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, December 29, 2017

Bournemouth 3 - 3 West Ham (And Other Ramblings)

"Night, night after day
Black flowers blossom"
- Massive Attack, "Teardrop"

There is a universal truth about being a sports fan, which is that when we pay our money to enter an arena and watch our event, we believe the encounter we are about to watch will be fair. We have to believe the fight won't be rigged, or that the race is straight or the competitors aren't cheating, otherwise the whole thing is a waste of time.

Now, let me state here and now that I don't believe that a game between Bournemouth and West Ham would be worth fixing. Of all the things the Bilderberg Group are doing, I have to imagine this would be quite a long way down the list. We have again been the victim of more poor officiating, and because our minds are conditioned to remember negative things more than positive, it feels like such an overwhelming weight of misfortune that we then begin to wonder if it truly is bad luck or something more sinister. For when a player who is offside scores a last minute equaliser with his hand, and a referee seemingly overrules his linesman to award that goal, then it's hard not to do a double take. 

Brown envelope out of sight

So let me invoke Hanlon's Razor here - never ascribe to malice that which can be adequately explained by incompetence. It is bizarre to suggest that referee Bobby Madley was bribed to turn this game in Bournemouth's favour, but I equally don't have any qualms in saying that his performance here was appalling. His first error was to fail to send off Simon Francis for a head high, studs up challenge on Cheikhou Kouyate. I don't think Francis was intending to catch Kouyate, and had his eyes firmly on the ball, but when you raise your studs to that height you also have a responsibility to ensure you don't land them on a fellow professionals face. Rather than consult another official or take his time and weigh the decision up, Madley instead brandished a yellow card immediately, which has the added effect of ensuring Francis won't even get the retrospective ban he deserves. And for anyone who hasn't seen it, and thinks perhaps I'm being a little melodramatic - you can judge for yourself here: 

Just a yellow - nothing to see here

Similarly, Madley chose not to act on Josh King accidentally elbowing Pedro Obiang in the face off the ball. That probably sounds crazy, but the Norwegian flung his arms out in frustration at a decision and caught Obiang unaware, knocking him to the ground. I don't think there was any intent in the actions of King either, and that is more relevant in his case because the laws clearly state that a player must be dismissed for "deliberately striking an opponent". It doesn't seem unreasonable to me that players should refrain from throwing their elbows around, but they are also people and if we try to remove all joy and human emotion from football then we run the risk of turning this whole thing into BBC1 on Christmas night. 

But where Madley fatally impacted this game was in the dying moments. We had floundered and fluked our way to a 3-2 lead, and with just seconds remaining a hopeful ball was pumped into our box. In truth, we hadn't dealt with that line of attack very well all day, and true to form Nathan Ake won the header. He looped the ball back across goal and a marginally offside Callum Wilson diverted the ball in with this arm. 

The referee's assistant (oh the irony of that title) immediately raised his flag, and the goal was all set to be disallowed. At that point Madley trotted over to the sidelines. That, in itself, is fairly unusual given that he has a radio link with his assistants and I'm not sure I've ever really seen a referee do that for a straightforward offside decision. After a lengthy enough deliberation for a video referee to have reviewed the incident in real time and made the correct decision, Madley awarded the goal, because of course he fucking did. 

Delving into the world of conjecture for a moment I have to suspect that the following happened: the assistant flagged for offside, Madley intimated that he didn't think Wilson touched the ball, the assistant pointed out that this couldn't really be true as the ball wasn't going in until Wilson used his arm to push it in, Madley disagreed because Callum Wilson is a theoretical concept and awarded the goal and the stadium announcer promptly told the world that Callum Wilson has just scored the equaliser. Some fucking magic, that. 

In the end, I don't believe this was anything more than poor officiating but it's easy to get drawn into thinking otherwise. After all, I believe that there is an institutional corruption that sits at the heart of most sport. Had this happened against Manchester United, for example, I think that Madley would have disallowed the goal purely because human beings typically do the things that allow them the easiest lives. Referees know that they can make a decision like this against West Ham and be in the news cycle for one night. Do it against Mourinho and you're infamous for months. 

So there you go: I think that elite level football is ludicrously tilted towards the rich; I believe that pretty much every high level athlete is using performance enhancing drugs and just because it started with track and field, swimming and cycling doesn't mean it won't be football and rugby soon enough; I believe that cup draws are probably at least partially fixed to satisfy the demands of television, sponsors and Vladimir Putin; and I think that one reason that governing bodies in football are so reluctant to introduce measures to help referees get more decisions correct is that big clubs don't want that to happen - why, after all, would you give up one of the inherent advantages of being a big club - namely that you can rely on most line decisions going your way? 

But for all that might make me a tin foil hatted conspiracy theorist in your eyes, I can honestly say that I don't think referees are biased against West Ham for the simple reason that there would be no point. So when you boil all of that down, the reality is probably just that Bobby Madley is a bit of a shit referee. 


"This is the highlight of your miserable life
A pessimist is never disappointed"
- Theaudience, "A Pessimist is Never Disappointed"

I could write yet more about the decisions in this game, and how I can't see any difference between the "deception" of Manuel Lanzini and the "magic" of Callum Wilson, but fixating too much on officiating would detract away from yet another disappointing performance. It may seem strange to say that when we scored three goals, but we spent most of this game clinging on to the coattails of a decidedly poor Bournemouth team and were particularly fortunate to pull level at 2-2, when Marko Arnautovic took advantage of Asmir Begovic wearing clown shoes in the driving rain.

We started well enough, with James Collins celebrating his recall by thumping home a trademark near post header from an Aaron Cresswell corner. I especially enjoyed this because Bournemouth placed a man on the post to specifically prevent this and he moved far enough from his spot to allow the ball in. It is worth remembering stuff like this when we question how managers can't organise their teams to defend properly - some footballers are so poor at concentrating that they can't even stand still when they're told to.

God bless men who can't stand still

That early lead didn't look particularly secure, however, as our back line seemed to have over indulged at Christmas, and the home team flooded forward in search of an equaliser, creating plenty of opportunities. King should have scored from one such chance, before Dan Gosling latched on to a weak Collins clearing header and rifled home the leveller. Oddly, we really should have been two ahead by this stage as Arthur Masuaku produced another trademark run before picking out Andre Ayew, who put the ball narrowly wide. On such slender threads can satisfactory Boxing Nights hang.

By this stage the rain was hammering down like Blade Runner, although even Roy Batty might have seen some new things here. After Ake scrambled home another shittily defended set piece to give the home side the lead their pressure warranted, it looked as though we would have yet another disappointing trip to the coast. Enter Begovic, who casually controlled a backpass before falling over his own feet, allowing Arnautovic - who hadn't stopped running - to capitalise with a neat left footed finish. Score one for the Moyes school of sergeant majoring the fuck out players.

Better was to come when Masuaku again went roaming with just a minute to go and picked out Chicharito who made a complete Benteke of it, but was saved when Begovic again lost control of his limbs and Arnautovic poked home his fifth goal in as many games. With just injury time to come, it seemed as though we had done enough to steal a win we didn't really deserve - a trait that Moyes would be very welcome to bring with him from all those years at Goodison.

Unfortunately, there was still some Truly, Madley, Deeply action to come and as it was we are left to ponder what kind of world we live in where we can take four points from Arsenal and Chelsea but just one from Newcastle and Bournemouth, and that the only consistent thing about this team is that you don't ever know what they are going to do.

The worry is that these were two games where we could reasonably have expected to have shown a little more in attack. Sitting back and soaking up constant pressure is fine against the teams with several hundred million more to spend on their squads, but these were supposed to the games where we showed we could punch back against our fellow strugglers. And so we scored five and conceded six and the only thing we know is that we know nothing.


"Am I moving back in time? Just standing still?"
- The War on Drugs, "Pain"

High up on my list of concerns is the way in which our team seem to be ageing in front of our eyes. Pablo Zabaleta had to replaced here because Bournemouth targeted him in much the same way as Newcastle did, and got nearly as much joy from it. He gets a light ride from the London Stadium crowd because he's enthusiastic and runs around like a toddler on Fanta, but the truth is that his positional play still leaves a lot to be desired and we are forced to expose him as a wing back because we can't defend without playing three in the middle. The chances of him being able to play twice in three days strikes me as minimal, meaning that I suspect we'll see Rice at Wembley against Spurs, and seriously - are Sam Byram's hamstrings made out of spaghetti?

Zaba's going on a run again!

Zabaleta has also been booked seven times already this season, opening him up to red cards, and when players like Ryan Fraser can give him the kind of torrid afternoon that he did here, it bodes poorly for the remaining eighteen months of that characteristically stupid contract. Likewise, Winston Reid didn't even make the team here as he dropped out for Collins and we are now reduced to hoping that he didn't injure himself in doing so. With Fonte also out long term, it would explain the apparent interest in Alfie Mawson who might cost £25m but can at least still go on an 18-30 holiday if he wants to. I don't know much about Mawson, but it would be lovely if Moyes could target a centre back who can actually pass the ball rather than hoof it in the general direction of Andy Carroll irrespective of whether he is on the pitch or not. 

In front of them, Cheikhou Kouyate had another afternoon to forget, as his Catherine Wheel impression continued to have little impact on the game. Pedro Obiang has attracted a lot of opprobrium for his performances in these last couple of games, but I thought it was noticeable how much better he played alongside a proper central midfielder - Mark Noble - than we saw here. There is quite a lot of pressure on that central midfield area in this formation, given that we are giving up a body to play in the back three, and it asks a lot of the defensive midfielder. After a promising start, in which Obiang looked like he might actually improve a little under Moyes, he has regressed and was replaced here by Carroll - our Goliath for all seasons. I'm not quite ready to judge the Spaniard in this system until we see him get a run out alongside a better midfield partner, but I don't think it was a coincidence that we looked much better when Lanzini went deeper and started our attacks. Either way, I predict some reinforcements will be arriving soon. 

The double substitution of Carroll and Chicharito was supposed to galvanise us, but in reality just highlighted the paucity of attacking options that we currently seem to have. With only Lanzini and Masuaku able to create from deeper areas, we have to either rely on the mobile physicality of Antonio and Arnautovic or resort to the long range bombing approach and launch mortars at Fort Carroll and hope for something to land at the feet of Chicharito. And while we do that, the plan was that the sturdy defensive setup constructed by Moyes would allow us to keep clean sheets. 

If we can't maintain any defensive structure while being more expansive, then Moyes will have to apply the handbrake and revert to a less attacking style to try and give us a chance of winning games like this 1-0. It might not be pretty, but relegation scraps never are. In the driving rain of the South Coast, we dropped two very precious points because of some awful refereeing, but also because we were defensively all over the place. 


"Someone's got it in for me, they're planting stories in the press
Whoever it is, I wish they'd cut it out quick, but when they will I can only guess"
- Bob Dylan, "Idiot Wind"

It's nearly January everyone, and that means that David Sullivan is going to be staying up really late ringing agents in South America and furiously flicking through YouTube highlight reels in search of the next Nene. As every West Ham fan knows, the New Year generally brings yet more stupidity in the boardroom, and with the team waist deep in relegation trouble, this time will be no different. Brilliantly, someone in the West Ham/Sullivan PR team decided that a great way to kick off this particular transfer window would be to carry a story in the Mail about how Dave Sullivan Jr lives in a £40m luxury flat and "works harder than anyone he knows".

Another heart warming Christmas story

In fairness to the kid, I'd hate to be judged on things I said and did at the age of twenty, and so I'll choose to ignore the generally crass theme of the article and the incredibly tone deaf decision to celebrate unfathomable, undeserved wealth at a time when so many people in the country are suffering in a stagnant economy. But, honestly, who the hell thinks this stuff is a good idea? Why do these kids keep getting repeatedly exposed to public scrutiny of their lives and activities when it is such a red rag to a fanbase who already think their father is tight and screwing money out of the club? None of this is complicated - but when we're about to enter a month of transfer activity which will define our season, why would you be in the media boasting about your wealth...

...if you're going to do things like this?

Can you see how these two pictures cause problems, Dave? It doesn't matter whether the N'Zonzi story is true, or the fact that I agree that a loan approach is better, because the account that carried it has over sixty thousand followers and this cheap looking style fits a club who seem to have no money.

There were also lots of rumours today about Reece Oxford moving permanently to Germany, although we may now apparently recall him to play for us instead. The rumour there was that Moyes was keen to move the kid on in order to get some cash in for new signings. Quite why we should need cash given that we spent such a low sum in the summer is an issue in itself, but beyond that it also highlights the total stupidity of allowing a potentially temporary manager to make such decisions. Ask yourself whether you would want the substitute teacher expelling your kid, and that will give you an idea of how good a decision making set up this would be. 

Moyes doesn't need to worry about what our squad will look like in 2020 because he knows that if we  go down this summer he won't be here to worry about it. Once again a Director of Football would be best placed to make such a decision, and once again we don't have one. Let's therefore hope that the Oxford recall is with a view to turning him into a better West Ham player, rather than with a view to turning him into enough cash to buy declining 29 year old players for a relegation battle. We already have a squad full of them. 

It's unimportant that one of these can get you a Mirallas

Yes, Oxford might have an attitude problem, and maybe he has a difficult agent, but those things are true of lots of teenage players. In the end, this is a chance for us to get a potentially high quality player for nothing, and flogging him to allow Sullivan to waste yet more funds on his idea of good footballers doesn't do anything for me. Oxford will mature one day, and we'll regret it immensely if he does so somewhere outside East London. Ultimately, when teams who are better than you want your players, that should tell you something about the asset you have. If we truly don't think we can get the best from an eighteen year old then I guess we should move him on, but in turn I would be asking some questions about exactly why that was the case. 

So, who should we target? Well, I've outlined above how I'd like a centre back - although that is a slightly difficult assessment to make given that we don't really know how highly the club rate any of Reece Oxford, Reece Burke or Not Reece Declan Rice. A right sided defender to cover Zabaleta and Byram's incredible Chinese noodle hamstrings would also be useful. But we also clearly need a central midfielder who can get about the pitch and create something, while a striker that Moyes can trust to do some Diafra Sakho type things without being Diafra Sakho would really be helpful too. 

There is absolutely no chance of us getting all of those players in January, so to my mind they absolutely have to target the midfield as we are currently only playing a three man midfield and still had to play strikers in there for the Arsenal cup game. N'Zonzi wouldn't have been a bad short term acquisition but at 29 he would be yet another to add to the phalanx of ageing one-last-contract types that clutter up our squad. 

A better approach, for this season only, might be to target the big clubs and look at non playing member of their squads who are borderline choices for their countries and taking them on short loans. Anyone wanting to play at the World Cup will need game time between now and May, and we would be the ideal place for someone to stage a revival, provided we don't introduce them to Joe Hart. 

As such, the link to Andre Schurrle makes sense, as would a return for Andre Gomes - a rumoured target around the time of the William Carvalho debacle. I like the idea of getting these hungry, motivated players, who can arrive and have an immediate impact. Of course, historically this has never worked for us but if the alternative is buying another Robert Snodgrass, then I'm happy to give it another whirl. 


"But the drumbeat strains of the night remain
In the rhythm of the new born day"
- Al Stewart, "The Year of the Cat"

Some of you may have noticed that I didn't post an article for the Newcastle game. This wasn't a fit of pique but more because I decided to spend Christmas Eve with the family rather than spewing out 3,000 words on how our midfield was overrun by Mo Diame. I did, however, vent a little on Twitter which you can find here. 

I've also been asking for some recollections from fans on Frank Lampard Jr, for a retro piece I'm writing at the moment. Any contributions would be gratefully accepted.

And with that, all that remains is for me to wish you all a very Happy New Year and to thank you for reading The H List in 2017. See you in 2018 - it's West Brom to start, so that's bound to be hugely entertaining.


  1. Earlier in the game our support was justifiably singing "you're just a **** with a whistle". I wondered then if he would take his revenge later ....

  2. Given the money, and therefore huge vested interests in football, it beggars belief that we don’t have a video ref for situations such as this. Arguably it might could slow the game pace, which would be a shame, but it would also inject drama and hopefully even the playing field up from poor decisions made by spineless refs.

    Ps Great commentary as usual !

  3. Great article and spot on with transfers a pleasure to read a sensible blog on West Ham