The S J Chandos Column

We all acknowledge Payet's importance, but lets not forget Kouyate's value to the side!

Well, what can you say about that ‘performance’ (or rather lack of it) against Man City? Just when you think the team have turned a corner, all the old faults and weaknesses re-emerge. We hoped that the nightmare experienced against Arsenal had been put behind us, then we had to watch that total debacle against City. There were certain similarities between the two matches, in that we were competitive until we conceded and then too many heads dropped and a rout ensued. However, for me the biggest common denominator in both matches was the absence of Kouyate and the power, strength and momentum that he brings to the side. While Payet is crucial to our creativity and forward play, perhaps it is time that there was greater recognition of Kouyate’s importance to the energy, physicality and cohesion of the side. In my last column, I expressed concerns about his month long absence, at the African Cup of Nations, and the City defeat served to cruelly underline the point. Lets just pray that Kouyate returns from the ACON (at the earliest possible opportunity) fit and uninjured.

I had hoped that the combination of Obiang and Noble in midfield would compensate for the loss of Kouyate’s power, industry and drive. Unfortunately Bilic did not start Noble and we fell well short. Kouyate is probably the only player of his sort in the current squad; a tall, powerful player, with natural drive/aggression to his game. He is equally comfortable playing as a centre-back, a defensive anchor or a box-to-box midfielder, who is capable of getting forward to score important goals. Arguably, last Friday night’s result underlines the fact that we need another player of Kouyate’s stamp. And fortunately, we have a firm recommendation from the man himself. Kouyate recently praised Anderlecht’s Kara Mbodji’s qualities and suitability for the PL. Mbodji is 6ft 3 inches tall and is an absolute power house on the pitch. Moreover, like Kouyate, his fellow Senegalese international, can play centre-back, as a defensive midfielder and, further forward, as a central midfielder. If James Collins departs to Crystal Palace this January, Mbodj would be an ideal centre-back replacement and, vitally, provide cover for Kouyate in midfield. Yes, Mbodji is currently also part of Senegal’s ACON squad and that might be a consideration. However, if he is the right option, at the right price (he is likely to be available for c.£5m-6m – subject to January’s inflationary prices), then we would have to muddle through until he is available in early February (and even earlier if Senegal are eliminated from ACON). Alternatively, we should look for another player of very similar physical and footballing qualities.

As I write, it appears that Zaza, Calleri and Tore have (or will have) their loan spells cut short. While it looks as if a move (loan, with a view to a permanent deal) to Roma may be on the cards for Feghouli and the club also look to be open to offers for Adrian. I have said it before, and I will say it again, the club has suffered due to the shortcomings of the last summer transfer window. The recruitment was just not good enough (in total contrast to the previous two summer windows) and the consequences are that we are having to attempt to ameliorate the mistakes this January. And we all know that is not a comfortable position to find yourself in and lets hope that the club are able to do it, even if it likely means recruiting at inflated fees.

The players that we are being linked with in this window are legion, including Defoe, Hogan, Batshuayi, Jenkinson, etc. To date (if reports for to be believed) West Ham have already had three bids rejected for both Defoe and Hogan. And that is the nature of the January window, it is essentially a sellers market and selling clubs are able to play ‘hard ball’ on fees. I would welcome the addition of Michy Batshuayi on loan from Chelsea, but there is a suggestion that they may try to link the deal to a permanent move for Antonio and that is not a price worth paying. Antonio has been one of the positives, so far, this season and we cannot afford to lose him from the squad. If we can get Batshuayi on a stand alone deal then great, but otherwise we should pass on the opportunity.

Who would I like to see us recruit this January? There is talk of a January loan deal for Chelsea keeper, Asmir Begovic, and a subsequent c.£15m summer deal for Joe Hart. Adrian’s fall from favour is a sad and rapid development, but there is no doubting that the erratic nature of his keeping came to the fore this season and it has costs us points. However, he is still one of the best ‘reaction save’ keepers around; it is just a pity that he is not more disciplined and dominating in the box. Can he rectify those faults in his game? I would have hoped so, but it very much looks as if his time at the club is coming to an end. Whether Bilic decides on making a change in January or sticks with Adrian and Randolph until the summer will be revealed in due course.

One of the most pertinent criticisms of the summer recruitment was that it was too exclusively focused on the forward positions, at the expense of addressing our defensive vulnerabilities. It is widely acknowledged that we have insufficient cover at right-back. There are numerous rumours about loan or permanent bids for right-backs such as Jenkinson and Iorfa. There is no doubt that there is a need for cover and competition for Sam Byram, at right-back/wing-back and it has been a problem position at the club for some considerable time. That now needs to be rectified and it is just a question of whether the club go for a more experienced option like Jenkinson or opt for the undoubted potential of a player such as Iorfa. There are strong arguments in favour of both options. Iorfa has the potential to become a top class right-back and he has local/Essex connections, being born and raised in Southend. While Jenkinson is older/more experienced and has previously played for the club. Furthermore, it is possible that Jenkinson could be available on a loan deal, with a option to buy in the summer, which would help the January transfer budget to stretch that bit further.

While we have a quality option at left-back/wing-back in the form of Cresswell, are we really convinced by the cover/competition? The club brought in Arthur Masuaku in the summer, but he has struggled with injuries and looked out of his depth in the PL. Perhaps he needs more time to adapt, and an extended period injury free, before we can judge his ultimate suitability. At the same time, young prospects such as Stephen Hendrie and Lewis Page have failed to impress and have been loaned out or sold. Perhaps Bilic will prioritise a right-back in January and continue with Cresswell-Masuaku until the summer. If Masuaku then exits, recruiting a left-back like Leeds Utd’s Charlie Taylor may be on the agenda in the summer.

At centre-back, we could continue with the Reid-Ogbonna-Colins-Oxford combination. However, as previously stated, there may be a bid for Collin’s services by Sam Allardyce’s Crystal Palace. At 33 years of age, a decent bid could very well prove successful for the Welsh international. If that is the case, we will need a similiarly powerful centre-back to replace him. Yes, we have the emerging potential of Oxford and Burke, but the most immediate priority is to strengthen our squad for the remainder of this season. Burke will not be back with the club until next season and I suspect that while Oxford will eventually grow in to a top-class centre-back, his best and most immediate first team opportunities will in the defensive-midfield role. For that reason, I would go for a powerful centre-back such as Kara Mbodji, especially if (like him) they can also be deployed as a defensive or central midfielder.

In defence/midfield Nordtvelt has not particularly impressed so far, but it is likely he will be given more time. Generally, we are probably ok in central midfield until the summer, providing that we do not lose anyone. It is just a pity that a young, hungry youngster like Josh Cullen is not currently at the club and pushing established players for a starting place. His performances on loan for Bradford City have been very good and hopefully that will be beneficial for his long-term development. It is just that he is as good (if not better better) a prospect as Harry Winks at Spurs and I suspect he could and should have had PL/cup exposure this season. As stated, the talk of selling/swapping Antonio is a total nonsense, to sell our top scorer would be madness and his pace and strength up front cannot be easily replaced. So, the club must stand firm on that issue, but it is likely that we will lose other wide players such as Feghouli and Tore. So we need at least one wide player and the favoured option seems to be Hull City’s star player, Robert Snodgrass. Snodgrass is a very good player, but has tended to play for less fashionable PL clubs. I believe that Snodgrass could finally realise his full potential with West Ham, playing alongside the likes of Payet and Lanzini. Plus, he has the versatility to play not only on the right flank, but right across the front line. It is all about possessing more class options in the squad, with greater strength-in-depth to promote competition and give quality cover; rather than considerations about ‘who would be selected over who’ in a ideal first team XI. Nor is it a ‘problem’ to have more then one player that is a dead ball/set piece specialist. I am sure Bilic would welcome more of those type of problems! Regardless, whether you favour Snodgrass, or other options, the fact remains that we probably need to recruit least one new wide player this January.

However, the vast majority of media/social media speculation has focused on the Hammers recruiting one or two new strikers this January. As I write it seems that Brentford’s Scott Hogan (on a £12.5m-15m permanent deal) and Chelsea’s Michy Batshuayi (on loan) seem to be the favoured options. The speculation around a possible deal for Defoe seems to have abated. Essentially, Defoe was seen by the club as a quick (and short-term) fix up front. However, Sunderland have predictably resisted West Ham’s overtures, because they obviously see Defoe as central to their PL survival chances this season. The only way that a deal might be sparked is if the player himself submitted a transfer request, but that does not appear to have happened to date. Perhaps he fears a back lash from irate Sunderland fans? That is understandable considering the fall out, and continuing legacy, of the circumstances in which he exited West Ham in 2004.

As stated previously, I would gamble on Hogan and happily take Batshuayi on loan (providing Antonio is not part of the deal). Hogan has excelled as a goal scorer in the Championship and he could join Cresswell and Antonio as excellent additions from the 2nd tier. The only proviso is that there is no long-term issues relating to his previous knee injuries. We must not recruit another injury prone striker, whether that is Hogan or a more established PL striker like Sturridge. The issue with Batshuayi (apart from the Antonio link) is his match fitness and form. His match time this season has been very low at Chelsea and it has obviously affected his fitness, confidence and form. However, if he is sufficiently fit, only game time will rectify those other issues. If all goes well, we could recruit a classy striker and with an hunger to prove a point about his ability to excel in the PL. And that would only be a good thing.

If he does excel for us, it is unlikely Chelsea would be open to a permanent deal in the summer. But, on the other hand, knowing Chelsea, if they recruit another mega million pound super striker and they might just decide to cash in on Batshuayi. If that happened, we would then be in pole position to seal a permanent move. Alternatively, Batshuayi goes back to his parent club in the summer and we try to secure a big deal for a top striker like Inter-Milan’s Mauro Icardi.

Maybe the Hogan-Batshuayi emphasis is a false one and other options will emerge out of left field, who knows? What we do know is both Bilic and Sullivan have confirmed that, ideally, in January there will be (1) a emphasis upon recruiting British/UK based players and (2) a minimum of three new players recruited. I agree with the policy of recruiting a majority of British/UK based talent in this window, as they have the best chance of quickly settling and having a maximum positive impact. As for the target figure of three recruits, that is likely to translate in to a right-back, a wide midfielder and at least one striker. However, will three recruits be enough to address all the needs/lack in the current squad? Almost certainly not. To do that we would probably need to recruit five or six. With a central defender and a second striker being added to the wish list. While the factor x in the equation is the goal keeping position? Will other pressing priorities see the Adrian-Randolph combination continue until the end of the season, with a big goal keeping addition being planned in the summer?

Three, four, five, six ….. this would be the required scale of signings to address all of the issues in the squad caused by a bad summer recruitment. However, the likelihood is that the difficult nature of the January window will actually see recruitment of three or less new players. If that is the case, we must prioritise the most pressing positions, get by elsewhere for the remainder of this season and then address the remaining substantive issues in the summer.

I just hope that the club’s management and board have learnt the lessons of last summer and ensure in future they get the recruitment right at that juncture and just use the winter window to make minor adjustments/sign players of quality that unexpectedly become available. Also, from next summer, the emphasis must be firmly upon quality over numbers and ultimately that costs. Hopefully, the quality of our youth system will produce more high quality home grown talent and make some transfer expenditure unnecessary. Although the best possible policy is to strike a successful balance between the two strategies (quality youngsters and top class signings).

But first lets complete good and effective business in this transfer window, get through the remainder this season (ideally with a top ten finish) and then re-group and refocus our ambitions/targets in 2017-18.

S.J. Chandos


The S J Chandos Column

Man City in the FA Cup - A chance to dispel Monday's disappointment!

I remember a time when match officials were crucial, but largely anonymous figures (admittedly in an age before Sky Sports and saturation TV coverage/analysis). Yes, they inevitably made vital decisions that influenced the outcome of matches, the issuing of cards, free kicks in vital areas and, of course, penalty awards (like the last minute FA Cup quarter-final penalty vs. Aston Villa in 1980). However, there was always a feeling that the officials were doing a difficult job, calling it honestly and without undue fuss. That is no longer the pre-dominant view amongst a significant number of football fans and the difference probably lies in the attitude and behaviour of many modern referees. Gary Lineker perfectly articulated a common suspicion that ‘attention seeking’ is a factor that unduly influences refereeing decisions on occasions. The latest high profile incident involves Mike Dean, but similar controversy also follows other of his colleagues such as Clattenberg, Taylor and Mariner. In addition, modern referees are very dictatorial figures, with grand hand gestures and an unapproachable persona. Perhaps that is their way of maintaining their authority on the pitch (the behaviour of players can admittedly be challenging at times). However, I remember previous generations of officials being much more open and engaging on the pitch, talking to players and even explaining their decisions. But that is all in the past, the current generation definitely owe more to the Clive Thomas and Keith Hackett schools of refereeing!

Indeed, we Hammers fans have been at the wrong end of a number of poor decisions, particularly in that run of four drawn matches that was a major factor in failing to clinch that fourth Champions League qualifying place last season. The 15th minute sending off Feghouli on Monday evening significantly changed the emerging balance of the match and, ultimately, its final outcome. I thought that in that first 15 minutes West Ham looked impressive and were easily matching Man Utd. After it, the match become a uphill fight, but the 10 man Hammers applied themselves well and put up a real spirited battle. If Antonio had finished that crucial one-on-one with the keeper, things might have been very different. Unfortunately, not for the first time this season, poor finishing was ultimately our undoing. Yet regardless, it was only an exceptional piece of skill from young Marcus Rashford that conspired to put Man Utd ahead. The second, off-side goal, truly flattered the visitors and only added insult to injury for the Hammers.

Losing in those circumstances is always very disappointing, but we can take real pride in the organisation and fight shown by the team and the overall quality of our play. We have now lost the last two PL matches, but I am optimistic that we are on the right path and will avoid any sort of relegation struggle. For me, the key question is how high we can climb and whether we can get in to contention for a Europa League place this season (via league position). If not then, we need to try to get as high as possible (at least top ten) and concentrate on making progress in this year’s FA Cup. Certainly, a good FA Cup run would be a major boost for the club and its support base. And how the grand old knock-out competition needs another all-time classic final, a la May 2006!

Speaking of which, our next opponents are Man City, on Friday evening, in the 3rd Round of the FA Cup, at the London Stadium. And it is an excellent chance to bounce back against tough opponents. However, we will have to do it without Kouyate and Ayew, who have departed to play in the African Cup of Nations for their respective national teams (Senegal and Ghana). Kouyate, in particular, is a very influential player and will always be badly missed. While Ayew is clawing his way back to fitness and form and in the injury absence of Sakho (and departure of Zaza and Calleri) it denies us the services of the major back up to Andy Carroll. Yes, Fletcher is still available and there is also the opportunity to promote the very promising Martinez to the bench. Hopefully, Feghouli will have Monday’s red card rescinded and be available, but it might be necessary to deploy Antonio in a more central striking position; especially if Carroll is not deemed fit enough to start. We will also probably see Adrian back between the posts and this will be a good opportunity for him to put in a good performance against top class opposition.

Man City are always difficult opponents, given the class of the options at their disposal. However, if Bilic gets the formation/tactics right and the team plays with pace and power we can grab a win. Payet and Lanzini are also going to be vital, they both need to be at the top of their game. Payet certainly owes us a big performance a la last season. The fans will also have a key role to play in making the London Stadium a cauldron of passion and noise. Lets try and bring a bit of the old Boleyn (under the floodlights) magic to the Stadium and create a genuinely intimidating atmosphere for City and an equally inspiring one for the home side.

Personally, I am really looking forward to the match, the challenge that it represents and (if I am honest) the timely break it gives us from the PL programme. Football is all about these type of matches against top teams. If our players and fans cannot rise to an occasion like this then there must be something wrong with them!! Seriously though, It will be a tough match, but I am going to be optimistic and go for a 2-1 home victory. COYI!

SJ. Chandos.

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The S J Chandos Column

The January transfer window is absolutely crucial to our final finishing position.

It is axiomatic, get the summer transfer right and you have a good season. Then January is just about adjusting the squad, but get the summer recruitment wrong and we are inevitably in crisis territory. And then, in January, other clubs know you are desperate and play hard ball financially. We have (rightly) praised the club for the last two or three summer transfer windows, but this season we fell badly short. We recruited players that have blatantly failed to adjust to the Premier League. Zaza, Tore and Calleri are not up to the required standard. Fletcher and Martinez have huge potential and I feel that Ayew and Feghouli have the ability to impact positively. As for Nordtvelt, we need to give him time to settle and show what he can contribute to the squad. What I really like about Nordtvelt is his adaptability and ability to cover a number of different positions. Yes. I know that Hammers fans are not overly impressed, but give him a bit of time for goodness sake. Who knows you might be pleasantly surprised.

What we need is ‘iron surgery.’ We need to dispose of Tore, Zaza and Calleri as quickly as possible. I would keep faith in Ayew and Feghouli and hope that that the forthcoming African Cup of Nations improves their fitness and form. Yes, there is the danger of injury, but the player I really worry about is Kouyate. Losing him for 3-4 weeks is a huge challenge for the club, such is his importance. Just pray that Kouyate stays fit and returns early from the competition. I do not know about you, but I worry about such a key player being in the hands of Senegal’s physios, given what happened to Sakho and its continuing legacy.

As for acquisitions, I really hope that the rumours about our interest in Robert Snodgrass is correct. He is class and would provide cover both out wide and through the middle. This player is so under-rated and he could make a major contribution, not only whilst Ayew and Feghouli are away, but long term. He should have murdered us during the recent home match Vs Hull City, his creative play was so good. He is in the final year of his contract and a reasonable offer should encourage Hull City to do business. I would also like to see us reinforce our full-back positions by securing Carl Jenkinson, on loan, and Charlie Taylor (of Leeds Utd) on a permanent deal. We probably also need another centre-back and Kouyate has already alerted us to the ability of one of his former Anderlecht team-mates. Perhaps we should follow up on that, considering that James Collins on approaching the end of his top class career.

Up front, we need two new strikers. I would go for Icardi (from Inter-Milan) on loan, pending a summer permanent deal, and take a gamble on Brentford’s Scott Hogan. The talk about Rashford and sturridge is all very good, but one is inexperienced and, the other, is injury prone. Do we really want to gamble on the fitness of Daniel Sturridge, with Carroll and Sakho already on board?

We have had a major revival in recent matches. We must keep that trend going. That means getting positive results against Leicester City (away) and Man Utd (home) and pushing in to the top ten. It is perfectly possible and we need to, build on recent results, and make it happen. COYI!

SJ. Chandos.

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Book Review

A Review of 'The Acid Test - The Autobiography of Clyde Best'

A couple of years ago a bit of a controversy blow up about an an assertion (in Karren Brady’s newspaper column if I recall correctly) that Clyde Best suffered serious racial abuse at Upton Park in the 1970s, with amongst other things bananas being thrown on the pitch. That was undoubtedly mistaken, I remember such incidents happening (much to our shame), but it was much later, in the 1980s and was aimed at the black stars of the WBA side of that era. Clyde Best corrected the mistake at the time and reaffirms in his autobiography that he never received any noticeable abuse at Upton Park, from the main body of supporters (outside perhaps of a small NF fringe that attached itself to the club at that time). In fact, best is fulsome in his praise for Hammers fans, who he states are the finest body of fans in the land. No, the truth is that the real racial abuse suffered by Best was at away grounds and particularly northern away fixtures at the likes of Everton and Man City. Indeed, the only time Best felt threatened at Upton Park was an occasion when he received an anonymous written threat that he would be attacked with acid if he appeared at the next scheduled game at Upton Park. Hence the title of the autobiography, Precautions were taken, Best appeared in the match and the threat proved empty, but nevertheless, it was understandably a very frightening episode.

The book provides some interesting detail about the formative influences on Best, including his family, his cricket loving father, local sports clubs in his native Bermuda and, indeed, the beautiful Atlantic Island itself and its close knit local community. If things had been different, he might have become a cricketer, but the truth is football was always his first love. And it was his impressive local performances that resulted in influential national coach, Graham Adams (a friend of Ron Greenwood), to recommend him to the club for a trial. His background in Bermuda is very important to understanding both the personality of the man and his sporting development. It was there that he acquired his characteristic respect and quiet dignity, which equipped him so well to deal with the racist abuse. That, plus the support and advise of his mentor, Ron Greenwood, who told him the best way to shut up the bigots was to put the ball in the back of the net. Good advice, Best notes how often he silenced racist barracking at away grounds by doing his job and converting chances. He gives one particularly memorable example, where he was receiving constant racist barracking from the crowd at Goodison, and he silenced them by scoring with an exquisite chip over the keeper. A goal that Joe Royle afterwards graciously told him was one of the best ever scored at Goodison.

Clyde Best’s initial affiliation with West Ham United began in 1964, when he watched the Cup Final on TV in Bermuda with his older brother. He claims that after watching that match he identified with the Hammers and predicted that one day he would play for the club! This affiliation was further consolidated when he also watched on TV the Hammers triumvirate star in England’s 1966 World Cup victory at Wembley. On arriving in England, on a Sunday afternoon in August 1968, club representatives were not present at the airport to meet him (there was a mix up and they were expecting him to arrive on the Monday, rather then the Sunday). So, he made his own way to East London on the District Line and made the very logical mistake of getting off at West Ham Station, rather than Upton Park. The 17 year old Best, awed by the size and complexity of London, felt lost, dis-orientated and unsure what to do next. It was then that he had an extraordinary stroke of good fortune, a friendly West Hammer took pity on the lost looking youth and, on hearing his story, was able to take him to the home of the Charles family in nearby Ronald Avenue. There he was taken in for the night and contact was made with the club, with whom he went on to complete a successful trial. He also establish a long-standing, warm relationship with the Charles family, with whom he lodged until his marriage a few years later, particularly West Ham full-back, Clive Charles, who become a life long friend.

The books is particularly interesting in terms of the observations of an outsider on the East London of the 1960s, in juxtaposition to the small, pretty communities of his native Bermuda. It also charts his successful trial, apprenticeship in the combination league and rise to first team status. It includes many interesting references to such Hammers legends as Greenwood, Moore, Hurst, Peters, Bonds, Brooking and Pop Robson. It is clear that he has a particular admiration for Greenwood and Moore; and fully recognises the debt that he owes Hurst for his success at the club. He is fulsome in his praise of Moore the footballer, the captain and the man and acknowledges the key, formative influence that Ron Greenwood had upon him. Greenwood was a football innovator and Best rightly praises his often forgotten role in promoting the introduction of black players in to the modern English game. The fact being that it was Greenwood who played three black players in an English game for the first time in the early 1970s, not Ron Atkinson at WBA in the 1980s. Arguably, Best enjoyed his most successful period at the club playing alongside Hurst and Redknapp in the strike force. He played off Hurst, who took the target man role, and he thrived on Redknapp’s wing play. Indeed, he laments the (in his view) pre-mature departure of Hurst and Redknapp (to Stoke City and Bournemouth respectively) and the detrimental impact that it had on his game. In Hurst’s absence Best took at the task of leading the line and it was not a role to which he was best suited. This was perhaps the very start of the gradual decline of his West Ham career (accelerated by Greenwood’s move upstairs to become General Manager) that ultimately accumulated in his exit from the club, after eight seasons, at the surprisingly young age of 24. Best questions whether his English football career peaked too early and this resulted in its pre-mature decline? The question is left open for the reader to reach their own conclusion.

There are vivid descriptions of matches against the best sides of the era, including the bruising Leeds Utd of Hunter and Bremner and the glamorous Manchester United of Charlton, Best and Law; as well as accounts of famous episodes such as the Blackpool night club incident and the marathon League Cup semi-final against Stoke City. He reminds us of an era in English football before the rise of the wealth and power Premier League. The world of the 1960s and 1970s, when each club had their star players and there was such a strength in-depth of English talent that players of the quality of Bryan Pop Robson and Jimmy Greenhoff (of Stoke City) were never capped at full England level. It was also a world in which the players were (socially and economically) more in touch with the fans and the game was more about them than Billionaire owners, large corporate interests and Sky Sports! He wonders how ordinary fans can afford to attend games these days and clearly laments the direction in which the modern game has gone in this and some other respects. Indeed, for me, one of the best features of this book is the way in which he relates his experiences to modern developments. Hence, amongst others, there is commentary concerning race in the contemporary game (particularly the remaining bastion of the lack of black top class managers), refereeing and the introduction of new technology, corruption in football/FIFA; and West Ham’s 2016/17 move to the London Stadium.

Best’s greatest sadness in his time at West Ham was that he did not figure in the 1975 FA Cup Final. However, by that time he was largely a squad player. He was a spectator at Wembley and it was that point at which Best decided that his future now lay elsewhere. He could have stayed in the First Division, a bid from Wolverhampton Wanderers was accepted, but Best admits he did not want to play for another English club. After an initial loan period, Best made a move in to the very different world of the North American Soccer League (NASL). There he recounts his experiences in American ‘soccer,’ playing for teams such as Tampa Bay Rowdies and Portland Timbers (where he played against such legends as Cryuff and Pele) and his eventual move in to the Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL); as well the details of his brief and ultimately unsuccessful loan period with Feyenoord in the 1977/78 season. The book concludes with his activities after retirement as a player, including returning to Bermuda to take on the role of National Coach/Technical Director.

Clyde Best’s love for West Ham United is very obvious in the book. And he is a very important figure in the development of black professional footballers in England. He was not the first black player in English football, nor (as he freely admits) was he even the first Bermudan. However, there is a unique significance to Best’s career with West Ham in that he made a breakthrough and popular impact that others did not. From a West Ham perspective, Best was originally an exotic outsider at a club that was famous for producing its own local talent. Yet, he proved himself and become regarded with genuine respect and affection as ‘one of our own.’ And more than that, he played and earnt the respect of probably the greatest players in the club’s history. That is quite an achievement.

In conclusion, I found this book to be one of the most interesting of player autobiographies. It is filled with gems of recollections and observations that bring to life the Hammers in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Moreover, it gives us an insight in to the man himself, his formative influences and the challenges he faced and overcome. I would recommend it to WHTID readers. It is a book to saviour for all socially conscious Hammers fans.

’The Acid Test – The Autobiography of Clyde Best is published by deCoubertin Books (2016) and retails for £20.00.

SJ. Chandos.


The S J Chandos Column

Much better, now lets make it back-to-back wins!

Well, I got my desired 0-1 win at Palace, but the quality of our play could very well have seen us record a more convincing victory. The most important thing was getting the win but the way that we played was hugely encouraging. We looked like an effective team unit, every player did their job and the formation worked very well. Basically, Bilic tactically out- foxed Palace, surprising them by deploying three centre-backs and two wing backs. By the time that Pardew adjusted Palace’s game in the 2nd half, we were firmly in the driving seat and battled fiercely to defend the lead. Yes, we had a spot of luck with the penalty and in the 2nd half, but we have not really had much good fortune so far this season, so it could be viewed as a levelling out. That was before Cresswell’s unjust sending off, which was actually less about luck than extremely poor decisions by the match officials. So, that means we lose Cresswell for the Sunderland game, but we should still be strong enough to take the three points in his absence.

It was obvious that the ‘worm was turning’ after the Middlesboro score draw and the team went on to significantly improve upon that harbinger performance. And, with our good away record against Palace, last Saturday’s match was the perfect opportunity to draw a line in the sand, with regard to early season results, and take a huge step in the right direction. I feel that some Hammers fans, pre-match, effectively over-hyped Palace’s strength, under-estimated our own chances and capitulated to the prevalent ‘gloom and doom’ pessimism. It was like last season never happened and there was a reversion back to bygone modes of negative thinking. Our start to the season has undoubtedly been poor, but the early signs of a revival were clearly there and we knew that, ultimately, we had the quality to get our season back on track. In truth it was always a matter of getting the tactics/selection right and players performing to their potential individually and, by extension, as a team unit. And Bilic has to be congratulated for taking effective action and using the international break to address the issues that have been badly undermining our season

As for Palace, they are better than last season and I do rate Townsend, but I am not a particular fan of Benteke. He is effective in a system where teams get it wide and swing in crosses to capitalise on his unquestioned strength in the air. However, he is not as effective on the ground and is far too immobile to be at the apex of an attack/system where the ball is played on the floor. In short, why would we buy Benteke if we, as a club, want to continue to play the West Ham way under Bilic? He would not suit that style of play and if we want a more direct option than we already have Carroll (when fit), who is at least as good in the air and probably also has more to offer on the ground. It would make no sense to have both players and before fans start suggesting that we should have signed Benteke, they need to be clear about exactly what type of playing style they want Bilic to deploy. Personally, I suspect that many advocates of a Benteke summer signing have not fully thought through its implications.

Nevertheless, there is a old saying ‘that you are only as good as your last result.’ And it is very important that we keep the momentum going to secure the win against Sunderland on Saturday. Back-to-back wins would really cement our progress. If we drop points against Sunderland then the advantage won at Selhurst Park would be lost and the old uncertainties and lack of confidence could return. That needs to be avoided at all costs. Plus, a good convincing win on Saturday would help reunite the fans, dispel lingering doubts about the London Stadium and help to start turning our new home in to a new fortress. We definitely need that home advantage if we are to push forward and get back in to contention for the top six.

It will interesting to see how Bilic will compensate for Cresswell’s one match suspension. Will he continue to play the three centre-backs/wing back system or will he opt for a flat back four, with Antonio being pushed further forward on the right flank? We could play Ogbonna as a left wing-back (although obviously he is not going to be as effective going forward as Cresswell) and bring in Collins or Oxford to complete the back three. This might be a good fixture to give Oxford a chance alongside the more experienced Reid and Kouyate? It is not ideal playing the wing-back system without the likes of Cresswell, Byram and Masuaku, but there might be an advantage in pursuing continuity in our formation/tactics. We shall see?

Regardless, I feel that West Ham will be too strong for the visitors on Saturday and we have a golden opportunity to capitalise on the Palace victory and cement continuous improvement. I am going for a morale boosting 3-0 or 3-1 win for the Hammers. COYI !

SJ. Chandos.


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