Overly long writings about West Ham United FC. This is the kind of thing you might like, if you like this kind of thing.

Monday, April 24, 2017

West Ham 0 - 0 Everton (And Other Ramblings)

1. The To-Be-Forgotten

In the end, this was the kind of game to make you question your short term memory. I got home and immediately began to worry about why I could barely remember anything of the ninety minutes, before reassuring myself that this was less likely to be due to amnesia and more due to the fact that barely anything happened.

And for those of us who went into this expecting a largely traumatic experience, that was pretty good news.

Matches against Everton - or "make Romelu Lukaku your Fantasy League captain day"  as they are known locally - have been largely depressing affairs for quite some time now, with just two Hammers victories in the last nineteen encounters. These came courtesy of last years burglary at Goodison Park and a Bobby Zamora long range beauty as part of the 2007 Great Escape. Overall, we have just seven wins from forty one Premier League encounters with the Toffees, meaning that there have been more Olympic Games than West Ham victories in this period.

So a draw, and a comfortable one at that, is not to be sniffed at in the context of our historical ineptitude in this fixture. Interestingly the first of those victories came in 1994, when the Sylvester Stallone film Demolition Man was knocking about in cinemas.

Slightly incredibly this movie was partly based on an Aldous Huxley novel, and involved people being cryogenically frozen and then waking up years later in a dystopian future where swearing is outlawed and guns no longer exist, and then loads of stuff explodes because Hollywood.

I'd like to shoehorn some questionable comparison here whereby I imagine waking up a West Ham fan from 1993 and showing them the current lot, but primarily I mention it because I think Arthur Masuaku and Edmilson Fernandes went to the barbers with a picture of Wesley Snipes' character from that film and said "make us look this stupid please".



Apparently, Arthur and Edimilson like them some Demolition Man

2. The Two Men

There was a slight shock before the game when it was announced that Adrian would be replacing Darren Randolph, after the latter managed to concede two goals to a Sunderland team genetically incapable of scoring last week.

In the end we could have put a bag of flour in goal here and kept a clean sheet, so inept were the visitors, but it was somewhat reassuring to have the crazy Spaniard back between the sticks. Things started serenely enough but after a full fifteen minutes of peace he decided that was quite enough of that and signalled that Fernandes should lob a thrown in back to him.

As Lukaku wandered in to close him down with all the intensity of a teenage boy making his bed, Adrian promptly miscontrolled the head high pass, stuck a false moustache on, produced a bowler hat, did a quick mime and put a curly red wig on before finishing his routine up with a knee high lunge at Kevin Mirallas as the Belgian bore down on a open goal.

This was simultaneously heart stopping, as it reminded us all of the slightly frenetic air that always surrounds the Spaniard, and marvellous as this was literally the closest Everton came to scoring all game.

I have felt for a while that Adrian needed to come back in to the team as Randolph seemed not to have that crucial ability to keep us in games by producing big saves at big moments. By contrast, Adrian is unorthodox but effective and if he can revert to last years form it would be a huge boon for these last few games. Whether either will survive the summer is perhaps questionable as Joe Hart ticks all the David Sullivan boxes (heard of him, expensive, possibly in decline, no one else wants him), but in general I think that upgrade would be so marginal that it really wouldn't be worth the cost involved.

3. He Never Expected Much

Ahead of this game it seemed the height of optimism to expect a positive result. Byram and Noble were suspended, while Obiang, Antonio, Carroll, Snodgrass, Feghouli (Our wingers! Our ineffective wingers!) and Ogbonna were all absent with late season West Ham syndrome. This led to a number of youngsters being on the bench and had the effect of making an already deeply unimpressive squad look like they were having a "bring your child to work" day.

But then a funny thing happened - the game started and we weren't terrible. In fact, far from it. This was the kind of determined, "fuck-the-circumstances" type of performance that fans love but West Ham seem to so rarely produce.

Havard Nordtveit was the best player on the pitch, despite a start where he looked as nervous as Ross Barkley in a nightclub. The Norwegian grew into the game and by the end had so thoroughly subdued  Barkley that it's entirely possible he took him home in his back pocket. No mean feat given the Evertonians impressive recent form.

We managed to stop Lukaku from scoring for the first time ever as an Everton player (not an exaggeration), primarily by snuffing out his supply and if that failed by swarming him with rugged centre halves.

The returning Winston Reid was supreme in this role and was ably assisted by Fonte and Collins, each of whom benefited hugely from the extra layer of support provided by the 3-5-2 system. Outside them Masuaku was excellent, in spite of his terrible hair, whilst Fernandes provided the athleticism and near total lack of positional awareness that Bilic seems to demand from his right sided defenders.

As the below shot map from @11tegen11 shows, we were pretty dominant all game without really carving out the one big chance we needed to secure the points. Our best hope was probably a Lanzini effort that was blocked by the excellent Phil Jagielka, quite possibly at the expense of some of his teeth. As for Everton - nil shots on target nil hope, and a big LOL at those shot locations.



Sadly, up front Jonathan Calleri endured an afternoon to consign to the wastepaper basket as he toiled in a lone striker role to no noticeable effect. More than any other player, he seems to visibly lack confidence and will presumably disappear back to the bench once they get the plaster cast off Sakho or Carroll next week.

Behind him, however, Andre Ayew actually started to look the part as he benefited from the lack of mobility in Everton's back four to float around and, startlingly, link our play with some effectiveness. With Lanzini a constant menace, it would be a significant boost if Ayew could step up his play to provide a second player in the final third with the ability to carve out chances. He still seems ponderous at times, and is infuriatingly slow to run at defenders but he worked hard here and his high pressing was one of the reasons that Everton never looked remotely threatening. With all of that being said, he should be leaving the free kicks to Lanzini though.

Still, all things considered, I'm going to take Sam Allardyce's advice and respect the fuck out of that point and order a nice pint of wine to celebrate being a point closer to mid table oblivion.

4. Moments Of Vision

There was a moment in the second half that demands a little commentary all of it's own. Manuel Lanzini - our light in the gloom - picked up the ball on the left and cut inside to loft a pass to Ayew, who in turn flicked it back to him via an aerial backheel.

The Argentine sprinted through in pursuit before pulling another magical Rabona cross from nowhere. Naturally it went in to an empty box because we have no strikers, but in these days of respecting the point and hoping Hull lose at Stoke, it's nice to see some bona fide brilliance from time to time.

I hope the chaps at @westhamsocial won't begrudge me illustrating the point.

5. The Self-Unseeing

Over lunch recently with a friend, we got on to the topic of Ross Barkley's hair. Having stuck rigidly to local law by having the same haircut for 25 years, the youngster has suddenly allowed his locks to grow out a little. We posited the theory that this was due to the arrival of Tom Davies and his long flowing locks and low shin pads. Davies was Barkley's Summer of Love, his sexual revolution, and now young Ross is sporting a barnet like a mushroom and getting knocked out in nightclubs. Good for him - Stevie G will be proud. But somehow, that little act of growing his hair seems to symbolise a new found belief in Barkley and has coincided with a very good season, or had done until this stinker of a performance at least.

I don't have huge amounts of time for the more unscientific side of analysing sport. I have written before of my disdain for the concept of passion, and I subscribe to Mike Atherton's view that "team spirit is an illusion glimpsed in victory". In both cases it strikes me that these are stock phrases used by people to cover up a lack of knowledge or because spouting cliches is far easier than thinking about things.

As an example, it strikes me that quite often James Collins is reduced to making full length diving blocks because of a poor bit of positional play, rather then because he's full of passion. But one is easier to explain than the other, so here we are.

However, one area which I do believe impacts on the game hugely is confidence, both of individuals and a team. At the start of this game, two of our players were obviously struggling - Nordtveit and Calleri - but only one overcame it. Nordtveit is a better, more experienced player and you could see that he wanted to ease himself into the match. He barely attempted anything other than a five yard pass and was robbed at least twice in dangerous positions. But as the game progressed he started to feel his way and by the end of the second half was using his physicality impressively to regain possession in our defensive third, and starting attacks wisely with intelligent use of the ball.

He is actually a more naturally defensive midfielder than any other player we have, and he screened our back three superbly. This solidity has been lacking all season, and it was actually refreshing to see a good performance against a good team being built on such foundations. Although Obiang and Noble offer much going forward, neither of them quite have the positional awareness or physical gifts of Nordtveit and with SARS sweeping through the dressing room, he has a chance to cement a place for the next few games.

By contrast, Calleri looks lost. He looks like a cockney Atlas, with the world on his shoulders except for the fact that if that were true he would have lost possession of it by now. I suspect he'll go on to play elsewhere and have some success. There is the germ of a good player there, but here he just looked unathletic and bereft of any self belief.


The lesser spotted goalscoring Calleri

6. Song Of Hope

Confidence takes many forms and it seems that the team are starting to rediscover some after a long fallow period. Some of that may just be because the some of them are getting fit again and can now trust in their bodies to do what they want them to. It certainly seems to be the case that we have rushed far too many players back from injury and paid the price when they have either had relapses or simply taken an age to get up to speed.

Think of how frustrating it is to try and play a sport with an injury and an unresponsive body, and then multiply that by a million for these men who rely on their health for their living. Fans see a player on the pitch and expect him to be completely fit and capable, without ever really giving any grace and favour period for recovery.

Both Nordtveit and Ayew suffered injuries early on in the season and only now seem to have recovered. Likewise Sakho returned here and looked fairly ginger as he ran around, presumably wondering where the fuck everyone had gone from the last time he played a home game. Aaron Cresswell, meanwhile, doesn't appear to have recovered at all and was only seen here in a late cameo at right wing back because it's required by law that West Ham always have someone in that position who doesn't know how to play there.

That failure to have a fully fit squad has exploded in our face this year as several players without obvious replacements (Byram, Carroll and Ogbonna) got injured, necessitating either panicky transfer business or ludicrous decisions to play people out of position to cover them. When the time comes to fire up Jack Sullivan's Xbox in the summer and search on FIFA 17 for new players, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world to put health as a main criteria for any new purchases.

Ignoring our ongoing fitness travails, however, there was a pleasing solidity to this performance as the players at last looked as though they had some belief in the system they were playing. It was slightly odd that Everton didn't try to exploit the spaces out wide behind the Demolition Men, as this is traditionally how teams nullify wing backs, but without Seamus Coleman they probably lacked the personnel to do so.

Whether this form will continue next week, or survive intact against the better teams to come, is another story but one worth keeping an eye on. For all his flaws, Bilic has successfully got the team able to switch from system to another without much of an issue, and deserves praise for that.

7. The Dead Man Walking

Talking of the manager, this nascent unbeaten run seems like an opportune moment to reflect on his position and wonder whether he will make it all the way to next year. The signs are that he will, although my fears over his tactical shortcomings would lead me to move him on in the summer, given the choice. Which I won’t be. So ignore me.

However, it's a nuanced situation when one considers the vagaries of the stadium move, the Board he has to work for, Payet, the terrible transfers and the oft ignored fact that the top six in the Premier League have absolutely destroyed everybody else this season. You could cogently argue that Bilic himself must take some blame for those issues, but in the end the point here is that all of that stuff has made his job incredibly difficult this season. In the circumstances, perhaps time will show he has done a better job than we are currently acknowledging, although as I write this we have won just once in ten games which still feels very Allardycian.

Perhaps the most galling part is that for so long last year we felt we were on the verge of joining that elite, but the harsh reality is that one misstep in the fast moving world of the Premier League can cost a team badly. Think of Newcastle's tumble from Champions League contenders to Championship runners up, if you need a live example of how hubris and boardroom incompetence can kneecap a promising revolution before it gets any momentum.

Even standing still isn't enough - as Arsenal are finding out now – and the reality is that given our low starting position we have little hope of getting back in touch with the top six any time soon. Indeed, ignoring the evidence of this game, we have a huge job on our hands just to get back in touch with Everton. So the question with Bilic is how much blame must he take for the transfer window and how much do we think he can improve in that area? The sad fact is that none of the other people involved in our summer transfer shambles will pay the price for our failures there, and thus it is Bilic who is always at risk.

As an outsider I would guess that this is probably one of the reasons why Bilic agreed to safety first, uninspired signings this January when we probably needed to push the boat out and try to attract some younger, less rounded players in the hope of later harnessing their upside, as Spurs have done with Dele Alli and Saints have done with Nathan Redmond.

Sullivan and Gold don’t like to fire managers, so I suspect he may get another year. However, as our season will open up with three games on the road next year due to the stadium not being ready after the summer athletics – God bless that track – it will be very difficult to get off to a good start. I can’t help thinking that any hint of a repeat next season will be met with a fairly swift visit to the executioner. 

8. Night In The Old Home

There were some noticeable moments where the atmosphere on Saturday was edging towards decent. In fact, I suspect if you were in one of the noisier hotspots you might even have felt it was pretty good altogether. Sadly, the London Stadium is so large that it has yet to truly ignite and take the whole crowd with it, and it wasn’t about to do that for a game so dreary it could have been written by Ed Sheeran.

But there were signs, as the home fans grew in belief after each minute that ticked past with Lukaku no closer to breaking a sweat, that the general mood was turning a little. There’s no doubt that the stadium can be intermittently loud, but it doesn’t have that same capacity to swell with excitement as Upton Park did. I have a theory that this might be due to the upper tier spectators being divided from the action by an obvious and distracting thirty foot gap, covered by claret tarpaulin, temporary gangways and comatose stewards. But here, in the sun and facing a team on their holidays, there was a hint of life.


For those pining for the Boleyn, this is all grist to the mill, but perhaps the Spurs game on a Friday night might be the spark that sets the whole fire roaring. On the flip side, I’m fairly friendly with a senior Met Police crowd control officer who will be working that night, and when I asked him how he felt about it he went pale, whispered "the horror, the horror" and put his head in his hands. Good ol’ Sky Sports.

9. Leipzig

An interesting conversation from Saturday. 

How much would you be prepared to put up with in the pursuit of glory? For some fans we already know that the stadium move was a leap too far, and they’ve abandoned us – possibly for Leyton Orient, which I imagine is working out well.

But what of the rest of us? Looking at the Premier League, realistically the only way we can dare to dream is with new ownership pushing us upwards with the help of a cash injection and the strategic thinking that is evidently beyond the current board. I won’t go over all the old ground of recent weeks, but events of the last season would suggest that the Board have done a very good job with the balance sheet, but have probably reached a level in terms of team affairs where it has become evident that they don’t have the strategic vision, experience or self-awareness to make the necessary decisions to push the team forward. To be honest, there is no shame in that particularly, but rather more in the failure to internally critique their performance and either hire in people who can do the job or standing aside for new investors.

On that point, remember when the Club announced they had turned down a £650m bid via a teenagers Twitter account, as all top tier businesses tend to do? The assumption at the time was that this was a bid from Red Bull, the Austrian soft drink company who have cornered the market in weird flying events and producing mixers for vodka that can convince middle aged English people to dance at weddings. However, they also do an interesting sideline in footballing ventures, with clubs owned in Austria, the US and most successfully of all, Germany.

There they took SSV Markranst├Ądt, a team from the fifth tier of German football, to the very tip of the Bundesliga. They created enemies all over Germany as they went, as well as renaming the club RB Leipzig. I don’t claim any level of expertise on their rise and would recommendthis as a primer on why they are so hated, but it did make me think a little about how West Ham fans might have taken to such a takeover.

For me, the support of my team has become tarnished by the fact that the very league they play in is determined not have any competitive balance. And I say that knowing full well that West Ham are a well-funded, well supported team who benefit from this in our own way. (Also Leicester - but fuck Leicester as their victory made zero sense). As an example, our general incompetence this year will net us a whopping £90m of TV money while a team like Huddersfield in the tier below won’t pick up even 10% of that, despite being far more successful, relatively. Such is the iniquitous nature of English football.

But to jump up again we need money. Even Spurs, who I laud for their off field thinking, are supplementing that policy with enormous sums of cash. Nowhere the likes of the Manchester clubs, but still many multiples of what a team like Burnley can spend. It’s a rigged casino and the only way to challenge the house is to have more money. So, it’s a worthwhile question to ponder – how much change could we stomach? A new badge and a new ground have already been and gone. No more claret and blue? How about RB West Ham? What about staying as West Ham United but finding Manuel Lanzini has joined RB Leipzig in a cut price deal because they are in the Champions League and we aren’t?


I’d probably need several thousand more words to properly articulate how I feel about all of that, and there isn’t a right and a wrong answer anyway, but if we truly want the investment required to get us to the top trough of English football, at some point we might have to face up to some hard truths. Everything has a cost.


The view from the top tier of the West Stand at the Red Bull Stadium

10. The House Of Hospitalities

I can't finish up without admitting I watched this game from a hospitality suite. This might well render everything I have ever said, or will ever say again, redundant but I don't care - it was ace. I'll happily point out the flaws of West Ham's transfer policy forever, but I won't hear a word against their chocolate orange brownie.

My sincere thanks to Andy Ellis for the invite. I have no qualms at all about saying that the meal was more entertaining than the game.

Monday, April 10, 2017

West Ham 1 - 0 Swansea (And Other Ramblings)

Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream

I have very few good memories of watching football games played in the sunshine. England, of course, play their games of import in the summer and England, of course, disappoint us all in the summer. I'm fairly confident that won't change after Brexit.

But I rather like my football in the dark of winter, with the night closing in and a thin layer of rain making the surface nice and slick. On this, at least, I can agree with Nick Hornby. Bright sunshine just seems to highlight our deficiencies, and usually signifies the end of the season where we are either floundering in our pursuit of success (last year) or staring disaster in the face (every other year).

So I watch this game like I'm watching a dream. I'm so far back and so far up it's like I'm in the clouds anyway. Up here I feel like I'm watching Inception. A dream within a dream. West Ham have barely any decent players - I must be dreaming. Each minute on the pitch lasts an hour in the stands. It's that sort of day.


Far below me, I wonder if Michael Caine is here, or maybe Tom Hardy is riding around on a snow mobile for no discernible reason. Maybe they are attempting to plant the germ of an idea in David Sullivan's psyche. "Let someone else buy the players, David". Christ, I hope so.

It's as near as anybody will get to being entertained on this particular day, when nervousness has settled over the stadium like a blanket being thrown high up over a child's bed and then fluttering down onto the toys below. Hello tension, my old friend.

But days like today aren't about anything other than the result. Pretty football and confident finishing are for those other London teams. We're here for the sweet embrace of mid table mediocrity, and the giddy promise of ninety million more of those television pounds to make it all better. I couldn't care less how we play today, so long as we prevail. It is a day for winning.

Bridge Over Troubled Water

We start nervously, but so do Swansea. The visitors press us high up the pitch and we don't have the wit to cope with it. Our most frequent early pass combination is Randolph smashing it long to Antonio, which eventually ends up with the latter injuring his hamstring. He did this originally in the Leicester game and was expected to miss six weeks. Instead he came back in a fortnight and failed to complete either game he started. It's the West Ham Way.

Most of the early exchanges are tepid, although Swansea break dangerously a couple of times before remembering they are Swansea and wasting the opportunities. Up the other end, it's our biggest home game in years so naturally none of our strikers are fit. In their stead we play wingers as forwards and pray. You'd think someone might pay the price for such incompetence, but you know deep down they won't. That's also The West Ham Way.

When Antonio gets injured Bilic turns around and eventually his gaze rests upon Jonathan Calleri. The young Argentine runs on with the confidence and derring do of a man walking the plank. The guy next to me yells "Come on Julian, score a goal". It's that kind of a day too.

We are playing like a team on a first date, filled with trepidation. Robert Snodgrass was a curious signing, but at least I thought he'd have an immediate impact. Instead he has no confidence at all, visibly wilting as the catcalls inevitably start raining down. It's The West Ham W...urgh, you know what I mean.

I glance at the bench, wondering if reinforcements are likely. Carroll and Sakho can't be trusted to play for an hour so it seems safe to rule them out. Elsewhere my eye falls to Sofiane Feghouli - he of the incriminating photographs - and I am not reassured. I have never seen a footballer do so many things right, whilst simultaneously managing to get them all wrong.

Better stick with the lads on the pitch then.

The Sun Is Burning

The early exchanges aren't worth writing about. Snodgrass nearly scores with a back post header, but Fabianski stops it right on the line. It's as near as we get to cohesive attacking, but in truth we look alright at the other end too. It doesn't hurt that there is more likelihood of an actual swan swimming up the nearby canal and sticking in a shot at goal than any of the ones on the pitch.

The Swansea team look bereft, as though their very essence was ripped out and forever destroyed by the midweek collapse against Spurs. God bless our nearby cousins - we should send them some flowers or, better yet, some lasagna, when they come to visit in a few weeks.

Mark Noble is everywhere. It's his four hundredth appearance for West Ham, which is a lot of futility for one so young. But his badge somehow looks bigger than the others and the shoulders a little broader, for Noble never shirks anything. It's easy to roll your eyes at the "West Ham through and through" stuff, but in the end it's true. The man isn't going to let the occasion pass him by like so many of his team mates are. He still spends too much time going sideways, but just before half time he finally straightens up. At last a little jink, and suddenly the door is ajar. Snodgrass plays it short to Cheikhou Kouyate and I'm finally roused to edge forward in my seat.

The Senegalese is a giant of a man, who runs first and asks questions later. Today he is perpetual motion, and right now he's flying. Swansea help out a lot by continuing to defend like they are unfamiliar with the concept. Would be tacklers split like the Red Arrows and his shot is unerring and tremendous and right in the corner and stick that up your fucking Championship.

As the ball arches into the bottom corner there is a release like no other. Finally we can all breathe out - finally we have something to cling to. At half time people in the concourses are smiling. It's an odd, unfamiliar sensation, like when they play a decent song on Capital FM.

Keep The Customer Satisfied

Our defence will need to improve next year if we're to have any hope of avoiding another season of despair like this one. Reece Oxford seems like he might be the man for that particular job, so at half time I check how he's doing on his loan spell at Reading. They are 6-1 down at Norwich so that's all going swimmingly. I reckon he might think he's dreaming too.

Who knows what was said here at the interval, but I'm guessing it was something along the lines of "Don't concede to this lot - they're appalling". The visitors change things themselves, abandoning the neat, ineffectual passing of Tom Carroll and instead opting to smash it long to Fernando Llorente. I don't blame them - nothing else has worked.

The thing is, we carry James Collins around especially for days like this. He's our air raid shelter - useful when you come under aerial bombardment and not quite what you need the rest of the time. He and Jose Fonte are doing yeoman work. Even though Swansea press forward desperately, they just look hopeless. Our fullbacks aren't venturing upfield very much, and we look almost solid as a result. Arthur Masuaku is prone to dive in a little, but he has an odd serenity to his play that marks him out as a man to watch. I come away impressed, if jittery.

On the other side Sam Byram is coming of age. He is outstanding, and even earns himself a team wide high five when he successfully snuffs out a last minute Gylfi Sigurdsson foray into the box. It's possibly the first time any of his team mates have seen any honest to goodness right backing all year long. He will later leave the ground on crutches, because West Ham.

As the minutes slip by, I find the knot in my stomach growing ever so slightly. I can't see how Swansea are going to score, which probably means they are going to do it any minute. They eventually conjure up a shot, from Luciano Narsingh, which Darren Randolph appears to tip over the bar, and the referee awards a goal kick. I almost wish we could let them have the corner so we can save up that luck for when we might actually need it.

The visitors manage only four efforts at goal all day. They have an xG lower than their mascots. It is a risible performance and I could not care less.

El Condor Pasa (If I Could)

Up the other end we are looking threatening, but the chances keep falling to the players least capable of taking them - Byram, Calleri and Ayew. Two of them are our strikers. I hope you'll join me in a moments silence for this dead, decaying fucking season. I wish I could set it on fire and shove it off down the river on a Viking longboat.

The sun has arched across the sky now and is slowly being impaled on the Canary Wharf skyscrapers, so the shadows are lengthening. Bilic is bent over on the half way line but then he always does that so it's hard to know if he's nervous or not. He gets a word in his ear from the fourth official for venturing outside of his technical area, which is remarkable as it has a bigger square footage than my house.

On comes Feghouli for the disappointed and disappointing Snodgrass. The Algerian actually does some pretty good things, generally immediately followed by something equally less good. I think there is probably a decent player buried inside him somewhere like a Russian doll. Who knows whether he'll stick around long enough to emerge at West Ham, where the only constant is change.

I'm reminded of that opening day win at Arsenal again. Of the eleven who started, only two appear today - Noble and Kouyate. We have been ravaged by injury and poor decision making, but I wish they'd keep some players together for a while and try and build a team. Not these particular players though, mind you. Good ones.

Ayew draws two good saves from Fabianski and Calleri shoots wide after some ludicrous skill from Manuel Lanzini. The diminutive playmaker is central to anything good we intend to do in the future. They should try and build a team around him as the people of Pompeii built their city around Mount Vesuvius. I was ill the week they told us at school what happened there, but I'm sure it was all fine.

On comes Edmilson Fernandes for the last few minutes to shore up the middle. He runs around promisingly, and reminds me that the one area where I think West Ham have done well is to invest in young players. Fernandez, Martinez, Quina, Fletcher, Holland - they are doing a good job at trying to replace the players who should be arriving through our Academy.

Elsewhere Darren Randolph gets booked for time wasting, which renders me speechless having seen Ben Foster in action earlier this season. It doesn't matter. The whistle blows and the low thrum of the crowd becomes a crescendo. Bilic falls to his knees like he's in that old Take That video, and Paul Clement wonders where his team have disappeared to exactly.

El Condor Pasa, Paul - I'd rather be a Hammer than a nail.

James Collins clenches his fist and goes into the crowd to give a child his shirt. Great stuff. It's the action that launches a thousand tweets - almost all of them containing the word "passion". Give me strength.

The Dangling Conversation

I am not sure where all of this leaves Slaven Bilic. I have lost faith in the manager, but I can't find it within me to dislike the man. Seemingly, neither can anyone else, as his name rings round the bowl as the match draws to a close.

I am pleased for him, but worried for the future. There has been nothing in this performance today to suggest that a corner has been turned. We look pretty much just like we have for weeks, but now we have the benefit of playing a team who are somehow worse than us.

Swansea finish the game with Alfie Mawson up front. He sounds like he should have played in this fixture 70 years ago, when we would have won 8-2 and then inexplicably played the reverse fixture two days later and lost 6-1. In the end, Mawson doesn't have any joy either, as he bumps up against the Great Wall of Ginger that we've strung across the back.


To my right sit the Directors, who have to be ashen with fear. Defeat today is unthinkable, but in some ways a victory isn't much better, as it serves only only to highlight the paucity of our success. I feel almost ashamed as I punch the air at the full time whistle. It's Swansea at home in April, and somehow this is game is HUGE. What a fucking shitshow.

I am shocked at the disintegration of our team. Like an elderly relative with an illness, they have declined in front of my eyes and I have barely noticed. How did it ever get to this, where we are relying on Calleri and Ayew to get on the end of chances created by Snodgrass and Feghouli? It's easy to castigate Bilic for the lack of organisation and all those disjointed performances, but what a nonsensical level of turnover he has had to deal with. Plenty of it has been self inflicted, but still it makes his job all the harder.

I believe Gold and Sullivan when they say they don't want to fire Bilic, but they are still marked by their inertia of 2011. Then, they should have jettisoned Avram Grant, but failed to successfully line up a replacement and instead soldiered on until it was too late. Relegation should have been avoided now, but the larger question remains - does Bilic have it in him to get challenge for the Top Four? It feels like a ludicrous way to frame the issue, but Leicester and the new stadium changed the scene. As I watch our front three play here, I am moved to ask the question "Do they all have their laces tied together?" . Champions League football doesn't immediately spring to mind.

The Sound Of Silence

The stadium is a weird place again. The teams emerge to a wall of noise that dissipates quickly in the spring heat. It's a lot of effort to keep optimistic and chant all day, and even the Swansea fans don't manage, unusually for an away following.

I am struck by how few of our players have their own songs nowadays. Antonio gets a couple of rounds, so too Lanzini and then it's back to singing about our goalkeeper from the 1990's. Someone in the West Ham choir sure does like the "Ludo Miklosko/I come from near Moscow" line.

That's mainly it from what I can hear, until a late first half round of "Stand Up If You Love West Ham". This makes sense as buying tickets and attending games isn't enough. You must stand to truly prove your allegiance.

Otherwise it's just a low, nervous hum that reverberates around like a fourth afternoon Test match crowd. People will talk later about the atmosphere, but I'm not really feeling it where I am. Most people sit gnawing their fingernails to the bone, wondering why the clock seems to be frozen. By the time Ayew fails to bury his late chance I've gone past the fingernails and I've chewed off most of my lower arm.



Only when the end is in sight does the noise begin to increase. A small pocket behind me even start chanting about the Spurs game, because some people just want to watch the world burn .

On days like today it’s hard not to pine for the Boleyn. I’m over that particular separation, and I’m certainly done with seeing stage by stage pictures of the old place coming down, but – to paraphrase ol’ Shakey – when she danced, I could really love. Spurs and Ipswich were among those who visibly and memorably wilted when confronted by her charms, but it's hard to imagine that here. But by the same token, just as songs could gather momentum as they rushed around the ground, so too could the negativity. That doesn’t seem to happen in the new place. By and large, the crowd stay with the team today, even allowing for the frustratingly short half lives of most of our attacking moves.

Maybe the crowd will save Bilic, as the Board don’t like being unpopular and firing him would certainly go down poorly with most. I used to think the West Ham crowd was one of the more knowledgeable around, but now I’m not so sure. It feels like we must be fairly easy to dupe if 54 games and fucking off to Everton can make you a cult hero. Paolo di Canio would have a job for life, although we might find ourselves without a manager on some of those trips to the icy far North.

Perhaps it’s me who knows nothing of football. I don’t care about passion, or the perception of effort. I care about what players do, and how they actually play and I like to see a scientific approach being taken to this most emotive and instinctive of games. Maybe I’m depriving myself of something, but I don’t really care. Fist pumping doesn’t win anything, as we're likely to find out when James Collins has to mark Harry Kane in a few short weeks. 

But that's for another day. Far below me, Randolph and Fonte exchange a celebratory hug and briefly look like Turk and JD from Scrubs, which makes me chuckle. I think I’d almost forgotten what it was like to laugh at a football game, so joyless has the experience been lately. I make a vow to myself here and now to try and prise some pleasure from the last few games of this season. 

I’m back to dreaming my peyote dreams again, I think. 

Wednesday Morning, 3AM

Later tonight I will watch Match of the Day for the first time in months, and wonder why I bothered. The euphoria of the win will have gone, the pundits will be underwhelmed and I'll be hit by the sad ennui of realising that 36 points does not a successful season make.

I will spend the rest of my night listening to Simon and Garfunkel, two men with voices so gorgeous you can drink them. I will allow myself to be whisked away to a dream state and try to forget this whole season. We've seen worse, let's be honest, and our grandfathers would probably think us pretty uppity if they heard us whinging about being one point off tenth with a few games to go. Those were men who went to watch West Ham with no dreams of Europe or top four finishes. Indeed, if Pards were to get them t-shirts made up they would doubtless have said "Moore in hope than expectation".

And so I walk out of the ground into the fading sunlight of Saturday London and there is a weight lifted and a curtain lowered. The Arsenal game from Wednesday night is still burning at the back of my mind and I don't think this particular scrappy home win will be enough to erase it. This manager was a shooting star once, but I think he might have burned himself out, and faded and died.

Just, in fact, like my dreams.

Friday, April 07, 2017

Arsenal 3 - 0 West Ham (And Other Ramblings)

1. If You Were There, Beware

Blame Blogger for the lateness of this article. Well, that and the crushing, unrelenting misery of having to write about this game at all. Indeed it was so terrible that most of this piece is just me trying to find ways to avoid talking about what actually happened on the pitch.

In fact, consider this piece to be my version of the following (real) answer given by Donald Trump during his inexplicable 2016 Presidential campaign:

Q: How will you bring back the American Dream?

A: “Look. We can bring the American Dream back. That I will tell you. We’re bringing it back. OK? And I understand what you’re saying. And I get that from so many people. ‘Is the American Dream dead?’ They are asking me the question, ‘Is the American Dream dead?’ And the American Dream is in trouble. That I can tell you. OK? It’s in trouble. But we’re going to get it back and do some real jobs. How about that man with that beautiful red hat? Stand up! Stand up! What a hat!”

This man is now launching Tomahawk missiles, while sitting in his underpants tweeting about TV ratings. Cut me some slack.

2. From The Ritz To The Rubble

It is probably fitting that it ended here.

It was only eighteen months ago, but that 2015 Opening Day victory at The Emirates seems like another lifetime. Back then, all things seemed possible as the veneer had yet to wear off the new manager. Then, Slaven Bilic was a polyglot, master tactician whose primary work had been carried out far from the eye of most West Ham fans and was thus afforded a respect borne largely of ignorance. We didn’t really know if he was good, but his humiliation of Steve Maclaren was still fresh in the mind, and his nascent West Ham team played with a verve and brio that Sam Allardyce wouldn’t or possibly couldn’t countenance. Back then, in the glorious August sunshine, all things seemed possible.

But here, in that same stadium, the Emperor stood naked before us and the truth was evident. We have gone full circle, as those promising new beginnings were finally and incontrovertibly ground to dust in the very same place they were born. Against the worst Arsenal team for two decades, with the home fans restless and our situation perilous, we offered…nothing.

Absolutely nothing, fam.



Heavy hangs the crown these days

Gone is the golden promise of that new start, and indeed most of the team who created it. Instead it is replaced with the harsh glare of this late season relegation reality, headlined by five straight defeats, and a vertiginous drop into a battle for survival that we are absolutely not prepared for. 

I know that these articles are supposed to have humour, but then again so do Jack Whitehall stand up shows. I apologise in advance, but having witnessed this debacle in person I'm not in the mood. It's come to something when the most obvious highlight of the evening was the Arsene Wenger Hokey Cokey song. 

I do promise I'm going to try and make it to ten points, but given that the players haven't managed a single one themselves since the end of February I'm not going to worry about it too much. 

3. When The Sun Goes Down

So what do I mean when I say "it ended"?

It seems clear that Saturday is win or bust for Bilic. This has been heavily leaked by Sullivan to his preferred journalists and fan sites, and in fairness, that makes some sense. Lose on Saturday and Swansea will be within two points of us, with a trip to Sunderland beckoning. There is logic in trying to extract some kind of dead cat bounce before that game, because thereafter we are playing tough fixtures all the way. Already, the chairmen are preparing the ground.

But really, Bilic is as good as gone either way. I've taken a rather cowardly position up to now, by refusing to commit one way of another but having seeing this display it seems clear to me that his position is untenable.

We approached this game like a lower league side playing away in a Cup tie at a big team. Hang in there. Stay tight. Maybe we can nick one from a corner. Maybe the keeper will have the game of his life. Maybe someone will see this article and ask me to write a book. Maybe Hayley Atwell is an avid H List reader and...well, perhaps it's as well my wife doesn't read these.


More chance that she reads this than we had of scoring last night

In the end I'm not sure we performed any more creditably here than non-league Lincoln City did in their cup quarter final. We certainly didn't create any chances as good as they did. Sure, I'm biased, but the Cowley brothers made a better fist of it than Bilic did last night.

Had a Sam Allardyce team turned in such an insipid performance I would have been livid, so I can't very well pretend it's acceptable now. I have no idea how we intended to win this game, but the fact that what little attacking intent we had disappeared as soon as Antonio went off should ring the loudest of alarm bells.

I like the personality that Bilic brings to the job, and I think he has done a good job of pandering to the rather niche whims of the West Ham fanbase. We are fatalistic and romantic, unforgiving and loyal, with a pervading attitude that swings wildly from insanely optimistic to remarkably phlegmatic in the blink of an eye. I can't comment with authority as I don't support anyone else, but that feels like a unique combination and Bilic has managed it well.

But in the end, PR isn't enough. Allardyce never pandered and was never loved but he survived because he kept us above water. Bilic might be passionate (why ever the fuck that's relevant), and he might be "one of us" but when you lose home and away to that shithouse Leicester team it's a pretty good indication that your time is up.

4. Leave Before The Lights Come On

Last night our second half front four cost £54m. Let that sink in for a minute.

It's easy to say that nowadays this is peanuts, but it's not really. There are teams above us in the league who can't even dream of spending that kind of money. The fact that Manchester United spend that on reserve full backs is neither here nor there. The only place we are competing with them is in terms of who has the most clueless board.

To field such an expensively assembled team and be so horribly, painfully uncompetitive is an embarrassment. It's why I see no way back from here for Bilic. His redeeming feature has always been that he has been able to extract battling performances from the under strength teams you always have to field as West Ham manager, due to injury or a poor squad or because someone is on strike.

To my mind, this elevated him above the likes of Allardyce and Curbishley, who so often seemed to have conceded these type of games before they started, preferring instead to keep their powder dry for easier pickings further down the road.

But proper clubs don't do that, and Bilic didn't do it last season. Not once. No backward steps, and no giving up. It was a breath of the freshest air imaginable. But we're barely landing a punch on good teams this year. It's one thing to lose, it's quite another to lose 8-1 on aggregate to an Arsenal team who are playing Granit Xhaka in midfield without even being blackmailed to do so.



We were fucking terrible here. Certainly we defended stoutly enough, but that's the bare minimum that we should expect from our team. Jose Fonte and James Collins have come in for quite a lot of stick for their performances but I thought they did passably well. Certainly there was a lot of Tommies on grenades style defending for the first hour as we clung desperately to parity, like Katie Hopkins telling herself that people really do care what she thinks about anything.

However, if you look at the @11tegen11 pass map above you see something interesting. Our best players using the xG Chain metric were Fonte, Collins and Randolph. What this metric attempts to do is figure out who is creating chances for teams by looking beyond assists and shots. It should tell you everything about our attacking uselessness that our fucking goalkeeper appears on the list.

By contrast, the equivalent Arsenal trio was Mustafa, Elneny and Walcott in case you're wondering, which I suspect you weren't because your head is already on the desk and the tears are already welling up again.

As you can see,  Luis Ayew Morte was again anonymous, existing in the sweet spot between "considering breaking into a sweat" and "getting a good nap in before binge watching Breaking Bad later". He is a man without a position in a world where we desperately need him to be everywhere. Lanzini and Noble battled manfully, but watching us try and create anything was painful. Think Neil Kinnock presenting "Have I Got News For You".

5. A Certain Romance

I'm halfway through and running out of ideas. I'm not sure what to do here so in a homage to our soon to be former manager, I will just use Michail Antonio.


The irony of this sign is not lost on me

6. Cornerstone

What do we do about Andy Carroll? Used properly as a battering ram against weak teams, he is a formidable weapon. On Saturday he ran Hull ragged, and had we not collapsed like a Tory budget in the second half he could have had a hat trick. It was the same at Middlesbrough, at Swansea and against Palace. Against poor teams he is a Sherman tank.

Unfortunately against anyone decent he is proving to be a fish tank.

I'm not even sure that it's his fault. We just don't set up to get the best out of him and this tactical incoherence has been a signature feature of Bilic's reign. When faced with mobile, organised and talented defences I don't see how Carroll can play as a lone striker with nobody near him. In last nights game it was noticeable how he didn't get the extra touch or the brief extra moment to line up a link pass. Instead, Arsenal swarmed him and gave him no way out. With Shrodinger's Ayew dead inside a box somewhere, there wasn't anyone for him to bring into the game, especially in the second half, and as a result we never once looked like we might create a chance, let alone score.

And yet, still we continued to play the same way. Not once did anyone run beyond him, nor overload the flanks in search of the crosses he would presumably thrive on. One has to credit Arsenal for their efficiency in denying those tactics, but wasn't this what we were supposed to have worked on all week? It might be how we would ideally choose to play, but asking him to run the channels is a waste of time. He can't physically do it, and indeed came off here with a groin injury in the second half.

I don't really have an answer to this, as playing a long ball game doesn't seem like it would work terribly well either and also wastes players like Lanzini and Noble. But this isn't working. Playing the exact same style whether we have Carroll, Sakho or Antonio up front seems to be a ludicrous idea. They are manifestly different players. It's almost like asking Apprentice candidates to go on Question Time.

The return of Diafra Sakho is welcome and long overdue, and he marked the occasion by pulling his shorts up as high as it is possible for a human being to have them. At one point I’m fairly certain he missed a header because he got his waistband caught on his beard.

But after major back surgery and only two games all season, it seems fanciful to expect that he will be able to save us. Playing him here after just a week of full training seemed premature, and he barely made any impact. That's fine, as there are bigger challenges ahead, but the prospect of an Antonio, Carroll, Sakho front three at least gives us some hope that we might be able to cover a little more ground up there and retain possession in advanced areas rather better than we have to date. It also promises to give the lads in the Whipps Cross Hospital MRI unit a bit of overtime too, so that’s a nice bonus.

Looking on the bright side, this game with Swansea couldn’t be any bigger, and having Sakho available as a late substitute is a nice luxury. 

7. Do I Wanna Know?

The big problem with dismissing Bilic, whether it happens now or in the summer, is that the same people responsible for all the terrible, impenetrable thinking of the last year will be making the decision on who replaces him.

It's why I find it terrifying that they might be lining up a short term replacement for him after the Swansea game. Just who could they possibly be thinking about? These people who have apparently already agreed a three year deal for 32 year old Pablo Zabaleta despite the fact that they have no idea who their manager will be next year and he is thirty fucking two. These people who somehow spent £18m in January on players we didn't need and still made the team worse.

It boggles my mind that the flawed decision making by the flawed decision makers is never questioned or interrogated. Instead, they blunder on like some sort of Brewster's Millions tribute act, making judgements that no other club in the country is making and then being astonished when it doesn't work out.


The West Ham board enter another negotiation

If they apply the same logic as they do to new players - that they must have Premier League experience - then the pool becomes much smaller. Roberto Mancini is the bookies favourite, but the owners have previous for failing to get big name managerial appointments over the line, with both Martin O'Neill and Rafa Benitez wavering at the last. I'd also throw Guus Hiddink into the mix as someone who Sullivan will have heard of, and who isn't a complete waste of space, but quite why he'd want to lower himself to work for us is a question worth asking.

Clearly the best answer for everyone is that we win on Saturday and pull ourselves away to mid table obscurity, to re-evaluate in the summer. But we're West Ham, and nothing would surprise me less than a miserable home defeat against Swansea. We've been here before, after all.

8. This House Is A Circus

3 1 5 2 0 0 1 1 2 0 1 4 1 2 1 2 3 3 2 3

No, not the amount we spent on agents in January, but the goals conceded by Darren Randolph in his twenty league games since replacing Adrian last year. It felt like a strange decision at the time, but nobody should be assured of his place irrespective of form, and Bilic wanted to shake things up, so fair enough.

But as the Irishman dived over Mesut Ozil's typically lame cross shot, to concede the opening goal here and condemn us to defeat, it continued a pattern of him failing to make big saves when we really need them. It's not that Randolph doesn't make great saves from time to time, it's just that they tend to have no impact on the outcome of games.

He made a wonderful save here from Walcott to keep it to 1-0 but the horse hadn't so much bolted as strolled out of the stable, hitched his wagon to a Bentley and was halfway to David Gold's open house.  And why not - koi carp are a lot more relaxing than watching Sam Byram try and tackle Alexis Sanchez.

So, yeah, enough of this nonsense. When you replace a goalkeeper good enough to get in the Spain squad with a guy who concedes 37 goals in 20 games it's clearly not a great idea. Maybe Adrian won't make any difference because the back four in front of him are imaginary, but let's give it a shot. Continuing with this level of loyalty to a keeper who can't keep a clean sheet smacks of hubris.

9. Perhaps Vampires Is A Bit Strong But...

At some point, I think I'm going to do a piece on our finances, because the company accounts have now been published and make for interesting reading. I don't really know much about company or football finances, but as a lack of knowledge hasn't stopped me thus far, I doubt I'll start getting self aware now. That said, if someone with some actual experience in this field wanted to do it on my behalf, I'd be perfectly happy to cede the floor.

The inspiration for this ill judged foray into the murky morass of our balance sheet was this excellent piece by Charles Richards of The Spurs Report. It may be painful reading in the sense that nobody wants to see Spurs do well, but it's a brilliantly written dissection of the numbers, which gives an awful lot of clarity as to how Spurs are doing what they are doing.

People have mocked me for suggesting that we should be closer to Spurs right now, but there are some interesting things in Charles's piece that at least partially support the theory that they are doing an awful lot with not much more than us.

Take this comparative graph of wages and transfer spend in the relevant 15/16 period. There is a clear gap between the top five and the rest, with Spurs bridging the gap far better than everybody else. Indeed such is the alchemy going on at White Hart Lane that they somehow managed to reduce their spend and improve their team at the same time. It's certainly easier to do that when your youth system is actually delivering you first team players, but there has been huge value in the way they have mined the lower leagues for players like Walker, Rose and most notably, Dele Alli.


But Spurs are a historically bigger and more successful club than us, I hear you shout. And that is of course true, but wasn't it the point of the stadium move that we would now be better placed to bridge this gap? The numbers above actually cover last season, so in a sense you can say we did close the gap, but the problem is that we already know what has happened in 16/17 and the regression has been so bad that we no longer even belong on this chart really.

This shows that our spending has now outstripped Everton (a bellweather team for us), and is within spitting distance of Spurs. So, I say again, when people talk about the board being cheap I don't think they are really seeing the full picture. It's never been about the lack of investment, it's always been about where that investment was made.

Spurs aren't immune of course - Hi Moussa! Hi Vincent! - but their recruitment is so much better than ours that they can afford to spend barely more than us and build a huge new stadium, and still leave us miles behind.

Whilst the board have been quick to lay the blame at the feet of Bilic for the crap new signings, it's also worth pointing out that Karren Brady's annual report carries the following passage:


Be careful about writing things down where people might read them.

The accounts aren't just about wages and transfer fees of course. Per reports from the brilliant @SwissRamble, there are a number of other very interesting points to be extracted:

Our overall revenue of £142m puts us 7th in the league, although quite some way behind 6th place Spurs (£210m). The gap to Leicester in 8th, is just £13m, showing that we are rising to the top of the next rung of clubs rather than truly ascending to join the big boys yet. It will be fascinating to see the impact of the new stadium deal on these numbers next year bearing in mind that we don't get to keep all the profits from every aspect of matchdays any longer.

Our revenue growth is an impressive £21m, which is fourth best in the league and level with Arsenal. Man United's is £120m for context, but don't worry because they'll just spend it all on emojis and Wayne Rooney. I'll get grief again, I imagine, but when people were yelling "Brady Out" and lauding Super Slav on Wednesday night, I did begin to wonder what planet some of you are on.

Our commercial earnings of £28m were also 7th in the league, jointly with Aston Villa who I assume were making their money from a profitable PPI business because they surely couldn't have made any from their football team. Tellingly though, we are still £31m behind 6th placed Spurs, who themselves are miles behind the new Big Five.

Where I am going with all of this is that the Club is in a decent place financially and there is palpable investment being made back into the team. The stadium is separate to this, but in the end I'm fine with retractable seating that doesn't retract - the most West Ham thing ever - if we have strikers who can stay fit and score. In the end, it's all about the team, and a good team papers over a lot of cracks.

So instead of bemoaning the fact that we haven't spent £30m on a single player, it's probably better to be grateful we haven't. These guys probably would spend that much if they could - they'd probably just spend it badly.

10. The View From The Afternoon

No pressure, but please save our season.



How about that man with the beautiful hat? Stand up! Stand up!

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Hull City 2 - 1 West Ham (And Other Ramblings)

“HULL OR HIGH WATER
by
HEADHAMMERSHARK



INT: STUDY

HEADHAMMERSHARK is whirring away uselessly at an iMac with an autocorrect designed by a madman. MARK KERMODE is sitting next to him, his hair perfect and unperturbed since 1984.

MARK KERMODE
Ooh, is this going to be a clever take on renowned Texan thriller “Hell or High Water” from acclaimed British director David Mackenzie?

HEADHAMMERSHARK
I don’t know, I’ve never seen it. I just like the play on words.

MARK KERMODE
I see. What about “Hull Metal Jacket”?

HEADHAMMERSHARK
What does that even mean?

MARK KERMODE
Look, whatever you do, just make sure you set it in a dystopian hellhole that accurately reflects the creaking at the seams of modern day society, like the original.

SMASH CUT TO:

EXT: THE KCOM STADIUM

We are in Hull, UK City of Culture 2017 because of course it is. Many HULL CITY fans are wandering around, smiling pleasantly as a brass band plays in the background. Most WEST HAM fans appear to be as drunk as KERRY KATONA on a morning show. Around the stadium are rows of desolate streets and houses, with poverty writ large across the screen.

MARK KERMODE
Fair play to him, he’s nailed that.

INT: VISITORS CHANGING ROOM, KCOM STADIUM

The changing room is a hive of activity. SAM BYRAM and AARON CRESSWELL are having sun tan lotion rubbed into their shoulders, ANDY CARROLL is booking a booze cruise and ADRIAN is midway through a Dan Brown thriller where the villain will most likely be the same person it always is. JAMES COLLINS is looking for a restaurant serving a full English and showing old episodes of ONLY FOOLS AND HORSES.

SLAVEN BILIC
OK boys! This is it! If we lose today, then we’ll definitely lose at Arsenal on Wednesday which will mean we’ve lost five in a row. For some reason the chairmen have decided six defeats in a row is untenable, even though they employed Avram Grant, so winning today would probably save my job.

JOSE FONTE and ROBERT SNODGRASS
(checking their bank balances)
Count us in! We are definitely motivated by your job security, gaffer whom we have known for three weeks!

SLAVEN BILIC
OK, so the team is: Randolph in goal, the two oldest slowest guys in the middle, Cresswell on the left and Masuaku on the other side as we have no right back.

SAM BYRAM
Hey boss

SLAVEN BILIC
Yeah, it’s a pisser but we just don’t have any right backs at all. I even played Antonio, Nordtveit and Kouyate there earlier in the season. Imagine what a fucking shitshow that was!

SAM BYRAM
Hi boss, I’m right here.

SLAVEN BILIC
So, yep, Arthur on the right.

JULIAN DICKS
Er, Slav, what about playing Byram there?

SLAVEN BILIC
Who?

JULIAN DICKS
The skinny kid with the hair? He’s from Leeds so we all just assumed he was on day release but apparently he’s actually a player.



SLAVEN BILIC
He’s a right back?

JULIAN DICKS
(shrugging, looking at programme notes)
That’s what it says here.

SLAVEN BILIC
OK, whatever. The kid on the right. Holding midfielder is Kouyate with Noble and Lanzini alongside. Ayew and Snodgrass are wide –

In the background SOFIANE FEGHOULI is holding up INCRIMINATING PHOTOS of Bilic.

SLAVEN BILIC
Oh Christ. Yep, sorry. Nobes on the bench and Feghouli goes wide. Carroll up front. Now, seeing as we apparently bought Fonte for leadership qualities, and fans think the captain is really important because most fans are idiots and we need a captain, you’d think it might make sense for me to choose him. So, congratulations Andy Carroll – you’re the new West Ham skipper!

ANDY CARROLL, wearing a Club 18-30 t-shirt, falls off a barstool in the background as the rest of team line up to be called out by the referee.

SLAVEN BILIC
Now remember boys, the script is very clear. We’re playing a shit team away from home at the end of the season. Custom dictates that we dominate the first half and take an early lead, before squandering all other chances to extend that same lead, OK? Then, we allow a second half comeback to gift them an unlikely win and really cement our season as being a complete waste of time. Usually this will require a subtle change of tactics from the opposition, a substitute no one has ever heard of coming on and changing the game and probably goals from two players who've never scored before. Everybody clear? OK, get out there!

MANUEL LANZINI
What script is this that you keep referring to, boss?

SLAVEN BILIC
The one we’re in right now.

MANUEL LANZINI
This is all very meta.

The team exit, with many wearing goggles and with beach towels thrown over their shoulders.

Julian Dicks turns to Edin Terzic

JULIAN DICKS
Was Feghouli in flip flops?

FONTE hangs back to have a word with Bilic.

JOSE FONTE
As I’m not skipper, what should I do boss?

SLAVEN BILIC
Well, definitely don’t get booked before you’ve literally even touched the ball.

CUT TO:

EXT: CENTRE CIRCLE, KCOM STADIUM

Referee MIKE JONES is booking JOSE FONTE before he has LITERALLY even touched the ball.

CUT TO:

EXT: DUGOUT, KCOM STADIUM

Slaven Bilic is pacing around the technical area as his team are dominating Hull City. After an impressive opening, Carroll slips his marker and rifles home the opening goal.

SLAVEN BILIC
He’s like bloody Kryptonite isn’t he? The closer he gets to home, the stronger he is.

EDIN TERZIC
I don’t think that’s how Kryptonite works.

SLAVEN BILIC
It would really have to in order to fit this simile so let’s assume it does. He’s useless in London, but bring him to Middlesbrough or Hull and he’s unstoppable. I’m really excited about our away game at Newcastle next year.

EDIN TERZIC
But they’re coming up aren’t they?

CUT TO:

EXT: KCOM STADIUM AWAY END

There are West Ham fans everywhere. HEADHAMMERSHARK is stood mere feet from the HULL fans. Behind him are some fellow Hammers who have devoted quite some time and money to BOLIVIAN MARCHING POWDER on the way up. It is like a scene from Apocalypse Now, but with more STONE ISLAND. There is a WOMAN in the home end.

DRUNK WEST HAM FANS
She’s got chlamydia, she’s got chlamydia

HEADHAMMERSHARK
Wait, why are we singing this?

EVEN DRUNKER WEST HAM FAN
Because of our famous Cockney wit, and also because she has committed the unpardonable sin of attending a football game whilst being a woman and must be put in her place. Bantz, LOLZ, locker room talk.

HEADHAMMERSHARK
Am I in an episode of Life on Mars or something?

DRUNK WEST HAM FANS
She’s got chlamydia, she’s got chlamydia

HEADHAMMERSHARK
There is absolutely no way that this will rebound spectacularly at any point. No sirree.

EVEN DRUNKER WEST HAM FAN
(to some Hull fan four feet away)
You mug! How do you like this? We pay your benefits! Hahahahaha

HEADHAMMERSHARK
No sirree.

CUT TO:

INT: KCOM STADIUM, VISITORS CHANGING ROOM

SLAVEN BILIC
Great half lads. You’ve followed the script perfectly. Hull really are absolutely terrible, but you’ve only scored once despite being demonstrably the better side. Now, we need to follow the script so-

DAVID and JACK SULLIVAN come wandering into the changing room.

DAVID SULLIVAN
I’m really sorry to interrupt, Slaven, but I wanted to let you know that despite me having no formal involvement in transfers unless they are a success, we’re readying a three year contract offer for Pablo Zabaleta. He ticks a lot of boxes for me as he’s in Jack’s fantasy football team, I’ve heard of him before, and nobody else sane wants to buy him so I can get into a bidding war with myself.

SLAVEN BILIC
This isn’t a great time, to be honest Mr Chairman, but can I suggest we keep it under wraps for now and perhaps revisit on Monday?

Meanwhile, Jack is tweeting in the background.

DAVID SULLIVAN
Sure, no worries, it won’t leave this room.

Several phones begin beeping around the room as news of the Zabaleta bid flashes up on several preferred West Ham websites and media outlets.

DAVID SULLIVAN
I have absolutely no idea how that keeps happening.

They leave.

SLAVEN BILIC
OK, so as I was saying, we really need to stick to the script-

DAVID GOLD enters the room.



DAVID GOLD
Hi everyone, I’m David Gold. You might remember me from such other scripts as “Did you know I lived at 442 Green Street?” and “Come and see my gardens, everyone!”

SLAVEN BILIC
Sure, Mr Chairman, hi. I’m a little busy preparing my team to throw away three points.

DAVID GOLD
Of course, it’s the West Ham Way! I just wanted to let you know that myself and my fellow board members are going to put out a strongly worded statement in support of you tomorrow. I really can’t fathom where all these rumours about your position are coming from.

KARREN BRADY
(comes charging into the room)
David, can I just get you to quickly sign off on today’s Mediawatch? It has three stories about a new manager including one about Jaap Stam because Slaven parked in my space this morning and pissed me off.

Gold looks embarrassed and starts to shuffle out of the room.

DAVID GOLD
Karren, for fucks sake, you couldn’t have picked a worse time. All the best boys, especially you Sofiane – playing in Crocs, well I never. I wouldn’t have got away with that at West Ham boys when I was 15. All the best. dg

They leave.

SLAVEN BILIC
OK lads, we’re running out of time, but we quickly need to change our tactics.

MANUEL LANZINI
Why would we do that?

SLAVEN BILIC
It’s in the script Manuel. So, from now on, even though Andy’s been terrorising them like an EU passport with a Brexiteer, we’re going to aim all our crosses at Feghouli for him to head in at the far post.

MANUEL LANZINI
All of them?

SLAVEN BILIC
ABSOLUTELY ALL OF THEM!

SOFIANE FEGHOULI
What is “heading”?

In the background, Lanzini receives a WhatsApp message from Dimitri Payet with links to available houses in the Marseille area.

CUT TO:

EXT:  TOUCHLINE, KCOM STADIUM

KAMIL GROSICKI is introduced as a substitute. Literally nobody has ever heard of him before, so no West Ham player attempts to tackle him for the next forty five minutes.

CUT TO:

EXT: WEST HAM PENALTY AREA, KCOM STADIUM

JAMES COLLINS bumps shoulders with HARRY MAGUIRE. The latter falls over like someone has LEFT THE BAR HATCH OPEN

JAMES COLLINS
That’s the sort of shit I’ve been looking for! Del Boy fell over and Trigger made a face!

HARRY MAGUIRE
My eyes, my eyes! Forsooth, how can thou deny me a penalty? I have been most grievously injur'd!

MIKE JONES
Harry, look at the size of you, for fucks sake. If I stuck a bit of cladding around your arse and cemented you into the ground in Notting Hill I could get £850,000 for you.

MARCO SILVA
(going batshit crazy)
Vengeance, will be mine!

SLAVEN BILIC
Calm down, Marco. Give it a minute mate.

CUT TO:

EXT: WEST HAM PENALTY AREA, KCOM STADIUM A MINUTE LATER

ANDREW ROBERTSON is advancing into the area somewhat menacingly. Fonte and Byram are doing the MACARENA by a barbecue, and DARREN RANDOLPH is hastily scrambling up from his beach towel.

ANDREW ROBERTSON
Behold! I am the son of Robert, and I bite my thumb at you sir.

SAM BYRAM
Should one of us try and tackle him?

JOSE FONTE
Maybe, but he’s really Feghuoli’s man.

They peer through binoculars to see Feghouli miles upfield buying a fake Rolex from a guy on the beach.

JOSE FONTE
Yeah, maybe we sh-

Robertson scores from a Grosicki pass. This is so predictable that Mark Kermode gives it a ONE STAR review because the plot twist could be seen A MILE OFF.



CUT TO:

EXT: WEST HAM TECHNICAL AREA, KCOM STADIUM

SLAVEN BILIC
I wonder if I should change my tactics?

CUT TO:

EXT: HULL CITY PENALTY AREA, KCOM STADIUM

A SUCCESSION of crosses arrive at the back post for Feghouli. He puts them all wide with a variety of beach tools, including once with a SWINGBALL racquet and once with a SURFBOARD. He is now wearing FLIPPERS.

CUT TO:

EXT: WEST HAM TECHNICAL AREA, KCOM STADIUM

EDIN TERZIC
God no, you're fine.

CUT TO:

EXT: WEST HAM PENALTY AREA, KCOM STADIUM

ALFRED N'DIAYE hits the post from 10 yards out. Randolph nearly saves it before remembering he doesn't save anything.

SLAVEN BILIC
I wonder if I should change my tactics?

CUT TO:

EXT: WEST HAM TECHNICAL AREA, KCOM STADIUM

Bilic is readying a substitution. The number 7 is flashed on the board. Feghouli sees this and holds up an incriminating picture of Bilic.

EDIN TERZIC
For fucks sake

SLAVEN BILIC
Sorry Sofiane. 

The board is changed. Off comes Snodgrass.

ROBERT SNODGRASS
How did I do boss? Did I do what you asked?

SLAVEN BILIC
Show everybody that £10m really doesn't get you much these days? You betcha!

CUT TO:

EXT: WEST HAM PENALTY AREA, KCOM STADIUM

ANDREA RANOCCHIA comes striding into the box. Several West Ham defenders are engaged in a game of beach cricket.

ANDREA RANOCCHIA
Behold! I am Ranocchia, destroyer of worlds. Alack! I have not troubled the scorers verily but here I am, as unlikely a scorer as e'er there was!

MANUEL LANZINI
Why do all the Hull players talk like Shakespeare characters, but as though the writer doesn't have any grasp of Shakespearean language at all?

ARTHUR MASUAKU
City of culture, innit?

MANUEL LANZINI
I can't wait until I get to Marseille. 

JOSE FONTE
Hey Cheik - can you mark Ranocchia? Seems like one of us should.

CHEIKHOU KOUYATE is struggling to erect a parasol, Masuaku rushes to help him. Randolph is playing BADMINTON. Ranocchia heads in the winner. 

SLAVEN BILIC
I wonder if I should change my tactics?

CUT TO:

EXT: WEST HAM TECHNICAL AREA, KCOM STADIUM

Bilic is looking around for a substitute. He settles on JONATHAN CALLERI, who is lying on a sun lounger, wearing a MANKINI. 

SLAVEN BILIC
Jesus Christ, did you even bring any boots?

Behind him, the fourth official holds up the board to show six minutes of injury time.

MARCO SILVA
(going batshit crazy)
Where the fuck did you get six minutes from? My goalkeeper just spent five minutes pretending to be injured so I simply cannot understand where this time has come from.

On the pitch, another cross makes its way to the Hull back post where Feghouli heads it wide. 

CUT TO:

EXT: KCOM STADIUM AWAY END

Hull fans are giving it plenty, shockingly. This is making West Ham fans VERY ANGRY.

DRUNK WEST HAM FANS
We taunted you mercilessly when we were winning and now you're doing the same to us. This is OUTRAGEOUS. We demand physical combat, now. 

POLICE OFFICER
I'm throwing you out.

EVEN MORE DRUNK WEST HAM FAN
But I want to fight them!

POLICE OFFICER
You can fight them outside.

EVEN MORE DRUNK WEST HAM FAN
Brilliant - wait, what?

Several West Ham fans are ejected. Nobody fights anybody. It's almost as though it was all just the posturing of teenagers.

CUT TO:

EXT: CENTRE CIRCLE, KCOM STADIUM

ANDRE AYEW is here. He has yet to touch the ball. 

CUT TO:

EXT: HULL PENALTY AREA, KCOM STADIUM

Manuel Lanzini is here, still wriggling his little heart out. Andy Carroll is also here, still destroying Hull central defenders. Another cross inexplicably makes its way to Feghouli. 

SOFIANE FEGHOULI
You would think that having played in Spain for many years, and being a clearly very talented footballer that I would be able to head this football.
(punctures it with a speargun)
Huh, well you'd be wrong. 



The final whistle blows. West Ham fans launch into a chorus of "Super Slav" because he has lots of PASSION. 

A final cross arrives at the back post. Feghouli heads it wide. 

THE END