Sunday, October 19

Champions League? We're having a laugh…

Burnley 1 West Ham 3

We’ve just come out of Electra at the Old Vic (a sort of ancient Greek version of EastEnders) when my mobile tells me that West Ham have won at Burnley and gone into fourth place. “Looks like it’s between West Ham and Southampton for the title,” I text to Nigel, who replies, “More relevantly, it’s 13 points towards avoiding relegation.”

Still, when we were last in the top four? Match of the Day reveals an early scare when Burnley’s Boyd hits the bar. The Clarets have more of the play in the first half, although Downing also hits the post after a great run inside from the right wing.

West Ham go two up in the second half with both goals coming from crosses from our new young energetic overlapping full-backs. Cresswell crosses from the left for Sakho to head home his sixth in sixth games. Then Jenkinson crosses from the right for Valencia to bullet home a tremendous header. He’s scored three for Equador during the break and it’s another quality finish for WHU.

Substitute Carlton Cole has a header cleared off the line but disappointingly West Ham then let Burnley back into the game as Adrian makes a complete mess of gathering a corner and the ball spills to a grateful Boyd to scoop home. Ings then sees a good header fly just wide of Adrian’s post. (Ings can only get better?)

But West Ham produce some character to clinch the game. Downing wins a corner and from the set piece Sakho heads across goal for Carlton Cole to head home from a yard out. Nice moment for Carlton who never complains about being a sub but is now our joint second top scorer. And ironically we’ve scored three headers with Andy Carroll out injured…

There’s still time for Burnley to hit the bar, but it's been an entertaining game and we’re fourth (at least until Man United play). A fine 60th birthday present for Big Sam. Yes, Burnley are winless and our defence looked wobbly at times, but it’s another great win. What can we complain about now?

Friday, October 17

Big Sam at 60

Quite a few articles on Big Sam celebrating his 60th birthday this Sunday, and some people getting irate online about him saying that getting sacked at Newcastle deprived him of his chance of managing a bigger club. I can't see that's being disrespectful to West Ham, as he presumably means the likes of Man United, Man City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool, all of whom have been Champions League regulars. And it's worth noting that in the Daily Express the full text reads: "But as plain old Sam Allardyce approaches his 60th birthday on Sunday, he finally accepts he will never get a chance to manage a really big club. Unless he says with the fire of ambition still burning in his eyes, he can turn West Ham into one." 

So far this season I'm happy with what Big Sam has achieved. He's proved that provided with better players he can adapt the system and produce entertaining football and playing Downing at the top of the midfield diamond is looking inspired. Admittedly the last three seasons have seen much functional football, but let's give Sam some credit for getting the club promoted first time and keeping us in the Premier League for two seasons. Yes, Allardyce can at times be a PR disaster with the fans, but if we'd failed to come straight back up we could be floundering where Bolton and Fulham are now.
Unless, he says with the fire of ambition still burning in his eyes, he can turn West Ham into one.

Tuesday, October 14

We've only got one Song

The player that has really impressed so far out of the new signings is Alex Song. Sakho's got the goals, but Song has dominated midfield and provided a brilliant anchor in front of defence. It says a lot for his ability that West Ham have hardly missed injured midfielders Nolan, Kouyate and Noble. You don't get to play for Barcelona if you're a bad player and it's frankly rather surprising West Ham managed to get him. The Cameroon international looks like just the sort of midfield player his old club Arsenal need to back-up their Fancy Dans. No surprise to hear rumours that Liverpool might try to sign Song at the end of the season. But his cousin Rigobert Song, who spent a season at Upton Park, is apparently like a second father to him (Alex's dad died when he was three) and recommended West Ham to him, so let's hope he likes life at Upton Park enough to stay.

Thursday, October 9

Bobby Moore: The Man In Full

Matt Dickinson’s Bobby Moore: The Man In Full is a fine read. Though the main thing you feel after reading this book is what a lost opportunity the later Moore years were for West Ham. It started off tremendously with the 1964 FA Cup and 1965 Cup Winners Cup wins, but before the 1966 World Cup victory Moore was keen on a move to Spurs and only signed an emergency one-month contract on the eve of the World Cup. The year before he’d had cancer (covered up as a groin injury) and the England captain had a testicle removed. You have to admire the bravery and stoicism of the man.

When England won the World Cup, Moore discovered that there was no way West Ham would ever sell him. Ron Greenwood was a fantastic coach but a poor manager of men, and Moore, more insecure than his calm persona suggests, wanted someone to tell him he was a great player occasionally. He also responded well to having big name players around him and Dickinson suggests that West Ham’s stupid refusal to sign Gordon Banks because of Ron Greenwood’s principles and their lack of other star signings helped contribute to Moore’s disillusion.

Dickinson writes of West Ham’s reputation as a drinking club in the late 1960s with crates of lager in the treatment room. He reveals one new signing was told that as long as he could stand at the bar at the Black Lion he was fit enough to play for West Ham. Even Jimmy Greaves was shocked by the boozing at the club. By the time of the infamous 1971 Blackpool nightclub incident when Moore, Dear, Greaves and Clyde Best went clubbing on the eve of an FA Cup tie the drinking culture had become toxic. Moore played many great games for West Ham, but at times Greenwood felt he coasted, and with three World Cup winners the side hugely underachieved. The club needed a stronger manager than Greenwood to get the best from him.

Moore’s love of lager is fully explored and Dickinson details one session where Moore and pals downed 20 cans each. Mooro would try to sweat off his sessions the next morning, but he could certainly have prolonged his career without the boozing and you wonder if the alcohol contributed to his bowel cancer.

It’s a shame that when the end came Moore signed for Fulham after the West Ham board refused to deal with the brash Brian Clough. The Derby boss might have extracted the best from Moore during his final years.

Moore was a difficult man to get to know, but Dickinson reveals much about his personality through his compulsive neatness and his obsessive ordering of his shirts, coded by colour from light to dark. He describes how combating his lack of pace and aerial ability through positioning and intercepting the ball made Moore the great player he was. His other great asset was calmness on and off the pitch, as exemplified by the Bogata bracelet arrest and his reaction to it at the 1970 World Cup when he produced "that tackle by Moore".

Dickinson covers the way the game ignored Moore after his retirement and is not aftraid to mention rumours of unwise friends among the East End underworld. Moore’s ex-wife Tina thinks that like many people, some gangsters wanted to be associated with Bobby through being seen at the same venues, but that was at far as it went.

Dickinson does wonder why Moore chose to buy the Blind Beggar, scene of an infamous Kray Twins murder. The arson attack on the Woolston Hall country club that Moore invested in was because another director was thought to be a grass, claims Dickinson. Though he fails to discover why Moore appeared to have “his own personal arsonist” as his ill-advised pub ventures floundered.

Moore was a poor businessman and wouldn’t have been a good manager, even if he had found a bigger club than Oxford City or Southend, believes Dickinson, because the England captain disliked confrontation. Although he would have been a tremendous smartly-dressed diplomat for West Ham or the FA. Moore knew he was dying at the end and like everything else in his life, he greeted death with dignity and stoicism.

This is a riveting read and a vivid portrayal of a genius with some very human flaws.

 Bobby Moore: The Man In Full is published by Yellow Jersey, price £20

Sunday, October 5

Comfortable win over WHU Old Boys

West Ham 2 QPR 0

Pre-match we join the large queue outside the Newham Bookshop to buy a signed copy of My Life In Football by Sir Trevor Brooking. Trevor is as avuncular as ever as he dedicates his book, asking where we live and having a word for my daughter Nell as we pose for a photo. Nell is impressed that she’s met someone from the “olden days” who scored an FA Cup Final winner as long ago as 1980.

Then it’s on to Ken’s CafĂ© where Michael the Whovian explains to new Whovians Matt and Lisa why he can’t watch Who under the Moffat regime and my old mate Chealy, a QPR fan turns up to reveal that he never doubted Bobby Zamora (much). Nigel is away in Glasgow watching the game from the Crown Place Bar.

Robert Green gets a nice round of applause as he takes his place in front of the Bobby Moore Stand. Should have stayed with a big club though. West Ham take the lead after five minutes. Downing’s corner drifts over the Rangers’ defence with Green stuck on his line. The ball bounces in off Onouha’s knee, who is under pressure from Sakho. Robert Green wears the expression of a man at a bus stop who has seen a bus drive straight past him, appealing for handball against Valencia.

West Ham continue to press for mist of the first half with Song dominant in midfield and Downing spraying some lovely passes out to the overlapping Creswell. Jenkinson makes an impressive debut on the right too. Valencia pokes wide after good work from Sakho on the left. Zarate whips in a lovely cross that Reid flicks on and Valencia can’t quite head in. The ageing Rio Ferdinand is troubled by the pace of Sakho and Valencia. Rangers only have one effort, as Austin wriggles away from Tomkins and tests Adrian.

QPR look better at the start of the second half. Substitute Bobby Zamora crosses for Austin to flick just wide in the early seconds. But a promising ten minutes for QPR are undone by conceding a second goal from a corner after 58 minutes. Amalfitano’s shot is blocked and Tomkins turns quickly to loft the ball into the box for Sakho to head home his fifth in five games.  Just hope Tomka doesn’t celebrate his assist in Sugar Hut.

“Why does Robert Green always lets goals in?” asks Nell.

Remarkably West Ham pass the ball short for the rest of the game and never look in real danger. It’s unrecognisable from last season. Adrian produces a good save from a Krankjar free kick and Taarabt shoots wide and that’s it from Rangers.

West Ham should have a third as Nolan doesn’t get enough power in his shot after good work by Downing. We go above Arsenal into seventh. Ten points is a promising start. Philip Neville says it’s the best West Ham team for ten years on Match of the Day. Early days, but it’s a long time since we had a comfortable home win and this is a promising start. While Sir Trev would have enjoyed West Ham United playing on the floor.

TEAM RATINGS: Adrian 6: Jenkinson 6, Tomkins 6, Reid 6, Cresswell 7; Amalfitano 6, Downing 7, Song 7, Zarate 6 (Nolan 5), Valencia 6 (Jarvis 5), Sakho 7.

Saturday, October 4

Trevor Brooking walks on water… and signs in Newham

Sir Trevor Brooking will be signing copies of his autobiography Trevor Brooking: My Life in Football at the Newham Bookshop in Barking Road before the QPR match at 2pm tomorrow afternoon, October 5. Should be a big queue so get there before the game to meet a West Ham legend at the best independent bookshop in London.

Friday, October 3

In me head, son

Good bash at Rich Mix last night among the scenesters of Shoreditch (and me) celebrating 20 years of Philosophy Football t-shirts. That Camus was a good goalkeeper. Congratulations to Mark and Hugh for proving the revolution is just a t-shirt away. And enjoyed the specially-brewed Badger Philosophy Football ale… Check out Philosophy Football's invariably witty and profound t-shirts via the link.