My West Ham Story
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.
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.
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 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).
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!