Guest Post by Wolfgang Berger (rapidhammer)
I have seen West Ham’s new manager Slaven Bilic “live” once, in the EURO 08 quarter final game at the “Ernst Happel Stadium” in Vienna, when Croatia was knocked out of the tournament by Turkey on penalties. As a West Ham fan, aware of Bilic`s history with the Hammers, I had supported the Croation team, and the manner in which Croatia lost the match all but reminded me of West Ham. So Slaven Bilic and I have already gone through our first “West Ham moments”, together, albeit seven years ago.
It was a sold-out game back in June 2008, for which I had got tickets by chance just an hour before the game. I had not been able to get home before the game to put on a West Ham shirt, but there were some fans dressed in claret and blue on the terraces. The atmosphere in the city of Vienna had been tense and overwhelming the whole day before the game. Both nationalities are represented quite strong in Austria, and the Croation fans as well as the Turkish supporters had been celebrating all day in the centre of Vienna, especially the Croatians having brought music bands and all kinds of flags and banners with them.
And it really was a thrilling and exciting game going into extra time, the score being 0-0 after 90 minutes. Croatia thought they had won it when Ivan Klasnic headed in Luka Modric’s cross with a minute of the overtime period to play. The Croatian players and Bilic, their coach, were all over the place, celebrating on the pitch with Bilic who had also run onto the lawn. It was a very emotional moment, but the final whistle had not been blown yet.
And for the third game running in this tournament, Turkey sensationally hit back at the death to level scores when Semih Senturk scored, with the aid of a deflection, from just inside the area. It was heart-break for Bilic and Croatia, falling from highest joy to utter dispair within one minute, and it was no surprise that Bilic’s team lost 1-3 on penalties and Turkey went through to the semi-finals to play Germany.
Well I’m sure you remember, West Ham also lost 1-3 on penalties to Liverpool in the FA Cup final 2006 after Steven Gerrard had levelled just seconds before the final whistle. And you remember that it’s an old habit of our beloved Hammers to concede a goal quite a short time after having scored themselves…
Hence I have already tasted my first defeat together with our new manager in a very emotional way, on June 21st, 2008 in Vienna.
I never will forget the moments when the “Ernst Happel” exploded after Croatia’s 1-0, with Bilic running unto the pitch with his arms in the air, and all the supporters of Croatia celebrating on the terraces around me, only to have to witness Turkey levelling just a minute later with the last kick of the game.
These are the emotions and moments we love football for, don’t we?
Welcome back, Slaven, to West Ham!