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, 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...

Thursday, August 27, 2009

An H List Special: A Battle For Hearts And Minds

1. The Headlines

Good morning, and welcome to a special edition of the widely derided H List.

In the news this week, Senator Edward Kennedy has died of cancer at the age of 77, bringing to an end the largest political dynasty in American history, and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown came under increasing pressure over the early release of convicted Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi.

Oh, and West Ham are directly responsible for our crumbling society having raised armies of the undead to kill the firstborn of every taxpayer in the country.

2. Out Of The Frying Pan And Into The Fire
Everyone knows by now that West Ham vs Millwall on Tuesday night is the malignant parasite at the core of our rotting society.
I am in no way condoning the behaviour of all those who fought through the night, but for those who were there it was obvious that an undeniable link existed between the aggro and the atmosphere.

To enjoy one is not to applaud the other, but this was the best atmosphere I have experienced at Upton Park since the stadium went all-seater. Right through the 120-minutes there was a palpable and increasing tension, the whole place charged with the anticipation of what could happen.

Millwall’s early goal stoked the fire and it simmered continually until exploding into the almighty roar which greeted Junior Stanislas’ 88th-minute equaliser.

I’m trying to strike the right tone here, balancing how I felt without wanting to come across as a thug endorser, but so far as the crowd dynamic went, I loved every minute of it.

Likely punishment will involve a fine and a stern talking to, but more pointedly, in the aftermath of the furore, this could arguably signal the last time that such an atmosphere on such a scale is generated at Upton Park.
If they could be fostered regularly without the stabbings and burning buses, then football would be better off.
3. Fever Pitch

To an extent, it appears as if the three pitch invasions during the second half have caused more umbrage among the even-handed media than the rioting outside.

The fact is that only around fifty morons with an average age of 17 ran onto the pitch, using mobile phones to record their audition tapes for ‘Green Street 3 – Scraping The Barrel’. They were immediately subject to a cacophony of booing from the remaining 24,000 in the stands.

True, there was a kerfuffle over in Chav Corner towards the end of the match, but to describe it as “sickening” and akin to scenes of the late-70’s and early-80’s is bunkum.

I thought the policing inside the stadium was if anything, a little light. I expected a bigger Police presence for such a high-risk encounter and it would have dissuaded a lot of the ICF-wannabes from storming onto the pitch.
4. Back To The Studio….

As I was at the game, I was spared the painstaking analysis by every news channel in the country, but have since been informed of the considered approach of Sky Sports and their experienced journalist and ex-Liverpool player, Phil ‘Gonzo’ Thompson.

From what I gather, the erudite and disciplined reporting went as follows:

Anchor: Disturbing scenes at Upton Park, Phil – what’s happening?

Thompson: Aagh, this is sickening. This is not what we want to see at a football match, we thought these days were over.

Producer in Phil’s earpiece: That’s good, Phil. Use more emotive language.

Thompson: They’re scum these people

Producer: I like it

Thompson: It may be early, but I don’t think it’s an overstatement to suggest that we’re witnessing the end of civilisation

Producer: Don’t overplay it, Phil. Report the scene…

Thompson: There are people all over the pitch. Horrific scenes. A man in a wheelchair has just dropped his hotdog. He’d only just bought it. I’m disgusted. Both Clubs should be disbanded. I haven’t seen such mayhem since…

Anchor: Heysel?

Producer: Aaaand... cut to the live feed

Anchor: We can now cross live to our roving reporter on Green Street. Steve?

Reporter: You join me in a war-zone. I’m in a war-zone! The mayhem and violence is disorientating, I feel as if I’m losing myself in the blood and the guts. I... I can’t be sure, but I think I saw Hammers fans invoking the spirit of Pol Pot.

Anchor (to camera): Sky Sports understands West Ham have instigated regime change in a bid to revive the tyranny of the Khmer Rouge, live on Sky Sports. Steve, you're live on Sky Sports, can you describe the scenes? Live? On Sky Sports?

Reporter: Policemen running for their lives, the unmistakeable stench of bloodlust in the air, I can imagine West Ham fans feasting upon the corpses of pensioners. I can’t see it, but I can certainly imagine it.

Anchor (to camera): Disturbing reports there of cannibalism on Green Street. Another Sky Sports exclusive. Steve, just how does a normal person deal with these everyday east London scenes?

Reporter: I simply don’t know. I’m unsettled and confused. I just phoned my mum to tell her to piss off for no reason. I’ve never done that before, and for that reason can only attribute these actions directly to West Ham United. Back to you...

Anchor: Startling testimony there from our reporter. Phil, what's the situation inside the ground?

Producer: Let’s embellish a little. No-one at home has the pictures to prove you wrong.

Thompson: They’re burning kids. I don’t believe it. They’re tying kids to the crossbar and burning them

Producer: Say ‘scum’ again.

Thompson: Scum.

Producer: And ‘death’.

Thompson: Scum and death.

5. Considered Opinion

OK, so the above may have been dramatised by about 5%.

Generally, West Ham have come off worse in the media analysis of Tuesday night, probably down to the sheer disparity in numbers, but we all know that Millwall fans are no shrinking violets.

I can not believe that anyone with an interest in football could have thought that there wasn’t going to be trouble at this game, and while rioting is obviously not the way to conduct oneself, all those who took young children to the match showed equally poor judgement.

The amount of calls to Radio 5 Live afterwards which began with the phrase ‘I took my 4-year old along tonight. I’m stunned…’ beggared belief. What did you expect? To be greeted at the gates by Kris Akabusi and a party-bag?

Now wouldn't that be something.

6. Picture Book

The Daily Mail ensured they had a photographer at the scene to underpin their journalistic integrity

6. It's A Funny Old Game

Tuesday night was an unsual experience, although I daresay some of that conclusion has been tainted by the ceaseless coverage since.

In this age of information saturation, journalists do their research on Wikipedia, anything published on the internet is given unwarranted credence and any old mug (ahem...) can publish something for public consumption.

The worrying thing is how easily some people so readily accept what they're spoonfed and how many others can knowingly present and publish ill-conceived opinion as fact.

Thankfully, here at The H List no-one listens to our opinions and were someone to do so, that would be grounds enough to disregard anything else they ever said.

8. Jack The Lad

A special mention this week for Jack Collison.

In light of his father’s recent death, no-one expected him to feature on Tuesday.

Having received a lengthy ovation, Collison held his own during the match and was also the main force in trying to shepherd the morons from the field during the pitch invasions.

At the end of what must have been an incredibly emotional night for him, he was escorted from the field in tears to the heartfelt applause of the crowd.

Hats off to you, Jack. As if you weren't already, your conduct and composure cemented you in our thoughts that night.

9. What Preview?

Oh yeah, we’re away to Blackburn on Saturday.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

West Ham 1 - 2 tottenham hotspur (And Other Ramblings)

1. Scene 1

(Interior, darkly lit): Gianfranco Zola is stood on a stepladder whispering conspiratorially in Carlton Cole's ear:

Zola: "Caroltone...conspiratorially"
Cole: "What?"
Zola: "Nothing, it's just a bad joke between me and HeadHammerShark"

Cole: "That prick"
Zola: "You said it. Now listen - Fabio Capello is here today
Cole: (brightening) "To see me"
Zola: (uncertainly) "Er, sure, he will see you, yes"
Cole: "Excellent. I'm gonna play more brillianter than usual"
Zola: "Your use of language is as esoteric as ever"
Cole: (beaming) "Thanks!"
Zola: "Yes, anyway I suspect he is here to see whether or not you can link up with Defoe. This is important Caroltone, because you could go to the World Cup if you do well this year. Good link play is the key. Got it."
Cole: "Yes, sure"
Zola: "OK, I've got to go. Duxbury is wanting to sort out another fucking barbecue. All I want is a striker and he keeps going on about discussing his bloody project over a nice glass of Beaujolais. I've got Frank Nouble on the bench, who I have literally met twice and needs help with his fucking homework and they've got Crouch. It's a bloody joke...(fades)"
Cole: (aloud, to himself) "Hang on. Defoe plays for them doesn't he? Not us? So how do I link up with Defoe today? Hmm ..."

2. I Did Find This Slightly Funny

3. The Statistics

This always seemed to have the makings of an even enough game, and so it proved as we had 5 efforts on target to the visitors 6, and split possession 47:53 in their favour. To slightly redress this balance it should be pointed out that both sides mustered only 3 efforts at goal from inside the respective penalty areas and tellingly tottenham scored from two.

Once more the offensive load for us fell squarely on the shoulders of Carlton Cole who did a fair impression of a battering ram. He had 6 efforts at goal, scored once and drew 3 fouls which was tied for most in the match. In short, up until he had a brain fade and gifted the undeserved equaliser, he was giving the visitors an extremely tough time.

Another interesting if only slightly apropos number, is £103m. This is the amount of money that tottenham have spent in the last 12 months on their playing staff. Consider that Manchester City operate on another plane altogether, and then realise that no team has spent more than spurs in that time. For comparison Chelsea and Arsenal have spent £69.8m combined in the same period.

This outlay has yielded tottenham an 8th place finish (to follow up 11th the year before). I am not saying this to mock them neccesarily, but to point out that whilst we all crave an injection of cash into our club it is worth pausing to examine what it can look like when done badly. Let's just say that if I was Joe Lewis/ENIC I think I might want a little more bang for my buck.

4. The Opposition

When noted Hammers fan John Cleese finalised his divorce last week he had to agree to a settlement that left his 3rd wife richer than he was. Cleese responded by saying "I got off lightly. Imagine what I would have had to give her if she contributed anything". It's a nice line, and pretty funny and it did feel appropriate this weekend as the tottenham fans sang "2-1 in your Cup Final" whilst celebrating as though they had a won a ... Cup Final.

You see, a lot of us find tottenham fans hard to take for the obvious reasons, but it's the delusions of grandeur that grate the most. However, I would always say to any suffering Hammers - it could be worse. Imagine what they would be like if they were actually successful? Seriously, they spend money like a Champions League team and invariably waste it on players who aren't quite good enough to play at that level and therefore can't progress them to that point. I don't doubt that Harry Redknapp will push them further forward this season, with some good signings like Crouch and Palacios helping, no doubt, but as for whether they can challenge the "Big 4" or even the next tier such as Villa and Man City it's probably too early to tell.

I do wish that Jermain Defoe still played for us though.

5. Scene 2

(Interior, Carlton Cole's head, words cannot accurately describe the setting):
Cole: "Blimey, it's hot"
Cole's Id: "Whatever, Carlton. We're doing alright today. A goal would be good"
Cole: "Yeah, you might be right. I don't think this geezer can contain me"
Cole's Id: "Well he is Sebastien Bassong"
Cole: "Yeah, he is. How much did they pay for him again?"
Cole's Id: "Not relevant Carlton. How about that goal then?"
(Ball arrives in the air. Cole controls and turns on his left foot)
Cole: "It's on my left foot. I'm not so good with my left"
Cole's Id: "Just spank it. Fabio likes stuff like that"
Cole: "Alright, where's Bassong?"
Cole's Id: "On his arse"


(Crowd goes wild. Fades...)

6. The Referee

I'd never claim to be a fan of Mark Clattenburg. In fact, I doubt any football fan anywhere considers themself to be a "fan" of a referee, but he didn't do much to win me over here. That said, I am still not a subscriber to the theory that a referee can be directly responsible for a defeat.

Ho hum, should have sent off Defoe, just for a larf.

7. Scene 3

(Exterior, Upton Park, Centre Circle):

Cole: "I just scored. That's pretty good. Fabio will dig that I reckon. Mind you, there wasn't any link play there. Of course, there isn't anyone for me to actually link with these days. Not since they started that Project where they sell all the players and replace them with Jonathan Spector. I wonder what I should do".

(Ball is suddenly played to Cole by Assou-Ekotto)

Cole: "Blimey. That was a terrible ball. Now for some link up play. Hang on - there's Jermain. Free as a bird. I could slip him in here"

(Plays Puskas-esque through ball)

Cole: "Oh shit - hang on..."

8. Kudos

I enjoyed significant chunks of this performance, largely because it convinced me that this wafer thin squad might yet be able to transcend their own limitations and compete at the sharp(er) end of the league.

Bright spots included Noble and the aforementioned Carlton Cole, who continued to excel in our new 4-3-3 formation. Kieron Dyer sadly but predictably failed to appear having made a whopping 73 minute appearance at Wolves. His replacement Junior Stanislas was also promising as he gave Vedran Corluka a torrid time raiding up our left wing.

Behind him Jonathan Spector coped alright with a tough assignment on his weaker side against Aaron Lennon. Now Lennon is a notionally good player, who sounds a lot better than he actually is. That he scored a goal with his left foot will probably see that part of our penalty area designated as a World Heritage Site, and as such I can't criticise the passage of play beforehand. Spector showed his man in on his weaker foot, and then chose a remarkably inopportune time to fall over. C'est la vie, except that it does seem to happen with alarming frequency against this lot...

9. Department Of The Totally Obvious

We don't have enough strikers. I'm only writing it down just so that I don't look as though I didn't realise this in a few months time.

10. I Still Hate You

Welcome to a new, regular feature of the column ... amusing pictures of Phil Brown. And by amusing, I mean amusing for us rather than for him.

"Phil Brown sings on the pitch at Hull. Yes, you read that right."

11. An Addendum

I have been debating whether or not to write anything about this, but it seems strange not to do so considering that I am a West Ham fan and blogger. Calum Davenport was stabbed in the legs this weekend, and Jack Collison's 46 year old father was killed on the way to watch the game.

I can offer little if anything that is cogent or relevant at a time like this. Neither man will ever read this blog, and I am fortunate enough to not have experienced either event so I'm hardly what you'd call useful. None the less I wish them both well and hope that they can recover in their own way. Sure, it's mawkish and sentimental but some things do transcend football and I think I'd feel worse if I didn't write something here...

Thursday, August 20, 2009

West Ham United vs tottenham hotspur: Match Preview - 23/08/2009

1. Opposition

What more is to be said about tottenham?

If this blog had any grounds whatsoever to complain about being over-worked, then I could be forgiven for simply cutting and pasting Spurs-related articles from one season to the next.

Let’s see, this year they are apparently well placed to steal Champions League qualification.

Previous seasons of chronic under-achievement are a thing of the past and their prudent squad additions of the summer see them with the best-equipped squad outside the Big Four.

As part of their revolving-door transfer policy, they have re-signed a partially effective, partially redundant striker on the fringes of the England squad, whilst incurring a sizeable loss.

They continue to be managed by a man with all the financial scruples of a cash-strapped Dick Turpin.

Unfortunately, they have been in good nick so far this season, looking the better team against Liverpool on opening day and putting five past Hull City in midweek. But, as the saying goes, all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

2. They Seek Him Here, They Seek Him There

Our imperative pursuit of a striker continues apace, along with the need for the Club to again refute speculation of the need to sell.

The lack of progress with either Luca Toni or Eidur Gudjohnsen hints that those deals may now be dead, only to be replaced with the prospect of French-born, Moroccan international, Marouane Chamakh.

Chamakh has already been linked with Arsenal this season, but the stoic Wenger sneered through the smoke of his slim Panatella at the asking price, only willing to offer Bordeaux the £5million he found down the back of the Chesterfield in his palatial office.

Chamakh arguably offers a better prospect than other targets as while unproven in English football, he is just 25-years of age.

His contract with the French Champions does, however, expire next summer and he is rumoured to be keen on seeing out this deal and joining Arsenal on a free next year, enjoying the benefits of the signing-on fee and Royal Doulton china tea-set he can expect.

3. History

Last season’s corresponding fixture is the nadir of Gianfranco Zola’s tenure.

To go down 2-0 with barely a whimper was a real disappointment and almost as unexpected as the sight of Ledley King putting Spurs one up. This is a man with a compacted ball of biscuit crumbs for a knee, out-jumping our entire defence at a corner.

Always striving for improvement in the exasperation stakes, we then allowed none other than feared Scot, Jamie O’Hara to score a 25-yard thunderbolt on the break, having just seen a Carlton Cole effort cleared off the line in the dying seconds.

Everyone left the stadium that night ruefully staring at their bootlaces, cursing the players for a sore lack of effectiveness.

Our recent history against tottenham has been a source of embarrassment for some years, particularly as one assumes that the fixture’s importance to the fans must filter through to the players, from a Mark Noble, a Fanzine or a disgruntled Pearly King.

Harry’s voodoo over us since leaving Upton Park only adds to the chagrin and this is certainly an opponent against whom we are owed a performance or two.

4. Land Of The Giants

With the World Cup less than a year away, competition for places is hotting up and opportunities to shine drying up.

It’s clear that Fabio Capello plans on using a big target man and the two main contenders should be on view this Sunday.

Peter Crouch returned to his boyhood club this summer for £9million and continues to cast his hat into the ring by showing just what can be done with Twiglets for legs, a fit girlfriend and a cheeky one-liner.

He has however been ousted in recent months by our own Carlton Cole, who has shown sufficient form to be considered the current front-runner.

While fairly evenly matched in the air and on the deck, Cole is better at holding off opponents and bringing others into play, thanks to having upper body strength superior to that of an elderly meerkat.

If he can add 20 goals this season, he should be able to see off that rampaging super spider once and for all.

5. Picture Book

Harry Redknapp enjoyed 'catching up' with Luis Boa Morte

6. Hey, Big Spender

tottenham’s main signings this summer were Sebastian Bassong from Newcastle and Peter Crouch from Portsmouth.

Redknapp has fashioned an image as a crafty, wheeler-dealer type, adept at unearthing lesser known talents or conjuring an Indian Summer out of the odd veteran.

It often goes unreported however that for every Paolo DiCanio, there is a Florin Raducioiu, for every Marc Vivien-Foe, a Marco Boogers.

More recently, ‘Arry has adopted the guise of Fagin, a wizened old degenerate not to be trusted, who can call upon a regular gabble of adoring, uneducated halfwits, happy to follow him wherever the biggest bag of swag decrees.

I look forward to the day when Redknapp takes the natural Dickensian progression onto a Miss Faversham, whirling around the centre circle of Upton Park ablaze in a crumpled wedding dress.

7. Prophet And Loss

In last week’s preview for Wolves, I omitted a section at the last minute demanding improvement from Mark Noble.

I proffered the opinion that he has had plenty of time to consolidate his first team spot and while he is often solid, this is the season to take it up a notch and assert himself as a proper goal-scoring midfielder.

His display on Saturday therefore came as bittersweet, for I am now unable to contend that either Noble or indeed anyone takes on board a single thing written in these pages.

This week I have omitted a section whereby I make a cracking argument for Jermaine Defoe’s assassination and am eager to see how that pans out.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Wolves 0 - 2 West Ham (And Other Ramblings)

1. Welcome Back

I considered writing a season preview - Hell, I might even still do it - but I didn't want to overwhelm you with more than one post during a summer.

As such, we pick up where we left off, under a sweltering sun playing against a team who don't appear to be good enough for this division. Which is not to say that I really expected us to win this game, but merely to emphasise that things don't really seem all that different to last year to me.

2. Doom! And Gloom!

This was painted by the media as a decidedly tricky game to begin with. Away to a promoted side, who would be revelling in their Premiership experience and boosted by a boisterous home crowd. Now, I'm really not sure that a crowd can ever have that much impact on a game of football, and certainly not enough to make Jody Craddock into a Premiership footballer. He is after all, intrinsically still Jody Craddockian.

So while I'm not denying that the atmosphere at a football game can be inspirational, I simply can't agree that the basic skills of the participants can be altered by singing "Hi Ho Silver Lining".

There is no doubt, however, that promoted sides can be tricky to face on opening day, as evidenced by their record over the past 4 years - 5 wins, 4 draws, 3 losses - in their opening home fixtures. So, yes, this was a valuable win, but it won't look quite so flash after everyone else has won at Molineux by next May.

3. The Statistics

On another day this game could have ended up differently. Certainly we were the better team but I am not sure that we were dominant, so much as comfortable. As is often the case for newly promoted teams, our attacking play had a sharper edge to it, and the goal from Noble, especially, was evidence of the higher class of player available to us.

Overall, we shaded possession at 53% and crucially had twice as many efforts on target as the home side with 10 to their 5. We also managed to get caught offside 7 times which, frankly, hurts my spleen.

Robert Green was called into action early in the second half by Nenad Milijas, Wolves new signing, who astutely realised that most of his team mates were pretty crap and therefore that he was going channel Martin Petrov, and shoot at every opportunity no matter where he was on the pitch. Apart from this 5 minute shooting gallery, there was little to perturb our back four, even allowing for the mysterious presence of Julien Faubert at right back.

4. The Opposition

Yes, it's early, and yes they had a few injuries but Wolves weren't especially impressive here. Both Kightly and Doyle were out with injuries, thus depriving them of arguably their two best players for all I know, although admittedly if forced to write all I know about Wolves I would need only a HB pencil and the back of a postage stamp.

Doubtless for Wolves, they would have viewed this as an eminently winnable game given our historic propensity to travel with all the strength of the Zimbabwean dollar. Sadly for them, this is a different West Ham, and apart from the aforementioned little flurry after half time, there wasn't much to see here.

Of course, since then they have won at Wigan which should encourage them that the League is filled with quite a lot of dross, and if I were them I wouldn't consider it an impossible task to finish above any of Burnley, Hull, Stoke, Wigan, Blackburn, Birmingham or Bolton. I'd have to assume that less Greg Halford would be more beneficial though.

5. The Referee

Chris Foy is a referee about whom I can recall very little off the top of my head. In this game there wasn't a huge amount to get excited about, although naturally the home fans declared themselves tremendously aggrieved about most of the early decisions.

Again - less Greg Halford would help here.

6. I Love You

Gianfranco Zola appears to have mastered the "Wachoofuckinlookinat" pose.

Before we get too much further into the season I wanted to commit to print a brief discourse on the tremendous job that Zola is doing. In the face of overwhelming odds (i.e: Scott Duxbury thought it was a good idea), Zola was awarded the job last season and barring a stumble in November he has been stellar ever since.

Looked at in a vacuum, the results aren't especially wondrous, but the turnaround in the style of play, and the general resilience has been a marvellous thing to behold. As the squad has become gradually weaker, Zola has fashioned a pattern of play and a method which remains constant even as the personnel change.

Even last year he was winning at places like Stoke with only Tristan and di Michele to call upon up front, which is like successfully invading Russia with a boy scout troop.

It was exactly that kind of fortitude that showed here again. Cole up front with Jiminez and Dyer behind definitely smacked of being too lightweight for this game, but in the end we were very worthy winners.

Zola's greatest challenge may very well be off the pitch, as he struggles to preserve his squad in the face of the potential asset stripping ahead, but whatever it is that he is doing is working and he deserves huge praise for the job currently being done.

(Beating tottenham would be, like totally alright though Franco).

7. I Hate You

Phil Brown appears to have mastered the "I'mafuckintwat" pose.

Apropos of nothing much at all but Phil Brown appeared on national television dressed like this at the weekend. Even if you disagree with the points made at No. 6, then you'd have to agree that things could certainly be worse.

(Many thanks to loyalish reader Liam for the heads up on this crime against Jean Paul Gaultier)

8. Kudos

Mark Noble's opener was beautifully taken and certainly the first of it's type that I can recall us scoring for quite a while. My suspicion is that had it not gone in he would have been denied a place at Kieron and Carlton's Family Poker game on the bus ride home as both were better placed. great strike though, big season for Noble, World Cup blah blah blah *blows head off*.

9. Slightly Less Kudos

Jonathan Spector came on for a somewhat dazed Herita Ilunga, and proceeded to have three touches of the ball that were not so much "good" as "totally egregious". No harm came of it, and I still like Spector's attitude, versatility and haircut, but Christ he could only have started this season worse if he'd somehow impaled Robert Green.

10. Welcome Back!

Glad to have you all back reading again. Beluga and I have sat down and really analysed our output last season and decided that, yes, we really are quite lazy. So now you know...

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Wolverhampton Wanderers vs West Ham United: Match Preview - 15/08/2009

1. Is It That Time Already?

It could be a case of "art" imitating life, or more likely a chronic lack of preparation, but I have followed West Ham's lead by leaving it 'til the last possible moment before preparing in earnest for the start of a new season.

Like the Hammers, the odd pass may go astray, I may not be at 100% match fitness, but thankfully we both have access to those splendid halftime hot-dogs - 'the greatest in the world'.

2. Opposition

We open our account this season with the glamour tie of the round - a visit to Wolverhampton. As uninspiring as this may be, it is the proverbial banana skin and a game from which I would be happy to escape with a draw.

Wolves have been guided to the Premier League by manager Mick McCarthy, who has been in the hot-seat there for three years.

I admire McCarthy for the way he stood up to Roy Keane's shameful mutiny in World Cup 2002 while he was Republic of Ireland manager, but am less enamoured with his association with Millwall (see you on the 25th).

Regardless of his team's competitiveness (McCarthy's Premiership win percentage is a staggering 5.4%), he will doubtless provide some competition for Steve Bruce in the Angular Hooter stakes.

Their biggest and somewhat surprising signing of the summer was that of Kevin Doyle from Reading for £6.5million. The Irish international was briefly linked with us last season (primarily by HeadHammer Shark) and his form this year will be key to Wanderer's survival.

Wolves have also very recently confirmed the season-long loan of Michael Mancienne from Chelsea. The mini-Predator will likely feature this weekend.

3. Summer Signings

In the not too distant past, we have made some close-season signings as ropey as Madonna's arms. This year we decided to buck that trend by making hardly any.

Our transfer activity has been altogether more subdued than... well, anyone. The standout moment came early on with the loan acquisition of playmaker Luis Jiminez from Inter Milan.

Jiminez is supposed to be the kind of player we've sorely lacked since the days of Benayoun and Tevez, and he displayed some nice, composed touches against Napoli in our last pre-season friendly.

Swiss left-back Fabio Daprela was another signing and a permanent one, signing a 5-year deal from the best named club in Europe, Grasshoppers Club Zurich.

Other than that, Luis Boa Morte od'd on Chinese opium again and will spend around 5-months zig-zagging his way back from the Far East.

For all Carlton Cole's excellent work, we are in dire need of a striker who is not hooked up to all manner of life-support machines.

Luca Toni of Bayern Munich and Eidur Gudjohnsen of Barcelona have both been touted recently and for me, it's Gudjohnsen all the way. I've seen Toni miss some absolute sitters for club and country, and LBM's got that market cornered thank you very much.

Also, if Julian Faubert starts at right-back ahead of Jonathan 'The Scourge Of Brazil' Spector, then we may as well all pack up and go home now.

4. How Much Is That Aussie In The Window?

One of the more protracted stories of the summer has been the next thunderous step in the career of tubby old Lucas Neill.

Neill rejected our intial contract offer, undoubtedly due to money as we were no longer willing to pay a King's ransom for his services.

Rumours persisted of a move to Galatasaray, then Man City, then Sunderland and it emerged this week that there remains an offer on the table from West Ham, which Neill has graciously put "on the shortlist", nestling as it does between 'bags more cash' and 'don't forget to buy four-dozen apple turnovers'.

Neill is obviously not alone in his mindset as a money-grabbing professional footballer, and his previous isn't good seeing as he chose us over Liverpool. But, attempting to adopt a neutral perspective, given his age, the fact he is captain, his already sizeable bank balance and his near-guaranteed place in our starting XI, money-aside I fail to see where he will get a better deal.

But cash is king and only time will tell what Lucas values more - a few extra grand a week or professional pride and access to 'the greatest hot-dogs in the world'.

5. History

We haven't played Wolves since our last stint in The Championship in 2004/'05, when our visit to Molineux resulted in a 4-2 defeat.

Hater-of-the-handicapped, Glenn Hoddle was in charge at the time and with things all square at 2-2 after 60 minutes, up stepped 'JUDAS!' Paul Ince to score a third before Carl Cort put things beyond us.

We have only managed two wins from our last seven visits to Wolves, but these matches span the last 25-years and can not fairly reflect the present day, so this sentence is largely useless.

The danger is of course that Wolves are newly-promoted and brimming with pre-season optimism. It will be a packed house and one promoted team always gets off to a flyer.

Failing a dominant display of total football from ourselves, we're pretty much on a hiding to nothing.

6. Picture Book

Joe public is asked for his verdict on the new home kit: