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, February 27, 2018

Liverpool 4 - 1 West Ham (And Other Ramblings)

"You say you lost your faith, but that's not where it's at
You had no faith to lose, and you know it"
- Bob Dylan, "Positively 4th Street"

I never admire our away support more than on days like these. On a morning when you can create clouds with your own breath and the cold can descend upon you like a blanket, it takes a certain type of person to make the trip to a fixture like this. It isn't so much that we we ended up losing this game 4-1, but that it always felt like we would lose 4-1. Not everyone can march so readily North knowing that cannon shot and thunder and Mo Salah are lying in wait. 

Even though we knew this was coming, it still stings when it happens, mind you. There is always hope until there isn't, after all. But the Premier League is becoming less competitive with each passing transfer window and each UEFA subsidy to the bigger teams. And so it is our lot to travel to places such as Anfield and play a team assembled at vast cost by cherry picking the best players from Southampton, Hoffenheim, Southampton, Bayer Leverkusen, Hull and, well, Southampton and wonder just what exactly is the point of all this. Maybe we have always been cannon fodder, but I don't remember everyone being quite so readily understanding about it. 

We haven't got Salah, or Money Money. 

It's a curious time to be a fan of a Premier League minnow. The top six are so far away now that it isn't terribly realistic to expect very much when playing them. We've lost 4-0 at Old Trafford, 4-1 here, 2-1 at the Etihad and drawn 1-1 with Spurs. We've spent roughly 80% of those games defending, earned a single point, and apart from the second half at Old Trafford - when we seemed unaware that the season had actually started - overall I think we've done alright. It's not that I don't want us to be more competitive but these are shoulder shrug games. You take what you can get, hope it doesn't get too embarrassing and then focus on next week. For fans of smaller clubs, trips to places like Liverpool are just about reaffirming our place in the established order. Four goals. Four goalscorers who cost a hundred million quid between them. Four hours drive there. For shame. 

Whether we should actually be considered as a minnow is perhaps a different question and one I'm not sure I have the energy to revisit today. Gross mismanagement and too many Sunday nights writing this blog will do that to a man. 

But to those who go and watch games like this, I salute you. It's easy to write these fixtures off as one sided and predetermined when you don't go to watch them, but when you're there in the ground it can be chastening. Of course, when you win 3-0 it can be exhilarating too, but we all know that was a beautiful aberration. At a time when we all seem very focused on what exactly constitutes a "real" West Ham fan, I think those who undertake trips such as these deserve to be foremost in our thoughts. 


"Cause you give it all away, you give it all away now
Don't let it come apart, don't want to see you come apart"
- Doves, "Caught By The River"

I believe that when watching a Premier League football team, if you ever arrive late for a game, you should never have to turn to a fellow fan and ask the fatal question - "Jesus Christ, is that Willie Nelson playing centre back for us?". And yet, these days, you never know at West Ham. We started this game with a back three of Aaron Cresswell, James Collins and Angelo Ogbonna and flanked them with nominal wing backs Pablo Zabaleta and Patrice Evra. That's a back line with an average age of thirty two, a Boer War veteran, one guy with rickets and three country music stars who think electric guitars are a bit fancy. 

And which one of you was supposed to be marking Mane?

The cumulative effect of our nonsensical transfer policy was laid bare here as we faced up to one of the fittest, fastest teams around with an octogenarian defence and simply dared them to run past us. And they did. Zabaleta was up against Andrew Robertson, and the Scot had the time of his life gallivanting around like a West Brom player at a Spanish taxi cab rank. On the other side, Evra fared little better and seemed to be suffering from the same disease that afflicted Zabaleta when he first arrived whereby he thought he was still playing for a Manchester side. So up he pushed, and sure enough we frequently lost the ball and the hosts exploited the gaps in behind him. I am seriously wondering if having wing backs with a combined age of sixty nine is a great idea, guys. 

In fairness, it wasn't just the defence where we struggled. Of the entire line up only Joao Mario and Manuel Lanzini were under 28 and one of them isn't even our player. I have despaired of this transfer policy for long enough that I hope you will forgive me a brief moment of schadenfreude when I say to David Sullivan - I fucking told you this was going to happen

And so the slowest team around played the quickest and it went pretty much as you might expect. While it's easy to be critical of West Ham, it's only reasonable to acknowledge that Liverpool are an electric side. Between Jurgen Klopp and their enormous budget, they have weapons that we simply cannot cope with, and have destroyed far better sides than us. Going forward they attack with quicksilver precision, and Salah could have scored as early as the second minute. Then we were saved by the woodwork, as the game settle into a pattern of Liverpool swarming all over us, while we tried to break with pace on the counterattack but failed to do so because breaking with pace is hard when half of your team were teenagers during Suez. 

For all that, we were not without threats of our own. Having Marko Arnautovic up front allows us the luxury of having a top six player in a bottom half team, and that is something that most of our relegation rivals cannot say. The Austrian was on his own here as Javier Hernandez was dropped for Lanzini, and had a frustrating afternoon getting annoyed that his team mates weren't a bit better. Which is saying something when you think he played with Ryan Shawcross for all that time at Stoke.

At 0-0, Arnautovic latched on to a rare decent through ball and brilliantly conjured a chip on to the crossbar from just outside the box. Loris Karius did well to tip it on to the woodwork and with that probably went our best chance of getting something from the game. Even with all of Arnautovic, Mario and Lanzini on the pitch, we struggled to keep possession and without a truly dominant central midfielder who can carry the ball and get us forward, it is bordering on impossible to ever create very much in these sort of games.

Perhaps the most disappointing thing was the way we defended, as our calling card under Moyes has been to set up with a well drilled defensive line and rely on the general excellence of our defenders to repel teams. The problem with that is it relies on us having some sort of parity further up the pitch and with Antonio on the bench and Lanzini looking every inch like he'd just returned from injury, we didn't have the necessary class to keep the ball in advanced positions.

And so it was that even though I thought we were fairly competitive in the first half, it was that special brand of competitiveness that requires you to be a fan of that particular side and be squinting very hard indeed. Football fans see positives everywhere because we are conditioned to do so. Thus, when Antonio arrived and scored immediately with a fine angled finish we all briefly began to construct a theoretical scenario in which a comeback was plausible. I thought that if ever Hernandez was going to come on, it was then, when that shaky Liverpool backline was rocking, but Moyes is glacial in his decision making and the moment passed, Mane scored the fourth, and by the time he brought him on it kind of looked like a punishment.

In the same vein, I took some positives from Zabaleta's continued Herculean efforts and conveniently ignored the way Robertson was breezing past him with alarming frequency. I similarly lauded a couple of fine Adrian saves and glossed over the remote controlled malfunction that saw him somehow being twenty yards from his goal when Roberto Firmino scored the Liverpool third. You can apparently buy drugs very easily on Merseyside, after all.

This went about as well as it looks like it would

So while we are reduced to clutching at the thinnest of straws, it's true that Liverpool were simply a great deal better than us. And while there is no doubt that we have every right to demand our team puts up a better show than this, it's also undeniable that under David Sullivan's stewardship we have gone backwards at breakneck speed. We simply aren't equipped to compete with these teams, and these kinds of results are inevitable until there is a massive overhaul of this squad by someone who knows that they are doing.

Once more, to those fans who travelled up - I salute your inexhaustible optimism.


"A picture is worth a thousand words"
- The Temptations, "Paradise"

The Temptations are not wrong. A pretty big game, is Swansea.


"They don't, they don't speak for us"
- Radiohead, "No Surprises"

Bet Bobby would have been delighted to have been associated with this

In some regards the off field antics were more interesting than the game, as both fans attempted to out-dickhead each other. Liverpool fans got in early by booing 74 year old Hammers debutant Patrice Evra, who is great to have around the place because of his terrific social media antics. He can no longer run, but we care not for such prosaic notions and with young Jose Fonte having left for the Orient, he represented a great opportunity to somehow increase the average age of our squad outside of the transfer window. 

Anyway, Evra was roundly booed all day. Home fans maintained this was because he is a former Manchester United player, except that they also kept singing Luis Suarez songs at him, meaning that they were linking the booing to the time Suarez was found guilty of racially abusing Evra and banned for eight games. So just to reiterate - they booed him for being racially abused. Wonderful humour though. 

Not to be outdone, some of our fans responded by holding up the banner above. In an era when it has become a badge of honour to tell the world how little you are offended by anything because you aren't a snowflake, I suppose that I run the risk of outing myself as hypersensitive here, but I need to say something - this banner is moronic and reprehensible. It is so stupid I had to double check that it wasn't a parody before writing this. It doesn't speak for me or any sensible West Ham fan, and the main thing it has done is set the cause of the fans march back before it's even begun. You all thought you were starting in Stratford, but instead you'll be going from Chelmsford. Bravo.

Not that I need to explain this, surely, but comparing people to Hitler is generally a pretty bad idea. Hitler is in the conversation for the worst human being who ever lived. He killed people in their millions, and there will have been people in that crowd who lost loved ones to German bombs in World War II. I am sure that the people who came up with it thought it was a pithy line but it's just crass and almost criminally stupid. Wasting a few million quid on Robert Snodgrass and Matt Jarvis isn't equivalent to waging a war, changing the club badge doesn't equate to eugenics and a failed stadium move isn't the same as systematically exterminating millions of innocent people because they are Jewish.

Don't message me with any justifications for this bullshit, or tell me it's banter or tell me it's not a comparison with Hitler because not only is it a literal direct comparison with Hitler, but it is somehow an unfavourable one. 

I am so sick of the fucking morons on our lunatic fringe who follow this club and are so much more vocal than the average punter, meaning that we literally have to say things to other fans like "Yeah, most of our supporters are great if you can just ignore the Hitler banner". 

Here is a tip for those going on the march. Your cause is just - the Board have done things for which they deserve to be held to account, and they deserve to have to face that examination in the full light of the public glare. That publicity helps the cause because external pressures can be brought to bear on the owners and a supportive media and wider football community will help affect change. Win the PR battle, and you have a head start on winning the war. 

But here's the thing - if you march singing songs about Karren Brady, or carry flags personally abusing the Sullivan family or even do something as unthinkably brainless as carry a banner comparing our Jewish chairman to Adolf Fucking Hitler, then you cede every piece of moral high ground that you might have. We are once more reduced to a rabble of hooligans and thugs who aren't worth listening to, and have nothing reasonable to say. I beg you not to take that route. Stick to the facts. The team is shit and the stadium isn't what was promised. That's plenty enough to be getting on with. 


"Well she wrote me a letter
Said she couldn't live without me no more"
- The Box Tops, "The Letter"

And then just as I was about to hit "Publish", Karren Brady sent a letter to the various fans groups that she met recently, ahead of the proposed march before the Burnley game. I've commented a couple of times on this before, and explained that while I understand the reasons for the march, I'm concerned that without any tangible goals or demands, it runs the risk of being a protest about nothing.

The genesis of all this was a meeting where representatives of Real West Ham Fans, KUMB, Hammers Chat, WHUISA and other groups that I can't name as I haven't seen minutes, sat down with Karren Brady and discussed a wide range of topics. The letter covers these in detail and I think it's fair to say that the club are at least taking the fan dissatisfaction seriously now, which is to the great credit of all the fan groups involved. Don't underestimate the inroads they have made through a coherent start and impressive organisation.

There is definite movement on certain demands made by fans to make the ground more like home and also a pledge to better improve communication with supporters. All of that is fine by me and a welcome move towards a more collaborative approach rather then the ludicrously adversarial tone that has been adopted in the past. There is actually quite a lot here, even if it is two years too late.

But there is a wider point too. Why did it take the threat of thousands of fans marching to get movement on something so trivial as putting up a banner honouring Billy Bonds? If it takes that type of effort to get you to engage with fans properly then I would humbly suggest that someone somewhere in the organisation needs to go on a crash course in people. You don't get to call us customers when it suits you and then totally ignore the concept of customer service. It is bananas that the club have allowed things to degenerate this far before acting.

And yet, for all the words and waffle in that letter, it is not going to be anywhere near enough to placate fans. I have a certain, limited sympathy with the Board in the sense that the fans aren't totally united and thus the disparate demands make it impossible to please everyone. There are a lot of people who are very upset that the club badge was changed, for example, while I think it's just about the dumbest possible hill to die on. I accept that my view is no more or less valid than anyone else's, and that's why I joined WHUISA and voted for people to represent me. But therein lies the problem.

Apart from Payet?

The People's Front of Judea/Judean People's Front approach means that lots of issues are getting floated by lots of different groups and it results in a letter like this, which is like a freewheeling trip through a list of minor annoyances, and summarily fails to address the two main problems that underpin everything - namely, that the team are crap, everybody knows that turning that around will be a significant undertaking, and the stadium is not up to scratch.

Now, I should also say that the letter constitutes the club's version of the action points. This doesn't mean that there weren't other things raised in the meeting, but simply that the club don't want to engage on those points. Indeed, I know for a fact that Brady was directly asked to discontinue her column in The Sun and refused, even though it was detrimental to the club during the transfer window. File that one away folks - it tells us something.

My buddy @LeBigHouse has suggested that what the fans really need is a cut throat, razor sharp shithouse of a trade unionist to lead this fight, and I'm inclined to agree. Not because the people involved aren't representing their groups well, but because we need to narrow all this down to a laser focus.

Fan questions should focus on the two areas I highlighted above: You promised us a stadium that was fit for football and you haven't delivered - what are you going to do about it? You also promised us that the stadium would allow us to generate more funds and improve the team. Why are you still allowing the owner to have a crack at this as a hobby, rather than employing qualified professionals to do the job?

That's it. That should be the agenda. Everything else is nice and I've suggested some of them myself but they are ancillary to the current situation. Small incremental gains are fine when you've exhausted the big ticket ideas, but the club haven't come remotely close to that. The Board should have watched that game on Saturday and felt a burning shame for every single minute of it. Barring one glorious accident of a season in 2015/16 when the league was upside down, they have done nothing but mire West Ham in mediocrity while spending vast sums to trail behind smaller clubs. A good team would paper over these cracks, but the bad one we've had for eighteen months is widening them.

The sole nod to this in the letter is the line "My Chairmen have also asked me to reaffirm their commitment to the restructuring of our recruitment policy as David Sullivan outlined recently...". That's it. David is going to appoint a Director of Football in the summer, at which point it will be too late to do any actual planning for the transfer window because real clubs are doing all of that now. Wonderful.

I'm not disagreeing with anything much in Brady's letter but it's all obfuscation because that's all she's allowed us. Her comments on the stadium essentially say little more than "We promise to look at this", which is a coded version of saying "I'll ask the landlord, but they're skint and we ain't paying anything so, ho hum...". Reading all of that, the temptation is to say that the reality here is that while we are tenants of the stadium, the thing that we really want - to be closer to the pitch - is not actually in their power to give us.

And this, I think, is the heart of the problem. We want to be on the touchline again, in a ground that feels like home, in the electric swirl of a pulsating football match, watching a team that is good enough to justify the move. And for all the lip service that the club may pay to those cries, it's not really in their gift to be able to do anything much about any of it. The stadium isn't ours, and the people who make the decisions about the team seem immune to any form of blame. So on we march, and up go the banners, and out come the hearses, and all the while it turns out that letting in four goals against teams like Liverpool is now the status quo. What a mess. 


  1. Fucking spot on Sir.

    FUCKING. Spot. On.

  2. Hear him. Hear him.

  3. Fine summary of the banner issue and march aims - and great Dylan song to quote!