As I wandered through the heaving urban metropolis that is south Romford on my way to the station this morning, I happened to glance up at the large revolving advertising board that helps to give South Street it's Parisian air of late 60's joie de vivre.
To my surprise I saw a large picture of Scott Parker glancing down, encouraging me to buy up some tickets for the new season. Sadly, in rather typical West Ham fashion, as the board revolved several of the panels remained stuck, meaning that Scott's chiselled features were rather weirdly mixed in with that new Milky Bar kid, giving the whole thing a slightly Mary Shelley feel. Naturally, the details of how you actually buy the tickets are also hidden. The more things change etc...
None the less, I applaud the Club's apparent desire to reach back out to it's traditional heartlands and wrest back some of the territory that was shamefully ceded to the likes of tottenham and Chelsea under Duxbury. Somewhat predictably, the execution is a little lacking, but it seems an apposite reminder of the difference between the Icelandic asset strippers and the new Gold/Sullivan/Brady triumvirate.
At this point, of course, I have very little idea as to whether our new owners are going to be any better than, say, Terry Brown. It doesn't strike me as all that sensible to suggest renaming the team within days of taking over as CEO (Brady), or firing out statements suggesting the whole squad is up for sale (Sullivan) or apparently accepting that any move to the Olympic Stadium will include a running track (Gold), but then again, what do I know about running a football club. The debt is down, we haven't sold anyone yet this summer, and nobody appears to be listening to Scott Duxbury. Things are looking up.
2. New Boys
The signing of Mexican winger Pablo Barrera is arguably the most exciting signing made by the Club for some time. On the one hand, the acquisition of young, pacy players who have performed well at the World Cup is a sure sign that our transfer policy might well be moving in the right direction...
3. On The Other Hand...
4. New Boys Cont...
Barrera aside, I am positively drooling over the prospect of Thomas Hitzlsperger slotting into our Scott Parker shaped midfield. Not only because he had been a regular member of the brilliant German squad that graced South Africa 2010, but because he will presumably take some of the load off the aforementioned Parker. I am less excited about the prospect of how often his name is going to be misspelled on the various West Ham internet forums who were previously unable to cope with "Don Hutchison", but I will put up with all your grammatical incompetence.
Naturally, Hitzlsperger was injured playing for Germany on Wednesday and is thus unlikely to feature at Villa, but leaving aside our ongoing susceptibility to opposition voodoo dolls, I rather suspect he will be an excellent addition to the squad.
Whether he will be joined in the starting XI by Frederic Piquionne seems unlikely as the ex Pompey striker seems like a dead cert late game replacement for Cole, and little else. In addition, the 3 year contract given out to the 31 year old seems like a somewhat regressive move when you consider that we have already saddled ourselves with Benni McCarthy's Atkins Diet for the next 2 years aswell.
Elsewhere, defensive new boys Tal Ben Haim and Winston Reid are welcome, if slightly unexpected additions. Haim, is a real Boltonian defender with a "Fuck No" approach to allowing strikers to walk unaided, whilst Reid, is a New Zealander, thus meaning that all my wife's friends and acquaintances now feel qualified to comment on West Ham. Marvellous.
5. The Boss
Avram Grant has had a unique few years in England. His initial foray as a Manager began with Chelsea whom he led to within a tear stained John Terry penalty of the Champions League title. Sadly for Avram, and mercifully for all the millions of people who openly despise John Terry, it was not to be and he won neither the League or the CL.
Despite the late season resurgence he engineered, Grant was largely damned with faint praise as various experts queued up to opine that any carbon based life form with a pulse and a functioning cortex (so not Sam Allardyce, presumably) should be able to get Chelsea into a Champions League final.
The fact that he remains the only Chelsea manager to achieve this feat does rather refute this argument, but no British football pundit ever let facts get in the way of a good myth.
Strangely, he was then largely held to be exempt from blame as Portsmouth slipped to an ignominious relegation last year. The common thread seems to be that Grant has inherited a couple of situations that required salvaging and has never had an English team to completely call his own. Presumably, we will be that team and one would like to think a manager of Grant's experience will be able to move us away from the dead men at the foot of the table.
Whether anything higher is a realistic expectation remains to be seen, and will presumably depend greatly on who is sold between now and the end of the transfer window (*).
(*) Except for Freddie Sears of course, who will never again have any kind of conceivable impact in any of our lives unless he runs over your cat.
6. Token Haka
"Nutmeg this, muthafucka" says Winston Reid7. The History
Our recent past with Villa has been somewhat chequered as we mixed up a last minute win in November last year, with several draws and one game in which we apparently allowed Craig Gardener to score the winner, as impossible as that sounds.
Zavon Hines was the unlikely hero last year as he popped up with a last minute winner that was naturally followed shortly thereafter with a season ending injury.
The most recent genuinely one sided game between us involved a 4-0 win and a Marlon Harewood hat trick on September 12 2005. This was also the day that England regained the Ashes at the Oval, and if you put those two events together you realise that obviously London had slipped through some kind of hole in the fabric of time and space that particular day.
Incidentally, we followed that up by selling Villa Nigel Reo-Coker and Harewood for a combined £13m deal that presumably contravened several clauses of the Trades Description Act, the Geneva Convention and the Magna Carta.
"Hey Randy, I think I have a Benni McCarthy out the back that might suit you..."
8. The Opposition
"Wait, what? You're saying I CAN'T bankrupt the Club?"
Incredibly we aren't the Premier League club in most disarray going into the new season, as Villa have coolly swiped our long held title by spectacularly imploding on the verge of this game. Martin O'Neill, their much admired boss, surprisingly stepped down this week after owner Randy Lerner revealed that he wasn't going to allow him to piss the utterly incredible £20m they are going to get for James Milner up the nearest wall. Here's the transcript of their discussion:
Martin: "Hey Randy, can I have that £20m?"
Randy: "Sure. Well, not all of it obviously, but you can have some of it"
Martin: "Why can't I have all of it?"
Randy: "Because we owe about £100m to our various creditors. That's quite a lot of money."
Martin: "How come we owe that much?"
Randy: "Remember that time you spent £13m on Nigel Reo-Coker and Marlon Harewood?"
Martin: "Not really Randy - that was a loooong fucking lunch if you get my drift"
Randy: "Yeah, well, I have to keep paying those guys Martin. Seriously. It costs a lot of money"
Martin: "Right, sure, I understand but that doesn't explain why I can't have the £20m to replace Milner"
Randy: "Again, I say, Marlon. Harewood"
Martin: "Well that's not fair. Say something else"
Randy: "Curtis Davies. Nicky Shorey. Steve Sidwell? How about Heskey? Emile Fucking Ivanhoe Heskey. You just leave these guys in the reserves - I have to pay them"
Martin: "You know what Randy, I've had enough of you Yank owners and all your talk of debt. I'm off. And I'm going to wait for the Man Utd job. Things will be different there...!"
In case you can't tell, I'm siding with Lerner. £20m for Milner is such a ridiculous sum that no one in their right mind could feasibly turn it down. Milner isn't that difficult to replace and the pesky thing about debts is that you do eventually need to repay them.
Of course, O'Neill is intelligent and erudite and understands that just as well as me. He is simply the latest manager to bump his head up against the glass ceiling imposed by UEFA and the G14 whereby "ordinary" Clubs are instructed to lower their debts even as UEFA funnel more money to the Champions League clubs, conveniently widening the divide between the two.
He cannot compete financially with tottenham or Man City so even finishing in a UEFA Cup spot becomes a distant dream for the likes of Villa (or indeed us, should we ever progress past fucking Stoke in the table). Thus, I guess it has to be hard getting of bed in the morning when all you can see is debt repayment for the foreseeable future.
Still, £8m for Curtis Davies. Wow.
9. Opening Day Whatever The Opposite Is Of Blues
Yeah, but what you're really asking is "What do we normally do on opening day?It's statistically relevant, man!"
Well, in reverse order since we returned to the Premier League:
Wolves (a) - W: 2-0
Wigan (h) - W: 2-1
Man City (h) - L: 0-2
Charlton (h) - W: 3-1
Blackburn (h) - W: 3-1
So, actually, we're pretty good starters since you ask. This is largely helped by the fact that we have played some pretty moderate opposition at home and, well, Wolves.
Tomorrows game constitutes our most difficult opener for some time, even with Villa being in disarray and fielding Stewart Downing in a, presumably, post modern ironic kind of way. Ho hum. I'm glad the football season is starting again.
10. The H List
We're back! And perhaps determined to be a bit more punctual than before. Who knows - we're not like David Sullivan and are perfectly willing to make promises to you and break them, but we will definitely try to be a more frequent visitor to your inbox or Twitter feed...