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!

Click here to view the leaderboard

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!

Click here to view the leaderboard

Talking Point

An expedition into the unknown

The header of my first monthly column in August was: “Your Nightmare Returns”, chosen with the paradoxical intention to prevent West Ham from bowing out of the Europa League being beaten by the same team as last year. Unfortunately, as we all know, that kind of psychotherapeutic intervention (asking for something in order to achieve the opposite result) didn’t work in this case. Astra Giurgiu won the second leg in our new home, and with an aggregated score of 1-2 the Hammers just “nearly reached” the group stage of the Europa League. One month later we have all but bigger problems than missing out on European football though.

Nevertheless the fact that West Ham United is not to play in the Europa League anymore makes me sad especially because play-off winners Astra were drawn into the same group as Austria Vienna, the arch rivals of my hometown club Rapid. Assuming that it had been West Ham instead of Astra playing in Group E, it would have been something special to cheer for West Ham in the Ernst Happel Stadium in Vienna against Austria in that fixture this autumn.

But as I said before, the lack of more European football in West Ham’s new London Stadium is a minor problem. To be honest we should be all but relieved that there won’t be any more distractions from abroad for an unsettled team with a lot of injuries which now has to concentrate on finding form and momentum in the domestic competitions. By the time I am writing this post the Sunday games of round 5 have not been played yet, but by the end of this weekend West Ham could be in a relegation spot.

Could we have seen that coming?

Well, we have to admit that the start to the Premier League this year has not been great with two defeats and one win in our first three games. But we had also gained just three points by this stage last season, and what a glorious season it had been! It also seemed that West Ham had done good business in the transfer window and so, by the end of August, regardless of being unlucky again with injuries to some key players, we all were still dreaming dreams and scheming schemes of an other famous season “in our stunning new home”. It was going to kick-start after the international break in September, we thought. We could not have been more wrong.

To make the bursting of the bubble even worse the first game after the international break looked bright for forty minutes with a 2-0 lead in the London Stadium against Watford. But the game ended in disappointment with a 2-4 defeat, and one week later we now have to settle with another 2-4 defeat at West Brom. Shipping eight goals in two games suggests that West Ham’s problem is not the lack of a “20 goals a season striker” (as the board and many supporters may have thought), but there are evident problems at our back four and with the defensive work of the whole team.

Also the hype about the new “almost 60,000” stadium has worn off a little with all the problems with crowd management, permanent standing and supporters dissatisfied with ticket allocation and the seats they have bought. It’s no surprise that a transition as big as this one with an increase of more than 20,000 supporters per game and a lot of new stewards in surroundings unfamiliar to everybody is far from easy.

And – having started this article on a psychological note – we should not forget that we all, the club, the players and the supporters, are in a difficult emotional state right now. Well, a football fan and especially one who is supporting the mighty Irons is never far from disappointment and despair: “The natural state of the football fan is bitter disappointment, no matter what the score”, a famous quote from Arsenal fan Nick Hornby’s “Fever Pitch” goes. But for West Ham, this is not a “natural state” of football feelings this time.

Just imagine you have decided to leave your old home, move to a new house, face all the problems with building or renovating it, not to mention removing all the furniture and other belongings and shipping them to the new place at last, just to find that in the new home a lot of things don’t work as they should. That’s not what you had expected and at least everything is very different from the familiar surroundings you were used to. That is not only the typical uncertainty factor and misfortune we have been used to as West Ham supporters, just having beaten the likes of Arsenal or almost won the FA Cup and losing to minnows or fighting relegation the other day (season). We have been able to cope with that for decades, using sardonic humour and other remedies, and blowing bubbles again at our good old Boleyn Ground the next Saturday. But the situation club and supporters are in right now is very different from that.

Even for all who have been in favour of the move, almost everything we have been used to (including the crest) has changed, and the atmosphere as a whole seems to be much different from Upton Park. It will take a lot of time until the feel-at-home-factor will be here to stay again. This should not influence the performance of the team; a squad of highly paid professionals should be able to play their game on any pitch … but I fear it does anyway.

Though I have not been to the Olympic Stadium since its transition for West Ham (hoping to be able to come in December) I know what I am speaking of. Not only that my family moved several times, also my home town club Rapid has just got a “stunning new home” by the beginning of this season. And although the so-called “Allianz Stadion” has been built at the same place as the old ground and Rapid has qualified for the Europa League and has won more games than lost in the new ground, my feelings are quite ambiguous and I am really struggling to feel at home on the new terraces.

“Every game and every season is like an expedition into an unknown territory”, German author Axel Hacke wrote in his book “Football Feelings” (“Fußballgefuehle”, p. 16). For West Ham this season is more than that, I would compare our journey to a space mission, as our old song goes: “They fly so high …” Now I hope the club, the manager, the squad and we, the supporters, are going to show that we are equipped well for this task. I, for one, will be happy this season with a safe landing of our claret and blue starship in mid-table security.

Come on you Irons!


My West Ham Story

Your nightmare returns

Good times for Austrian West Ham supporters: the season has not started yet, but in Austria we have already been able to watch four games of our beloved Hammers without having to travel the 900 miles or so to England. I am going to contribute to “West Ham Till I Die” with a monthly column from now on, reflecting an Austrian West Ham fan’s point of view, after having written a first blog post a year ago ( click here ).

Three pre-season friendlies were played in the Austrian provinces of Styria and Burgenland where West Ham held their training camp at Bad Tatzmannsdorf. And the Europa League qualifier against NK Domzale took place just 60 miles from the Austrian border in Slovenia’s capital Ljubljana.

Hence the members of the supporters club “Austrian Irons” and quite a few other West Ham supporters from Austria were able to watch our heroes live at these matches last month. Now we are looking forward to travel to our first games in the London Stadium – though the start of the season on Monday is going to be celebrated in a Vienna pub called “The Tube Station”, run by Barry, an Essex born lifelong West Ham supporter.

I seized the opportunity to watch the Hammers in the neat, fairly new Stozice Stadium in Ljubljana against NK Domzale, combining the game with a business trip to the Wörthersee Stadium in Klagenfurt in Southern Austria. The upper tier of the Klagenfurt Euro stadium was meant to be disassembled (like the London Olympic Stadium) after the Euro ’08, but (like the London Olympic Stadium) that decision was overturned, resulting in long lasting administrative procedures in which I have been involved over the past years, to make the 30,000 stadium permanent.

I linked up for the trip to Slovenia with guys from the “Austrian Irons” and an Austria based fan from Indonesia. And I really can prove that we were there – the “Austrian Irons” banner could be seen on TV every time a corner was taken from our end!

Unfortunately the Hammers played well only in the first half; from the second half hardly an attacking move from the Hammers can be reported. We saw a lot of action though, and it was Andy Carroll who got on all the headers in the box in front of the away end – albeit it was the West Ham box, and in the end we were on the losing end and had to overcome a 1-2 deficit in the second leg (which we convincingly did, as we all know!).

Now in the Europa League play-off West Ham was drawn again, like last season, against Romanian side Astra Giurgiu. I hope Astra Giurgiu will not be able to do the same feat that my home town club SK Rapid Vienna did against an other club in claret and blue in 2009 and 2010: Aston Villa was eliminated twice in two consecutive years by the green-whites, their fans bringing a banner with them stating: “Your nightmare returns”.

But in fact Rapid Vienna bears more resemblance to West Ham United than to Astra. Though I know that not all Austrian West Ham fans will be happy with that (because a lot of them will support a different club at home), having chosen the username “rapidhammer”, I have to tell you that there are a lot of similarities between the Hammers and the Greens from Vienna: Both of these clubs are very well know and respected for their passionate support. And both clubs have moved with the start of this season to their new grounds, and interestingly Rapid played its first game in their new “Allianz Stadium” against Chelsea FC, West Ham’s opponent on Monday. Let’s hope West Ham will achieve a similar result: Rapid beat Chelsea 2-0.

Also in their history the clubs from Vienna and London have a lot in common: Rapid Vienna was founded in 1898 as “1. Wiener Arbeiter Fussball-Club” (First Vienna Workers FC) while West Ham was founded as “Thames Ironworks FC”. The clubs initially played in colours which are different from today’s kits (Rapid’s original colours were red and blue – unfortunately not claret and blue). Both clubs have played in two European Cup Winners’ Cup Finals; West Ham won the Cup in 1965 and lost the final in 1976, SK Rapid played in the finals 1985 and 1996 and unfortunately lost out on both ocasions. West Ham and Rapid both lost their finals in Brussels in 1976 and 1996 respectively.

But that’s enough of Rapid Vienna for now, because I don’t want to risk what happened in a pub in Graz some years ago when West Ham also held a training camp in Austria. I joined fans from east London and Styria singing “Bubbles” there, but when I mentioned “Rapid” one of the other Austrian guys rose in front of me stating: “Rapid – we’ll kill you!" But I was lucky, a fan from London saved me, saying “But he’s West Ham”, and all ended up with another round of the fantastic Styrian beer.

I promise not to mention the club from Vienna in this column in the next time – bar if West Ham and Rapid are drawn into the same Europa League group, of course! But first West Ham has to overcome Astra and also make a good start into the new PL season against Chelsea on Monday. The Austrian Hammers are optimistic and looking very much forward to the start of the season. Especially the game which has been played in Kapfenberg against Karlsruher SC was a great opportunity to get in touch with the West Ham players, and that’s what many Austrian fans did. Of course not being able to have a season ticket at West Ham’s new ground, we are a little unsure if we will be able to get tickets for games this season as they are expected to sell out quickly. Having to book flights and accommodation not too late and being unsure if we are going to be allocated with tickets will cost a lot of nerves, I think. But anyway, having managed to get to a lot of West Ham games at the Boleyn in the past, we will come over to London E20 too in the future!

I will report back in September with an other column, having got on board some wins and points by then, and hopefully not having to write about the “return of a nightmare” when Astra have been back to London.

Come on you Irons!

Click here to view the leaderboard

Copyright © 2017 Iain Dale Limited. Terms and conditions. Cookies.
Website by Russell Brown.