Being a supporter from abroad for whom there is no point in buying a season ticket, I can only pick some games per season and every West Ham match which I go to in the London Stadium must be selected carefully. Flights have to be booked in time (sometimes with Laudamotion, one of the airlines of Austrian compatriot Niki Lauda who sadly passed away on Tuesday), the trips must be coordinated around other meetings or events which I attend in London, and then I have to hope all goes well and the date of the game isn’t shifted to a conflicted kick-off time. And you know, with West Ham, you never can be sure if you will get any reward for all the bother. But that’s what football and being a football supporter is all about: following your team during good times or bad, and trying to go to as many games as possible.
Only Manchester City and Liverpool have done better
And this season has been a really good one for me and I was very fortunate with the games I have selected to watch in the London Stadium! I graced the upper tier of London Stadium’s West Stand in the 2018-19 season on five occasions, being able to watch the games against Wolves, Burnley, Crystal Palace, Arsenal and Southampton. These were not only more games than in previous seasons, but above all I could celebrate four wins, and West Ham suffered only one defeat when I was present. I‘m sure this is my best points ratio since I have supported West Ham! Only Liverpool (2,55) and Manchester City (2,58) have won more points per game this season than I have (2,4)!
But first we got our fair share of West Ham’s bad start into the season (losing out four times in a row for the second year running), as our first “live game” was the 0-1 defeat to Wolves in September.
I have to admit that this was a game less interesting and exciting than the Proms’ concert #65 which we had attended the night before at the Royal Albert Hall (Stravinsky, Ravel & Berio, conducted by Semyon Bychkov).
And the Sunday afternoon we spent at Hampstead Heath, strolling through the sunny park, walking along the ponds, and enjoying scones at Kenwood Brew House Cafe, which was a much more pleasant time than the one we spent 24 hours ago. Only the sunshine had been bright over the LS pitch as well.
But to add also something on the positive side of this trip (in addition to the scones at Kenwood House), on this journey we discovered a new kind of hotel in London, operated by a hotel group called CitizenM, which we would use for all our following stays this season.
A new philosophy
But after this fourth league defeat in a row it seemed the players began to understand the new way of playing that Manuel Pellegrini was asking of them, and when I had the opportunity to come back to London in November, our stay consisted not only of an environmental law conference in the City, an Andrea Bocelli concert in the O2 Arena and a visit to Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London’s Westend, but also of a thrilling 4-2 win over Burnley in the East London Stadium!
In the game against the Clarets West Ham went in front twice, courtesy to goals of fellow Austrian Marko Arnautovic and of Felipe Anderson, but on both occasions Burnley was able to equalise. Nevertheless Anderson with his second and Chicharito with West Ham’s fourth goal sealed the Iron’s win in this entertaining encounter, showing that this team now had developed a real winning mentality under Manuel Pellegrini. Well, and they had already defeated Manchester United a month ago at the London Stadium (3-1).
What a wonderful world
We love to come to London in December with the family, soaking up the British capital’s Christmas atmosphere with carol singing in Christmas concerts, ice rinks at historic places, street markets and the beautiful lighting in Regent Street. Hence we had to be in good voice on our December trip, singing Christmas carols at St-Martin-in-the-Fields in the evening and “Bubbles” the next day at West Ham, and it became a joyful afternoon in claret and blue with a 3-2 win over Crystal Palace!
As you know, this game was part of West Ham’s best ever December in Premier League history! The Hammers were 0-1 behind at halftime, but after the interval we again saw Chicharito and Anderson score, along with a beautiful long range shot from Snodgrass. Chicharito’s fox-in-the-box goal put West Ham in front, and Felipe Anderson scored a beauty to make it 3-1 with a right footed strike into the far top corner, a goal which recently became West Ham‘s “goal of the season”: after some quick build-up play, the Brazilian picked a beautiful shot over the diving keeper – a strike which proved enough to win West Ham this game, although there was a bit of “same old West Ham” when the Eagles pulled one goal back afterwards.
That could have led to a nail-biting finish, but I always had the feeling that a fourth goal for the Irons was more likely than an equaliser – evidence that I was getting more and more sure of West Ham’s newly gained winning mentality under MP. “What a wonderful world”! Also West Ham-wise we could join in this song performed by Katie Melua in the concert we attended at Westminster Hall in the evening after the game.
Comeback of the West Ham way?
And then it got even better on our next trip to London as we were there when West Ham celebrated the famous win over Arsenal with Declan Rice’s first Premier Legue goal! Yeah!!! It was an imperious display of young Declan in his holding midfield role, with his composed passing and the scoring of the decisive goal, and Dec grabbed all the newspaper headlines the other day. The 1-0 win was a totally self-assured, exciting and entertaining performance of the whole team, with lots of ball on the ground, reminding us of what was once called „the West Ham Way“.
Well, and Marko Arnautovic’s waving good-bye when the Austrian striker was subbed throughout the second half was just a side note in the morning papers, and in the end the transfer to China which Arnie and his brother had wanted to engineer in January fell through like Theresa May’s Brexit Deal.
Fortune’s hiding again
My next chance to fly to London didn’t come before the beginning of May. Therefore I could only watch via telly and the internet what happened after that brilliant win over Arsenal. This part of the season (from February to April) reminded us that “Rome wasn’t built in a day”, and that Manuel Pellegrini would need more than one season to revolutionise a club whose fans have sung that “fortune’s always hiding” for ages. The team played inconsistent within this period of my absence from the London Stadium, they were eliminated from the FA Cup against much lower opposition and had to be happy that Fulham, after West Ham had been five games without a win, and later on Huddersfield came to the London Stadium to help the Irons get back to winning ways. The club had ranked ninth in the Premier League after the Arsenal win, but they never were able to climb higher up the table, injuries and dubious decisions of referees didn’t help, and Pellegrini’s claim to play for Europe was scuppered by a series of mixed results which saw West Ham drop out of the top ten for most of the time.
But the best was yet to come this season. Tottenham’s new stadium had been finished and Spurs had managed to win all their home games there prior to West Ham’s first visit to their new ground. Well, I think that not only I was sure that the Hammers would be the first team to win there (as they had done 12 years ago in an other London derby when Arsenal was beaten for the first time at the Emirates).
When Tom Jones, the architect of the Tottenham Stadium, came to a sports facilities conference in Vienna, just some days before the Hammers’ game against Spurs, I let him know that West Ham would be the first team to inflict defeat to the home team for sure, and I even dared to put a bet on West Ham winning this game with Betway. As we all know, I was perfectly right to do so, and Michail Antonio’s beautiful goal from a brilliant Marko Arnautovic pass sealed an historic win!
Arnie again, at last!
And one week after West Ham had successfully claimed the “first-away-team-to-win-at-Tottenham-Hotspur-Stadium-trophy” (a quote from the Southampton match day programme), we finally were on our way again from Vienna to the London Stadium for the last home game of the season vs. Southampton, a game in which we would for the first time see the new claret carpet surrounding the pitch, and would have the rare opportunity to see two Austrians on a Premier League pitch: one in the coaching zone (Saints’ manager Ralph Hasenhuttl) and the other one hopefully playing in the West Ham team, and starting to score again at last!
Marko Arnautovic’s form had improved in the games prior to that match, but obviously it was mandatory that we came back to the London Stadium before he hit the back of the net again. On an unexpectedly cold Saturday afternoon, with bright sunshine alternating with rain several times, Arnie in fact started scoring again! He put West Ham ahead with two goals, one in each half of the game, before Fredericks with his first PL goal sealed a comfortable win for the Hammers. Arnie’s two goals were his first ones since the beginning of January when he had scored against Brighton and Birmingham! And for the last minutes of the game he even wore the captain’s armband again after Mark Noble had been substituted.
Well, we’ve already heard that MP is planning with Arnie again for next season, and I hope that the Austrian who has been West Ham’s top scorer in the last two seasons will be at the club for another year!
Our stay in London lasted for three other days, with a Sunday highlight of eating the best scones of our lives at “Maison Bertaux” in Soho, just behind the Palace Theatre, beating the ones at Kenwood House at the beginning of the season by far! And we came back to Royal Albert Hall, where we didn’t listen to a concert this time, but participated in a truly inspiring and motivating LC19 leadership conference on the Monday and Tuesday together with Christians from 80 countries and all denominations!
And in the end, not only our stay in London, but also West Ham’s season, ended on a high note: their win at Watford helped them climb up the table in the last round and finish in the top half of the Premier League in MP’s first year at the helm!
And next season …
Well, I hope to come back to London, despite Brexit, several times next term. And by doing so, as our trips to the London Stadium have turned out to be talismanic for the Irons this season, I hope to contribute to West Ham performing even better at the next call, and the “Pellegrini Revolution” will continue!
And prior to the kick-off of the 2019-20 season (on 10 August) it seems the Hammers want to do me, as well as my compatriot Arnie, a favour by travelling to Austria and to China in pre-season. But with West Ham, you know, things aren’t always as good as they seem:
The Austrian pre-season friendly (11 July) will be played in Vorarlberg, which is almost as far away from Vienna as Stratford! And when Arnie will step onto the pitch in China later in July, he will find out that he’s still on West Ham’s and not a Chinese club’s payroll. Well, on the other hand, for me the latter would be something that I’m particularly pleased with!
Come on you Irons!