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, November 06, 2017

West Ham 1 - 4 Liverpool (And Other Ramblings)

"When your heart is black and broken 
And you need a helping hand
When you're so much in love you don't know
Just how much you can stand"
- The Stone Roses, "Ten Storey Love Song" 


There is, in Greek mythology, the story of Sisyphus, a man condemned to roll a boulder uphill for eternity due to his trickery and deceitfulness. I don't think we can reasonably ascribe either of those two characteristics to Slaven Bilic, but I think the Croat would identify with the frustration and futility of the punishment. 

Given that Hollywood are gradually rebooting every story ever told by man, I suspect that when they eventually update Sisyphus he will be a Croatian Premier League manager doomed to play in a cursed graveyard every week, with the slowest team ever assembled, and a Chairman determined not to sack him but at the same time, never support him either. He'll be played by Gerard Butler because a thing that happens sometimes is that people pay Gerard Butler to be in films. I do not know why.

Wait, did we just concede from....our own corner?

So let's briefly address this game. 

We were destroyed. 

The thing is, you don't need me to tell you anything about it because you've seen it so many times before. Would you need me to describe for you the plot of a horror movie? Why bother - you know that some of them won't make it out alive, nobody should go into the forest and going downstairs is a bad idea. Well, spoiler alert guys - we went downstairs, in the forest, drunk, lost sight of our chainsaws and only Lanzini made it out alive. 

So this game didn't particularly move me in any way because it doesn't even crack the top 5 of worst home defeats under Bilic. The Board have made it perfectly clear over the last fifteen months that these kinds of results were not a problem for them. It can be dressed up in terms of wanting to support the manager but the reality is that so long as he didn't steer us into a genuine relegation battle, getting beaten 5-1 at home was an acceptable price to pay for mid table mediocrity and another £100m cheque from the Premier League. 

People might scoff at that and think I'm being too harsh on the Board, but what other conclusion is there to be drawn from how long this has been allowed to continue? If you think the image of everyone being hacked apart with a chainsaw is distressing, I should warn you now that I am getting ready to hit you with some STATS once I've finished fleshing out how truly Greater Anglia Rail we were in this game. 

"Nobody said it was easy, it's such a shame for us to part
Nobody said it was easy, no one ever said it would be this hard"  
- Coldplay, "The Scientist"
Things didn't start terribly as the East Stand did an excellent job of holding up some claret and blue plastic bags prior to kick off to create a moving tribute for Remembrance Day. I sound like I'm being sarcastic there but I'm not - it was genuinely lovely. 

We weren't totally shit

Sadly, that was the most coordinated move that anyone in a West Ham shirt would manage all day, as we were soon two goals down for the TWENTY SIXTH time under Bilic. We actually started with a slight spring in our step and Lanzini soon set up Andre Ayew to hit the outside of the post. This created a film of optimism around the ground that had all the rigidity of a Fairy Liquid bubble and was soon popped when Liverpool opened the scoring. 

The manner of the goal was a thing to behold as we somehow managed to turn our own corner into a three on one breakaway for the visitors, which ended with Mo Salah easily beating Hart at his near post. My daughters U10 team played a game this morning where they lost by so many that nobody had any idea of the score at the end and I still didn't see any defending as bad as for that goal. 

Here is Aaron Cresswell attempting to repel that particular attack, for anyone who missed it:

We then defended a corner by having all our players close their eyes, hold hands and offer up a prayer to Sauron, and somehow that didn't work either and Liverpool scored again and now every time I see Joe Hart I can only imagine how much he must hate his agent. 

So even as Manuel Lanzini briefly dragged us back into this game with a splendidly taken goal at 2-0 down, and then when we blew all of that up by conceding a third one fucking minute later, I couldn't even muster an angry epithet. This has happened so frequently, with such predictability and regularity that it simply doesn't register anymore. And truthfully I don't believe the Board are that fussed about these games, which in turn bleeds over into the crowd who can't get up for matches that we all know the team can't win, as well all accept that there is nothing in the running of the club which can change that. 

None of which is to say that the players and manager don't care, or didn't try to win but only that if these massive home losses were of any relevance to the decision making at the Club they wouldn't have allowed so many to pile up. I think it's fair to say that right now the Board don't think that we can compete with the Top Six (we can't) and that the gap between them and the rest is so large (it is) that those results can't be a barometer of how well a manager is doing (here we disagree). 

Truth be told, as I saw £35m Salah combining with £34m Mane, £29m Firmino and £35m Oxlade-Chamberlain I found it hard to disagree. Other clubs have managed it, of course, but then again we are not Burnley.

I say again - we are not Burnley, and the Burnley manager isn't going to leave them to come here. Ayew carumba indeed. 

Quite how all of this led to the Board deciding to vote to give Liverpool a greater share of the Premier League television money is a question for another day, but right now we are in the same league as these teams in only one way and it isn't in a playing sense. 

The visitors added another somewhere towards the end, when people in hockey masks and torches appeared and the walls started bleeding, and could have had several more but for Hart and the fact that most of the chances seemed to fall to James Milner. On another day I would probably attempt to describe how Liverpool didn't actually seem to play that well in this game but, you know, 4-1 does send something of a message. 

"Numbers is hardly real and they never have feelings 
But you push too hard and even numbers got limits" 
- Mos Def, "Mathematics"
So, about those stats. Let's dig into the records of our time at the London Stadium, which I think we can all agree has unquestionably been built on the only Indian Burial Ground in Britain ((c) @LeBigHouse).

Let's start with our overall league record (I've ignored the Cups as this article is going to struggle to get an 18 rating as it is):

London Stadium Record

Before you all lose your shit over that, please remember that this doesn't include any adjustment for the size of our digital screens.

How about goalscoring:

Teams to have scored 4 goals in a game
Manchester City (x2)
Liverpool (x2)

We're not on this list. Watford are. The athletics were fun in the summer though.

Teams to have score 3 or more goals in a game
West Ham (x3) - Domzale, Crystal Palace, Bolton
Manchester City (x2)
Liverpool (x2)

So, to be clear, we have scored three times in a league game at our current ground as many times as Brighton have and fewer times than Liverpool. We are top of this list though, so let it not be said that we have been totally hopeless at our new home.

And lastly, a little look at a particular bugbear of mine, namely our first half performances:

Half Time Record

And just to put this little lot into perspective, what this is showing you is that West Ham have had a half time lead at the London Stadium as many times as Liverpool have.


"I don't feel bad about letting you go, 
I just feel sad about letting you know"

- Billy Bragg, "A New England"

While those tables might make for worse reading than Andy Carroll's medical records, they do unfairly discount Bilic's first season when we were still at Upton Park, Payet was still here, the sun used to shine and there was nothing wrong with the world. But, the sad truth is that his tenure has to be split into two halves - there and here. The first bit was an amazing glimpse into a brighter world, that now seems like it was about two centuries ago. When I watch video clips of those games I an amazed that they aren't in black and white with visible film breaks.

Who else remembers when we were good?

But no matter how great all of that was, the sands of time continued draining away inexorably and we've all paid for new season tickets, the owner has a new stadium and what have you done for me lately, Slav? And the sad answer to that question is...nothing but oversee decline.

Even the most ardent Bilic fan would have to accept that the team look listless and lacking in structure. I understand the flares of hope that go up when we win at Wembley or play well at Burnley with ten men, but that cannot be enough for a team with sixty thousand fans, the 18th highest turnover in world football and a squad that has so many of the 2014 Fantasy Premier League's top performers.

As I write this, Bilic remains in a job, but by the time you read this that may change. In many ways, I don't see why he is losing his job now given that this defeat was no different to the similarly lame capitulation against the same opponents at the end of last season. But if this was the end, then I will breathe a sigh of relief. There would be some, admittedly faint, sense of comfort that perhaps we might now improve and also for Bilic himself who will no longer have to stand alone on the touchline at the Terrordome, hands on knees, flicking his jacket out behind him in frustration as Mark Noble looks up again to find none of his teammates want the ball off him.

Can it be as simple as Payet being responsible for everything good that happened in 15/16 and once he left that was that? Can a manager who took his tiny country to two European Championships really have been solely reliant upon one player? We'll find out when the inevitable book comes out and Bilic reveals the true horror of what West Ham is really like behind the scenes, but I struggle to believe that. Whatever happens, he has carried himself with dignity in the face of working for people who have used him to mask their own failures.

In the end, the fault lines were too wide and too pronounced and we are now in a highly precarious position, bereft of confidence and with no discernible pattern of play. We're up shit creek without a boat.

But even if Bilic gave us all those two goal deficits he also gave us lots of high points too, and he deserves to be remembered for that. It's a shame that one of those - the Spurs 1-0 victory last May - was enough to convince our hopeless Board to stick with him into the new season. That mystifying decision has now left us adrift, with nothing to attract in any managers of high regard who have so far taken one look at the ageing playing staff, the board room interference and the fact that they will have little chance to reinforce the squad and all suddenly remembered that they have an urgent appointment but will definitely call Mr Sullivan back when they get a minute.


"There is a wait so long, you'll never wait so long
Here comes your man"

- The Pixies, "Here Comes Your Man"

So against the backdrop of all this turmoil, one man has emerged confidently into the spotlight.

My defence is how old?

As I write this David Moyes is the odds on favourite to succeed Bilic tomorrow, leaving us all with the thrilling prospect of having Darren Gibson and John O'Shea in the fold come January. There is so much about this which is odd, but not the least of it is that our Board searched the entire globe and decided that Moyes was the answer. And when I say the entire globe I of course mean the contacts list of British managers represented by whatever agent is in favour with Sullivan today. What a stultifying lack of imagination, and what a hospital pass to a manager who will get no honeymoon with a disbelieving fanbase.

Still, Moyes worked wonders at Everton on a mid sized budget, which in turn led to the Manchester United job. That's a significant achievement and whilst he didn't last long, with the benefit of hindsight I'm not sure his tenure was the failure it was deemed at the time. Thereafter he did what so many Brits do and decided to take himself off to Spain, where Real Sociedad were waiting to hammer another nail into his coffin shaped reputation.

Having left La Liga he decided to give up professional football management altogether and instead took over at Sunderland. There he presided over an absolutely shambolic campaign which ended in relegation as Moyes tried his best to reassemble his Everton side of 2009, which might have worked better if any of them still had their own hips.

There are those who would defend Moyes and say that Sunderland are a joke club with no direction, a ludicrous board, an ageing and uninterested playing staff and systemic off field problems that run far deeper than anybody knew. To which I say - yeah, does any of that sound familiar?

However, Sullivan is an apparent long time admirer of the Scot and we know that he has neither the wit, self confidence or ability to pluck a young up and coming manager from overseas or the lower leagues. He prefers the safety of getting a known quantity, meaning that we will forever be subjected to the known quantities of the British manager threshing machine. This same decision making process has delivered us to 18th in the Premier League, which is two places lower than we were when they took over. Ho fucking hum.

But worse than that is the news tonight that Sullivan is now reconsidering his decision in the face of a social media backlash from West Ham fans to the leaked news of Moyes arrival. This is not something that professional organisations do. They ignore the wishes of fans because fans do not have access to the information that would allow them to credibly form those opinions. That might include details of finances, availability of other targets and even things like the health of the candidates. Why on earth would Sullivan be taking into account the views of a crowd who, two weeks ago, were booing the team for smashing aimless long balls at Andy Carroll and then booed any players who declined to do that on Saturday and instead passed it backwards? Why listen to a crowd who were booing Mark Noble for being the only player brave enough to actually get on the ball in the middle of the park?

Fans are fickle, emotional, easily swayed and the last people who should ever be considered when making choices such as this. No other team does it. No other team is so insecure in their decision making processes that they subject it to the whims of Twitter. Indeed I would suggest that the very suggestion of doing so is evidence enough that those people shouldn't be within a million miles of a decision of this importance.

Properly run teams can trust the process of their selection and analysis, and put faith in the talents of the people making the decision, meaning they can ignore public sentiment because they are sure of what they are doing. The West Ham board (correctly) realise this doesn't apply to them, but instead of changing those people, they instead farm the decision out to bloody Facebook, with the seeming aim of blaming the fans if it doesn't come off. What a joke. What a Tyrannosaurus Shambles. What an embarrassment. Consider for a moment if Southampton Twitter would have wanted Mauricio Pochettino and then realise what a nonsense this is.

What's somehow even worse is that I do object to Moyes joining the Club on the grounds that at Sunderland he threatened a female reporter. "It was getting a wee bit naughty at the end there so just watch yourself. You might still get a slap even though you're a woman. Careful the next time you come in" he said, charmingly, to BBC reporter Vicki Sparks, and though he apologised to her the fact that Moyes can seemingly stroll into a job like ours just shows how little professional football cares about domestic violence or misogyny. What message does this send to our female supporters? What message does it send to our female employees?

Naturally when he was interviewed on TV this weekend about the job it was by Richard Keys on BeIN Sports in Qatar. Tell me, how's the sisterhood these days, Karren?

So, Moyes may join, most likely because he's cheap and he's prepared to work for Sullivan, which in itself probably suggests that he's going to struggle. Anyone decent would tell them where to go. And indeed, they frequently do, by all accounts.


"But there is really nothing, nothing we can do
Love must be forgotten, life can always start up anew"

- MGMT, "Time To Pretend"

One viewpoint that tends to gain prominence at such times of crisis is that somehow getting relegated wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. It's hard to overstate how untrue this really is. Going down decimates clubs as they lose their playing staff, support staff, recruitment staff, community staff, youth coaches and so on all the way down to match day employees. None of that is worth the fleeting thrill of winning a few more away games, which will quickly lose it's lustre the first time you see Lanzini or Antonio score for Spurs.

If you want a real life example, the England U17 World Cup winning star player Rhian Brewster hails from Chadwell Heath and plays for Liverpool. This is what happens when you have to reduce your scouting and development network as we did after our last relegation.

One way to make sense of all of this madness is to begin viewing all decisions made at the Club through a very specific prism. Assume the club has no money.

I have no inside knowledge here, no smoking gun and no knowledge of things unseen but merely a simple theory that I've been working on for a while. It was Sherlock Holmes who once said that when all possible solutions to a problem have been eliminated whatever is left, however improbable, must be the truth. Now Holmes was a fictional character so he should shut up really, but it kind of works here.

Why was our net spend so low in the summer? Why would we have resisted firing Bilic despite all evidence suggesting he should have gone in the summer? Why would we now be looking to avoid paying compensation for a replacement? Why bring them in on a short term contract that leaves the club in limbo yet further?

All of these can be answered logically in a number of ways, but one way to cogently explain them all is to assume we're broke. And don't forget to sign me up for your company annual seminar as a motivational speaker, folks.

"And no, Toni Martinez ain't the answer either"

I'm truly sorry to end up writing such a negative and gloomy piece but I suppose that's the reality of supporting the House of Sullivan these days. I hope they prove me wrong.


On a final, cheerier note (for me) I was thrilled to be nominated for "Blogger of the Year" at the Football Supporters Federation annual awards. This is a prestigious award ceremony, which offers up the pleasing prospect of me having to attend a formal dinner where my place setting will say "HeadHammerShark". 

Anyway, if you would like to vote for me, I'd be delighted to accept and if you wanted to get your family, extended family, neighbours and tarot readers to do the same that would be just dandy too. You can just click on this link and do it in 30 seconds. Many thanks in advance. 


  1. Anonymous9:05 AM

    Ace. Bloody depressing, but ace.

  2. ZP Hammer8:23 PM

    One of my favourite West Ham voices is Geo Mackie, a very thoughtful, insightful Hammer. One of the best bits of advice he's ever imparted to me was to check out your blogs. At times they almost have me crying with the futility of being a Hammers fan and yet expecting happiness, and yet in two sentences I can find myself being exactly that, a Happy Hammer. Admittedly, it has to be said, it's generally an ironic kind of happiness. And the best thing, whatever emotion I feel about the articles, it's all built upon some of the most intelligent musings you can find anywhere about West Ham.
    I wish you all the best in the "Blogger of the Year" compo. The other writers will have to have Shakespeare level genes to compete. Peace

  3. Many thanks both for the kind comments - very much appreciated, and I too enjoy Geo's thoughts and musings.