Talking Point

Curse and Magic of a "Parallel Campaign"

The plot of one of the best known Austrian novels, Robert Musil’s “The Man Without Qualities” (Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften) is about a so-called “Parallel Campaign” (Parallelaktion) meant to celebrate the Austrian Emperor’s 70 years of reign in the same year 1918 in which the German Emperor would be ruler of his country for 30 years. In my case almost 100 years later another “parallel campaign” is taking place in Vienna and London, concerning football clubs Rapid Vienna and West Ham United – a “Parallelaktion” that most recently started with two goals, conceded by both clubs in the 94th minute of their respective games five weeks ago.

I live in Vienna and, of course wanting to watch football live more regularly than my travels to London allow, I also follow a team of my home town, SK Rapid Vienna, as most of you will know. Therefore any given weekend there is always a chance to overcome the disappointment of a West Ham defeat with a win of Rapid, and vice versa of course. But in recent weeks it’s like bewitched: there seem to be more parallelisms between the two clubs than ever, and unfortunately they have not been positive ones.

Well, from the very beginning until today there have been surprising similarites between these two clubs which I have followed for many, many years: at the end of the 19th century both of them were founded as “workers‘ clubs” (Thames Ironworks FC and First Vienna Workers FC). And at the beginning of the 2016-17 season both clubs started to play in a new home! But with the coincidences having increased within the last weeks, it looks as if this season is really going to be some kind of a “parallel campaign” for the two clubs I support.

The cruelty of the 94th minute

The latest parallel action started almost five weeks ago when West Ham played West Brom in the London Stadium and Rapid Vienna played Austria Vienna in the Vienna Stadium (aka Ernst Happel Stadium). Both clubs lead with a small margin of one goal until the beginning of injury time. Their fans were nervously awaiting the final whistle in a nail biting finish, but exactly in the 94th minute of the respective games of this very weekend late equalisers were scored: Gareth McAuley made it 2-2 in London, and an other defensive mistake in Vienna allowed Lukas Rotpuller to score the 1-1 for Austria Vienna, cruelly destroying Rapid’s hope of a win against their local rivals and a successful start into the spring campaign after the Austrian winter break.

The next weekend none of our clubs scored. West Ham was not able to kick a ball because they had already departed from the FA Cup with a heavy defeat in a match back in January we all want to forget. And Rapid Vienna was not able to hit the back of the net in their league game against Admira (0-0). A sad weekend with West Ham not able to play in the FA Cup anymore and Rapid again unable to win.

Well, one week later West Ham had to play Watford away achieving another draw (1-1). This time that would have been a result which I would have been happy with in Rapid’s away game in Carinthia against Wolfsberger AC. West Ham and Rapid had to trail a 0-1 in their respective games and really, both of them were able to equalise (through Andre Ayew and Mario Sonnleitner). But in the 80th minute the similarities unfortunately came to an end when Wolfsberg scored a late winner and the „Greens“ had to travel back to Vienna without any points, still rooted to a disappointing 5th place in the 10-clubs-Austrian Bundesliga.

Versus the leaders of the league

Next weekend saw West Ham and Rapid play the leader of the English Premier League as well as the leader of the Austrian Bundesliga at home. Rapid have a new manager in Damir Canadi since November who has made a lot of changes in the team’s system of playing, still waiting for his first win of 2017. But again on a cold Sunday afternoon in the Allianz Stadium we had to taste defeat, losing out 0-1 to Red Bull Salzburg.

And West Ham, as I had feared, didn’t do any better one day later, also being defeated on Monday evening in the London Stadium with a one-goal-margin by Chelsea with Manuel Lanzini scoring a late consolation in injury time (1-2).

Winless weeks to continue?

And the winless weeks still have not come to an end, neither in London nor in Vienna: last weekend saw West Ham lose to Bournemouth away on Saturday, and therefore I was almost sure that on the Sunday Rapid would be defeated in Graz by Sturm Graz. Again it was the same goal margin by which the clubs were seperated from their opponents, West Ham losing 2-3 and Rapid 1-2.

Now since this cruel 94th minute equalisers by mid February, West Ham and Rapid have been waiting for a win for five weeks now. The clubs have dropped back in the table to 6th and 11th respectively. Especially Rapid, still the record champions of Austria but their last title dating back to 2008, are very disappointed with this first season in their new Allianz Stadion aka Weststadion. And also West Ham should do better in their new home, aiming for eighth (as we were told by David Gold lately). Rapid are still hoping to qualify for Europe, though now this seems almost impossible via the league. Nevertheless Rapid is still playing in the Austrian cup, but their last win of this competition is ages away.

Will the “parallel campaign” continue next weekend, and to what end? West Ham will host Leicester in the London Stadium on Saturday 3 p.m. and Rapid are also playing at home at the same time against Mattersburg. Both opponents were already close to or in a relegation spot this season, but both of them have had a revival within the last weeks with new managers. And Mattersburg also has a new key player, veteran striker Stefan Maierhofer aka „The Major“ who played for Bayern, Rapid, Wolves, Bristol FC and Millwall in former years. He suffered a break of his cheek bone two weeks ago but has promised to come back against Rapid and play against his former club with a protective mask on his face. (Back in 2008 he also played with such a device and helped Rapid win their last Austrian Championship!)

Well, West Ham and Rapid cannot hide behind a mask next weekend. They have to come out and start some kind of revival themselves to make us happy again after five weeks without a win. „The natural state of the football fan is disappointment“, Nick Hornby says in his novel Fever Pitch, adding: „No matter what the score“. But if the score was in our favour on Saturday afternoon it would really help to improve our mood, that’s for sure!

Still a lot to play for

Robert Musil’s novel “Mann ohne Eigenschaften” has remained unfinished though it contains of more than 1000 pages, and also this season is far from being finished. There is still a lot to play for in the coming weeks. Relegation or winning the title are not up for dicussion, therefore playing well, scoring goals, making the supporters happy, climbing up the table, and ending the season on a positive note are what we are expecting from our clubs. This would really be a “parallel campaign” I’d like to see!

Then, later in the year, the transfer window in the summer must be used much better this time than it was last year. Another thing that went wrong with both our clubs last time! Well, and like every year there will be hope for the next campaign in London and in Vienna – to have a team with the quality and capability of playing the way we’d like to watch in our new grounds! Then the positive magic of a “parallel campaign” with two “teams of quality”, and not of “Männer ohne Eigenschaften”, will unfold again in autumn 2017 …

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Talking Point

West Ham in a nutshell

There’s never a dull moment with West Ham, as the old adage goes. And last week was “West Ham in a nutshell”, a lot of downs made us desperate, sad and angry at the same time, but at last the Hammers came back in style with their highest victory in the London Stadium so far.

Having moved up the table in December with three consecutive wins against Burnley, Hull and Swansea, in the next three games West Ham did not score a single goal, lost 0-1 at Leicester and 0-2 at home to Manchester United, and in the end got humiliated in the London Stadium by Manchester City: the Hammers were eliminated from the FA Cup in the 3rd round with a 0-5 defeat. And to make things worse, our star player Dimitri Payet went on strike and declared that he wanted away (to his former Club Marseille) and would never kick a ball anymore for West Ham. But it wouldn’t be good old West Ham, if the Hammers hadn’t surprised us in the face of adversity.

And what a victory that was against Crystal Palace in a crucial London derby, what an atmosphere and what a strike by the Big Man against Big Sam’s Eagles who were sent back to South London with a 0-3!

Andy Carroll scored the goal of the season with a magic scissor kick that made forget Payet’s earlier wonder goal with that solo effort against Middlesbrough back in October.

Sofiane Feghouli tapped in his first Premier League goal to make it 1-0, and Manuel Lanzini sealed the win with a fine chip making it 3-0. And the Argentine jumped into the crowd after having scored his goal, as his compatriot Carlos Tevez had done when he had converted a freekick in an other London derby back in 2007 – scoring his first West Ham goal against Tottenham.

What a week

The last week really was West Ham in a nutshell: having been trashed by Manchester City in the FA Cup, rattled by Payet’s infamous behaviour, being on the verge of total despair because of losing the best player before a crucial match that could make us slip down the table again, and still the fans did not really feel at home in the London Stadium being more or less quiet in the first half against Crystal Palace … But then manager Slaven Bilic made a clever substitution after a fairly poor first half, everyone pulled together, the crowd responded when the players showed character and determination, and then the time of Michail Antonio had come:

The winger, who much too often has to play as a defender , had been forced to miss the build-up through illness, but played a decisive part with three crucial assists during the game, the first one of them coming in the 67th Minute. Antonio got in behind a Palace defender and took the ball around Palace keeper Wayne Hennessey. His cross towards goal found Feghouli who was in the right place to knock the loose ball into an empty net.

Carroll secured all three points for the home side in spectacular fashion on 79 minutes. Antonio’s left-footed cross fell perfectly for the Hammers forward and he produced a great piece of skill to fire the perfect scissor kick past Hennessey into the roof of the net.

And then Antonio turned provider once again on 85 minutes as he played the perfect through ball into the path of Lanzini who showed all his class to deliver the perfect chip over the Palace keeper as the Hammers celebrated their highest victory in the London Stadium so far.

Overcoming adversity

From utter despair to highest joy, from 0-5 in the last game eight days before to a convincing 3-0 without the man whose name I don’t want to mention again here! A brilliant comeback that was topped with a wonder goal, three assists from that man Michail Antonio and a jump into the crowd that showed how tense the last week had been and how relieved and happy the players were now! And the fans really felt “United United” in their still unfamiliar new home, everyone pulled together in a time of adversity to overcome this situation and showed spirit and determination!

Well, next weekend could see us move up into the top half of the table if the Irons get three or at least one point from their away game at Middlesbrough. But for today I am happy with West Ham sitting in 12th, nine points away from the relegation zone.


Match Report

We all follow the West Ham, over land and sea, to the Olympic Stadium on the River Lea

It was not only Hamburg Hammer who was in London that last weekend before Christmas. I visited the British capital too and made WEST HAM v HULL my first game in the London Stadium! I was lucky to get two tickets in the Sir Trevor Brooking Stand Lower through West Ham’s ticket ballot and two other tickets with a little help from my friends. Travelling together with Mrs. Rapidhammer, my son and my future daughter-in-law it wasn’t a “football only weekend”, though I will focus on my experience regarding the London Stadium.

Well, my feelings after the first visit to the former Olympic Stadium are not euphoric, but all in all quite positive – maybe first of all because of the result, a very important though undeserved 1-0 win due to a Mark Noble penalty and much help from the “man of the match” called “the post”. Having been hit three times in this very game I think the match will be remembered for that post only … . but for me this match will always be something special, my first afternoon at the Olympic Stadium. But now one by one:

Staying in a Shoreditch flat over the weekend we travelled to the stadium from there by bus and walked to the ground for 15 mins, reaching it near the away end, a little left to the main concours. We were late because Mrs. Rapidhammer had to get to Oxford Street in the morning, and we couldn’t get back to the flat as fast as we had thought due to the “bloody traffic” in “bloody London” (as the cab driver said). Then we had lunch at Poppie’s Fish and Chips in Brick Lane and I decided to order the first jellied eels of my life, thinking that eating this typical East end food could be a good omen for a win of our Eastenders in claret and blue.

I have to confess that it took me some time to put away this unfamiliar starter, and then the main dish also wanted to be eaten. Well, it was a nervy bus ride then with repeated phone calls telling our friend with the tickets that we would arrive at the ground very soon.

Arriving at Parnell Road, a bus stop I suppose only a few of you will know, we had to make our way by foot crossing the A 12 motorway and a small river, walking on a flood protection embankment – a lonely though not idyllic area which hardly can be compared to pre-match Green Street with its pubs, cafes, food stalls and matchday programme sellers, and the buzz and excitement which could be felt there on match days.

But when we reached the main concourse in front of the big screen, the feeling and the excitement was there at last, with the crowd queuing up at the gates and the fans getting nervous and shoving each other a little, as “Bubbles” was already played inside the Stadium, and we feared to miss West Ham’s first strike let alone an early goal.

Then, having got into the stadium we had to cross the third bridge of the afternoon spanning the gap between the former lower tier of the Olympic Stadium and the new retractable seating which covers the running track.

We sat behind the goal, with some distance to the part of the stand occupied by the away fans. Of course we were not as close to the goal and the corner flag as in the Sir Trevor Brooking Stand Lower of old, but the sight line was good. As far as I remember my last visit to the Emirates, the distance from the seats to the goal line at Arsenal’s ground was identical to the space behind the goal at the London Stadium. What I couldn’t get used to during the whole game was the big screen behind the opposite goal tempting me to watch on the screen what happened on the pitch when the “real play” took place in more distant areas like the opposite box.

As regards the atmosphere during the match, you can’t call the support from the stands extraordinary or overwhelming in this game, but taking into consideration the fairly poor performance of West Ham’s team this afternoon, the crowd cannot be blamed. The supporters did get behind the team, there was some banter with the away fans, and the atmosphere wasn’t very different from the average game at the Boleyn. And to mention that too, there were no signs of any crowd troubles.

To see the really big crowds in the two main stands was amazing, and I think it can make us proud that so many people follow West Ham, that the club had no problem to fill a stadium that has a capacity of more than 60% plus, still having thousands and thousands on the ST waiting list.
We all follow the West Ham, over land and sea,
and also to the Olympic Stadium, on the River Lea!

Having missed “Bubbles” before kick-off, I was very happy that Mark Noble who reliably as always converted a soft penalty and “the post”, our man of the match that was hit three times in one game, secured the playing of our hymn also after the final whistle. Or was it me having eaten jellied eels who made this win happen?

Well, to be honest, I hope not to be obliged to include eels in my match day routine from now on.

In high spirits because of the result, not the performance, we walked out of the stadium to the strains of “Twist and Shout” and tried the new club store. It is big enough and well organised to avoid long queues and being overcrowded too much after the game. Yet I was less impressed with the place into which the John Lyall Gates have been moved from Upton Park, but I think they are better visible when the store is not as full as it is after games.

What I didn’t fancy at all was the long way to Stratford after the game, a walk even more uninspired than the way to the stadium from Parnell Road bus stop in Bow which we had taken before the match. No one was there to sell food or badges, no pubs or cafés line the road and being locked out from getting into the Westfield Shopping Centre showed that football supporters aren’t really welcomed in this area. Though I can understand that the crowds have to be managed to make their way to Stratford Station, this cold and unhospitable way back from the ground was a real “turn-off”.

But all in all, my feelings after this very first visit to the former Olympic Stadium are positive. The club has done well to seize the opportunity of moving to a bigger ground when it was there, and now we have to make the best of it. Things will get better, we will get more used to the new surroundings and a new match day routine will be developed by those who can go regularly. And for me as a supporter from outside the UK, a trip to London watching West Ham will always be something special.

Of course I still miss Green Street and the old Hammers Social Club where one could have a pint or two after the game, I miss the West Ham Hotel with its view over the pitch, I miss the short walk to the World Cup sculpture before the game (of which I hope that it will remain at the junction of Barking Road and Green Street near the former Boleyn Ground), and I also miss the small Catholic Church of Our Lady of Compassion near the towering Stadium…

But come on you Irons, let’s see the positives! We can grow as a Club, as had our stadium, and when not only the results but also the team’s performances will start to improve, we will share more and more memories of great games at the OS – and the London Stadium will feel home after some time.

I for my part am looking forward to my next experience at the new home of the mighty Hammers – sometimes next year hopefully when we come back for another weekend to “bloody London” (as not only the cab drivers call it when they are stuck in the traffic jam …). Thank you to Paul from the new WHU Indepent Supporters Association for helping us out with the tickets, I very much hope to meet up again, and also to have time to see some of you guys from “West Ham Till I Die” next time!

Come on you Irons, have a wonderful Christmas everybody, and let’s hope Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve let us move further up the table – to midfield security!

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Talking Point

Successful rallying cry or imminent good-bye?

It’s early December and it has already been a long, long, tough and so far disappointing season. In November West Ham couldn’t muster a single win home or away, and they spoiled the party when the Austrian Irons celebrated their fifth anniversary on the evening of the game against Tottenham in a Vienna pub called the Tube Station (below).

Conceding two late goals after leading Spurs 2-1 at White Heart Lane was a very bitter pill to swallow, but shipping nine goals in the last two games was a devastating backlash. Nevertheless I am looking forward to my upcoming trip to London and my first visit to the Olympic Stadium when West Ham play Hull City. The time has come to turn the corner at last. But we could also see Slaven Bilic’s depart after this game.

Well, all could have been so fine if the signs of improvement that West Ham showed in October and in the November league games against Spurs and Man Utd had not been like bubbles that fade and die too quickly. To be honest, in the last two games West Ham have been awful for most of the 180 mins, and the team exposed their defense and got outplayed the second half of their respective matches when they were desperately seeking an equaliser. There have been some glimpses of what could have been if … (e.g. if Ashley Fletcher had scored against Arsenal when the hosts trailed a 0-1), but all in all the performance in these two games lacked pace, commitment and confidence.

I was interviewed by the GermanGunners podcast in the wake of the Arsenal game https://germangunners.com/2016/12/01/gg-podcast-episode-39-01-12-2016-endlich-dezember/

I tried to explain that, despite the 1-4 defeat in the League Cup last Wednesday, things were already coming good for West Ham and that I expected them to climb up the table and Slaven Bilic’s job to be safe. In the game against Arsenal West Ham’s cause wasn’t helped by James Collins’ early injury, but shipping another five goals just three days after a heavy 1-4 League Cup defeat – that unfortunately proved me very, very wrong!

Now Slaven Bilic has admitted not only the obvious fact that the players have not shown enough commitment in the last two games, but that they are not applying themselves in training either. This confession is a very risky move. It could be seen as a last attempt of a more or less helpless manager to avoid being made responsible for the current predicament and getting the sack.

But the plea of guilty made by Bilic himself in his press conference after the Arsenal game could also have an immediate effect and help to rally the troops before the next game against Liverpool. If the players respond to the gaffer’s allegation with increased commitment to the cause and try to prove the manager and all their critics wrong we could see a very much improved performance next weekend.

I think the board still backs Bilic, as do I, but without significant signs of improvement in the next few games the manager (whose contract has not been renewed so far) will be gone! I hate to say that because I dislike the hire-and-fire of managers we see too often in football today, but if the squad does not respond to the manager any more, a new manager is to come in. This would have to happen by the beginning of January at the latest to give him the transfer window to bring in his own men.

But we cannot only hold the manager responsible for West Ham’s problems, also too many players are injured, out of form or really seem to lack commitment and determination. Not only Dimitri Payet comes to mind when I say that, but he really does not look the same player he was last season and at the Euros in summer. Too often his body language seems to show that he doesn’t care anymore…

In contrast to Payet, Michail Antonio always seems to care, but it was the manager who didn’t care and played him out of position much too often. Antonio has to be played in an offensive position and not as a full back! Everybody knows that, but the manager has not taken this obvious fact into account in summer. If James Tomkins had not been sold to Crystal Palace West Ham still would have a proved and experienced player who often has stepped in as right back quite successfully!

The season has been a big disappointment so far, and when my eagerly anticipated first visit to the London Stadium will take place in less than two weeks time against the TigersI could already have to watch a team that has slumped down into the relegation zone. So let’s hope Slaven Bilic’s plea of guilty at his last press conference has been the rallying cry that immediately lets us see signs of improvement in the tough away game against Liverpool and in the really important midweek game against Burnley afterwards. Let’s hope the players train and play with greater determination and finally turn the corner before Christmas!

Four points from the next two games, and I would fly to London with a much better feeling than I have today!


Talking Point

An almost perfect October

I have left it late to write my October column. But after a draw and three wins in a row from the beginning of the month I thought I could wait until the Everton game and then happily write about four weeks without defeat, and about climbing up the table and finding ourselves in the top ten at last. But after a disapponting 0-2 at Everton last weekend, instead of being in tenth spot, the Hammers have to content themselves with ten points from ten games.

It still was a fine October for West Ham though, not only proceeding to the last eight of the League Cup with a 2-1 victory over Chelsea at the London Stadium, but making this stadium more and more feel like home with a great night like the one with the League Cup game under the lights! But it wouldn’t be West Ham if there hadn’t been another problem with misbehaving of some mugs in the stands. And like back in spring when West Ham famously beat Manchester United in their last match at the Boleyn, we could not just revel in a great result on the pitch, but were confronted by friends and work mates with reports of crowd troubles that had made the headlines even here in Austria. “Fresh hooligan riots in West Ham’s new stadium”, reported Austrian ORF.at website. But to be fair the article not only mentioned bottles, coins and ripped-off seats that had been thrown between rival supporters, but also cited Sean Whetstone who explained what had happened from the perspective of a West Ham supporter.

Also Austrian independent football magazine “Ballesterer” has already brought a report on West Ham’s move from Upton Park to the Olympic Stadium – highlighting, of course, fightings and problems with permanent standing. Though it seems that the club is slowly coming to grips with the problems at the London Stadium, there are still safety issues to be addressed, and we will have to get on with newspapers and websites that find a lot of stuff at West Ham to make “shocking news” out of it. And even more intensified media coverage of all problems at West Ham is guaranteed as it has just emerged that the costs of the stadium conversion have soared again and the London Mayor has jumped on the bandwagon ordering an inquiry into the conversion costs of the stadium.

I still have not got an impression of what it’s like to be in the stands of our so-called “stunning new home” as I have not been to London since June. But it won’t be long till I am able to grace the terraces of the London Stadium: I hope to make it to a game in December when we come over to London a week before Christmas. The ticket ballot for the December games is going to open on Monday, 7 November. Keeping fingers crossed that my son and I will be successful and gain the precious right to buy two tickets in this lottery - and then will be eye witnesses of a victory over the Tigers just one week before Christmas. That’s not all I want for Christmas, but it would be something special of course …

Some weeks before this event there will be something else to celebrate West Ham-wise. On Saturday, 19 November, Austrian supporters club Austrian Irons is going to host its 5th anniversary at the “Tube Station”, a pub run by Essex born West Ham supporter Barry in Vienna’s third district ( click here ). I hope to be able to join these festivities as I have already got theatre tickets for that evening. But an early pint or two should be possible.

A propos pints with fellow supporters: I’ve always liked to have some glasses at Hammers Social Club in Castle Street after being to a game at the Boleyn Ground. Therefore I was quite happy to read that an independent West Ham United Supporters Association has been launched and is holding its first meetings at the Social Club. Having been a member of the initial West Ham Supporters Advisory Board I am very much in favour of an independent supporters association and hope it will have a good start at its meeting on 5 November. I am not able to be at the meeting in Castle Street on Saturday but I am wishing them a lot of success and I am looking forward to the launch of their website. I promise to join the association immediately by then.

Come on you Irons!

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