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

Sunday, September 11, 2016

West Ham 2 - 4 Watford (And Other Ramblings)

1. Fool's Gold

"This", I said to my daughter, "Is going to be brilliant".

A home game, against a decent but not great team, on a Saturday, in the pouring rain, at 3 o'clock. Finally, I was going to be able to begin passing on to her some of the magic that drew me in when I was her age.

I really didn't have any idea that I was about to endure the worst football watching experience of my life.

2. Here It Comes

My journey to this game began a few days prior, when my wife was casually browsing our online banking statement and asked me why I'd spent £60 at West Ham. I immediately denied all knowledge, whilst secretly hoping that I hadn't got drunk and finally bought that life size Herbie the Hammer costume, before remembering that I'd entered into the ballot for the Watford game.

Naturally the Club weren't going to do anything so obvious as tell me I'd got tickets, but off we went, nonetheless. As I had received no confirmation email once again, I had no idea which turnstile to go through - again. I dutifully asked the first couple of stewards I encountered for help, but both just stared blankly at me like I'd asked them to name their favourite commedia dell'arte characters, so back to the ticket office we trudged.

There, I enjoyed a brief moment with the lady behind the counter, and as our eyes met through the plexiglass window the shared pain of our afternoon coalesced in front of us. She was very helpful, and we eventually emerged into the stadium...20 yards from the away fans. Exactly where you want to be with an 8 year girl, and evidence that not letting people in the ballot have any say in where they sit might not be the best idea of all time. Now the Watford fans were actually rather delightful. Saturday was the first time I've ever looked at fans giving me abuse and thought "Well, they seem like nice people", but had it been Spurs or Chelsea there would have been a riot at the game.

3. Something Burning

Apropos of that point, it's annoying to me that away fans have been given such good seats at the stadium. If you've ever been to Old Trafford or St James's Park you'll know how far from the pitch the visiting fans are, and indeed, at Newcastle the highest seat in the away section is a quarter of a mile from the opposite corner flag. I know - I've sat in it.

In my ideal world, clubs would be given an equivalent allocation and location in our ground that they give to away fans. Man Utd, therefore, would be on the roof and Newcastle could watch from the viewing platform of the Orbit. That might be a touch impractical, but if that fails at the very least stick them up in the Gods somewhere, miles from where they can theoretically influence things.

4. Standing Here

So - the big news of the day. The crowd.

I saw three fights at this game. Two between warring West Ham fans, and one as home and away fans clashed after Watford's fourth goal.

The fights in the home end were especially awful. I saw crying children being picked up and dragged away to safety as fat, red faced thugs laid into each other. All I could think as I saw it was "There but for the grace of God". I'd had no say over my seat selection - and if I had, how would I have known there would be trouble there anyway? The fight continued for a while, and seemed to be broken up by other fans rather than the stewards.

A second scuffle broke out behind me, leading to my daughter asking "Daddy, why is everybody fighting?" and then a few dickheads attempted to get into the away section. They were able to do this because home and away fans were separated only by a low fence and a few stewards who couldn't have looked less interested if you'd doped them up with ketamine.

I don't really know what is the root cause of all of this, although I have my theories, but it defies belief that the Club didn't think a family section would be needed at the new ground. It is probably too late now, but without one most people are simply going to arrive at the same conclusion I have, which is that they won't be taking their kids back for a while.

Just consider that for a moment - West Ham fans aren't taking their children to games any longer because the Club can't guarantee their safety from the actions of other West Ham fans. If that doesn't shame everybody attached to the Club, then nothing will.

As the Watford fans sang, in the most thoroughly middle class chiding ever, "You're just embarrassing". Sadly, this is utterly correct.

5. The Hardest Thing In The World

There is something that West Ham fans need to hear and I don't suspect it will be popular but I am going to say it any way.

It's not the new ground. It's the people in it.

It's not the new ground. It's the people in it. 

It's not the stewards, it's not Karren Brady, it's not the away fans, it's not the Police (how could it be, there literally aren't any) and it's not the stadium. They all play a part, but it's not them.

It's you. It's me, It's us.

Sure, the plus two scheme was a figurative slap in the face to fans who didn't deserve it. By selling tickets to literally anyone who turned up with a season ticket holder, the Club blew the chance to fill the ground with people with a history of following the Club. If rumours are true and lots of fans of other teams have bought tickets and are now selling them on to Hammers at inflated prices then some people might want to have a think about that.

And yes, I get that the standing thing is frustrating. People stood a lot at Upton Park, myself included, and now they can't. But if you think that it's reasonable to physically or verbally assault people who ask you to sit down then I don't know what to say to you.

And, contrary to the group think idiocy of Twitter, it's really not the huge impingement on people's human rights that they seem to believe it is. You can't stand up at games of football in the Premier League. That's the law. And it's not a new one either.

Newham Council mostly turned a blind eye to this at Upton Park, but they're not doing that at the London Stadium, and as a result the Club can't take the capacity up to sixty six thousand.

So the standing rebels, who are attaching themselves to this flimsiest of causes, are preventing other fans from being able to get into games. That creates an angry underclass - and make no mistake, that's what it feels like - who, when they get into games are pissed off that their Club appears to have been stolen from them by new fans. Combine that with those who want to stand and those who want to see, those who never wanted to move in the first place, and the fact that the average West Ham fan is a bit more earthy than, say, his Arsenal equivalent, and this is what you get. Chaos.

My abiding memory of this game was that almost everybody in the ground seemed angry. 

It seems to me that if people just sat down for a bit, the Club could get their license and then begin the process of unofficially creating standing sections - dressed up as "singing sections". Until then, they are going to continue to send poorly trained, poorly paid stewards to ask people to sit, and the ground will continue to be the poisonous bear pit that it currently resembles. I understand that people might not think that the Club deserve this level of cooperation, and I'd agree they don't, but this can't carry on as it is.

Oh, and nobody is trying to prevent fans standing up at crucial times - it's just persistent standing that is causing the issue. So my advice is that the next time we blow a two goal lead at home, take a load off, sit down and boo from a more relaxed position.

It really shouldn't need saying, but as long as West Ham fans are fighting West Ham fans then this truism will remain:

It's not the new ground. It's the people in it. 

5. Tears

Anecdotally, I am led to believe that amidst all the rucking, a game broke out on Saturday. For 40 minutes, this was actually what we'd all been dreaming about. West Ham sweeping forward at will, with Michail Antonio setting up Miguel Britos for a nice bout of post traumatic stress disorder by skewering him mercilessly for half an hour. Antonio headed in twice, once from a ludicrously brilliant rabona cross from Payet, and the only question at that point was how many we would get.

There were warning signs though, as Watford flooded forward themselves with alarming ease, but it could easily have been 3-0 when Daryl Janmaat demonstrated everything he'd learned about defending at Newcastle and inexplicably knocked the ball against his own post when doing almost anything else at all would have been easier.

Sadly, that was about it as Ighalo smacked in a deflected strike off James Collins and the comeback was on.

The day was best encapsulated by Watford's equaliser as Collins allowed a through ball past him because he was too busy blowing up balloon animals at the time. "Not to worry" said Adrian as he came pedalling off his line on his unicycle, only to crash into Collins who responded by squirting water in his face from a plastic flower attached to his shirt. Not wanting to miss out, Winston Reid ran up and slammed a custard pie into both their faces and Troy Deeney ignored all of that, before gloriously drifting the ball into the net from an acute angle and making it 2-2.

Half time came and went, but sadly the trombone music played on, and truthfully we were lucky to escape with a 2-4 defeat.

6. What The World Is Waiting For

Everything started brightly on Saturday, and ended with us playing Fletcher, Calleri and Tore up front. That's right - Bilic's masterplan to get back into this game was to take the bloke who scored twice, play him at right back and bring on Gokhan Fuckin' Tore who has played 4 times for us and I already think is dire. Or Kieron Dyer. Which is the same thing.

Payet set up two goals, but blasphemy though it may be to say it, looked off the pace to me. Once Watford got to grips with our plan (Give it to Payet, then Antonio), we had nothing in response. There were a lot of players getting used to each other, and others getting over injuries but we never fully convinced as a unit, and that was the most alarming part of the day today for me.

It should also be pointed out that once it got back to 2-2, the crowd disappeared from the game completely. Up until then, the Watford fans were pin drop quiet and the atmosphere was fairly decent but as goes the team, so goes the crowd and after half time it was all about infighting and standing up.

Whatever you think about the new ground, it's not hard to see that our home record will drop off this year. As an friend of mine said - it could be like playing 38 away games.

7. Going Down

West Ham's back four prepare for the game on Saturday.
8. Don't Stop

Lots of people are writing about this.

If you've made it to then end of my waffling and feel you can stomach some better writing then try here where Terry Land presents his view of Saturday and nails a lot of my thoughts too.


  1. Thanks for a splendid piece. I was in the Watford end on Saturday; it's a small detail and doesn't negate any of your points, but do you think the Standing problem is anything to do with the design of the stadium?

    We were nine rows from the front and as you describe the away end is relatively decent. But I was miles from the pitch and barely above pitch level. I can imagine that those in the front row would have been highly motivated to stand up to see ANYTHING beyond the halfway line, with inevitable consequences.

  2. Thanks for the comment Matt (I also enjoyed your piece on the game, by the way - always good to read the other side of the story, Read it here https://bhappy.wordpress.com/ Hammers fans).

    As for the standing, I really don't know. As an away fan I don't recall ever sitting down for a game, so I don't know if that's a good barometer. I mean, that has to have been the best Watford away game in years - if West Ham turned in a performance like that I wouldn't have sat down either.

    But your point is definitely valid. The stadium wasn't designed for football and it shows. You and I look like we were sat no more than 50 yards from each other and therefore I'm guessing you saw the flimsy divide between the two sets of fans, and also noted how easy it was for the fans to exit right into each other after the match.

    Clearly I don't design stadiums for a living but I'm a bit confused about why they didn't bring the temporary seating closer to the pitch. It wouldn't affect how far away those people behind the goal are, but it would have eliminated the godawful astroturf sections around the pitch. We've gained a lot, but lost plenty too. No doubt about it.

    Thanks for the comment and best of luck for the season. Watford were seriously impressive in the second half on Saturday.


  3. Anonymous11:42 PM