A New Dawn
Welcome to this week’s H List Preview. As you’ve hopefully noticed, a few changes have been made to the layout.
My superior and I decided to give it a lick of paint and add a couple of new features as it was beginning to look as tired as Lucas Neill after an informal stroll up a gentle slope.
To any newcomers – if you think this presentation looks amateurish, you should’ve been here last week.
1. Hull 4, London 0
And so on with business.
Hull City have emerged as the surprise package of this season’s promoted sides, having already pulled off noteworthy victories and impressively sitting outright 3rd after seven games.
Apart from ourselves, they are the only team to have taken three points from The Emirates and completed an impressive north London smash and grab with victory over tottenham last time out. A crucial opening day victory at home to Fulham sees them boast a 100% record against teams from the capital and they will be hoping to make that four out of four against us on Sunday.
Traditionally a rugby league superpower, Hull City have made a great start in their bid to cement a place in football’s top flight, having called upon local lads Nick Barmby and Dean Windass to win them promotion via the play-offs last year.
In the 2003/’04 season, Hull were in League 2 and have achieved the impressive feat of winning three promotions in five years to reach the Premiership – the third fastest ascent through the divisions in history.
Thanks to their early season exploits, they have come to be regarded as the team that most neutrals would like to see stay up from this year’s new crop and have certainly given themselves every chance of survival with their early form.
Despite all this positivity coming from the Yorkshire city, it will no doubt still be obvious to all of you on your way to the KC Stadium this Sunday (and I know a few), why Robinson Crusoe elected to leave Hull and live on a desert island for 28 years.
2. Tonight We’re Gonna Party Like It’s 1929
As the long-talked of ‘credit crunch’ bares it’s teeth and the first few drops of recession begin to breach the sea wall, the first nation to be cast adrift amid this sizeable financial storm is Iceland. Well, obviously.
No sooner had a big money buyer come in for West Ham allowing us all to dream of the quality players and domestic honours that were surely just a few years away, than right on time the biggest financial tidal wave for over 75 years comes thundering directly to our doorstep, crashing through the front door and completely ruining that spandex Batman outfit you were saving for Halloween.
Iceland has been forced to nationalise its three major banks in order to stave off national bankruptcy, one of which being Landsbanki where West Ham owner Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson was Chairman and hefty shareholder.
The Icelandic government promptly sacked BG (right) and he is said to have personally lost around £300million thanks to the fall of the former financial giant. As is to be expected, as soon as news of the turmoil broke, every newspaper in the land was rife with reports of BG’s intent to sell up and our resultant fall into administration.
Unsurprisingly, West Ham’s ever-efficient press office were quick to release statements saying how Gudmundsson has no intention of selling and how his overall stock portfolio remains healthy, but that hasn’t stopped the spread of further rumours around the club’s ownership and financial affairs.
Indian multi-billionaire and 6th richest man in the world, Anil Ambani (pictured left upon hearing the news that Lucas Neill was in the area and hadn't eaten for 15 minutes) has been touted as a potential buyer. Depending on what you read, some say the deal could go through in a matter of weeks, others that Ambani will try and pick us up on the cheap in January in light of the economic climate.
Should he takeover, with an estimated fortune of over £20billion and even in spite of our marked ability to run a commercial business with all the discretion of a branch of Hooters (but without their business acumen), surely we could climb the ladder a rung or two?
Anyway, this is all idle rumour and is yet to take on any real credence. Apart from ourselves, Ambani is also allegedly interested in tottenham, Everton, Liverpool and Newcastle, plus BG continues to emphasise his willingness to sell off other parts of his business empire before he relinquishes control at Upton Park.
Still, it would be nice to have an owner twice as rich as Abramovich, buy Chelsea, forcibly disband them and continually fine John Terry all his wages unless he manages to successfully recite a full chapter of The Hungry Hungry Caterpillar within a month.
3. Stick Or Trist
This week saw the arrival of Diego Tristan on a permanent deal having successfully completed a two-week trial at West Ham.
His unveiling came with all the usual spiel about how he hopes to do well for the club, repay the faith of the manager, turned down many other lucrative offers, and one hopes that the twilight of Tristan’s career heralds a committed approach from a player who has sparked misgivings in previous managers regarding fitness and attitude.
No question that on his day he is a formidable striker with great technique and in the continued absence of Custard Cream Dean, our frontline could do with some added depth.
The average age of our main attacking options (di Michele, Cole, Bellamy & Tristan) now stands at just under 30, although the addition of Freddie Sears would see that fall to 12. Ill be interested to see the emergence of Zola’s first choice pairing in the coming weeks as there are similar styles on offer – from speedy little scamps (Bellamy & Sears) to technically sound but ageing continentals (di Michele & Tristan).
Carlton Cole’s good fortune is that he provides the singular target man option and is therefore always likely to feature at some stage. Unless of course he’s engaged in a high speed pursuit down Barking Road.
4. The Opposition
Manager Phil Brown has put his side on a firm footing in the early part of this season and done so with a combination of resilient defending spiked with the occasional touch of quality. His efforts rightfully earned him the Manager of the Month award for September and this is all the more surprising coming from a man who served as Sam Allardyce’s apprentice at both Bolton and Blackpool.
His two most astute signings over the summer were those of former Boro and Villa midfielder George Boateng and Brazilian flair player Geovanni. I’m still surprised how Geovanni slipped through so many nets to find himself at Hull after a single season with Man City. At just 28 and with a pedigree of Benfica and Barcelona behind him, he was a real catch on a free transfer and remains the kind of player we could do with in our midfield. An opportunity missed.
Hull City is also home to Andy Dawson (above left), elder brother of H List favourite ‘Mahogany’ Mike (above right). Like Michael Dawson, Andy started out at Nottingham Forest before making the lateral move to Scunthorpe while his younger sibling was sufficiently planed and varnished to get him through the door at White Hart Lane.
Andy Dawson has gone onto become a solid defender and a regular in the Hull City back four – an achievement all the more remarkable when one considers all the rogue splinters he had to contend with throughout his upbringing.
A perplexing 5-0 thrashing at home to Wigan earlier this season has done Hull City a world of good and where some teams are winded by such an experience, they have rallied. This heavy defeat did have as much to do with Steve Bruce’s rhinal command of gravity as Hull’s poor display, however.
Hull have got where they are this season through a stout team spirit and high work rate and will definitely get bodies behind the ball for the ten or so minutes we are in possession. Whilst proving hard to break down, we may stand more of a chance away from home as their lofty position in the table and recent form will put the onus firmly on them to take the game to us.
5. The King Is Dead, Long Live The King?
Not only did the abdication of King Pantsil leave a huge void in all our lives, it also created a vacancy at Upton Park for the position of ‘cult hero’. While it is still early days to coronate another, from what I have seen so far this season, the frontrunner has to be new boy Herita Ilunga.
He has that ‘marauding lunatic’ quality to his play that endeared us so much to our former sovereign, plus he also poses a consistent attacking threat for a full-back, often putting our midfielders to shame and consigning the surprise departure of George McCartney to history’s New Den (dump).
A big appetite is one of the main criteria for any cult hero (makes you wonder why Lampard never made it) and Ilunga displayed his hunger for first team action by playing on with a severed hand against Bolton.
Of course, the West Ham Number 3 shirt will long be associated with one of the foremost cult heroes in the club’s history, but continued committed performances from Ilunga could see him gain entry to that exclusive club where certain players can do little wrong in the fan’s eyes.
For me, I just love the fact that he’s from the Congo. Surely it won’t be long before some bright spark out there on the terraces pens an Ilunga-based song to the tune of those classic ‘Um-Bongo’ adverts?
You know this makes sense
6. Back From The Dead
This week’s spate of international fixtures have seen some strange goings on, not least that Craig Bellamy (right) played all but ten minutes of Wales’ two fixtures against Lichtenstein and Germany. Bellamy didn’t score despite a host of chances (he missed a penalty, in fact), but he did get booked, so looks to be back to his old self.
In the latter fixture, James Collins also played the full 90 minutes, not only coming through unscathed in a competetive match against high quality opposition, but also shining in his centreback role and taking praise from both his captain and manager.
With Kieron Dyer allegedly now able to breathe unaided, it could be not much longer until we have something like an if not full, then at least partial complement of squad players to choose from.
England also managed to win away from home for the second time in as many months and I became embroiled in a passionate debate about the relative midfield merits of Steven Gerrard and Fat Frank.
This particular argument has gone on and on as to whether they can play together. It’s obvious to me that Gerrard is far and away the superior player, England’s major talent and arguably the best box-to-box midfielder in the world. It’s a no-brainer.
But one of my fellow debatees made the point that Lampard is genuinely world class in his postioning during attacks and his ability to arrive in the box at the right time. However, he soon relented when I pointed out that Fat Frank’s apparently well-timed late runs are infact his best efforts to spearhead a counter attack, until he is forced to continually pause for breath or pick up the innumerable Curly Wurlys that keep falling from his pockets.
7. Look Both Ways Before Crossing
At the moment we are arguably at our first crossroads of the season. It’s still early days and I’m sure we’re all contented with our League position thus far, however, defeats away to West Brom and Watford coupled with a frustrating loss at home to Bolton bring with them a familiar air.
Gianfranco Zola and Steve Clarke are still in their honeymoon period, but I think more than a few of us are eager to find out whether they can stamp their authority on the club and succesfully combat our age old predicament of fragility on the road. It would be nice to see a few solid West Ham performances on our travels this season.
Having had a few weeks with the playing squad, the new management team should have had time enough to form a clear idea of their preferred starting line-up, formation and tactics and to address the familiar results of the last few weeks.
Can Zola and his team consistently ingrain their ethos and practices onto Curbishley’s motley crew? Or is every assembly of West Ham players, regardless of personnel, destined to produce unlikely victories and tepid defeats in equal measure?