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, October 14, 2016

The H List Special - West Ham Writers Roundtable

Ah, international breaks. How I hate you.

Now Roy Hodgson is gone, it’s just not the same. Say what you like about Roy, but typing his name into Google images is one of life’s great pleasures. 

Therein lies an unimaginable treasure trove of pictures where Roy appears incapable of pulling a face that resembles that of any other human being on Earth. The man was a remarkable subject for photographers and I, for one, miss him greatly. 

Seriously, what was happening here?

For us England fans left behind, however, these international breaks are essentially the same as queuing at a Drive-Thru McDonalds. Tedious, not enjoyable and fuelled by a desire to experience something that you know will briefly excite you, but ultimately disappoint you in a really, really predictable fashion. And then, despite swearing you’re never going to be so stupid again, you still find yourself back there in a few months.

I hate you Jordan Henderson, but I would also absolutely like to "Go Large" with my meal.

So, unable to face another McSturridge sandwich, I cast my net around and asked some fellow West Ham fans – who also happen to be professional writers – what they have made of our season so far. 

Those who were kind enough not to delete my begging emails were:

Terry Land 

Terry (@AmoCS) is a former journalist for The Sun and The Mirror who writes on West Ham at www.moxycoxy.wordpress.com. He has a season ticket in the Bobby Moore Lower Stand, is a huge fan of Mark E Smith, and would greatly welcome your recommendations for songs by The Fall on Twitter.

Emily Pulham

Emily (@makingthemarrow) is a writer for Blowing Bubbles, Everything Theatre and www.makingthemarrow.com. She has a season ticket in the East Stand and got engaged this week in Iceland. The country, not the shop.

Dan Silver

Dan (@dansilver_) is a journalist and writer who launched and edited the Daily Mirror’s MirrorFootball website and served as Deputy Head of Publishing for The Sun. He has a season ticket in the East Stand and is going to be buying a Zaza shirt this Christmas whether he likes it or not.

Jacob Steinberg 

Jacob (@jacobsteinberg) is a writer for The Guardian and Blizzard. He is a former West Ham season ticket holder and based on his first answer, owns a pair of skin tight white jeans.

All very graciously consented to answer a few questions from me on how they were enjoying the new season, and the move to our gilded palace of sin.

The H List: How would you characterise our start to the season?

Dan Silver: Given the unprecedented expectation both on and off the pitch going into this season, it’s hard to imagine how either element could have gone much worse. Which is about as good a definition of ‘the West Ham way’ as you could hope to find.

Jacob Steinberg: West Hammish. Three and a half years ago, I wrote a tongue in cheek Fiver about how badly the move was going to go for West Ham after they were given the stadium (if you haven't heard of the Fiver, it's the Guardian's free and unfunny daily teatime email), drawing on the miserable experience of supporting this ludicrous club, with its unerring ability to shoot itself in the foot just when it seems that everything's about to click.

I lived through the Manny Omoyinmi debacle, the Dean Ashton gut-punch, the Tevez and Mascherano shambles, and I concluded that "West Ham will start the 2016-17 season in the Championship, Phil Brown will be their manager and the turnstiles won't work before the first match."

It was a pisstake, some loving self-deprecation, but Carlton Cole called me out on Twitter for it. Sorry, Carlton. Turns out he was right as well. Phil Brown is managing in League One/Two (I'm on a day off, indulge the lazy journalism), West Ham began this season with aspirations of qualifying for the Champions League and I hear some of the turnstiles have worked really well. Still, it's probably not unfair to suggest that things could be going a bit better. I'm warming up now.

By the time this is done, it'll be 7am and I'll be sitting outside a bar in Shoreditch, a pint in one hand, a Big Mac in the other. 

Terry Land: By any standards our start has been very poor. Anybody looking at the fixtures back in June when they came out would have characterised us as having an easy start.

As much as I don’t buy Sullivan and Gold’s claim we are a side pushing for the Champions League I would have expected between 10 and 15 points from the first seven games. Instead we have a win and a draw apiece and sit in the relegation zone with a miserable four points with a nasty run of games coming up through late November to early December. While not terminal, the patient surely needs surgery.

Emily Pulham: Poor! We haven’t had that moment of clicking yet. We’ve got one of our best ever teams on paper and our worst ever results on the pitch.

The H List: Let's start with the stadium - what did you think of David Sullivan's comment that "lots of people want the migration to fail" and what do you think the Club could be doing differently to make it (more of) a success - beyond simply not letting David Sullivan make any more comments?

He gets a mention, naturally

Terry Land: As Nicolas Sarkozy once claimed of another David; the then UK Prime Minister Cameron ”lost a good opportunity to shut up”.  Likewise David Sullivan never misses an excuse to run his mouth off. Even despite some ridiculous over-reaction to, and reliance upon, social media to gauge supporter opinion (the “polls” on whether to buy El Hadji Diouf and Joey Barton come to mind) Sullivan, along with David Gold and Karren Brady have an enormous blind spot regarding the migration to the new stadium.  

I don’t blame them at all for being convinced of its worth and don’t want to re-open the tired old debate over the move – but they refuse to accept a significant minority don’t share their dream. For myself I can easily see how hollow their promises sound now we face the reality of a stadium not designed for football and crucially a poor run of form.

Emily Pulham: The club did make some initial mistakes with the stadium - but they are working hard to rectify them. The club are moving fans around the ground to be in the right places, they are improving the stewarding, actively campaigning for safe standing, and also getting police in - but there are some people that don’t want it to work because it’s not the Boleyn, and so for them, it never will work.

Having said that, I know our chairman want to be accessible to the fans but I worry they are too open sometimes. A little restraint and privacy wouldn’t be the worst thing on occasion.

Jacob Steinberg: I think there's an element of truth to what Sullivan said – West Ham have had a villainous image ever since Sean Bean was spotted cutting some preposterous shapes during that march on parliament all those years ago and it's not been helped by the manner of the deal that landed them the stadium.

Plenty of people do want them to fail and you haven't had to search too far for gloating comments from other supporters after their defeats this season. Equally Sullivan's probably guilty of protesting too much here.

Some of the criticism since the move has been valid, whether it has been about security, stewarding, atmosphere, standing, ticketing or, most damagingly, that sense the club is slowly stripping away its identity, embracing the corporate culture with a touch too much relish and forgetting where it came from. Some of it is bad PR – talking about customers instead of supporters is never going to go down well – and other factors out of their hands given that they don't own the stadium.

On that note, you'd hope that they'll be able to work with the stadium operators to make sure there's a sizeable police presence in and around the ground and also to improve the relationship between stewards and supporters. What can be done from their side, though? Make more of an effort to connect with and appease their supporters, listen to their concerns, make them feel valued. The move won't work without them. 

Dan Silver: I broadly agree with David Sullivan’s comment. The resentment and jealousy of the deal West Ham negotiated is writ large across social media - and, more disappointingly, sections of the mainstream media too.

As we all know, football grounds aren’t soft play centres and yet it’s almost been impossible to read a story - any story - about the club without reference to how unhappy fans are with the new stadium, or an accompanying embedded video of violence from one of the opening games. 

There’s a prevailing narrative that West Ham have overreached, that the stadium is too good or too big for the club, and evidence supporting this view is wheeled out at any opportunity, no matter how tenuous. 

On top of that, a small but vocal minority of our own fans also seem intent on making the move as difficult and ill-tempered as possible. Is the Olympic Stadium (as I belligerently insist on calling it) perfect? No, of course not. Is it anywhere near as bad as some supporters are pointing out? No, of course not.

I’m not entirely sure what these fans’ motivation is. We can’t go back to Upton Park. It’s being knocked down. The Olympic Stadium is our new home. And it is up to all of us to make it feel like a home. The stadium fairy isn’t going to turn up one weekend and move the pitch nearer to the seats so let’s just get on with enjoying the football we can see, yes?

All that said, however, there have been - and continue to be - some very serious crowd safety issues at the new stadium and it would be very wrong of Sullivan to try and dismiss concerns about them as mischievous carping. 

The board moved to address some of these in the wake of the Watford game but, in my opinion, they are not moving quickly or forcefully enough. And I’m positive if David Sullivan or Karren Brady tried leaving the East Stand and heading back to Stratford with their children in tow at the end of a game then they’d be moving a damn sight quicker. 

My own kids were unwittingly caught up in the fracas after the Middlesbrough game - seemingly caused by cack-handed crowd management as the away fans streamed out of the ground at the same time as ours - and were greeted with the sight of police surrounding a fan stumbling around with blood streaming down his face.

Elsewhere, anecdotal evidence is mounting up of West Ham fans refusing to take their kids to games because they don’t feel safe doing so - which, frankly, is inexcusable in this day and age.

The H List: I think this is a really important point, but one that is very difficult to explain to those who haven't been or experienced it. It's scary to take kids, in a way I never felt at Upton Park. Are you taking your children to the Chelsea game? (I'm not - primarily for the reasons you outline)

Dan Silver: No, I’m not either. They’re both under ten so the kick-off time made it impractical anyway but I would have had other safety concerns as well. 

If I’m completely honest, I’m a little bit anxious about going myself. On the one hand I’m hopeful this will be the first great night under the lights at the Stadium; that the team’s performance and the atmosphere generated by the fans combine to create the first truly magical moment in this chapter of the club's history.

The worry is that it could prove to be a truly toxic evening punctuated by ugly scenes inside and outside the ground. And if that unwanted scenario comes to pass then it could have catastrophic consequences for the rest of the season - and possibly beyond. 

Let’s hope it’s the former, eh?

The H List: What were your thoughts on Karren Brady’s comments on the corporate culture of the Club? My own take is that they weren’t unreasonable, but that seems to be a minority view based on the online responses I’ve seen.

Emily Pulham: Karren Brady’s comments were never going to sit well with the West Ham faithful, but although the comments were hard for some to swallow, they represent a big part of what it takes nowadays to evolve into that next tier of football.

She understands marketing incredibly well. If we want Champions League football, big name players, and global investment (see also: money) - this is part and parcel of the game we have to play. It’s not just West Ham who have to embrace this, it’s all clubs - but it’s the responsibility of the fans to balance out the corporate part by ensuring that we stay the heart and soul of the club.

Dan Silver: Karren Brady’s comments were entirely reasonable in isolation but her timing and delivery were lousy. Unfortunately this seems to be something of a habit; her early season crowing about the Olympic Stadium boasting the best hospitality suites in Europe at a time when regular fans felt their safety was being compromised just by attending a game was particularly grating.

Brady gets a disproportionately rough ride from West Ham fans but it’s also easy to understand why. She’s a businesswoman first and foremost and her references to the club’s history and traditions often come across as lip service, marketing boxes to be ticked during a PowerPoint presentation. Yes, she’s done almost unimaginably great things for West Ham the business, but most football fans - rightly - don’t care about the business.

In that respect she would do well to remember that football fans don’t talk about football in the same way business people do, and that her words to the latter will also be reported to the former. I remember a meeting with Karren and a couple of other newspaper executives while I worked at The Sun before the start of the ‘farewell…’ season in which she repeatedly referred to the new ground as *her* stadium. That rankled with me even then. 

Terry Land: Brady has a desire to use our geographical proximity to the Eastwards shift of the London financial sector to grab a piece of the action and utilise the corporate riches involved for the betterment of the club. I have no problem with that.

Karren breaks with tradition again with our new away kit

The H List: Is she really this unpopular or is the fact that I’m viewing it through a misogynistic petri dish like Twitter colouring that narrative?

Dan Silver: I wouldn’t read too much into the social media reaction to her - it’s arguably as representative of the majority of West Ham fans as the actions of the guy who spat in her face were of the rest of the ground. 

But I am concerned by what appears to be a widening disconnect between her view of the club and that of many of its fans. She sometimes appears guilty of believing the move to the Olympic Stadium would transform West Ham into Arsenal overnight. There are around 30,000 West Ham fans who would beg to differ - often very vocally indeed - and that source of schism will extremely harmful if allowed to fester.

Jacob Steinberg: She does seem extremely unpopular, although I do wonder at times whether there is a strand of misogyny at play when it comes to Brady.  Then again, she doesn't always help herself with some of her comments. If supporters don't feel that she has their best interests at heart, maybe it's something she should think about rectifying. 

Terry Land: While I have little doubt the gender of our ennobled Vice-Chairman is an easy target for those of a less reconstructed mind-set I also believe the purpose of football for many fans is a sense of community, identity and cultural grounding in a fast-changing world. Something that in her desire for pounds sterling Brady might do well to remember.

The H List: What has your personal experience of the Stadium been like? How many of the problems we’re discussing could be resolved with a five game unbeaten run, and how many are deep rooted genuine issues?

Dan Silver: Personally I like the new ground, but then I’m a middle aged man with middle aged mates who now take our young kids to football and therefore value easy access to toilets above standing in the middle of a seething bear-pit. 

We all sit in the upper East Stand, central to the pitch and about four rows from the back, which affords an incredibly impressive view of the vast, sweeping stands. Our sightlines of the pitch are impeccable - although, admittedly, it does feel a little detached, like we’re watching the game on an iMax screen.

I’m sure many of the gripes about atmosphere and sitting down etc will evaporate should that fabled five game winning run ever materialise. But as we’ve all mentioned above, the issues with stewarding, segregation and crowd safety will not, and I again urge the club to take measures before their hand is forced by a tragedy.

Terry Land: My initial reaction to the stadium was one of awe and disbelief. My West Ham here?! 

You certainly wouldn’t feel ready to chuck a chip wrapper on the floor as you might in E13. My view from near the back of the Bobby Moore Lower Stand is excellent even if we now play in a stadium rather than football ground (a crucial difference). Stewarding and policing is a problem that must be resolved, and if stories of former stewards leaving are to be believed things may get worse before they get better. The Plus Two scheme for season ticket holders has been lambasted as it dilutes those with a history of supporting the club but the lack of delineation between areas is my biggest bugbear. With no obvious singing areas the noise seems more generalised and less intense.

However, let’s not become too misty-eyed about Upton Park, the atmosphere deteriorated markedly post the West Stand development, the East Stand was a tip and the ground difficult to get to. I’ve still not settled on a place to meet pre and post-match – but Hackney Wick appears to offer fertile if somewhat gentrified ground. My memory may be playing tricks but I don’t remember charred broccoli and haloumi wrap available in the Earl of Wakefield.

While I don’t for a second believe the new ground directly contributed to our poor form, I think the Board, in a moment of rapture over the new ground and in a wholly characteristic bout of hubris, took their eye of the ball with regard to recruitment. For all the talk of Champions League football, few if any of the players brought in this summer look to be of that quality.

Emily Pulham: If we were winning on a regular basis, a good chunk of them would dissipate. Unfortunately, when the roof is leaking, you’re more likely to notice that the floor is dirty too! I have faith that a lot of the issues will be fixed by the club - especially with regards to getting the right fans in the right places.

My own experience has been good - my seat is excellent, the atmosphere is building, I can get a beer in under five minutes at half time and I’m impressed by the scale of the stadium. Wouldn’t mind seeing some wins though!

Jacob Steinberg: I've only worked at the stadium and missed all the fun at the Watford game as I was working on the Paralympics. I did enjoy following Twitter from my room in the Quality Hotel in Rio, though. Bashing out a Jonnie Peacock piece for the Observer, imagine my delight when I saw that West Ham led 2-0. Imagine my shock when I checked my phone an hour later. 

Anyway ... the stadium. I'm lucky enough to live a five minute walk from the stadium and my route takes me straight to the media entrance, so that's good. I've heard people have experienced transport problems, though – not great considering that was one of the main arguments for leaving E13. 

From a work perspective, the media facilities are much better than Upton Park. The wifi works and the various working areas are spacious. That said, the press box is very far away from the pitch. It's not that you can't see what's happening – you can, the binocular comments are tiresome now – but more that you feel removed from the action. Not sure if that's something that's possible to change. Either you do or you don't. This is what it is and you'd better find a way of getting used to it. There's no going back. 

It was always a concern for me. We interviewed Payet by the pitch just after he joined and the stands felt far away then. I was willing to reserve judgement. But here we are. Maybe it will grow on me and others, and some people love it. It was certainly rocking in the first couple of games – but, well, they won those. It's true, I suppose, that the mood will change if the team improves (no guarantees there). Let's not be disingenuous, the atmosphere at Upton Park was often insipid on a Saturday afternoon and downright vicious during the bad times.

Overall it's left me a bit cold. Maybe I'll warm to it with time. There are parts that are undoubtedly impressive - the floodlights, the sweeping west Stand. But others look cheap, muddled and, sorry to say it, ugly - the green material covering the track, say, or the large gap between the middle tier in the stand behind the dugouts, which holds the corporate boxes, and the lower tier. Also I don't think Bilic is happy about the distance between the dugouts and the pitch. The view is rubbish from the bench, hence why he never sits down. 

The H List: And yet, for all that, you and I were both unsuccessful in the ballot for the Middlesbrough game, despite there being plenty of empty seats in the ground.

Jacob Steinberg: That’s a big issue. There were empty seats during both the Southampton and Middlesbrough games. What went on there? If it was part of the fallout from the fighting at the Watford match, then it's understandable if people felt unsafe taking kids after all the negative publicity. Only one way to get past that – better security.

But if it's down to the team, it's not taken much for people to stay away, has it? Who were they? Where did they come from? Where did they go to? It's worrying on two levels. Firstly that the people who snapped up all those extra season tickets had no real affinity to the club and won't stick around to watch Gokhan Tore do his Gokhan Tore thing. Secondly, that members (such as me) can't get those tickets if they're unsuccessful in the ballot. It was easy for members to get tickets at Upton Park. Only at West Ham could it be a problem in a bigger stadium! Hopefully they'll implement a resale feature.

The H List: Moving to on the field matters, how surprised have you been by our start to the season, and to what do you attribute our poor form?

Terry Land: I didn’t expect a great start on the pitch but even so have been disappointed. Poor defending that saw us concede two goals a game over the last quarter of last season has deteriorated further. Transfer business over the summer was poor with quantity seemingly a priority over quality, and two obvious areas of concern – right-back and striker were not fully addressed.

Slaven Bilic’s idealism has been expressed in asking too many players, especially in midfield, to perform unfamiliar roles and the lack of a holding midfielder to screen the back four has been obvious. A settled back four is a prime requirement after, I think, 10 different combinations in our 12 competitive games played so far.

Emily Pulham: There’s no communication in the team. None. The defence have no idea where anyone is or who they are responsible for. As soon as anyone on the pitch moves slightly out of position, the cover for them is almost non-existent.

The other problem is that the heart goes out of the players so quickly - they are struggling with confidence. The Middlesbrough game was the first sign of hope in a long time and for an odd reason. As soon as Middlesbrough put one past us, the fans reacted by clapping and encouraging the team on. It was the first time we did that all season - and the team responded in kind by equalising. More of that, please - from both fans and players.

Dan Silver: I’ve been surprised by the extent to which the symptoms have manifested themselves but the underlying malaise took hold throughout last season: the leaky defence; the tendency to concede the first goal(s); the difficulties breaking down and beating lower table teams. Those fantastic results against the top six teams and the game-changing brilliance of Dimitri Payet papered over a lot of cracks.

I commented on a couple of occasions in the latter half of last season that the team appeared to be believing their own press. The Cup replay at home to Man United was particularly galling; there was so much talk of Wembley beforehand that the team seemed to think they only needed to turn up to go through.

Our abysmal start to the season - and it has been abysmal, there’s little point sugar coating it - can be traced back to the embarrassing mauling by Swansea and pathetic capitulation away to Stoke that bookended the emotionally charged final home victory against Manchester United. 

Those performances was compounded by a miserable pre-season that from the outside appeared to involve too much meaningless travel (low-profile fixtures against poor US sides) and too many games in too short a period of time (the Austrian training camp). The pitiful Europa League games laid bare the squad’s awful physical and mental states.

Jacob Steinberg: I wasn't too surprised by the defeats at Man City and Chelsea given that they have improved and West Ham were missing players for a variety of reasons. But if you go back to the end of last season, they were already conceding too many goals and nothing has been done about it. I want to like Bilic - he is intelligent, charismatic and decent - but he doesn't entirely convince at times. West Ham were very lucky in several matches last year and it was hard to gauge their true level. They would often hang on in matches before scoring the first goal (Liverpool at home in the cup), equalise with their first attack (Norwich at home) or capitalise on generous finishing (Southampton at home). 

The ability to stay in matches suggested increased resilience and it was impressive how often they would fight back, often scoring their goals in bursts (Norwich away), but you do wonder if it was built on solid foundations. 

They have become so fragile. Bilic has spoken about individual errors. But when they keep happening, it suggests that structural and tactical flaws are undermining decent players. The organisation and discipline has gone out of the window, which is why they collapsed after Southampton took the lead. The lifeless style of play is reminiscent of the performances that toppled Pardew in 2006 - but unlike the Baby Bentley team, I don't think there is a major problem with this squad's attitude. It's more that they look lost on the pitch, as though they're not enjoying playing football. How much of that comes back to Bilic and his tactics?

Ultimately it's not easy to pin down what style of football Bilic wants to implement and they often struggled against the 'lesser' sides. That was worrying - those results against the top teams weren't flukes but a side like West Ham is reliant on so many things to go right in order to win at Arsenal, City and Liverpool. They improved in the summer, West Ham didn't and repeating those wins becomes tougher to pull off. The worrying thing is how broken they look at the moment. It's the whole team, not just the defence. They don't look like they know how to attack at the moment and Bilic is struggling to work out his best 11. There is quality in the squad - they're not at 02/03 or 10/11 levels, far from it - but it's not working right now. 

They've got four points largely because of Payet's brilliace against Boro and Harry Arter's rush of blood to the head in the Bournemouth game, when West Ham looked bereft of ideas before the red card.  

Probably not the answer. Unless the question is "Name a redheaded Turkish man"

The H List: Apart from the ultra-obvious answer of building the team around Gokhan Tore, what’s the silver bullet?

Dan Silver: The team needs to be rebuilt from a defensive foundation, starting with Randolph in goal. Adrian veers between over-confidence and neurotic calamities and could do with knowing his league starting place isn’t guaranteed. 

Then Slaven needs to pick a back four and stick with it (injuries permitting, of course). I’m convinced Reid’s loss of form is at least partly due to his constantly changing centre back partner. My current choice would be Arbeloa - Reid - Ogbonna - Cresswell.

The midfield needs to be anchored around Obiang. Neither Kouyate or Noble have the necessary attributes or dedication to play as proper holding midfielders, and their lack of defensive nous heaps pressure on centre backs already exposed by rampaging full-backs.

Noble warrants a whole chapter to himself. His performances this season don’t justify his place in the side, and there’s little evidence so far this season of his ability to lead the team on the pitch. I’d drop him and give Kouyate the midfield general role. 

Finally I’d move Payet inside and play out and out wingers - Antonio and Feghouli, say - on either flank and instruct the full-backs to show more restraint going forward. 

Jacob Steinberg: Payet getting fitter? A run for Pedro Obiang? Andy Carroll and Diafra Sakho returning? Aaron Cresswell, so important to offensively and defensively, coming back? Winston Reid remembering how to defend? One going in off Simone Zaza's arse?

Looking at it optimistically, Bilic has to hope it's down to confidence. That's easier to overcome than a simple lack of talent. 

Emily Pulham: Get everyone fit, introduce the players to each other so that they have an idea of who is playing around them on the pitch and don’t be afraid to try different things to find solutions. The team line up against Middlesborough was odd (and sounded better if you read it upside down) but it was an improvement. Don’t play the best players; play the best team combinations.

Terry Land: Turning our form around may well require a change of manager. As mentioned, a settled back four and proper holding midfielder are essential.

I believe we have missed Diafra Sakho badly. His movement, goal threat, and work-rate were all crucial to our big results last season. And I cannot for a second imagine we’d be talking about silver bullets if we hadn’t got rid of Joey O’Brien.

The answer - says Terry

The H List: What did you think of the Club's transfer business in the summer? 

Emily Pulham: I loved it at the time - I thought there were some excellent signings there! We’ve been so unlucky with injuries to Andre Ayew and Arthur Masuaku - but I am genuinely surprised at Simone Zaza and Gokhan Tore’s failure to fit into the side. I expected more from them. 

Terry Land: Summer business was poor. I was criticised after writing a negative blog on the subject but reckon so far I’ve been vindicated.

Sofiane Feghouli is a good player and I believe Arthur Makuasu has the potential to put Aaron Cresswell under healthy pressure at left-back. Otherwise, none of our signings improved the side or put existing places in jeopardy.

Jacob Steinberg: Not great, especially with Benteke starting well at Palace. I have sympathy with that one, though, because he has had bad injuries in the past and would not necessarily have represented value for money.

It's a shame. Everything worked last summer but it's not quite clicked this time round. But they should have signed a right-back earlier and seemed to lack focus. All those right wingers? Where do they fit in? After the talk of a top striker, they've gambled with Zaza and Calleri, and Fletcher is a kid. I don't think Zaza or Calleri are as bad as has been made out – Calleri has ... something – but they don't look like the answer. Feghouli has a good track record, though, and Ayew could be a success when he's back. 

Dan Silver: On the surface, the strategy - sign a world class striker and build a squad capable of competing in both the Premier and Europa Leagues - was sound. Unfortunately the execution was abysmal.

The search for a striker, seemingly conducted via the chairman’s teenage son’s Twitter account, became an embarrassment. There’s absolutely no shame in being rejected by the likes of Lacazette, Bacca and Batshuayi; we have to be realistic about West Ham’s standing in the global market. However, publishing every cough and spit of their protracted pursuits on social media harmed not only the club’s reputation but also attempts to sign other targets. And that road, as we found out to our cost, ends at Simone Zaza’s door.

The dual team approach was, of course, undone by the team’s failure to qualify for the group stage of the Europe League. I believe if Tore, Nordveidt, Feghouli, Calleri and co were playing regularly relatively low-stress, confidence-boosting midweek matches against beatable opposition, we’d be seeing the kind of performances their records suggest they are more than capable of. Instead, we now have a bloated squad of unhappy, out of form players who have already been written off by much of the fan base. 

The H List: I'm definitely guilty of this - of the players you mention, I think I'm only still on board the Feghouli wagon which, even as I say it out loud, seems ludicrous just 7 league games into the season. How do you think this all plays out in January, with particular reference to Zaza and this odd deal we have where we have to buy him once he starts a certain number of games?

Dan Silver: At the risk of stating the obvious, a lot depends on how the players perform between now and then. Zaza is the big concern for me. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, I had reasonably high hopes for him when he joined. My eldest even has his name on the back of his shirt (and, yes, he has genuinely asked for another one for Christmas). 

In retrospect, the deal we struck looks eminently sensible. Zaza now has a set number of games to prove he can adapt to the Premier League or the club can chalk him off as a failed £5m gamble - no small beer, of course, but preferable to a £25m failure with however many years’ worth of wages on top.

If - and it’s a big one, obviously - Carroll, Sakho and Ayew return fit, stay healthy and play to their not inconsiderable abilities then we won’t need Zaza anyway. And there’s always Fletcher and Calleri - who I have the sneaking suspicion will come good with time and patience - to add to the mix as well, so I think we’ll be fine for forwards whatever.

The Tore situation is definitely one to watch. Most fans wouldn’t be too upset if we curtailed his loan before the end of the season but as we all know he is very much Bilic’s man and it will be interesting to see how much of a fight he puts up to keep him at the club. Reading between the lines of that saga should reveal a lot about the power balance at the club.

Terry Land: There is seldom good business to be had in the January transfer window but a substantial outlay may prove necessary.

How long does Bilic have to turn things around?

Dan Silver:  As we’ve already found out to our cost, the Daves don’t tend to sack managers mid-season - not even managers as bad as Avram Grant, so I can’t imagine how bad it would have to get before they called Slaven into boardroom to pick up his P45. 

Perhaps being in the bottom three at Christmas would force the board’s hands but I envisage Slaven steadying the ship and sailing reasonably steadily through to the end of the season.

I’m not so sure he’ll be setting sail next term, mind. Things haven’t seemed the same at the club since he embarked upon his pig-headed - and utterly wrong - Antonio at full-back experiment and the nagging suspicion he fluked last season’s success is starting to hang heavy in the air.

David Sullivan has been roundly criticised for not backing his manager by inserting that relegation release clause into his first contract and holding fire on offering a new one in the summer but both those decisions are looking eminently sensible now.

Jacob Steinberg:  Not long.

Emily Pulham: He can have more time from me - and I’m not putting a limit on it. We’re an unsettled club, the last thing we need right now is to cause more instability by changing manager. He’s a great manager - he’ll turn this around.

Terry Land: I’m not sure. If the manager does receive the tintack, not only will the club need to re-paint Dimitri Payet slogan outside the ground, we’ll need to think up new words to the song. 

However, you know a manager is feeling the heat when he's speaking in September of the next three games as "cup finals" - and especially when one of them is against the might of Accrington Stanley.

A notable feature of Bilic’s managerial career has been a marked decline following relative early success, and that tricky second album/season proving especially problematic. The obvious parallel to be made is the utter mess Roberto Martinez made of Everton following Davids Moyes’ steady if undramatic improvements. Just as Bobby Brown Shoes didn’t understand how teams start from a defensive base with leaders all over the pitch, nor does Super Slav. 

If I were the owners and on-the-field events don’t markedly improve I’d be looking at mid-December following our bad fixtures to get another man in and make the most of the bounce new blood often provides. If Bilic makes it to the New Year he will probably last the season.

The H ListI get what you're saying there - why 'waste' any bounce on those November fixtures where we're going to get obliterated anyway. My concern - is that too late though? Can we afford to wait? If we carry on as we have been, we'll be toast by mid-December.

Terry Land: Good question - but I'd think the owners would be very conscious of three things.
Firstly they've said in the past they think they could have given Steve Bruce more time at Birmingham, even if that's weighed against not sacking Avram Grant at Christmas. More important I think, though is that Slaven Bilic is "their" man and unlike Sam Allardyce they invested in him all manner of attributes regarding the West Ham way and his past with the club.

Now, that may have been partly to disguise he was the least good of the candidates we were linked with at the time - and his CV was pretty thin without that history. But equally, they may feel they will take some of the stick should they sack him. His is popular with fans and I heard his name sung at the Middlesbrough game.

I would hope they are already putting feelers out about a replacement and it could depend on the quality of any replacement. Guus Hiddink, Louis van Gaal and Roberto Mancini are all out of work - but I'm not sure any of them would want to come into such a fractious environment. It may take the reality of a relegation battle to sink in with fans before the club act.

"Wait, is he playing Antonio as a right back?" 

Complete this sentence: West Ham will finish (xx) and will be managed next year by (insert name) in front of an average crowd of (xxxxxx).

Dan Silver: West Ham will finish 12th and will be managed next year by Slaven Bilic in front of an average crowd of over 50,000.

Emily Pulham: West Ham will finish 12th and will be managed next year by Slaven Billic in front of an average crowd of 59,000.

Jacob Steinberg: West Ham will finish 12th and will be managed next year by Sam Allardyce in front of an average crowd of 35,000.

Terry Land: Two scenarios here, what I’d like and what I expect.

Scene One: Finish eighth under Guus Hiddink in front of sell-out crowds.
Scene two: Finish 17th under Steve Bruce and Julian Dicks in front of 30,000.

I leave you to decide which is heart and head or which one to put your mortgage on.

The H List: You’re out of your mind Terry – we’re going to finish 12th

So there you have it. My sincere thanks to each of Dan, Emily, Terry and Jacob for giving up their time and letting me pester them for their thoughts. 

Cheers Roy

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