My West Ham Story

When Will Playing in “Splendid Isolation" End?

It’s “splendid isolation week 16.” I thought Iain Dale would write this in his weekly “Letter from Tunbridge Wells”, because he has been counting the weeks since he went into lockdown in March in his emails which arrive every Sunday. But no, nothing remained the same last week. There has been “a wee spot of light away in the distance,” as David Moyes put it before the crucial game against Watford on Friday, “and we are aiming to get it”.

Instead of reporting “week 16” of splendid isolation, Iain told us that he had ventured into London last Thursday for the first time in four months, and on the Friday Boris Johnson set out a road map for ending lockdown that could see theatres reopen from August and crowds return to sport stadiums in October if “pilot events” go well (the first of them being a cricket friendly in The Oval on 26-27 July). Premier League Clubs are even more ambitious. They are hoping that games could be played with supporters present as early as September, with around 50 percent of capacity, due to social distancing and obeying of healthcare rules. But of course that will all depend on avoiding a massive “second wave”.

So there’s at least some hope that I’ll be able to spend the credit I have with West Ham United on match tickets in autumn. However, the only West Ham game I could attend this season, flying over from Austria, will remain the defeat to Newcastle back in November. Our following weekend trip to London had been planned to take place by mid-March, together with three friends and their wives, with an afternoon being reserved for football in the London Stadium of course! Well, you will have guessed it: It was the Wolves match on March 15th we had intended to watch. And this fixture happened to be in the round which was the first to be postponed entirely because of the coronavirus. We had already decided to cancel the trip beforehand, with figures rising and discussions about a lockdown already much more intense in Austria than in the UK at that time. The lockdown in Austria was announced exactly on the weekend we had planned to stay in London!

”Promise less, deliver more”

Four months later, we still do not know when we will be safe from the virus, but at least West Ham is safe now: On Friday night the Hammers virtually secured their place in the Premier League with their 3-1 victory over Watford and now they are even mathematically safe after their 1-1 draw on Wednesday night against Manchester Utd. That brought back some happiness to the Irons’ supporters who have suffered a lot this season. I’m sure plenty of us have celebrated on Friday as if we had won a cup final, and rightly so! Premier League survival was achieved that night by a team starting with purpose and determination, ready to vindicate what manager David Moyes hat asked his players the day before: “Promise less and deliver more,“ he had demanded ahead of the Watford game.

And they did deliver: Within ten minutes the Hammers were 2-0 up courtesy to goals of in-form attacking duo Michail Antonio and Tomas Soucek. And when Declan Rice made it 3-0 with a brilliantly timed long range shot from Mark Noble’s assist, it was all but clear that “the winner stays up game” belonged to West Ham. I celebrated the victory in “splendid isolation” because I had watched the game all by myself on my notebook, sitting in the parlour of an old mansion house in Reichenau an der Rax, one hour south of Vienna, being the only guest of this newly renovated guesthouse this weekend due to the bad weather (and Covid-19 of course).

”He wears Claret and Blue, he’s West Ham through and through”

Friday evening was also a very special one for skipper Mark Noble who became one of only ten players who have played 500 games for the Club within the last 125 years. In his 500th appearance on Friday evening, he once again led his teammates into a crucial battle and marked this appearance with another typically committed and influential performance from the centre of midfield, also giving the assist to the decisive 3-0 by passing the ball to Declan Rice who scored that beautiful goal (that I will tell you more about below). In the matches since the restart after lockdown, “Mr. West Ham” has played in a more advanced link-up role in midfield which seems to have suited him better than a mere defensive role which he often had to play in previous games. Also in the match against Manchester Utd Mark could not be criticized for playing sidewards and backwards, making the game slow. He linked up with Rice, Soucek and Bowen in some neat attacks, the latters being January signigs who have contributed very much to West Ham’s revival and helping Antonio to become the most prolific goalscorer of post-lockdown.

Mark Noble made his debut in the senior team at the age of just 17 in a League Cup match against Southend in August 2004. That was around the time I renewed and intensified my support for West Ham. The Hammers, in addition to my lifelong support of Rapid Vienna, had first caught my attention back in grammar school when we had developed an interest in English football. They had been on the list of foreign clubs to follow since, but because of their promotion within the season of 2004/05 my interest in them increased significantly and hasn’t stopped to this day. Within these almost sixteen years West Ham have been promoted twice from the Championship via the play-offs (in 2005 and 2012), have reached one FA Cup final (in 2006) and managed a “great escape” in the unforgettable spring of 2007 when I travelled to our first game at Upton Park with my friend Alfred! This game was a defeat (of course…), but with a beautiful goal scored by Carlos Tevez and with Mark Noble playing in midfield.

West Ham in a nutshell

Tevez took the goal from quite a similar position to the one from which Declan Rice hit the back of the net on Friday evening against Watford. It even was almost the same minute of the game, although the circumstances of the matches being very different: Whereas Rice scored the 3-0 in the 36th minute facing a completely empty Sir Trevor Brooking Stand at Stratford, Tevez’ 1:1 came in the 35th minute in front of an erupting Bobby Moore Stand at Upton Park. When I watch the video of this goal I still get goose bumps!

However, that joy didn’t last long back in 2007. With Chelsea’s next attack, just a minute later, they were in front again, and eventually they won 4-1. These two minutes between the 35th and the 36th minute of that game could be seen as "West Ham in a nutshell“: Absolute joy erupting in the ground after Tevez’s brilliantly taken goal, immediately followed by the bursting of the bubble when Shaun Wright-Phillips scored at the other end of the pitch within a minute after the equaliser.

How to change a habit?

David Moyes adressed this “trademark” of the Club in his press conference before the Watford game. It’s this habit of “bursting bubbles” shortly after they have started to fly, which the Scot wants to change when he’s given more time in his second spell than two years back in 2018 when he was replaced after “having done his duty“ of keeping West Ham up. The end of this story (replacing Moyes by a manager of – supposedly – “higher calibers” when the Board decided to turn to former Manchester City and Real Madrid coach Manuel Pellegrini) can also be seen as a typical “fade and die” situation after having “nearly” played the “West Ham way” from autumn of 2018 to the day Fabianski got injured and was replaced by a poorly selected subitute goal keeper. Well, this time round it is all but secure that David Moyes will remain in his managerial position after having guarded West Ham to safety.

When Moyes came back to London in December he said that he refused to consider surviving Premier League relegation a “success” and insisted that in the long term his ambitions sat far higher than that. The manager wants a cultural reset – away from the view he had of West Ham when he was at Everton, namely of a “flaky, inconsistent” side.

That was a view, he said, that was reinforced by one of his earliest memories from the first time he was appointed manager in November 2017, when Watford were his first opponents. “My biggest memory from that night was Marko [Arnautovic] coming off with a sore finger,” said the Scot. “I thought ‘my goodness, what is this I have got here?’. It was my perception [that West Ham were soft] and a lot of managers would still see it that way. It is something we need to change. We have to alter that culture.”

He pointed to a word he heard during lockdown: “One of the things I heard in lockdown came from the Archbishop of York. He said ‘promise less, deliver more’. That has to be a bit of West Ham,” Moyes said ahead of the game against Watford.

Now with the boys having delivered and secured another 4 points and Premier League football next season, it remains to be seen if Moyes‘s intention to change this mentality will reap fruits and West Ham will stop being the team everybody wants to play if a losing streak shall finally come to an end. Far too often, West Ham have not delivered, and famous wins were followed by silly defeats and lacklustre displays. Therefore within the sixteen seasons since Mark Noble’s debut the Hammers have only once qualified for Europe via their league position. And since supporters who have witnessed the Irons winning silverware have to be 40+ of age, two medals for winning the play-off-finals are the only trophies Mark Noble (33) has won with our beloved club. “Let others wage wars for European qualification or Cup silverware, ‘tu Felix West Ham’ celebrate surviving another relegation battle,” that could be our ironic motto in variation of the famous saying about how the (long-gone) Austrian empire had been built by the House of Habsburg (“Let others wage wars, thou, o happy Austria, marry”).

Well, I’m sure no one of us would mind if David Moyes adds some steel to the “soft Irons” when he puts together the squad for next season, as long as he doesn’t forget the attacking flair and creative flow that always has surrounded West Ham! The latest signings of Jarred Bowen and Tomas Soucek have been a success, let’s hope the gaffer will find more “hungry players” he can motivate to give “blood, sweat and tears” when they put on the shirt, like “Mr. West Ham“ Mark Noble has done for 16 years now. Moyes has really earned the chance to show us what he can do for an entire season or more.

The “new normal” sound of football

Next season will start without supporters present in the ground – an isolation of the game which is not “splendid” at all. Without the noise of the crowd, the sound of the game feels like grassroots football on a playing field somewhere in a small village, as one can hear almost every single word which is spoken on the pitch and the sidelines.

The German newspaper “Die Zeit” even had the idea to publish every word that the players had spoken on the pitch during an entire game, filling sixteen pages of the latest issue of “Zeit Magazin” with the words that were exchanged from the first until the last minute of the “Geisterspiel” between Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich. Reading the repetitive language of the players you may think of rap in terms of rhythm, and some things written down sound like a Dadaist play. It was not a surprise that the conversation was dominated by a trio of David Alaba – Joshua Kimmich – Thomas Müller who warned and encouraged the other players for 90 minutes. If the referee made a decision to the disadvantage of Bayern, they often immediately questioned it and tried to put the ref under pressure.

Let’s hope that not only these “ghost games” will become a thing of the past some time this season (maybe as soon as September or October), but let’s also look forward to the prospect of changing the brand of “soft and inconsistent West Ham” within David Moyes’s second spell. But don’t worry, I’m not dreaming of a Bayern-like transformation of West Ham United. It would be boring to win the league seven times in a row like Bayern or Red Bull Salzburg – that would obviousky contradict the motto of all the years I’ve been a member of the Claret and Blue Army: “Never a dull day with West Ham United!”

Though no promises will be made anymore, according to David Moyes’s call to “promise less and deliver more“, with the positive end to the season – not just avoiding relegation, but doing it in style in recent games, including the first double over Chelsea since the 2002/03 season – we dare to dream that the Irons will perform better in their fifth season in the London Stadium than the four years before. And I dare to hope to witness a game of the next campaign in London, as soon as travelling will feel more safe and crowds are going to be allowed to cheer on their team inside the ground again.

If things are going well, we will meet again in autumn!

Come on you Irons!

Talking Point

Good News On Brexit Day

For me Brexit isn’t good news. I always was in favour of Remain and of a second people’s vote, but the answer was “We already had one”, and Boris would “get Brexit done”.

Now as of 1st of February, the UK really is no longer part of the EU. Will Britain now get great again? Sorry, it will not. But the EU will also struggle, and maybe the block should have been more flexible to better accommodate the diversity of the continent and keep the UK on board. So for me, the only good news from London last Friday was the signing of an other new player for West Ham United.

In the brilliant book “Rule Britannia. Brexit and the End of Empire” the authors argue that the vote to leave the EU was the last gasp of the old empire working its way out of the British psyche, fuelled by an unrealistic vision of Britain’s future. I wish the UK well in the upcoming negotiations with the EU, but I fear it will be a tough match and in the end the outcome will not be satisfactory. Well, that reminds me of how things panned out at football club West Ham United after leaving the Boleyn (which by the way happened at the same time as the referendum whether to leave the EU).

With the move from Upton Park to the Olympic Stadium the West Ham faithful were promised golden days ahead, the Board was even talking of Champions League football within some years. But we’ve got the second relegation battle within three years instead of.

Even when the owners decided, after fan protests inside and outside the unloved new stadium, to invest a notable amount of money into the squad and hire a decent manager in 2018, it seems we were deluded in some way.

It was not only me who thought that with Manuel Pellegrini, a very successful manager with his former clubs, who was the highest paid gaffer in West Ham’s history, a “revolution” would start and bring success to a club where fortune’s had been hiding for much too long.

Pellegrini’s first season wasn’t bad. After a slow start with four defeats the players seemed to understand the new way of attacking play the Chilean tried to instil, there were glimpses of a fine style of play dubbed the “West Ham way” in former times, and a number of good results with lots of goals scored were achieved. Sometimes it seemed the squad had developed a formerly unknown “winning mentality”, and they accumulated more wins in a single month than ever before in Premier League history (in December 2018). Last season on my travels from Austria to the London Stadium I was lucky enough to attend four consecutive wins (Burnley 4-2, Crystal Palace 3-2, Arsenal 1-0 and Southampton 3-0). Unbelievable!

And when the Irons started very well this season, things looked bright and again it wasn’t just me who thought that West Ham had one of the strongest squads in recent years, and that they would go on to finally win something after many, many years without silverware. This year it is forty years that the Hammers have won the FA Cup, it’s “time to be great again” this season, isn’t it? That’s what we thought after the 2018/19 “transitional season”, which now would surely be followed by one more step forward for the Club.

But then our seemingly talismanic goalkeeper, Lukasz Fabianski, the fabulous shotstopper and Hammer of the Year 2019, got injured, and West Ham suddenly found itself in a downward spiral with Manuel Pellegrini unable to stop the decline. His substitute goalie Roberto who had been brought to West Ham by Pellegrini and his director of sports Husillos, instead of former fans favourite Adrian, proved completely unable to cope with the task of playing in the Premier League. Being a factor of highest uncertainty he unsettled the defenders in front of him, West Ham’s defence was (and unfortunately still is, though Roberto now has left the club) a complete shambles, and the Hammers ship goals after goals! Our exit from the League Cup was followed by a dismal run of seven league games with Roberto in goal without a win, until Pellegrini decided to hand the club’s third keeper his Premier League debut.

It was the best moment of this season so far, when 33 year old David Martin found himself between the sticks against Chelsea and made a dream start by keeping a clean sheet at Stamford Bridge. He helped West Ham win 1-0 away against the Blues and, breaking into tears after the final whistle, he then sprinted up the stairs of the stand to celebrate the win with his father, West Ham legend Alvin Martin, who was a member of West Ham’s Cup winning team of 1980.

But these heroics are long gone, and were a short-lived upturn in West Ham’s fortunes, followed by just one win within the next five games. Pellegrini seemed utterly clueless, he looked an old man in the dugout who had completely lost the dressing room, being unable to coach his team, and making strange substitutions which nobody could understand…

Instead of a step forward the Club now made one back, fired MP after an other defeat to Leicester City by the end of December, and reappointed David Moyes who had saved the Hammers from relegation in 2018, but then had not been found good enough to remain the Club’s manager.

After an all but perfect start into his second reign at the London Stadium with that 4-0 home win over Bournemouth, things haven’t went so well for David Moyes so far, as the shape of the squad he inherited is simply not good enough to restart a season which really has been a desaster so far. We’re out of the FA Cup, eliminated by former Hammers coach Slaven Bilic’s West Brom, and the disastrous home record this season could really turn out to be West Ham’s most lethal problem: the Hammers have won only three games out of fourteen at the London Stadium so far this season.

Therefore it was good news from London last Friday that West Ham had signed another player on transfer deadline day (which coincided with Brexit Day), bringing in versatile attacker Jarrod Bowen from Hull City where he had scored 54 goals and added 14 assists in 131 matches.

After having already welcomed Czech midfielder Tomas Soucek (24) from Slavia Prague on loan within this window, David Moyes hailed the 23-year-old Bowen: “I think he could be a big success. When you score goals like he does, and in the numbers he does, in the Championship, it will give you a great chance of scoring goals in the Premier League.”

That seemed to be good news from London on Brexit Day at last, albeit quickly followed by a severe setback when West Ham slipped into the relegation zone on the Saturday. Well, this season won’t get great again – let’s hope David Moyes and his squad at least will achieve the only aim that’s left: to turn the corner and succeed in the relegation dogfight ahead of us.

As half of the clubs of the Premier League may be involved in the relegation battle this year, there are still plenty of other clubs that could go down. But it will get tough and could really go down to the wire. And well, I’m sure that will also be the case with the upcoming negotiations to get a free-trade deal with the EU. Let’s hope the outcome of both of these battles will be a good one!

Come on you Irons!

Talking Point

Victory for the Forest

I usually hate international breaks. In football I am a “club over country” guy, and therefore I’m not looking forward to international games so much as other football fans may do. But this international break feels different for some reasons.

First because we went into it on a high, with West Ham mustering back to back wins in the League, and the Irons are undefeated in four games now (including the League Cup). Therefore this time we aren’t eagerly awaiting the end of the international break because our club were in desperate need of securing more points to get out of the lower ranks of the table. West Ham now comfortably sit in 7th with seven points out of four games, and they have almost evened out the the poor goal difference that resulted from the heavy loss to the champions in the first game of the season. Therefore everybody can relax, have an eye on the outcome of the Euro qualifiers, and look forward to the Monday evening game against Aston Villa.

And also very important for my positive mood was that I was tasting victory with my hometown club Rapid Vienna before the international break too, in one of the most anticipated and important games of the season: The green-whites won the first Vienna derby of this year, defeating FK Austria Wien 3-1. Those results make it much easier to tolerate this break with no games of our beloved clubs within two weeks.

Unbelievable things can happen on a football pitch

But there is also a different – and much longer – kind of break for league football this autumn in a certain stadium located in Austria’s southern province of Carinthia. Yeah, there are more unbelievable things which can happen on a football pitch these days than a shock victory of an underdog from time to time! Or would you have ever thought that a modern football ground could be transformed into a forest?

That’s exactly what’s taking place for seven weeks now in the Wörthersee Stadium in Klagenfurt, Austria! An art installation consisting of 299 trees was opened to the public in Austria’s most beautiful stadium last Sunday. The installation called “For Forest” can now be watched for free every day, forcing football out of the stadium until October 27th.

The project was conceived by Swiss artist Klaus Littmann (pictured below) – who saw a pencil drawing “The Unending Attraction of Nature” by Austrian painter Max Peintner (above; more than 30 years ago – and finally was able to turn this artist’s striking dystopia into a much disputed, controversial reality together with landscape architect Enzo Enea.

About time for this art installation, but wrong timing for the footy

Peintner’s pencil drawing originates from the 1970s and is a statement against the threat to our natural environment by imagining a time when forests will exist only as exhibition objects. Austria’s largest public art installation seems to come at the right time when the implications of climate change become more and more obvious. But its realisation also means that Carinthian football club Wolfsberger AC, which have qualified for the Europa League for the first time in their history, will not be able to play their group games in their federal province of Carinthia, but have to shift their matches against Borussia Mönchengladbach, AS Roma and Turkish outfit Basaksehir to the Styrian capital Graz.

The Wörthersee Stadium, which is named after the adjacent beautiful lake, is home ground to second tier club Austria Klagenfurt. They now have to play their games on the training pitch of the stadium, as long as mixed woodland is occupying the original stadium, before it will be transferred to a place somewhere nearby (where it will keep growing as a memorial forest). The adapted training venue can host 2500 – 3000 spectators, hence Austria Klagenfurt have lost the opportunity to attract much more spectators to their upcoming ÖFB (Austrian Football Association Cup) game against first division outfit Sturm Graz!

With multi purpose use, conflicts are inevitable

Nevertheless in my opinion the realisation of this art project is a brilliant idea and from the pictures I’ve seen so far it looks great (pics: Christian Rainer; But I have had a lot of discussions with friends, some of them heavily criticising the installation which temporarily prevents the ground from being used properly. Though according to its building permit the Wörthersee Stadium is not only to be used for sports, it is a multifunctional arena which also hosts concerts and other events throughout the year. And without this multi purpose use the stadium never would be viable.

As West Ham fans we already know that in a stadium which isn’t used for football only, conflicts of use do emerge from time to time, as it was the case two years ago when West Ham had to start their season with three away games because of the athletics. In Klagenfurt without doubt it would have been better to let the installation take place earlier in the year to avoid a conflict with the Europa League. But on the other hand the recent conflict of use is an other evidence to demonstrate that Carinthia and Austria need this 30,000 football stadium.

The ground has been built for the European Championship 2008 and often been dubbed a “white elephant” since. It is used from time to time for games of Austria’s national side (Austria beat Germany there in June 2018!) and has hosted the Austrian cup final several times. The Europa League would have been a perfect fit, but let’s hope Wolfsberg or even Austria Klagenfurt qualify for Europe in years to come and then get the stadium filled again with 29,900 football fans instead of 299 trees.

I’m a fan of the “For Forest” project, as I already said. I know the Wörthersee Stadium quite well and have been to it quite often, not only to watch football games but also because of my profession as lawyer representing the City of Klagenfurt in the environmental impact assessment and the construction law procedures. Our law firm also have organised a Symposium on sports law there for some years. And after having been there supporting Rapid Vienna together with Austria’s loudest and most enthusiastic supporters, though without success twice within three years, now I wonder how it will feel to visit a very quiet Stadium, watch the trees from the terraces and hear the rustle of leaves instead of the chants of the football fans. Victory for the forest this time …

A victory for the Greens at last?

Well, you may know that my hometown club Rapid Vienna’s colours are green and white, and they call themselves “the Greens”. Unfortunately Rapid have already been defeated twice in the Austrian cup final in the Wörthersee Stadium by Red Bull Salzburg. So for once I could be relishing in the rare sight of the “greens” having occupied the pitch, celebrating their victory, though they aren’t wearing shirts and shorts of this colour but green leaves. Could that be a good omen for the next game in this year’s ÖFB Cup when Rapid meet Salzburg as early as round two in a „premature cup final“ on the 25th of September?

Anyway, let’s hope league football will make a glorious comeback after the international break, and “claret and blue” as well as “green and white” will delight us with beautiful goals and cracking victories on the football pitch next weekend! But until then, why not have a debate on what you think about “For Forest”, the controversial art installation on the Klagenfurt pitch?


Talking Point

New Number 7 Found Quickly

But Hammers still in desperate search of a hitman

With Marko Arnautovic having departed to Chinese side SIPG Shanghai under highly annoying circumstances (on which I don’t want to waste words anymore) West Ham have immediately got a new number 7 in Andriy Yarmolenko.

Prior to West Ham’s first game of pre-season in Austria, Andriy said:

“I’m changing because it is my number in the national team and also because it is a lucky number for me and I hope it makes me play well for West Ham.”

Having been out for much of last season due to injury the Ukrainian added: “Maybe a little bit I am like a new signing!”

If he keeps fit, Yarmolenko could partly fill the gap that Arnie’s departure has opened in West Ham’s squad. But with Andriy being a winger it will be necessary to quickly also find other offensive options to guarantee that West Ham will reach their goals: finishing within the first third of the Premier League table, and to do that with offensive and entertaining football. Manager Manuel Pellegrini’s first transfer target Maxi Gomez unfortunately could not be signed, and therefore the search for a new striker has to continue.

With forward Andy Carroll released in the summer after another injury-affected season, also his squad number was handed to a new player in the 3-2 win over Austrian Bundesliga side SCR Altach, with Chicharito sporting the shirt no. 9. It is to be seen though if the Mexican will keep this squad number, as a new center forward might get it, and it is not a certainty at all that Chicharito will remain at West Ham.

Frenchman Sebastien Haller, playing for German side Eintracht Frankfurt and having netted 15 times in the German Bundesliga last season, is rumoured to be West Ham’s new striker target. He is said to be at the centre of a €40 million bid from the club, but he has no get out-clause in his contract and the German outfit will be reluctant to let Haller leave, as with Luka Jovic one of their stars has already joined Real Madrid and another one, Ante Rebic, could leave for Inter Milan.

West Ham’s shocking scoring record

West Ham is desperate to sign a really prolific front man after years in which the Hammers’ scoring record has been on low tide. A survey published by ClaretandHugh ( click here ) showed that West Ham are the only Premier League team to not have a league top scorer in excess of twenty goals this century.

The last player to score more than 20 goals in a season for West Ham, believe it or not, was Tony Cottee. The striker who just has turned 54 on July 11, scored 22 goals in the 1986/87 season. The season before, Frank McAvennie scored even more goals, hitting the net 26 times in the First Division when the “boys of 86” achieved West Ham’s all time best finish in the top flight! Together Cottee/McAvennie scored 46 league goals that season when the Hammers came a close third behind Liverpool and Everton winning 26 of their 42 games.

Long time gone … but in Pellegrini we trust! And in his director of sports, Mario Husillos, who hopefully will engineer an other transfer like the one that brought new midfielder Pablo Fornals to West Ham United recently!

Though there seems to be some doubt at West Ham that the Argentinian director of sports will be able to bring arguments weighty enough to lure Haller from Frankfurt to the London Stadium: media reports emerged on Friday that in this transfer case additional help by another agent, Willie McKay, has been called into action to help completing the deal.

Come on you Irons!

My West Ham Story

The New Kit: Looking Back to the Past or Another Step Forward?

West Ham United’s 2019/20 new Home and Away kits were unveiled last week and, as the official website have let us know, the all-white 1980 FA Cup-inspired away shirts are “proving particularly popular with supporters“. For me though West Ham’s new home kit is something very special, because the original shirt which has inspired Umbro, was used back in the time when I first came across West Ham United.

In these times, when I was attending grammar school in my home town in Lower Austria, my classmates and I were very much interested in English football. In 1975-76 Liverpool had won the UEFA Cup and then, for six seasons in a row, the “Champions League” of this age was won by English clubs: from 1977 to 1982 Liverpool were winners of the European Cup three times, Nottingham Forest won it twice and Aston Villa once! English clubs hence were the best in Europe and that drew my and my classmates’ attention to the First Division of the English Football League. Back in these days every Sunday the evening sports show in Austrian TV had some of the goals that had been scored over the weekend on the often deep and muddy pitches of the English grounds. And the FA Cup Final could even be watched “live” every year on Austrian TV!

Goalkeeper shirts had to be green

The English goalkeepers in these days always wore green shirts, and so I also got me a green goalkeeper shirt for the matches we played in school (a colour which I had always liked because it is the colour of my favourite Austrian club, Rapid Vienna). Playing in goal myself, I was particularly interested in English goalkeepers, and it was Phil Parkes of Queens Park Rangers to whom I paid special attention, because one of my close friends, with whom I shared the passion for Rapid Vienna, had already become a loyal supporter of the Hoops.

The fascination of claret & blue

But not only blue and white hoops had caught my attention, also these claret shirts with the blue sleeves were something very special for us, because West Ham’s and Aston Villa’s “claret and blue” were completely unusual colours for football shirts in Austria.

Therefore I also kept an eye on West Ham’s results and when the club won the FA Cup in 1975 and reached the 1976 European Cup Winners’ Cup Final, also the Hammers became one of the teams to watch! And that brings us back to the new home shirt, because the strip which served as a model for the 2019 claret home shirt (shoulders, upper part of the chest and sleeves in blue) was used from 1976 to 1980 and was first sported in the European Cup Winners’ Cup Final in Bruxelles against Anderlecht in May 1976. I watched this game on TV and I have kept a newspaper cutting of the match report showing then West Ham keeper Mervin Day and a West Ham defender in the new shirt.

These days also were the time when I first travelled to England in 1976, repeating that journey in 1977. And then I visited Scotland some years later in 1980 when I already studied at university. But as all of these trips only could take place in July, my hosts would just treat me to a match of cricket and no live football could be watched! But on our trip through Europe with an “interrail ticket” in 1977 we were able to manage getting to Kaiserslautern in Germany to watch our first live game of an English team: QPR played a friendly there on the Betzenberg against 1. FCK. Phil Parkes still played for QPR then.

Phil Parkes, Trevor Brooking and FA Cup glory

When Phil Parkes moved from Loftus Road to Upton Park in 1979 for a transfer fee of £ 565,000, being the most expensive goalkeeper at the time, attention switched from QPR to West Ham more and more, and I can confirm that QPR was not on my radar anymore. And I remember very well to have watched the FA Cup final 1980 when the Hammers won the Cup thanks to Trevor Brooking’s famous header which beat Arsenal: “1-0 to the Cockney boys!”

The 1976 home shirt was used by the Hammers for today unbelievable four seasons, but in 1980, as we all know, this shirt was not the one which Trevor Brooking sported on the Wembley pitch against Arsenal in May 1980, when the Hammers won silverware for the last time in their history so far. In that final both of the teams played in their away kit: the Gunners in yellow shirts and blue shorts (well, and the shorts could really be called “short” these days!), and West Ham in all-white. Therefore it’s no surprise that the new white Umbro away kit inspired by the cup win of 1980 has proved so popular among West Ham’s fans that its pre-orders have hit record numbers since its launch last week. I’m sure I will be tempted to order one as well soon, especially as since last season non-sponsored shirts are available in all sizes, not only for children. But somewhere in my wardrobe I should already have an old white cup final replica shirt, just couldn’t find it the other day.

Quite some years already

I also have some old shirts of my Austrian favourite team Rapid Vienna of course, which I started to support in primary school. When I became a “Rapidfan” by the end of the sixties, it took them 14 years to repeat their winning of the Austrian championship, albeit they had won it in 1967 and 1968 for the 24th and 25th time in their history. And with West Ham it’s even worse: Now it’s almost forty years since winning the FA Cup in 1980, and even the latest cup final in which West Ham have played dates back to 2006, quite some years already!

Fourteen years seemed to be a very long time for a young guy, whereas I now feel that the 14 years since West Ham’s promotion back to the Premier League in 2005 (which was followed by a fantastic season under the tenure of Alan Pardew with the highlight of the cup final against Liverpool) have passed very quickly. But forty years are quite a long period also for an older man, aren’t they? And haven’t older people got the habit to become impatient from time to time? Will there ever be a season when the Irons win some silverware again? Maybe next season, forty years after 1980?

If the shirt can help that task and inspire the Hammers to return to Wembley glory, as FA Cup-winning defender Alvin Martin is quoted on the official website , so be it. But more important is who’s at the helm as manager and which kind of business he can do in the summer. Therefore I’m happy with the shirt, but I also say: “In Pellegrini we trust!” Manager Manuel Pellegrini has started to build something special at West Ham and we have already seen a change of mentality of the team in several games throughout the last season.

Let’s hope that the new kits do not only serve as mere reminiscence of former success, but will bring back some silverware to the club in the near future! West Ham have made some big steps forward in the transition season that was 2018/19. Now they should be ready for the next level if MP is allowed to continue what he has begun.

Let the “Pellegrini Regulation, errr,,, Revolution” continue! Come on you Irons!

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