Monday, January 31

Deadline deals

Well, we've got Robbie Keane on loan, so all we have to do now is lock Scott Parker in a padded cell until 23.00 tonight. The Daily Mail claims Spurs had a £10m bid for Scotty rejected on Saturday night. Parker might be tempted, but he'd surely not play that often at Spurs, who have when all fully fit, Modric, Huddlestone, Palacios, Jenas, Van der Vaart, Krancjar and O'Hara to choose from in midfield.

Keane is past his peak but a player who scores more than one in three games can only improve our forward line. Always thought he's quite a West Ham type player. And the loan deal means we can pass if he doesn't do it for us.

Bridge, Ba, O'Neil and Keane isn't bad so far, while also shifting the homesick Behrami. Now all we need Sullivan to do is turn off his mobile.

It's Vic there!

West Ham 3 Notts Forest 2 (FA Cup)

Texts arrive announcing that it’s candlelight dining in Ken’s CafĂ© as there’s a power cut. The O’Brien clan from Essex, whom I’m meant to be meeting, are having a Maldon cockney knees-up and it’s the Spirit of the Blitz revisited, minus a special breakfast for young Scott.

It’s a war zone on the tubes too. For yet another game the tubes are down and then the Jubilee lines is closed because of a faulty train. So rather than brave 20,000 Hammers fans trying to get on the replacement rail service bus it’s a long march from Stratford down Upton Lane and Plashett Road.

1-0 UP, 2-1 DOWN
I just make the kick off and we score after four minutes. Jacobsen’s short corner finds Noble who skies a shot wide of goal only for Victor Obinna to react well and deflect it into the net. That’s shut up the Forest fans that occupy the whole of the Centenary stand.

We’re playing a core of first-teamers Jacobsen (back at last), Green, Piquionne, Noble and Obinna plus the squad players.

“That Dele Adebola is the ultimate journeyman striker. He’s useless, if he scores I’m giving up West Ham,” announces Matt.

Sure enough, Forest scythe through our right flank, Gabbidon and Reid are slow to react and Adebola prods the ball home. Taking his cue from Ian Holloway threatening to resign if Blackpool are fined for fielding a weakened side and then staying put, Matt remains resolutely in his seat.

It gets worse. Piquionne heads a corner towards his own net, Green tips the ball up and McGoldrick heads home. How could Nigel be missing this for a mini-break in New York?

We’re left to reflect on our loss to Birmingham. Matt and Lisa were the only fans in the Lucky Pub so clearly here was no quorum for it to exert its power. Plus his Dukla Prague away kit only works at live games and Fraser forgot to watch at home while wearing his red shoes.

Forest have been the better team since going behind. But now Victor’s racing down the right. He sends in a high hopeful cross that amazingly wafts over Campo and into the net. Brilliant!

Did he see Camp off his line? Erm, no, he later admits that it was a cross. Half-time and it’s 2-2.

For once we play better after the break. Has Grant actually said something decent to the lads? Sears has a shot tipped over and then Winston Reid is obviously pushed in the box and Obinna dispatches the penalty.

He celebrates his hat-trick with an understated quadruple somersault. If Peter Walton was reffing he’d probably send him off for gratuitous somersaulting.

For the rest of game Camp (could he make a double entendre side with Scheidt, Shittu, Doudou, Bent, Dicks and Cox?) atones for Victor’s second by saving excellently from fierce Piquionne and Barrera drives. Sears has a good game behind the front two, but hesitates twice when through and Camp saves well again in a one-on-one with Piq.

Amazingly we see out the four minutes of added time without too much trouble.

You wait all these years for a cup run and then two come along when you should be concentrating on staying up.

The transport-free mobs in the street resemble the scenes in Cairo, although we opt for a pint of Ruddles in the Captain’s Cabin rather than revolution. The Gav arrives, we discover we’ve drawn Burnley at home, we’ve passed on signing Andy Gray (still slimmer than Benni) up front and Matt has a question.

Matt asks us what would have happened on Tuesday for the first time in 40 years had the Blackpool game not been changed to Wednesday.

“It would have been a 7.30 kick-off,” he announces. “Not a lot of people know that.”

Only now it’s an 8pm ko and yet another save our season game… And Matt has another factoid: “The last time we beat Forest 3-2 in the FA Cup we got relegated.” Drat.

Friday, January 28

Called to the Ba

He comes from Senegal and he failed his medical!

We've signed Demba Ba from Hoffenheim on a deal running until June 2014. Good news we've got a striker in (40 goals in 103 appearances) but is it wise to sign a Stoke City reject? If he's failed a medical over a knee problem at Stoke why are we signing him on a permanant deal rather than a loan? Presumably because we're prepared to gamble (and the fee is undisclosed) to save our status and the Olympic stadium bid.

Remember the Stewart Robson deal anyone? Good player but held together by cycling shorts. After our problems with Dyer, Gabbidon, Ilunga, Behrami, Hitzlsperger, etc, you'd think we'd be a little more cautious in medical matters. Although according to tonight's Standard there's a clause that he must play a certain number of games for the fee to be paid. And hopefully there's a relegation clause too.

On a positive note at least Sullivan and Gold have put their hands in their pockets to pay for the Bridge, O'Neil and Ba deals and in theory we've had a better transfer window than Wolves, Wigan, Blackpol, WBA and Fulham. Suppose an offer for Torres is out of the question? OK, we'll let Chelsea have him then.

Thursday, January 27

I wanna go home…

Birmingham 3 West Ham 1 (Carling Cup, after extra time)

It’s a long walk across the urban wasteland of Birmingham to get to St Andrew’s from the Holiday Inn, but like a member of the SAS I want to know my escape route. Riot police are everywhere and outside the stadium there’s some trouble kicking off already.

DC’s pulled out due to work commitments, but Big Joe’s there with his brother-in-laws Stuart and Kev. There’s a good atmosphere in the away end and a Bobby Moore banner drifts across the Gill Merrick Stand.

In the absence of Sullivan, Gold and Brady, we wonder what would happen on The Apprentice if the manager of a team failed to turn up for a task. Surely even Stuart ‘The Brand’ Baggs might actually elect to be there. Don’t they realise the fans have a lonely trip home to Essex if we lose too?

We play really well in the first half. As we’re in row three it feels as if we’re playing too, and you can feel the pace of the game and the commitment of both sets of players. Tomkins and Upson are dominant at the back, Bridge looks like a proper left back, Boa gets stuck in, Hines has a couple of efforts saved, Cole blazes over and Noble, Parker and Spector are running midfield.

After 31 minutes Cole lets the ball run past two defenders and wallops a fantastic strike into the top corner and I find myself high-fiving with a stranger who looks like Smithy from Gavin and Stacey. Always believe! 3-1 up. Surely we can’t blow this?

Hines hits the post after a clever turn and you just feel that if we can get a second that will be it.

But it’s not over at half-time and Birmingham will be getting the McCleish hairdryer. I tell Joe that I have a feeling bloody Lee Bowyer will score at some stage, as all our ex-players inevitably do against us.

Birmingham bring on the ten-foot tall Zigic, who makes Peter Crouch look the height of David Sullivan. Sure enough he nods it down for Gardner to strike the post.

It’s route one, but we struggle to cope. Green makes a couple of great saves, but when we half clear a corner the ball falls on the half volley to Lee Bowyer who sends a fantastic strike into the top of the net. Why couldn’t he ever do that for us?

It’s getting really cold. The home fans are noisier and horribler than ever now, singing their theme song about the end of the road. It’s an intimidating cauldron despite our best efforts with Bubbles and sure enough, after another corner, Johnson gets ahead of Upson to power home a header. Why can’t we ever defend set pieces?

Grant makes a bizarre substitution, bringing off the pacy Hines for Kieron Dyer, who hasn’t played in weeks. “Dyer to save us?” I text to Matt in disbelief, which, for the record, he later tries to spin into a prediction, which it wasn't, Your Honour.

Matt is suffering a long night of the soul in the Lucky Pub sending texts like “ Dyer is useless… crap team manager and owners we will lose and we deserve to… why can’t grant sod off so we can have a manager who can coach a team… when are we better after half time? when do his subs ever come off?”

By the end of the night he may well have completed his great text novel, a sort of West Ham version of Under the Volcano.

It’s level, but we still know that another Hammers goal will take us through. Scotty scoops wide and for all Faubert and Spector’s crosses from the right we can’t create that chance.

Riot police with shields obscure our view for the last five minutes as Birmingham hit the inside of the post again. Spector goes down the wing and something almost happens but is obscured by a policeman’s backside.

So it’s extra time. You’ve lost it once lads, now go out and lose it again. Sure enough on 94 minutes Gardner fires home from the edge of the box. It’s a fine strike but the otherwise immaculate Green knows he should have got to it.

A mournful dirge comes up from the away end: “I WANNA GO HOME! I WANNA GO HOME! BIRMINGHAM’S A SHITHOLE! I WANNA GO HOME!”

Yet if we could peg it back to 3-2 we’d go through on away goals at the end of extra time. The ball breaks to Dyer on the edge of the box and he wafts a delicate volley over the bar. Great chance and symptomatic of his Hammers career.

We know it’s over when Grant brings on Benni McCarthy for Specs. Green saves excellently in a one-on-one with Murphy, and Cole has an overhead kick saved fairly easily.

Jerome stamps on Tomkins at the end, the riot police surround the pitch again. And it’s all over with an explosion of home noise and group hugs from Bowyer and co.

It gets worse after the game. Rather than keep us in the stand the police kettle us behind a row of police vans in the street and keep us there until 11 o’clock — long enough to miss the last train to London.

Birmingham have plenty of decent fans, but not the Herberts who, even though they’ve just got to Wembley for the first time in 50 years, still want to fight us. A few come through a small gap between two police vans and there are skirmishes with some West Ham fans. A coin hits my shoulder as missiles rain down on us and we’re regaled with “cockney bastard” insults. Police helicopters sweep the streets with searchlights in an Orwellian vista. It all seems as out of date as Andy Gray and Richard Keys’ views on women.

As we freeze outside, a text arrives from Nigel: “Just as well we pre-registered for the final.”

“I see Sullivan and Gold have laid on the Bentleys for us,” quips Joe, as we wait forever by a train embankment. “But at least we don’t live here.”

What if Piquionne and Obinna hadn’t been suspended? What if the second leg had been at Upton Park? Would it have been us who got the third goal? But no, we didn’t deserve it on our second half showing.

Eventually we’re released. We search for Joe’s brother-in-law’s car in an estate, but can’t find it and it looks like we might be marooned in Helmand Province forever. But finally we find the motor and escape into the night.

I’m dropped off by the set of Blade Runner (or is the Bull Ring?) and get back to the Holiday Inn, unfortunately in time to see the highlights, but at least it’s warm. A boiler/nuclear reactor/aircraft engine rumbles above my bed until 4 am, almost as if it's a disgruntled Hammers' fan.

A few other pallid West Ham fans emerge for breakfast, where they’re playing, appropriately, Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of.

Oh well. At least we can now concentrate on the FA Cup and cementing our place at the bottom of the league.


Shocking, horrible, out of order, wrong, old-fashioned, no place, behavioural problems that need to be attended to… yeah, reconstruction… it shouldn't have happened, it did. It's something I'm enormously upset about, not for myself… but to the far greater watching and listening public. That's wrong.

I apologise unreservedly for suggesting that West Ham might make it to a Wembley final.

Wednesday, January 26

Birmingham here we come...

Unlike Sullivan, Gold and Brady I'm now going to the game with DC and Big Joe thanks to the generosity of Mike, who had a ticket but couldn't stay overnight. Expect Matt and Fraser to do a job in the Lucky Pub and all should be well...

BTW has the Gullivan brothers not thought of staying overnight rather than face a lonely drive back to Essex if we lose?

The last League Cup semi-final I attended was in 1990 when we lost 6-0 to Oldham and my pal Nigel was inexplicably dumped by his then girlfriend for watching the highlights on TV on Valentine's Day.

Hopefully a half-fit Carlton Cole will ensure a different result this time. Irons!

Tuesday, January 25

Are we feminists in disguise?

West Ham fans might not be noted feminists — unless you count chanting "You're shit and you slap your bird!" at Stan Collymore — but we're clearly ahead of Richard Keys and Andy Gray.

Sian Massey was on the line at West Ham versus Barnsley and no-one seemed to give her any stick from the East Stand, or even notice her gender. We are clearly more enlightened at Upton Park than the dinosaurs at Sky. Someone f••ked up alright, and it wasn't Sian Massey.

Raising the Ba

We've signed Gary O'Neil from Middlesbrough for either £1.5 million or £3 million, depending on what papers you believe. Not an earth-shattering signing but probably decent value in the current market. O'Neil did well for a time under Redknapp at Portsmouth and Southgate at Boro and presumably he's going to play wide right.

Meanwhile we also seem to have got Demba Ba on loan. It's worrying that he's failed a medical at Stoke, but at least we can shift him if necessary. With Cole seemingly permanently injured and Obinna erratic we certainly need a striker.

Meanwhile we have to shift a few. Behrami could by going to Fiorentina soon, and we could do worse than get Ben Haim back and shift Dyer, Ilunga, Faubert and McCarthy.

Monday, January 24

Funeral for a friend

Interesting deadpan comment from Avram that "we should go to a funeral" if we score.

You can already see the choreographed celebration. Six claret and blue pall-bearers carrying Kieron Dyer above their heads and walking slowly to the Bobby Moore Stand....

Who's the ****** in the black?

Everton 2 West Ham 2

Middle-class football fan exposed. We’re watching Madam Butterfly at the King’s Head in Upper Street, Islington. It’s Her Indoors’ idea, but the Landlord bitter is excellent and the singing in such a confined space is almost as good as the Bobby Moore Stand.

During the interval comes the astonishing news that West Ham are 1-0 up through Specs (who is no longer just floating like a butterfly). As Madam Butterfly (in this version a ladyboy from Bangkok) waits for Captain Pinkerton to return, my phone vibrates with several messages, but it’s not possible to get it out and read them lest I’m ejected or worse harangued from the stage in front of the chattering classes. But judging by the number of texts we’re either 5-0 up or 4-1 down.

When Madam Butterfly shoots herself I decide we’ve probably blown it.

Back in the bar I discover that we’ve achieved a 2-2 draw, which is normally a really good result at Goodison. Only Freddie Piquionne’s been sent off for celebrating a goal and Everton equalised in stoppage time. The texts add to the sense of doom: “Robbed… Now that IS the worst referee ever!” writes Matt, while Nigel comments, “So frustrating – and predictable”.

Match off the Day proves we’ve played really well. Noble shoots over when he should have hit the target early on and Tomkins makes a great saving tackle from Beckford. We take the lead after a great ball from Noble finds Boa Morte behind the Everton defence. Boa pulls the ball back for Specs who fires first-time into the net. A goal that’s taken with some aplomb, as they say, and Specs’ first ever league goal.

Specs also nearly grabs another, firing just wide of the angle. Strewth. He really could be developing into a good midfielder.

Early in the second half the rejuvenated Spector crosses for Piquionne to head against the post and along the line and Boa has a goal correctly ruled out for offside.

As Everton press, Piq half-heads the ball out and Bilyaletdinov equalises for Everton with a fine volley from the edge of the box.

Even at 1-1 we press forward. Specs and Parker platy a great series of one-twos only for Parker to be denied a chance by Distin.

After a Hammers’ corner on 86 minutes Bridge curls in a fine ball from the right and Piquionne powers home a header. He runs to the away fans, embracing the supporters as he's scored what looks like being the winner. Only ref Peter Walton, a distant cousin of Inspector Blakey from On The Buses, decides to give him a second yellow card for celebrating in the crowd. So much for discretion. Adebayor got the same for running the length of the pitch to taunt Arsenal fans and nearly start a riot. “That is ridiculous!” says the BBC commentator, correctly.

Down to ten men, we hold out until stoppage time, when avant garde film director Fellaini roils Upson and Spector to shoot past Green. Sod it. A win would have taken us up to third from bottom, now we’re still bottom on goal difference.

We really need to win games like this, but it’s an encouraging performance. We’re a point closer to Wolves. Wigan and WBA and have two winnable games against Blackpool and Birmingham coming up. And Captain Pinkerton will return one day. All we need to do is avoid Jobsworth referees and as Avram says “go to a funeral” when we score.

Saturday, January 22

Should we stay or should we go?

Well, at last West Ham and Spurs' bids are in. The recently pickpocketed Harry Redknapp hasn't been slow to stick his oar into the Olympic Stadium debate saying West Ham 's athletic track won't work. We seem to have abandoned any plan for retractable seats over the track which is a worry, although you'd trust West Ham fans to create atmosphere anywhere — even the Arsenal Library.

You do wonder if Brady, Gold and Sullivan are playing a clever long-game. If athletics fails and the government has changed in five years' time will they just decide to fit seats over the track anyway?

Thankfully that IOC geezer has laid into Spurs' proposal to knock down the stadium and build their own ground saying that would be "a big lie" on the UK's part.

Interestingly the Standard points out that the environmental cost of this would be huge, "the equivalent of 100 years' lost energy will go to waste if the new stadium is knocked down. This takes into account the energy used building the existing stadium, on its demolition and the creation of an alternative athletics facility."

Now Spurs are involved we can't afford not to go for it. I dont like the idea of deserting Ken's Cafe and the Newham Bookshop. But we'd be stuck in a 34,000 stadium at Upton Park with Sratford Spurs (aka Cuckoo FC) pulling 60,000 down the road.

Thursday, January 20

Silk's purses...

An interesting piece by Hammers fan Martin Samuel in yesterday's Daily Mail on West Ham's close links with agent Barry Silkman. Samuel points out that it was Silkman who revealed we were keeping Avram a day before the official announcement, when he was interviewed on the At The Races channel and revealed that he'd spoken to David on the phone and Avram would "be there for a long time".

Samuel writes: "Everything that is wrong at West Ham is encapsulated in that little freeze frame: an agent revealing the business of the club at a racecourse on a betting channel."

Silkman is agent for Avram Grant, and according to Samuel he was also responsible for bringing West Ham Wayne Bridge on 90k a week and Winston Reid at £3-4 million and is currently offloading Valon Behrami and trying to recruit Demba Ba. Yes, clubs have to deal with agents in this mercenary age, but, asks Samuel, should any one adviser hold such influence?

Tuesday, January 18

We love you Avram we do?

Well that's been handled really well by the club. The crazy shenanigans of the last few weeks end with the news that the thoroughly undermined Avram Grant is now staying. The Gullivan Brothers and Brady have achieved the impossible — they've got the Irons' fans right behind Grant.

No one likes to see a man treated in this way and now we all feel sorry for AG. And he's finally shut-up those Gooners singing "Sacked in the morning!"

While the Daily Mirror now claims — although the club denies this and is threatening legal action — that Brady texted "various internationals" in Grant’s squad.

The Mirror writes: "One dressing-room source revealed: 'When the texts came in, asking some of us what we thought of Avram and whether we felt he should go, none of us could believe what was happening.

'As far as I know, no one replied to the texts, which seemed to be asking us to go to the owners and ask for a change of manager. But the players who received them showed the texts to the coaching staff and pretty soon everybody knew what had gone on. It simply wasn’t right'."

The relationship between Grant and Brady appears to have completely broken down. If we're stuck with Avram and the text pest stories are true then surely the owners have to act and find a new MD? If they're not then who is the leaker? Politics at WHU is now more complicated than the plot of Orson Welles' The Third Man.

Monday, January 17

Desperately seeking Martin

Today's Guardian claims West Ham are fighting to placate Martin O'Neill and save the alleged deal to become WHU manager after he was seriously angered by the leaking of his imminent appointment on Saturday morning.

The leaks to the press and the sub-The Thick of It briefings from our mystery mole are becoming increasingly embarrrassing.

Is this any way to run a football club? It cost £1.5 million to sack Zola — plus the club's reputation for fairness through a ridiculous allegation of misconduct — and Grant could cost a further £4 million in compensation if he's fired.

If O'Neill does pull out then we've surely got what we deserved.

Sunday, January 16

Bridge into troubled waters

West Ham 0 Arsenal 3

Best result of the day is seeing both Dara O’Briain and Phill Jupitus in the showbiz salon that is Ken’s Cafe with a jetlagged Big Joe, back from the Ashes. You do wonder if Dara might have come to host a special edition of The Apprentice: You’re Fired for Avram. Matt's delighted when he's mistaken for Scotty Parker by the boy collecting plates — or is it Scotty Parker's dad?

The game is played in a strange atmosphere with the media full of stories that Grant will be sacked after the game and replaced by Martin O’Neill. Is the club trying to force him to resign so as to save on compensation? How the team can be expected to perform in such uncertainty doesn’t seem to bother the board. As Nigel coments, what has happened to the family club of Greenwood and Lyall that hardly ever sacked managers?

Parker is out and so is Freddie Piquionne, absent having dental treatment. Hmm. Isn’t visiting the dentist the sort of excuse you used at school to get out of games? Jacobsen’s never-ending Achilles Heel has kept him out too, Obinna is suspended, Behrami has disappeared and to make it worse Noble goes off early on. So Grant is without six of his regular choice players, plus Stanislas who apparently has a hernia. And controversially, Matt has left his lucky Dukla Prague away shirt at home.

We do have Wayne Bridge playing at left back, but with only one league appearance this season he looks rusty. He’s slow to close down Theo Walcott, Nasri jumps over the ball and Van Persie gets ahead of Tomkins to slide home.

Mystic Morris says, “Apart from making the goal Walcott hasn’t done much,” meaning he’s destined to torture Bridge for the rest of the game.

Van Persie hits the post, and Green springs from the ground to save from Walcott after a last-ditch Tomkins tackle.

We almost get back into it with a bad back pass sends Cole in to shoot against the rookie keeper’s legs. Boa Morte feeds Hines from the rebound but Zavon fires over the bar from a scoring position.

It’s game over when Van Persie, played onside by Bridge, cuts the ball back from the line for Walcott to step away fire home.

To make it worse we’re being outsung by bloody Arsenal, who follow up “Ground share with Tottenham!” with “You’re getting sacked in the morning!” And at half-time it’s “Sacked in an hour! You’re getting sacked in an hour!”

Sears fires in a great cross that Cole heads wastefully wide and then it’s a stroll for Arsenal. Freddie Searas has a mishit cross almost drift over the keeper in the second half but Nasri is an i-Pad to our midfield Amstrads and there’s an inevitability to Arsenal’s third. It’s been a Bridge into troubled water. Poor Wayne wades into Walcott and needlessly brings him down at the edge of our box. Van Persie dispatches.

Young Zavon Hines disappears on the left and looks out of his depth. Bridge goes off injured to complete his day. Matt suggests that Dara O’Briain might be using the game as material for Mock the Week. “Sacked in a minute!” sing the Gooner contingent as added time ends.

Avram throws his unlucky scarf into the crowd at the final whistle.

And the tubes are down again. On the walk to West Ham station there’s a tide of disillusion from the Irons' diaspora. “Too many leaks from those muppets... Barrera’s only five foot five and he can’t run... why did we sell Daprela... it was worse under Zola... I can laugh at it more now... I used to get angry...”

A rubbish kick-off time, rubbish performance from the owners, rubbish result and rubbish tube closure. If O’Neill’s coming let’s get him in and fast. If he's not then tell the media Grant is staying and end this uncertainty for good.

Saturday, January 15

Should he stay or should he go?

You have to feel sorry poor old Avram. I was starting to enjoy his gallows humour. We either have to back him or sack him and in the last two weeks we've done neither. He deserves to be treated with a bit more dignity than this. As he pointed out after the Barnsley game none of the other managers at the bottom have had to endure so many daily rumours about their imminent sacking.

Today's rumour is that Martin O'Neill is coming in after the Arsenal game regardless of results.

O'Neill would be a great appointment.But the Zola saga has been repeated, as a mole at the club has been undermining the manager through a stream of rumours.

It's ironic if Grant does go now. He's lost one in the last seven matches, got us to the brink of a Carling Cup Final and we are now much closer to the clubs above the relegation zone than before the festive fixtures.

It will cost us a few more million to pay him off (on top of Zola and Clarke's compensation) and you hope that Sullivan, Gold and Brady will take some responsibility for appointing him in the first place. If they now think they they got it so wrong then logically there's a strong case for sacking themselves. That won't happen of course, but remember they had a long term legacy in mind and told us all it was a carefully considered appointment.

If they had so much faith in Grant you'd expect them to give him a season at least. But when was football ever logical?

Bridge over troubled water

At last we have a left back, albeit an expensive one. The loan signing of Wayne Bridge solves one problem, at 70 grand a week until the end of the season. Worth it if we stay up though.

For a long time he was considered the second best English left back behind Wayne Bridge. And hopefully he'll be hungry after being stuck in City's stiffs.

Just as long as we keep him away from John Terry and stop him putting Hank Williams on the club dock he should be fine…

Wednesday, January 12

Always believe in Carlton Cole!

West Ham 2 Birmingham 1 (Carling Cup)

Surely I’m too old to be feeling this nervous on the way to a game… calm, calm, calm… check my season ticket, hope the online purchase went through and remember my lucky 1970s away kit from the play-off final.

Fraser’s had another 5-1 won on the horses and is wearing his lucky red shoes (stolen from Elvis Costello) from the Man United game, while Matt is his lucky Dukla Prague away kit. Even Granty has remembered his lucky scarf.

It’s a shame to see some empty seats for a semi-final – surely the club could have given tickets away rather than not have a full house for what they claim is our most important home game in 30 years?

Upson plays as an emergency left-back while Reid retains his place at centre back. Cole’s on the bench and Spector plays alongside Parker and Noble.

We start well, buoyed by the atmosphere under the lights, peppering the Birmingham goal. Spector has an early shot beaten away. Noble makes a great run into the box after 13 minutes, Obinna heads back, there’s a bit of pinball, Spector hooks it across goal and Nobes thumps the ball home from an acute angle on the right and runs to the Chicken Run.

Victor Obinna cuts inside has a searing drive tipped wide by Foster and the Brum keeper makes a flying save from Tomkins header. Noble is having a great game, Piquionne is leading the line well and Spector is giving another fine display in midfield.

But typically we look a different team in the second half. “It’s like Grant has the anti-Midas touch,” suggests Matt.
Birmingham have been hairdryered. We sit back as Barry Ferguson bosses the midfield and Birmingham send in cross after cross. Sears fails to shoot first time and a rare Hammers chance comes to nothing. The Blues have a free header just wide. Freddie Sears clears a header off the line.

Eleven minutes in to the half Birmingham win a corner and Liam Ridgewell, our ex-Academy player, gets ahead of Reid to head home. Bugger.

The game turns on its head. Obinna flicks his boot into Larsson’s privates right in front of the linesman and he’s sent off. Crazy, although he played the balls.

“He’s just cost us a place at Wembley,” I complain.

The Fonz-like Fraser suggests that this is too pessimistic and that we’ll still win this. Is there a cooler person at Upton Park?

At least the fans remain buoyant, trying to raise the team with Bubbles and Claret and Blur Army.

Grant brings on Cole and Hines – a brave move suggesting he may have nothing to lose in what could be his last game. Birmingham have a strong claim for a penalty waved away as Upson pushes Ferguson in the box.

But what’s this? A rare Hammers attack. Parker finds Spector out on the right and the US’s answer to Lionel Messi plays in a low cross to Carlton Cole The hapless Carlton scuffs the tamest pf tame shots at Foster which he’s going to save easily and he’s already thinking about who he’s going to throw the ball out to when the keeper suddenly goes all jelly legged and becomes simply a lose collection of atoms through which the ball bobbles into the back of the net.

The home fans erupt in joy and laughter. Carlton runs to the East Stand. “That shot would have beaten any keeper!” I claim. Even Nigel celebrates, as he’s now becoming used to the less aesthetic goals we now bag.

What a substitution. Tactical brilliance from Grant.

“It was like Doctor Who, Carlton managed to upset the laws of time and space,” suggests Matt.

“Too shit for England!” and “England’s England’s number one!” chant the Bobby Moore Stand.

Robert Green must be laughing at that one. England’s true remains solid to emphasise the contrast with Birmingham’s dodgy keeper.

Our ten men dig in. The tension is too much for the Vicar’s Son as we concede endless free-kicks on the edge of the box. “That was ****ing terrible! Absolutely ****! How many ****ing free kicks must we give away?”

But we play it in the corners, Kovac comes on to waste some time, survive three minutes of injury time and the whistle blows with Bubbles on the PA and Jeremy Nicholas going a bit mental. We might even have saved Avram’s job.

On the way to the Black Lion Lisa suggests that we should have two managers. What a great idea. Avram for the cups and someone like Curbs for the league. Well, there’s been Curbishley and Gritt at Charlton and Houllier and Evans at Liverpool, but no-one has tried a proper job-share. Surely w should be the first?

Inside the pub I celebrate with Old Cocky ale (a reference to Foster perhaps?) and the philistines around me drink lager and Strongbow. Not even Young’s Kew ale can tempt Nigel.

We see the goal on Sky Sports News and come to the conclusion that Carlton is really a bit like the Shane Warne of football. A master of psychology he has bowled Foster exactly the sort of shot he didn’t expect and relied on his sense of over-confidence to send us into the second leg with a lead.

Tuesday, January 11

Noises off-stage

Not great preparation for tonight's semi-final. Several papers are openly saying that the club has sounded out Martin O'Neill and Sam Allardyce about taking over from Grant. There's a boardroom meeting tomorrow where AG's future will be decided.

The Newcastle defeat was shambolic, although it's hard to sack a manager who's only lost one of the last six games. If we get a result tonight you'd have to sssume Grant stays and the club might at least benefit from some stability for the rest of the season.

Although his claim that he has ten injured players doesn't really hold up - of the injured legions only Jacobsen, Hitzlsperger, Da Costa, Ilunga and Collison might be in the first team, and most clubs also have four or five casualties at this stage of the season.

But for now let's concentrate on the pitch. Irons!

Monday, January 10

Big mouth strikes again? claims that Avram Grant has hit out at Karren Brady over blabbing about Steve Sidwell in her Sun column.

Grant has made the slightly sarcastic comment after Brady revealed in Saturday\s Sun hat the club had pulled the plug on the Sidwell deal because they have too many midfielders: "We (Grant and Brady) don't have a problem, but I speak with the owners. I'm dealing with the owners and that is the most important. Maybe I will have a column in a newspaper and say what I think."

And all is not well inside the Ministry of Magic, for Grant seems to have spotted a mole. He says: "When the rumours are coming from inside the club it doesn't create much stability. Of course I know where the rumours come from and I know there's people trying to hurt the club but if I put my energy on this it's no good."

It all makes the Lib-Lemming-Con Coalition seem united.

Hand in Glove

Could the reason that our defence capitulates at places like Newcastle be that we look like a bunch of "soft southern bastards"?

Both Tomkins and Reed wore gloves on Saturday. And Reid is a Maori! Once were gloved warriors, eh?

Call me old fashioned but I think all centre backs should look like Brian 'Killer' Kilcline or Billy Bonds. Seeing them in gloves must give the likes of Andy Carroll or Leon Best a psychological boost. Soon they'll be in snoods too.

Up for the Cup

West Ham 2 Barnsley 0

It’s yet another yomp from West Ham tube as the tubes are down for the fourth time this season.

Inside Ken’s Cafe Carol reveals that she has no plans to relocate to Stratford as Ken is 75. Surely the Gullivan Brothers should make an offer she can’t refuse to become stadium caterer. She also has some interesting tales about the old days of David Gold’s mum’s shop in Green Street…

It’s just Fraser, who's won £470 on the horses that morning, Matt (unlike Grant and his scarf he’s remembered his lucky Dukla Prague away shirt) and myself in the East Sand today as Nigel is arranging two Cup Final breakfasts in Kew.

You wonder if playing Barnsley minus our stars is a worrying foretaste of life next season.

As predicted it’s basically a reserve side, with Boa Morte as emergency left back, but it’s good to see Green made captain. Even Winston Reid gets a game.

We start off well. Nouble has three shots saved by Luke Steele and then pulls off a great double save from Zavon Hines. We take the lead when Mark Noble’s shot rebounds to Jonathan Spector who finishes with some confidence.

“We never lose when Spector scores,” I assert with some confidence.

We fade badly in the second half, with Barnsley troubling Boa Morte on the left and Nouble missing a good chance. Hines looks shot but at least completes 90 minutes, a good landmark on his comeback. Late on Boa Morte pulls the ball back well for Barrera and then Hines to have shots well saved by Steele.

Barnsley pass the ball confidently and in stoppage time Hamill thumps the bar. The ball goes straight downfield to sub Freddie Piquionne who beats his man and thumps the ball into the net with some confidence.

Job done and a reasonably productive exercise. Specs has another goal. Reid hasn’t been bad, Tomkins has recovered some confidence and Nouble shows promise. Although Faubert still can’t cross and Boa Morte looks an accident waiting to happen at left back.

Best result of the day is finding a Weatherspoon's pub in Upton Lane that serves fine Suffolk Ale for West Ham's bunch of walkers.

Now for the game that really matters on Tuesday night.

A friend like Ben

A strange decision not to renew Ben Haim's loan from Portsmouth. He was just starting to play well in our recent unbeaten run, bar Newcastle when the whole team was appalling, and with Jacobsen and Ilunga still injured we desperately need cover for both full back positions.

Presumably getting rid of Ben Haim means we have a free place in our 25-man squad for another loan signing. Let's hope it's a good one...

Thursday, January 6

Did anyone tell Sid?

Now it looks as if Steve Sidwell is going to Wolves or Fulham instead of West Ham because we can't shift any of the deadweights to free up our 25-man squad.

We don't rally need Sidwell compared to a striker and a new defence, but even so, identifying a potential signing, letting the details leak out and then losing him to your biggest rivals hardly inspires confidence.

He should be so lucky...

Enough is enough. What sort of manager forgets his lucky scarf? Granty forgot his claret and blue scarf at Newcastle last night and the rest is horrible history.

Did Roberto Mancini forget his lucky blue and white scarf at Arsenal last night?

Would Matt forget his lucky Dukla Prague away shirt?

Would I forget my Fortune's Always Hiding retro hooped away shirt worn to the Play-Off Final?

Would Fraser forget his lucky cigars?

Would DC forget to check the Overground status on the Tfl website?

Would Nigel forget to take a picture of himself at a new away ground?

Would The Gav forget his CAMRA guide?

Fail to prepare, Avram, and prepare to fail.

Giving goals to Newcastle

Newcastle 5 West Ham 0

It’s painful enough watching the live scores on — it must have been infinitely worse for any Irons up north.

Parker’s swerving shot early on is our only good moment.
Newcastle’s first is a succession of errors. Piquionne passes to an invisible right wingeron the edge of the Geordies’ box, the ball is hoofed upfield, Tomkins heads it sideways to Lovenkrands and it’s two versus one at the back. Lovenkrands plays in Leon Best, Green is slow to come off his line and it’s 1-0 after 18 minutes. His first PL goal. Another player whose Premier League career we’ve kick-started.

For the second Tomkins gives away a free kick. We go to sleep at a free kick and don’t get goalside — Wally Downes must be appalled — allowing Lovenkrands to run through and cross and Best again to score through a tangle of flailing claret and blue legs.

The third sees Tomkins clear the ball straight to Nolan who finishes first time from the edge of the box. Half-time and it’s 3-0

Matt texts “I hate WHU’ while Nigel texts “Usual business restored”.

It gets much worse in the second half. Criminally it’s two versus Matthew Upson at the back again and Best finishes easily. Pathetic defending. Then Barton is given too much space to cross by Gabbidon and Lovenkrands beats our defender (Tomkins again?) to the ball to score.

And it should be six when Nile Ranger misses an open goal.

Tomkins in particular, has had a nightmare, which can happen to young players, but there’s no excuse for the senior players lack of fight.

Grant explains: "Everything we tried to do didn't go well and the physical side and quality wasn't there." Apart from that we were fine.

My Gooner-supporting sister-in-law Eliza texts: “Losers losers losers 5-0 to Newcastle! Losers! Losers!” Thanks.

This was embarrassing. We're bottom again. The most unproductive cockney visit to Newcastle since Michael Caine went in search of his bruvver's killer in Get Carter.

Wednesday, January 5

Conspiracy theory

Yes there is a conspiracy against West Ham. Last week Fulham won at Stoke, Wolves won at Anfield and Blackpool beat Sunderland away — results that even a Malaysian gambling syndicate wouldn't have predicted.

Now we've had Villa drawing at Chelsea and last night Fulham bagged three against the Baggies and Birmingham won at Blackpool to push us back into the relegation zone. So now we have to get a result at Newcastle against 50,000 shirtless Geordies.

The only consolation is that WBA, Blackpool and Blackburn may eventually get dragged into the relegation struggle in what is a very even Premier league.

Monday, January 3

Here's Freddie!

West Ham 2 Wolves 0

Kevin Rowland of Dexys Midnight Runners fame is in the Ercan chip shop on Barking Road, presumably searching for the young (Dover) sole rebels. Rowland — a Wolves fan — is the only man at Upton Park in a beret, bar Fraser. Not quite sure if the impressionist painter look will catch on in Essex. It’s tempting to ask him to tell me when West Ham’s light turn Green.

Will we be playing 4-4-Too-Rye-Aye? Grant has reverted to the side that won at Fulham and Matt’s furtively retained his “lucky” Dukla Prague away kit under his jumper, as it looks suspiciously like a Wolves shirt.

Wolves start well and Jarvis has several dangerous crosses that result in corners. But we improve and our best chance comes when a Wolves central defender stumbles and Carlton Cole prods the ball wide in front of a gaping goal.

Then young Freddie Sears latches on to a loose ball and sends a ball towards the net only for Wolves defender Stearman to make a great clearance off the line.

At half-time we predict the scores. Mystic Massey opts for 2-0 to the Irons, Mystic May goes for 1-0 with a Freddie Sears strike and Nigel goes for 0-0… Mystic Matt then predicts that Freddie Sears will never score another league goal for the Irons.

Wolves start the second half as if fired up by a Mick McCarthy “shit and caramel” speech and create four quick chances. Robert Green makes a great save from a Carlton Cole’s misdirected header and then makes another flying stop from Ebanks-Blake. Quietly he’s played himself back into England form in the last few weeks.


On 51 minutes we take the lead with a bizarre own goal. Piquionne beats the offside trap to cross from the right. Carlton Cole takes an air kick and completely misses the cross. This so bamboozles Wolves’ Zubar that he allows the ball to bounce off his thigh into the net. Cole can only shrug his shoulders and grin.

Nigel refuses to celebrate such a lucky goal while the rest of us jump up and down. “I like to see us murder teams,” he says in a moment of aesthetic fervour, claiming that we wouldn’t want to support teams like Stoke and Big Sam-era Blackburn.

Although in the absence of West Ham playing like Real Madrid I think most of us will opt for a comedy goal. And the thought of Zubar’s effort going on an Own Goals and Gaffes dvd will surely help Danny Baker recover from cancer.

Then Mattie Upson hits the bar with a header from Parker’s corner. Hopefully Grant is becoming a lucky general, a fact emphasised by a poor back pass kicked out by Green, a missed tackle by Upson and Ebanks-Blake heading against the bar.

Mark Noble replaces Stanislas and immediately brings more bite to the midfield. We seal it after 79 minutes. Parker finds Ben Haim on the right and the Israeli crosses for 13-year-old Freddie Sears to score with a crisp striker’s finish. We’re up out of our seats as Freddie runs to salute the East Stand.

It’s his first goal since March 2008 and the crowd will always rise to a local lad. And it’s a personal vindication that Father Christmas really does exist. Since Freddie wrote that letter to Santa and Ruud Boffin the red-nosed reindeer asking for a return from Scunthorpe, a first team place and a goal at Upton Park he’s been rewarded with everything bar that Nintendo DS he also requested.

A deserved moment for Sears who has impressed with his sheer energy wide on the right. He’s not the greatest of footballers but he plays like the West Ham fan he is and his work rate has exposed some of the more senior pros.

Even Nigel celebrates. If the last goal was his version of Black Lace’s Agadoo, then this one rivalled Yes’ Tales From Topographic Oceans for artistic merit.

The whole ground breaks out into a spontaneous chorus of Bubbles and it’s a big, big win. The only worry is Carlton Cole, who’s worked hard for the team, but has missed two clear chances and is clearly not fit. Grant insists on keeping the half-paced Carlton on for the whole game, for no apparent reason.

Two-nil in our Cup Final. Astonishingly we go up to sixth from bottom for the evening. All this and Kevin Rowland in one day. It’s tempting to seek him out and say There There My Dear.