Talking Point

Keeping hold of the ball and players

As ever the transfer rumour mill continues to spin and, while we are being linked to some exciting players, inevitably some of our better players are bound to be touted for moves away from the club. Given the progress the club has made coupled with the fact that most Premier League teams can demand substantial fees if the big boys come sniffing, we are in a strong position. For the record, I firmly believe our young French defender who had an impressive debut campaign in England will not depart this summer, and the club which has supposedly registered an interest are a very unattractive proposition unless players want ridiculous wages.

As I’ve stated in previous posts, Pellegrini and Husillos are working hard to improve the team and we are starting to create a very interesting side. Only time will tell how we get on, but it’s a compliment to recent acquisitions that teams are interested in our players.

I was wracking my brains this week in terms of what I could write about, and I was partly inspired by my six a side game on Monday evening. For those wondering, we won 4-2, and our opponents were slightly older with a couple of players not in peak physical condition (think Benni McCarthy, Neil Ruddock, or Brian Dear even further back). However, they are an experienced and organised outfit who attempted to sit deep and counter attack. It was interesting to have a lot of possession of the ball and have to break a team down; it can be frustrating but clearly you have to remain patient. I thought that my team’s experiences on Monday might not be dissimilar to what West Ham might encounter next season…

Quite a few teams in the lower half of the table playing at the London Stadium next season will be content to sit deep (some deeper than others) and try and punish us on the break. Some teams can do that to great effect, other teams such as Sheffield United, Burnley etc might not provide a potent threat on the break but will try to make it extremely difficult in the final third and rely on set pieces. With the arrival of 23 year old Pablo Fornals combined with the likes of Anderson, Lanzini, Wilshere and Yarmolenko, we have an abundance of forward thinking creators who will be integral to breaking teams down, especially at home. I think Fornals will have the ability to play as an 8 and sit slightly deeper sometimes as well as being very threatening as a no. 10. The ever present Mr Noble is often a progressive passer and will still be useful in us improving and winning more games next season. Even if the man from Canning Town does not feature quite as much, he will remain a great motivator for the squad.

It’s certainly encouraging to hear Pellegrini say he wants to play attacking football, and against the sides in and around us as well as below us, hopefully we can be clinical and consistent. There has been a lot said about whether another holding midfielder/box to box style of player will come in, and I do think we need more support for Rice. In line with us perhaps experiencing more possession overall next season, you could perhaps argue that more emphasis will be put on scoring goals and Rice will be entrusted with more responsibility. However, I’m sure Pellegrini is already considering his tactics for the opening day against the reigning Champions. We can’t afford to be naive otherwise we will leak goals not only to the elite teams but teams across the board.

There will be more pressure on us as we add better players and, at home, you always want to see wins but at the very least a team of eleven players putting in 100% effort while ideally playing attractive and free flowing football. If the club is to progress next season, consistently getting results against lesser sides will be crucial, and being able to do that whilst not always playing brilliantly is key. In the words of the rock group ‘Bachman–Turner Overdrive’ and their 1973 song, West Ham must be ’Takin’ Care Of Business’ against teams on a more regular basis.

With a Premier League winning manager at the helm and a very efficient Sporting director working together to push us forward, expectations should start to rise. I believe Fornals is a fantastic addition and he should excite fans while also improve the team and create serious competition for places. I hope to go to more games next season and, much like the six a side fixture where we had lots of the ball, I shall tell myself to follow the advice of Take That in having a little patience, pray the goals will come and we can rule the world…

Hope everyone is well, and has a good week.


Nostalgia

‘That’s Zamora’

I do not have distinct memories of my 7th birthday, I’m sure I got some decent presents. With hindsight I am convinced that none of the presents were as enjoyable and impactful as my trip to Upton Park in March 2005. My Dad took me to my first football game on the 5th March: it was a glamorous fixture against Preston North End.

When I reflect upon watching my first game at Upton Park, I recall feeling excited and ready to watch a team which included the lumbering Malky Mackay at the back as well as the unpredictable Stephen Bywater in goal! I feel the appropriate quote to include is one from the brilliant Bobby Robson when he said in response to the question, what is a club?

’ It’s the noise, the passion, the feeling of belonging, the pride in your city. It’s a small boy clambering up stadium steps for the very first time, gripping his father’s hand, gawping at that hallowed stretch of turf beneath him and, without being able to do a thing about it, falling in love.’

Robson’s poignant response to this question embodies how I felt entirely. I had already started to play football and was enthusiastic when on the pitch, but going to my first game cemented my love for the game and West Ham. I have no doubt my Dad informed me that supporting West Ham would come with pain and frustration but with that some very special moments.

A couple of years ago I was having a conversation with my Dad about this Preston fixture, and it was only with the help of Google that I realised we actually lost the game 1-2! In my excitement of watching football at a stadium for the first time, I seemed to think we had won. A player who I grew to love and scored some good goals for us, Bobby Zamora actually scored what was a mere consolation goal in the 87th minute. I recall aspects of the game, I believe Stephen Bywater made a rather inexcusable error which lead to one of the goals scored by David Nugent and Patrick Agyemang. Up until recently, I had also forgotten that the perhaps cult hero figure in the form of Czech right back, Tomas Repka received a straight red card on the stroke of half time. If we had kept eleven men on the pitch for the second half, perhaps we could have turned it around and my first trip to Upton Park would have seen us win. At least my expectations were tempered from the off!

Only a couple of months later we were able to avenge this disappointing defeat as we won 1-0 against The Lilywhites in the Championship playoff final courtesy of another Zamora goal. I am certainly not alone amongst the West Ham fans in the theory that Mark Lawrenson has a vendetta against the club because he supports Preston and we beat them in Cardiff. It seems ridiculous but most weeks when he does his predictions for the weekend games, he predicts us to lose regardless of the team we are playing and the form we are in. I remember seeing the Premier League table from a couple of seasons ago and if it was according to Lawrenson’s predictions, we finished 17th or 18th unsurprisingly because he dislikes us. In reality we finished 7th. I think as it was the farewell Boleyn campaign. My advice to Lawrenson comes in the form of a quote that’s been reworked from an American motivational speaker, Josh Shipp when he said ’Don’t get bitter, get better’

As I’ve mentioned previously, there are some aspects of the 1-2 loss that I don’t remember but I do remember being taken aback by Teddy Sheringham’s skill and calmness on the ball. He was 38 years old when he dropped down to the Championship, and he scored 20 league goals whilst winning Championship Player of the season. I immediately appreciated his composure on the ball but it was probably only when I was older and had watched more football that I properly realised his class and the fact that despite his age he was still one of our best players. Bobby Zamora is one of few players I got on the back of my shirt, as I’ve said I liked Teddy as well as Matty Etherington but understandably my Mum and Dad did not want to fork out that much on the individual letters!

Ultimately, I look back on my first game at Upton Park with very fond memories. Getting the train and tube to the ground eating the snacks my Mum had prepared, smelling the spices along Green Street and the sound of the barriers as we entered the ground. Whilst we did not win the game, I knew immediately that this would be the club for me and that my Dad would be taking me back to Upton Park for many more games.

Have a good week.


Talking Point

'Stuck in the Middle with You'

On Monday evening alongside a few friends I returned to my old school to play in the local six a side league. We drew 1-1 but once we get fitter and used to playing with each other again, we’ll be storming the league. On the website for this six a side league, the standard of refereeing is said to be FA quality, but on Monday it certainly did not feel like it! The bloke who was on the larger side to be polite, stood on the side lines and appeared more interested in the other game on the adjacent pitch! I’ve decided therefore to discuss the contentious topic of refereeing.

In an interesting article written by Jonathan Freedland, in which he briefly discusses refereeing and the abuse they get from football fans, he refers to the progress made with referees in the NBA (National Basketball Association).

He writes ’The NBA has built a state-of-the-art “replay center” in Secaucus, New Jersey, complete with 110 screens connected by super-fast cables, where a disputed incident on the court can be viewed from any angle, slowed down to a 60th of a second. Basketball referees have become fitter too: no more “fatboys”’

The Premier League could take a lot from America’s premier basketball league. Of course it will be fascinating to see how the introduction of VAR impacts games next season: I hope we get a few more penalties! If I was a referee at the highest level of football, I’d be aware that you will never be able to please everyone but I would want to give myself the best chance not to make mistakes. Clearly all the referees have to pass fitness tests, but some would surely be better off shedding some timber to give themselves the best chance of doing their job as well as possible. As I’ve said previously, I try to avoid criticising the referee as much as possible as sometimes it can simply cover up a poor performance from the team. However, we must hope VAR reduces some blatant mistakes that have been made (Liverpool at home, United away, Leicester at home etc).

In my time playing youth football I encountered numerous referees, some of which were pretty good and others who were not. As both a person and a footballer I like to think of myself as calm and collected, therefore I never verbally abused referees. The best referees I experienced were those who allowed the captains to discuss events on the pitch within reason and who explained their decisions. The referees who demanded no back chat were often the ones who lost control of the game and were rather condescending. Clearly at the level of football I played at, the referees did not have to be in peak physical condition but obviously it helped if they moved from the centre circle! Put it this way, if a foul occurs which could potentially be given either way, the referee is more likely to give it the way of the team who does not constantly complain and question every decision.

I agree with my Dad in that being a referee is a very difficult job, and certainly not one I would want to do. Hopefully the standard of officiating improves next season and we get the rub of the green a bit more. We shall see, but perhaps before criticising an official next season, pause and consider whether you are really angry about a decision or simply the team being poor.

Coincidentally after writing this, I remembered my friend Rhys is probably starting a referee course very soon. With a bit of luck we shall one day see him officiating in the Premier League!

Hope everyone is well, have a good week.


Talking Point

A Bucket of Salt Water Always Required

I have no doubt that most West Ham fans always take the ever growing list of footballers linked with a move to East London with a pinch of salt. However, there are always a few who elect to read all of the rumours with seemingly no source and, as a result, decide we’ve got an outside chance of signing Mbappe!

I have my Dad to thank or maybe blame for a whole host of things, one of which being becoming a fan of this great club, but he did also introduce me to the rabbit hole that can be transfer forums. While many supporters avoid contact with such websites and opt for the ‘I’ll believe it when I see them holding the shirt’, I rather enjoy reading the rumours. For the record, I do hope that I become a fan who avoids all contact with what for the most part are made up rumours but, on the other hand, I like to envisage Maxi Gomez scoring 20 goals for us next season and guiding us to the Europa League!

An interesting example of how rumours can spread quickly, as well as how I have often got too excited about a player’s seemingly imminent arrival came in the summer of 2016. I distinctly remember returning home from an A-Level History revision session, and looking online to see we’d made serious enquires for Carlos Bacca. As the days went on, I became more and more convinced the Colombian would sign for us, and at this stage we needed a decent striker. After a few days I recall speaking to my English teacher who was a strong influence on me in my formative years about West Ham and transfers; sadly he was a Chelsea fan. I managed to convince my teacher and the rest of the students in the English class that Bacca to West Ham was a done deal. Of course when it didn’t happen, my teacher took great pleasure in telling me I should not believe everything I read. Ultimately, Bacca clearly did not want to play for us and in those instances fans are more than happy to look elsewhere for more committed players. Moral of the story, do not believe everything you read online and subsequently tell all your friends that it’s a done deal!

Given that my Dad has seen numerous West Ham teams over the years, some of which good and others that definitely flattered to deceive, he has instilled in me a sense of patience. Patience is a key attribute in everyday life anyway, but when it comes to supporting West Ham in a transfer window, it is essential. As my recent articles have included lyrics from songs, now is the time to turn to Gary Barlow and Take That ‘Just have a little patience’. The constant back and forth with transfer rumours these days is difficult as well as frustrating to keep up with, so Gary’s lyrics give us sound advice.

As usual we are already being associated with a whole host of players, some of which I think would be very good acquisitions and others would be underwhelming or even poor. Unlike in years gone by where the club has been less secure and the quality of the manager questioned, we are now in a better place. Thus, I believe I am in the majority that trust Pellegrini and Husillos to bring in good players who will complement the attacking style we are developing even if the budget is not an unbelievable amount.

I took a brief break while writing this piece to accompany my Manchester United supporting friend to Tesco, and for the majority of the trip we discussed Man United’s transfer plans. Louis seems convinced they will not sign players that they really need to and that next season will be another unpleasant one. I revelled in his pain and, unlike Man United’s bleak future, I think we can all agree we are moving in a positive direction. I feel it is appropriate to conclude with a song lyric, we turn to another successful band, and specifically Bono, ‘I Can’t Live With or Without You’ in East London even if some of the rumours are silly!

I was rooting for Derby to beat Aston Villa in the playoff final for a couple of reasons. The first being that Lampard’s men simply play a more attractive brand of football than the ‘villains’. But the second as well as more important reason is the fact my brother is attending the University of Derby in September. I was hoping to tie together a nice trip which would see me visit my brother in Derby, whilst also watching West Ham play at Pride Park. Alas, hopefully we draw Derby in a cup tie.

Hope everyone is well, have a good week.


Talking Point

Looking Back Over My Shoulder

As the season has come to a close, and teams are already releasing the new kits for next season, I thought it appropriate to reflect on several of the best moments in the season. I think it is important to reflect on things and try to learn from them, and in a week which has seen me finish my undergraduate degree, I am feeling rather contemplative.

As fans of West Ham, along with fans of most other clubs, you come to expect ups and downs. The opening four games were certainly not positive but, as the season has progressed, we have seen improvements in individual players and as a team.

The 3-1 win at home against Manchester United in late September was brilliant, and was made better on a personal note given one of my best mates and housemate supports United. I dislike Manchester United at the best of times (sure I’m not alone there. Incidentally, Man U is the only other club my Dad would have objected to me supporting) but to see them fall from the dizzying heights of the Ferguson era, to that dismal side that we deservedly beat was very satisfying. Anderson’s silky first goal for the club was great, and it is a shame we couldn’t see an attacking trio of Anderson, Arnautovic and Yarmolenko for an entire season. This result was exactly what Pellegrini had emphasised when stating the club needed to have the mentality of a ‘big team’, and given my friend Louis down the years has been able to poke fun following results between the two teams, this result was very enjoyable to say the least. To witness a Manchester United fan realise his club is at the moment very mediocre has also been entertaining. I hope (as Yazz yodelled back in the day) the only way is up in East London! And like the Quo: down, down, deeper and down for Man U…

Furthermore, the 1-2 away win against Southampton just after Christmas was very satisfying. I was at the pub with friends and I recall not feeling overly confident due to a slightly depleted squad and the Saints had started well under Hasenhüttl. After going 1-0 down to a slightly dubious goal, we struck back instantly with a brilliant goal from Felipe, and then counter attacked to great effect to score a second and win the game. The game was by no means a brilliant performance but, given that Antonio was at right back for example, it was a performance that highlighted Anderson’s quality as well as the team’s resilience.

The 1-0 home win against Arsenal again demonstrated how well we can play against the bigger sides and, while the performance was very impressive, it was Rice’s debut goal that was the real highlight. I remember texting my mate who’s a season ticket holder and saying ‘I’m so happy for him’, and you could see the genuine happiness from all of the players when he scored. The England international had a fabulous season in holding midfield, and I’m sure he will only get better.

Of course the 0-1 away win at Spurs was fantastic. I have one friend who supports Spurs, and I know along with the rest of their fans they really did not want the first team to score and win to be us. It was an excellent performance from the team with everyone working for each other. Antonio’s celebration was random but made the goal all the more iconic! Last team to win at Highbury, first team to win at the Emirates, and the first side to win at the Tottenham Hotspurs Stadium. If every other team could kindly build new stadiums, we’ll be contending for the league!

Finally, along with the Spurs result, the six points gathered from both Southampton at home and Watford away was a great way to conclude Pellegrini’s first season. The form in particular of Noble in the final few games was great to see, and it’s always nice for him to silence the critics he has always had, as well as several pundits recognising his underrated ability.

The 2018/2019 season was a transitional one allowing for Pellegrini to implement his attacking style and assess the squad. After the summer window, we should have a good idea where we are. I am usually optimistic regardless but things do appear to be on the up at the London Stadium. Hopefully whatever I do now that my time at University is over is as positive as West Ham moving forward!

Hope everyone is well, have a good week.


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