Wednesday, March 28, 2007
At exactly 12.32pm on Saturday I was giggling away as Gianluca Pazzini walloped in the first ever goal at the new Wembley. Naturally he was being marked by a West Ham centre half at the time but it amused me none the less.
What surprised me most about the new Wembley was not the padded seats, the Somme like pitch or the Seafood and Champagne bar (although that was something of a shock) but rather the people inhabiting the stadium.
I was surrounded by thousands of what I could only describe as "young people". Now Mama Shark insists that I too was once an infant but I can't remember it. Anyway, had aliens landed at Wembley on Saturday, were it not for the game of football going on, they would have assumed that this was some sort of Fake Jamaican Accent Convention.
Or, as I believe they like to be known, 'The National Association of Innit'.
2. The Game
Starting with the Under-21 game first then. This was rather like watching a training game, to nobody's great surprise.
The Italians were significantly better than England, employing the highly unusual tactic of passing and moving. England were somewhat lacklustre, with only David Bentley really displaying an international class technique. But he looks like the sort of chap who doesn't return his library books so I hold that against him.
Alarmingly there were several English players on the pitch who looked simply clueless against the swift, highly skilled Italian attackers. Certainly not least amongst equals were our very own Anton Ferdinand and Nigel Reo-Coker. Ferdinand, especially was woeful. Perhaps his nan was ill again.
3. The Evening Blues: Israel 0 - 0 England
Tel Aviv was a laugh wasn't it? The only thing that surprises me about England anymore is that anyone is surprised at all.
Look at the players: Andy Johnson, Phil Neville, Paul Robinson, Jamie Carragher (at left back), Aaron Lennon (at left midfield) - these are not international class footballers.
Look at the manager: Here is a man whose Middlesbrough team were so dull that local children used to deliberately get sent to detention on Saturday's so they didn't have to go and watch the crap on display at The Riverside.
Be still my beating heart.
4. The Middle 8
Interesting to see the rest of the country catching up on the Francis Lampard bandwagon and throwing themselves headlong on to it.
By my reckoning Lampard in an England shirt has now reverted to being the player he was at West Ham. A near useless central playmaker whose only contribution is to take up good attacking positions and score the occasional goal. Unlike at Chelsea, where the team are dominant and he has Essien to do all his running and Makalele to do all of his defensive work, this England team are middling at best.
With so little creativity, England require a player in the central role who makes things happen rather than reacting to them. For all his undeniable talents, this is not Lampard. There is a fellow at Liverpool who might fit the bill, but we're busy marooning him on the right.
5. Department Of Delusion : Part 342
Andy Johnson is a better option for England than Jermain Defoe.
Possibly the maddest decision taken by an Englishman since someone decided to try and set the River Thames on fire to celebrate the Millennium.
6. Trying To Open The Andorra: Andorra 0 - 3 England
Like a school bully smashing up the little kid at the back of the bike shed, this was a thoroughly unrewarding victory.
The absence of Lampard allowed Gerrard the dominant central role that I've been demanding since 2 paragraphs ago, and look how it paid off. If only Maclaren read The H List.
I will reiterate my earlier point however. It seems churlish to me to question the players desire to represent their country. One does not reach international level without having a near maniacal thirst for personal success.
Therefore, for instance, I do not hold Stewart Downing responsible for his continued ineptness. I'm sure he cares, I'm just equally sure that it's irrelevant because he appears to have no control over his feet. Even more sadly, he may actually be the best option we currently have on the left which is indicative of the gradual lowering of quality required to be an England international in recent years.
7. Why Gerrard Should Be Captain
Exhibit A your honour. Not that two goals against Andorra should be anybody's job application but I have been stating for some time now that John Terry shouldn't be in England's team, let alone the captain.
Shouting loudly at your team mates whilst being continually turned inside out by international class strikers does not a skipper make. I'd rather hitch my wagon to the man who inspired the comeback at Istanbul and then made me cry for a fortnight last May.
Why we haven't made Gerrard the centrepiece of our national team for the past 5 years is a mystery. Instead Maclaren seems determined to shoehorn in as many 'big name' players (and Downing) as he can, in a vain attempt to replace tactical nous with Premiership derring do. And look how well it's working.
8. Your Summer Plans For 2008
You might want to get into cricket and Wimbledon innit.
Sunday, March 18, 2007
"Win" - verb (used without object)
1. to finish first in a race, contest, or the like.
2. to succeed by striving or effort:
3. to gain the victory; overcome an adversary.
I'm not so sure about the effort bit but there you go.
2. How It Happened
Another day, another abject away defeat. What a great half time talk from Curbs, splendid defending, they'll get their customary poxy second goal soon, when did Etherington come on? Hang on a minute, that's a penalty! That's a penalty! He'll miss, it's West Ham. He scored, Christ, the world's gone all Mariah Carey, That linesman is eagle eyed, hang on, how the hell did we not score there? We did score? How, when? Wait, who cares? God bless the Soviet bloc and their legacy to linesmen everywhere. 4 minutes? We'll never hold on, my heart can't take it. Just blow the whistle!
3. Those Inspirational Messages
Here is a very interesting statistic. Since Alan Curbishley took over we have conceded 27 league goals in 13 games. "That's a very weird definition of interesting" I hear you say.
Well, what's most interesting (or disturbing) about that fact is that no less than 7 of those goals have come in the 15 minutes immediately after half time.
So, essentially a quarter of the goals we have conceded have come just after our inspirational leader has had the chance to rally his troops. I must say I find that interesting.
It's not all his fault I suppose. I'm pretty sure that he didn't say to Marlon Harewood on Saturday - "Hey Marlon, when we're marking up at corners, make sure you fall asleep whilst standing up. No harm can come of that".
4. The Statistics
We had 53% possession and turned that into 7 shots on target, as opposed to Blackburn's 3. Why do I feel like we were rubbish for 70 minutes then? Ah, the vagaries of being a football fan.
Clearly the best statistic of the day is that Bobby Zamora had 4 shots on target, none of which went in, and still scored a goal. Hurrah for myopia!
Marlon Harewood also committed 5 fouls which must be some sort of somnambulant record. He'll have to take pills for sleepfouling.
5. The Opposition
Maybe Blackburn normally play a bit better than this but I thought they were woeful. Any team that can only muster three attempts on target against our defence just isn't trying hard enough.
Mark Hughes was understandably miffed at the end. There were a couple of minor refereeing decisions that went against his team but come on Mark - who or what is a Matt Derbyshire and what was he doing in the middle of a professional football game on Saturday. (Same question for Alan Curbishley, just replacing "Derbyshire" with "Etherington").
6. The Referee
7. OK, Maybe Not
Howard Webb has come in for quite a bit of criticism since Saturday but in truth it should be directed at his assistant Jim Devine who bizarrely allowed Zamora goal's despite a myriad of reasons not to do so, foremost of which being that it didn't cross the line.
That said, I thought the penalty decision was correct and that Tevez was clearly clipped. Had it been Steven Gerrard or Michael Owen in that scenario it wouldn't even have been second guessed as they are "honest" players (read: English).
The sending off of David Bentley was certainly pedantic but I have chosen to view it as some sort of karmic punishment for those shocking haircuts he used to showcase at Arsenal.
I found Curbishley's take on it all enlightening - "When you're down the bottom sometimes those decisions go either way". All well and good, but that does tend to imply that there are some decisions which don't go either way, does it not?
8. Hats Off
I am not a man who apologises often (There are those who would say that the previous sentence need not have continued after the first five words, but they'd be wrong). Therefore, a big well done to Alan Curbishley whose team selection was right and whose decision to introduce Mullins in place of the labouring Noble was the turning point in our performance.
Well done too - Lucas Neill, James Collins, Hayden Mullins, Bobby Zamora and especially, Carlos Tevez.
9. Hats On
Matt Etherington, Marlon Harewood, Nigel Reo-Coker, Anton Ferdinand - hmmm, where have I heard those names altogether before?
10. Ever Onwards
The cruel nature of football means that not only did Charlton win on Sunday, but our next fixture is on March 31 at home to Middlesbrough, which gives the most boring opponent in the Premiership a two week build up. I can hear all of you out there shouting "Villa", "Fulham" and "Watford" but in terms of pure dullness it's tough to top 'Boro.
Needless to say, you won't have to be bothering yourself with questions of that nature next season.
Token Michael Dawson Slaughtering
Great to see that rather than risk passing to Big 'Ol Useless Mike when he is within visual range of his goal, Paul Robinson has instead elected to simply start shooting from 95 yards instead.
Friday, March 16, 2007
We always lose at Blackburn.
As sure as night follows day and James Blunt's next single will be an affront to your ears, we will lose tomorrow. Don't meditate on a bad thing. We were relegated long ago and the more you invest emotionally in the rest of this season, the more difficult it will be to take when we go down after a shattering 3-0 defeat at Wigan.
2. The Pride Before The Fall
Anton Ferdinand has apparently been forced to apologise to the entire squad for his ever so slightly odd decision to lie about going to see his sick Granny in the Isle of Wight, and instead going to South Carolina on a jolly up.
Aside from the fact that a storyline like that would be rejected by Footballers Wives on the grounds that it's too unrealistic, there is more sinister side to the whole affair.
Apparently his two week wage fine amounted to £40,000.
West Ham and the Oxford English dictionary - the only two places in the world where reward comes before success.
3. The Blitz Spirit
"I'm not worried about a points deduction" says ever chirpy livewire, Alan Curbishley "We have to win some first". And that's just the kind of attitude that explains why we're not all speaking German , eh?
4. The History
We actually played quite well at Ewood Park last season. We still lost, naturally, but it wasn't our customary abject capitulation. The last West Ham player to score a winning league goal at Blackburn was Lee Chapman. Oh, how we laughed.
Of course Blackburn will forever be remembered as the ground where we lost 7-1 in 2001/02. This coming a week after Roeder promised an improvement on the previous Saturday's 5-0 defeat at Everton. I can't work out if the 1 goal scored means it was a better or worse result.
Of course the question you're all dying to ask is "Hey Shark, when was the last time we did the double over Blackburn?" - and the answer, of course, is the tremendously obvious one of 1966.
5. The Opposition
Blackburn are one of those teams who you ignore and pay absolutely no attention to until you realise you have to play them and that they are in the mix for a UEFA Cup spot. They have lots of players who are anonymously pretty good with the likes of Benni McCarthy and Ryan Nelsen being primary examples.
All that being true doesn't mean that they are not eminently beatable. Just not by us.
6. Moan About The House
Rumours abound (do they ever do anything else?) that Nigel Reo Coker might return to the team tomorrow after his suspension, but that Lucas Neill will retain the captaincy. Whether this will any impact on the rest of the team remains to be seen but it will be warmly received by the travelling fans at least.
Of course, there would be plenty out there who would argue that Mark Noble did more in the first half against tottenham alone than Reo-Coker has done all year and that the latter should have no chance at all of returning. And I would be among them. The danger of course being that Reo-Coker would doubtless sulk for the entire journey up to Blackburn. Which is quite a long one.
7. Neill Down?
I'll bet that Lucas Neill gets a toasty reception tomorrow. It's tough to think that Blackburn's fan will be all that enamoured of a player who defected from their European charge and joined the bottom of the table doormat for the rest of the Premiership.
What's weirder still is that he allegedly is prepared to stay and play in the Championship next year.
8. Some Things Never Change
A poor start, a modest semi recovery before a spectacular implosion and decline. Marvellous to see that I can still write exactly the same about the England cricket team as I can about West Ham's season.
Thursday, March 08, 2007
Eons ago I thought to myself that it might be quite fun to write a weekly column about West Ham. Here was a chance to mock the rest of the Premier League, wage a ridiculous hate campaign against Michael Dawson and watch us meander to 11th in the table whilst filing away the general concept of Nigel Quashie in the drawer marked "Insane".
Bet you all want my hot tip for the Grand National now.
A couple of Alan's and a biscuit magnate later we're rooted to the bottom of the league staring longingly up at Watford. Which is one hell of a fall from grace.
Anyway, my original plan was to try and focus on some of the statistical points of interest throughout the season. With that in mind I thought I'd write this interim column whilst we await the infernal torture that will be our next fixture.
Some interesting numbers for you, they relate to the Premiership only:
21 - total number of goals scored by West Ham this season
28 - combined number of goals scored by Didier Drogba and Francis Lampard this season
4 - total away goals scored by West Ham all season
4 - total goals scored by Reading in their last 3 away games
8 - goals scored by Gareth Barry
7 - combined goals scored by Marlon Harewood, Carlton Cole, Kepa, Carlos Tevez and Teddy Sheringham
50 - goals conceded by West Ham this year
38 - combined goals conceded by Man United and Chelsea this year
(So in short we score too few and concede too many. Quite the detective am I)
125 - number of days between Bobby Zamora's 5th and 6th goals of the season
2 - number of seconds it took Bobby Zamora to cup his ear to the crowd after scoring that goal
34,696 - West Ham's average attendance this season
34,844 - Chelsea's average Champions League home attendance for games against anyone other than Barcelona (they are a massive club though - Peter Kenyon says so)
1 - the number of times West Ham have won back to back games this season
0 - the number of times Man Utd have lost back to back games this season
11 - away games without scoring for West Ham this year
1 - away games without scoring for Man Utd this year (at West Ham, naturally)
4 - clean sheets kept by West Ham this season
8 - clean sheets kept by defensive titans Charlton this season
6 - points gained by Alan Curbishley for West Ham
12 - points gained by Alan Pardew for Charlton
c£30m - profit made by Terence Brown from the sale of West Ham
£0 - initial investment made by Terence Brown in West Ham (he was loaned the money by the Cearns family in exchange for getting abused by the fans in their place)
40 - minutes played by Matthew Upson since joining West Ham
£150,000 - cost per minute of that contribution (based on a £6m transfer fee)
It's tough to see why we're going down isn't it........
Sunday, March 04, 2007
There really is only so much a man can take. If the Americans were inflicting this kind of mental torture on the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay they would definitely be had up in front of the War Crimes commission at Nuremberg.
I've longed since consigned this season to the wastebasket but I could seriously do without West Ham kicking the crap out of my psyche on the way there. We're all in agreement -we are a Championship side. With that in mind could we just revert to the prototypical abject 2-0 defeats that we're all so used to, please?
After all, it ain't the disappointment that kills you, it's the hope.
2. The Write Stuff
Read this and weep - http://observer.guardian.co.uk/sport/story/0,,2026282,00.html. If even half of this stuff is true then it would seem to explain the unending flurry of tripe we've been subjected to this year.
It's hardly going to be a major surprise to any West Ham fan with a laptop and a cerebrum that there are huge problems in the dressing room but to have it all so publicly dissected in this manner is getting fairly dull.
I think we all get it. They're a bunch of ill disciplined clowns who are trampling all over the best traditions of the club we all love. We're all very proud.
3. In Sickness And In Health
I cannot say enough about our medical staff. Using the pioneering methods made famous by Dr Harold Shipman they managed to keep Matthew Upson on the pitch for an entire 11 minutes.
At this rate he'll have played nearly a whole game for us by the time he leaves in the summer.
4. The Statistics
I think we should whistle right on by the actual scoreline, seeing as how I'm liable to burst in to tears if I analyse it again. We had 53% possession and both teams had 14 attempts on goal. In all a draw would probably have been a fair result but this is us and they are them and that's pretty much been the script for quite some time now.
Had this performance been turned in even 2 games ago I might have believed that it could be translated into some sort of actual fight against relegation but as it stands it's simply a large rusty nail being emphatically whacked into our coffin.
5. The Referee
Infuriating. I'm several miles past blaming referees for our continued ineptitude but Mike Dean didn't help matters today.
He gave 6 yellow cards to us and just 1 to tottenham despite some fairly hefty tackling on both sides. Indeed, "England's" Michael Dawson spent 90 minutes hacking several lumps out of Carlos Tevez whilst conceding just one foul. Ironically that one was probably an incorrect decision and Tevez duly whacked in the resulting free kick. Which was mildly enjoyed by us all. .
6. The Opposition
tottenham are really just an average Premiership team with some above average players up front. Berbatov and Lennon are class. Ghaly and Jenas are an embarrassment to the concept of professionalism in modern football. The man who really changed the game was Tom Huddlestone, whose impressive array of passing skills was the key to tottenham's second half revival.
Well, that and the interesting mix of injuries, substitutions and stupidity that left us with 4 strikers on the pitch at full time.
Still it must have been a nice novelty for their fans to attend a match where the home fans actually make some noise and where the home goal keeper is international class.
7. A Noble Quest
In the main there isn't a great deal of prescience to this column but I can't help but feel slightly vindicated as a result of Mark Noble's performance today. After a season of watching under performing egotists being selected ahead of him it was great to see him seize his chance with a high class goal and first half display.
It was a shame that he fell away in the second half due to the introduction of Huddlestone and a lack of match practice, but that's not really surprising given that this was his first league start of the season.
I would hope that the likes of Reo-Coker, Harewood and Ferdinand are currently feeling totally ashamed that it took a teenager to spark us into action rather than our "established" Premiership stars. I might just pop down to Faces and see if they are.
8. Music For Every Situation
To the tune of Volare:
I laughed myself to bits
When tottenham got the shits
Some of you fellows are wasted on the terraces.
And one for Curbishley himself (shamelessly stolen from "In The Brown Stuff"). Morrissey was a man of great foresight:
I was looking for a job and then I found a job
And heaven knows I'm miserable now
I think we all know how you feel brother.
9. Silver Linings
Carlos Tevez and his celebration.
Which is otherwise known as Olympic class straw clutching.
By the way, what was that half time entertainment all about? Putting two Chinamen up a stick just seems odd and possibly illegal to me.
10. I Just Can't Manage Anymore
Poor old Curbishley. I came away from this game seething like the rest of you but it seems futile to continue pointing fingers. Curbishley's flaws are many but it wasn't him who made the ill judged tackle on Lennon, or pretended to go and see his nan and instead went to South Carolina (!) for a booze up.
He's been left with a squad of players so removed from reality that I can only imagine how one goes about trying to instill some sort of unity and purpose.
Of course, what's even madder is that he was on the shortlist for the England job. And lost to Steve Maclaren.
Token Michael Dawson Slaughtering
Stone me if I couldn't actually tell the difference between the completely immobile 15 foot Chinese mascot at half time and big old useless Mike. I haven''t seen that many useless hoof's since I last bet on the Grand National.
Friday, March 02, 2007
And so I'm back. Sadly the overweight soprano is well into her second aria, the good galleon "West Ham" is several leagues under the ocean and the Champion Hurdler has long since bolted the livery. In short, people, we are doomed.
Many thanks to those who wrote previews and reports whilst I was away. We didn't manage to get one done for Charlton but in fairness I think we'd all like to pretend that game never happened.
Fantastically, we're not bottom. I have decided that unceasing positivity is the key to not going mad between now and our Easter relegation.
(Which just goes to prove the folly of starting these previews before Saturday's games)
2. A Sign Of The Times
Rural New Zealand takes much the same view of the Internet as it does of road signs. So neither are very prevalent. Truthfully though, it has been merciful to be in the dark for the last month or so.
I did manage to read one very telling quote from Carlos Tevez whilst I was away. He stated that Curbishley hardly ever spoke to him. Instead he simply pinned the set piece formations up on the notice board and the players all had to go and read them when they were free.
When you think about it fully, this is a fairly stunning revelation. I have been a season ticket holder for many years and I've never seen any evidence that we have set piece formations.
3. Bet You Didn't See That Coming
On my return to cyber space I discovered that Matthew Etherington's long hinted at gambling addiction has finally come to light, although without any mention of the alleged behind the scenes brokering the club had to do in order to prevent him losing his kneecaps because of it.
It seems impossible to deny that Curbishley has been disastrous in pure man management terms, but those still pining for Pardew should not forget that he allowed two players to spiral into gambling addictions under his watch. It's overly simplistic to blame the manager for what is, after all, a deeply personal illness, but allowing players to gamble up to £30,000 on the team bus to games is ridiculous.
For God's sake, put a DVD on and make them watch that instead. I'd suggest a copy of our 6-0 defeat at Reading might be a start. Failing that, maybe The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. They both have similar plots.
4. Medical Madness
When we get our first injury tomorrow, most likely during the warm up if recent trends are followed, keep an eye on our physios.
I have come to the conclusion that they run on to the pitch singing "The knee bone's connected to the thigh bone, the thigh bone's connected to the hip bone....." in lieu of any actual medical training.
5. The Crying Game
Being the irrepressible, Churchillian orator that he is, I have no doubt that Curbs will have the lads whipped into a frenzy tomorrow for the biggest game of our season. However, just on the off chance that he is not on form, take a quick look at him when we inevitably let in the first goal.
I'm guessing that by this point in the season he will have moved on from the simple head in hands routine to a full blown Willem Defoe in Platoon pose.
I didn't actually get to hear his post match interview after the massacre at Charlton but I've heard that it was something along the lines of "Well, we definitely won't be fighting them on the beaches, if that's what you're asking...".
6. The Best Of Times, The Worst Of Times
I'm not going to deny that this season has been one long visit to the dentist, but I'd have to say it's probably not been as bad as the ill fated Bond Scheme season in the early 90's.
In his, frankly brilliant, weekly column for The Guardian, Russell Brand does a great job of explaining the perverse joy that can come from such desperation. I have great respect for all true supporters of their clubs. Even Man Utd and Chelsea have die hard fans worthy of admiration, irrespective of that fact that they are surrounded by tourists, and equally the hardy few who travel from Torquay to Hartlepool on a Tuesday night deserve medals.
But I can't believe that there are many clubs around the country who would have been able to muster up the kind of support that we did at Charlton. It is incredibly dispiriting to go to games knowing that we essentially have no chance of winning, but there is something to be said for having a chuckle at the ridiculousness of it all and singing a song about Christian Dailly.
Even more interestingly, friends and acquaintances who previously mocked me incessantly, now instead just look at me with that sad sort of look that's usually reserved for captive chimpanzees in the zoo.
7. Can I Javier Vote?
I signed an online petition in the week to abandon the Hammer of the Year award on the grounds that none of them deserve it. As anyone from my office will testify, I will sign pretty much anything but I do happen to agree with this one.
With that said, there is no way that the club is likely to actually do this as it would be an excruciating admission of the uselessness of the playing staff. With that in mind, I suggest we vote for the following:
1 - Javier Mascherano
2 - Mark Noble
3 - Dean Ashton
Young Hammer of the Year - Teddy Sheringham
It would make the last home game of the season at least somewhat palatable.
8. An Admission
I've spent a fairly decent portion of the season mocking the likes of Glenn Roeder, Fulham and Aston Villa. In spite of an injury list the size of the Angel of the North, Roeder has manoeuvred a decidedly average Newcastle team into the upper echelons of the league.
At the same time two terminally dull sides like Villa and Fulham will again be plying their wares in the Premiership next year.
All 3 would be absolutely no loss to English football if they were to disappear from view but it really does serve to highlight how unfathomably awful we have been this year that we are looking up to teams like this.
A point which studiously ignores the fact that we are currently staring up at everyone in the league.
9. The Game
I've been putting it off but I guess I should mention the game. Reo Coker is suspended, as is Robbie Keane, which is a minor victory for us. tottenham are pretty mediocre on the road but we're hardly playing at an impenetrable fortress here.
The corresponding fixture last year was, for many, the best game of the season. Carl Fletcher had possibly his finest moment in a West Ham shirt (other than when he called Francis Lampard a "fat bastard") by blasting in a 25 yarder to opening the scoring before Yossi Benayoun popped up ten minutes from time with a late winner. Deliciously this denied tottenham a Champions League spot at the expense of Arsenal and led to "Bubbles" being sung at Highbury during the last ever game played there.
Even more deliciously tottenham were struck by a mystery illness before the game. They claimed this was food poisoning, a charge that was later comprehensively disproved. And how we laughed.
Those who believe in karma might suspect that we're in for a bit of a battering tomorrow....