Matt reveals his conspiracy theory, as we sit in the unusually busy Ken’s Cafe. Upson and Behrami are going to be sold as they are both apparently injured for today’s match. Although that presumably means Ashton and Boa Morte are on their way to Man City too and that JFK was shot by Ronnie Boyce from the halfway line…
It’s catching. Mike claims that Robert Green is definitely going and we’ve signed a replacement. While North Bank Norman’s old mate Matt says he’s seen David Gold’s motor in the car park with the subtle number plate of “GOLD 1” and that he and David Sullivan must be preparing a bid.
And this one is really unlikely. Nigel says there’s no sleep til Hammersmith as he’s going to see Motorhead, the Damned and Girlschool later. He gets his fry-up at 2.50pm, Gav helps with the chips and it’s a late dash to the match.
Noble is injured and on the bench, Kovac and Stanislas come in to midfield and Gabbidon replaces Upson. This is one game we have to win, against notoriously poor travellers.
Burnley start quite well, knocking the ball about confidently, and Carlisle has an early header cleared off the line by Parker. Collison crosses and Franco hits the bar with a great header, and then has another header into the roof of the netting.
Parker is fouled and plays a quick free kick into the path of Collison, who is onside, and strolling through deserted Clarets’ rearguard. Jack coolly slots home. One-nil in our cup final.
“Just as long as we don’t get a second we’ll be fine,” I tell the lads, “and as long they don’t go down to ten men.”
It gets better. Franco, now looking a great signing, controls the ball fairly, despite Burnley claims for handball, and plays in Stanislas who shoots at Jensen’s legs. But he still has time to gather the rebound and shoot past the corpulent custodian. There’s hysteria in the East Stand and the bloke behind me falls over his seat into our row, such is the excitement. Burnley’s defence is starting to look leakier than a nautical craft imagined by Edward Lear.
“We could get a hatful here!” I exclaim and am instantly told to shut up by a mortified Nigel. Kovac plays a great ball through to Spector and the marauding full back races into the area, turns inside and is felled for a clear penalty. Carlton Cole recovers from an injury a few minutes previously to stroke home the penalty.
“Remember Wimbledon and West Brom?” counsels Matt. Although it has to be said a clean sheet at half-time has even a seasoned Hammers watcher doubting our ability to blow this one.
CQ sends Nigel a text saying “stay pessimistic”. But it’s hard, because we score a forth after the break. Stanislas takes a free kick from the right and Franco heads home, running to the Bobby Moore Stand exclaiming Scottish epithets (well the programme has revealed his Scottish ancestry).
Zola then makes a bizarre substitution, taking off Franco and bringing on Jiminez, leaving us devoid of a focus up front for the final 30 minutes. It seems to pay off when Jiminez is brought down by Jensen and the Chilean himself knocks in our second penalty. 5-0 in our cup final! “You’re just a small team from Blackburn!” chants the Bobby Moore Stand.
What spin will Alistair Campbell put on this? Will we get nine like Spurs? As if to punish us for thinking such things, Eagles starts to roast Spector on the left, and crosses for Fletcher to sneak past a statuesque defence to tap home.
Nigel suggests that Charlton once lost a five goal lead in the 1950s.
“We’re going to win 6-5!” chant the Burnley fans. We stop running. Eagles crosses from the left again and Fletcher nips behind Da Costa to score again, as Green stamps his feet in frustration.
We’ve grown bored of throwing two goal leads away and are now trying to lose a five goal lead. Hines can’t hold the ball up alone up front and we’re showing an utter lack of professionalism. Are the lads, like Nigel, distracted by the prospect of watching middle-aged rock chicks Girlschool later tonight?
A free kick from Eagles then clips Green’s post. “We need to take it in the corners,” I suggest, no longer joking. “Blow your bloody whistle ref. It’s worse than the Cup Final…”
In a rare attack substitute Faubert finds Hines who outspeeds the ponderous Caldwell. The defender hauls him back and is red carded. Oh no, now we’re playing ten men… definitely lost it now.
It's a relief that Caldwell's dismissal wastes some time. Stanislas blasts the resulting free kick into the wall. Deep into added time Tyrone Mears crosses for Eagles to score a third. Unbelievable.
The whistle blows and we’ve somehow managed to make the fans feel bad after scoring five goals at home. Jeremy Nicholas plays Twist and Shout but we feel more in need of a pacemaker.
“It was just like watching Ron Greenwood’s side in the sixties,” says Fraser as we walk to the Central. “I saw a 5-5 draw once.”
We’ll take the points, but this season we’ve less chance of keeping a clean sheet than Russell Brand and Katy Perry. On the positive front Parker had a fantastic game and Franco scored again, while we’re scoring (and conceding) from every position. At least we can’t complain about the entertainment value… but best not to think what Rooney might do to our defence next week.
"Dyer ready for West Ham comeback," reads the headline on BBCsport.com. Read that before somewhere, but at least he scored twice against Stoke for the reserves. Let's hope that after 17 months out and then a dodgy hamstring this really is his big return... He's made just four starts for WHU and signing Danny Dyer might have been a better use of our £6 million as at least we'd have got to meet some tasty geezers and Ross Kemp. Still, someone who could keep hold of the ball when we go 2-0 up would certainly be useful.
We’re at the British Museum’s Moctezuma exhibition looking at receptacles for human hearts as Matt’s text arrives. “3-3. We were 2-0 up in ten minutes, 3-2 down at half-time and they had a man sent off. Another shocker.” So nothing much happened at the KC Stadium then.
I text back remarking that perhaps we need more human sacrifices at Upton Park. Matt suggests that Dyer and Deano aren’t doing much… although they’d probably miss the sacrificial ceremony through injury. Still, it’s an away point and we’re out of the bottom three.
The evidence on Match of the Day shows that we start brilliantly. Stanislas and Franco play a nice one-two resulting in Cole shooting against the keeper. From the resulting corner Franco heads home unchallenged. Then Franco, who’s starting to look like a decent signing, plays a great reverse ball though for Collison to head over the stranded Duke. Jack does a Lampard-style goal celebration, pointing to the sky in memory of his dad.
Then, as at Sunderland, we mess up a two-goal lead, Da Costa conceding yet another free kick on the edge of the box. Jimmy Bullard hits it hard; it strikes first Parker and then Cole and loops over the helpless Green. A fluke, but Bullard, the Dickensian-looking urchin of a player we gave away to Peterborough, made it happen and is dominating midfield for Hull. (Saw him train once at Chadwell Heath and thought he stood out, even in the Di Canio era.)
The returning Danny Gabbidon looks exposed at left back. Just before the break Hunt crosses and Zayatte gets goalside of Da Costa to volley home. Even worse, the referee gives Hull a penalty as Fagan backs into Faubert and goes down like he’s had his pocket picked. Poor Gustave Faubert hasn’t touched him, although it’s all part of his sentimental education. Inevitably, the irrepressible Bullard fires home the penalty.
In the second half we rally as Mendy is sent off for hauling down the marauding Parker, who’s clean through on goal. On 68 minutes Da Costa fires home after Upson knocks on a WHU corner. Both sides then have chances to win it. Vennegoor of Hesselink has a good penalty shout after Upson climbs over him. While sub Jiminez fires into the side netting when he should have scored and Stanislas sends a late free header over the bar.
Can’t argue with the entertainment, just our defending. Like Moctezuma we seem to be giving up to invading forces without a fight. Steve Clarke needs to get back to basics, get Ilunga fit and find a right-back. A good away point, but it could have been so much more.
Interesting piece in today's Daily Telegraph by Jason Burt claiming that things might not be as bad as we thought financially.
He claims that that things are improving at Icelandic bank Straumur (our main creditor) post-credit crunch and that the club has had three interested suitors. These are David Sullivan and David Gold (obviously quite keen to judge by leaks to the tabloids threatening to buy Charlton instead if they don't get us cheap), US consortium Intermarket and Malaysian entrepreneur Tony Fernandes, the founder of Air Asia.
Burt also claims that the debt is easy to service on a £90 million turnover and with the improvement in Straumur's fortunes we will not be forced to sell players like Cole and Green in January. Let's hope he's right.
So this is how we'll clear our debts… Nice to see the club website is selling replicas of Katy Perry's saucy MTV awards WHU costume for a mere £300 each. Sure prospective new owner David Sullivan could expand on this range…
So it looks like Dean Ashton is being forced into retirement. He leaves us with many fine memories, his FA Cup Final goal, the brace at Man City, a great overhead kick against Man United, a turn and shimmy to score against Blackburn and a fine brace against Wigan. The finest striker ever to dine out on Domino's pizza. How different recent seasons might have been with a fit Deano. Pards would have been in a job for a start, we wouldn't have nearly gone down, and we might even have made the Europa League. And imagine the rejuvenated Carlton Cole and a fit Ashton together… At least the insurance money and anything we can sue England for might help pay off a little of our debts. Deano we salute you and good luck in your new career.
Strangely they’re no cocktails on offer in Ken’s Café. Several of our Irons contingent have been out late on Saturday night to the London Cocktail Club celebrating my birthday, somewhat belatedly since it was back in August. And maybe I shouldn’t have had those final two martinis…
But Gavin came up with a signed picture of Tevez and Mascherano and my other presents included Brian Belton’s Black Hammers, a book of Steve Bacon photos and a Hammers duck for the bath.
We discuss the News of the World’s story about John Terry’s dad. Will we insult his mum or dad when we play Chelsea? And we agree that Everton are our bogey team as we never seem to beat them. They might have injuries, but their starting X1 still appears strong/.
In the first half neither team plays well. Faubert has a couple of dangerous crosses. Parker creates a half-chance. Everton score with their only chance, when Cahill lays the ball off for Saha to score with a minimum of backlift. That’s five in three games against us.
At least Da Costa is looking OK. Franco and Hines aren’t getting much change from the excellent Yobo and Distin though and we miss Carlton. It’s too much for the vicar’s son next to me. “Take a proper corner! Don’t try to thread it through the eye of a needle! That’s s**t!”
“This is no way to commemorate Remembrance Day, we’re defending more like the Maginot line,” suggests Matt. At half-time I thank Fraser for the bottle of whisky he gave and suggest it might be needed later tonight.“Why didn’t you give him the pearl-handled revolver as well, to make it the full West Ham supporters kit?” suggests Matt. We await a half time appearance from Kate Perry, but instead have to be content with a tiny Vera Lynn impersonator singing “We’ll Score Again…”
Zola brings on Stanislas for Collison and puts Hines in a wider position for the second half, and eventually brings on Diamanti. But Everton double their lead with their second shot, Gosling profiting from a scramble on the edge of the box, shooting at Green but then netting the rebound. The loyal home crowd immediately burst into a chorus of Bubbles.
But a minute later Diamanti plays a beautiful through ball to Stanislas who lobs the keeper. The ball heads for the line and Hibbert can only kick the ball into the roof of his own net.
We have a good final half hour. Everton sub Lucas Neill is serenaded with “There’s only one fat Greedy bastard!” Diamanti has another great free kick well saved. Franco has a good goal disallowed for offside.
Hines is through one-on-one but pokes his effort wide of the post. A Diamanti through ball create another half-chance for Hines but he gets his angles wrong again. It will do Hines good in the long term to experience the ups and downs of the game, although this afternoon his misses have cost us a draw, even if he is getting in the right positions.
The man from Diamanti gets a bit selfish with two shots late on, but you still wonder why he’s not starting in the team because he’s the only player who can cross or take a set piece and makes things happen.
Everton hold on and we’re back in the bottom three. Maybe we should sign Harry Redknapp’s Missus. There’s a minor incident in the Central afterwards when Matt asks for a vodka martini, shaken not stirred, and is nearly shaken firmly by the neck.
On the district line I ponder the fixtures and think things will improve. From Boxing Day we have home games against Portsmouth, Wolves, Blackburn, Birmingham, Hull, Bolton, Stoke, Sunderland, and Wigan. If we pick our best team then surely we can win most of those? Can’t we?
The press (strangely it wasn't in my Guardian though) is full of pictures of Katy Perry wearing West Ham undies in a tribute to boyfriend Russell Brand.
Another celebrity fan, eh? Wonder if she and Russell could afford to buy us? He's announced on Twitter that he plans to take her to the game on Sunday. It can only be a matter of time before Katy and Rusty are dining in Ken's Cafe before matches.
Matt suggests she might even appear on the pitch singing that big favourite of Diego Tristan's, I Missed A Goal and I Liked It.
Chaos on the District line as usual. The tube stops at every station for five minutes due to “congestion”, so it’s a rushed cup of tea in Ken’s Café where a disconsolate Gav is waiting for DC, who’s got his ticket. No doubt they’ll be in for half-time. Even Mystic Morris misses the first 15 minutes, although Fraser and Matt are in situ for Bubbles time.
Zola and Clarke have made brave changes after Sunderland, dropping Spector and Tomkins for Faubert and Da Costa. There’s a nice reception for James Collins from the 32,000 Upton Park faithful, and much booing of Villa's sub Nigel Mediocre.
We start the game with plenty of desire, driving into Villa’s box. Noble has a stinging shot well saved well by Friedel. But after seven minutes Ilunga pulls up and is substituted by Spector, who’ll be playing on his weaker left side again.
Villa come back into the game. Young lashes in several vicious crosses and corners. Carew turns Da Costa too easily to get in a shot at Green. The ball drops to Petrov on the edge of the box and sumptuous volley is expertly tipped over by England’s Number One. The Vila fans serenade us with cries of “Shitty fans My Lord” to the tune of Cumba Ya My Lord.
Then on 31 minutes our sodding injury jinx continues as Carlton Cole pulls up with a hamstring strain. “That’s the end of our season…” suggests Mystic Morris.
Cole is replaced by Hines. We just want to reach half-time with a clean sheet, when the unthinkable happens in added time. Parker plays the speedy Hines through in the box and Zavon’s nudged in the back by Beye. Penalty! Not every ref would have given it, but there was contact. But no Diamanti on the pitch to take it. Braveheart Mark Noble steps up, despite recent failures, and fires into the roof of the net.
We hold out for half-time and start to fantasise about 15th place while debating who are the two most expensive English players not to have a cap (Nigel Reo-Coker and Curtis Davies apparently). Nigel Mediocre is on for the second half and is taunted by the Bobby Moore Stand. “If he scores he’ll make Adebayor look restrained,” suggests Nigel.
Villa win a soft penalty early in the second half. Nobody even seems to appeal for it. Da Costa makes a great leap to head clear but his knee accidentally catches Collins’s head. But Green excels again by saving Young’s badly-placed penalty.
Could this be the luck we need to get our home win? We’re starting to dream, which is always dangerous. In the 51st minute Young crosses from the left, except it turns into a fantastic goal, dipping wildly over Green, completely unlike Paul Konchesky’s intentional wonder strike in the 2006 FA Cup Final. Bugger. We’ve held our lead for six minutes.
Villa will surely go on to win it. Although Mystic May predicts a 2-1 home win when quizzed by Nigel.
And indeed, something extraordinary happens in the final half hour. We start to play with real spirit. Da Costa is much improved at the back, Parker is man of the match, winning countless balls, Franco is dropping deep to chip forward balls for Hines and Spector, yes Spector, is rampaging down the left flank.
Hines is terrifying the Villa defence, forcing mistakes through sheer exuberance and hard running. He shoots just wide after some typical harrying and then fizzes a shot across the face of the goal.
“Always said we should get rid of that donkey Cole,” I quip.
Faubert has a cross deflected agonisingly wide of the post by Ginger Collins. Noble, looking much more like the rampaging local hero of two seasons ago, forces another fine save from Friedel with three minutes left.
Spector is hauled down by Beye late on and it’s a second booking and a red card. For any other team this would be an advantage, but we’re always rubbish against ten men.
We move into four minutes of stoppage time. Jiminez comes on with regulation Hammers midfielder blonde tints, does well to win a corner and then takes a rubbish dead ball Villa win two corners Surely they won’t snatch a late winner?
You wonder if we should be holding the ball up, but Parker comes forward for one final surge, plays the ball into Hines who is surrounded by three defenders, but somehow he jinks inside Collins and Dunne, shuffles the ball from his left to right foot and has the composure to lift the ball over Friedel and into the net.
GOOOOOOOAAAL! Zavon and Faubert run for the corner flag and Upton Park celebrates as if we’ve just won the X-Factor and can finally pay Curbs and Sheffield United their money.
Hands are shaken and backs patted in the East Stand. Zola is jumping in the air. That’s the break we needed. A fantastic finish from Zavon that Zola himself would have been proud of. Small team in Dudley, you’re just a small team in Dudley!
There’s only half a minute left. Green gathers and it’s over. A delighted Zola runs on the pitch to hug Hinesy. Nigel gazes mistily at he league table calculating goal differences. We go above Wolverhampton Wanderers! We go above Blackburn Rovers!
We retreat to the Black Lion where a fine evening is rounded off by the guest ale being Maldon Gold from Essex. If only Gav was here and not in the Central he’d be in real ale dreamland. We watch the Sky highlights and still worry that Noble will miss his penalty and Villa will score late on.
And then the barmaid arrives with my season ticket, which I must have dropped on the floor buying a round (always dangerous to open your wallet in my opinion, but we had won).
“Tough luck mate! I’ve been trying to lose mine for years!” quips the fan at the next table. In the week that Matt has visited the Vatican asking the Pope about the doctrine of West Ham’s lack of infallibility, perhaps this is a sign. Don’t give up on the Irons and Zola’s immaculate conceptions. Many are called but few are chosen for the East Stand. Keep the faith and the righteous will be rewarded by our new Zaviour.
So Curbs has won his case for constructive dismissal against West Ham, and is likely to receive a £2 million pay-off. Meaning we'll have to sell another player.
The ineptitude of the Gudmundsson era is never ending. We managed to lose £37 million in 2007-08, Tevezgate cost us £30 million, we had to pay off Pards and then appointed a manager with a clause in his contract saying he had the final say in selling players, then sold players over his head and hoped he wouldn't walk out. After which it cost another £2 million to recruit Zola and Clarke.
And all this from a man who offered "progress through stability", a new stadium and Champions League football.
Worrying reports in the Sunday papers that we will sell Matthew Upson in January. You can see the logic would appeal to bankers, £10 million for a thirty year old who's on 50k a week, although it ignores the fact we'd be left with no defence. Apparently we'd use some of the money to fund a bid for Bordeaux's Moroccan striker Marouane Chamakh.
But would anyone trust Nani to identify a cut-price replacement for Upson? So far we've had Ilunga, Savio, Kovac, Da Costa, Diamanti and Jiminez, a mixed bag of good and bad foreign signings at best. And is it worth sacrificing our last experienced defender to bolster the forward line? Surely we should have bought out and out strikers earlier rather than several players who like to sit in the hole behind Carlton.
Oh no, we’re winning 2-1 against ten men. Nothing worse than hope when you're a West Ham fan. Collecting my daughter from her friend Maya’s house I catch the scores on Sky Sports News. Now I have to wait 30 minutes watching helplessly with Maya’s dad, a similarly panic-induced Plymouth fan bemused to be winning at Boro.
Matt’s texted to say he’s on a mini-break in the Vatican seeking a miracle. My suggestion is he says ten hail Di Canios if it gets us an away win. Inevitably Sunderland then equalize and I’m tortured by catholic guilt. There’s a report every few minutes detailing nerve-tingling escapes for the Irons. Thankfully for Matt we hold on for an away pontiff. Although he says he wants to crucify the lot of them and our defence resembles the Walls of Jerico.
After trick or treating with the kids in a Cyberman mask Match of the Day reveals a strange team selection after the Arsenal game, with super subs Diamanti and Hines still on the bench.
We play well in the first half as Collison plays in Franco for the Mexican to score from close range, a reward for the manager’s faith. Even better Collison then wins the ball to play in Cole who sidesteps a defender to slot home like an England centre forward.
But then Jones raises his hand to Ilunga’s face and the defender writhes on the floor like a man who’s just seen Nick Griffin on Halloween night. The sending off is technically correct though, even if Herita’s histrionics are unnecessary. That seems to fire ten-man Sunderland and after Kovac fouls on the edge of the box, Reid fires a fantastic free kick into the top corner to make it 1-2 at half time.
Franco goes close with a header early in the second half, but after that it’s all Sunderland. Green makes two excellent saves and then the Makems hit the bar in quick succession. Finally a cross takes a wicked deflection off Upson and falls perfectly for Richardson to score.
Zola says we “need to be more cynical” and it’s clear we have forgotten how to close up a game. But, as they say, we’d have taken a point at the start.
Is it lack of character or the loss of Neill and the suspended Parker that cost us the win? Ilunga is out of form and Spector tries his best but is not the answer. Perhaps there’s a case for bringing in Gabbidon and putting Tomkins at right-back? Or trying out Da Costa again? Or even giving Bondz N'Gala a chance?
Still, Sunderland are a much improved team and perhaps we’ll be grateful for an away point come May. If we can avoid defeat against Villa and beat Burnley then we just might be looking upwards again.