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

Monday, May 08, 2017

West Ham 1 - 0 Spurs (And Other Ramblings)

1. Tonight The Streets Are Ours

What a night.

Stick that up your fucking cheese lounge, Mr Levy. We might have had to wait an eternity for something worth watching this season, but when it finally came it was thrilling and uplifting.

This was joy.

If you look closely, you can actually see Eric Dier's heart breaking

For what is being a football fan about if not joy? The relationship between ourselves and Spurs is at once both complex and simple, but tonight there was nuance everywhere. Their fans are determined that this a fixture about which they are ambivalent. They have always had bigger fish to fry and grander ambitions than merely beating us - "the Pikeys", I type incredulously - apparently. Of course, that particular sobriquet always tells you everything about the person saying it and nothing of the person it is being said about, but let's brush past that.

No, the problem is that this fixture has recently had the inconvenient feature for those indifferent Spurs fans of being a bit important. Last year, we were both flying and Spurs were cowed at Upton Park, just as we were insipid at the Lane. But tonight was Spurs biggest game of the season, if you use the not unreasonable logic that losing would end their electric title charge.

But still their fans insist it was our Cup Final. And maybe it was - our season ended months ago in a blaze of nothingness after all, and actual cup runs aren't really our thing. I guess the piece I can't quite understand is the way in which Spurs fans are so insistent (correctly, I might add) that defining yourselves by comparison to a superior local rival is the mark of a tinpot club, just one week after celebrating finishing above Arsenal like it was the fall of Baghdad. Had there been a giant statue of Arsene Wenger you can bet your life it would have been sawed down and decapitated on Seven Sisters Road last week.

In the end, I don't really care how Spurs fans feel about this game, but I will say that the general air of indifference is a bit unconvincing. Indeed, it just strikes me as the footballing equivalent of the teenage boy who has been dumped by his girlfriend and is now insisting he never liked her anyway whilst refusing to leave his room. It might be true, but it looks to the outside world like you are simply trying to inure yourself to the pain.

And that point brings me back once again to joy. The sad truth is that joy travels hand in hand with despair. For Spurs fans this defeat will be the canvas upon which they will one day paint their own joy. That's what football does to us. But this was our night. I have carried the pain of our November 3-2 loss for nearly half a year and tonight it was washed away. Joy.

2. Nothing Like A Friend

The brilliant Alan Fisher wrote this piece about that 3-2 game in his Tottenham On My Mind blog, and even he succumbs a little at the end to the weird notion of indifference. I love Alan's writing - he has soul, if you'll excuse me going all Roddy Doyle for a moment - but to me this smacks of the cockerel doth protesting too much.

We all went to schools with a mix of West Ham and Spurs fans, there are families everywhere around Essex and North East London split claret and blue and lilywhite, and there was a garrison of riot police officers at this game for a very good reason. Simply saying that they don't care about beating West Ham isn't really enough - they actually have to mean it, surely? All those last minute goals certainly seemed to spark celebrations that suggested they cared at least a little.

But in the curious London footballing ecosystem, it can't be ignored that we're not going to be as important to Spurs as Arsenal. This makes obvious sense, even if there were times over the last twenty years when you wondered why they didn't make a bit more out of their dust ups with us - they could actually beat us, after all.

As such, I'm fine with the notion that it means more to us than them. Our natural geographic rivals are Orient, whilst our historic and vicious feud with Millwall dates back to a dockers strike in 1926 that nobody knows anything about but feels obliged to still be upset about. Like Chelsea in the West, the fact our nearest neighbours have declined leaves us without a natural enemy and thus Spurs fit the bill.

So, was this our Cup Final? I don't know, and in all honesty I don't give a shit. We're not a homogeneous group of drones and each of you will make up your own mind. All that matters is that we won. Deservedly. And it was wonderful.

3. Tonight

Enough of the cod psychology. "What of the game", I hear you ask?

As usual, @11tegen11 reveals much. For all the increasingly demented commentary on this thread from Spurs fans, I don't see how anyone could have viewed this as anything other than a richly deserved home win. Except, perhaps for the visiting Spurs fans at the game who dragged in their chaise lounges and sun loungers so they could relax and keep half an eye on the game while they played canasta behind the goal, because they don't care about this fixture.

We started like the office of a Tottenham sheet metal working firm - on fire. Bilic has faced Pochettino four times now, and on three occasions seems to have bested him tactically. It's a small sample size, and the Spurs man is clearly destined for greatness, but it's an interesting point to note. It feels to me like Bilic has spotted a weakness in the North London ranks. When they play well they squeeze you into submission like a python, albeit one with cringeworthy preplanned goal celebrations, but seem surprisingly clueless when faced with the same tactic.

Much is made of the fitness of Spurs and their double training sessions - mainly by them, it has to be said - but here they looked leggy. Our extra day of recovery probably deserves a mention. There has also been a strain of commentary in the media suggesting that they bottled it here, but I think that's wide of the mark; I thought they were just outplayed.

Calleri and Ayew led from the front and harried the usually impeccable Vertonghen and Alderweireld into costly errors. By the end Toby even had a hair out of place. When the Argentine was eventually replaced it was to a standing ovation from a crowd who recognised that most universal of footballing truths - when it isn't going your way, work a bit harder. The poor fucker looked more tired than a fireman on the Seven Sisters Road dealing with all those spontaneous fires in the area.

Behind them Cheikhou Kouyate was a giant amongst men and the lung busting standard bearer for Bilic's high intensity death march. Before the game most Hammers were delighted to see Dembele on the bench, but concerned about the physicality of the Spurs central pairing of Dier and Wanyama. In the end, it wasn't even a fair fight as the Senegal captain hoisted both of them on to his shoulders and wore them like a gilet. By the end, both had been withdrawn - Wanyama to the bench and Dier to the back line. It might have been the single best individual performance I have seen at that stadium, and highlights the madness of playing him at right back ever more starkly.

Elsewhere, there were heroes aplenty. The back three give the distinct impression that they all enjoy having another person around to cover for mistakes and throw themselves desperately in front of shots. Jose Fonte against Dele Alli looked like something you'd only ever see in a Wes Craven film, but in the end the Portuguese stuck the quicksilver Spurs kid in his bum bag and didn't let him out all night. No doubt there will be better days ahead for him, but here he just spent the evening on Snapchat to Gareth Bale asking about decent club nights in Madrid.

Ahead of him Harry Kane looked hopeless, but then he always does when I see him in the flesh and he still has five goals in six games against us. Football makes fools of us all. Here he came up against Winston Reid in dominant form. Having the Kiwi skipper and Adrian back in the fold has rejuvenated us, and we kept a third successive clean sheet that the above xG shows was never really under threat. The most nervous moment came when Kane poked one goalwards from a penalty box scramble and Adrian diverted it over the bar with his foot. He might the most unorthodox keeper around but he stood up here when we needed him. Unlike Kyle Walker, who spent most of the night throwing himself to the ground in search of fouls.

4. Standing At The Sky's Edge

With half time approaching, the game shifted. Suddenly the visitors were moving forward. No real menace to their play, but an undeniable purpose. Christian Eriksen is a silken dream of a footballer and when he got on the ball my stomach began to clench as though I'd eaten a suspicious looking lasagne. But there was nothing much to get stirred up about and instead there was a sense of menace rather than evidence of danger. At one point, some of the visiting Spurs fans lowered their books and had a quick look before returning to their reading, because they don't care about this fixture.

By half time the concourse chat was mostly fearful, although tinged with a pleasant hint of surprise that we were making a game of it. It should be pointed out that most of my fellow Hammers seemed to have allayed their pre match concerns of a tonking by getting mind warpingly drunk. I could see the logic, unlike one bloke I encountered who apparently couldn't see anything at all.

The presupposed threat from the Spurs full backs hadn't really materialised. Ben Davies had his hands full trying to stop Byram, who had wisely decided that given his defensive deficiencies he was going to do as little of it as possible and spent the entire evening bombing forward instead. On the other side Walker seemed distracted. When he wasn't falling over he was on Right Move looking for properties in Manchester, and he was another to be later withdrawn from the fray. Cresswell, his opposite number, started tentatively but grew into the game and eventually helped set up the goal. He seems to typify our lost season, but here there was a little more swash to his buckle once again. If nothing else, the sparkling form of Arthur Masuaku seems to have jolted him into life. It's almost as if having competition for places is a good thing.

Going into this game you would have said that Nordtveit and Fernandes were unfortunate to lose their places, and there is truth in this, particularly for the former. However, on nights like this, when the stakes are high and the margin of error is low, Bilic needed men he could trust. Up stepped Mark Noble, once more unto the breach and all that, as Bilic might say.

The skipper clattered Eric Dier early and got a yellow, which didn't stop him covering more ground on the pitch than anyone else. He had been preceded by Walker leaving a foot in on Byram, and the tone was one of disjointed action amid lots of speed and physicality, with no sense that anyone had much idea what they were doing. A bit like a Fast and Furious film. Our main chance was a Kouyate strike where he got his feet mixed up and ended up smacking it so far wide it nearly hit Walker. Thankfully it didn't or he'd have just fallen over again.

But after the break, we were rejuvenated - score one more for Bilic - and swarmed them once more. The goal, when it came, was much like the game itself; bitty and disjointed, with Spurs tentative and West Ham purposeful. I'm glad it was Lanzini who scored as he is the player who seems most joyful at his lot in life. He is the only Hammer who could threaten a joint West Ham/Spurs XI and nobody gives a shit about that because those aren't actually a real thing. As his strike hit the net, a roar erupted to lift the roof off - and given the shitty design of this stadium we probably shouldn't dismiss that as a possibility - and a season of futility and frustration evaporated up into London's toxic airspace. Forget Bournemouth - this was the night that the London Stadium became our home, even if Barney Ronay conjectures that it might be the worst designed football stadium in the world. To my great-grandchildren who might be reading this fifty years from now, I say - "Sorry kids, the drawings looked a lot better than the real thing. Also, apologies about the inheritance tax thing. I forgot about that".

The last thirty minutes were torture in reality, but comfortable upon reflection. Spurs huffed a bit but all the best chances fell to us on the break. Calleri and Fletcher both ought to have scored but were denied by fine keeping from Lloris. Our goalkeeper, by contrast, was doing this:

Yes, but can Darren Randolph look cool doing this?

And so we scratched through to full time, a thoroughly merited three points, and a brief sojourn into the top half. By the point we entered added on time, the Spurs section was almost empty. I couldn't actually believe that given their record of recent late goals against us, but in truth their team hadn't given them much by way of hope. Or maybe they really don't care about this fixture.

Whatever. We deserved this. Savour it.

5. The Light At The End Of The Tunnel (Was A Train Coming The Other Way)

Where exactly does this leave Slaven Bilic? Watch the game again and you'll see a well drilled back line, and a clever tactical system that allowed his wing backs to range far up the pitch. Spurs fans complained that we parked the bus, but that's the bitterness talking. The four full backs all had average touch positions in pretty much the same place, with the difference being that our three man backline allowed us to cover ours when they went forward.

By contrast, there were acres in behind Walker, in particular. Twice Lanzini drifted into the inside left position, once scuffing his shot across the goal and the other time being taken out by Lloris. From behind it looked a clear red, but in fairness I was sat in the stratosphere. There are people in Westfield who were closer to it than me. Either way, it was a sign of the rewards we would enjoy all evening on that side of the pitch.

But the nagging feeling that enveloped me as I watched this was one of slight incredulity. Where the hell was this all season? Watford scored four times past us. Watford! If they score four in training they release a fucking DVD.

So we can mutter all we want about Bilic seeming to have an edge on Pochettino but the twenty nine point difference between us puts the lie to that one. The gap between the two teams is as wide as a canyon, even if we bridged that gap tonight with a Herculean effort and an Argentinian jewel.

Context is important too, however, and Spurs were missing only Danny Rose, while our injured list included Pedro Obiang, Michail Antonio, Diafra Sakho, Andy Caroll, Arthur Masuaku and Angelo Ogbonna. But in some ways, I find that just annoys me even more - if Bilic could manage this with half his first team missing then what the hell has been going on all year?

I suspect that survival and the first truly great night at the new stadium will save him. I've said before that I can't see how we can progress with this level of chaos off the pitch, but Bilic deserves credit for keeping the team with him through a traumatic stadium move, the Payet bullshit, the annual injury crisis and the general maelstrom that surrounds West Ham.

As with everything that involves our board, the major benefit perhaps is simply that not firing him means they don't have to choose a replacement, and the less decisions they make about footballing matters, the better.

6. No Way Home

Still missing Upton Park? Me too, but it's undeniable that tomorrow the London Stadium will feel a different place than it did this morning. Now we have an "end" we can point to where someone scored a meaningful goal! Now we have a template for a victory over good teams! Now we have a spot in the crowd where the team celebrated and injured a fan!

The atmosphere tonight was fully present and correct. I thought the Spurs fans were mostly silent, but my cousin sat next to them said this wasn't the case, at least in the first half. Perhaps this was due to a particularly exciting turn of events in the group wide Scrabble competition they were all participating in as they ignored the game because they don't care about this fixture.

Either way, it speaks to the volume around me that I couldn't hear them. This was how it should be all the time, lively and fun and tense and loud. Thankfully, also, there was no anti-Semitic bullshit, no racism and no "mong" stuff at Kane. After all, "Tottenham Hotspur, it's happening again" is fine - to be encouraged, frankly - but "DVD, DVD" at a Korean winger is not. I'm glad we passed the test. It shouldn't need to be said, but it does.

There are still problems, of course, and I still wake up each day in the hope of reading a back page headline (or a tweet from the Club's official spokesman if he doesn't have a biology GCSE that morning) telling us that the track is coming up and the radioactive waste isn't actually radioactive because Brian was holding the machine the wrong way up again for fucks sake Brian, and we're getting a new, Spurs style stadium to call home.

But wishful thinking never got anyone anywhere - except for that time Simon Pegg said "Yeah, I'll write a Star Trek film" and Paramount said yes, and then Simon Pegg had to actually write a Star Trek film and apparently did it whilst on magic mushrooms - and so we have to accept we're stuck with the place.

I maintain that memories will be the difference. Make the team comfortable and in turn they'll reciprocate. Jacob Steinberg highlighted lots of the issues in this thoughtful piece for The Guardian, and the reality is that the view isn't getting any better and the gaps in the seating aren't disappearing, but after this I think it will feel an awful lot better for the Liverpool game.

7. Just Like The Rain

What a player is Manuel Lanzini. He and Eriksen were the two outstanding technical footballers on display tonight. His importance to us was highlighted on the many occasions he picked up the ball deep, slipped the Spurs press and cajoled his team mates forward. It was a bravura performance that also featured a proper defensive focus as he tracked back to contend with the rapier like Spurs counterattacks that failed to rouse any of their fans from their evening snoozes because they don't care about this fixture.

It's happened again 

The way that Lanzini has stepped up to replace Payet has been fantastic, and all the more so for his young age. In quieter times I might ponder whether we really made enough of having them both in the same team together, but either way he is emerging as one of the best young midfielders around.

There was some paper talk recently suggesting that Antonio was looking to leave, being not unreasonably pissed off that he was on less money than Robert Snodgrass. As am I, to be honest.

His agent quickly denied this, leading me to conclude that his agent planted the story and that Antonio will therefore soon get a raise. In that spirit it would be hard to argue with the same outcome for Lanzini. Along with Reid, Antonio and Obiang he has been the core of this team and needs to built around. The summer challenge will be to find a player to complement him, without driving him into the shell that he perhaps inhabited when Payet was in town and still talking to everyone.

For what it's worth, he's the front runner for the never-coveted-by-anyone H List Player of the Year award.

8. I'm Looking For Someone To Find Me

Adrian could fit that description too if he could find this level of consistency all season. I mention his unorthodoxy above, but it's still notable that he has not yet conceded a goal since returning, despite facing the twin buzzsaws of Lukaku and Kane. It's impossible to prove a negative, unless you're a barrister for Sheffield United apparently, but it's hard to imagine Randolph would have made both those saves from Kane and Son tonight.

Adrian remains a walking cardiac arrest inducer, but on nights like tonight it was reassuring to look at our goal and see him wandering around yelling stuff manically whilst maintaining an unmoving side parting.

There is an undeniable solidity about our back three now, and Adrian deserves credit for that too. Whilst chatting with Allen McKnight in a box before the Everton game (*) he suggested that changing a goalkeeper is often done in conjunction with the defence. Sometimes they'll prefer to play in front of one keeper over another, and as such a manager will resist change. It's a theory I hadn't really considered, and does suggest that perhaps Bilic had some private reasons for sticking with Randolph that we're not privy to.

And if you're thinking of suggesting that this is an area that McKnight would know a thing or two about, it's worth me saying that he made the joke himself.

(*) Literally the worst bit of name dropping you will ever read.

9. For Your Lover, Give Some Time

Without getting too far ahead of ourselves, we can now start to plan for next season. Achieving safety might seem like a prosaic event after the highs of last year, but it should allow our off the field scouting and analytics teams to swing into action. Or at the very least, log into YouTube.

One would hope that the scouting department have multiple lists of potential players dependent upon our likely schedule next year, contractual situations, any European football, injuries, AFCON and, yes, which division we'll be in.

One does indeed hope for all of that, but one also is prepared to accept that we might simply be waiting for Jack Sullivan to break up for the holidays before we can really start scouting in earnest.

Matches like tonight might give us cause to consider the situation of players like Collins, for instance, but at some point we have to make an effort to get younger. If nothing else, buying some more players on the right side of 30 at least gives us an opportunity to get something back when we sell them. Consider that Feghouli and Nordtveit would probably bring back about £15m if sold over the summer (source: Transfermarkt), and then consider that the same website already suggests that Snodgrass and Fonte have lost value - or likely were overpriced to begin with.

Consider also the customary, but still awful, injury list. I said this only last week, but we need to consider player fitness as being equally as important to anything else. The amount of times we have lost Carroll and Sakho this year shows the sheer folly of not attempting to supplement our striking options last summer. I refuse to count Zaza here, because any man who can insert an interpretative dance routine into a penalty isn't a serious striking option.

With no news of a Director of Football on the horizon, we shall have to assume that David Sullivan hasn't become self aware yet and will continue to treat the Club as his plaything. This usually means six or seven new signings, one awful tabloid exclusive interview and someone from South America. It doesn't fill me with hope, and I am really terrified about where we might get that striker from. But what I took from tonight, heroic and life affirming as it was, is that we too often are forced to rely on our players raising their games to compete. It would be a hell of a lot easier if their levels were just up that high to begin with.

10. Lady Solitude

Karren Brady has a column writing for The Sun. This strikes me as pretty tone deaf given the papers history with football, but there you go. This morning she wrote something about how more women should be like Theresa May, which just conjured up visions of me asking my three daughters how their day at school was, and all of them replying "strong and stable".

She also wrote this about Spurs.

I usually find the stuff that Brady writes about Spurs to be unnecessary. As an example, she previously criticised Harry Kane for writing "we've had a baby" in an Instagram post like every other human on the planet would, as Brady thought this wasn't giving enough credit to his partner. 

But in this case, I don't see the issue. She's saying what everyone is thinking - that Spurs are going to have to cough up soon, or lose some players. Walker already seems to be gone, and if Real decide they want Alli then that will happen too. 

Brady is taking the opportunity to highlight that, to a rival who bid for a ground they didn't want and insisted the athletics track be retained. As part of that process, men ended up in court for hacking her phone. Let's face it, if Jose Mourinho says something similar before their game next week he'll be heralded as playing mind games, and being a master tactician. 

So if Brady has a pop at them in print, and it's this sort of thing that's actually credible and makes sense then I don't really have an issue with that. And neither will Spurs fans. After all, they don't care about West Ham. 


  1. Anonymous8:38 AM

    Really enjoyed your write up of the game. The other stuff I think we can all do without. Spurs are better and they have other bigger rivals and that's ok. I'd give anything for us to have a Levy in charge. Brady is a disgrace and the other two not much better.

    Here's to more performances like that next year.

    1. Just to say, when you write, "the other stuff I think we can all do without", you're wrong.

    2. Anonymous1:37 PM

      Why? If you need to quote karen brady you're struggling...Great win but why are we bothered if Spurs care? It's up to them if they want to have arsenal as their main rivals.

  2. thank you sir - another fine analysis - and i like how you use the curse "fucking" perfectly and with precision whenever I read your work.

  3. It was interesting to note that West Ham are growing into their new Ground, it's not home yet, but it will be. Despite opposition to our move from Levy(Bless him), and we didn't even have to burn down a local metalworks to accommodate our planned expansion. :)

    1. Levy burnt down an old metal works Arsenal bulldozed 67 disabled peoples building and jobs when they built the Emirates and never paid a grubby fiver when they did it.

      Grim t'up Norf London

  4. Hugh McQueen12:00 PM

    'Playing canasta behind the goal.' Potentially line of the season.

    As stonking a win as this was, just hope it doesn't attempt to paper over the cracks of what has been one hell of a mediocre, chaotic, injury-hit (again), limping over the line, type of a season.

  5. Many thanks all - it's reassuring to know this stuff doesn't just disappear into the ether.

  6. Great read as always, sums up Spurs fans nicely and how many of us feel about the rivalry but without the hatred many seem to try and nail on to it.

    Really enjoyed the performance from the team

  7. An enjoyable read even if I am a Spurs fan.
    I will address a few points.

    West Ham deserved to win on the night. The Spurs performance was poor because either the players were under par or the West Ham players were very good. A bit of both probably.

    As for Spurs fans not caring let me explain my view (and I expect a lot of Spurs fans). I am from North London and in my year at school there was not one West Ham fan I was aware of. I was genuinely oblivious to West Ham and when I met west ham fans at work my surprise (I promise I a not trolling) was that West Ham fans thought the teams were more or less "Equal". Mental in my eyes. Then when we played West Ham I felt the excitement and desire that Hammer fans had to beat Spurs. We felt the same about Arsenal. I could not quite fathom how we generated such a response (at least arsenal were a great side). We were hardly top dogs. It was a bit like being an average midfielder and finding yourself man marked by a grim eyed teeth clenching shin kicker prepared to run through walls. Your not sure why its happening and you dont like it.

    I have grown to care now about these games, just because Spurs losing means so much to west ham fans I know. I have had to block one of them on all forms of social media as he will literally be talking about the last game for years.

    I think the truth in the pudding is at White Hart Lane when the scores are read out. If West Ham are beating Afc or Cfc it gets a cheer, when West Ham got relegated a few years back it was met with a "meh". (I cheered and some bloke a few rows down did, eye contact was made, we probably knew the same west ham fans). So we care, just not as much as the average Hammer fan, indeed i guess the comparison is similar for the West ham and Spurs players.

    As for bottling it, Spurs won 9 games in a row before this so they are a good side. I think we were not good enough on the night. Bottle jobs don't win 9 games in a row at the end of the season.

    So to sum up, your players rose to the occasion, we both walk away with 3 points each for he season. Were we ever going to catch Cfc ? Very unlikely, nigh on impossible now.

    1. That makes a bit of sense as you're actually from North London. For a lot of West Ham fans growing up in Essex Spurs were the next best supported team, so there was a rivalry growing up - probably more felt by Essex based Spurs fans (my best mate being one of them).

      And to be fair, in the 90s and 00s, there wasn't that much between the two clubs. I'll give you the last 10 years though.

    2. Ed, thanks for posting - I am guessing that wouldn't have been the easiest of reads. Your point about growing up in North London is interesting, and I think Liam has the crux of it.

      I actually had a whole other point explicitly about this (can you imagine, this article was once even longer?), but cut it as I thought a match report should probably contain some details on the match. The reality for West Ham fans is we had loads of Spurs fan around as kids. It's why I am so bemused by the whole "pikey" thing - we literally live next door to each other.

      If you think about it, the history of the area explains it. The post war migration of families from North and East London to Essex and beyond meant that there was a lot of cross pollination. For those in Enfield and Edmonton I can imagine this all seems mad. For those out in Essex, I think it's different.

      And agree on the "bottle" point. If anyone has bottled this year it's been Man Utd. Spurs have been sensational - I'm full of admiration for the job that's been done there.

      Thanks again - always nice to hear an alternate viewpoint.