It's obvious that West Ham should appear in any state of the nation novel… Just started reading Sebastion Faulks' A Week In December, set in 2007. On page one, no less, he writes:
"At nearby Upton Park the supporters were leaving the ground after a home defeat; and only a few streets away from the Boleyn Ground, with its East End mixture of sentimentality and grievance, a solitary woman paid respect to her grandfather— come from Lithuania some eighty years ago — as she stood by his grave in the overflowing cemetery of East Ham synagogue."
Faulks is a West Ham fan so knows all about West Ham home defeats, of course. I seem to recall that Martin Amis mentions West Ham in London Fields too. There's probably an MA to be had somewhere studying the influence of West Ham United on contemporary literature.
Sunday, September 30
Thursday, September 27
Sad to hear of the death of former Hammer John Bond. He was playing before my time, but while researching my book Flying So High: West Ham's Cup Finals I watched all 90 minutes of the 1964 FA Cup Final against Preston in which he featured. Bondy liked to get the ball in the box early and looked a decent player. Failing to adequately replace the likes of Bond, Brown and Standen was the root cause of West Ham underachieving after the 1964 and 1965 FA Cup and European Cup Winners' Cup wins. Despite having Moore, Hurst and Peters these three leaving left a gap that took many years to fill. I also remember John Bond as the charismatic manager of Norwich and Manchester City. He'll be missed.
Wednesday, September 26
It’s chaos in Ken’s as I forget to claim my toasted cheese sandwich while talking to Mike about his new pop-up comedy club (not known as West Ham United) earning a blast from Carol and Billy. And then it’s chaos on the streets outside the East Stand as half the season ticket cards haven’t been uploaded. My card works but Fraser has to go to the ticket office to get a paper ticket. Lisa is with us, receiving reports from Crawley versus Swansea from Matt Van Percy.
Big Sam makes nine changes from the side against Sunderland giving starts to Spence, Potts and Hall. Apart from Al Habsi it’s a Wigan reserve side too. It all starts well for the Irons as McArthur slices the ball straight to Maiga who scores with a confident finish after seven minutes.
But then we let in three before half-time. McManaman crosses from the left and £6m Argentine striker Boselli beats Tomkins to the ball to prod home. Centre back Ramis is allowed to stroll through from the half way line without being challenged, Potts backs off, and Ramis shoots home from the edge of the box. Boselli then beats West Ham’s feeble offside trap and chips over Henderson.
Hall shoots just wide before the interval, but Wigan’s passing game is much better than ours — a sign of just what a good manager Martinez is.
Fraser says I Get Around, revealing he’s seen the Beach Boys the previous night. Wouldn’t it be Nice if we could score, I suggest.
Sam moves Potts to left back and McCartney to centre back and our performance improves slightly in the second half. Though it’s a mystery why we don’t have any first team players on the bench to rescue a game like this. Hall hits the bar, Spence wins the match of the match award for some good runs forward. Big Sam brings on endless left-sided players in Taylor and Fanimo but no-one will pass to Jarvis, who makes semaphore signals on the flank without effect. The game's settled on 84 minutes. Gary O’Neil goes down holding his knee but the ref fails to stop play and Wigan win a penalty when Henderson brings down McArthur. Dylan Tombides gets ten minutes of action on his debut but has no time to make any impact in a capitulating side.
The Wigan fans cheer at the final whistle and head off for their taxi. It’s not a great way for Mark Noble to celebrate signing his new contract. Fraser says it’s the most indefensible thing he’s seen since Jeremy Vine danced on Strictly. At least we get a seat in the Black Lion afterwards.
“We couldn’t defend a fish supper,” says Big Sam. Though why would you want to defend a fish supper? He continues with an honest analysis: “There were howling errors from our defenders in all four goals, it was comical. All the good work we might have done with the ball meant nothing in the end because out of possession we were just rubbish. It was an embarrassing defeat. They can't come knocking on my door about not playing now. They've got to take responsibility for their performance. They should have given me a lot more value for my money than they did."
With experienced players like Noble, Jarvis, Tomkins, McCartney, Vaz Te and Maiga in the side we should have done much better. A worrying sign that we don’t have the strength in depth of Wigan. Sam needs to get that fish supper down to Chadwell Heath, put it on the goaline and instruct his charges how to defend it.
Tuesday, September 25
Having finally seen Nolan's goal on Match of the Day 2 it's encouraging that Modibo Maiga had two touches in the move. Carlton Cole looked ponderous again and on Match of the Day 2 their alternative league table based on goals scored by strikers had us bottom of the league thanks to no goals this season by any of our strikers. Andy Carroll will surely rectify that, but until he's fit it's surely worth giving Maiga, who cost a hefty £4.7 million, a full game to see what he can do.
Sunday, September 23
Outed as a part-timer... Trying to fit in travelling on the 6pm train to Bristol for a Dexys gig meant that I left the match at 90 minutes, telling Nigel, CQ, Matt, Fraser and Michael the Whovian that we were certain to score once I'd left. Sure enough clucking Kevin Nolan netted while your man was jogging down Green Street. The lads tell me it was a Maradona-like run beating ten players or possibly a 70-yard screamer into the top corner or a Di Canio-esque volley.
Even if we'd lost though, I'd have been encouraged by the team spirit. West Ham go behind early in the game. After a Barcelona type passing movement at the back (ironic for an Allardyce side) Collins plays a terrible ball and Sunderland break. Fletcher nets confidently from Larrsson's cross. "Stephen Fletcher… He scores when he likes…" sing the away fans. McLean slices wide but WHU come back. There are some signs that Demel is returning to form. He makes one great challenge that sets up Vaz Te to cross for Nolan, whose overhead kick produces a brilliant save from Mignolet. Vaz Te with a header and Nolan again both go close.
In the second half West Ham batter the Sunderland defence in which O'Shea and Bramble excel. Diame has a storming game. Collins almost atones for his error by heading against the bar and the Irons force endless corners. Substitute Matt Jarvis makes a big difference and flights in crosses from every angle. Good to see Yossi get a run-out too. The crowd get behind the side though it looks like being a Sunderland away win until mystic May leaves and precipitates the equaliser.
In Bristol Kevin Rowland is on fine form for Dexys despite being older than Sam Allardyce and it's great to hear the whole of the new album and old classics like Tell Me When My Light Turns Green, What's She Like and Come On Eileen. And in response to Matt's text, no I didn't leave two minutes before the encore...
Saturday, September 22
Off to see Dexys in Bristol after today's game, where I'll be searching for the old soul rebels. Matt has already asked if Keith Rowland still fronts Dexys and says that as Brian Dear is doing the hospitality it might be a case of There There My Dear. No doubt Sam will be saying Tell Me When My Light Turns Green and searching for Plan B which might include the Celtic Soul Brothers Joey O'Brien and Jack Collison. And when Andy Carroll is fit Carlton will presumably be saying Don't Stand Me Down...
Friday, September 21
Thursday, September 20
Something of an in and out season for Ricardo Vaz Te so far. Some of his crossing was terrible against Norwich, although he did create the early chance where Cole had his header cleared off the line. On the plus side Vaz Te made Nolan's goals against Aston Villa and Fulham, though he was dropped against Swansea and is yet to score. Did he just have the season of his life last time round, scoring 12 goals for the Hammers and 12 for Barnsley after drifting away from Bolton to Scottish football? Hopefully not and perhaps playing off Carroll will help him, as Ricardo looked like he enjoyed feeding off the big man. He still looks very much a confidence player and a goal against Sunderland would perhaps convince him that he can really make it in the Premier League…
Monday, September 17
Saturday, September 15
Norwich City 0 West Ham 0
We miss the first two minutes because of the Aussie rugby, but the TV is switched over as Surman curls the ball just wide of Jussi. West Ham create a couple of decent chances. Vaz Te forces a Ruddy good save with a cross short from the right, Cole ‘s header is cleared off the line and the ball breaks to Matt Taylor who shoots wide when well placed. O’Brien makes a good break down the left and his determined run sees Nolan connect with his cross only to be thwarted by Ruddy again.
Norwich come back into it, with Surman curling wide again and then the Canaries force Jaaskelainen into a triple save as the ball ricochets crazily around the West Ham box. The defensive spirit is good though, as several defenders rush in to block the Canaries’ efforts. Just before half time Collins brings down Surman with an Voldemort-like lunge and it looks a certain penalty. Luckily ref Chris Foy gives it on the edge of the box and the replay proves him right. “That was good refereeing,” says Matt for the first time in his life. At half time we watch a slimline Dean Ashton discussing the game and order more Seafarers bitter and a strawberry cider for the lady.
Norwich have the best of the second half with Jaaskelainen producing a brilliant one handed save from Jackson’s scorcher. The jet-lagged Winston Reid has a fine game, but the midfield performance is worrying. Vaz Te and Demel fluff numerous crosses and many of the long punts upfield are aimless. Diame is powerful but often tries to beat one man too many. When we do get corners and free kicks Noble’s delivery is poor. Big Sam brings on Jarvis for Taylor and Maiga for Cole. The ten million pound man has one decent curling cross with no one on the end of it, but doesn’t really get into the game apart from having a shot blacked on the edge of the box. The one player who might bring some passing ability to midfield, Yossi Benayoun, isn’t used until the 86th minute.
The Gooners fans leave it late to enter the Library as they trek off with armfuls of hardbacks. Norwich nearly nick it at the end. It’s three versus two as City break and Kane shoots at Jussi when he should probably score. Faltering fullback Demel is outpaced by Harry Kane who crosses for Snodgrass, only for his effort to be blocked. In the third minute of added time, ex-Millwall striker Morison heads straight at Jussi. Phew. A gritty away point and crisps all round.
Apart from Collins’ lunge we’ve defended soundly, though Demel still looks suspect at right back. The lack of creativity and passing ability is worrying in midfield, but we have quality to come in with Jarvis and Benayoun. The performance of Jussi is encouraging and it’s three clean sheets in four matches. It’s not a great advert for the Premier League, and you can see why England struggle when no-one can pass consistently well, but seven points from four games is certainly a decent start.
Friday, September 14
Mixed fortunes for the Hammers on international duty in the last fortnight. Winston Reid played in New Zealand's 6-1 thrashing of the Solomon Islands in the World Cup qualifiers (the away leg will be bit of a culture shock for him as three sides of the Solomon Islands' pitch in Honiara are grass hills), Joey O'Brien came on for Ireland against Oman and Yossi Benayoun captained Israel in the 4-0 defeat by Capello's Russia, Modibo Maiga scored for Mali and Diame played for Senegal too. While James Collins managed to get himself sent off for a rash challenge with Wales. Meanwhile it looks as if Andy Carroll, unfit for England, might return sooner than expected from his hamstring injury, possibly for the Sunderland game according to the Daily Mail, though that might be pushing it, thinks Big Sam.
Thursday, September 13
Thanks for the entries for the There's Only One Stevie Bacon book competition. Some of you were very quick to fire off the list of WHU managers including caretakers. We now have two winners of free books in Rich Davis and Tim Holland. Hope you enjoy it...
There’sOnly One Stevie Bacon, published by Biteback and written with Kirk Blows, is a gloriously indiscrete read. As club photographer for 30 years Bacon travelled on the team bus and roomed with the team, so he has lots of juicy inside info on the banter, boozing and lads’ shenanigans, though all told from the viewpoint of a Plaistow-born West Ham fan.
We learn that Lou Macari, whom Bacon got on well with, asked Stevie’s advice before signing Colin Foster (so Steve’s to blame). He clearly didn't get on with Alan Pardew and writes, “I’ve never known a more arrogant man in my life”. Pards didn’t get off to a good start with Steve when he announced at a hotel dinner that if Bacon’s order looked nicer, “I’m having that!” Never come between a growing lad and his grub. The book recounts a terrified Paolo Di Canio refusing to fly, Harry Redknapp covering Don Hutchison is sandwiches, John Moncur leaping naked from lockers during team talks and Igor Stimac arranging for the players to shoot machine guns in a Croatian wood while playing in the UEFA Cup. Plus we have Billy Bonds trying his first Chinese meal in his forties and confronting Trevor Morley and Ian Bishop over those false rumours: “Well, are you or ain’t you?”
Strangely there’s no mention of Fortune’s Always Hiding’s Clicker Bacon cartoons drawn by Phill Jupitus, but we can’t have everything. Mixed in with the gossip, Bacon has some astute observations about both players and managers over the years. It’s worth buying just for the revelation that on a three–week Australia tour under Redknapp they didn’t see much of Kenny Brown in Sydney: “He teamed up with a girl who worked in a condom shop in the shopping mall and we barely saw him for five days. He was a bit of a randy geezer.” Clicker Bacon deserves the accolade of having The Stevie Bacon Burger named after him by one Green Street stall.
Even better news is that Hammers in the Heart has two copies to give away. Just name all the managers Steve Bacon has served under at West Ham from John Lyall up to the present day. Email your answer and address to firstname.lastname@example.org and the book will be posted out to the first two people to answer correctly.
Wednesday, September 12
Flying So High: West Ham's Cup Finals from Amazon. Flying So High covers the FA Cup Finals of 1923 (possibly staffed by G4S), 1964, 1975, 1980 and 2006, the classic European Cup Winners' Cup Final of 1965 and the Play-off Finals of 2005 and 2012, which I believe we won. It features Billie the white (actually a grey) horse, Billy Bonds' beard, Trevor Brooking's head, Lionel Scaloni's dodgy clearance, Alan Taylor's goals, Bobby Moore's giant hammer and much more, including West Ham fans in jackets and ties and flat caps, and 1970s white lab coats, plus the chants, programmes and cockney knees-ups inspired by each final. If nothing else it's been an excuse to watch all those games again and enjoy the West Ham fans chanting "Who the f•••ing hell are you?" at Liam Brady as he's interviewed on the pitch before the 1980 FA Cup Final. Flying So High can be downloaded to Kindles, Macs and PCs. Click on the link to get something for nothing…
Tuesday, September 11
Inside the stadium it's really impressive, however. The Olympics crowds proved that it's easy to create a great atmosphere and when Team GB made Gold it was unforgettable. The view is good even from halfway back in the stands and it seemed surprisingly intimate for an 80,000-seater stadium. It's got two big screens and I was excited by the thought of 60,000 fans singing Bubbles in this huge bowl. At night the lighting certainly suggests it will have a special atmosphere. Maybe we could use the Games Makers to high-five fans as they leave too, though maybe not Millwall.
But there's still the problem of the athletics track. At present there's a large gap between the stands and the track. If that could be narrowed and the seating taken right up to the track it could work. Or as the Olympics Opening and Closing ceremonies proved, it seems fairly easy to cover over the track. Could the track and pitch levels be lowered to allow retractable seating? Or at least some deck chairs... The other big plus is that the transport links are superb compared to Upton Park, which would surely help us get 60,000. A further bonus is that the Stadium is now associated with something universally positive. It's a shame the confidentiality clauses don't allow West Ham to reveal what their plans are for conversion, but with such potential I think we have to go for it.
Wednesday, September 5
Andy Carroll's hamstring injury is likely to keep him out for five to six weeks. A big blow but at least with the fortnight's international break it means he'll only miss four games. A good chance for Cole, Maiga and Vaz Te to produce in his absence. Meanwhile the Sun claims that Carroll himself insisted that a clause was inserted in his contract giving Liverpool the option of recalling him in January, so confident was he of proving Brendan Rodgers and the Moneyball men wrong. David Gold for his part says that the contract's details can not be revealed. It would certainly be humiliating for the Liverpool gaffer to recall a striker he was so keen to show the door to, but not impossible. The biggest worry is that Liverpool continue to lose, Rodgers is sacked and a new manager — say Harry Redknapp — immediately wants to recall Carroll. We'll have played 21 games by Jan 1, so let's hope the reborn Geordie has done enough to have cemented West Ham's place in the Premier League by then. But if we can keep him for the whole season then, as Big Sam says, we really can look towards a possible top half finish (or more realistically the top of the bottom mini-league). With Carroll up front it surely takes West Ham up a notch from the level of Villa, Wigan, Norwich, Swansea, Fulham, Reading, Southampton and West Brom.
Monday, September 3
Still in shock at seeing Andy Carroll in a claret and blue shirt and what's more we seem to have stitched up Liverpool, with Brendan Rodgers believing he could sign Clint Dempsey only for the board to fail to offer the required £6 million. A rather worrying revelation in the press today is that Liverpool can recall Carroll in the January window if they choose to, though this would be a big loss of face for Rodgers. Meanwhile Big Sam explained that he offered Carroll the chance to be "a big fish in a small pond" at Upton Park. It's fair to say that West Ham are not as big as Liverpool, though we're not exactly a small pond. More a heated jacuzzi or Premier League hot tub, the sort of thing you might see for sale at an upmarket garden centre on the A127.
Sunday, September 2
A text arrives from Alison in Maldon suggesting ”West Ham with a £35 million player debut AND new Dr Who today! Are you in heaven?” Which makes me wonder if West Ham will now lose 5-0 as it all seems to be going too well. But the day gets off to a good start as my daughters are here on kids for a quid tickets and Lola’s pal Yasmin is at her first West Ham game. We visit the Who Shop in Barking Road pre-game, where lots of Whovians are very excited by the new show being on the red button and Nell picks up a Rory the Centurion Lego figure.
Before the kick-off Jeremy Nicholas introduces Yossi Benayoun and the injured Matt Jarvis to the crowd before playing Twist and Shout and Bubbles. There’s some bloke who needs an alarm clock arriving late in the first minute (hang on it’s Matt, back from the Welsh coast having missed Matthias Fanimo’s debut) but amid all the seat shuffling Collins heads the ball back into the Fulham half and Carroll wins the ball in the air to flick it on Vaz Te who shows good composure to cross for Nolan. The clucking midfielder half volleys home with a great finish and does his obligatory chicken dance. What a start.
It’s a good turn out from our squad, with Matt and Lisa, Nigel and CQ back from cycling round Dutch dykes, Fraser, and Michael the UNIT-membership card carrying Whovian, with the kids for a quid threesome behind us.
The presence of Carroll seems to make every other player raise their game. Big Andy wins another header to set up Diame, whose shot is tipped on to the bar by Schwarzer. Nolan goes close with a lob and then in an intricate passing move (Big Sam will have to knock that out of them) Vaz Te fires just wide. It looks a completely different side to the team that capitulated at Swansea. On 29 minutes we win a corner and Reid powers home a header. Blimey. Two minutes later the Fulham defence are so worried about the presence of Carroll that Hangerland misheads into the path of Taylor who drives his volley into the corner. The Fulham fans splutter into their white wine and start ordering their butlers to prepare for an early departure.
SWEET CARROLL TIME
It’s a great first half. Psychology is often underestimated in football and perhaps Andy Carroll just wants to feel loved. He’s at a club where the fans are excited to have him, the team will play to his strengths and he won’t be dropped every other week. And there’s no £35 million transfer fee to burden him. We have to congratulate the chairmen and Big Sam for being determined enough to get him. My daughter Lola also “likes the way he prances” around the pitch.
Diame has also had a great game, not only winning tackles but getting forward to shoot and showing more skill than you expect from a holding midfielder. While Mark Noble who’s West Ham through and through, makes several finely-timed tackles. James 'Voldemort' Collins is steadier this week and Reid makes several fine interceptions as well as scoring.
Early in the second half Vaz Te wins a free kick and Taylor’s effort pings off Schwarzer. Fulham have a better half and sub Berbatov makes a difference. The enthusiastic Carroll falls awkwardly competing with Hangerland and tweaks a hamstring. It wouldn’t be West Ham is something didn’t go wrong. Still, at least he won't be able to celebrate at Faces or Sugar Hut. Carroll’s cheered off as Cole replaces him. Jaaskalainen makes a fine double save to deny Rodallega and Duff late on, which should be good for his confidence. Even Nigel admits we might have at least a point as we reach 90 minutes without mishap. And for a couple of hours we're in a Champions League spot.
The perfect day is rounded off by a further visit to the museum through the Tardis door in in the Who Shop followed by a visit to the Newham Bookshop and Dr Who returning on tele with the Asylum of the Daleks to which Martin Jol might be admitted, as he is whinging to the press about long-ball goals. We actually played a lot of good football in the first half and as Big Sam says: “In between our ‘long ball three goals’ we outplayed Fulham, that is simple, totally and utterly. If Martin can’t defend properly with his team then he really shouldn’t criticise the way we scored our goals.”