Guest Post

Communication across the nation bringing appreciation for the administration

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Guest Post by Carlin

There are few subjects that are able to polarise a population of supporters like that of the style of football associated with a given manager. We’ll use the term associated with because there isn’t, as far as I know, a compendium of football managers which objectively details something as transitory and subjective as footballing style; a yellow pages that owners, chairmen and CEOs alike can consult to ensure that their next choice is likely to, at the very least, placate the majority of their fan base.

Polarisation of opinion is perhaps a reflection of the state of wider society. Whilst it may have always been there, I have only recently become aware of the sense of feeling about a given subject at what seems a greater scale than ever before. Everybody has an opinion (typically multiple), and most seem convinced that their opinion is 100% factual. There seems to no longer be room for a range of perspectives, every opinion is binary and fixed; you either agree and are therefore ’correct’, or you don’t, in which case – following the course of logic – you are ’wrong’. Unless humanity in general is becoming more narcissistic, then maybe this perception could, in part, be related to how we express ourselves through modern day communications. There is a hint of irony in modern communication methods, having grown more varied and real-time, driving the population to communicate to a greater degree via the written word.

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In communications we’ve come full circle. Before telephones people would write. As telephone infrastructure evolved beyond voice we moved back towards writing, mainly, I think, because the earlier mechanisms were predominantly limited to one-to-one, whereas writing today is very much a one-to-many medium. The challenge with communicating is ensuring that you convey what you wish to, without inadvertently conveying something you don’t. With the written word this takes practise and time – more so than other forms of communication where the synchronicity of exchange means clarifications are far more straightforward.

To start to grasp the challenge with written communication we can consider (and likely misuse) the often misunderstood work of Professor Albert Mehrabian who described verbal communications as 7 percent about the content and 93 percent non-verbal content. Although the study concerned verbal communications, it does give a sense of how much information can be conveyed outwith the actual content. If we write how we speak then how do we start to make up for the missing 93 percent of information? Incidentally, the 93 percent wasn’t all body language as is sometimes thought, 38 percent was through tone of voice. An example I’ve shared previously brings this question to life. If I was to write ’I didn’t take your money’ then most readers would draw a single conclusion from that. However, were I to verbalise that statement I could convey five different meanings:

  • I didn’t take your money’ – Your money has been taken but not by me
  • ‘I didn’t take your money’ – I’m denying having taken your money
  • ‘I didn’t take your money’ – I’ve got your money but maybe I was given it
  • ‘I didn’t take your money’ – I have taken money, but it wasn’t yours
  • ‘I didn’t take your money ‘ – I took your soul, not your money.

The reader has no idea which of these meanings was intended, and without more context it is left to the reader’s imagination to settle on an interpretation and respond accordingly. It is therefore incumbent upon the writer to ensure that sufficient context is provided, which may go some way towards explaining why we are this far into an article on a football blog with such a radical digression from the initial subject matter.

So, managers dividing opinion through the footballing styles they are associated with. This is something I wanted to explore following one of Nigel’s recent articles, Entertainment Versus Result. As Nigel said in the article, when he described the game as dull he wasn’t expressing an opinion about the manager, but inevitably some of the commentary following the article couldn’t help but deliberate over David Moyes and his style of football. I offered a comment late into the article which tried to explore the subject in a more serious sense than you might have come to expect, but further debate was short lived owing to a new article appearing.

I have a growing sense that David Moyes (the person) isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, and I want to park those issues for the moment. Some of the support base also give the impression that they think Moyes’ footballing style is closer to that of Sam Allardyce than it is to, for example, that of Pep Guardiola. Over recent performances, it’s the differentiation between styles associated with Moyes and Allardyce that I’ve given particular thought to. Admittedly, I haven’t been excited by some of the recent performances, but that said I’m also not feeling the same level of antipathy that I did with some displays when Sam Allardyce was at the helm. Again, I’m not wishing to explore the personalities in this, so ear cupping isn’t a consideration.

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So why is it? Why, even with the recent prolonged period without a shot on target, do I not feel the sterility so often felt during performances under Sam? Am I a football hypocrite? Maybe. Did my perception of personalities distort my perception of on-field performances? Possibly, but I believe that to not be the case. Have the anti-football establishment won me over? Definitely not. What’s possibly the case is that there seems to be a greater degree of pragmatism offered by the current leadership. One where we try to maximise the effects of our strengths, adapting to make best use of what is available to us, notwithstanding the current constraints. What do I mean by this? Let’s take the typical modus operandi when Sam was in charge.

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Putting aside the short 4-6-0 period which certainly surprised our friends in white – thanks for the memories, Rav – we frequently set up not to concede, and winning felt almost like an accident. One of the main frustrations during that period was watching the team drop deeper and deeper when leading a game, even withdrawing any offensive players in order to try to shore up the defence. Often I would look at the team playing out the final 30 minutes of a game and ask where another goal would come from should we need one. The in-game approach often seemed to be pragmatic only in the sense that if we were to concede we would still take a point. Of course that point would disappear should we concede further, and go on to lose; “My team will never throw away a two-goal lead” said Sam; did anyone ever stop to ask why he chose to base that guarantee on two, rather than one?

A common matchday thread comment during the Allardyce years asked ‘What is plan B’. Whilst I’ve read that more recently too, our current plan A isn’t always the same and sets out to at least try to achieve more than just a point. Take the Everton game as a case in point. The side were set up there in a clear 4-1-4-1, having started at least two other formations so far this season. The shape was held well enough to easily determine the formation, and the players were very disciplined through the first 60 minutes. Whilst it wasn’t entertaining in the end-to-end sense, it remained an interesting encounter. My comment on Nigel’s article mentioned that I started to think about the game almost like a game of chess. How had Moyes set the team up in order to stifle a very good Everton side that a few months previous had thumped us 4-1? What’s more, with (relative) pace on the bench, there was a sense of anticipation as to what may lay ahead. It looked as though the idea was to bring on fresh legs and pace later in the game to try to take advantage of weary opposition legs and the resulting greater availability of space. It was a game plan, one that played to our strengths, one that we hadn’t seen previously. It paid off. Checkmate. We won 1-0, it could have been two.

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We could have started out with our best eleven, as we could in every game, and we would have faded as the game wore on. We maybe wouldn’t have found that edge later in the game and likely would have been holding on to whatever we’d got by that point. Instead, we set out to match them knowing we had something different to come later in the game should we need it. Rather than setting out with the hope of nicking a goal and hanging on, we set out in such a way to give ourselves a better opportunity to take the points in the final third of the game. That is the key difference in my mind between the Allardyce years and now, and how I rationalise the different outlook I currently have when watching our games.

And so we come back to communication. Following the game I saw it described in a number of different ways:

  • The game was dull
  • I wasn’t entertained
  • I enjoyed the game
  • It was a very good performance
  • Great result
  • Interesting first 60 minutes

To say that all of these are expressions from an individual’s perspective is to state the obvious. However, none of these comments are mutually exclusive. The terms can all co-exist without any of those expressing them being categorised as right or wrong. Football is not, in itself, a science, as such there is room for opinion, and the opinions of others present an opportunity to evolve our own views. Currently you might like to call him Dinosaur Dave, but the next time someone offers a contrasting opinion why not seek to explore their perceptions ahead of expressing your own? You might start to see the world in a slightly different light….


Guest Post

Musings .....

NOTE FROM IAIN: The Predictor League for Chelsea is open HERE. Entries can be submitted until 6pm tonight.

Guest Post by Beniron

It’s been a long time since I posted an article – some of you may remember my series Life, The Universe etc (I sound like the guy off the Simpsons, Kent Brockman!) that I penned during the first lockdown.

Those few posts were an attempt at looking back on the years before Premier League football, when fans were fans and clubs were glad of it! Seriously this one-off post will be more of a rant and some musings about how football has changed with society and life as we move forward over the years. I don’t know if football reflects life or life reflects football, bit like nature or nurture, and to be honest I don’t really care that deeply, all I know is that it has changed, much like my life over the years.

I grew up in east London, born in Stepney, moved to Poplar and then onto the Isle de Chien and finally out to sunny Essex – a stone’s throw from Lids – well a coupla minutes drive!

I’m of the older generation – I took the 11-plus and passed so went to Grammar School. I thoroughly enjoyed school and spent my childhood like all kids around me at that time playing football, riding bikes, getting a Red Rover and exploring London, blissfully unaware that we were poor.

The industry I joined led the way in change over the next few years (I started on Strowger – Google that!) and moved on to what is now known as IT, with a couple of other jobs in between, including working at the LDA. One of my roles was running the team that looked at sustainability in the Olympic bid, and it didn’t include football! So in my professional life I’ve lived and embraced change for near on 50 years.

I’ve been fortunate to live and work all over the world, Germany, France, Holland and the good ol’ US of A. I also did some short stints in Africa (Nairobi and Namibia) and Asia (HK and Singapore).

Before the travelling I was a season ticket holder and every trip home my mates managed to get me tickets for the Hammers! In those days (1994 – 2002) the inter web was in its infancy so news was via friends and phone calls etc, particularly in the States where the concept of foreign news was unknown; at least in Europe I could go down to the central station and get the English papers.

Anyway, a long introduction for what is now going to be perceived as a rant I’m sure, even though the aim was to provide insight into a different look at football.

I must caveat that all that comes next is my personal view – see I’m an old romantic when it comes to football, I want to see a good game of football first and a good result second. Some of my favourite games have been losses – Tiblisi, Anderlecht, Man U when Beckham chipped James from near the halfway line on the wing. Seen some great wins as well, Frankfurt, Man U last game at Upton Park, Derby away when Brooking ran the show.

I’ve seen football change – whether it’s for the good or bad is up to each person’s perspective, my view is that it’s got steadily worse – the quantum change was the Premier League and the influx of money.

I’d seen West Ham relegated several times and come back and the players and the club survived relatively unscathed and could carry on with its ethos of trying to play good football and long-term strategy, we never sacked managers. We always suffered from lack of investment and we were never a big club, but it was great experience and when you told people you were a Hammers fan, along with the stick there was a begrudging respect.

The Premier League changed all that, aligned with the Sky money it became all that mattered was staying in the PL, sod the cups, sod the fans, sod the football, just don’t get relegated.

At this time sports science and the like were coming to the fore, tactics and personnel were changing, back in the day every team had a ‘number 10’ type player, players that were comfortable on the ball. Brooking, Tony Currie, Alan Hudson, Frank Worthington, Glenn Hoddle etc, all could play a bit, course we all had our hard men but you get the gist.

Gradually over the years of the PL we have moved to a situation where the top clubs have the luxury of those players De Bruyne, Hazard etc but the rest cram their teams with hard working, organised athletic types. I blame Wenger, not directly, but his introduction of Petit and Vierra changed football for me, teams saw this and went out and bought as many athletic box to box, built like warriors as they could. Most missed the point that Wenger spotted they were bloody good footballers to boot!

So the era ushered in the likes of Pulis, BFS etc who built teams that were hard to beat, got the ball forward as quick as possible and bullied teams. The standard of refereeing was poor then, Stoke, Bolton etc used to get away with murder, a throwback to the Leeds days without the skill. That set the scene for the tier system in top flight football, top 4-6, one group, next 6 safe every year, the rest fighting for survival and doing anything but attack to stay in the league. Respect the point, hard to beat, those are the mantras, when someone plays with the ‘we’ll score more than you’ attitude they are scoffed at as mad!

As an old git I remember the days pre Premier League a lot more fondly, it was about attracting fans to the game, and on pitches like Hackney Marshes, tackles from behind allowed but still the players could play and pass.

This is why I never liked BFS, his whole ethos of respect the point was alien to me. I remember talking to a Blackburn fan in the Black Lion after BFS brought them to UP “wasn’t the best game“ I said “you only have to watch it once a year – I get it every week!” he replied. I was going to ask why he goes but I thought better of it. Fast forward a few years and I’m doing the same, moaning about the football but going every week, at that time home and away.

So there you have it, the only constant is the fans; players come and managers come and go, even the board (I’ve seen 5 different regimes I think), but fans always come, different fans nowadays but football has reinvented itself over the course of the years and the current incarnation is one that is finally leaving me behind.

I see on this site and others more and more now that winning is more important than performance, – everyone is a manager, tactical genius, football business guru, chief scout and bottle washer, intolerant and fickle as hell.

In one breath slagging players off for wanting to leave and not showing loyalty, next breath drop ‘em and sell ‘em for two bad games. It’s probably the plethora of information and sites out there with stats etc. Who really gives a sh!t about the last 5 minutes possession? I’m watching the same bloody game! As my dad used to say, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

I don’t see many comments nowadays about enjoying a move or a pass or a feint etc and not really worrying about the result. You knew in the past that some days you’d win, some you’d lose, irrespective of who you were playing cos that’s what happened. Now fans are much more demanding, some games seem to be seen as it’s our right to win. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it’s a West Ham thing, I know other fans and as most are younger than me (not hard I hear you chorus) they all have similar views, as though the other teams should obey the rule book.

That’s what set me thinking about why I don’t particularly warm to Moyes – results are going well, he’s done nothing wrong, football is ok but there’s something missing. When looking at the site I find myself more and more agreeing with Simon and a couple of others who dare to criticise and immediately get set upon by the "mob” and get bombarded with stats and how well we are doing etc. (except for HH – he just blames the board :))!

I keep going back to my romantic soul that tells me there is more to it than watching a well drilled team that is organised and no push over – that’s how Stoke and Burnley got into Europe for Christ sakes!

So I’m happy to take some of the flak off of Simon and say I think Moyes is 6/7 out of 10 so far, he lets himself down on making those key decisions on when to grasp the game and go for it rather than protecting what you have. I don’t give a monkey’s chuff about what the pundits say, they don’t pay to see the game – I do and I can honestly say I’m still waiting for that thrill under Moyes that I’ve had in the past, and the frustrating thing, the really frustrating thing is I think he wants to do it, you could see how happy he was with Benrahma, and Lanzini against the Spuds.

He just needs to let his inner romantic out and we’ll all be happy!


Guest Post

Buying on a Budget

Guest Post by ForeverBlowingBubbles

With our premier league status almost certain to be retained with the win over Watford, despite not being mathematically safe, thoughts immediately turn to next season.

Like him or loath him, or somewhere in between, David Moyes looks to be staying on as our manager at least for one year. The argument remains that he deserves time to put his stamp on the team, and – for some – based on the acquisitions of Soucek and Bowen, credit where credits due. However, who made those signings? Do we know? It has been well reported that we don’t have a scouting network that other clubs boast, we rely on agents who are largely out for themselves and on the fabled David Sullivan punt. I don’t know who to thank in this instance, David Moyes, David Sullivan – grits teeth – or a combination of both? Or was their discovery and subsequent impact on the team just dumb luck? Whatever it is, at this point, I’ll take it.

So with the transfer window – augmented due to the fallout of Covid19 – opening shortly, who should stay and who should go?

It goes without saying that we’re not going to have much – if any – money to spend and therefore the majority or all incomings will need to be generated by player sales.
With that in mind, I would be inclined to consider the following for sale, and I’m going to stress this isn’t necessarily what I’d like to see happen but what seems realistic under the circumstances.

Well first off, we’ve already lost 3 players. Two of which can hardly be considered a loss for very different reasons – the ineffective and expensive Carlos Sanchez and the bright young prospect Jeremy Ngakia who was either chasing a payout for himself or his agent. Lastly, veteran Pablo Zabaleta has left the club and while we need more youthful options in the fullback positions, I think you’d be hard pushed to find anyone who could criticise this man’s effort and leadership. He’ll be missed. However, we have lost at least £100k a week from the wage bill, nothing to be sniffed at.

In terms of selling, I think you have to start with Felipe Anderson.

Some people will read this and agree, others will think I’m insane for suggesting it based on what a ray of light he seemed to be for us when he first arrived. We all know the ability he has – as the old adage goes, form is temporary class is permanent. However, I’d like to see him leave for two reasons. One is simple practicality – we need to sell to buy – and he is the only player we have that will recoup a relatively decent amount of money and who we can afford to lose. I would imagine even in the current climate, we may get around £25million for him. That buys us one top quality full back, or two quite decent ones, considering we haven’t spent more than a few million on those positions in years. The second reason is his own mental state. For whatever reason he has gone off the boil for us in a major way and he looks extremely disinterested. Even more concerning, as Daz pointed out recently, in the last game he played he ignored the manager’s instructions repeatedly, when asked to play centrally rather than out on the left. If we’re going to back Moyes, we can’t afford to have someone like that in our squad. We need team players. Not to mention the fact that we are well covered on the left wing/left of a front three. Antonio aside, we have Grady Diangana to welcome back in that position, and Snodgrass and Masuaku can both play there. The latter I would keep for this reason. I don’t want to see him played as a defender, but he’s good going forward and we’ve recently given him a new contract. Snodgrass is good cover across many midfield positions, but he won’t last much longer, and we’d need Masuaku as back up for Diangana on the left if Anderson leaves.

Next for the chop – Ryan Fredericks.

He was worth a try. We took him on a free, albeit on reasonably high wages. His positional sense is really quite poor for a defender, the only reason he often gets away with it is because his speed tends to make up for some of the mistakes. We need better than that. We could recoup anywhere up to £5 million for him in the current climate which would be useful. Let young Johnson have the position for the time being and let us invest properly in a new RB to compete.

Jack Wilshere … where do you start?

One year left on his contract. Should never have been given 3 years in the first place but that was reportedly MP’s fault not Sullivan’s so I suppose we can’t blame him for that. His lifestyle doesn’t support football and he’s rarely fit. He contributes next to nothing to the team for the vast wages he’s on and we have plenty of others who can play in his position as it stands. There is a slim chance we could shift him now for a paltry sum – possibly a bag of magic beans – which would free up another 80-100k from the wage bill before he leaves again for nothing after barely playing for us next summer.

Albien Ajeti

The lad’s never really been given a chance, but he still retains some sort of pedigree in Europe. He was never what we needed. We needed to buy a striker with premier league experience to compete with Haller. The requirement hasn’t changed, we still need that or a youthful prospect. Possibly one of each. If we’re lucky we could still recoup £4million of so from Ajeti, around half of what we paid.

Josh Cullen

He’s been on loan now with Charlton for a couple of seasons. They look like they’d be interested in buying him and we should allow them to do so for a suitable fee – a couple of million maybe – as he doesn’t look like he’ll ever make the grade with us at 24. The championship seems to be his ceiling. Whereas our other loanee, Grady Diangana, I hope we will welcome back with open arms, after a season with West Brom that shows he has what it takes.

Roberto

Need I say more?

There’s a few others I’ve seen mentioned but I’ve left out. Cresswell? I don’t rate him, but we need some cover in the LB position. However, there’s no way he should be our first choice back if we invest properly in the fullback positions this window. Balbuena? I rate him, he was doing well for us before the dip in form and before Ogbonna went full beast-mode. He cost us a pittance and is more than good enough for back up. I don’t think we could replace him with similar quality for what he cost us realistically. Reid? The forgotten man. He still has a long-term contract with us, doesn’t look like we’ll be able to sell him given his high wages and we need a fourth centre back as cover, and we can’t afford to buy one right now when funds are needed elsewhere. Seems a no brainer to me. Lanzini? This is difficult one. He really does look a shadow of his former self, through no want of trying. I feel quite sorry for him actually. He doesn’t look like recapturing his quality, which may be impossible after an injury that could have been career ending. Really it comes down to do we get rid of him or Wilshere? We only need one or the other, as we already have Noble and the improving Fornals who can play in that role. If sold, Lanzini would grant us more funds to spend elsewhere, but there’s also the chance he may come good given more time. I personally would give him one more season to see if he recovers at the expense of Wilshere.

So then, in terms of what we need? I’d argue even a blind man could see it. We need to invest heavily in both the full back positions, at least one new RB and new LB of pedigree who can come into our first team set up. We need to buy a striker to compete with Haller, regardless of Antonio looking difficult to dislodge in that position given his form. We all know he’s one hamstring injury away from putting us in trouble. It would also be nice to see Xande Silva make the step up now he’s fit again. We need to get the fantastic Soucek in on a permanent deal and more importantly than anything, we need to try and convince Declan Rice to stick with us at least one more season. However, if Chelsea do come calling, I personally wouldn’t begrudge him leaving. I would be inclined to purchase someone in the Doucoure mould (if Watford go down) in preparation for that event, so we’re not left short again.

Given all this, our squad for next season could be:

Goalkeepers: Fab, Randolph, Martin
Right back: NEW PLAYER, Johnson
Left back: NEW PLAYER, Cresswell
Centre backs: Oggie, Diop, Balbuena, Reid
Defensive/Central Midfield: Noble, Soucek, Rice, Snodgrass
Attacking midfield: Fornals, Lanzini
Rightsided midfield: Bowen, Yarmolenko
Leftsided midfield: Diangana, Masuaku
Strikers: Haller, Antonio, NEW PLAYER, Silva

Given our resources, I’d say that looks reasonable. We have cover where its needed and we would have bought in the areas that have been lacking for some time. Of course, we would all prefer additional outgoings and incomings in various areas of the pitch, but it doesn’t seem doable right now. Other than the top teams for whom money is no object, I think a lot of clubs will struggle this year with transfers. Inviting 3 new players into our squad, potentially 2 straight into our first team, plus the purchase of Soucek seems like necessary and sensible business.

What do you think?


Tribute

In honour of Dennis Lepine 1962-2020

Guest post by Irons1959

A few weeks ago there were a few posts on here about the sad loss of Dennis Lepine who ran Hornchurch Coaches for away games and who had worked for West Ham for many years picking up and driving youth team players, as well running the Hammers travel club in the past.

His funeral was at lunchtime on Tuesday and in current circumstances only 25 people could attend.

Knowing that many of us would want to show our respects somehow Bill Gardner, a regular on these coaches, organised a pre-funeral gathering attended by several hundred Hammers who gathered in Hornchurch Country Park opposite Dennis’ house for two hours before the cortege departed at 12.30.

The house had a huge banner and the drive was covered with floral West Ham related tributes including a claret football and (my favourite) a 3D floral coach which took pride of place on the roof of the hearse. Bubbles was sung as the hearse arrived and the tributes took the best part of 25 minutes to be placed on and in the hearse with Dennis, a man who was devoted to West Ham.

The last time I travelled with Hornchurch Coaches was Sheffield away (with CRB as wing man) and it was fitting that one of these was parked up by Dennis’ house. (Apologies to anyone on the 193 route who was delayed today)

I saw Dennis at the Hammers Utd protest preceding the Southampton game and a week later in my row at Arsenal away. At a time when we can’t gather at games, Tuesday offered a chance to be part of the West Ham that for so many is slipping away …..


Book Review

Nearly Reach the Sky by Brian Williams: A Valediction to The Boleyn

FROM THE ARCHIVES: 12 February 2015

When Iain emailed me a few weeks ago to ask if I would like to review Brian Williams’ new book Nearly Reach the Sky: A Farewell to Upton Park I was both flattered and nervous. I haven’t been asked to write a book review since I was in my Headmistress’s Good Readers Club when I was 8. I said yes straight away as I’m already a fan of Brian’s writing and I anticipated a funny, clever and interesting read. I wasn’t disappointed, it was such a good read that I finished it in a day; my only hope now is that I can do it justice.

I suppose the first thing that a prospective reader might want to know is which literary genre this book falls under. To be honest it could easily be categorised as a tragicomedy, a memoir or even a history of sport. The one category I wasn’t expecting was romance.

Nearly Reach the Sky is more than just a collection of one West Ham fan’s musings on his life as a football supporter; it is a billet doux, a letter to his love of more than 50 years. It’s an explanation of his feelings for his club, which moves through the widest range of emotions – devotion, disappointment, hope and ambition, joy and elation, grief and anger, humour, impatience, self-reproach and resignation. They’re all there.

It is also a valediction. A claret and blue thread has been a part of the fabric of Brian’s life since 1964 and as he weaves and embroiders his personal love story of West Ham United it becomes apparent that a snag has appeared in the cloth. Throughout the book there is the stark realisation that the club is on the verge of leaving the ground that has been its physical and spiritual home for more than 100 years. Very soon that small tear will become a gaping hole and it’s clear that a part of the author’s heart will be ripped away forever.

Ultimately this is a paean to West Ham United but the other love of Brian’s life, his wife Di, also appears regularly in the book, together with her East End family. He has obviously enjoyed a harmonious, if polygamous, relationship with his two amours. Even so, I can’t pretend that I wasn’t shocked and a little horrified to read of Brian’s first ménage à trois. In fact it wasn’t a ménage à trois at all but a foursome! West Ham may have easily seen off other women in Brian’s life, including the girl who distracted him from Tonka’s performance on the penalty spot in the 80s and the lissome 17 year old Sharon and her hotpants; but the admission that I read in chapter 9 is nothing short of scandalous. Brian is now full of contrition and guilt for playing away and fortunately for him Di is obviously a very forgiving woman. I’m not sure that fellow West Ham fans will let him off quite so lightly and if I were Di I’d keep him on a very short leash. Despite his repentance he’s still singing love songs to other ‘birds’ to this day, and right under the nose of his true love too!

Not being born within the sound of Bow Bells has obviously caused our hero some consternation in life and he makes no secret of his delight that Cupid’s arrow landed smack bang in the middle of Beverley Road in East Ham. Here we meet Brian’s future in-laws, including the inimitable Sid, who is possibly the man originally responsible for the term ‘the elephant in the room.’ Fortunately for Brian he’d already lost his heart many years before to the aptly nicknamed ‘Ticker’ when he scored twice in the 1964 FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United, so his claret and blue credentials stood up to Sid’s suspicious scrutiny. Having passed the test with flying West Ham colours he was welcomed into the bosom of Di’s family as an honorary East Ender. He had found his dream woman who not only shared his love for West Ham but also lived just streets away from his beloved Boleyn. Love blossomed and it was clear that it was going to be a match made in heaven when their marriage was given the personal blessing of John Lyall.

If you are beginning to worry that Brian has written some kind of Mills & Boon novel or worse, Fifty Shades of Claret and Blue, fear not! As a member of the fairer sex I’m perhaps more inclined to focus on the more human elements of this story but there are more than enough match reports and reminiscences of seminal goals, games, fouls and finals to dissuade the average woman from reading it. Equally, if you are one of our more youthful West Ham fans and you think that this is a tome that would appeal only to the more decrepit members of our fan base who like to bang on about how much better it all was in their day, you would be wrong. Whilst this is a very nostalgic collection of anecdotes the author has seamlessly woven stories of past glories and defeats with accounts of recent players and games to create a narrative that every West Ham fan will be able to place themselves in at some point and say “I was there.”

Brian is obviously not a fan of the linear approach, this is not one long hoof from 1964 to the present day. Instead he weaves nimbly in and out of the decades, moving from one story to another and back again with a clever little one-two and some nifty back passes to yesteryear without ever losing his reader along the way. His story is inevitably populated with all the West Ham icons, heroes and villains that we all know and love … or hate; but we are also introduced to some of the people who make up the true heart of West Ham United ….. the fans. It’s these people that elevate this tale from being ‘just another West Ham book.’ Of course you’ll be expecting to read of Brian’s adulation of Billy Bonds and even the emotional moment when a Wolves fan broke ranks during the wreath laying ceremony for the late, great Bobby Moore. But the real pleasure of this book is being able to identify with the joy and pain of Brian’s West Ham supporting family, friends, colleagues and passing acquaintances. Their stories are as much a part of our club’s history as yours are and they all deserve to be recorded alongside the oft told tales of the people on the pitch.

This is essentially a very funny book but, like all West Ham fans, Brian also has a talent for pathos and there is an ever present poignancy between the lines of humour. His anecdotes evoke the whole gamut of emotions and I laughed out loud and shed some tears several times before I turned the final page. As I wiped away the last tear and the final smile faded from my lips I was left feeling proud and grateful. Proud because I was born a Hammer and grateful that all the wonderful characters in Brian’s book are my kith and kin. I realised that I am also a part of the same story, we all are. That sense of belonging is priceless and I can’t help but feel that something will be lost when the doors of The Boleyn are finally closed for the last time. No matter how positive any West Ham fan feels about our impending move, I challenge them to read this witty but poignant book without feeling wistful and nostalgic for a time that will never come again.

For the benefit of any newcomers to the site Brian Williams has supported West Ham United for the past 50 years and for the last 25 of those years he has been a journalist for The Guardian newspaper. He also writes a regular Tuesday column for West Ham Till I Die. This is his first book.

You can order a copy of Brian’s book NEARLY REACH THE SKY from…

Biteback Publishing for £8.99 in paperback (Use promotional code WESTHAMBW)

Biteback Publishing for £9.99 as an eBook

Amazon for £12.99 in paperback

Amazon Kindle for £10 as an eBook


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