero Tim Breacker

They are never the top earners at a club. Probably not a single fan has their name and number on the back of his shirt. The Jamie Redknapps and Gary Nevilles of this world will not interview them after a live game on SSN to get their analysis on a match. Yet no team can really do without at least one or two of them in the lineup.

Tim Breacker, right back legend

I’m talking of course about the unsung hero. In my case this was Tim Breacker, to this day my favourite West Ham player, an unlikely choice maybe, but for me it makes total sense. In a recent guest post I told you all about how I became smitten with the Hammers. One reason was this remarkably unremarkable defender from Bicester. All he ever did was bomb up and down the right side of the pitch all game, this guy didn’t appear to have only one Volkswagen engine built in, but two. Very quickly this player represented for me what West Ham was all about:

His overall skills were limited, he wasn’t flash, yet he gave his all in every game, ran and tackled his guts out for the team and didn’t even get or demand much recognition for it.

I was especially impressed since at that time, at least in Germany, it wasn’t a common sight to see defenders cross the midfield line on a regular basis. Breacker was a regular appearance at the opposition’s corner flag putting in one cross after the other only to be back in his own half shortly after to do his main job of defending.

I was gobsmacked and hugely impressed – and delighted to find a Tim Breacker poster in one of the next issues Hammers News Magazine.

Yes, a poster! Of a footballer! I was bloody 24 at the time!

Needless to say I soon went to the cabin on Green Street that constituted the Hammers Shop and got my Breacker shirt:

Me: Hi, I’d like a home shirt please, with Tim Breacker’s name and number on the back please.
Them: Breacker, Breacker, number 2, is he ?
Me: I think so.
Them: Is that Breacker with -ck or -k ?
Me: Not sure. I’ve just come over from Germany. Only been to two games yet. I thought you were the club representative here…
Them: Hang on, I’ll get the squad list…

That is typical of an unsung hero. Sometimes even those working for the club don’t know how the name of an unsung hero is spelled. To this day I wear my number 2 Breacker (with -ck!) shirt with pride, even though not a single soul knows the player here in Germany, but I suppose it wouldn’t get a vastly different reaction in England. Unsung heroes are unsung because they don’t score a lot of goals or assists. Often you only realise how good they were once they have left the club.

They are missing from the headlines and you also won’t catch them in the wrong sections of the newspapers for being on trial for grievous bodily harm or having sex with a prostitute or two. Most of the unsung heroes won’t drive a Jaguar or Ferrari. They just do their job, shower up and go home to do it all again a week later. Most of them probably are quite happy about staying in the background.

Enough of that! Let’s drag ’em out and give them some respect and recognition!

Who was your favourite unsung Hammer hero, today and in the past ?

Breacker for me in the past, Demel today. Over to you!

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