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

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The H List : End Of Season Player Ratings (Part 1)

So I guess this is it folks. It's been another long season, remarkable for it's unremarkability and tedious when viewed in it's entirety. Truthfully, our interest in the campaign finished in January when Man City ended another FA Cup run, quite possibly because Jesus Christ himself couldn't believe that we had allowed Elano to score with a header.

Amidst a spate of injuries that would give the 7th Armoured Division cause for concern, we struggled into 10th place sometime around 1988 and didn't budge thereafter.

Given that The H List is essentially an instrument for me to articulate every whinge I have about West Ham, I shall not revisit my many and varied gripes once again. Suffice to say though, for the club to progress I cannot see how this can possibly be achieved with the stultifying combination of Curbishley's approach and our bizarre desire to buy an entire squad of injured midfielders. I hope for change in the summer but expect none, and thus I shall keep eyeing that season ticket renewal form with great suspicion.

So rather than looking back in anger, let's move on to the ratings. As we have used more men this year than Anna Nicole Smith, I shall have to do this in two parts. We shall begin with the lads who hang around at the back, and orchestrate those 4-0 defeats we all know and love:


Robert Green - Appearances : 40

Before we begin, let me direct you to http://www.chucknorrisfacts.com/. It's a miles better website than this one, but should you ever come back you will understand the following statement: "If Chuck Norris took a last minute penalty against Robert Green, he'd miss. Then roundhouse kick him in head and score from the rebound."

In truth, this was a remarkable season for Green built on some splendid early form and a handy knack for an eye catching save. He does still have a vulnerability to crosses into the box, hence him managing the previously impossible task of conceding a goal to Michael Dawson, but aside from this his form was largely impeccable, reaching a peak with that last minute penalty save from Defoe.

The fact that Chris Kirkland, Joe Hart, Scott Carson and a paper boy from Peterborough have all somehow made it into the England squad ahead of Green is simply proof that a long time ago he slept with someone he shouldn't have done.

Hammer of the Year by a hair, and the only member of our squad who can spell Kilimanjaro, let alone climb it.

Rating - 8/10

Best Performance - Portsmouth (a)

Richard Wright - Appearances : 3

Truthfully, what the hell am I going to say about Richard Wright? I've never seen him cheat at pontoon, he doesn't seem like he would catch a squirrel and imprison him in a jar of custard and I don't think he buys the music of KT Tunstall. But other than that, I really can't comment with any authority on his talents.

He played a part in our Carling Cup run, such as it was, and did pretty much everything one might expect of a reserve keeper, which is not to contract West Nile Flu and take his own goal kicks.

Rating - 6/10

Best Performance - Coventry (a)


John Paintsil - Appearances : 5 (12)

Perhaps the unlikeliest terrace hero in the Universe, John Paintsil appears to be the only reason The Boleyn Beluga actually goes to games anymore. Once upon a time I had high hopes for him (Paintsil, not Beluga) but a succession of defensively lacking performances has decreased my optimism somewhat.

I quite like the notion of an attacking full back who can provide an extra offensive threat in the final third, particularly given that any right midfielder in front of him is quite likely to be clinically dead after 50 minutes or so. Even better if said full back likes to do a bit of praying on the pitch before the game.

That being so, John Paintsil is assuredly not the man to fit the bill.

Rating - 6/10

Best Performance -Manchester United (h)

Lucas Neill - Appearances : 40

Somewhere there is a Sliding Doors type scenario where Lucas Neill simply carried on his stellar form of last year and reproduced it again this time round. Sadly, it isn't in this dimension, and thus we have seen a patchy, jaded and at times, just plain bad version of our skipper.

I subscribe to the theory that Neill probably has more value than his simple on field skills show, as he seems like a dominant force in a fractured dressing room, but even so, I'd certainly like him to lose a few pounds, fly to Australia less frequently and get back to his World Cup form. I still wouldn't get rid of him, purely on the grounds that the alternative is listed above.

His season hit a nadir when he was outjumped for the Arsenal winner by no less an aerial force than Robin van Persie. That is not an accidental phrase by the way, as there simply is no lesser aerial force in the cosmos than Robin van Persie.

Seriously, there are ostriches, the Isle of Man air force and then there is Robin van Persie. Christ, Lucas, that was a bad day to turn up stoned.

Rating - 5/10

Best Performance - Manchester City (a)

George McCartney - Appearances : 44 / Goals : 1

Our most consistent outfield player by a country mile, and indeed the only man to feature in every single one of our games this season. Which is an extremely cruel and unusual punishment considering that even murderers get parole.

My runner up in the Hammer of the Year stakes by a tiny margin to Green, and indeed if he had been able to sustain his form into the last ten games then he would have retained his title from last year. Even more impressively he has achieved this level of excellence in spite of having Luis Boa Morte wobbling about in front of him for most of the year.

Made his debut in my fantasy team just in time for our 3 consecutive 4-0 defeats. You reap what you sow.

Rating - 8/10

Best Performance - Blackburn Rovers (a)

Jonathan Spector - Appearances : 13 (15) / Goals : 1

At this point is probably fair to suggest that people named Jack now refer to themselves as a "Jonathan of all trades". Never has a player been used more schizophrenically than poor Spector who appears to be Curbishley's default substitution no matter what the situation.

Although at this point I literally have no idea what his best position is, I can see a certain value in a player who can fill a multitude of spots with equal ineptitude as the normal incumbent. This was most prominent when our entire midfield went down with botulism around Christmas, leaving Spector as our main creative outlet.

It's perhaps a little unfair, but for all his undoubted effort and commitment, the more Spector plays, the less successful it feels like we are.

I have nothing to back this up, but I also suspect that he will vote for Barack Obama.

Rating - 6/10

Best Performance - Derby (a)

James Collins - Appearances : 3 (2)

A terrible season in every respect for the man we imaginatively call "Ginge". At this time last year we were hailing him as one of the main reasons for our survival, and tentatively pondering whether we had uncovered one of the best new defenders in the Premier League. A year on, his knee is in pieces and he has slipped below pretty much every other sentient being in Essex in Curbishley's pecking order.

I would like to see Collins return next season, primarily because he has an impressive physicality about him, and an aerial ability that is unmatched in our current squad. Which isn't hard admittedly, but when you've had the kind of season we've had you see a straw and you clutch at it.

Rating - 5/10

Best Performance - Middlesbrough (h)

Anton Ferdinand - Appearances : 26 (3) / Goals : 2

I wouldn't want to try and understand Anton Ferdinand's mind because I simply don't think there is anything in there that I would recognise. None the less, the fact that he played his best football of the year whilst under criminal investigation for a possible assault is just ludicrous to me.

Ferdinand's strange decline after his November acquittal was especially disappointing as it was his initial partnership with Matt Upson that had provided the basis for our splendid early season defensive solidity.

Might depart in the summer if rumours are to believed, which would fit with Curbishley's policy of getting rid of high maintenance/ceiling players, but I have to admit I'd be sad to see him go. He gets injured too easily for my liking (see: his hamstring strain after 32 seconds at Bolton) but when he is fit he is our best defender.

His goal against Manchester United was probably the second best moment of the season too.

Rating - 5/10

Best Performance - Snaresbrook Crown Court (Nov)

Matthew Upson - Appearances : 33 / Goals : 1

Quite possibly the biggest surprise of the season, as Upson put the horrors of last year behind him to be the pillar upon which our strong early defensive showing was built. He grew an impressive beard around November which really seemed to help things, culminating with a call up to Fabio Capello's England squad.

To be called up to play for one's country is certainly a nice accolade, although one must place it in it's proper context and note that Phil Jagielka was later capped by Capello, which suggests to me that the Italian is simply going through the entire male population of the country in his search for a centre half.

Upson himself puts his revival in fortunes down to a radical medical technique that involved putting bits of the Yellow Pages into his boots in an effort to better balance his body. Incredibly, despite the obvious amateurism of this ploy, this scheme wasn't devised by our medical team.

Finished the season on the injury list, which inspires a three word reaction from me - "But, of course".

Rating - 6/10

Best Performance - Birmingham (a)

Danny Gabbidon - Appearances : 11 (3)

Here is a player so obviously distrusted by Curbishley that it is something of a surprise that he hasn't just gone the whole hog and chucked Gabbidon in stocks and had our strikers practice their shooting. Based on every single warm up I've seen this year, this would not endanger Gabbidon's well being in the slightest. (*Shakes head and pictures the Mighty Ducks*)

Much like his Welsh colleague Collins, Gabbidon has regressed at an alarming rate this year and barely looks a shadow of the player who was so instrumental in the Pardew era. Some of this is likely due to over confidence on his part, and pig headedness on Curbishley's side, but either way it all feels like quite a waste.

Suffered with injuries this year, which will surprise nobody with working optical muscles, but the suspicion remains that he wouldn't be picked anyway.

Rating - 5/10

Best Perfomance - Chelsea (a)

James Tomkins - Appearances : 5 (1)

From some inauspicious beginnings when Tomkins tried to eat Yakubu on his debut at Everton, the youngster grew in confidence until he too is now ready to sign a long term deal and then suffer an even longer term injury.

Even allowing for the additional leeway that goes with Academy graduates, Tomkins looked very comfortable in his first team introduction and certainly seemed comfortable enough against decent strikers such as Agbonlahor and Owen, and especially at ease with non-decent strikers such as Obafemi Martins.

Seems to have cognitive function, which immediately puts him ahead of Anton Ferdinand in any sort of squad comparison.

Rating - 7/10

Best Performance - Aston Villa (h)

To be continued.....

Monday, May 19, 2008

End Of Season Ramblings

I'm pretty sure that you have all forgotten what an update to The H List looks like, but I would hope that you can all find it in your hearts to forgive me.

I have been spending some time on the beautiful Amalfi Coast in Italy, amidst the bougainvillea and the citrus groves, eating my body weight in pasta and sampling some rather nice local beers. It must be said that it was lovely to spend time with people whose lives are unfettered by concerns over such trivialities as Lucas Neill's questionable positioning, our lack of midfield flair or traffic laws.

If I was thoroughly committed to the cause I would review our final four games of the season in some depth. Of course, the soporific nature of these games means that going into any kind of depth will automatically lead to widespread yawning.

In short, we managed a scarcely merited 2-1 home victory over Derby, that was so convincing the team was roundly booed from the pitch. Not the least remarkable element of this performance was that we somehow contrived to allow Tyrone Mears to score against us. Yes folks, that's T.Y.R.O.N.E/M.E.A.R.S.

After that triumph of the soul, we moved on to another home match with Kevin Keegan's revitalised Newcastle. And by 'revitalised' I of course mean "not quite as shit as usual". We surged into a 2 goal lead, with a pair of unusually good strikes from Noble and Ashton. Needless to say, the lead was squandered within twenty minutes as we conceded goals to those two titans of the modern game - Obafemi Martins and Geremi.

It should probably tell you all you need to know that the most significant action of the day was the Upton Park return of Paolo di Canio, who was roundly cheered and did not offer up a single fascist salute. Hurrah all round.

Thereafter came our plucky little trip to Manchester United where we once again proved ourselves to be indomitable in the face of a superior foe. With a whole twenty five minutes on the clock we had conceded 3 goals and packed it in for the afternoon. There was briefly time for Dean Ashton to continue his recent great run with another fine goal, before Nani had a brain aneurysm and headbutted Lucas Neill. We responded so well to having the extra man that we thereafter conceded another goal and never threatened to look competent again.

Our final game of the year saw the visit of Aston Villa who played us off the pitch and still left town with just a point, courtesy in the latest of a succession of cracking Ashton strikes. The game could potentially be described as exciting in the context of the months of preceding dross, but truthfully it was a right load of crap, with our success owing as much to Scott Carson's ridiculous career choice as anything else.

And, that folks, was that.

Thus, with the season behind us and the season ticket renewal forms nestling on the mantlepiece, bristling with the promise of our Ashton-less future, it is time to hand out some End of Year Awards. As with last year, we'd like to hear from you too, so please consider the following categories and then leave your selections in the "comments" section. We'll collate them and then disagree with you all entirely, before adding some brief summaries for the players.

Vote For:

(Least Worst) Player of the Year

2007 Winners:

The H List - George McCartney
Readers - Carlos Tevez

Performance of the Year (Team)

2007 Winners:

The H List - Man Utd (A)
Readers - Wigan (A)

Performance of the Year (Individual)

2007 Winners:

The H List - Robert Green v Arsenal (A)
Readers - Robert Green v Arsenal (A)

Best Goal

2007 Winners:

The H List - Bobby Zamora v Everton (H)
Readers - Bobby Zamora v Everton (H)

Worst Player*

2007 Winners:

The H List - Marlon Harewood
Readers - Marlon Harewood

*Given the holder of this title cannot retain it, this award has therefore been gratefully sponsored by the Society for the Protection of My Fathers Aorta.

Worst Team Performance

2007 Winners:

The H List - Manchester City (H)
Readers - Charlton Athletic (A)

Worst Individual Performance

2007 Winners:

The H List - Luis Boa Morte - Chelsea (H)
Readers - Marlon Harewood - Watford (H)

Best Opposition

2007 Winners:

The H List - Chelsea
Readers - Chelsea

Best Opposition Player

2007 Winners:

The H List - Dimitar Berbatov
Readers - Cristiano Ronaldo

Best Opposition Goal

2007 Winners:

The H List - Daniel Agger - Liverpool (A)
Readers - Shaun Wright-Phillips - Chelsea (H)

Worst Opposition (Sponsored by Middlesbrough FC)

2007 Winners:

The H List - Middlesbrough
Readers - Middlesbrough

Win it three times and they get to keep it!

The Michael Dawson Award for Worst Opposition Player

2007 Winners:

The H List - Michael Dawson
Readers - Frank Lampard

If you feel that there is something else upon which you simply must comment then please do so. If you could refrain from libel that would be mighty nice, although this has never stopped my erstwhile literary colleague The Boleyn Beluga, it has to be said.....

Friday, May 09, 2008

West Ham United vs Aston Villa: Match Preview - 11/05/2008

1. Hello, Goodbye

So, here we are. We made it. Premiership status assured, a minimum of 7 points better off than last year, although with an inescapable feeling of deflation after the big spending and promise of last summer.

We're on the home stretch, the final furlong, the long walk from death row to the gas chamber we're we'll find sweet relief.... for a few weeks before the summer will stoke the embers of our enthusiasm once more only for them to be doused by Curbishley's lack of imagination.

2. Don't Let Me Down

Newcastle apart, our last half dozen games have had more than a whiff of end-of-season-itis about them. The team has been coasting with very few performances worthy of mention.

This distinct lack of effort has been mirrored by HeadHammer Shark and I and one would hope that the threat of our continued absence alone would be enough to spark the players into life for our remaining home fixture.

Whilst the players undoubtedly have one and a half eyes on their Dubai holiday villas, we all know that results going against us this weekend could mean that tottenham claim tenth spot at the death. A home game at Shite Hart Lane against a meandering Liverpool is a tough one to call, particularly given Benitez's penchant for rotation.

One would hope that the superb Fernando Torres will do the business, Berbatov has one eye on his move to Old Trafford and Peter 'The Rampaging Super Spider' Crouch has a point to prove after being effectively put in the shop window this week.

The loss of 10th place seems more than a little unfair considering we have held onto it since 1927 and a good result from the boys could make the difference between people leaving the ground in high spirits, reminiscing whimsically about this season, or cursing Curbishley's lack of tactical nous and killer instinct.

3. The Opposition

Aston Villa will be dangerous as, unlike us, they still have something to play for. Being only three points behind Everton and a guaranteed UEFA Cup spot, to give themselves a chance they need to win and win big as the goal difference between the two sides is identical.

With Everton at home to Newcastle, Martin O'Neill knows that his side need to win well to give themselves any chance and you can bet he'll have his players motivated. Curbishley's motivational pep-talk is likely to be a little more suspect and will probably revolve around the promise of a fun day out at Thorpe Park.

Having shown some dynamite form in April with 15 goals in three games, Villa have stuttered a little thanks to a 2-2 draw at Goodison and a surprising 2-0 defeat at home to Wigan last weekend - don't discount the effect of the whirring vortex emanating from Steve Bruce's Angular Hooter (TM).

Villa play tight in midfield with Petrov, Barry and Reo-Coker (Boooooo!! - just warming up), playing very narrow across the middle and Ashley Young given a free role. One would surmise from this that the key to playing well against them is to get your full-backs forward at any opportunity, but with McCartney looking tired of late and Neill as mobile as John Candy (after he died), the chances of this tactic being implemented effectively look slim. A lot slimmer than Lucas Neill.

One can only hope that King John Paintsil is given his third full 90 minutes in a row. Yes, I can see him getting mercilessly bamboozled by Young, but he'll also run his heart out and get down the flank before sending a cross into the Bobby Moore Upper and receiving a hearty round of applause from the Hammers faithful.

4. Get Back!

Defensively of late we haven't looked at our best. The first two goals conceded against Man United were weak and to concede two in five minutes against Newcastle when you have them on the ropes is just downright irresponsible.

It is true that a couple of these goals were the fault of James Tomkins, but the kid is only 19 and I think he has looked generally very impressive in his outings this season. Tomkins and Upson in unison at the back is a tidy prospect.

Villa undoubtedly have goals in them and it would be nice to have Upson back to marshal John Carew, as I can see the big Norwegian giving any other of our centre backs a torrid time.

Gorgeous George has looked jaded in recent weeks, which is perhaps not surprising as he has been our only ever-present outfield player this term. At times this year Lucas Neill has looked utterly mystified as to his whereabouts and even Rob Green has made the occasional blunder, most notably against tottenham at home - although he has undoubtedly won us more than a few points.

One hopes that Curbishley's motivational promise of a multipack of Tangy Toms to the winners will provide the team with sufficient gusto to perform in the remaining 90 minutes of the season.

5. Back in the USSR

The first all-English (not the players, obviously) Champions League Final will take place in Moscow a week on Wednesday between Chelsea and Manchester United.

It's safe to say that we'd all love to see United stuff The Blues and I'd be particularly happy to see Paul Scholes pick up a winners medal.

It would be just reward for one of the finest players this country has produced in the last 20 years, particularly as he was so criminally overlooked on the international scene thanks to the nation's doomed obsession with accommodating both Gerrard and Fat Frank successfully in England's midfield.

Let's hope United claim their third European Cup and Vladimir Putin gets a bit trigger happy with the old polonium-210 in Chelsea's dressing room.

6. Nowhere Man

Alan Curbishley has been strangely aloof over the last few weeks. Ever since his bolshy and borderline aggressive outburst after the Derby game when his substitution proved decisive, Curbs has been noticeable only by his absence.

It was left to Mervyn Day to give the post-match press conference at Old Trafford and there hasn't even been word from the manager on the official website.

No doubt we'll hear from Curbs tomorrow about how well we've done this year "with the problems we've had" which, by the way, is officially the most annoying mantra of 2008 - even moreso than the pre-match line-up announcement of "Number 34, Luis Boa Morte!"

Although I suppose there is always a chance that Curbs has been huddled in a darkened corner somewhere suffering from extreme Vertigo when he looks at his team sitting 10th in the League.

7. The Long And Winding Road

I remember standing outside The Lord Wakefield pub back in August '07, genuinely excited about our prospects for this season and thinking that we had a real chance to excite, entertain and progress after the relegation near-miss of the year before.

This enthusiasm lasted all of 45 minutes as Man City strolled to a 2-0 win on opening day and Lee Bowyer put in his worst performance since he was in the witness box accused of GBH with intent.

Since then we have crawled our way steadily up the League with the footballing equivalent of extra strength sedatives and been mired in midtable for what seems like an eternity.

It certainly has been a curious year, particularly when you consider that a win on Sunday will leave us on 51 points and that Harry Redknapp's greatest ever tally was only 53.

The general air of discontent among the fans surely points to the journey as opposed to the destination. I think we'd all prefer 40 points but with a few thrills and spills along the way.

8. Can't Buy Me Love

There is an interesting article on the BBC website today, detailing the new financial restrictions being placed on Alan Curbishley:


It appears that Curbs has been charged with dramatically reducing both the playing squad and wage bill and there being no promise of big bucks to spend this summer.

Rumours of Freddie Ljungberg and Lucas Neill being jettisoned at the end of this season persist and they would be no big loss, although I think Freddie has had his moments this year.

In light of such potential non-activity in the transfer market, I can't help but feel that Curbishley has completely wasted the biggest cash injection this club has ever seen. A further example of his lack of imagination when buying players was gratingly underlined this week by the news that tottenham are likely to sign creative Croatian midfielder Luka Modric this summer.

It seems as if our hopes rest on new Director of Football, Gianluca Nani, unearthing some gems for next year.

I for one would be happy to see any and all money available this summer spent on one top draw playmaker, rather than see it split up in order to fund three or four utility men just itching to get on our overcrowded treatment table.

9. Day Tripper

Amidst the terminal apathy surrounding the last few weeks of our season, light relief has come in the most unlikely of forms.

When Luis Boa Morte isn't bang on the Class A's, he's.....

Well, that's a ridiculous start to a sentence as his football this year has categorically proven that the man has a serious problem with hallucinogens.

However, ever since his own bewildering brand of football could have no serious impact on our dead-end season, my regular Upton Park travelling buddy and I have taken to simply sitting back and enjoying the perplexingly haphazard nature of his play.

I imagine it is much like witnessing the end of the world. If you noticed a mile-wide meteor hurtling towards your neighbourhood, you'd sit back and enjoy the show rather than get trampled underfoot in the ensuing panic to leave town.

The fact that Luis himself has absolutely no idea what the outcome will be once the ball arrives at his feet simply adds to the excitement, whilst we try to predict the multitudinous possible consequences. I can recommend it.

When LBM picks up the ball on Sunday (he's obviously Curbs' first name on the teamsheet), wipe the sleep from your eyes and marvel at the chaos theory in action.

Rumour has it he'll be wearing NASA prototype boots with dangerous and untested levels of both spring and buoyancy - buoyancy as you simply can't rule our LBM managing to end up in the Thames after one of his mazy and uncontrollable runs.

A boot with a new Rubber Sole, if you will.