Thursday, May 31

Robert Green: West Ham till he signs…

Several press reports claim that Robert Green wants 50k a week and that the club is not prepared to give it to him. Think there's some brinkmanship going on here as his contract expires on June 30, but I'd pay Green what he wants in order to to keep him. Compared to 80k a week for Kieron Dyer, who has miraculously been kept on by QPR, 45-50k a week doesn't seem excessive for England's No 2. It was significant that Green was the second person to lift the play-off trophy after Kevin Nolan and with a spine of Green, Tomkins, Noble and Cole we can be reasonably optimistic about next season. Yes, we could get a couple more years out of Bolton's 37-year-old Jussi Jaaskelainen or sign Blackburn's Paul Robinson or Fulham's Stockdale, but it would still send out a negative signal to sell Greeno. Sign him up, Sam!

Tuesday, May 29

Gary Breen, white and gold

The unofficial Irish Euro 2012 anthem is Breen, White and Gold, featuring several references to West Ham legend Gary Breen, a man  who famously managed to be involved in giving away six goals at Old Trafford and generally made Gary Strodder look like Franz Beckenbauer. Strange. Clink on the link to listen.

Monday, May 28

Green's day

Good to see Robert Green keep a clean sheet in the friendly against Norway (presumably John Carew now counts as Norwegian wood?). Apart from one dodgy moment when a corner hit the post, Greeno had a solid game and has finally played for England again and kept a clean sheet after his error against the USA. Capello treated him very unfairly at the time, ignoring the fine save he made later in the game to push the ball against the post. He could easily have played him against Algeria in the next game to boost his confidence, rather than publicly humiliate him. Good management by Roy Hodgson to ease Green back into the international set-up with a low-profile game.

Thursday, May 24

Matt Taylor interview

Interesting 25-minute interview with Matt Taylor by Richard Keys and Andy Gray on TalkSport. Taylor is an articulate interviewee and there's some good discussion of WHU tactics and Allardyce's scientific approach. Ckick on the link to hear.

Please release me…

We've released Julien Faubert, John Carew, Abdoulaye Faye, Papa Bouba Diop, Frank Nouble and Ollie Lee. Although Gustave Faubert enjoyed his best form with us last season, he's never justified his £6 million fee and must be on very high wages, so it's an understandable decision. I'm a little disappointed to see Faye go. He was one of our best players last season, and only just behind Tomkins, Noble and Green in the player of the season stakes. True, he's 34, but could have provided cover for Reid and Tomkins for another season.

Diop did a sound job in away games too, but again at 34 is deemed too old for the Premier League. Carew had to go as he looked slower than me and you and ready for retirement, whole Nouble showed promise at Championship level, but probably isn't going to cut it in the PL Presumably these moves mean Big Sam is going to sign a couple of centre backs, a midfield enforcer and an alternative big man up front to deputise for Cole.

Monday, May 21

Always believe in Carlton Cole!

Thought Carlton Cole, who's had a lot of stick this season, had one of his best ever games for West Ham on Saturday. He scored a great goal, set up a clear opportunity for Vaz Te to shoot wide, forced a great save from Gilks, set up the winner and led the line with a performance of real character. He gave away the ball on the half-way line for their goal, admittedly, but can't really be blamed for our sleeping defence.

Maybe it was the two-week break, but CC finally looked fit too. He's played through injury a lot of the season, including the last eight weeks he says, but has always worked hard and ended up with 15 goals. And as a lot of the papers write today, his wages were halved this season, from 28k to 14k a week, which while not exactly leaving him short of the price of a full breakfast in Ken's Cafe, does show his commitment to the club when he could have moved to Stoke or Turkey for bigger money. And he appears to have a real feeling for the club to judge by his Tweets:  "West Ham have shown me a home. I'm happy here as long as they want me." He deserved his "Sex and Drugs and Carlton Cole" banner. And to top it all, my old mate Steve "North Bank Norman" Rapport has, in words I never thought I'd hear, just called CC a "legend for life" on Twitter. 

Meanwhile Blackpool's Baptiste says all our players are "ten-foot tall", which seems a little bit of sour tangerines when you consider that Noble, O'Neil, Taylor, Nolan and Vaz Te are not exactly giants. Congratulations to the Daily Mirror though, for managing to get every cockney cliche going in its match report, including jellied eels and Dot Cotton. I'm off for a right-royal cockney knees-up...

Bobby Moore scarfed up

A nice picture of Bobby Moore scarfed up from Mike...

Saturday, May 19

We are Premier League!



West Ham 2 Blackpool 1 (Play-off Final)

We’re so nervous about getting to Wembley on time and not losing the tickets that we arrive at Wembley Park at 12.30. Still there’s time to queue up for a £6 programme and then buy a £10 flag for my daughters Lola and Nell, though you do get a few bubbles jar with every purchase. Then it’s on to the Bobby Moore Statue to meet Nigel and CQ, Michael and Fraser, while Matt and Lisa stake out a greasy spoon and Big Joe's still on the rattler having spent too long in The George at Marylebone. We’re in the Club Wembley section of the stadium by 2pm, which is fairly genteel. Nigel has a £6 designer Lincolnshire sausage, and we buy a pre-match bottle of Carlsberg, as Wembley, like The Central, remains a real-ale free zone.

The West Ham section is heaving and there's a beach ball bouncing around. While the Blackpool has 12,000 empty seats in the upper tiers. Kevin Nolan's family alone could have taken that many seats.

At the kick–off I’m not feeling too nervous. That soon changes in the first fifteen minutes. Dobbie brushes past Matt Taylor to force a good low save from Rob Green in the third minute. Matt Phillips drifts through the centre of our defence for a one-on-one chance only to shoot tamely at Green. Then Demel loses the ball in calamitous fashion to let in Matt Phillips who curls a shot just wide of the post. We’re looking terribly nervous; Demel doesn’t appear to be fully fit, Reid is having a bit of a ’mare, Collison takes a long time to get into the game, and the mobile Ince and Matt Phillips have the beating of our full-backs. We wonder if that’s Matt we can hear shouting expletives at our defence. We wonder why Faye isn’t on the bench as at least he\d offer some stability.

But slowly we settle. Vaz Te shoots into the side netting after a good lay-off by Cole, when he should have probably scored. It looks like we’ve come through it on 35 minutes when Matt Taylor plays in a perfect cross from the left and Carlton Cole gets behind Evatt to control brilliantly and fire into the roof of the net. Then Vaz Te pokes a reasonable chance wide after a fine pass by O'Neil and West Ham win a flurry of corners late on. We hold the lead at half-time and will surely go on to respect the 1-0.

ALWAYS BELIEVE IN CARLTON COLE
Half-time seems to last only ten minutes and most of the crowd are still in the bar as three minutes into the second half. Ironically we’re undone by a long ball from Phillips as Ince gets beyond Matt Taylor and the covering Reid and connects to poke the ball past Green. Undone by the son of Judas. We can see those “Ince Perfect” headlines. We’ve been undone by a side who can’t sell out their end.

“You’re not singing anymore!” chants the wall of orange (with several bricks missing) to our right.

“Daddy, are West Ham going to lose?” asks a nervous Nell. I’m wondering if I should apologise to my daughters for making them support West Ham and enduring a lifetime of misery.

Blackpool have the better of the second half. At least we improve a bit defensively when McCartney comes on for O’Neil and Taylor movers into midfield, and Faubert replaces Demel. “Our whole season rests on Gustave Faubert…” I remark to Nigel. The Frenchman finds Carlton Cole, who has a turn and shot excellently saved by Gilks, but it’s a rare foray.

Taylor has to clear off the line from Baptiste and then Dobbie goes all house elf, scuffing wide a superb chance that Kevin Phillips would surely have buried. Then Nobes has to clear off the line from a corner. Collison replies with a shot over the bar. It seems like we’re only just into the second half, but there’s 70 minutes on the scoreboard, and now 80. “We are Bobby Moore’s claret and blue army!” chant the Hammers fans, trying to rally the side. And then "My name is Ludek Miklosko!" It’s going as quickly as that horrible play-off final loss to Palace. Oh God, I can see a late Blackpool winner coming and Ian Holloway going mental. A bloke in front of us stands up and hollers a two minute rant of swear words at the team, which is educational for the kids. “He must be a vicar’s son like Matt, or possibly a vicar,” suggests Nigel.

VAZ TE PARTY
Vaz Te can’t do anything right and I say to Nigel and CQ we need Nolan to suddenly produce one of his goals after drifting out of the game. Sure enough McCartney puts in a great cross and Kevin hits the bar with a superb volley. Is that our last chance? Oh God, extra time and then penalties.

But there’s 87 minutes gone as the ball comes to Nolan on the left. He cuts inside and crosses low into the box. Carlton Cole controls and pulls the ball past a defender and just as the keeper tries to smother it, he pokes the ball out of his hands and back to Vaz Te who is surely going to hit the bar or hoof it into the stand, but now it’s in the roof of the net and the West Ham end is exploding with joy and relief and we’re hugging each other and waving flags and wondering if this is our Man City moment. Ricardo whips off his shirt and struts in front of the West Ham fans.

Big Sam chews his thousandth piece of gum. The West Ham fans suggest that we go effing mental. There’s four minutes of injury time to endure and the ball fizzes agonisingly across our box. And CC gets hold of it up front and we manage to keep it in the corners and then survive a dubious penalty appeal and it’s over! “Promoted to the Premier League are West Ham United!” announces the PA. “Never in (much) doubt,” I suggest.

“You know, I think I might renew my season ticket,” suggests Nigel.

HI HO CLARET AND BLUE LINING
Kevin Nolan walks up about 10,000 steps to collect the trophy wearing a claret and blue scarf and “Nothing Beats Being Back” t-shirt. Karen Brady is kissing David Gold and Big Sam. David Sullivan appears to be wiping away a tear, or is he just thinking of all those contracts that go back to Premier League wages? Nolan lifts the trophy as Paradise by Coldplay plays over the PA. My daughters are seeing West Ham win a trophy and the players get a medal each at Wembley. This only happens once every 32 years. Nell blows bubbles, Lola waves the chequered claret and blue flag.








There’s even a chant of “Allardyce! Allardyce” from behind us. And Big Sam is actually smiling. Whatever you think of the man he's given us our first Wembley win in 31 years. The lads run on to the pitch. Vaz Te dances, Carlton Cole, who’s had a great game, dons a claret and blue wig and Big Sam gives an interview where he says, in a manner strangely reminiscent of Windsor Davies in It Ain't Half Hot Mum, that James Tomkins is the most handsome centre half in the league. Fine pair of shoulders there son, show 'em off. Nigel starts to do his headbanging routine to Hi Ho Silver Lining, Rocking All Over The World and We Are The Champions and my daughters are singing along to Twist and Shout and then another chorus of Bubbles. Is Jeremy Nicholas on the PA? All we need is the Cockney Rejects now.

"Will we be able to buy Scott Parker back now?" asks Nell, and I tell her that it's certainly possible he might want to move to a club with a more realistic chance of making the Champions League than Spurs. That's if he could get into our side. 

Nicola answers my texts to say the champagne is on ice back at home. We meet Matt, Lisa, Fraser, Michael and co at the Bobby Moore statue, and someone has draped a Hammers scarf around Bobby’s neck. We find a dodgy pub near the ground where Fraser and CQ smoke cigars and nell and Lola find live moths eating the carpet, then enjoy a chorus of "Ricardo Vaz Te… he scores when he likes" from the Irons fans at Marylebone and watching northerners try to use Oyster cards at a packed Baker Street. We come home for champagne in the kitchen and Bubbles and Viva Bobby Moore on the CD player, ignoring some minor game going on in Munch. There’s only one game that matters today. We are Premier League, I said we are Premier League!

Friday, May 18

Ugly football

Very grateful to finally have them in my hand, but why is there an ugly bloke on the play-off final tickets? Not sure if this is meant to be a typical Championship supporter but it's not exactly great PR from the Football League. This man is probably a very nice bloke but is also bald, fat and goofy whereas everyone who sits in the East Stand looks uncannily like Matt Damon and in the case of our WAGS, Scarlett Johansson.

Meanwhile Jack Collison has been declared fit - though presumably still has a sore shoulder - and we're amazingly at full-strength. We're trying to decide where to meet and Nigel's mate has just suggested by the Bobby Moore statue at 1pm, to which he replied "at Wembley or Upton Park?" After all, many a fan has to follow their normal "lucky" ritual and we're still considering a cup final breakfast at Nigel's gaff in Kew Gardens, as that worked for the Preston final.

Monday, May 14

They think it's all over...

A mixed time for former WHU players in the Premier League. Carlos Tevez ended up with a championship medal at Manchester City, despite bunking off for six months, as City made a very West Ham-like bid to move their fans into agonies of despair and hope. Michael Carrick and Rio Ferdinand were two minutes away from the title, but lost out in Ferguson-time. Jermain Defoe scored as Spurs finished forth, but may miss out on a Champions League place, along with Scott Parker, if Chelsea and Frank Lampard win the trophy next Saturday. While Pards and Demba Ba had to settle for the Europa League. Anton Ferdinand and Bobby Zamora survived with QPR while poor old Nigel Reo-Coker, who got very sulky when he thought Arsenal were interested in him, went down with Bolton. What a shame...

Friday, May 11

Boxing clever?

The Haye-Chisora bout takes place at Upton Park on July 14. West Ham won't have seen anything like this level of pugilism since Dicksy last got stick into a right-winger and Martin 'Mad Dog' Allen was unleashed without being fed his daily portion of Science Plan. Though whether West Ham should be giving a platform to two boxers who disgraced the sport in Germany is another matter.

The great Muhammad Ali knew how to do a bit of trash talk to promote a fight, but usually did it with great wit rather than thuggery. Chisora went way beyond that, threatening to "shoot" David Haye, having earlier slapped Vitali Klitschko's face and then spat water at his brother Wladimir. Haye's appearance at the Chisora press conference was just as stupid too. It's a hugely controversial fight that could split boxing. Promoter Frank Warren has had to draft in the Luxembourg Boxing Federation to supervise the fight and the British Board of Control is threatening to ban all involved in it. And it makes West Ham look like they'll stage any event to make a bit of dosh. Is this the image the club wants?

Thursday, May 10

Blackpool here we come

So it's Blackpool - which should make for a much friendlier atmosphere at Wembley. Our biggest danger is complacency having beaten then 4-0 at home and 4-1 away with ten men and Lansbury in goal. Ian Holloway is a fine motivator and they have a great record in the play-offs, having won them two years ago. As underdogs they should play with some freedom... so we have to remain professional and patient. Though having said that, their defence looked really ropey against us at Upton Park, which offers us hope. Who will be "getting the bird in the taxi", to use Ian Holloway's unreconstructed metaphor? Hopefully us, though in a very respectful post-feminist manner. Irons!

Wednesday, May 9

Best man wanted

Nice banner on display at the end of the semi-final caught by the cameras, reading "Chris, you need a new best man, I'm going to Wembley!" Quite right too. Meanwhile Big Joe tells me that Anton Ferdinand was spotted in the Alpari Stand and this led to several anti-John Terry songs. Nice that Anton still supports the club. And then there was Russell Brand sitting next to Trevor Brooking - what must their small talk have been like? Not sure if Sir Trev does drug and sex anecdotes, so guess they discussed the 1980 Cup Final instead...

Tuesday, May 8

We're going to Wem-ber-ley!

West Ham 3 Cardiff 0 (Play-off semi final)

There’s a conscious effort not to tell anyone that we’ll see them at Wembley as we leave Ken’s CafĂ©, just cryptic references to “north London”. My daughter Nell predicts that West Ham will win “infinity nil”, which would be a boost for the aggregate score.

There’s flags for sale on Green Street and a £4 souvenir programme, while the pre-match entertainment includes a Cockney Reject and a pumped-up Jeremy Nicholas. Cardiff have an early claim for a penalty as Reid tussles with Miller, though it would have been a harsh decision. After that it’s all claret and blue. Nerves are eased after 15 minutes. From a WHU corner Cole’s header is knocked on to Kevin Nolan who leaps to head home and do his clucking chicken celebration.

O’Neil hits the bar with a great side footed lob and then produces a good tip away from Marshall. He’s starting to become a consistent performer for the Irons and his experience is crucial today. On 40 minutes Demel plays a through ball that a Cardiff defender misses and Vaz Te wallops a great finish into the top corner. “Que sera sera,” echoes around the stadium. We’re starting to feel quietly confident with a 4-0 aggregate at half-time, though no-one dares check the Wembley ticket arrangements in the programme. Lola and Nell draw crossed hammers on their hands and Nell tattoos “Wembley” on her dad’s hand. We break out the Penguins.

Jack Collison goes off injured and on comes Henri Lansbury. Matt still manages to harangue Lansbury for some misplaced passes as we play out time, and then takes issue with the bloke behind who has said that we should get rid of McCartney.

Cue choruses of "Big Fat Frankie Lampard" and Ludek Miklosko" from the Bobby Moore Stand as we edge closer to the Wembley arch. In the last minute Lansbury, despite Matt’s rollicking, finds sub Nicky Maynard who fires home another great top corner finish. Nigel starts to dream of ordering a stretch limo from Kew Gardens and Fraser gets out his cigar box. . 

The whistle blows and the lads do a lap of honour to thank us for their support as Twist and Shout plays over the tannoy. For some reason there’s an inflatable shark in the Bobby Moore Stand.

We leave the East stand via the back of the Cardiff coaches and they’re regaled with a chorus of God Save the Queen and “five nil and a long way home!” plus some much ruder songs. It’s on to the Black Lion for a celebratory pint of Maldon Gold and play-off final ticket discussions. Five-nil on aggregate – it’s been almost relaxing. And as Nigel says, we’ve not lost a cup final at Wembley since 1923. Just as long as there’s no white horse or hoof marks on the touchline we’ll be fine.

Monday, May 7

90 minutes from from Wembley...

It's the first play-off second leg we've ever gone into with a lead, but being a WHU fan I'm still feeling a little nervous. Taking my lucky daughters today as they haven't seen us lose in five home games this season. Though struggling to dampen down expectations by trying to explain that anything can happen with West Ham. What we need is a start like the Brighton match... Come on you Irons!

Friday, May 4

Hit the goal, Jack!

Cardiff City 0 West Ham 2 (Play-off semi-final first leg)

It’s back to the Lucky Pub. The Master Brew is good and eventually we find a table. Our party consists of Matt and Lisa, Fraser in jacket and tie, carrying a briefcase after a hard day at Stirling Cooper, and Nigel arriving too late to see our first goal because there’s some minor election on.

The Lucky Pub has even been infiltrated by some fellow West Ham fans, whom we may have to eliminate after the game lest they reveal its location.

Cardiff have a blistering first five minutes. Miller forces Green to make a fine save and Whittingham has a shot deflected just over the bar. Lisa points out that on the touchline Big Sam has a terribly coordinated striped shirt and diagonally-striped West Ham tie; clearly the pressure is getting to him. But as the game progresses we compete and start to catch Cardiff on the break.

The management team has done a good job raising the side after the disappointment of finishing third and we make the vital breakthrough after nine minutes. Taylor finds Vaz Te with a nicely cushioned ball and Ricardo races down the wing to send in a perfect cross for Collison who is foiled by a one-handed save from Marshall but heads in the rebound. One-nil to the Cockney Boys.

CLINICAL COLLISON
Carlton Cole is a nuisance to the Cardiff defence, but when he’s given the chance to run at them he reveals his loss of pace and is tackled for a corner. No matter, the ball is headed out and Collison strikes a powerful volley that is deflected in off Lawrence’s head. Jack points to the name on his back and then up to the sky in memory of his dad. ”What a shame we didn’t play Lansbury,” remarks Fraser, ironically. That's Jack's third goal in the Lucky Pub in two weeks and his fifth of the season.

We almost make it three when Cole gets a great diving header in from O’Neil’s cross, only for Marshall to make a brilliant save.

After the break Cardiff predictably come at us and at times we give the ball away needlessly, but we sold go three up when Taylor fizzes in a great cross and Nolan heads wide. Vaz Te is pulled off for McCartney after 60 minutes which seems a bit premature, and Matt gets agitated by some needless bookings for Tomkins and Nolan and several Cardiff volleys that flash wide. Cole has to clear one off the line but generally we’re professional and quieten the crowd by the end.

HALF WAY THERE
Matt and Lisa celebrate our 14th away win of the season with a designer New York lager. Our thoughts turn to Monday. We think it only right that the Cardiff supporters should be forced to exchange their tickets for vouchers at somewhere really inconvenient like the Basildon sign on the A127 and then be forced to walk to Upton Park. And then Matt points out that in the Standard Big Sam talks about being in charge of Blackpool when they won the away leg 2-0 and lost the home leg 3-0 having printed the route to Wembley in the programme.

But obviously that won’t happen again, we hope. It’s half-time in the tie but we can afford to draw at home, which is just as well given our record at Upton Park. At least Big Sam says we’re not going to sit on it – a quick goal and we can start to think about Wem-ber-ley.

Thursday, May 3

Raise yourself!

Nice of today's Guardian to point out that no relegated club has returned directly to the Premier League through the play-offs since Leicester City in 1995-96. Which scuppers West Ham, Blackpool and Birmingham and means Cardiff are going up. The first leg has come round awfully quickly and like most fans I'm still feeling deflated at finishing third. Hope the players are feeling better. It's a time to follow Graham Taylor's immortal advice to Rob Shepherd in Do I Not Like That: "Raise yourself, son, raise yourself!" We're off to the Lucky Pub rather than braving the motorway voucher exchange near Cardiff. Irons!

Tuesday, May 1

Roy for England

Interesting that Sir Trevor Brooking was one of the FA men who opted for Roy Hodgson over Harry Redknapp, as he would have known all about Harry's record at West Ham. No denying that getting West Ham to fifth was a great achievement, though Harry's methods often involved a heavy transfer policy to "freshen up the dressing room", which you can't do at international level. And in terms of cup success, Harry never got beyond the semi-final of the League Cup with WHU. He won the FA Cup at Pompey, but sadly this bankrupted the club, and then went on to get Spurs into the Champions League. A good record, but Hodgson's achievements at Fulham were also fantastic. He even made Paul Konchesky and John Pantsil look better than they were.

Redknapp would have been a good short-term motivational fix for England, but Hodgson has more experience worldwide and has managed at international level. Don't think he's a bad choice at all. And Woy's also a fan of highbrow literature by Sebastian Faulks, who is of course a West Ham fan.