Talking Point

Arnie from Austria: A West Ham Legend In The Making?

I have been to London twice this autumn and Christmas time. Fortunately I was able to watch West Ham on both occasions and to some extent I witnessed history: I was present at Slaven Bilic’s last game in charge back in November, and I watched my fellow Austrian Marko Arnautovic’s first goal for the Hammers.

Initially I thought of writing a post comparing these two games, entitled “A completely different story”. But I now have left it too late to write a column with this header: West Ham weren’t able to pull clear of the drop zone and still find itself in the relegation mire on New Year’s Eve.

Having watched the abject and dismal performance against Liverpool on my first visit this autumn, when the Irons were completely unable to string some passes together and trouble a Liverpool side which was far from its best, I couldn’t expect a win over last season’s champions on my next visit to the London Stadium. But the narrow loss a week ago to the one team that is playing a perfect season so far, Manchester City, had let us raise some hope, despite the results under new manager David Moyes had not been in West Ham’s favour so far, and the Irons still were chasing their first win under the new gaffer.

Also the player I am particularly interested this season, fellow Austrian Marko Arnautovic, had not lived up to the expectations before the Chelsea game. He is the best player in Austria’s current national team and on his day he can be brilliant, but far too often he has lacked commitment and his work rate on the pitch was poor. When I was asked what I thought about Arnautovic’s move from Stoke to West Ham in the summer, I used to reply: “Well, so far Marko has made me angry just some times a year – when I watched him play for Austria – but from now on I will be angered by him every weekend.”

And that exactly happened from the beginning of this season with Marko struggling under Slaven Bilic, being red-carded in his second league game, and unable to find the net or providing an assist in a league game until December. When new manager David Moyes came in, Marko Arnautovic’s name was the first one to be mentioned in the tabloids as a player the Scotsman would like to sell to generate funds for new signings in the January window.

But West Ham’s “number 7” started in three of Moyes’s first four games in charge prior to the Chelsea match. And Marko’s attitude seemed much improved, he responded well to the gaffer’s request to raise his work rate, to track back and defend when West Ham had lost possession, and to play in a more central position than under Bilic who had used him mostly on the wing.

I am not sure if Moyes has really threatened to wield the axe and sell Arnautovic in the January window if his instructions weren’t followed, but he surely must have found the right words for the Austrian. It was the 1-1 against Leicester (though still not the first win under the new manager) when things began to look brighter, and it was not only the loud home crowd that impressed the pundits in that match, but also Marko Arnautovic who made such an impression that he was named “man of the match”. He received a deserved standing ovation when he was replaced by Andre Ayew after 70 minutes.

This step forward was followed by a cruel setback though: West Ham lost 0-4 to Everton, allowing Wayne Rooney to score four goals, and the next three games were to be played against much stronger opposition: Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal. Would my second live game in the London Stadium this season (against Chelsea) be one of four defeats in a row which were on the cards this December? Therefore when planning the trip to London I had scheduled a Christmas concert by candlelight for Saturday evening after the game in order to prevent my family from starting the pre-Christmas holiday on a low.

Albeit, the good news is that the start to our stay in London was quite the opposite! On a bright and cold Saturday we had a smooth journey to London Stansted and the claret seat belts in the plane showed all the right colours on our flight! Having landed perfectly in time we travelled from the airport to West Ham station where we met the wonderful Paul Turner who stored our luggage in the boot of his car and drove to London Stadium with us. We had time enough before the game to buy me a West Ham Christmas scarf which immediately replaced the blue one I had grabbed thoughtlessly early in the morning when we had left home for Vienna airport.

We were on our seats in time to join in to the singing of “Bubbles” and from the beginning of the game it was very clear that this was a West Ham side very different from the poor XI I had watched five weeks ago. David Moyes had instilled a different attitude into the team, there was commitment, good passing, regained confidence and a lot of skill (especially from Masuaku who was a revelation in his new role on the left wing). The crowd responded well to the pleasing procedures on the pitch and the West Ham supporters were of good voice throughout the game, really being “West Ham’s claret and blue army” and outsinging the Chelsea fans by far. I also cheered and sang so much this afternoon that my wife feared I was going to lose my voice and would be unable to sing along to the Christmas carols in the candlelight concert in the evening.

The sunny lunchtime at the London Stadium looked even brighter when just 6 minutes into the game a one-two with Manu Lanzini brought Marko Arnautovic in a good position in the box. Everyone rose to his feet and who wasn’t quick enough to jump up immediately, unfortunately missed the very well placed shot into the left bottom corner that put West Ham ahead. It was a beautifully taken first goal for “Arnie” and his jump into the crowd showed the big relief this goal meant to the Austrian! We were sitting in the same stand in which he was hugged by the crowd, but unfortunately our seats weren’t in the lower tier, so we couldn’t express our delight personally and say “Servus” from face to face. But this fact didn’t detract from our pleasure which grew bigger and bigger throughout the game when West Ham showed resilience and also the necessary composure to hold on and in the end beat last season’s champions 1-0.

With his goal and his celebration with the fans “Arnie” (as he is called now by the West Ham fans) evoked memories of Carlos Tevez who also jumped into the crowd when he had scored his first goal after a long and tough time back in the 2006-07 season. Well, and Marko Arnautovic’s nick name reminds me of someone else – another famous Austrian, the “terminator” Arnold Schwarzenegger, especially as Arnie’s goal helped to terminate a winless streak of 8 league games.

It feels as if the Austrian forward has not stopped scoring since the game against Chelsea! David Moyes was right to praise Arnautovic lately for responding well to his challenge to raise his work rate or face being dropped. Arnie hit the back of the net in the 3-0 win against his former club Stoke and in the annoying 2-3 defeat against Newcastle, and now he has scored his first brace in the dramatic 3-3 against Bournemouth on Boxing Day (a game which West Ham would have won if the ref had not given the Cherries’ controversial equalizer in stoppage time!). Although West Ham is back in the relegation zone on New Year’s Eve: the Cherries have beaten Everton on Saturday moving up from 18th to 13th in the table and the Irons have played one game less due to the postponement of their match against Tottenham.

Let’s hope the new year will bring a bright start with a win over West Brom on the 2nd of January in the London Stadium – maybe with some more exploits of our Arnie from Austria! I am very happy that last summer’s record signing finally has become a real asset of West Ham’s squad. When he continues to play (and score) like he has done since Moyes’s managerial takeover at West Ham he could be a West Ham legend in the making!

After the first game of the year West Ham have to play three games away vs. Spurs, Shrewsbury (FA Cup) and Huddersfield. Though I know that getting results in the Premier League is most important for the club, the weekend in January which is most important to me is the one we play Shrewsbury in the FA Cup: if the Irons win and the draw brings them a home game in the next round, this could be my third West Ham game this season, because we are going to be back in London by the end of January when the 4th round of the FA Cup is played.

So come on you Irons, let this January be a success for claret and blue – on the pitch and with a good transfer window, too! I hope David Moyes will not only have been able to find the right words to instill a new attitude into the squad, but also to find the right players to bolster this squad. Especially in midfield I think the team needs to be strengthened …

But one thing is for sure: West Ham player Marko Arnautovic is not for sale in this window, he’s one to watch on the pitch this January!

Happy New Year everybody! COYI!

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My West Ham Story

The Liverpool Defeat: Will It Be Another Turning Point?

The Liverpool game was my first “live game” in London this season. Together with three friends we had planned to spend a weekend in London at the beginning of November and watch those boys in claret & blue under the lights on Saturday evening. And maybe, well maybe, we were going to be entertained by our Austrian “hero” Marko Arnautovic. However, as we now know, we witnessed another disappointing game – the last one of manager Slaven Bilic in charge of the Irons. Have we witnessed a turning point in West Ham’s fortune too?

The trip from Vienna could not have started better. British Airways had us sitting almost three hours in the plane on the runway before we were able to take off for London Heathrow. We were told about heavy fog in west London this morning, but I was sure: if it hadn’t been West Ham we would have been there in time …

The weekend was going to start with a concert of blues legend John Mayall on Friday. On the Sunday we wanted to join a service at Holy Trinity Brompton. And on Saturday we thought we were going to be entertained at the London Stadium by West Ham United. Well, John Mayall at Cadogan Hall in South Kensington really was an inspiration. The 84 year old radiated positive mood playing his rhythm’n‘blues and one really could feel the joy he takes from standing on stage in front of his audience and playing together with the musicians in his band.

What a contrast to this evening the atmosphere one day later in the London Stadium was! We had been slightly optimistic before the game, thought it would be “so West Ham” to beat the Reds against all odds to kick-start this Premier League season at last. We also tried not to let the sad impressions from the detour we had made on the way to Stratford stand in our way: having decided not to travel directly to the ground from central London, we got to Upton Park to catch a glimpse of the current state of the site that had been the Boleyn Ground. Afterwards we would take the bus 104 from the Boleyn to Stratford.

It was a very strange view when we walked down Green Street from Upton Park station, coming across just a huge heap of excavated earth where the West Stand had towered over the car park only a year ago. There still stands one post painted in claret where in former times the impressive landmark of the John Lyall Gates had been. The narrow Castle Street behind the former Bobby Moore Stand now looks like a wide but deserted avenue, and with Ken’s Café closed and the Boleyn Pub far from overcrowded it almost seemed as if there never had been that theatre where Bubbles were blown and dreams been dreamt to be fulfilled or shattered with the final whistle …

Nevertheless the Catholic Church of Our Lady of Compassion, the numerous barbershops and Queen’s Market are still there, and the World Cup sculpture is in its place at the junction of Barking Road and Green Street – where in my opinion it should remain, in commemoration of West Ham United’s history at the Boleyn Ground, and not be moved to Stratford. The Champions Place in front of the London Stadium deserves to get a new statue, as new Wembley has got a Bobby Moore sculpture of its own.

Well, at Stratford there was no church but a group of singers seeking to evangelize by performing songs in the street. And we couldn’t have a pint in an overcrowded pub like the Boleyn or the Queens where you can hardly understand a word talking to your fellow supporters about the upcoming game. Instead of this we got us a treat and a tea at the quiet Caffé Concerto, sitting table to table with Markus Weinzierl, the former Schalke 04 manager. Just some hours later we learned that he had not been the only manager sniffing around West Ham seeking a new job this evening. Then we managed to book a table at Jamie’s Italian for dinner after the game and then we headed for the ground.

The atmosphere was slightly optimistic, as I said before, and “Bubbles” rang out like always when the players graced the pitch (without Austrian Marko Arnautovic in the starting IX, as expected). Remembrance Day celebrations were impressive and created a festive atmosphere, but from the start of the game West Ham seemed to be very nervous and lacking confidence and the players hardly were able to string some passes together. Compared to John Mayall’s spirit the evening before, West Ham’s attitude seemed quite uninspired and everybody was wary of making mistakes. The Irons’ continual backward passing instead of making quick runs and troubling Liverpool’s defence left us and our fellow supporters at growing unease, and after the Irons’ first good chance had been spoilt, minutes later a West Ham corner resulted in a fast counter attack and Liverpool scored. That felt “so West Ham” in a negative way. Then Liverpool got a corner and scored again, just 3 minutes after their first goal.

“The natural state of the football fan is bitter disappointment, no matter what the score," the famous quote from “Fever Pitch” says. But in modern times it seems that being disappointed much too quickly leads to turn one’s back on the team. When Liverpool had scored, a lad in front of us in motorbike clothes seized his helmet and left his seat with immediate effect. He wasn’t seen on the terraces again.

During the interval we moaned about the “cheap goals” and the drama of two corners, and we wondered if Arnautovic would be given a chance to come on in the second half. But first it was Andy Carroll who Slaven Bilic chose to lead the line together with Chicharito. And things livened up from the start, the crowd got involved a little more, and with Manuel Lanzini’s goal the London Stadium became a noisy place and hope rose from the terraces. But only to get slammed in the face just a minute later with Liverpool’s next cheap goal!

With Liverpool having restored their two goal lead and the score 1-3, Mark Noble came off and Arnautovic got the nod. He showed some good moves immediately and seemed to try to bring West Ham back in the game, but it didn’t take long and he disappeared for the rest of the match. Finally bringing Sakho 20 minutes from time just seemed a last desperate act from the manager whose time was over for sure with this defeat. In the 75th minute Liverpool’s 4-1 rang the final signal for West Ham’s supporters to leave their seats and let poor Slaven and his squad almost walk alone for the rest of the game, much in contrary to Liverpool’s away support celebrating their win by singing a song with this title.

Usually I say that I like the English kind of support which is much more spontaneous and depending on the events on the pitch than the support from the European “Ultras” (as Rapid Vienna’s “Block West”) whose support is performed throughout the whole game almost no matter what the score. But this time there was almost no spontaneous cheering or singing, the atmosphere in the stadium was quite lifeless most of the time and it seemed the fans had come to the conclusion that this team was not worth being cheered on with “We’re West Ham’s claret and blue army”. They could have needed some permanent ultra-like support, but instead of this the white spots on the terraces got bigger and bigger with the supporters heading for the exits.

My thoughts went back to the old Boleyn Ground: there have been dire games and pathetic performances which I have witnessed at Upton Park too, but I hardly remember such a melancholic and sad atmosphere after a West Ham loss at Upton Park. With the current state of the site in mind which was West Ham’s former ground and the empty seats of the current stadium, this trip to London was quite a depressing one as far as football was concerned.

But as always I’m trying to take some positives from my memories and I told my friends at Jamie Oliver’s afterwards that I remember having witnessed another 1-4 defeat more than a decade ago which proved to be a turning point and the beginning of a very successful time for my home town club Rapid Vienna. I had been on the terraces together with my son that game, having taken him to his first game at our home ground. Rapid Vienna lost 1-4, and this also became the last game at home before their manager was sacked.

When I looked up that result on the internet it was quite baffling that the name of Bilic appeared alongside the score. Well, of course it wasn’t Slaven playing for Rapid but his fellow Croatian Mate Bilic, but the departure of the then manager shortly after this defeat lead to the appointment of Rapid’s most successful coach within the last decade. With Peter Pacult at the helm Rapid Vienna was able to win the Austrian Bundesliga and to qualify several times for the Europa League, twice eliminating Aston Villa in the process.

Therefore I think that this 1-4 will also be a turning point for West Ham, as it was for Rapid Vienna 11 years ago. Though David Moyes wouldn’t have been my choice as West Ham’s new manager things can only get better now, and when I will be back to London in four weeks time for the Chelsea game I will watch a different team, that’s for sure, I think!

Hopefully a team showing the commitment and spirit that makes them worth to be cheered on again by the brilliant support I know from former games! Let’s hope the new manager (and the future results) are going to instill some confidence and the players find a new way of playing together in a positive way instead of nervously passing backward again and again.

Going back to the example of John Mayall, whose inspiring concert we enjoyed so much more this weekend than the poor performance the trip had been planned around: Let’s hope there will be a radiation of positive mood around the London Stadium instead of the negativity that has been produced from the beginning of this season. Mayall’s first gold album in 1969 was called “The Turning Point”. Let’s hope the 1-4 against Liverpool will also have been a turning point with respect to West Ham – something this season is in desperate need of.

There is a German proverb which says, "Hope is the last to die.” This proverb goes with the “West Ham way”, always blowing bubbles, pretty bubbles in the air. See you in December, reaching for the sky!

Come on you Irons!

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 …

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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