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

Friday, December 18, 2009

West Ham United vs Chelsea: Match Preview - 19/12/2009

1. Help Us, Obi-Wan Kenobi... You’re Our Only Hope...

I fear that even the unquestionable ability of a learned Jedi Knight, albeit a dead one, can not save us from our current predicament.

Well, Tuesday night was fun, wasn’t it? Another toothless, faltering performance, punctuated with costly errors, firmly embedding us within the relegation morass.

I was tempted to write this preview directly after that game, but I think even the porn-riddled internet would have been offended by some of the language I had lined up.

There’s no point in me raking over the coals in a vain attempt to conjure any warmth, as there is none.

2. Make Mine A Bitter

Having said that, there is one thing I can’t bring myself to overlook.

Bolton’s first goal stemmed precisely from a passage of the directionless midfield/defensive passing that has become our hallmark.

Gabbidon to Parker, to Tomkins, to Parker, to Kovac, to Gabbidon, to Ilunga, to Gabbidon, to Ilunga, to Kovac, to Parker, to Tomkins and on and on and on and on....

...until a pass goes astray, we’re all on the back foot and a footballing team with the panache of Bolton Wanderers slices us open.

Possession, you might say.

Possession is, of course, fundamental and all well and good if ultimately fruitful, but during this sorry episode, we didn’t even get out of our own half.

3. Opposition

Not that I can see us beating any team in the league this weekend, but the arrival of Chelsea to Upton Park on Sunday afternoon provokes a particularly uneasy wince.

Top of the League, blessed with an outrageous squad, money to burn, west London – they are literally the mirror opposite to ourselves and I fully expect them to batter us.

If he plays, just imagine what the ruthless Didier Drogba will do to wet-behind-the-ears James Tomkins...

Even cheap Lampard gags are futile and reek of a pathetic desperation, a churlish bid to embolden ourselves by slagging off an ex-player who would improve our own midfield no end.

4. Then Again...

'Come 'ere, you..... You're beautiful.'

5. History

If you look through the history books at our overall record against Chelsea since 1915, we fare well having registered 24 more goals and four more wins.

This record has of course been eroded significantly since Chelsea became a clandestine beneficiary of the suspect Russian oil and aluminium industries.

Salomon Kalou’s volley was enough to earn Chelsea a 1-0 win in this fixture last season, and while a weakened Chelsea were the better side, we had good chances.

Kieron I’m about to die-Er (a snip at £400,000 per game) shot tamely at Petr Cech from a great position and Diego Tristan’s flicked header was cleared off the line.

Our best chance, however, fell to Mark Noble after Ilunga was felled in the penalty area and awarded a spot-kick. Noble didn’t so much mess up as produce a fine save from Cech, and the game was lost.

6. Showing The Strain

As I’m sure you understand, I’ve lost all enthusiasm for writing about our prospects and so will cut this short.

Steve Clarke’s affected stance that Sunday represents “a great game for us”, does nothing for me, and I can only presume that the long-absent, arch-pessimist Headhammer Shark has hung himself.

7. Rage Against The Dying Of The Light

And now to an unrelated rant, I'm afraid.

For a little over three years now, at least four of the eight of you have grudgingly weathered this blog, its cheap gags, naive optimism and/or arduous cynicism – and all at no cost!

With that in mind and in the season of giving, there is currently a campaign in the UK to oust Simon Cowell and his cabal of saccharine, Satan-worshipping evil-doers from their mainstream media perch.

A commendable effort has been made to deny Cowell and his latest pre-pubescent, characterless mannequin of bland, parasitic, undistinguished, pox-ridden mediocrity the Christmas Number 1 single for the fifth year running.

The proposed alternative is Rage Against The Machine’s classic angst-ridden, expletive strewn, early-90’s ditty, ‘Killing In The Name’. A veritable panacea for X-Factor, Britain's Full Of Talentless Freaks and Cowell's omnipresent parade of the deluded.

Cowell has declared the emergence of valid competition as little more than a puerile witch-hunt, the collateral damage of which may tarnish the porcelain complexion of his latest doe-eyed paramour, to which I say, 'Fuck off'.

You can purchase a copy for a paltry 65p by clicking here, which I have done despite owning the album. I’m just that wealthy.

I urge you all to contribute, not least because a percentage of the proceeds will go to a variety of charities, but that it’s little victories such as these that we must cling to, to sustain us through the bleak, joyless months ahead to which all Hammers fans are surely condemned.

Merry Christmas!!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Bolton Wanderers vs West Ham United: Match Preview - 15/12/2009

1. As I Walk Through The Valley Of The Shadow Of Death...

This is going to be horrific. A Tuesday night visit to Bolton in the cold and rain, to see two purveyors of dross thrashing it out in what is clearly already a relegation encounter.

It’s likely to be as pretty as Andrew Lloyd Webber and you’re liable to need a shot of adrenaline directly into the heart to keep you awake, but for all its foul stench, the importance of this game is beyond dispute.

2. Opposition

Bolton Wanderers are the Antichrist. They are rivalled only by Rasputin, Machiavelli and ex-player El-Hadj Diouf as to how low they will stoop to gain an advantage.

Be that as it may, they will be on something of a high having held moneybags Man City to a 3-3 draw at the weekend. Thrice leading, it was only Pope Tevez who restored the aesthetic equilibrium by twice drawing Man City level.

This was an important result, coming as it did on the back of defeats to relegation rivals Wolves and Blackburn, as well as losses to Villa and Chelsea, punctuated only by a draw against Fulham.

Bolton’s sometimes effective, yet never attractive style is embodied by the giant elbow that is Kevin ‘The Giant Elbow’ Davies. For all his elbows, or more accurately because of them, Davies often causes problems for the more delicate defenders, and equally often scores against us.

His lumbering approach belies his scoring record and he must always look forward to playing West Ham as he invariably cites this fixture whenever his contract is up for renewal.

Goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen and midfielder Matthew Taylor are the only other players of note. The fact that nonentity Gavin McCann misses this game through injury is neither of significance nor of interest to anyone outside Gavin McCann, Mrs McCann and their drab, inoffensive, negligible brood of nothingness.

3. Hubble Bubble Toil And Trouble

Bolton’s deficiencies are often negated by their willingness to chase, harry and elbow, and that is bound to be their strategy tonight.

Classy opposition are often able to bide their time, patiently retain possession and probe away until an opportunity presents itself. We are not classy opposition and will therefore need to match Bolton for both physicality and work-rate.

Rob Green has called for ‘grit’ in a bid to turn things around, and part of me would rather see a 2-1 win and a couple of Bolton players in hospital than a graceful 3-0 waltz to victory.

This is one of few chances to accrue any points before the New Year, with Chelsea and tottenham in prospect (Portsmouth the meat in that unsavoury sandwich), so by any means must we claim an unmemorable triumph.

4. History

Not since that bloke left Indiana Jones hanging by a vine in the opening sequence of ‘Raiders Of The Lost Ark’, has the pallor of shame hung so visibly across a noble endeavour.

Our record against Bolton is so revolting, so filthy, so immoral that I am forced to type this section on the other side of a Perspex screen, to protect the laptop from the torrent of puke bursting from my mouth.

Make sure you’re near a sink:

We have beaten Bolton just three times in our last fifteen attempts.

Worse still, away from home we have taken a solitary point from a possible thirty.

That’s one draw and nine losses in ten visits.


Our last encounter at the Reebok Stadium was in the Carling Cup earlier this season, where Herita Ilunga’s opener was but a precursor to an extra-time 3-1 defeat. I’m not sure what’s more shameful, the final score or the fact that the home support mustered an attendance of just 8,050.

Yes, the prospect of playing West Ham may not be the biggest crowd-puller, but I’ve seen more people queuing for the checkouts in Lidl.

And yes, there may be little nobility in stealing a precious memento from the home of an indigenous, unsophisticated people in order to satisfy the whims of a more enlightened race, but that is just one of the many parallels between Indiana Jones and tonight’s game.

5. I Want A Good, Clean Fight

Over the last eighteen months transfer windows have been something to avoid as a West Ham fan. Rather than an opportunity to strengthen, they have more closely resembled the grisly final moments of a one-sided boxing match.

We get clubbed with a ferocious right-cross in the closing stages of every bout, the legs go, the eyes glaze over and all those in the corner of the vanquished pray, ‘keep your guard up, grab him, hold on, stay out of trouble ‘til the bell...’

As ever, the best we can hope for is the most corrupt of split decisions, just the one detached retina and no lasting cerebral damage.

6. Transfer Rumours

Our potential losses are of far greater concern than any token recruits.

Remember the time not too long ago when we were being linked with players, instead of resembling a one-stop-shop for any team in trouble?

A rumour that emerged this week has been particularly troubling. The potential loss of Scott Parker (some say to Liverpool in anticipation of ex-Hammer, Javier Mascherano, heading for Barcelona), would surely be the coup de grâce.

7. Tipping Point

If we go down this year and fail to gain promotion within 12-months, we may not see the top tier of English football for some time, a’ la Southampton, Leeds or Leicester.

Even a 12-month resurrection may be fanciful, as relegation is likely to herald the much-prophesised ‘fire-sale’, which has mercifully yet to materialise.

I get the feeling that a variety of factors are combining to forge a perfect storm of conditions, which could see our club founder upon the twin rocks of financial mismanagement and over extension.

I do hope I’m wrong. The next two months will shed significant light on our future.

But, hey, what do I know? Last week I said how I can’t see Parker sharing a midfield with either Kovac or Noble, and on Saturday Zola played all three.

8. Farewell Dean Ashton

Everyone now knows that Dean Ashton has been forced to retire through injury at the age of just 26.

The most effective English centre-forward to play for West Ham since Tony Cottee will now sadly be crammed into the exhaustive Upton Park file, entitled ‘What Might Have Been’.

I’m sure we’ve all put ourselves through the anguish of hypothesising where we could be now with a front line of Cole and Ashton.

Not that he’ll ever read it, but this blog would like to put on public record its gratitude for the fine service of Dean Ashton, and how in his retirement, we wish him all the Custard Creams in Christendom.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Birmingham City vs West Ham United: Match Preview - 12/12/2009

1. Love Is Blind, Contempt Lucid

Should I ever consider staying up ‘til 4am to watch such a wretched display as tendered by West Ham at the weekend, I’ll do well to remember that I’m likely to derive as much pleasure from hammering cuff-links into my foot.

With my other foot, having just severed it with a plastic fork.

Has there ever been a better time to beat Man United? A team which began the match in the absence of Ferdinand, Vidic, Van Der Saar, Jonny Evans, John O’Shea and the Da Silva twins, ended with a back-four of Evra, Carrick, Fletcher and Giggs.

Both Jack Collison and Junior Stanislas were poor, the latter consistently making flawed choices despite the efforts of Guillermo Franco to provide decent opportunities. Franco should have been more selfish, and along with Scott Parker, was the only player to emerge with any credit.

Displays like that lead me to conclude that our best chance of survival this year lies solely in the hope there may just be three teams more inept than ourselves.

2. Opposition

On current form, Birmingham City are not one of them.

The Blues have enjoyed a sustained purple patch, putting eight points between themselves and the relegation zone and securing a top half spot under the commendable tutelage of manager, Alex McLeish.

Unbeaten in six, with four wins and draws against Liverpool and Man City, McLeish has got Birmingham working for one-another

Ex-Hammer, Lee Bowyer, grasped the opportunity of regular football and flourished as a result, doing more for Birmingham this year than he ever did during his two spells at West Ham.

Unhampered by intellect, Bowyer has put in a few man-of-the-match performances, scored five goals in the process and was duly rewarded with a cemented berth in the midfield of my fantasy team – no mean feat, as I tinker more than Claudio Ranieri on soiled barbiturates.

Sebastian Larsson and James McFadden combine with Bowyer to form a competent midfield, accomplished in the fundamentals. They also comprise the club’s three top-scorers this season, picking up the slack from the under-firing front two of Cameron Jerome and Christian Benitez.

As the above suggests, in some ways Birmingham City are currently our antithesis – an average playing staff who constitute a team greater than the sum of their parts.

At present, we look every inch our rusted, malfunctioning, poor man’s Kwik-Fit, bargain bin selves.

3. History

In recent years, St. Andrews has proven a happy hunting ground. Last year saw us claim a 1-0 victory courtesy of a penalty after Craig Bellamy was very obviously brought down.

Fair-minded then manager, Steve Bruce, claimed that because the ball was headed for a goal kick, no penalty was warranted. One can only assume that Bruce was suffering from a particularly turbulent vortex at the end of his Angular Hooter™ that day.

4. Midfield Mire

Last week’s omni-shambles saw us regress into the midfield impotence that plagued us earlier this season.

While Kovac played probably as well as I’ve seen him, I will never condone a midfield which incorporates the regularly excellent Scott Parker alongside Kovac and/or Noble. I just don’t see how either of the other two provide anything that Parker can’t himself surpass.

It’s exactly like having just two filling options in a sandwich, choosing a delectably pungent mature cheddar and following up with a frugal, rubbery flap of ‘American cheese’. Absolute madness.

You could argue that with Behrami and Noble both injured, Kovac was a foregone conclusion, but where did that get us?

If Diamanti is fit, stick him in there for an hour. Yes, he’s erratic, occasionally reckless and half of his ‘incisive’ passes are more likely to incise your face, but he’s the only midfielder with the nerve to try something different.

Failing that, give The Spectral Embodiment of Luis Jiminez© a starting berth. A run of games can do him little harm and he has to be more offensively astute than Kovac/Noble. SURELY.

5. Case For The Defence

I was asked what I wanted for Christmas the other day. My response of ‘a few clean sheets’ raised unwarranted questions about my private life (which is nobody’s business), but the sentiment was sound.

Where to begin?

Danny Gabbidon’s hesitancy was obviously at fault for United’s second, and the inclusion of the emergent yet undeveloped James Tomkins in such a game at the expense of the up ‘til now decent Manuel da Costa, at a time when a succession of games was proving fruitful for the Portuguese, did neither party justice.

Hopefully Matthew Upson will brave the scolding abuse of his erstwhile employers and exert his influence to shore up a leaking back line.

My god, Robert Green was so disgusted with what lay before him on Saturday he had to go off the pitch and puke.

6. Injuries


Add Zavon Hines to the list and what are we left with? The prospect of Kieron Dyer getting a nitrous oxide package on his mobility scooter to spring the offside trap.

With our defence in its current state and our midfield content to run in every direction but forward, poor Guillermo Franco must look back on the dearth of resources available to him in the Mexican slums as a time of wondrous plenty.

What are the most realistic options? Franco upfront alone? Nouble alongside him? Diamanti in the hole in support of Dyer and Franco? Mike Small wandering sufficiently offside to give Trevor Morley space to take the scissors out of his back?

I’m full of theories, but can’t honestly say I have any confidence in a single one of them.

7. Back In Black And Blue

Another week, another tale of a takeover.

Those fine footballing brains at Straumur have reportedly set a deadline of today for any and all takeover offers to be submitted, enlisting Rothschild to oversee any deals.

Our Icelandic overlords are themselves applying for a nine-month extension to the moratorium of their creditors, and while this is expected to be granted, its absence would demand a quick sale.

The only serious (at least, public) contenders are funnily enough, ex-Birmingham City owners David Sullivan and David Gold.

The Davids have promised January investment and the retention of our star-performers (whoever they are), so long as they can acquire the club for a nominal fee in light of our debts.

Straumur have thus far resisted and things will likely chug along with all concerned looking to exact their pound of flesh at the expense of the fans, while I’m left to rake up this muck again in a month or so.

8. You Can’t Beattie A Bit Of A Bully

Should there be any money available in January, in our current plight I think we could do worse than signing want-away Stoke City striker, James Beattie.

Beattie made the news this week after fisticuffs with his manager, Tony Pulis, post-Stoke’s defeat to Arsenal. Pulis had apparently apologised to the whole squad bar Beattie, latterly having a one-on-one with his frontman, and now claims the matter is over.

At 31, Beattie would be cheap and is no more a gamble than DiMichele, Tristan or Franco. Another alleged target, Adriano, is more likely to pile on 10-stone and be the latest in the line of ex-legends happy to collect a tidy West Ham pension.

While he is no goal machine, Beattie would provide some gumption upfront, put himself about and generally be a right pain in the arse for the opposition, thereby freeing up space for anyone who isn’t mincing sideways around the edge of the area like an effeminate crab.

My god, if there were dressing room altercations after every time we lost to Arsenal, we’d all be watching the game atop a stinking pile of corpses.

9. An Open Letter To Gianfranco Zola

Dear cheeky little Franco Zola,

Despite what have admittedly been some testing times, I remain a supporter of yours and still feel your overall service thus far justifies time in the job.

However, the next time your band of rascals put in a performance of galling inadequacy, please, please do not emerge from the dressing room gushing empty platitudes along the lines of:

‘I can’t fault the players, they were fantastic. They gave everything. They did everything I asked of them.’

This approach can only result in three possible outcomes:
(i) You look like you have no idea what you’re doing
(ii) You ruffle the fine winter plumage of your hitherto accommodating support and
(iii) I feel like squeezing your diminutive frame into a blender, which would be horrible for me as you have such an endearing, cheeky smile.

May I suggest that you either keep these fallacies to yourself and maybe watch a tape of the game when you get home, or give your staff the kick up the backside they merit.


Boleyn Beluga and his illusory readers.

10. Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life

So, more doom and gloom with not so much as a glimmer of hope on the horizon, but if we didn’t laugh, we’d cry.

In that spirit and in the season of Christmas cheer, Craig Bellamy has swine flu.

And Roy Hodgson made the most unenthusiastic and tempered endorsement for England selection in history from a manager in regard to one of his own players:

"You could make a case for one or two more unusual selections, players who have something a bit extra. If you perpetuated that argument, you might come up with an argument for someone like a Bobby Zamora."

Go on, put a smile on your face.

Friday, December 04, 2009

West Ham United vs Manchester United: Match Preview - 5/12/2009

1. Opposition

Manchester United are this season going for an unprecedented fourth consecutive Premiership title. However, the loss of Cristiano Ronaldo would weaken any team bar Jossy’s Giants, and the general consensus this year is that Chelsea are in the driving seat for the major honours.

Ferguson has the majority of the £80million Ronaldo swag in the bank and could well strengthen in January, Micah Richards having been touted.

Honduran Antonio Valencia and erstwhile England striker, Michael Owen, have been his most notable purchases this year, Valencia contributing the goals you’d expect from a right-winger who isn’t an absolute freak, and Owen reduced to 158th-minute cameos, leaving him just the ten minutes to nab a winner.

After an efficient if not spectacular start to this campaign, United ominously hit form last week, putting four past Portsmouth at Fratton Park. Wayne Rooney’s hat-trick was complimented by a free-kick from the evergreen Ryan Giggs and the champions looked to be approaching their incisive best. Which is great.

With Ronaldo gone, Ferdinand suffering and Scholes, Giggs and Van Der Saar approaching pensionable age, United are certainly not the force they were.

Of their regulars, only Rooney, Vidic and Evra would likely command a place in most top European sides, and were it not for the underachievement of Arsenal and Liverpool, United could find an automatic 2nd place questionable.

They’ll obviously walk all over us, though.

2. World Cup Draw

Today sees the draw for next year’s World Cup groups, with England among the top seeds along with Spain, Brazil, Germany, Italy, Argentina, Holland and hosts, South Africa.

This leaves Portugal and France (booooooo!*) in the second tier, along with other dangerous sides such as Mexico, Chile and the Ivory Coast.

‘Côte d’Ivoire’ in particular are a team best avoided, blessed as they are with Didier Drogba, Arsenal’s Emmanuel Eboué and the Toure brothers, Kolo and Yaya.

With Nigeria and Ghana also represented, this tournament could be the one where African nations finally emerge from long shadow cast by Cameroon’s Quarter-Final appearance at Italia ’90.

There is also the potential for the most lethal ‘Group of Death’ since Genghis Khan, Pol Pot and Hugo A-Go-Go got together in Kabul for H1N1 canapés. Imagine being drawn alongside France, Ivory Coast and Mexico?

Obviously, we’ll draw Australia and I’ll end up in prison.

*A shout out to my Irish brethren, particularly the Dublin Hammers, who must still be wounded by the travesty of their omission from the tournament after such a fine qualifying campaign. The H List and its Irish heritage is firmly in your corner.

May the once likeable Thierry Henry be forced to watch endless ‘Ally McBeal’ boxsets and have his gentleman’s area sautéed and scattered to the winds, banishing his dastardly seed from humanity.

3. History

Our home form against Man Utd since the inception of the Premier League is decent, considering their general dominance: we have won two, lost four and drawn seven.

Only one match has produced a winning margin of more than a single goal, the 5-3 defeat back in 2002 – a game where Paulo DiCanio memorably sank to his knees, pounding the ground in frustration having spurned a chance to level at 4-4, only to see United go straight up the other end and win a penalty.

Last season we made a good fist of it, but lost 1-0. Carlton Cole out-muscled Rio Ferdinand to go through on goal, only to elect an ill-advised chip from twenty yards instead of tonking it for all his worth. Lucas Neill took his eyes off his bank balance long enough to force a decent save from Edwin Van Der Saar and generally we were in contention.

Prior to kick-off, time-bending Glaswegian firebrand, Alex Ferguson, disclosed that this potential banana skin merited experienced heads, and it was Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs who made the difference.

Just after the hour, Scholes swept a cross-field pass to Giggs, who jinked his way into the area before firing right-footed through a forest of limbs and into the bottom corner.

4. Untimely Absenteeism

In games like this, you want your big players fit and firing. We therefore go into Saturday without our best defender and most effective attacking threat.

The loss of Matthew Upson and Carlton Cole all but kills off any glimmer of victory quicker than you can say, ‘The Top Gear presenter’s sickening and transparent attempts at ‘un-scripted’ comedy banter make me want to puke up my own arms’.

Recently, an unusual trend has occurred where the Club refuse to give an even vaguely quantifiable length of time that a player is expected to receive treatment.

Matthew Upson has a ‘hamstring strain’, nothing more. Carlton Cole will be out ‘for a number of weeks’. The abundant fuel supply of the Sun will last for ‘a number of weeks’, but that doesn’t tell the whole story, does it?

Leave it to whufc.com and the promotional literature for The Grand Canyon would read ‘slightly bigger, outdoorsy version of some pebbles and puddles in a skip’.

Cole’s injury is the more worrying, coming as it does just prior to the critical run of fixtures referred to last week (what do you mean you didn’t read it?)

We can expect him to be out until at least the New Year, meaning some serious slack has to be picked up by our remaining frontline and midfield.

Rumours of Luca Toni’s January arrival persist, but I’d rather have Cole upfront, and as they are a similar type of player, I don’t think that one would provide a foil for the other.

5. The Case For The Defence

What you don’t want heading into games like this, is a makeshift and nervy back four.

The absence of Matthew Upson leaves a lack of authority amid a defence who currently seem to be as familiar with each other as Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is to the art of tact.

Last week’s bewildering attempt to throw away a 5-0 lead was overseen by Herita Ilunga, Manuel da Costa, Danny Gabbidon and Jonathan Spector, and it is likely that those four will again line up on Saturday.

You’d imagine that it would be Gabbidon who would take the lion’s share of responsibility, and we certainly need someone vocal to marshal the defence in unison. It’s in circumstances like these that we miss Lucas Neill - although generally he is only missed by local full-fat cheesecake vendors.

Our recent tally of 27 goals conceded in eleven games is already worrying, but particularly so in light of Saturday’s opponents.

The few positives this season stem from our attack barely managing to nullify our leaky defence, and while I think we’ll score on Saturday, I also think we’re likely to concede more than a French military defensive outpost.

6. Picture Book

'Against a team like United, you need five in midfield... to rout their Zionist agenda and crush Israel.'

Friday, November 27, 2009

West Ham United vs Burnley FC: Match Preview - 28/11/2009

1. Who Has The Key To Devon’s Loch?

Like the aforementioned steed, in recent outings we have been comfortably ahead, a decent buffer between ourselves and our rivals, only to flounder of our own accord, our limbs splayed to each point of the compass like an all too willing harlot.

Last week’s draw against Hull marked the fifth time this season that we have taken the lead in a game only to fail to go on and win it, the other examples being tottenham, Bolton in the League Cup, Fulham and Sunderland.

Perhaps more galling was that after taking a 2-0 lead with barely ten minutes on the clock, we found ourselves 3-2 down by halftime. To Hull.

Having equalised, to then fail to claim a winner against the 10-men of Hull City (Hull City, by Jehovah!) did nothing to inspire confidence in anything other than another drab tale of survival to add to our catalogue of underperformance.

We even had two gilt-edged chances to win it at the death – a gift of a header from Junior Stanislas, preceded by a weak effort by what appeared to be the spectral embodiment of the fabled Inter Milan midfielder, Luis Jiminez.

However, these gilded opportunities will merely serve as sour footnotes to what constitutes a distasteful hors d’oeuvre to the 2009-’10 campaign.

2. Opposition

As legions of St. Bernard’s scour Mount Krispy Kreme looking for HeadHammer Shark, their kegs brimming with hot fudge, it falls to me to shed light upon the next stage in our lacklustre slog towards 15th place.

Burnley pay us a visit this weekend, on the back of some significant results and three months into a solid start to their inaugural Premier League campaign.

The Lancastrians have done an admirable job of picking up a steady stream of points this season. Whilst being on the wrong end of a few thumpings early on, these have been punctuated by notable wins against the likes of Manchester United, Everton and Sunderland.

Burnley have also succeeded in picking up points versus those teams against whom they may well be competing for Premiership survival come May, defeating as they have Hull City and Birmingham.

Last season’s Championship players have largely made the transition to the Premier League, with defenders Stephen Caldwell and Andre Bikey particularly impressive. Our own Tyrone Mears less so.

Not being the pushover we perhaps expected pre-season, The Clarets arrive at Upton Park on the back of two solid results, a 1-1 draw at home to Aston Villa and a 3-3 thriller away to Manchester City.

Although, the latter was largely due to some defending from Wayne Bridge that Rigobert Song would have been ashamed of. Or proud of – I can’t quite figure that one out.

Anyway, retribution was swift as this performance saw Bridge jettisoned from my fantasy football team quicker than you can say ‘Jordan’s kids should be taken into care’.

3. History

On the four occasions that we’ve played Burnley since 1980, we have recorded two wins and two draws, one of each home and away.

Our last encounter at the Boleyn Ground was back in August 2004 and ended in a 1-0 win courtesy of an edge-of-the-box belter from midfield cannon fodder, Adam Nowland - now plying his trade at Northern Premier League Division One North side, AFC Fylde.

4. General Franco

One positive taken from last week was the performance of this season’s elder statesman, Guillermo Franco.

Despite sharing the name of a 20th-century European dictator (something which endears him greatly to The H List) and resembling Justine Henin on more steroids than she is generally accustomed to, Franco succeeded in scoring our first and setting up our second.

In the absence of Alessandro Diamanti, the Mexican international took on more creative responsibility, as well as providing support for the returning Carlton Cole.

He provides a different threat from either the colossus Cole or the fleet-footed Hines and if he can go on to do what DiMichele or Tristan summarily failed in, and claim ten or more goals this season, combined with a fit and firing Cole, he could prove the difference this year and make a telling contribution.

5. Picture Book

Guillermo Franco celebrates taking Stefan Edberg to a second set tie-break

6. Now Is The Winter Of Our Discontent?

In a marked contrast to last year, we have been scoring freely recently, but have suffered from the multitude of holes in our permeable defence remaining unplugged.

Last season’s bedrock has become this year’s brittle undercarriage, the quantity of goals leaked in just three months rendering the custom of defending as futile a gesture as ‘Celebrity Mum of the Year’.

The concession of four penalties this term and the twenty four goals conceded in our last ten games showcases a defensive rigidity akin to the French Army, and all of this approaching what will be a significant portion of our season.

Along with last week’s trip to Hull, our schedule between now and the New Year constitutes a crucial run of fixtures which will go a long way to shaping our campaign.

Important ties against the likes of Burnley, Birmingham, Bolton and Portsmouth are interspersed with visits to Old Trafford and White Hart Lane, as well as the courteous East End welcome always extended to Chelsea.

Another batch of favourable fixtures awaits us in the first two months of 2010, but should we emerge from that period with little to show for it, a place in the bottom half of the bottom half is the best we can hope for.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Hull City vs West Ham United: Match Preview - 21/11/2009

1. Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

This article marks something of an epoch for The H List, being published as it is from the southern hemisphere.

In a frankly ridiculous bid for increased market share, Headhammer Shark and I have taken the bewilderingly radical approach of posting one author to Australia and it was I who took one for the team, typing as I am in shorts, t-shirt and 30-degree heat.

I have an equally baffling theory that the resultant time difference gives me a better chance of uploading articles in a quasi-punctual fashion. Not difficult when we currently publish once every Mayan dynasty.

2. Opportunity Knocks

Back in mid-October, had I offered you five points from Arsenal, Sunderland, Villa and Everton would you have taken it?

From the first three games, definitely, despite the frustration of letting a two goal lead slip at The Stadium of Light. A wasteful loss to an under par Everton side, however, contributed to a sense of missed opportunity.

To take eight points from those tricky fixtures would have not only provided us with a tangible buffer to the relegation zone but, more importantly, really given the team what would have been a warranted boost of confidence.

As it is, I feel that any confidence accrued post-Villa took an appreciable knock after the Everton match – the kind of knock which could manifest itself against Hull, when the added momentum from a win against The Toffees would have stood us in fine stead for our trip up North.

3. Opposition

As I am positioned ‘Down Under’ in a land rife with opposites, I can almost persuade myself that Saturday’s visit to Hull City constitutes a top four clash, but of course it doesn’t. It’s a tooth and nail, bare-knuckle fistfight of a fixture.

Occupying two of the bottom four league positions, taking three points from this match is a must for both teams.

Natural Selection and all laws of nature suggest that it is us who should emerge victorious from this squalid affair, but being West Ham we will obviously do everything in our power to subvert the accepted wisdom of Evolution by preaching Creationist dogma from atop the 3-million year old fossilised remnants of Jimmy Bullard’s knees.

Hull City are a bad team. You don’t need me to tell you that, it’s more than apparent each week. Last season’s survival was wholly due to a remarkable early season run, something they have been incapable of this year.

A chronic case of Second Season Syndrome has gripped the KC Stadium and they are ill-equipped to deal with it. The opportunity to bolster in the January transfer window will do them little good if manager Phil Brown is still holding the purse strings, although it may present us with the chance to offload Nigel Quashie for £27million.

A 2-1 home win against Stoke City last time out postponed the Chairman’s axe from slicing into Phil Brown’s bronzed neck. It would be sweet to nudge the self-regarding Brown a step closer to the exit.

4. Picture Book

'Oi, Phil! What's your position on the concept of humility?'

5. History

Last season we managed to escape from Hull with just the 1-0 defeat, coming as it did in the midst of Zola’s early shaky run courtesy of a header from the now £12million-rated defender (UNBELIEVEABLE), Michael Turner.

Cole and Ilunga both missed great chances in the first half and Carlton also rattled the bar at 1-0 down. It was a familiar tale of creating more gilt-edged chances than a lesser team, who inevitably get the winner with their sole attempt.

The match was also notable for the fact that Marlon King took time out from beating women to make an appearance.

This season’s early shaky run may be at an end, although the jury’s still out. Saturday is a crunch test in that regard.

6. Cheat! Cheat! Cheat!

Is your team full of underachieving egomaniacs about to crash out of World Cup qualification? Just use these.

7. Cole-Fired

It came as a surprise to no-one that the absence of Carlton Cole against Everton and for the majority of the Villa game shone a retina-searing light on our dearth of potent attacking options.

Young Zavon Hines did remarkably well against Villa, poaching as he did the injury-time winner. He was however as wasteful as lottery-winning chav in the Everton match, and alongside Guillermo Franco forms a front line with zero physical presence.

Franco looks a more accomplished player than David DiMichele, with a sound touch and composure when in possession. However, at this early stage I may as well have drawn the comparison that Hitler slaughtered slightly less people than Stalin.

Cole’s remarkable early season form has inevitably attracted the attention of some of the big guns, with Liverpool and Manchester United sniffing around our nubian prince. He has emerged as a player that three of the traditional Big Four are craving.

The Club have again insisted that our star performers are not for sale and that our finances are not so precarious that we are unable to resist a £20million+ offer. We all know that to sell Cole constitutes Premiership suicide and any income gained will be swiftly negated by the absence of the TV money guaranteed by survival.

He is a solid incarnation of the shadow of a player he once threatened to be, and while I was always an admirer of his endeavour, the addition of a killer instinct, tenacity, close control and Optimus Prime-esque strength has slowly led me to fall in love with him.

If that assertion doesn’t cause him to move on come January, then we should be able to hang onto him ‘til the summer.

8. Phil Clown

Sometimes people come into our lives at just the right time. Serendipity, kismet, karma... Call it what you will, but very occasionally The Fates conspire to provide us with a tonic when the prognosis looks bleak.

Mercifully, the austere prospect of writing an upbeat preview for a trip to Hull is assuaged by their unequivocal buffoon of a manager.

When he’s not giving halftime teamtalks on the pitch, leading the masses in a televised singsong as if he were Sir Cliff at Wimbledon, or conducting a live TV interview sat in front of a self-portrait big enough to make Chairman Mao blush, Phil Brown is busy taping radio mics to his face.

How can I add anything to make him look anymore stupid?

When invited onto a live Sunday morning chat show, what kind of a man’s thought processes constitute:

‘Right, what to wear.... Blue pinstripes, pink sweater. Risqué? Tell you what, I’ll deflect any abject shame by slinging said jumper casually over the shoulders.’

The most nauseating thing is you know that he was in the mirror for a good hour, bellowing fashion stratagems downstairs to Mrs. Brown as she whisked up the Aunt Bessie’s pudding batter.

Sorry, Phil. You’re not nibbling on a delicate brioche on the Champs Elysees, sipping an espresso and sifting through Le Monde.

You’re in Hull.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

West Ham United vs Arsenal: Match Preview - 25/10/2009

1. Black Dog

Writing this crap can have an effect on the soul. It’s a sorry state of affairs when the highlight of the season thus far has been a riot.

There has been precious little to cheer. Any cause célèbre (Cole’s screamer against tottenham) has swiftly been negated (Cole’s mesmeric through-ball to Defoe), and the only home win, albeit against Millwall, was a defeat until the 87th minute.

Maybe you reap what you sow. Heckling for attractive football over results has got me in this pickle and the ham-fisted nature of our attacking play has forced me to take a big bite out of a stale reality-sandwich.

2. Opposition

Our Premiership coffin already nicely taking shape, aristocratic fops, Arsenal, slum it at Upton Park on Sunday afternoon, sure to buff any splintered edges with their ivory-handled emery boards.

This season’s title-race looks to be the most open for years, and Arsenal currently look as likely as any to stake a solid claim.

Belgian centre-back Thomas Vermaelen has proven another astute purchase by Arsene Wenger. Already scoring four times this season and looking capable at the back, the left-footer provides balance in the middle alongside walking tantrum, William Gallas.

Cesc Fabregas continues to pull the strings in midfield and is sure to keep on kissing his badge right up until he signs for Barcelona.

Notably this season, the departure of Emmanuel Adebayor has enabled Robin Van Persie to finally take centre stage up front, emerging from the shadow of Adebayor and Thierry Henry.

Van Persie oozes class (except with the ladies) and his Feyenoord upbringing has lead to a touch of the Bergkamp’s in his close control, as illustrated by recent goals against Birmingham and Fulham.

The Gunners remain susceptible to conceding, risking defensive solidity for aesthetic perfection. As they often commit both full-backs forward, hitting them on the break at pace is as likely a route to goal as any, so Zavon Hines could prove useful.

Scoring could also prove useful. As could having a shot on goal. Getting a cross in might get us somewhere. And making a valid substitution before second half injury time is also something to consider.

Arsenal’s weakness since the departure of their famous back four has been a brittle underbelly to their beautiful play. As the likes of Bolton have proven on a few occasions, get in amongst them and they often fold rather than risk spilling their 1945 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild.

Of course, we choose to eschew this established wisdom and take on the best footballing side in the League at actual football, for goodness sake. Inevitably, we often come off second best and I see no reason to believe that Sunday will be any different.

3. History

Last season’s corresponding fixture finished 2-0 to the Gunners, although we held our own for an hour until Julien Faubert deflected a shot into his own net.

The introduction of Emmanuel Adebayor in the second half highlighted the gulf in class and he competently put Arsenal two-up to seal the result.

Generally speaking, we haven’t done too badly against Arsenal over the years. The famous ‘last team at Highbury, first team at Emirates’ chant will always be something to cling to in these barren times, but that it takes on increasing importance tells its own story.

4. Attribute The Quote:

'One day I will be King of Europe...'

5. Ask Not For Whom The Bell Tolls

Right. The situation is dire. Which is almost as terminal as Dyer.

One win so far this season, five points from eight games, second bottom of the table and three tricky fixtures just round the corner.

At Stoke I stood among the meat pie-wielding masses to witness West Ham stroke the ball impotently from right wing to left without ever thinking to, I don’t know, run forwards?

The incessant lateral nonsense put me in mind of staring at windscreen wipers whilst driving through a torrential downpour. Right, left, right, left, right, left…. Futilely straining against the inevitable as the wheels come off and we aquaplane into oblivion.

Zola came out after the game saying that he took solace in the manner of our play, but I can’t see how. Yes, we dominated Stoke for spells, but dominating a team like Stoke is not enough.

For all the tidy play out of our own half, after a few side to sides, we often resort to a hopeful ball up to Cole. If that is always to be the ultimate result, why not lump it up there early before he’s surrounded by three defenders?

No-one is threading in neat passes, and more endemic is that no-one is finding any space when not in possession. Give the ball, stand still, get it back, pass it sideways.

If Mark Noble receives possession on the edge of the area again and turns back towards Rob Green, I’m going to loop Cheryl Cole’s new video on his TV. With the vision off and the sound up.

6. Picture Book

Arsene Wenger illustrates the need for a high-fibre diet

7. Behrami Army

Valon Behrami is West Ham’s night light – he never illuminates proceedings to a huge extent, but you’re always glad he’s there. More than most, he seems to understand what it is that endears a player to the fans.

While Junior Stanislas and Julien Faubert were lauding the former’s injury-time equaliser against a 10-man Fulham, it was Behrami dragging them back to the halfway line for the re-start.

Always full of running and never short of endeavour, he’d be one of the first names on my teamsheet – along with myself up front, a coked-up Mark Ward on the wing (imagine the pace) and HeadHammer Shark, the proverbial bus parked in front of the goal.

Although he constitutes one half of a suspect defensive axis with Faubert down our right-hand side, Behrami is arguably our most consistent performer.

The antithesis of the self-important Nigel Reo-Coker and one of the few positives from the Curbishley era, Behrami knows the score:

“I think the team has to lift the crowd. If they see that every player challenges and runs, it’s easier for the people to get behind you… it’s down to us, the players.”

Thursday, October 01, 2009

West Ham United vs Fulham: Match Preview - 04/10/2009

1. Same Old H List, Always Absent…

As HeadHammer Shark stagnates in his recliner, responding to his good lady wife’s pleas for a little help with the kids with a ‘whatever’-style gesture, never once taking his eyes from Wrestlemania on the Plasma, it has been left to me to post our bi-monthly article.

Yes, I missed the Bolton and Man City previews, but in hindsight can you blame me?

2. Opposition

Sunday afternoon sees us take on Fulham at Upton Park in what has arguably become a must-win game so early in the season.

Fulham have had marginally better start than us after an exceptional year where they snatched 7th place (their highest ever finish) and the final Europa League spot from under the noses of several other clubs whom many thought a safer bet.

Woy Hodgson has done a fantastic job since arriving at Cwaven Cottage, staving off near-imminent welegation in his first season before qualifying for Euwope the next.

Hist team are altogether a sterner test than in recent years and by no means a banker at home. Aussie international Mark Schwarzer is a competent ‘keeper, veteran Danny Murphy keeps things ticking over in midfield, they have two mobile full-backs (one of them a genius) and Bobby Zamora just does well to stay on his feet with Andy Johnson diving all over the place.

Saying that, they too are in the midst of a poor run, arriving on the back of three consecutive defeats to Arsenal, Man City and Wolves.

Another recent similarity is that they have their fair share of injury worries, with new signing Damien Duff recently joining Simon Davies and Brede Hangeland on the injury list.

I’ve heard rumours that King Paintsil plans on exposing Derren Brown’s devilry at halftime before zooming off in a jet-pack from the centre circle, so keep your eyes peeled for that.

3. Case For The Defence

Monday night’s defeat to Man City highlighted a few areas at the root of our current plight, the most stark of which was the shocking defending on display for both goals from Pope Tevez.

We’ve conceded three goals in each of our last three matches. Cripes.

There were some shocking lapses, not least when our entire defence were simultaneously struck by a bout of narcolepsy as Tevez nodded in City’s third, one of three City players free at the far post.

Tomkins is the real deal, but he is only seven years old and a lack of positional experience was evident when he tried to both mark a player and cover the ball simultaneously, resulting in him doing neither and leaving Tevez with a tap-in.

Da Costa had a decent debut, but Matthew Upson’s absence was clear. Upson’s injury lay-off and the news that Danny Gabbidon has picked up another injury again throws the wisdom of selling James Collins into question.

Fullback’s Ilunga and Faubert both appear a little off the pace, be that fitness-wise or positionally, but I expect better to come from both.

The prospect of Faubert at right-back is not as bone-chilling as it once was, and for that he deserves credit. While there are obvious deficiencies, I think he’s done pretty well so far this year and could yet make the unlikely transition from pantomime villain to back-end-of-a-pantomime-horse.

4. Picture Book

'World Cup winner? Two time FIFA World Player Of The Year? But can you handle this?!'
5. History

Last season saw us beat Fulham 3-1 at the Boleyn.

Gentleman John Paintsil graciously put one on a plate for David DiMichele after a couple of minutes, having cunningly disguised his genius for total defensive incompetence.

This was followed by an absolute scorcher from another former Hammer, Paul Konchesky, who drilled an unstoppable shot past Green from somewhere near Leyton. It was reminiscent of Konchesky’s goal in the 2006 FA Cup Final, except this time he meant it.

Finally, Carlton Cole was brought down for a penalty, converted by Noble, before scoring himself.

In recent times Fulham have been our bitches, with us recording seven wins and a draw from our last eight encounters.

6. Picture Book

'£80million? What does that buy you? Does it buy you this?!'

5. Form and Function

During Zola’s post-match interview on Monday, it appeared as if the penny had dropped that passing endeavour is not enough when you’ve got four points from six games.

He has described Sunday’s match as “a cup final” and Scott Duxbury has sacrificed a couple of goats to his pagan gods on top of the usual kindergarten playgroup.

For all our neat passing in midfield, this admirable approach rarely makes it into the final third nor translates into a meaningful shot on goal.

Invariably, we are able to pass our way out of tight situations in and around our own penalty area, competently resisting the temptation to hoof it clear. This then creates the illusion of the beginnings of a fluid attack, only for a pass to go astray soon after we cross into opposition territory.

Another issue is our chronic lack of width. No-one’s consistently getting down the wings and no-one’s getting crosses into one of the bigger aerial threats in the league.

What we’re left with is restricted space combined with overly intricate passing moves, which more often than not flounder upon midfield congestion.

I’m all for our style of play, which demonstrates a sea-change in comparison to the Curbishley-era when we all cried ourselves to sleep. I’m merely highlighting that our inability to mix things up means that once we’ve been figured out, we’re largely nullified.

Friday, September 18, 2009

West Ham United vs Liverpool: Match Preview - 19/09/2009

1. Opposition

Eternal bridesmaid’s, Liverpool, are in town this week, clutching the withered bridal bouquet of Manchester United’s dominance.

The Reds have suffered a couple of blips already this season, with losses to tottenham and Villa. They do, however, come to Upton Park on the back of a 4-0 victory at home to Burnley, largely courtesy of ex-Hammer, Yossi Benayoun, who scored three and set up the other.

Whether they finally have the necessary quality and depth to win their first title since 1990 remains in doubt. The renewed commitment of Gerrard, Torres and Benitez will have bolstered fans, but the lack of major investment in real quality will likely hinder genuine title prospects.

Not that this should matter to The Reds come Saturday. We have been so subservient to them these last 30+ years that I half expect our players to doff their caps in the tunnel, perspiration still glistening on the brow from scrubbing the Liverpool team bus.

Victory at the weekend is as likely as Jamie Redknapp spelling ‘analytical competency’ without the use of a Speak & Spell. In fact, I’d wager he couldn’t even say it.

2. Nature vs Nurture

Premier League clubs this week agreed on new rules which state that eight out of twenty-five first team squad members must be ‘home-grown’ from next season.

No worries for us, but before you think ‘Wow, Arsenal are going to fold!’, the term ‘home-grown’ is misleading. Any player, foreign or otherwise, that has been at one club for three years or more between the ages of 16 and 21 qualifies.

On this basis, Cesc Fabregas is ‘home-grown’, as would Ronaldo have been at Manchester United prior to his departure.

Arsene Wenger’s considerable internet grooming skills can therefore remain extra-curricular.

3. Stop The Rot

While it is too early to start looking into competitive hotel rates in Doncaster for next season, we do come into this game on the back of two poor performances.

A nothing draw at Ewood Park was followed by a defeat at Wigan so turgid that even eternal nice guy, Frankmundo Zola, saw fit to declare the performance unacceptable.

The immediate chances of us nipping this downturn in the bud seem slight, with our next two games being at home to Liverpool and then away to Man City.

What is the best catalyst for recovery: to have a proper go and suffer a potential rout? Or adopt a conservative approach and, who knows, maybe nick a point?

I’d go for the former, but what do I know? I thought Kieron Dyer was a sound purchase.

4. History

This fixture constituted the penultimate home game of last season and culminated in a 3-0 defeat. Steven Gerrard put the visitors 1-0 up within a minute and 2-0 up after 38, before the game was settled late on by Ryan Babel.

Nothing much noteworthy from us, bar David DiMichele’s curious stuttering dive right on the stroke of halftime when clean through on goal.

A mistake by Jamie Carragher had let the diminutive Italian in, and DiMichele took the retrospectively admirable decision to showcase his emerging ballerina skills, as his future was so obviously not in football.

We have won just one league encounter against Liverpool from the last fourteen, losing ten. Liverpool’s away form is good (six wins from seven ) and our home form is bad (one win from four).

A failure to score in our last two games against considerably weaker opposition than Saturday’s also does not bode well. Neither does Liverpool’s seven goals scored in back-to-back wins.

One chink in Liverpool’s armour is from set-pieces, from which all seven goals conceded this season have come.

5. Out With The Old, In With The Old

This season’s must-have ageing striker accessory is Mexico international, Guillermo Franco, who this week signed on a free transfer following the expiry of his contract with Villareal.

Argentine-born Franco comes with some international pedigree, enjoying a recent goal-scoring spree in Mexico’s World Cup qualifying campaign.

His motivation is to consolidate that place during a World Cup year. Ours is more likely the chance to harvest his organs when Dean Ashton dies.

6. So Long, Alonso

The main Merseyside transaction of the summer involved Xabi Alonso, departing as he did for Real Madrid after largely being hung out to dry since Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez flirted with Gareth Barry last year.

In came Alberto Aquilani from AS Roma, who is yet to make his debut for the club and so will obviously do so this Saturday and score eleven goals.

Alonso’s departure is a puzzlement to me because most people outside of Benitez could see that he was an instrumental part of this side.

While Gerrard and Fernando Torres often take the plaudits, Alonso was always adept at keeping things ticking over in midfield with good vision and an impressive range of passing.

They did get £30million for him, but to me he was exactly the kind of unsung, genuine quality that makes Championship winning sides. A bit like Wedge Antilles – no, he won’t get the princess or slay a Sith Lord, but by god he’ll do a job for you.

7. Diamanti Geezer

Alessandro Diamanti was given his first cameo against Wigan last week and provided the spark that was so sorely lacking.

He went very close with a free-kick (ostensibly something of a speciality) and hit the post late on.

Zola has spoken of his intention to ease him into the pace of the English game, so he is perhaps unlikely to start on Saturday, but I don’t see why not. Packing the midfield with like-for-like players has done little for us in recent weeks.

8. Sex Sells

It has been announced that current Birmingham City co-owner, Dave Sullivan, intends to leave the midlands club should a proposed takeover go through.

Sullivan has stated his intention to remain in football and is a well known West Ham fan. Indeed, the prospect of his investment in the club has already been touted this year.

Comically, he made his fortune in pornography in the late ‘70’s and therefore is fully qualified to add his name to the long line of morally sound businessmen to have invested in West Ham.

He said earlier this week: "Following the takeover I will be looking for a new challenge where my experience, success, sound business acumen and readily available editions of Razzle will make a difference."

The commercial possibilities are mind-boggling and the West Ham DVD selection could soon become unrecognisable: ‘Frank McAvennie Scythes The Hammerettes With His Two-Footed Tackle’ etc.
9. It Makes You Proud

Prospective investor Dave Sullivan (left). There’s nothing I can add to this photo to make it any funnier.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Wigan Athletic vs West Ham United: Match Preview - 12/09/2009

1. A Change Of Tack

I don’t know about you, but personally I think this blog has become just a little too considered in recent weeks at the expense of our bread and butter.

Perilous flirtation with the threat of legal action has been discarded in favour of sound reasoning, and that has to change.

I plan to address this dumbing down of the groundless histrionics which lie at the core of any self-respecting madman’s agenda - it’s political correctness gone mad.

If we could afford solicitors here at The H List, I’m sure we’d be paying them far too much for doing too little, so it’s about time these imaginary leeches earned their scandalously fictitious pay cheques.

2. ‘Av it

Wigan owner, Dave Whelan, upon being asked with which fist he will punch his grand-daughter to sleep with tonight.

3. Opposition

The latest episode in our inexorable march to midtable sees us visit everyone's favourite least favourite team, Wigan Athletic.

Wigan's summer activity largely involved big name departures - Luis Antonio Valencia went to Man United in a bid to slip into the Brylcream-slickened shoes of Cristiano Ronaldo, and Steve Bruce was unavoidably whisked north to Sunderland by the haphazard nature of his physics-resistant snout.

Lee Cattermole was ensnared in Bruce’s rhinal vortex meaning that, along with Wilson Palacios and Valencia, Wigan have lost arguably their three most influential players in little over a year, albeit for a tidy profit.

That Dave Whelan is ploughing said profit into child labour technologies is both deplorable and typical of the man.

In came former Wigan player Roberto Martinez, arriving as he did from Swansea, to take the reins of Whelan's immoral sweat shop.

A surprising opening day victory away to Villa has since been marred by a home defeat to Wolves, a 5-0 thumping by Man Utd, a 2-1 away loss to Everton and an embarrassing 4-1 defeat at Blackpool in the Carling Cup.

So they’re obviously about due for a result.

4. Nowhere Man

HeadHammer Shark’s unrequited love has left him high and dry, although for whom is still unclear.

Lucas Neill was on the verge of signing for Atletico Madrid this week, a deal which fell through at the last minute. Fellow Spanish side Real Zaragoza also declared an interest, but were perturbed by the Aussie’s wage demands. The latest is that Sunderland are to offer Neill £40,000-per-week.

Prior to the Madrid deal collapsing, Neill claimed that his motivation was the opportunity to play in the Champions League. Funny. The very same opportunity presented to him by Liverpool in 2007 didn’t stop him signing for a team in the midst of a relegation battle for a considerably higher wage.
The old excuse of 'testing himself against the best' doesn't wash either. The last time I checked John Pantsil still played in The Premier League.

Despite all his protestations (according to the man himself, a move to Madrid would represent “a brave decision”), money is clearly his only motivation. Just how many Kit Kat Chunkys can one man buy??

While I never shared HeadHammer Shark’s unbridled love of Neill, he certainly played a major role in our battle against relegation and showed glimpses of his old form towards the end of last season - when he was in the shop window.

I would have a whole lot more respect for him if he came out with the truth, or even kept his mouth shut, instead of spouting translucent platitudes.

5. The Story So Far…

We have experienced a gamut of outcomes in just the first three games of the season: a comfortable win at Wolves, a narrow and frustrating loss at home to tottenham, and a lame duck draw away at Blackburn.

Our underwhelming forays into the transfer market dictate that we must see out the next four months with a reasonably threadbare attack. I am thus far equally underwhelmed with our attempts at a 4-3-3 system, particularly as it invariably reverts to a 4-5-1 coupled with a frustrating amount of hopeful balls lobbed up to Carlton Cole.

Regardless of personnel available, we should at least explore a trusty old 4-4-2, if only to give opposition defenders something/someone else to think about and thereby freeing up more space for Big Carlton.

One of Jiminez, Dyer or Diamanti should partner the big man, with one of the remaining two floating in behind. Use Stanislas as an impact substitute and Noble, Parker and Collison/Valon Behrami to do the graft in midfield.

The industrious and popular Behrami made his return from injury in a midweek reserves 6-0 win over Birmingham, playing for an hour. In the same game Alessandro Diamanti scored twice either side of half-time, with both goals direct from free-kicks.

For a West Ham side this is as rare as me getting through any ITV football coverage without writing a death threat to the producer.

6. You And I Are Gonna Live Forever

It took no time this season for Convicted Price Fixer Dave Whelan to fire the first shot in our ceaseless war of attrition. When I heard the news that the already self-promoting JJB Stadium had been renamed The DW Stadium, my first thought was 'he's left the 'CPF' off the front.'

My second, more hysterical thought was that this immodest move from Whelan was a personal slight, one I aim to repay in kind. An attempt to re-name this blog ‘Stand Up To Suspect Northern Tradesmen’ has been met with a stony silence by my employer (who doesn’t pay me any wage, by the way).

Whelan's Stalinist attempt to add 'immortality' to his already questionable résumé does nothing for his public persona. We can only hope that in time, this vacuous monument to evil is felled as easily as Eduardo, and the armies of children toiling in Whelan’s gulags are freed.

7. Internazionale

Wednesday night saw Fabio Capello’s England book their place at the 2010 World Cup Finals in South Africa, thanks to a commanding 5-1 defeat of Croatia at Wembley Stadium.

West Ham representatives Matthew Upson and Rob Green both did well, Upson cementing his place as first reserve centreback in the absence of Rio Ferdinand, and Green notably contributing when called upon.

Green made a fine save down to his left late on and smothered the follow-up, only to concede while prostrate during the ensuing mêlée, as John Terry was on the line busily directing his mother towards some unguarded handbags.

8. The Power Of Authority

Football’s governing bodies have recently bared their teeth and for once have done so meaningfully.
Eduardo Da Silva punished retrospectively for diving against Celtic? A good thing.
Chelsea banned from transfer dealings for two years for yet again tapping up young talent? Brilliant.

‘Get up, you diving cheat! Cheat! Cheat! Cheat!’

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Blackburn Rovers 0 - 0 West Ham (And Other Ramblings)

1. Two Coins For The Boatman

If you should ever find yourself watching a game of football that is worse than this debacle, then pray that your affairs are in order, for you, my friend, are in Hades.

2. What Can You Say?

I can't pretend that this article will give you great insight into the machinations of this game. In truth, there was barely anything that could warrant being described as a "machination" unless you consider two goalkeepers whacking the ball to each other to qualify.

This game was actually a terrible indictment of the Premier League and everything it has come to represent. Here were two teams playing their third games of the season and already looking as though they were each quietly content to play out an interminable 0-0 draw. Blackburn had started slowly and were without a point, meaning that Sam Allardyce was always likely to play for a draw first, whilst we were aware from home modelling our revolutionary "one striker" system as decreed by our Icelandic creditors.

It's ridiculously idealistic of course, but you would think that someone somewhere might consider that there are actual paying CUSTOMERS at these games. I don't need to see my team win necessarily, nor do I even need to see goals to be entertained but I do like to see something approaching ambition and attacking intent. I expect nothing of Allardyce, but I am disappointed in Zola (*).

(*) - Yes, I accept that we were away from home against Allardycian spoilers, and we kept a clean sheet and that our squad is put together based upon the whims of our bankers, but still - colour me disgruntled.

3. The Statistics

As much as I would love to pin the blame for this crime against football on Blackburn, we must shoulder some of the blame. Although we had the greater possession, at 54%, we did almost nothing with it and generated just a single solitary shot at goal. One! ONE! 1 against Paul Robinson. That's negligence pure and simple.

The home side had six goalbound efforts but none that I can really recalling troubling Robert Green, and in fact both keepers could probably have set up a domino table in the corner of the pitch with no noticeable impact on the end result.

Elsewhere Carlton Cole had 6 shots and managed to get just one on target. There is a word for this and that word is Darrenbentian.

4. The Opposition

A Blackburn season ticket can cost as little as £199 which is either a steal in today's over inflated market, or daylight robbery when they serve up shit like this, depending on your view. Seriously, I feel sorry for Rovers fans if this is what they can look forward to for the rest of the year. Once upon a time they were a good team with quality players. Now, they are ... not.

Of course, everyone knows what to expect from Allardyce. Your team won't be relegated with him at the helm, but at the same time you have to be prepared to leave your principles at the door and accept the terrible football that will inevitably come your way.

Allardyce always strikes me as a man using the latest cutting edge technology, algorithms and data points in order to prove that the earth is flat. Sure, we hear all about his modern approach, and he talks a decent game in terms of how he prepares his teams but you cannot ignore that they play Stone Age football.

Watching Jason Roberts chase around on his own whilst the rest of the team made sure not to over extend themselves was an early indicator that Blackburn weren't going to spend this game being hoisted on their own overly ambitious petard.

We should be better than this, but we are not. With only one striker, and two mercurial sorts behind him (Stanislas/Dyer and Jiminez) then we always seem likely to struggle if the opposition don't over commit. Our much publicised decision not to get in another striker looks even more ludicrous in the light of this game, and not only because of the inherent danger in not having cover for Cole, but also the inflexibility. We couldn't switch to 4-4-2 even if we wanted to with our current personnel. I haven't forgotten about Hines or Nouble by the way, but teenagers who haven't started a Premier League game between them are not suitable back up, no matter what the Club's PR machine tells you.

5. Flat Earth Society Meeting Boils Over

Referee looks in weirdly broken mirror

6. Transfer Window Special

Anyway, enough of this crap. I refuse to analyse this game any further. It was terrible and I strike it from my memory.

Instead lets focus on West Ham's awesome transfer window performance, which appears to have melted the interweb in East London.

Our activity was as follows:

- James Collins sold to Aston Villa for an "Undisclosed" amount, widely believed to be £5m.
- "Record signing" Savio exchanged for Fiorentina's Portugese defender Manuel da Costa and £3m.
- Herita Ilunga signed permanently! Yes, we're still counting that one!
- Alessandro Diamanti bought from Livorno for £5m (or £1.5m depending on who you believe) after sponsors SBOBet held a raffle to raise the funds.
- Luis Jiminez signed on loan from Inter Milan with an option to make the deal permanent if we find sunken treasure between now and the end of the season.
- Various unheralded European youngsters signed to lull you into thinking we are Arsenal-lite.

Based on the above do you therefore assess West Ham United's transfer policy to be:

a) An ongoing sophisticated policy of analysing a worldwide network of young talent, evaluating their place within our revolutionary new Project using relevant and cutting edge metrics before selling them on at their maximum value to be replaced with younger, cheaper options.

b) Not a policy at all, but an ongoing exercise in very well disguised asset stripping designed to service our huge debt, whilst hoping to keep us moderately attractive enough for the mythical new buyers.

c) Insane.

d) The same as it has always been since I have followed West Ham. Cash in, and spin it to the fans.

Once upon a time I believed in the Project. I really did. Even allowing for Duxbury's inclement success with oral cuddling, I was prepared to buy into the notion that someone had at last developed a cogent business model for the Club.

I didn't think that it was worth trumpeting that from the rooftops, because it did rather strike me as something that we should have been doing years ago, but none the less I concurred with the thought process. A small club like us can only pretend to compete in the ridiculously unfair market that we operate in, if we take advantage of any market inefficiencies that exist.

As such, the Club has decided to focus on developing young players, identifying reasonably priced foreigners and then extracting maximum value for older players where we have replacements available. And good for them - that is a sensible and viable business model for a team like us. Duxbury also deserves credit for his hire of Zola, who was nobody's idea of a good choice and yet he currently occupies an almost talismanic position in view of what (hasn't) happened in this transfer window.

If you look at comparable teams in other sports, they are able to achieve success with an operating model such as this and I give them credit for realising that. We cannot compete with the lunatics at Eastlands, or even the wasters at White Hart Lane, whilst we don't get the annual subsidy from UEFA like the "Big 4" so we are making some sort of attempt to equalise things outside of simply spending a load of money we don't have, a la every promoted team of the late 90's.

The fact we play in such a deliberately uncompetitive environment is not the Club's fault, and they are doing the best they can.

But here's the rub. It's mostly proven to be bullshit hasn't it?

I don't doubt that the Club is on a reasonably sound economic footing, but the problem is that we are not a single entity anymore, wrapped up as we are in an Icelandic web of bankruptcy. We cashed in last January to the tune of £20m and another £8m or so in this window. Our outgoings in that time have been nowhere near that amount, unsurprisingly, which simply highlights that this money is being used for things other than the development of our squad.

The problem is that Duxbury gave two interviews this summer, clearly stating that we would sign two strikers, that he was really clocking up the airmiles in the process of doing this, but it didn't matter because he got to go to Franco's house for barbecues.

Now, with our much touted purchase of Savio looking fairly ill judged, and no strikers signed before the deadline it rather leaves in tatters the notion that Gianluca Nani is going to save the club with his magic address book, and does leave Duxbury looking a bit shifty at best, and a flat out liar at worst.

I doubt things are going to change much until we get new owners, but my biggest area of concern is that what little money we have seems to be being spent on some strange purchases. Alessandro Diamanti, a Serie B midfield star was brought in at some expense, at a time when we were crying out for a striker. And I mean lying prostrate on the floor, wailing like a baby.

Diamanti may well turn out to be a steal. He may also turn out to be Savio. I would rather have spent the money on a slightly surer thing. (Niko Krancjar springs to mind, although he'd spring back out again fairly quickly I imagine). It's hardly news to suggest that we are light in the striking department, but it does fairly boggle the mind that we are a Cole injury or suspension away from starting 17 year old Frank Nouble up front. On his own.

And then yesterday, James Collins departed. For £5m. When Andy Turner went for £12m. *rips out spleen*.

Certainly we are equipped to replace him with Gabbidon and Tomkins, but given that he was Zola's first choice so far this season, it is fair to suggest that in the managers eyes at least, we just got weaker for no apparent gain.

At this point, the League is probably crap enough to let us tread water until January, but the problem is that I can only foresee outgoings in that window and perhaps the odd Serie B loanee coming in to give us a boost up front.

I'm not saying I want us to mimic Stoke (ever, in any sense at all), but blimey they did spend £11m in this window. So it's not that there isn't money around English football at the moment, it's more that there isn't any around East London. And I'm not sure that projects can work without any funding at all....

The H List Goes All Modern, Like

We are now on Twitter!


We're not sure what this means. But follow us anyway. And we'll let you know when The H List is next updated.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Millwall - Through A Glass Darkly

Before I begin, a confession.

I did not go to the game on Tuesday against Millwall. There were a variety of reasons : I am still protesting the clubs disgraceful decision to remove the two free Cup games from my season ticket some 12 years ago, I am trying to save a bit of money at present and it was the last in the series of Desperate Romantics with which I am rather taken (that's a joke before anyone firebombs my house).

But since the game and the surrounding hoopla I have been rather astounded at the level, and indeed the inaccuracy of the coverage. Old pros are wheeled out to deliver platitudes and say exactly what they think they should be saying rather than anything especially insightful, whilst columnists fall over themselves to deliver "stinging broadsides" about the death of the game yet all the while they are simply regurgitating the stale nonsense that they always spout. Research? Context? Not round here guv'nor.

To my mind, any analysis of the events of Tuesday needs to separate out clearly the events inside the stadium from those outside. Some fat losers running on to the pitch in order to get themselves on the tv hardly stands comparison to a man being stabbed while walking to a game.

So let's address the stuff inside first:

Inside The Madness

One key element about this game which has been overlooked in the rush to judgement is that it kicked off at 7.45pm. A whole day and evenings worth of drinking was done prior to this match and without the contributions of Messrs Stella and Artois I imagine that things might have turned out a little differently. Prior encounters in the Championship involved Sunday morning kick offs and mounted Police by the battalion. Here, with the benefit of booze there seems to have been a groundswell of enmity which manifested itself in the second half tussles by the Dr Martens Stand.

Look, I wasn't there so I can't comment with authority but everyone I have spoken to says that the atmosphere in the ground was crackling. Slightly poisonous and certainly not friendly, but electric nonetheless. The scuffles in the corners were regrettable, but the posturing of teenagers and old men does not equal the death of English football. I post occasionally on the West Ham forum In The Brown Stuff and it was brilliantly described on there as follows:

"There is nothing quite as funny as the hate contorted face of a 19 year old, standing on a plastic seat, doing an estuary haka at the opposition fans separated by nothing other than a wall, a 30 yard DMZ, another wall, 300 stewards, 200 riot police and all the other supporters who are standing in front of him" - SurfaceAgentX2Zero

Amen to that. "Disgusting scenes" crowed Phil Thompson on Sky Sports. I'm sorry but I can't get worked up about this. Football supporters taunting and abusing each other? Wow. Some seats being chucked about? Begorrah. Certainly it's not a moment for the human race to capture for posterity and put into a time capsule, but it's not the Louisana Superdome either.

The pitch invasion is another matter entirely. I have no time for people who seek attention for themselves to the detriment of the broader cause and I hope they all get banned. These were grown men who should know better and young kids with little more than a sheep like tendency to follow the leader. I would harbour a guess that those who were on the pitch on Tuesday were not regular matchgoers. How could they be? Those of us who go each week know that the price for this transgression is a lifetime ban. Hardly worth it for the chance to appear on the back of the Metro whilst the country mocks your obesity.

This man is an embarrassment to football apparently. As opposed to the entire human race.

This isn't the first pitch invasion at a football match of course. I recall one in April 2003 when England beat Turkey on their way to qualification for Euro 2004. It wasn't on the same scale, but it was in a brighter spotlight. I have searched around for the articles published at the time demanding that England be banned from the competition and I can't find them. Weird - maybe Phil Thompson didn't see that game.

I'm not condoning anyone who runs on the pitch. It's stupid. It's beyond my ability to explain. But I don't think it marks a watershed in the return of wide scale hooliganism. If you hold a public event and 25,000 people turn up then you run the risk of there being quite a few dickheads in that number. C'est la vie - ban them, fine them, move on and save the hyperbole for something worthwhile.

Outside, In The Darkness

Events outside Upton Park appear to be very different. Again, without actually being there I can't comment with authority (although that hasn't stopped anyone in the national media), but it's safe to say that things were a little hairy.

The standard line here is that if two groups of like-minded individuals want to get together and have a punch up, then why not? Let them do it. So long as no innocent people get involved then who the hell cares? And I can almost get on board with that. I don't understand it, and I don't want to be present, but if 300 guys want to go to a car park in Beckton for a scrap then frankly it doesn't bother me.

But the problem is that this doesn't seem to be what happens. A man was stabbed at a game of football last night. I can't reconcile that. A 44 year old man who was apparently taking his teenage sons to a game of football, and he was stabbed. Facts are hard to come by from the media (they are inconvenient when an agenda has to be pursued), but it seems he was a Millwall fan who was simply in the midst of a larger crowd and paid the price. I am certain that he wasn't walking along discussing the merits of Keynesian economics and making a peace sign, but still - stabbed?

Of course, this rivalry goes back a long way, to a 1926 dockers strike if you believe the legend, but it would be a mistake to assume that the varying factors that led to violence here would be repeated elsewhere. This was two teams with a hardcore support, in the midst of a long feud, meeting in midweek and not having played against each other for a while. Add in that Millwall had reduced numbers of tickets available, and that large numbers of regular West Ham fans seem to have stayed away, allowing a casual population to attend and I would say that you have the perfect storm for a bit of civil disobedience.

Also, consider that two days earlier we played tottenham without much incident and nobody foresaw the end of civilisation. I'm not condoning violence at football, and some of the indiscriminate stuff from Tuesday was disgraceful, but I also don't condone reactionary media reporting that deals solely in platitudes and half truths.

And while we're at it let's nail some myths:

This will cost us the World Cup!

The FA have announced their desire to host the 2018 World Cup. Shaun Custis of The Sun was proudly announcing to the world this morning that there is now a SERIOUS doubt about our ability to win the bid. Now bear in mind that the internecine politics of FIFA are such that winning a World Cup is largely related to the quality of bribes made to the various delegates who make the decision.

If hooliganism made any difference then neither Holland or Germany would ever host major tournaments, yet both have done so since 2000. Crowd violence makes no difference - football is much too corrupt for that I am afraid. And Shaun Custis is a fungus.

I should be able to take my kids to this game!

This isn't a myth, per se, as it really shouldn't be beyond the realms of possibility for a parent to take their child to a football game without fear of violence. Indeed it's commendable for those who decided not to be put off by the prospect of a bit of thuggery.

But here's the rub - I should be able to let my 4 year old play in my front yard. Sure it's open to the road but everyone should drive at the speed limit, and yes any passers by could grab her but those people should be locked up. Except that my ideals aren't those of the rest of the world so I can't do that, and I don't.

If you took your child to this game and were outraged at what you saw, then fair enough. If you took your child to this game and were surprised at what you saw, then you are naive in the extreme.

West Ham should be kicked out of the Cup! Or bombed!

This old chestnut. Perhaps we could get Lord Griffiths down so he can tell us what would have happened were it not for the pitch invasion.

Banning us from the tournament would be a huge step. Almost unprecedented considering the crime (I hesitate to say totally unprecedented as my memory only goes back so far), and certainly a decision that could have momentous consequences down the road. It won't happen but it's a nice easy soundbite for the faux outraged columnists to put into their articles.

This was the Police's fault!

I have yet to have it explained to me with conviction, how it can be the Police's fault if I make racist chants, or throw a bottle indiscriminately at a crowd or run on to the pitch after a goal. There is such a thing as personal responsibility and independent thought. It's kind of what sets us apart from the plants.

Sure, the Police could have done a better job of preventing the opportunities for these things to occur, but even so you don't get to blame someone else for your own actions. Well, unless you're a celebrity, obviously.

This was Junior Stanislas's fault for celebrating so ... well, at all!

Professor Phil Thompson again, criticising 19 year old Junior Stanislas for not realising how his celebration would incite a pitch invasion and a "riot" and the sacking of Constantinople. Sounds reasonable. Oh no, wait...it's actually bollocks once again.

Phil was saying all this whilst commentating for Sky Sports. They obviously condemn any kind of football violence as evidenced by the adverts they were carrying for the new hooligan film "The Firm" and the fact that they showed "Green Street" for several months on their movie channels. You see, they hate football violence. Unless it's profitable.

It was disrespectful to Jack Collison!

Many media types were aghast that fans were running on the pitch while Jack Collison was suffering through the loss of his father. Try as I might I am unable to find any kind of link between these two things. If you take that line of thinking further, then it was also disrespectful to Calum Davenport but I haven't heard anyone mentioning that. Running on the pitch is stupid, it doesn't matter who is playing on the pitch at the time.

West Ham fans are in good shape!

Seriously, why have you taken your top off? You're shaming the rest of us, man.

I appreciate that not everyone is going to be ripped like me, but for the love of God if you have to be fat and a total prick at least keep your bloody shirt on...