The HamburgHammer Column

West Ham are like Denmark - but not in a good way

When I was a wee boy my family used to spend most of our summers in Denmark. My parents loved it there, it was easy to get to from Hamburg, reasonably priced (important for a young couple) and my folks also fell in love with the people there.

So much so that I ended up with Danish godparents, was given a Danish first name (same as my brother five years earlier) and basically grew up in Denmark. If my parents’ accounts of those days are accurate, my first footprints as a toddler were left on Viking soil.

It’s a beautiful little country, with friendly and laid back people who have a great sense of humour, a lot of warmth and who are also immensely proud of their history and heritage.

West Ham are like Denmark now, unfortunately not in terms of the positive connotations I just mentioned, but solely as in the famous Shakespeare quote from Hamlet:

“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”

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When I came home on Friday evening, ready to watch the game against Brighton, I was in a reasonably good mood as I had just briefly been at the Concordia training ground, meeting our new signing, a young French striker from Lens who does even speak some English and who will hopefully help to turn Concordia’s season around.

So I settled down in my armchair at home in good spirits, screwdriver at the ready, feeling confident that this was it, this would be the game where the team finally found their collective fourth and fifth gear, the lads would play like we all know they can and send Brighton back to the beach with zero points and tail firmly between their legs.
Or should that be wings clipped as they are called The Seagulls after all ?

At the end of the game we found ourselves in that now almost too familiar state of disbelief, shock and utter despair. I know that as a club we have suffered embarrassing defeats galore throughout our history. Painful cup exits against teams we weren’t even sure where exactly in Britain they were from. Thrashings against the big boys. Getting beaten 3:4 by Wimbledon at the Boleyn after racing into a 3:0 lead after 27 minutes. The lot. As fans we’ve always come back for more because it was our club, it was in our blood, in our DNA, instilled into us either by birth or twist of fate, rarely by choice.

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This feels different now somehow. There is so much wrong at the club that it is hard to simply file that under yet another bumpy ride or just another phase. Of course it is a phase insofar as Bilic will be replaced in the very near rather than the distant future. Already we are hearing that Bilic’s job is safe until a replacement has been lined up, with numerous hats thrown into the ring: Pellegrini, Mancini, Wagner, Benitez, Moyes, Dyche, take your pick.

Temporary relief a new gaffer may bring, it may fix some temporary issues with training regimes, application and motivation of the players, organisation at the back, body language, ability and willingness to press the opposition and actually run for the majority of the 90 minutes on the pitch rather than just jogging along or strolling under the Stratford sky.

Granted, more effort and positive attitude from the team is what most fans would be quite happy with and even I agree at this point that Bilic looks completely lost, unable to make the players work and play hard – or even get the basics right.
Whatever Bilic may want from them, he ain’t getting it. So, as much as it pains me to say it because I love Bilic as a human being, in terms of being West Ham’s manager he has run his course now I’m afraid.

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I hate sounding like a broken record, but it begins and ends with the people at the very top, running our club, making the decisions, be that about managers, signing players or stadium related issues. Hang on, when I say “our” club, is that actually true anymore what with us being addressed as mere customers ? In discussions with fellow fans and posters on here I was told a while ago “West Ham basically died when the final whistle sounded in that final Boleyn game against Manchester United”.

I am not entirely sure that statement is true and if it’s really just the stadium although it still seems to be a massive factor. We play in a giant bugger of a bowl, for rent.
We keep being told it’s a world class stadium fit and meant for world class players, preferably those playing in claret and blue. At the moment it’s hard to see any evidence of either. The board have decided to use the club as an investment vehicle, with the stadium move being key to pushing the ultimate club value and price up once they will have decided to sell up eventually. We don’t know when exactly that is going to happen, but happen it will.

You cannot achieve the world class players in a world class stadium scenario if as owners you are merely prepared to spend the bare minimum, hoping against hope you will stay up every time to keep your seat on the Premier League money train. It is a very risky gamble this. It seems to be almost impossible to improve the matchday experience when you are at the mercy of the LLDC agreeing to any changes made to the stadium, even if it is about a seemingly simple matter such as putting a claret surface over the running track, to get a bit of contrast in relation to the green of the pitch.

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Let’s assume we get a new manager. What happens next ? Will the board suddenly start spending a decent amount of money on players ? Will they give the new manager a 40 million signing like Carvalho after denying Bilic that courtesy ? I doubt it will be a miraculous turnaround with a new manager, any new manager. Because the way the board run the club determines to a large degree where the ceiling for our club is. We deserve to be exactly where we are and they all need to shoulder the blame for this, not just Bilic. Also and especially Sullivan, Gold and Brady. They have fallen short, they have promised much and provided little.

Let us now anticipate the moment in time they do sell the club to new owners, be that in two years, five or ten. What will be left of West Ham as a club at that point ? Of the proverbial life and soul of the club ? It’s the universal truth that the fans are the most permanent feature of any football club, they have a bond to their club for life, going through several owners, managers, players, even stadiums in their lifetimes. Change in football is also a permanent feature, but don’t underestimate the undercurrent of heritage and history. You ignore the latter at your own peril.

Once the old guard are gone, will those who happily munch popcorn and take selfies at the London Stadium today still watch West Ham five or ten years from now ?

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It’s natural that some of the old guard were not willing to join the migration when the club were moving to the new stadium. There will be even more people who are going to reevaluate the status of the relationship they have with West Ham. So will I, even though I am not sure at this junction what my decision is going to be. Hiring a new manager will not fix this deeper rooted issue for me. Some of us will try to attend away games only in future. Others will stop going altogether, but may continue to watch on the telly or internet streams. And a small group may even pack it in for good.

I ain’t stopping going just yet – before the Brighton game I actually arranged my next trip and I won’t cancel it just because we lost in embarrassing fashion to Brighton.
I shall be taking in the pre-Christmas derbies against Chelsea and Arsenal in person. I will arrive in London on Friday, December 8th, returning to Hamburg on Thursday, December 14th.

It’s highly likely Bilic will no longer be in charge at that point. But there are still things to look forward to, even when you wouldn’t realistically expect a massive points haul from those two fixtures to be frank. I have joined the West Ham Supporters Club now, so I will be able to try out that new location, Stour Space, near the stadium, for pre- and post-match drinks and festivities (yeah, right!). I also can’t wait to go and watch some football in Dagenham again as the West Ham Under 23s will face their Tottenham counterparts at the Chigwell Construction Stadium on Monday night. From a sporting perspective, as a contest under the lights this may well turn out to be the highlight of my upcoming trip.

I’ll be as happy as a kitten waking up on a fully loaded milk float at the break of dawn when meeting up again with some of my friends from this blog, each and everyone of whom is more West Ham than the entire current board together.

Spurs in the cup next at Wembley. They are likely to play a weakened side. Not sure this gives an advantage to us. But this is West Ham. It wouldn’t surprise me to see us beat them on the night. Saying that, it wouldn’t surprise me to see our first team getting mullered 6:0 by their U18s either at this point. COYI!
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PS: The Concordia update for those interested – a bit of a mixed bag. Cordi 2 won their game comfortably, 9:0 against the Out-of-Towners from Gülzow.
The boys are still very much on track for promotion after that result.
Then the first team earned themselves some much needed respect with a very decent 2:2 draw against one of the top sides in the league, Teutonia.
It was still unlucky as they conceded the equaliser in the shape of a wonder goal into the top corner from 25 yards out with the last kick of the game, after Cordi had played more than half an hour with a man advantage.
It was cold, it was raining stair-rods all game and 110 diehard spectators were braving the elements. The win would have been most welcome.
Cordi remain stuck in second gear and midtable.

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The HamburgHammer Column

Geordie Sore - when a battering ram transforms into a mad bull

Allow me to begin my column in somewhat chronological order for a change, even if it means mentioning Concordia again right away, but the game I watched on Friday evening strangely enough set the tone for the West Ham game one day later. A malicious tone darkened by flaring tempers and hot heads. If you bear with me you will see what I mean.

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So, let me take you to the home “ground” of Bergedorf West, opponent of the Concordia 2 boys for their most recent league encounter. Imagine a worn out old cinder pitch under some dodgy orangey floodlights, surrounded by high-rise flats on three sides, similar to the ones around Priory Road/Upton Park. On the way from my parking spot to the ground, walking along a narrow pathway close to a local schoolyard I was greeted by a local rat having dinner under the cover of descending darkness. That didn’t exactly fill me with pre-match joy – Bergedorf isn’t the nicest borough of Hamburg to begin with, and Bergedorf-West is probably the worst area within the borough borders, so you get the picture.

There were probably 30 spectators in all, including kids and dogs (and the occasional passer-by returning home from the weekend grocery shopping).

The game was won 4:1 by the Cordi boys, with a lovely piledriver into the top corner from 30 yards out and another one coming from a well worked counter passing move. But the real story of this game was the tense atmosphere between the players from the first whistle (and the referee’s inability to deal with it in a consistent manner), Cordi had two players sent off for verbal misconduct, a third player who had been sent off shortly before the final whistle was allowed to come back on after some unexpected intervention from the opposition players who probably felt utterly embarrassed at this point – with the game already lost on the pitch and the ref all over the place. Oh yes, Cordi’s assistant manager was sent to the “stands” too in the process.

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As this is a blog that doesn’t encourage swearing and cursing I cannot tell you the exact words the players used to rile each other up. Some of it was in German, some in other languages (Russian, Turkish), but translated to me afterwards by some of the players. It was basically about being of a certain nationality (with some nasty adjectives added for dramatic effect) and also boasting about having had sexual encounters with the other player’s mother, sister or girlfriend.

Strangely enough the referee was deaf towards any abuse dished out by the home team, focusing on the wrongdoings of Cordi only. I have rarely witnessed such a biased refereeing performance – if I didn’t know for sure that Bergedorf West are skint as a club I would have been convinced that the ref had been bribed for this one. But even with two men down Cordi won comfortably because Bergedorf West simply didn’t play anything resembling football, it was a throwback to the bad old days of kick and rush and half their team looked like they should probably consider playing Rugby Union rather than the beautiful game.

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Which brings me to the West Ham game against Burnley. A contest that was heavily influenced by the referee but also by the inability of our Geordie leaping salmon to switch on his footballing brain just for a few minutes. The only mitigating circumstance I can conjure up for AC is that the way he goes into challenges is just the way he plays and probably also his biggest strength and unique selling point as a footballer. Take those challenges away from the man’s portfolio and you might just as well not bother playing him at all.

The problem with that is that referees no longer allow the kind of physical challenges that were deemed as acceptable or even welcome in football years ago. With his size Carroll will always find himself airborne in a position where his elbows are likely to hit the opposing player in the face, neck, back, whatever – and more often than not it will result in a foul being given against Carroll, with a booking or straight red into the bargain as well. Admittedly his first yellow was both harsh and unfortunate as Carroll had his eyes firmly on the ball and surely didn’t mean to hit or hurt his oppponent.

The second one though, just 90 seconds later, was sheer madness and I haven’t got an inkling what the hell Carroll was thinking at that point. It was the kind of challenge which would have left the average Castleford prop bursting with pride, tackling an opponent like that – but this ain’t rugby after all, so as a football player you simply cannot throw away the game in such fashion this early in the contest.

Players need to think more about what their actions on the pitch mean and represent for their teammates. I have no doubt that we would have beaten Burnley with eleven men. Looks like the Tower of Terror in Disneyland Paris got to Carroll’s head when he went there earlier with his family during the international break.

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It’d be harsh to insinuate that AC did spoil things for his teammates deliberately, but you cannot ignore the disservice he has done to our cause there. A win would have put us in a nice league position for the time being and also boosted our confidence no end. We could really have done with two wins in a row.

And with AC of course there is all that baggage going with him which has been discussed on here at length: Numerous long-term injuries, high wages to go with it, a limited gameplan whenever he is on the pitch, opposing teams wising up in terms of how to deal with AC and minimising (or even nullifying) his threat. And now this stupid and totally unnecessary sending off on top of all the rest.

Similar to Arnautovic after his sending off against Southampton, AC needs to be fined for this. He also needs to be told by Bilic in no uncertain terms that this kind of conduct will not be accepted in future. As for the referee in the Burnley game he surely put his mark onto the contest, being very lenient at the start, but in my view letting some Burnley players off the hook over the 90 minutes as well. In my book he didn’t quite get the balance right with his dishing out of cards, but at the end of the day we have only ourselves to blame for not winning this.

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It’s a shame that the main talk after the Burnley game has been about the sending off and the referee as we should really be taking a lot of positives from the defeat, sorry, draw at Turf Moor.

Burnley are no mugs these days and even with ten men we gave them one hell of a game. We played some beautiful passing football, even while playing with one man down, our defenders (apart from the goal obviously) stood firm and our team looked well up for it. We surely have the players to give us more goals in the upcoming games, more points and better performances.

If you shoot yourself in the foot though with a loaded gun full of stupidity and hot headedness (not for the first time this season either) you shouldn’t complain too much about losing points in the process. Discipline is the key here and if it’s not deeply engrained into the DNA of your team you are going to suffer from it time and time again.

The good thing is that there is no break in league football for quite a while now.
In fact our next fixture is looming large already as we will get the opportunity to put things right later this week on Friday evening against the Seagulls, flying into London Stadium from Brighton.

A highly winnable game. One where Carroll definitely will NOT start. A game where we may and should keep the ball on the floor and move it with pace and some panache. A game I am looking forward to a lot. Let’s have a thoroughly professional performance for once and give the players and the fans a game that’ll really boost our collective confidence.

PS: The less said about yesterday’s league game of my Concordia lads (first team) the better. They lost at the last placed team in the league 3:4. A team that had scored just nine times in the previous 11 games. All four goals Cordi conceded were basically presented to the opposition on a plate or were caused by individual mistakes of the most embarrassing kind.

Cordi are no longer chasing for promotion at this point.
It’s midtable mediocrity instead – not good enough for the ambitions harboured by my local club…

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The HamburgHammer Column

Diafra Sakho - is he worth a contract extension ?

Another international weekend, another unnecessary interruption of the West Ham fixture calendar. I only have some fleeting interest in European qualifiers, there are teams I obviously want to see at the major tournaments, including England, Wales, Iceland and yes, also our fiercest rivals, the Dutch, then there are loads of countries I feel indifferent about and also teams I can happily do without at the World Cup, like Turkey. But in general I only follow the qualifying stage online, reading results and sometimes match reports rather than watching the games.

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Germany in general are renowned for being a tournament team, one that delivers when it counts, not necessarily shining in the qualifying rounds or group stages. This time though you cannot really argue with the current World Champions not losing a single point in any of their qualifying games, scoring 43 goals in ten games, conceding only four in the process, although of course against fairly tame opposition, but you can only beat what’s in front of you, so at least the Germans will be spared the humiliation of not being in a position to even try and defend their title on Russian soil next year. No, I don’t want to hear any unsolicited wartime puns and jibes from anyone here at this point…;-))

Another positive football related news item has reached us from the home of the Norwegian Blue parrot (beautiful plumage!), well, it’s good news from Norway.
In a quite progressive and exemplary gesture the Norwegian FA has decided to pay the female players representing their country the same amount of money as their more prominent (and richer) male counterparts.
Both national sides will earn an annual pay package of just under £575.000 each, to be divided among the individual players.
The men’s team apparently was prepared to sacrifice a portion of their own wedge in order to facilitate the equal pay concept which will kick in at the turn of the year.

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The move has been hailed by the female national side players for obvious reasons, but it’s not just about the money as such, but what it represents in terms of recognition and showing that the development of ladies football is not going unnoticed at least in certain countries with Norway being the first of hopefully a lot more countries that may follow suit.

Norway winger Caroline Graham Jensen posted a message on social media, praising the men’s football team for chipping in financially to make the equal pay scenario a reality. She said “For you to say that equal pay is how it should be, makes me want to cry. It makes me want to hug you all. Thank you for making it a bit easier to chase our dreams.” Good on you Norway, land of fjords, log cabins and exemplary behaviour by the footballing authorities.

Talking West Ham now there hasn’t been an awful lot happening in the world of West Ham. Some players were away on international duty, obviously, and Arnautovic scored, yet failed to qualify. Diafra Sakho scored too and apparently even managed to not get injured again in the process! This is a continuation of a positive streak for Sakho who has now scored for both club and country in recent games.

It confirms what we all have known for a while: A fit and healthy Diafra Sakho, with his head screwed on in the right place, is worth his weight in gold. He’s had his issues in the past and is what I would mildly describe as an interesting character. But as a footballer he is undoubtedly skilled and gifted, he also has quite an engine and presses the opposition defenders no end – I always love to see that.

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Sakho strikes me as an arm around the shoulder type of guy, he seems to be quite sensitive, so in order to get the best out of him you need to talk to him, support him, make him feel wanted, respected and cherished. It begins with the pay, but doesn’t end there. I really feel Sakho still could have a lot to give to West Ham. A happy Sakho is a striker we cannot afford to lose. I don’t think the exact circumstances of the mysterious January transfer attempt to Stade Rennes have never been properly explained.

Of course Sakho would want out if he doesn’t feel he’s got a fair chance of getting any gametime. The time to sell him would be January as you could still get some cash for him at that point as his contract is running out at the end of the season. Problem here is though that every striker we allow to leave will need to be replaced.
That does require in all likelihood the payment of a halfway decent transfer fee (and we all know to what crazy levels the prices have skyrocketed in recent months) and our board are nor exactly renowned for happily spending the cash when it comes to West Ham.

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If we can convince Sakho he can have a good future at West Ham it may be worth offering him a new deal and increase his wages, to reflect his contributions as a goalscorer, to be monitored and evaluated over the next three months. A new deal may come a lot cheaper for the club than trying to find and sign a new striker from elsewhere.
It’s been a tough time for Sakho at West Ham, especially last season, but I cannot help but keep my fingers crossed that things will turn out well for both the player and our club.

If, after all, the player or West Ham should decide though to let Sakho go I really do hope we do our homework and find a suitable replacement who is also a realistic target we can actually sign. I’d hate to see another Carvalho scenario unfolding here.

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In Germany we’ve had a bit of an upheaval recently, quite literally, with storm Xavier tormenting Northern and Eastern Germany last Thursday, with hundreds of trees being felled by the force of the storm, heavy rains contributing further to the general mayhem, killing seven people in total, injuring hundreds more, bringing public transport to a standstill in certain areas for several days after the event.

Concordia football was largely unaffected, with the games being scheduled for yesterday and apparently all trees surrounding the ground standing firm. To my unfettered joy both Cordi teams won, Cordi 2 starting the day with a 5:2 win with the first team following suit with a 2:0 win of their own, so both are now firmly back on the right track, on the road towards a promotion push. Long may it continue.

Next weekend will finally see our beloved West Ham back in action. I know it’s Burnley, it’s at their ground and they are a well drilled and disciplined unit. Still we need to start to win those games and approach these fixtures accordingly, in a positive manner, with hopefully a full squad to choose from. I reckon we should go with a a pacy lineup rather than the predictable battering ram approach featuring Andy Carroll as starter.

I would love to see Chicharito starting with Sakho, AC can still cause some havoc coming on for the final 30 minutes. Maybe Lanzini will be fit and ready to start as well.
And could we see Bilic taking a bit of a gamble by starting Masuaku instead of Cresswell, combining with Arnautovic on the left wing ? All shall be revealed next Saturday.

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The HamburgHammer Column

You know when you've been Sakho'd - Diafra throws Slav a lifeline

What a bloody relief! Saturday’s game was not a game that will be kept in your private collection and which you will watch with your grandchildren talking about the good old days. It was a cagey affair pretty much from start to finish and it was easy to see how Swansea up to that point had not conceded an away goal all season.
Spurs failed to score against them and that should stop any serious bouts of moaning on our part.

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Yes, it was painful to watch, especially the first half. Yes, I would like to see a bit more running, pressing the opposition more often and earlier and a bit more creativity as well.
I would obviously love to see us dispatch opponents like Swansea in more comfortable fashion, beating them to the tune of a 3:0 or 4:1, but that would only happen if a) we were playing with more confidence and generally more skill and panache all over the pitch and b) if Swansea made loads of mistakes. They didn’t. They were very very solid and extremly hard to break down.

Special kudos therefore has to go out once more to Slaven Bilic. Once again he didn’t care about the crowd booing his substitutions. But just like against Huddersfield the subs were spot on actually, Masuaku and Sakho working in perfect harmony, combining masterfully, creating the kind of goal which is worth winning any contest, even a frustratingly cagey/boring one such as this.
Thousands of “fans” who left the premises early missed the goal of course but probably beat the traffic into the bargain, but at the end of the day we beat a well drilled and disciplined side to get a much needed win and give Bilic some very welcome breathing space.

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It can’t be easy hearing a new likely replacement manager’s name every week, sometimes seeeing even several flavours of the week getting leaked on selected social media platforms and blogs – and still trying to do your best managing the team, with your contract running out at the end of the season.
I understand that Bilic gets criticised by the fans, he ain’t immune to that and he shouldn’t be. At this point he isn’t getting the best out of his players and performances together with results need to improve, granted.

However, let us please not forget that he more likely than not firmly expected Carvalho to arrive from Sporting. I have no doubt that the player would have turned out to be the missing piece of the jigsaw for us, a guy solidly linking defense and attack, making both better at the same time. If you believe that money has been stashed away in our transfer funds for January or next summer and that a new manager coming in would be able to spend even 50 or 60 million (net spend), think again!

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Our board are mediocre, spending mediocre amounts of money and we shouldn’t be surprised at all if another 11th or 10th placed league finish is pretty much our ceiling again this season. If you reckon there is a manager out there who can get our squad to finish in 7th place or higher, with the same players, and who would be willing to sign for us, working under Gold&Sullivan and a restrained budget, fair enough!
I’d like to hear his name and wish our board good luck with the interview, trying to sell the next level dream to another poor sod willing to fall for it.

It was interesting to read about American Albert “Tripp” Smith buying the remaining 10% of the West Ham shares from the Icelandics. Apparently the director of private equity giants Blackstone bought them shares purely as a private investment rather than as a getting the foot in the door tactic instigated by Blackstone, but it is still interesting insofar as apparently Sullivan would have liked to buy those shares from the Icelandics himself, yet the sellers thought otherwise.

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Apparently Tripp Smith just likes football/soccer/West Ham and maybe he is indeed merely after a personal financial roll of the dice with a bit of a kick to it, pardon the pun!
But let’s wait and see if Blackstone will remain on the outside looking in for long or if there is maybe a bit more to it all.
Blackstone, if they were to come in at some point in future, don’t sound like a long term plan either of course.
They tend to buy or invest in companies, streamline their operations, make them successful businesses in the marketplace and sell them on at a profit.
Maybe though they could bring the kind of financial muscle to help with the purchase of the Olympic Stadium a few years down the road, who knows ?
Surely West Ham owning the OS, knocking on the door of Champions League football would fetch a better selling price than West Ham renting the OS finishing in 11th place.

Initially I smirked when reading the nickname of the guy, “Tripp”. It’s a rather unfortunate moniker, innit ? It reminded me of the “Only Fools And Horses” pilot episode in which Rodney was nervously asking Del Boy in the pub if Trigger was named such because he was carrying a gun. Luckily enough it was just down to him looking like a horse after all…maybe it’s the same with Tripp…;-))

I’d feel slightly more at ease if that geezer (who is now also a new director at West Ham) was nicknamed “Smithy” or “Berty”, but “Tripp” it is and I hope his investment will turn out to be a decent trip(p) for everyone bleeding claret and blue.

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This season for me already feels like a done deal. Another midtable finish with a few highs and plenty more lows and hiccups along the way. Bilic will be allowed to run down his contract while every two weeks we will read on certain blogs that there are another two or three must win games coming up for Bilic to save his job (until the end of the season). I see no realistic chance really for Bilic to earn himself another deal unfortunately. We will then eventually stumble upon another guy, who will get lured to the club with the promise of playing home games in a 66K seater stadium, complete with stellar marquee signings and subsequent next level progression, more likely though ending up having to make ends meet with a transfer kitty that would make Watford blush with shame.

We will start a new circle, with the new guy leaving or running down his contract as well after two or three seasons. I’ve said it before: There is no long term strategy or discernible plan at West Ham. We are treading water and the board are happy with that as long as we stay on the Premier League gravy train and as long as there is a manager in office who can be thrown under the bus at will, thereby conveniently diverting any potential blame and anger away from the board to the poor sod in the dugout.
It is what it is of course. Listen to Bubbles and the words of our anthem don’t exactly scream “NEXT LEVEL! CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FOOTBALL!” at you, do they ?

On a local level, Sunday was not much to write home about either, with a much worse result though. A devastating, lackluster and gutless surrender from the Cordi boys away to Rugenbergen. 1:5 is a scoreline that simply should not happen, even on a bad day in this league. The game was being played on a turnip field disguised as a football pitch, including flattened molehills and small holes that were littered all over the patch, sorry, pitch. I know, the opposition had to play on the exact same surface, but as the home team surely they were very much used to the lay of the land in contrast to Concordia.

Our goalkeeper tried to clear a dangerous backpass into touch, one minute before halftime, but unfortunately a deflection from one of the turnips resulted in the ball going into his own net. It was symptomatic of the kind of game that was about to unfold in the second half. Well, you win some, you lose some, but my team looked lost and disinterested out there, not good.

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Luckily Concordia don’t have long to wait to redeem themselves as there is a cup game tomorrow afternoon, at home to Victoria Hamburg as it’s a bank holiday (Day of German Unity). For West Ham we need to endure another international break yet again before we head off to Turf Moor, hopefully putting in a better performance oop north to claim all three points. It only takes another one or two wins now to put us right back on track. I hope we see Hernandez and Sakho starting that game, with Carroll to come on, causing some havoc among the Burnley defense for the final 30 minutes. Bilic of course may see things differently.

But it’s still Super Slav for me and I wish the man nothing but the best. Hopefully the players give us a performance against Burnley to make the manager smile and the fans proud, wherever they may be. COYI!!!

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The HamburgHammer Column

HH's Travel Diary - Spurs at home: Raw oysters, faded bubbles and dead feet walking

Since I only flew back to Hamburg late on Monday evening, opening my front door at 11 pm my column arrives with a bit of a delay. Sorry about that, it’s just that I can’t be arsed to bring my laptop over for the long weekends in London and it’s rather tedious typing down these articles on a tablet, so on the four or five occasions a season I am actually at a West Ham game in person I’m afraid you will have to keep some patience with me. I also will not discuss the safety of Bilic’s position again on here or go into too much detail about the Spurs game in terms of the football.

This is not a match report in the classical sense of the word, this is my personal travel diary (also my food blog…LOL), with plenty of name dropping, so if you’re expecting tactical debates or yearn for the latest West Ham related transfer rumours in this article, it ain’t gonna happen (unless in the comments below maybe), so this is your chance to run away quickly! Chop chop! Now!

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Oh, you’re still here ? Great! So here it goes: This was a rather unusual trip for a number of reasons. I only watched one game of football in four days. I didn’t meet BSB once. I had no pie and mash. And the whole weekend basically flew by me with no precise scheduling or forward planning involved on my part whatsoever. Very un-German, I know. Once again though, and this was exactly like what happened on previous trips of mine, I was saved by the good as gold West Ham family.

This time it is mainly our own Irons1959 I have to thank for his East London hospitality as not only did he allow me to crash on his sofa in Ilford for three nights in a row, he also stepped up magnificently when the unofficial meetup after the game didn’t quite materialise and also when BSB couldn’t work his usual miracles as a perfect host as unfortunately he was otherwise occupied over the weekend – more of that further down.

My streak is finally over. All those 1:0 home wins I witnessed at the London Stadium (four in total) couldn’t last forever. And like my dreams and all that. It had to end someday, and Spurs (it had to be them of course) finally bursted my bubbles.
Those merchant bankers!

But let’s start at the beginning…

FRIDAY, September 22nd

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It has become the norm for me that I still get far too excited prior to my West Ham weekend trips to get any sleep at all the night before, oh I try of course, but after turning around in bed for the 200th time I give up eventually, put the kettle on, say a little Thank You that it wasn’t my flight to Stansted that was cancelled at short notice by Ryanair to then head towards the nearest bus stop at about 4:20 am.
It’s not my best time of day but I prefer the early morning flight as it gives me nearly an additional full day in London.

Once at the airport I usually take joy from watching the people who have paid extra for the privilege of priority boarding, but who still leave Hamburg in the same airplane as me at the same ungodly hour and not one minute earlier.

But I digress. It has become another sort of routine for me to get involved in football related chat with the airport security staff or the border control employees at Stansted airport. Usually this gets triggered by my wearing of a West Ham themed shirt, jacket or hat. This time though my West Ham crest was obscured by a neutral jacket, still I was approached by a female police officer in a High Vis jacket a minute AFTER I had already presented my ID and given my purpose for entry into the UK to the officer at the border control desk.

Was it just a spot check with myself as the random target ? Or did my early morning boat send out vibes I could be up to no good ? I explained I was over mainly for the football, the West Ham-Spurs derby to be precise and when the fuzz began interrogating me about my leanings for the game I grew slightly nervous.

What if the lady copper was a Spurs fan ? Was I in danger of being refused entry to the green and pleasant land on the grounds of being a Kraut Hammer?
Luckily not, I was finally getting the signal to pass, not before being told though that West Ham were currently struggling mightily. The Old Bill, your friend and helper, you can always expect a word of encouragement from them…;-)

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After that little encounter I found myself in Gants Hill/Ilford in no time where I was picked up by my host for the trip, Irons1959. We quickly sat down for a late Full English before I was welcomed to his abode and impressive collection of car porn as he called his various piles of vintage high value car mags.
Irons1959 knows for sure all about driving a nice Porsche, I on the other side am happy enough if I don’t break down with my Ford Fiesta…:-))

Off it was noonish to Newham Bookshop for a brief chat with Vivian Archer who immediately clocked and remembered me the moment I walked through the door, all after meeting her just once before during a previous visit in December, incredible!

We briefly mourned the bizarre empty space that used to be The Boleyn Ground just around the corner and I picked up my customary three books (always including one new addition to my West Ham themed collection, my claret and blue porn so to speak) before reluctantly leaving, otherwise I would have had to buy myself another suitcase first as I am always in danger of bringing home far too many books from that wonderful shop. If you haven’t been there yet, go! If you have, go again soon!

This is a Millwall pub you say ? Right, you go first, I'll watch your back!

Next destination was Tower Hill, my meeting point arranged by the wonderful Iron Liddy and so we set off on our “Guided Walk of the wrong side of the River Thames“ in glorious sunshine, it was like walking along the harbourfront of Santa Cruz de Tenerife!

We started out in front of what Liddy advertised as a prominent Millwall fans’ pub.
While I initially toyed with the idea of walking in, standing on the nearest desk and singing Bubbles from the top of my lungs I felt this might have cut our afternoon walk somewhat short, so I behaved and was than led into the glorious maze of Borough Market, one of the oldest markets in London and a goldmine for a food fanatic such as me.

We even found a stall with Croatian delights and we toyed with the idea of buying Slaven a little present. Then again we weren’t quite sure what to get him.
What if the gaffer has a cheese allergy ? Or maybe doesn’t like plum brandy, even if it comes from familiar shores ?

So, what do you do when you saunter in the sunshine, feel a bit peckish, and find yourself surrounded by tables filled with stinking cheese, fancy salami from France and fruit jam from Italy ? Easy.

You agree to try some oysters again, yes, those raw slimily weird seafoody things the last of which you tried 28 years ago and found absolutely horrible, both in taste and texture.

But when in London…

To be fair, I found the oysters a lot more appealing this time around. Then again I was quite hungry at that point anyway and once the oysters were swimming again, this time in half a pint of cider buried in my tummy, both Liddy and I were replenished enough to continue what she kept calling a stroll but what I was soon refering to as The South London Half Marathon.

I was destined to continue to feel the fallout from this trek in the coming days, with blistered feet and aching calf muscles but according to my drill instructor from Upminster it was, and I quote “just a little exercise. It is good for you!”
It certainly was a day when I burned far more calories by walking than I put back in by munching away on food later.

Mind you, the walk with its riverviews was utterly beautiful though, the weather was incredible, we passed numerous bridges and also the famous Globe Theatre (which gave me some horrible flashbacks of the time I was doing my A-levels in English when us poor Kraut scholars had to crawl and bite our way through Mr.Shakespeare’s Othello in his bloody native Olde English tongue) plus an open air book market where Lids picked up a vintage edition of a book she reckoned to be worth a lot more than the price she had paid while I to my disappointment was talked out of buying a coffee-table book showing black and white pics of a scantily clad Geri “Ginger Spice“ Halliwell in her younger days. (Not so much talked out of it, but frowned out of it, if you’re getting my drift…;-))

Slightly disgruntled I made my way back towards Tower Bridge, Geri-less, but there was no time to mope for long as we then met up with Mr.L at St Katharine Docks for a swift pint in the nearby Dickens Inn pub before then retiring for the rest of the evening to a French restaurant. Yes, it was a debut for this German sausage muncher, my first taste of French food (unless you count baguette and camembert cheese), but it was delightful enough and once again we found proof that a) it is a small world and b) you are never far away from a fellow West Ham fan.

While I was showing Liddy a book about the Boleyn Ground I had bought in Newham earlier, one of the geezers in suit and tie from the adjacent table named Budge got all excited, asking if we were West Ham fans and when we affirmed that to be the case we were straight into all kinds of footballing conversations about games and players from days gone by and the upcoming game too.

Turned out he and his company are corporate season ticket holders at West Ham and if it wasn’t just the wine talking he promised to fix me up with a ticket if I ever fancied watching another away game this season. I certainly wouldn’t mind taking up that offer in 2018. It was a fantastic end to an eventful day and I thoroughly enjoyed the company of Liddy and Mr.L.

It was my own fault I later exposed my worn out feet to some more unwanted mileage by taking a wrong turn from Gants Hill initially before finally finding the road I was looking for and hitting the sack/sofa way past midnight.

SATURDAY, September 23rd – MATCHDAY

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Not too much rest was to be had of course as it was an early kickoff for Spurs. Irons1959 took me to a cafe in Stratford where I briefly met his sister who comes all the way from Wales to the games, but the staff in that caff were all over the place that morning, confusing and forgetting orders, so I basically had to eat my egg and bacon sandwich on the go while briskly walking towards the London Stadium in order to meet The Original Russ who was already waiting at the aptly named H post, with my season ticket in hand. Oh, how I have missed you! (The ticket, not Russ!)

After ticking a box the day before I had never even known existed with that French restaurant, here at the stadium there was a box I absolutely had to tick, had wanted to tick for a year now, a local delicacy I was desperate to try and a man I was eager to meet. I had heard loads of stories and good things about the famous Rib Man from West Ham, Mark Gevaux, and of course his highly recommended Rib Rolls.

I had also seen his entertaining contribution in a German cookery show and of course his appearance in the Iron Men film about our final season at The Boleyn.

Honest, it wasn't me on my own - but I helped a little...

As the man was incredibly busy behind his stall on matchday I could only briefly introduce myself, telling him about my column on the blog and my pleasure to finally meet him and try his famous rolls. He smiled, shook my hand and said he hoped I liked his stuff. And indeed it was among the best football related food I ever had, but boy, that “Holy F*** Hot Sauce” has its name for a good reason, when eating my roll I was adding numerous other creative expletives in both English and German, but once I could breathe again properly I was finally ready to watch my first game of the season.

I met the usual suspects again at the foot of the stairs at 238, Russ of course, The Voice of Reason and later also Dan Coker. As BSB couldn’t make the game I had the pleasure of watching the game from his seat, wedged between the footballing brains that are Russ and The Voice of Reason. Wave after wave of tactical suggestions, formation debates, performance verdicts and manager assessments washed over me, but at the end of the 90 minutes plus injury time a thrilling derby ended in defeat.

I hate losing against Spurs. Let me rephrase that. I hate losing against any team. Period. But in this case I was thoroughly entertained by a game that had everything, goals, drama, incidents and a great and inspiring fightback. I truly think Spurs were lucky in the end to hold onto their lead.

One thing though: Why is it so difficult to place enough ballboys all around the pitch, every 20 meters or so, preferably kids who actually are excited about what they’re doing, to make sure the ball gets back into play after five seconds rather than 20 ?

After the game Liddy briefly joined our group, my kind host Irons1959 as well and then I was approached by a stout guy, looking in my direction, saying to his little boy “Yeah, could be him!” Once I saw the camera dangling around his neck it was obvious that this was our very own blog photographer, the one and only Dawud Marsh. We had a quick chat, exchanging some ideas for future photoshoots and then he started snapping away, none of our group was safe from his lenses.

It became apparent fairly quickly though that the unofficial meet up wasn’t going to happen as most people either had other things to do or wanted to return home as quickly as possible after our derby defeat. Not Irons1959 though. He saved my blushes by taking me to Whitechapel and there, on Jack The Ripper’s manor, we found a nice pub first and an even nicer Pakistani restaurant later (another first for me as I had never tried Pakistani cuisine before).

Not only was the food really excellent (I got my customary curry of course), Irons1959 also met one of his former pupils there who was working at the restaurant which was a nice touch of course, adding to the good atmosphere during our meal.

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We then returned to Ilford, totally knackered, and I was more than happy that I could give my feet some rest and my eyes some Match of the Day Premier League highlights. Watching our game again on the custard and jelly it has to be said that the atmosphere came across as really excellent at times, the noise was incredible.

Which doesn’t mean that it’s a great matchday experience when you are IN that stadium. I still think the pitch is too far away. And I doubt I will ever quite get used to that.

SUNDAY, September 24th

I had been hoping BSB would call me up to give me a meeting place and time as he had done at every other visit of mine so far, but alas, this time it simply wasn’t possible. BSB phoned, explained and promised we would make up for it next time.

So who should step in and turn a potentially boring day into a great one ? Irons1959, my fellow (Half-) German from Ilford. As the weather was fantastic yet again we were driving in his car to the Royal Docks, a nice area with character and great views of the Docklands skyline, a symphony of wind and water, just as we like it here in Hamburg.

We were browsing around the neighbourhood and admiring some of the quite upmarket flats that are on offer along the waterline there. I certainly wouldn’t decline if someone offered my a flat in one of those former warehouses and I wouldn’t even care if my view was partly obscured by a nostalgic grey crane guarding the living room window.

We settled down with a Chinese Take Away in Ilford in front of the telly as it was general election day in Germany and we were shocked to hear about the right wing Alternative fuer Deutschland claiming third spot with 13.3% of the votes, gaining them 94 seats in parliament. Needless to say we both had a a few things to say about all this, what with Irons1959 having worked as a history teacher for many years. A bit of a dampener to an otherwise lovely day.

MONDAY, September 25th – Back to Hamburg

Final days of a trip are always a bit of a bummer and a waste. In the back of your mind there’s always the worry about getting to the airport on time and having the actual flight done and over with. Irons1959 had builders in the house, but he still was kind enough to let me stay in his living room for a few more hours, allowing me to browse the WHTID blog, read up on the German general election and yes, also Concordia (not much to report there, the game of the first team was postponed same as the second team’s fixture (not because of my travels though, that’s just a coincidence!), so I actually didn’t miss any Cordi action while I was away).

Oh yes, there was yet another first on a West Ham trip for me. I didn’t go to the club shop and I didn’t spend a penny on merchandise. And neither do I intend to do so again in the future. As long as that kind of money mainly goes into the Sullivan&Gold interest fund generated on the back of the loans kindly provided to the club by our esteemed owners, I choose not to add any club shirts, scarves, hats or coffee mugs to my already substantial collection.

And of course I couldn’t leave Stansted airport with another little football debate. After taking off my belt, shoes and West Ham jacket at the security check in the staff member checking out my tray just grinned at me, shook his head and said “It’s not your fault you support the wrong team!” I immediately went into “You want some ? I’ll give it ya!” mode, asking who he supported then.

“Spurs” he beamed. Of course! Had to be one of them. I told him he should count himself lucky his beloved superstar team didn’t throw away a three goal lead on Saturday. But I left it at that as the queue behind me was getting slightly itchy at that point.

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This latest edition of “War and Peace” is nearing it’s conclusion. It was a very different trip for the reasons I tried to explain, but still a fantastic experience made possible once again by so many members of the WHTID family. Special kudos to Liddy for the exercise (my feet are still shaking at the mention of your name!), to Irons1959 of course, my kind host from Ilford who bent over backwards to make sure I had a good time and also to Dawud Marsh for some great pictures done at the stadium.

Hope to see you all again soon for my next game! COYI!

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