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

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Friendlies (And Other Ramblings)

1. The Return

So, the new improved H List returns! Of course, it's not really new or improved but it is definitely returning. The Leyton Orient game wasn't exactly a marquee fixture but it had the rather nice feature of being on my way home so I decided to pop along, and I will begin the ramblings there.

My friend Lennaert accompanied me, despite being an Ajax fan and amused me no end with the comment that Dean Ashton looked like a "fat Lee Trundle".

2. The Statistics

I have absolutely no idea about the statistical breakdown of this game. I can confirm that both teams scored once and that Kyel Reid can't use his right foot, but anything more in depth eludes me.

A bright start saw us take the lead mid way through the opening period when Dean Ashton, knackered from all that running, decided that it would be infinitely more preferable to simply whack one in from 25 yards instead. Shortly after this, Leyton Orient responded with a belter of a goal themselves, courtesy of new signing Adam Boyd, whilst our defence were absent, off reading the last few chapters of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows.

Attempts to infer anything of note from friendly games are pointless. Yes, Dean Ashton didn't die, Anton Ferdinand wasn't arrested and Carlton Cole didn't contract lumbago, but I am struggling to draw too much else from this fixture.

Orient played some nice football and might do quite well this year. Of course, given that I don't actually know what division they're in perhaps I should refrain from making too many pre season predictions ("John Paintsil will be a star for us" is haunting me as I type that sentence).

3. Ashton Watch

Let me start by saying that Ashton looked well. When I say "well" I of course mean, "not hospitalised".

He actually looks terrible. An ill advised blond dye job on his balding pate makes him look about 45, as does his somewhat extensive girth. His movement was fairly limited but still superior to that of Carlton Cole, and his touch has certainly not deserted him.

The goal was a terrific strike, lessened slightly by the fact that the Orient defence chose the "Wehrmact Ardennes" style method of containment ("Encircle him at a distance of a thousand yards!").

He later had a golden opportunity to net the winner when Matthew Etherington broke down the left, lost control of his neurological functions, and for reasons best known to his psychiatrist blasted the ball at Ashton's head with an open goal beckoning. The resulting header landed somewhere in Hackney, and Ashton suffered whiplash. Welcome back, Dean.

4. Suffering At The Cole Face

For all his physical stature and apparent potential, Carlton Cole looks a rapidly declining force to me. (Cue dozens of H List readers mouthing "Declining from what exactly?"). His lack of instinct was badly shown up by some intelligent flicks from Ashton, whilst his finishing ability was just plain bad.

There was a moment of particularly fine dual ineptitude in the first half. Gorgeous George McCartney sauntered down the left and whipped in an inch perfect cross for young Carlton, at that point standing several inches from the goal line. Evidently somewhat surprised at this, he contrived to throw his leg at the ball and, impossibly, sent it backwards, causing mild consternation to physicists everywhere.

Fortunately, the ball fell to Kyel Reid who calmly shifted it to his favoured left foot and nervelessly placed it over the roof of the stand.

Aaaaaaaand on we go.

5. The Next Night

Following the draw at Orient ("Boo, Hiss, Curbs Out") we took the journey to Milton Keynes to face the mighty MK Dons at their new stadium.

Fresh from an outstanding half time display of tricks and flicks at Orient, Hogan Ephraim netted our first before the lesser spotted Matthew Upson notched the second. Sadly, it wasn't to be as the plucky little Hammers succumbed to a 3-2 defeat ("BOO, HISS, CURBS OUT"), helpless in the face of the MK Dons late second half onslaught.

Again, I read nothing in to this. Pre season friendlies are like rounds of golf. Pointless, but you do get a nice bit of exercise out of them.

This particular game did see Freddie Ljungberg make his debut for us, however.

My Arsenal supporting friends tell me that his legs have gone and he no longer scores any goals. To me that just makes him a prototypical West Ham midfielder, but they seemed to be saying it like it was a bad thing. I'm choosing to look on the positive side - free CK underpants for all the lads, and if Olof Mellberg gets a bit trappy when we play Villa, you know Freddie doesn't mind having a crack at him.

I have a mild concern that Arsene Wenger does have a decent track record of jettisoning his top players when they are already on the decline. In this case though, we probably don't need Ljungberg to be as good as he was for Arsenal, although it would be nice, but merely better than Yossi Benayoun. Given that the Israeli was quite possibly on a Kibbutz for the first 80% of last year (he certainly wasn't anywhere near our right wing), I'm confident that Ljungberg can manage that much at least.

6. I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside

This weekend saw us take on Southend, and gave an interesting insight into how Curbishley might view his team going into next season. Ashton was conspicuous by his absence, although to be fair, he's reasonably conspicuous when he's not absent as well. Instead, Bobby Zamora started up front with Bellamy, and both Lucas Neill and Mark Noble returned to the side.

By all accounts we played pretty well. Zamora began the scoring and later both Bellamy and Ljungberg opened their West Ham accounts. Coincidentally, this marked the first time since the UK went metric that both West Ham strikers scored with a header, and one of our midfielders got into the box without suffering an unstoppable nosebleed. Hurrah for sports science.

My childhood friend Kevin Maher then bagged a consolation for The Shrimpers. A shameless bit of name dropping of which my godfather Bill Gates would no doubt disapprove.

7. Out In The Country

Our magical mystery tour of glamour venues continued apace as we took a trip to Norwich this evening. Another strong side saw Upson and Collins paired in the interesting centre half battle, and Ashton returning to partner Zamora up front.

Apparently, Ashton took some stick off the home fans but responded well to score our second after Jonathan Spector got lost and found himself in the opposition box to score the first. I have to confess that I have little concept of what abuse from Norwich fans must sound like. I mean, seriously, we've all seen the Delia clip so we know that they're a lovely family club with a slightly embarrassing Aunt on the board. How bad is it going to be getting booed by that lot?

(I did like the fact that Zamora celebrated his goal for him by using his hands to cup Ashton's ears to the crowd. It's almost like they work on that in training. They're now so well drilled that in case any of them forget to do it, another team member will do it for them. Splendid).

7. Luis Watch

The press are reporting that Luis Boa Morte had a stormer tonight. I have checked and Norwich did play someone at right back so I'm beginning to doubt the veracity of that story.

It's not that I want the guy to fail, or even that I think Etherington is a better alternative, but they were both so poor last year that a repeat performance will have a hugely negative impact on our season. Our midfield last season contributed very little by way of goals, mustering just 9 in total. By contrast Lampard managed 11 on his own to highlight the worrying lack of threat from deep.

Presumably Ljungberg is here to combat that, but no doubt Boa Morte will need to rediscover the goalscoring form of his Fulham days before I am prepared to remove him from my amoeba list.

8. Of Note

We finished with 4 former Norwich men having played for us tonight. Although not ideal, I prefer this to Curbishley's vision of us having 11 ex Charlton "stars" on the field.

Norwich fans apparently refer to a corner of their ground as "The Viper Pit".

I think vipers should sue.


Leyton Orient 1 - 1 West Ham
MK Dons 3 - 2 West Ham
Southend 1 - 3 West Ham
Norwich 1 - 2 West Ham

Monday, July 16, 2007

Summer Ramblings : Part 2

Well, it's been a tumultuous couple of weeks.

First up, Sheffield United lost their arbitration hearing and appealed to the High Court using the always reliable "Ohh, come on. Pleeeease!" defence.

Next, Live Earth arrived and taught us all a valuable and poignant lesson - namely:

Buy 4x4
Fill with Diesel
Reverse over KT Tunstall.

Then, despite my explicit instructions West Ham only went out and bought themselves a bona fide, true blue Goblin. I am annoyed.

Lastly, when we had gone a whole 15 minutes without anything disastrous happening, the Club became embroiled in a unholy legal row at the same time as our new French international ruptured his Achilles Tendon.

All we are lacking is Widow Twanky.

Blunted Blades

My usual response to anything Sheffield United related is to shrug my shoulders and use the noted legal term - "Pah".

Despite not having any kind of case at all against the Premier League they insisted on a costly arbitration hearing that they were doomed to lose. Having been told by the panel that their case was being dismissed, they then went to the High Court where they were given even shorter shrift.

Undeterred, Blades chairman and all round self publicising halfwit Kevin McCabe insisted to the massed throngs of trained monkeys from the Daily Mail and Sky Sports News:

"This is not over".
"Yes it is" replied a passing High Court judge.
"No it isn't - we're on Richard and Judy tomorrow" says Kevin.

Let's just move on.

I sincerely doubt that any Sheffield United fans read this blog, whilst the only Blades fan I know is my dentist and there is absolutely no chance of me raising this issue with a man who uses drills on humans for a living. However, I would be very interested to know how the supporters feel about the club spending such large sums on the costly process of appealing this decision when there has never been any chance at all of a positive outcome?

Leaving aside the masterful smear campaign conducted through the press, even I, with no knowledge of the legal system was able to read up on the facts of this case and determine that Sheffield United had no chance at all of getting the decision overturned.

I have no doubt that they feel wronged blah blah blah, Tevez was ineligible, er no he wasn't, blah blah blah, justice and fairness for all, just ignore the Steve Kabba thing blah blah blah, but Jeez - just pack it in and spend your money on something that might actually be useful to the club.

My suggestions would be a goalkeeper who can move unaided by fork lift trucks, or Bryan Robson's severance package.

I'm here to help.

Press Ganged

It has been an extraordinary week in the life of Carlos Tevez. With the Argentine apparently not long for these shores, I was quietly hoping that the media circus would depart with him and that we might enjoy even a week or so without being held responsible for all the ills of English football.

Indeed, short of backing a military junta that resulted in Jade Goody being installed as Prime Minister, it's tough to imagine that we could currently be any less popular in this country.

If you are simply too weary to trawl through the detritus of the British media then might I suggest you log on to the brilliant Just Like My Dreams (http://jlmd.blogspot.com/index.html) where fellow blogger Trilby does a marvellous job of collating all the nonsense for us.

In that vein then, Man Utd had announced that they were expecting Tevez to have a medical with them before the week was out. Anywhere else on the planet this would be known as "tapping up" but as it involves a potential media ban from Sir Alex Ferguson it is reported as "excellent planning" over here. West Ham subsequently went medieval on their legal asses and refused permission for the medical, and immediately following this up with as strongly worded a statement as you are likely to see from a professional football club.

Reading between the lines as best I can, it seems that they have essentially refuted any claims that Kia Joorabchian owns the economic rights to Tevez, ruling that the agreement between the two would not be legally binding in the UK. Should Joorabchian want to dispute this (and given that he spent several million pounds acquiring those "rights" I would suspect that he will), then we are bound for the High Court. There are whispers that FIFA and the footballing powers would not be unhappy about this, as defeat for Joorabchian could theoretically lead to the end of third party ownership of players, which some liken to modern day slavery.

That last sentence is a bit dramatic, I watch Rome after all, but if we were to successfully prove that Joorabchian has no legal right to any money for Tevez then you can be reasonably confident that he won't be leaving West Ham any time soon, as there is little or no chance of Man Utd being able to cough up £30m for him.

Whilst all this has been happening, poor Carlos Tevez has been stuck in a Manchester hotel waiting to tell the world how happy he is to finally be in the same team as Darren Fletcher. Ferguson has now abandoned the medical and said he can go on holiday, which is very nice of him considering that Tevez is still our player.

To top it all off, midway through the week Joorabchian was indicted for money laundering in Brazil, highlighting once again just what a tip top job our former chairman did during his due diligence on the potential new owner of the club.

The Inferior Claret

Whilst we are hounded through the press for apparently splashing our cash with reckless abandon, it's probably worth noting that we are trading at a profit this summer. The sales of Reo-Coker and Harewood to Villa netted us a cool £11m, whilst the Benayoun deal saw us pick up both £5m and a new terrace hate figure.

Konchesky has gone to free spending Fulham, who have somehow contrived to spend £20m on a group of players whom I could charitably describe as "molluscs", whilst Derby apparently gave us £1m for Tyrone Mears. I have assumed that the latter transaction involves chocolate coins as there is no way anyone would spend real money on Tyrone Mears.

The first deal is the most interesting as we see two of our more controversial figures depart for the indisputably dull Aston Villa.

Martin O'Neill or not, I suffer immediate apathy when talking about the inferior claret. The two will either enjoy a stupendous renaissance under the Irishman, a la Neil Lennon and Emile Heskey, or disappear from this plane of consciousness as a direct result of being so bored that they will simply cease to exist. Yawn.

What is interesting, however, is the wave of ridiculous signings being made across the country. There is no justice in a world where we are threatened with High Court actions on a daily basis and yet West Brom have got away scot free with charging £10m for Jason Koumas and Diomansy Kamara.

Not content to be left out of the buffoonery, Sunderland then spent £10m on Michael Chopra and Kieron Richardson, showing that Roy Keane still likes a joke, if nothing else. Steve Bruce took one look at that and shouted "Anything you can do, wor can do worser!" and promptly spent £6m on Mido. Yes - that's "1 league goal a season Mido" (Although have a guess as to who you think he might have scored that goal against).

It almost makes Darren Bent for £16.5m look like a reasonable bit of business.

I Couldn't Be Appiah

The latest men to be linked with the Hammers are Ghana captain Stephen Appiah (sensible), England full back Nicky Shorey (sense we might be clutching at straws) and Kieron Dyer (senseless).

Quite why any manager would want to buy Dyer is beyond me, but doing it when he already has Lee Bowyer and Craig Bellamy in his squad smacks of a bet. Either that or Curbishley is trying to set up a Matthew Upson Appreciation Society in the physio room.

Appiah would be a tremendous acquisition. He has been a favourite son of Shark Towers since he and Michael Essien bestrode the various World Cup fields of Germany 2006, outplaying the eventual winners Italy in the process. Shorey, too, would be a significant upgrade on our current left back, George McCartney but if Reading allow him to leave in the same close season as Steve Sidwell then they may as well run up the white flag now.

Which brings us to the man we have already bought and who has today missed his first penalty for the Hammers. It's probably tough for you to imagine that a blissed out peace lover such as myself has a "Hate List", but I do, I bloody do, and Craig Bellamy was once sat atop this list.

I use the past tense as I can no longer hate him whilst he wears the claret and blue, despite the understandably human desire to do so. He's a footballer, I have no delusions that he is a charity worker on his days off, but an arrest free season would be appreciated.

A Change Would Do You Good

Our opening day line up against Charlton last August:

Carroll, Mears, Konchesky, Gabbidon, Ferdinand, Bowyer, Benayoun, Mullins, Reo-Coker, Zamora, Harewood

Our possible line up against Man City, one year on (barring any further unfortunate ruptures):

Green, Neill, McCartney, Upson, Ferdinand, Bowyer, Boa Morte, Parker, Noble, Bellamy, Ashton

But for Faubert's injury it is entirely feasible that only Anton Ferdinand would have started both games. And he's not exactly a sure bet to be around the whole season........