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

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Watford 2 - 0 West Ham (And Other Ramblings)

Let's not fuck about. We're in desperate straits. I'd love to tell you that I saw the green shoots of recovery in this game, but in reality it was the same show we've all been watching for two years, with merely a different conductor. And, by the way, it didn't take David Moyes long to look like an extra from Full Metal Jacket did it?

I. What. How. Jesus H CHRIST

So let's examine the anatomy of this relegation battle, because that is where we are right now, irrespective of the pie in the sky nonsense that is being spouted by the club. What are the key areas we need to address?


Refusing to accept we are in a relegation battle

In 2010/11 we were relegated bottom of the league having allowed Avram Grant to manage the team all season because of *spins wheel* <incriminating photographs>. At this exact point of the season our records can be compared thusly:

Played: 12 
Goal Difference: -11 
Points: 8
Position: Bottom

Played: 12
Goal Difference: -14
Points: 9 
Position: 18th

It should be noted that with their current record this year's team would be bottom of the 2010/11 league as well. They are only presently being saved from that fate by the fact Swansea and Crystal Palace are so bad. 

So, by any definition of the term we are knee deep in shit, and yet the team and hierarchy are parading around with the familiar overconfidence that we have all come to know and love. "Look at our attacking options" they say, "That squad is way too good to be down there" I hear, and even as that misplaced bluster floats out into the ether, we continue to lose games like this. 

For shitty 2-0 defeats at Watford are the building blocks of relegation. It happens, we deserved to lose, Watford were the better side and we move on, but the problem with that is one then looks up in February and such defeats are scattered everywhere throughout the season. 

We have managed just three away draws so far this campaign, and when you play your home games at an abandoned nuclear bunker you don't get much home comfort. I'm really beginning to think that Karren should have put "Too Good To Go Down" on the new club badge, given I hear that said an awful lot more about West Ham than I ever hear the phrase "London".


Civil War

Ah yes, the third rail of West Ham politics. The board. The fans. The players. The bloggers. The flags. The stewards. The poisonous atmosphere that hangs over the club like our own private ozone layer. As soon as we fell behind yesterday the "Sack The Board" chants started up closely followed by "You're Not Fit To Wear The Shirt". I'd heard something similar at Spurs when we went 2-0 down, and other more regular away followers may be able to pinpoint earlier instances too. 

I will defend to the death the rights of football fans to protest about their club. I despise the patronising "well what do they expect, they should be grateful" media types who parachute into clubs for brief moments, shake hands with the owners and then disappear again like weekend tourists. The prime difference between the fans at the game yesterday and those talking heads is that the former have paid to be there. Both literally and emotionally. So if West Brom fans want to be entertained for their entrance fee then they are entitled to say so, and if West Ham fans want to understand exactly why we gave up our ground to actually get worse on the pitch then that is also perfectly reasonable. 

"But Zabaleta used to be good for City so how could he be bad for us?"

But I will also say this - such division never ends well for us. I was there for the Bond Scheme and the anti-Cearns protests and all it does is transmit a "get the fuck out of Dodge" vibe to the players on the pitch. It leads to fearful, nervy performances like we saw yesterday where a team bereft of confidence look petrified to get on the ball, and eliminates any synergy between the crowd and the team. And ultimately all any of us want is for the team to do well. 

For those who were at Spurs you will know what I mean when I say that there was a sense of inevitability to that comeback once the first went in. The fans abandoned their pursuit of the Board and instead turned to the team and a force of millions couldn't have stopped us. I'm not suggesting it's as straightforward as everybody going all Harry Potter and thinking positive thoughts to make bad things go away, but I'm also certain that history tells us the team cannot win while there is an open war between fans and the Board. 

So, as we go into Leicester at home on Friday the risk is that we let in a an early goal again, Jamie Vardy gloats again, and suddenly all that vitriol is on display once more. All of which might serve to make us feel a little better in the very short term, but with every game that we flush down the drain and with every point we let slip away, we stumble a foot closer to the trapdoor. And the ultimate sad truth is that if we go back down, the future makes for very grim reading. 

Now before anyone accuses me of being a stooge for the Board, let me say this. I'm not saying don't protest, I'm simply saying that protesting while the team is playing is just about the most self defeating thing we can do. I take a back step to nobody in holding up a spotlight to the failings of our Board, but whatever you are thinking about the value of getting your message across while we lose on the pitch, I'm here to tell you it isn't worth it. Inevitably what happens is that the message loses direction and starts going toward those on the pitch, and if you think we're getting out of trouble as sixty thousand of us slaughter Andy Carroll for 90 minutes then I don't know what planet you're on. 

So how do we protest? Well, there are quite a lot of ways. First among them has to be to join the West Ham Independent Supporters Association (WHUISA). It is a minimal cost of £3 that is charged not to make money, but to cover running costs and to give leverage to the group, and takes you all of about two minutes. 

Giving them numbers gives them credibility as they engage with the club, and the WHUISA board are all West Ham lifers with the best interests of the club at hand. If you don't like the cherrypicked nature of the SAB or the Bloggers Meetings then join up and demand that the club engage with your elected representatives. 

At this point I cannot understand why any West Ham fan would not have joined WHUISA. I hear those who say that they think it's pointless, but the group are already building links with the club and have succeeded in getting a platform with them too. From little acorns and all that, but you only need to look at the success of ISA's at places like Spurs to see what a force for good they can be. Don't sit outside the tent pissing in - sign up now. An ISA representing fifty thousand fans is a hell of a lot more credible than one representing a few hundred. 

Secondly, those other meetings that are run by Karren Brady are also platforms to air views. I know that Graeme Howlett of KUMB and Geo Mackie of Hammers Chat have attended past meetings and will willingly put forward questions on behalf of their readers. Engage, contribute, participate - standing in the away end and calling Karren Brady a tranny really isn't the Wildean contribution to this debate that you think it is. 

And on that very point - don't make the attacks personal. I really struggle to understand how Brady gets the same abuse as the Chairmen. She didn't choose to move the club, they did, and she has no involvement in on the field matters. Every time someone calls her a slag or a bint or a dyke or any other misogynistic, homophobic term, I tune out and ascribe it to the fact that lots of men don't like women. When you resort to attacking her gender, you're really showing you have nothing at all to say. 

Equally, let's refrain from going to peoples houses and hanging up flags, especially when there are young families inside. It's a nonsense. 

Sacking Karren Brady will definitely sort out our defence

If you must protest, and I'm not denying there are plenty of reasons to do so, then do it after games, or boycott the clubs commercial activities or do everything you can to get the media to acknowledge the depths of feeling, but ultimately I would suggest steering clear of anything that harms the team. To put it bluntly, we've got a better chance of winning on Friday with the Spurs atmosphere than we have with the one from yesterday. If we splinter now - we are done for. 



So, yeah, digging out the Board while the team flail away on the pitch isn't all that helpful but it sure is deserved. 

The frustrating thing that continues to drive me to despair about our Board is how they seem so impervious to outside forces. Having moved the club to the London Stadium they still seem to want to be judged as if we are at Upton Park, and scrabbling around for a few spare pennies from the Sky table. It is as though the clock stopped for them the moment they took over in 2010 and football has remained static ever since. So while English clubs have established a financial dominance over European clubs due to our TV deal, West Ham have shied away from dealing with overseas teams and instead tethered ourselves to the English market where everybody else gets the same bloody income and we have no advantage. That way Robert Snodgrass lies. 

The best thing we could do would be to buy a right load of old shit in January

Similarly, while other clubs look to scoop up promising young managers and snaffle their prime years, we instead look backwards to the distant past. I don't necessarily know if Moyes is a busted flush but he was last good about five years ago, which coincidentally is a rough match to where David Sullivan seems to think we currently are. From the transfer policy to the youth setup to the recruitment process to the interaction with fans - everything is retrograde. 

And people are swift to mock David Gold and his tweet about Champions League football but, to my mind, it's the only sensible thing they've ever said. It is, after all, the one time they've actually shown a scintilla of the ambition needed to match moving to that stadium. 

It was perhaps fitting that this game was against Watford, who seem to be a maelstrom of chaos but are actually a progressively modern organisation with a far better idea about where managers should fit into the structure of a football club than we do. So while Marco Silva is one of those young, progressive managers he is also fairly disposable within the Watford way of working. They have acknowledged that managers have a short shelf life and that asking them to spend all the clubs money is a short cut to having exasperated replacements on the touchline bemoaning the lack of pace in the team they have inherited. 

By contrast, we seemingly put the manager at the epicentre of everything. Truthfully, our transfer policy is opaque so it's impossible to know who is buying the players - a massive problem in itself - but if rumours are to be believed, then this is a Bilic team. But Bilic doesn't work here any more so what fucking use was it to give him £40m to spend ten weeks ago when this risk was always there? And watching this painfully slow team play in exactly the same manner as they did under Bilic, just highlights even more the lunacy of not having a proper Director of Football in place. 

When we moved from Upton Park, we were stepping up a level. A London club with fifty thousand season ticket holders, plenty of money, a playing staff good enough to have made the Champions League the season before. And what did we change off the pitch to match our newer, broader ambitions? Nothing. We persisted with the same structure and set up, meaning that our Director of Football was the man who led Birmingham to being a yo-yo club. That's it. That's his sole qualification for the job. I have said it repeatedly but it must be said again now - David Sullivan would not get the role he currently has at any other Premier League club, just as I cannot envisage any other top flight outfit employing David Moyes. 

For a club so desperate to break into the Champions League, we seem remarkably reluctant to employ any people who've actually done it. 

Consider this. When Sullivan took over in 2010, the following clubs were in the Championship or lower - Brighton, Huddersfield, Newcastle, Swansea, Leicester, Bournemouth, Southampton, West Brom, Palace and Watford. Burnley were also four months from relegation. 

So in the intervening seven years these clubs have all had to climb to the Premier League. We had an advantage over all of them at that point, simply by virtue of our loftier position. And yet, what has happened in that time is that smaller clubs have been forced to become smarter to bridge the gap to the monied elite. And while the smaller teams have got more intelligent, those larger beasts who have refused to adapt - helloooo Aston Villa - have fallen by the wayside. And once those smaller teams get here, and start making proper money, then they start to outperform us because they simply have better people making crucial decisions for them. 

So, look, we may go down this year or we may not, but until we show some desire to drag ourselves kicking and screaming out of the 1970's and into the modern world of professional football - where the chairman sits in the Director's Box and stays out of the managers office, and where we have proper scouts and not agents - we are always going to start every season on the back foot. The panic hiring of Moyes simply reflects the tearing up of yet another plan drawn up on the hoof, when the sad reality is that they should have been planning every aspect of the stadium move from the day they won the contract. But they weren't, and they didn't and this current mess is what you get when amateurs mix it with professionals. 


Bad luck

So with all of that whinging out of the way, I can honestly say that this was a very strange game to watch. I don't think any West Ham fan would dare suggest that we we deserved to win, but if you worship at the altar of xG then you would have to at least acknowledge that we really did create some outstanding chances. The Caley Graphics model below displays that rather nicely, and doesn't even adjust for the fact that the second Watford goal should have been ruled out for handball. 

Cheikhou Kouyate was deployed in an advanced role and had the kind of movement one usually associates with a bee trying to get out through a closed window. And yet for all that wasted energy, he had two glorious chances. The first produced a wonder save from Heurelho Gomes and the second was skied into that poisonous ozone layer like he was wearing a pair of flippers. 

In between Marko Arnautovic forced an incredible double save from Gomes, and when it's not your day you may as well give up and go home. Sadly, the Austrian didn't and instead broke his thumb and David Moyes is about to find out that every Christmas West Ham get a nightmare run of fixtures and every Christmas West Ham get a nightmare run of injuries and as such I'm already counting down until we hear his first "I've never known anything like it". 

But while we may have been a bit unlucky with our finishing there was precious little else to get excited about. What was most disappointing was that our tactical setup looked pretty much identical to that under Bilic, which rather begged the question of why we bothered to make a change. Andy Carroll was still isolated up front, displaying the temperament of an irate toddler denied his lunchtime Calipo, and should have been sent off before half time. Behind him we essentially deployed a flat midfield five, wasting Lanzini on the left and even then, didn't manage to offer up any more cover for the defence than usual. 

So the team ran the furthest they had all season, and Arnautovic sprinted about a bit and it still didn't make any difference because Watford still scored twice down his right side and running about a lot in and of itself, is actually fairly meaningless. Players need to be running with a purpose, to press or to harry or to get back from attacking positions into a tight defensive shape. I can't say that I noticed any of that - it just looked like the same thing I've been watching for months. 

But that said, we are probably due a bit of luck. A sending off or a penalty or a deflected goal or just something to cling on to. Because although all football fans collect examples of misfortune like coins in a purse, I feel like we've been on a bit of a tough run lately and when I think back to those relegation seasons of years past I can't help but think that there was quite a bit of ill fortune along the way. 



Which brings me, mercifully, to the end. And I want to talk a bit about confidence because it's so hard to define but it's so clearly important, and we are a team demonstrably lacking in it. When assessing football games it's wise to remember it's a game played by humans. They behave weirdly and are affected by different things of which we know nothing. 

Who among us knows which player is suffering with injury or is playing in fear of losing his place in this team and then maybe his World Cup place? None of us knows who is an alcoholic or going through a divorce. I've made all these points before, but this is simply to reinforce that there is an awful lot going on that we don't see. Andy Carroll named his new born son Wolf Nine during the week, so it's safe to say that he probably has a lot on his plate just now like maybe a visit from social services, and he played like it. 

But confidence springs from lots of different places. Self confidence is one element, obviously, but there is confidence in your team mates too, or your manager, or the recruitment team who will provide you with some help in January, or in your home stadium where you simply know you will pick up points. And yet, as I lay all of that out in black and white it's pretty easy to see why our players might be on the floor right now. 

So many of them are out of form, playing for a manager they probably don't trust a great deal given his chequered history and knowing that there isn't any help coming in January because there never ever is under Sullivan, and playing at a stadium they all hate. That's the worst combination I've seen since some monster decided to put pineapple on pizza. 

Confidence can also come from believing in your team structure or tactics, or knowing that you are a fit team who can outrun any opposition. And I'm drawing a blank again. 

So for all the running that Moyes may have them doing, it's worth noting that fitter is not faster. And while there may be a lot of work getting done on defensive shape, that isn't going to make our midfield suddenly creative. And for all those four managers on the bench, if you just play 4-5-1 and get no service to your striker and your goalkeeper can't save anything low to his left, then it's hard to see change there either. 

Which brings me rather neatly back to where I started. I think us fans have a part to play here. Things are pretty desperate and it feels like it might get worse before it gets better. Plenty of you tell me that these columns are too negative and that's fine but your negativity is my reality. And I would call upon all fans to pull together now and forget that other shit. The team needs us. West Ham needs you. We need an atmosphere to pull the team up on Friday night and not force them back into their shells. 

I want a change in structure at West Ham but it's not going to happen now, and the most pressing matter we all face is beating Leicester. And if you don't do it for me, well, do it for poor little Wolf Nine. 


  1. Outstanding blog and this comment in particular resonated with me: "For a club so desperate to break into the Champions League, we seem remarkably reluctant to employ any people who've actually done it"

  2. Outstanding piece once again!

  3. Hear him, hear him. We have to stand together. There's no place for anti-board sentiment at the game; politics off the field and out of the stadium. I'm no fan of the board, but we will have to live with them until West Ham becomes a marketable commodity again, and that isn't happening until we're a tad more successful. Let's get behind the team, but not for Wolf Nine's sake, for ours.

  4. Brilliant piece HHS, truly one of the best. At last someone has stood up and told the truth about the fucking "Hawaiian". Fruit on savory? I'd rather stick pins in my eyes.

  5. mineman11:30 AM

    The simple message about not protesting during the game just doesn't seem to sink in, but it may well sink us.