Talking Point

West Ham Family Witnessing History

We came over from Austria last weekend and were able to watch an other game in the London Stadium. Well, I love coming to London and it seems West Ham does appreciate my presence, too, because all of the last three games I was able to attend this season have been wins for the Irons!

This weekend also would have been the right time “to have a word” with my compatriot who doesn’t seem to be so enthusiastic anymore about staying in London as I am. But unfortunately immediately after the game Arnie left for Vienna, whereas we’re going to stay in London until Tuesday!

Witnessing history

Well, it seems the games that I have picked for my visits to the London Stadium since West Ham’s move to Stratford, are frequently going to be remembered for something special: Last season I watched Slaven Bilic’s last game and Marko Arnautovic’s first goal there. This season I’ve already witnessed Felipe Anderson’s first brace for the Hammers in the win over Burnley. And now maybe (I still say “maybe” as I don’t want to take it for sure) I came back for Arnie’s last game in this stadium.

But forget about that! We’ve all witnessed a really bright and joyous moment in West Ham’s history on Saturday lunch time, as this game will not be remembered because of a forward saying good-bye, but will forever have its special place in history for a young man’s first Premier League goal which sealed a first win at home over Arsenal since 2006! This game marks a giant step forward for Declan Rice grabbing all the headlines in the Sunday papers with a majestic man of the match performance, just two days before his twentieth birthday. “Rice and shine”! What a bright future lies ahead for this graduate from our Academy.

But it’s also a game that was another big step forward for Manuel Pellegrini’s side which played really self-assured and mature against a team they had not beaten at home for almost 13 years. “We played like a big team in the Arsenal win,” the gaffer said after the 1-0 victory, and he couldn’t be more right.

It’s still old West Ham of course, but it’s not “poor old West Ham” that would have conceded an equaliser in injury time, squandering all the good work of the 90 minutes before. Arsenal actually had the ball in the back of the net in the 94th minute, but that goal was ruled out immediately for an offside so blatant that this fact was hardly mentioned in any of the match reports. And just seconds later the referee blew the whistle, and everybody was all but happy in the London Stadium, which this afternoon had been left early only by the folks occupying the away section that had been fairly quiet throughout the game.

It’s getting better all the time

It was a brilliant match day experience, like the one I had enjoyed on my last visits to the Burnley and the Crystal Palace games this season! In my opinion the match day experience in general is getting better and better now in this third year in the new stadium which of course is helped by the team playing so well – and also by the increasing number of food stalls outside the stadium.

I usually get to the stadium from Hackney Wick to avoid the overcrowded Stratford not paying so much attention to the food facilities. But with the lunchtime kick-off we came earlier, first strolled through Westfield before the game and arrived at the concourse much in time. That also gave us the opportunity to look for my ”RapidHammer stone” on Champions’ Place in front of entrance “J” for once, but unfortunately I could not find the stone quick enough in the drizzling rain, and we decided to write to the club on this topic, because it seems that the stones haven’t been laid in the way I had been told when I bought mine.

The atmosphere inside the ground was great, and it was getting better and better throughout the game. It was a brilliant performance of our boys. Just the goal was scored too early after halftime as far as we were concerned, because unfortunately we were back to our seats too late, having queued for a drink for much too long.

A family club

Now that the troubles of last season are behind us, I think we can say that the crowd in the London Stadium is feeling more and more at home there, and that the club has retained (or maybe regained after a difficult transition period) its air of a “family club”. The family has grown bigger and moved to a new house to which we get more and more familiar, and it’s great to see that the house gets filled every time by the members of this worldwide family! Having chosen almost the same seats for all of our visits this season, we’re also feeling more and more like citizens coming home. Wouldn’t want to miss the young but very raucous voice just rows beneath us in every game, shouting “Come on you I’ons” when the place has gone too quiet now and then!

There are lots of families, old and young, and supporters from all over the world! Well, I think we long suffering lot really deserve that the team is playing so well now, rewarding this most committed and loyal support for their endurance and following over land and sea, to the Olympic Stadium on the shores of River Lea! A first home win over Arsenal since 2005, and Declan Rice’s first goal – we’ve witnessed history, who could ask for more this Saturday?

Declan’s goal and this fine win was a real gift, because we can take it easy now that my compatriot from Austria seems to cease sharing with me the love for London and the badge with the two crossed hammers, and is willing to replace one of the hammers by a sickle, with his brother and agent having already set sail for the Chinese Sea.

What could have been …

Of course it is sad that Arnautovic seems to have waved his good-bye right now, because this match really showed for the first (and maybe last) time what an offensive trio of Samir Nasri, Felipe Anderson and Arnie would have been capable of. There were some moments in this game when the three players who are gifted with technical ability and great understanding of the game combined so well that my heart jumped with joy!

Unfortunately I fear we will have to accept that these three musketeers will not be as inseparable as d’Artagnan and his friends were in the French writer Alexandre Dumas’s novel.

Having mentioned the phrase “French” now, a word on the possible similarities between Arnie and the unmentionable ex-player we lost two years ago: I don’t think that our Austrian forward will go on strike when negotiations stall and it takes time before the two clubs come to terms. He used to be some kind of an enfant terrible, and behaved like a stupid child in former years, but he has shown signs of having grown much more mature and level-headed in recent years since he’s married and father of two. So he should be professional enough to honour his contract as long as West Ham haven’t reached an agreement which enables them to bring in a fitting replacement (which will not be cheap, that’s for sure!).

Well, I can’t be sure of that of course, but it’s at least what I’m hoping for. But of course I know that “once a Hammer, always a Hammer” unfortunately only applies for the members of the worldwide family of supporters of claret and blue, it does not apply for the players (some of the former ones, and also of the present company excepted of course, Mark and Declan in particular!).

But no matter which players the squad will consist of in February and in the seasons to follow: it’s us, the claret and blue army, who will always remain West Ham through and through!

Come on you Irons !!!


Talking Point

The Pellegrini Revolution

If we believe the statistics, West Ham have never won more points in a single month of a season in Premier League history than this December. And that said, there is still one game to play, quite a winnable one against Burnley today! I saw the home game against the Clarets back in November (a 4-2 win), and that team can be beaten away too, and West Ham can add an other three points to their tally. Or will this match end in defeat because bottom teams often start winning again with West Ham being the opponent?

I don’t think so. West Ham have now developed a winning mentality under Manuel Pellegrini and aren’t easy to beat anymore. Though the recent run of four wins was halted by a 0-2 defeat to the hands of Watford before Christmas, West Ham did exactly what the manager had asked them to do: to make up for the three points lost against the Hornets in their next game, and the squad responded perfectly with the 2-1 win away over Southampton! West Ham‘s attitude was perfect in that match, they played an attacking game as if they were at home for most of the time, and that is just what the gaffer wants: to play the same way at home and away. That‘s the “Pellegrini Revolution”, a transformation of our club whose bubbles have burst much too often in Hammers history.

Back in 2007 when I started to blog about West Ham, I described them as “one of the big clubs in England” in my first post, and rightly so, but it’s a matter of fact that within the last decades West Ham hardly was a force to reckon with in the Premier League or the cup competitions (apart from reaching the FA Cup final in 2006 and the last season at the Boleyn when West Ham qualified for the Europa League in 2016). West Ham fans often see themselves as “long-suffering“, e.g. Robert Banks’s new book (“An Irrational Hatred of Everything: My Continuing Odyssey as a West Ham Fan”), which spans almost the same time as my blogging history, is described as “recounting the life of a a long-suffering Hammers fan”. But I have a strong feeling that the suffering could be over this season and the move to the London Stadium might have paid off at last.

I was able to watch three games this season in the London Stadium so far, the first one the dire 0-1 against Wolves at the beginning of the season, when West Ham lost their first four games in a row. But Pellegrini remained calm then, knowing what he and his team were going to show as soon as the new players would gel and the squad had fully understood the new kind of tactics they were asked to play.

My next match was the home game against the Clarets back in November, a thrilling win with Burnley equalising twice, and Felipe Anderson scoring a brace in this 4-2! Actually it was this game in which Anderson started his fine run of scoring, now having netted almost in every game since.

Then I returned for the 3-2 win over Crystal Palace. Having been on my own in the London Stadium this time I had a WhatsApp conversation during the game with my old friend Alfred back home in Austria, who had not been able to make the trip. He was surprised by my optimism when the Hammers still had to trail 0-1 at half time, and when the Hammers had won he texted me how important it was that the Hammers were separated by 11 points from the relegation zone now. “Bescheidenheit ist eine Zier, aber jetzt wollen wir vier”, I texted back (“modesty is a virtue quite respectable / but now of four wins West Ham are capable“).

And now the old year is going to end on a high note for West Ham and its supporters, as the 0-2 loss to Watford before Christmas has turned out to have been just a minor setback for a team which now has found a real winning mentality. In the difficult match against Southampton, a team on the up with two wins from their last two games under a successful new manager, Ralph Hasenhuttl from Austria, West Ham’s squad responded perfectly to Pellegrini’s demand to make up for the points lost against Watford and win this one. They had a game plan which Hasenhuttl’s Saints could not cope with, making the “Klopp from the Alps“ a more and more unhappy looking figure with a facial expression reminding me of an angry rabbit in his hutch (which ist the meaning of his name “Hasenhuttl”), the longer the game lasted!

West Ham‘s attitude with which the Irons addressed the difficult task of playing the highly motivated Saints at their ground was perfect, the Irons played an offensive tactic for large parts of the game as if it was a home game, and they could already have scored in the first half. Then they responded very well when Southampton took the lead with an odd goal and were in front within 9 minutes after the 0-1. Felipe Anderson could not only have scored two, but a least three goals. Declan Rice was superb, a real midfield general, Michail Antonio’s powerful runs were great, and with Lukas Fabianski in goal we have a keeper that in my opinion will be named in line with the greatest West Ham shoot stoppers in history like e.g. a certain Phil Parkes, one of my all time favourite players. And, most important of all, the whole squad, though deploited by a lot of injuries and long-time absentees, remained strong in the final stages and never let the game slip out of their hands.

A day after this game we learned that Declan Rice has signed a new contract committing himself to West Ham until 2024 – this is vey good news again! So the year really ends on a high note for us Hammers, almost regardless of a win in the last game.

15 or 18 points won in a single month? We will know on Sunday. But we already can be sure that the “Pellegrini Revolution“ will stay on track anyway! Well, I hope I haven’t got carried away by an overdose of optimism by writing this post, but I’m already looking very much forward to my next visit to the London Stadium in January when West Ham is going to take on Arsenal.

Hopefully Marko Arnautovic will have come back from his injury by then, I can’t wait to see him and Felipe Anderson play together again! That game will be a real test for the new winning mentality of our beloved Hammers.

Come on you Irons!!! And a happy new year everybody!


My West Ham Story

The Partly Unknown Impact of the Austrians

I started to write this on the plane back to my home town Vienna, just having spent an extended weekend in London and watching West Ham for the second time this season. The first game had been the defeat against Wolves at the end of August, and now I have been able to watch West Ham’s convincing 4-2 win over Burnley last Saturday. One bad game, one good game, and the revelation of what a so far underperforming player can do in the respective second match – that seems to be the pattern of my West Ham Story last season as well as this year.

WHU v Wolves

Last season I also had been able to attend two live games in autumn, and interestingly, this year is following the same pattern as the last one: my first game was dreadful (last term losing to Liverpool 1-4) and this year’s first game was nothing better: it was the fourth league game of the season and turned out to be West Ham’s fourth consecutive defeat with the Hammers conceding in the dying minutes, losing out 0-1 to Wolves in the London Stadium.

But like last year, this game turned out to be the last one in a series of disappointments, and things started to get better afterwards. Last year I had witnessed Slaven Bilic’s last game in charge, and soon afterwards his successor David Moyes engineered Marko Arnautovic’s metamorphosis into West Ham’s most prolific striker for years and eventually secured West Ham’s Premier League survival.

WHU v Burnley

Marko Arnautovic evolving into “Arnie”,, Hammer of the Year

After the disappointment in the first game, the following journey to the British capital last year gave me the opportunity to come back to London Stadium for a second game of last season, against Chelsea. And much to my delight, the presence of his fellow Austrians in the West Stand must have inspired Marko Arnautovic who had had a disappointing start into his spell with the club. The Austrian not only scored his first goal for West Ham against Chelsea and jumped into the crowd like Carlos Tevez had done a decade earlier at Upton Park, but he went on to deliver, starting from that game, what West Ham had expected of him when he was signed for a record fee in the summer. And finally “Arnie” deservedly won the “Hammer of the Year” award.

Well, and this year? When date proposals were made for a law symposium in London that I was going to participate in, the 2nd of November turned out to be the day of the event – a date which luckily coincided with a West Ham home game on the Saturday afterwards. That made it possible to come over again to spur on an other “record signing” this year who had come under some criticism for failing to play up to his potential so far.

Playing like strangers

Back in August in the Wolves game, the West Ham players, and especially Felipe Anderson, had played as if they were strangers not understanding one another. They were somehow strolling around the pitch on a nice sunny Saturday afternoon, lacking any urgency which would have been necessary to beat a newly promoted team in one of the first games of the season. Our new Brazilian marquee player from Lazio Rome showed only rare glimpses of what he might be able to do, and almost all his passes and runs led to Nothing. In my opinion he played much too deep and was too slow in going forward wide left, with the other players not able to anticipate where he would pass the ball or want to get it from his teammates.

But also this year after a very disappointing start (which we had not expected after the appointment of a high profile manager and massive funds invested in the squad), something better was just around the corner: like last year, the deplorable outcome of my first visit to the London Stadium wasn’t followed by other poor performances and results, but instead the “Pellegrini revolution” finally broke clear at last, West Ham turned the corner and went on a run of three wins and a draw – before undeservedly losing away to Brighton, and (more deservedly) losing twice to London rivals Spurs in the Premier League and the League Cup.

Because of this setback the Burnley match had become another “must win game” and I was only cautiously optimistic that the Hammers would get back to winning ways.

Especially I did not expect that another part of my narrative of the last season was going to be repeated in 2018. As I said before, last year our record signing Marko Arnautovic had not performed well until my second visit to London, and also this year, though a first goal had been scored by Felipe Anderson in September against Manchester Utd, our current “record signing” still had failed to deliver, much like Arnie had done in his first games last year.

Felipe Anderson

Felipe on the up at last

But as we had been able to watch Arnautovic’s first goal and the start of a very successful season for the Austrian last year, we now were very lucky to be able to witness Felipe Anderson’s best game by far since his arrival! So West Ham really was lucky – or must I say: I had been lucky – that I was able to come to London for a second time earlier than last year! Hence we did not have to wait until December until West Ham’s £36 million signing started to justify the amount West Ham has paid for him to Lazio in the summer. Anderson scored twice and played a large part in the Irons’ so far best game of the season, an important and much deserved 4-2 win. He linked up very well in the process with promising youngster Grady Diangana (who still has to make a choice, if he would want to play for England or the Democratic Republic of Congo) and with “Arnie from Austria” (who is already irreplaceable in Austria’s national team, and of course at West Ham).

Anderson Arnie

Well, that said – with tongue-in-cheek of course – I think West Ham should not underestimate the impact which two Austrians have on the run of the season: one of them on the pitch, Marko Arnautovic, and an other one in the West Stand whose mere presence in the crowd each year on his second visit to the London Stadium seems to inspire, unconsciously of course, a particular kind of player: the one that has been earmarked as West Ham’s new star player in the respective season, but has not been able to find his feet in the London Stadium so far. This year: Senhor Felipe Anderson.

Therefore never underestimate the (partly unknown) contribution of the Austrians!
Come on you Irons!


Talking Point

The Pursuit of Optimism

“The point of living, and of being an optimist, is to be foolish enough to believe that the best is yet to come.” As supporters of West Ham United, time and time again, we‘re “blowing bubbles”, and every year we’re foolish enough to believe that this season will be different from the preceding ones.

But after a bad start into the new season with two defeats in two games, and now a difficult away game against Arsenal imminent, it’s not easy to stay optimistic for another week or two, and live according to the above mentioned conception once enunciated by Sir Peter Ustinov. And furthermore, as West Ham fans, the exent of our optimism is limited anyway. We know that bubbles “fade and die”.

To raise the mood after the heavy defeat to Liverpool in the season opener, West Ham‘s club captain tried to give the preparation for last Saturday’s game against Bournemouth a spin in to an optimistic direction by stating that “our season starts now”. And of course we would have been all but happy to be made forget, through a convincing win at home, that there had been a minor unpleasant fact the weekend before, losing 0-4 on the road. Albeit, as we know, it wasn’t to be … and this season has already started with not only one, but two defeats, 6 goals conceded and not any goal scored from open play. And skipper Mark Noble is tipped to lose his place in the starting eleven for West Ham’s trip to the Emirates.

Well, so much optimism had been around the place during pre-season when West Ham’s board at last started to deliver on the promises they made when West Ham left Upton Park and moved to the Olympic Stadium: a high profile manager was installed in Manuel Pellegrini who has won the Premier League and two League Cups with Manchester City, and investment into the squad was made timely and to a significant amount. Only a few clubs, including Liverpool and Chelsea, have invested more than West Ham’s almost £100m. And this ýear, transfer deadline day which unusually took place before the start of the season, was not awaited by the West Ham faithful with anguished expectation and grave concern about the board failing to make respectable signings. This summer the common feeling was that on deadline day we might just get some icing added to the cake – a cake that already seemed to be a very tasteful one. We couldn’t wait to get the season started!

But optimism has vanished quickly with just two games into the season. We self-ironically thanked Huddersfield on Sunday evening that we weren’t bottom of the table anymore, and in all the West Ham Forums we’re discussing the reasons for this failed start and still have not come to a conclusion. The level headed ones say the team takes time to gel, the angry ones say the players are lazy and didn’t care on Saturday, and the ones that have had a closer look might point to the fact that the new gaffer has changed the system of playing. Therefore it will not only take time until the new players have accomodated and developed a common understanding; also the ones who have already been here last season will need time to adapt to the ideas of the new manager who wants to defend higher and let his team play a “possession game”. Well, in my opinion Manuel Pellegrini (if he’s successful) could make West Ham play that cultivated attacking style again which once was part of the “West Ham way”, a long, long time ago. Though I’m yet a bit sceptical because Pelle had already been able to work with the majority of the squad including most of the new players all pre-season, yet the defence looked as if they hadn’t played together before.

Last season I was able to come over from Austria to London on three occasions to attend West Ham games. The first one was in November, Slaven Bilic‘s last match, the 1-4 defeat to Liverpool; the second one in December was the 1-0 victory over Chelsea with fellow-Austrian Marko Arnautovic‘s first goal for the Hammers – two turning points of the last campaign! And finally I was able to watch the 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge, after which we flew home feeling sure that West Ham would avoid the drop.

This season I‘ve already bought the tickets for our first game, the second home game against Wolves on September 1st, and I‘m optimistic West Ham will record the first home win in this match. Yes, I‘m “foolish enough to believe that the best is yet to come“ this season. I think we can be optimistic that Manuel Pellegrini and his team will work it out with this squad full of talented players.

The point of being a football fan is that not just a new season, but also every weekend offers a new start. And especially we, the West Ham supporters, are foolish enough to believe that the bubbles we’re blowing will reach the sky – or at least “nearly“ will do. Maybe they will fly high as early as next Saturday against an also still winless Arsenal. And in any case I’m sure my first visit of the season on the following Saturday will be a happy day! If the bubbles don’t fade and die…

Come on you Irons!

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Talking Point

Never take anything for granted

In football one thing is for sure: you never can take anything for granted. The Champions League and Europa League ties last week again proved very well that even the highest favoured teams, leading by a comfortable margin from the first leg, may struggle or be eliminated against all odds. And as West Ham fans we know only too well that never opposition should be taken lightly, especially in cup games. And the game under the floodlights on Monday at the London Stadium is a cup final.

Well, West Ham’s engagement in the domestic cups didn’t really set the world alight this season, and the Hammers have no more cup ties to play at this stage of the proceedings. And they haven’t won a real cup final since 1980. But now we virtually have a cup final – or at least a semifinal – on Monday night! If the Irons manage to win the crucial game against second from bottom Stoke City, their unwanted flirt with relegation will be more or less over and our season is saved.

The other results this weekend could have gone a little better so far from West Ham’s perspective (if Crystal Palace and Huddersfield had dropped points and Swansea had lost, there would still be a gap of 2 or 3 points between these teams and West Ham before the Stoke game). But with third from bottom Southampton losing 2-3 at home to Chelsea (squandering a two goal lead) the gap of 6 points between the Hammers and the relegation zone is still there before the game against Stoke. Alas, in case of winning on Monday night West Ham will be 9 points away from the drop zone with only 5 games to play until the end of the season! And with playing at home against a team that has managed only one win in 15 games since Christmas and has the worst defensive record of the league, this win should be all but ensured.

But as we said before, in football never anything can be taken for granted, and West Ham have already lost games with similar prospects and expected outcomes this season (just think of losing to Newcastle, Swansea, and Burnley – or drawing with Crystal Palace at home). And we also should be aware that West Ham haven’t managed any back to back Premier League home wins since December 2016, and have not won twice in one season over Stoke City since the Potters’ first PL campaign in 2008/09.

But the last two games can make us quite optimistic with Marko Arnautovic still in top form, benefiting from Arthur Masuaku’s return from suspension and thriving in his role as a central striker which David Moyes has handed to the Austrian international. Arnie has completely lost his odeur of instability and sloppiness, of wasting chances and disappearing for large parts of games. Asked on my thoughts about him when he came to West Ham last summer I praised him as Austria’s recently most talented player, but I added that I had been happy that I was made angry by him only some times a season (when I watched him in the Austrian national team), and now I was going to be disappointed or annoyed by him every weekend… He seemed to prove me right right from the beginning of his West Ham career, but since David Moyes has come in as the new gaffer and lined up the record signing as West Ham’s central striker, Arnie has supplied nine goals and five assists from 14 starts. Statistics say that since gameweek 16, only three players have fired more shots on target: Harry Kane with 36, Mohamed Salah with 28, and Sergio Aguero with 25. And since the Austrian’s return from injury in gameweek 27, no player can better Arnautovic’s 12 shots on target. He has been directly involved in 13 PL goals this season, with nine goals and four assists.

That playing him in the central and only striker role has proven so successful doesn’t make it easy for the manager to include Chicharito in the starting eleven. „Little pea“ is a born goal scorer with an impressive record of scoring from inside the box and his inclusion in the starting eleven is requested by a lot of fans and, I think, also expected by himself. He has already got 8 goals this season though he has been played out of position under Slaven Bilic, been injured and often only has come from the bench. It will be very interesting to see if David Moyes will find a system in which West Ham‘s two top scorers can work together in the last 6 games of the season…

David Moyes’s team selection against Chelsea last Sunday (the third game in London I was able to fly over for and watch live this season by the way) has been spot on, and bringing Hernandez in the second half has proved highly successful. I was very sceptical about the appointment of Moyes back in November, but, as was said in a previous post here, „he has brought improvement to a number of players, steadied the ship, improved morale and also given a few opportunities to youngsters which we have all been asking for“.

If he could do at West Haw what he achieved at Everton from 2002-2013 (8 top seven finishes in his eleven seasons) that would be the „next step“ that West Ham realistically can make. Promising us more, even Champions League football, was a highly unrealistic vision that has not gone well with the problems West Ham’s supporters faced with the loss of Upton Park, the transition to the new stadium which has not emerged as a proper football ground so far and the underachievement in the transfer market with a lack of clever and sufficient investment. Karren Brady, Sullivan and Gold have underachieved (to put it mildly) in the first two seasons in the London Stadium. This summer, after having secured Premier League football, will be crucial for the direction in which West Ham is heading.

Now let’s hope for our first back to back wins at the new ground after almost one and a half year!

A cup final ahead

As I’ve already said, Monday under the lights is a cup final for West Ham. Though West Ham haven’t won a real cup final since 1980, the Hammers have won a final back in 2012 when they beat Blackpool in the play offs at Wembley to secure their comeback to the Premier League.

Monday’s game is of similiar significance, I would not only call it a “six pointer” but a nine or ten pointer: a win will move the Irons 10 points away from the Potters and 9 points away from the drop zone. One more win is all but important and could make us virtually sure that the fear of relegation is over! And with the confidence the win over Southampton and the draw at Stamford Bridge have brought, the squad looks capable of seizing this opportunity to make a giant step towards safety.

This massive game must be won. But you know, in football and especially with West Ham nothing can be taken for granted.

Come on you Irons!


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