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

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

A Dream of Summer

"Oh how is it that I could come out to here, and be still floating?
And never hit bottom and keep falling through, just relaxed and paying attention"
- The Byrds, "5D (Fifth Dimension)"


West Ham 0 - 0 Manchester United (And Other Ramblings)


Hold me - I'm bored

With safety comes excitement, they said. Watch us throw off the shackles and dance like it's the last night of our holiday, we thought. How wrong we were. Jose Mourinho and his footballing muzak rolled into town and now I feel like those poor Manchester United fans have spent the whole season in an elevator. 

I feel lightheaded. Up here where I sit, among the cormorants and the parachutists, games such as this play out as if I'm watching a dream. Nothing is happening. All this effort, and all this expense and still somehow Ashley Young is probably going to go to the World Cup. I feel like I'm on drugs. We could end homelessness in our country for the money it took to assemble this Manchester United squad. Such equivalencies are obviously false but I'm watching Luke Shaw waddle around like a duck on a diving board and I can't help feel that somewhere along the line our society went badly off the rails. 

I first felt like this, incidentally, when Babylon Zoo wrote eight seconds of a song, then played it at the wrong speed and accidentally got to number one. This game is not holding my attention. 



Ask your parents

We are unchanged and looking for our first successive wins since January 2017. That feels both remarkable and quite plausible all at once. We have not been a good football team for quite some time, after all. David Moyes is losing the PR war, and responds by fielding all his available attacking power. That means Arnautovic, Mario and Lanzini and no rest for the two central midfielders who are going to have to do their running for them. As it is, we start with all the confidence of a team hunting down 15th place, and Adrian is soon pressed into a number of smart looking saves. He seems quite good. We should probably play him more often. 

The defence looks surprisingly alright, bending but not breaking, with Declan Rice the standout man. His development has been one of the few positive elements of this season, and should render James Collins unnecessary. Instead, below me, several fans are calling for the Welshman to be given a new contract, for he plays the infamous "West Ham Way". I didn't realise that phrase meant missing half of our games injured and then smashing it fifty yards in the general direction of the strikers when you are fit, but there you go. Despite not playing since March, our fans are adamant that the 34 year old Ginger Pele must remain. Thank goodness the club isn't run according to the whims of the general public. 

But of course, it is. ExWHUEmployee revealed this week that the club will be running some online polls in order to gauge fan opinion on the manager and the stadium - as though not listening to the fans has been the root cause of all our problems. And so we find ourselves at the mercy of social media groupthink because the people who own the club have had their confidence blown to pieces by years of making bad decisions. Normal people would probably just hire somebody more qualified to help out, but instead, our gang of octogenarian nutjobs are asking the saloon bar inhabitants of the White Hart in Benfleet for their thoughts. 

It would be impossible to invent West Ham if we didn't already exist. 

David Sullivan looks like a drowning man. His head of recruitment has gone, he is unsure about his manager, his vice Chairman has nine jobs, the stadium is a monument to his own failures and his supporters hate him. Whatever you may think of him, I doubt he's enjoying his job right now. 

Shorn of self belief, he is therefore turning to fans. It's cowardly really, but populism and appeasement are all the rage right now. Give the people what they want, and then throw your hands up when it turns out to be a barrel load of shit. I don't want you to ask me who the manager is because I don't have any fucking idea. That's your job, David. 

Below me Luke Shaw wobbles the post. It seems only fitting. 

***

"I don't know what to say
You don't care anyway"
- New Order, "Crystal"

Once upon a time Manchester United at home was a date to ring in your calendar. They were great games, where you would stand for ninety minutes and then the other seven that referees would add on while Fergie's lot tried for a winner, and you could be guaranteed entertainment. We lost some mad games at Upton Park - 5-3 and 4-2 spring to mind - had several barnstorming 2-2 draws and then the odd famous win, capped off with the fever dream summer festival of nostalgia that was the 3-2 win to bid farewell to the Boleyn. It should have been the springboard to something bigger and better, but instead feels increasingly like the day we all said goodbye to a love we will never be getting back. And Sebastien Schemmel was there in a black cab for some reason. 

But football clubs are living organisms and change constantly. It was just five short years ago that Alex Ferguson was still guiding the visitors and only 24 months since Dimitri Payet was causing us to expand our horizons and dream a little bigger. We declined immediately, while Manchester United have instead said the long goodbye. Once, I watched them play whenever possible because their games were unmissable, even if you hated them. Now, they border on the unwatchable, like a Formula 1 car driving with the handbrake on. 


Can't you get someone sent off?

And so it's nearly half time and we've had a couple of moments. Anything decent tends to come through Arnautovic, who is manfully besting Smalling and Jones while they foul him at every turn. I've come to the conclusion that we still have the attacking scene stealers that were so important to those late nineties teams I referenced above, but we lack the supporting cast. Once we could rely on Trevor Sinclair, Steve Lomas and Frank Lampard to diligently understudy our leading lights. What riches. The drop off now is palpable. Too many are average or in decline. In the moments when he can be bothered, Paul Pogba looks like he is playing a different sport. 

Half time comes and goes and I've not yet been roused out of my chair. Michail Antonio didn't die for this. We continue to spark intermittently, primarily when Lanzini gets on the ball and Arnautovic gets on to someone's shoulder. At the other end, Adrian is still flinging himself around with elan, and Rice is mastering the art of the last ditch tackle. A football match has nearly broken out. 

Far off, in the South East Zone of the technical area, Moyes has seen enough. On comes Andy Carroll, like the guy arriving two days late for a stag do and off his nut on ketamine while everyone else is unconscious in the hotel lobby. God bless Andy, who plays for twenty five minutes and manages not to win a single header. Instead he unveils a dazzling array of twists and turns, displayed with all the grace of a crane rolling down a hill into a skyscraper, and some Quite Nice passing skills. This may actually be the best way to deploy him until his next injury.

With Carroll on the pitch we switch to the 4-4-2 formation that lots of people have been demanding. This leads to our wide midfielders being Joao Mario and Manuel Lanzini and Manchester United still can't score. It should be said that this is primarily because they aren't trying. Even Marcus Rashford can't make any difference despite Mourinho introducing him with enough time to score his customary goal. 

Somewhere in the ambience Mark Noble and Paul Pogba have one of those football fights where nobody does any fighting, but it's at least nice to see the two most diametrically opposed haircuts in the Premier League together at last. Cheikhou Kouyate doesn't get involved and instead lays down on the floor, asleep. Moments later Luke Shaw does the same thing, or maybe he's found a burger on the floor, and only then do I realise that £750m Manchester United are running down the clock against a team with Patrice Evra and Jordan Hugill on the bench.

The assistant referee optimistically signals three minutes of added time, which is Referee for "let's all just get out of here" if ever I've seen it. Mourinho makes two substitutions that take so long that the clocks go back during one of them. Jon Moss has to get home and he blows up despite the ball never actually getting back into play. A point. Boredom. No wonder those Premier League television rights packages remain unsold. 

***

"Tell me that you'll dance to the end
Just tell me that you'll dance to the end"
- The Thrills, "Big Sur"

West Ham 3 - 1 Everton (And Other Ramblings)

Three short days later and I'm back again. Once more unto the breach with one under achieving, over spending set of North Westerners exchanged for another. We have become experts around here on the subject of whether a football club can retain a shred of identity when it is being pummelled by the twin forces of avaricious owners and the relentless march of the Premier League towards a homogeneous mass of identikit clubs. Everton are next up, as they swap Goodison Park for a new waterside stadium and an owner who has already blown the thick end of £200m to make them slightly worse than Burnley. These are worrying times for those of us with our noses pressed up to the window, watching the Big Six huddle round the trough.


I'm very much in favour of this sort of thing

But Mourinho has gone, and like the Dementors from Harry Potter, has taken the cloak of depression with him. It's the last day of the season! Sunshine, long range goals, players dreaming of Cancun and Arnautovic and Pickford trying to out shithouse each other. It's a welcome relief at the end of another season of sliding yet further down the hill.

We start with our trio of attacking sprites once more, and Everton can't seem to get near them. This is particularly interesting given how much the visitors spent on trying to buy their own frontline. A couple of hundred million quid and Allardyce still left Rooney and Walcott out despite them both being guaranteed to score against us. Never change, Sam.

Our early play deserves better. Lanzini nearly gets in before a minute is on the board, and then Arnautovic slips in Noble to force a brilliant save from Pickford. The Everton keeper then seems to kick Arnautovic off the ball, and then celebrates with the travelling fans. It would be a shame if that comes back to bite him on the arse later. Meanwhile Angelo Ogbonna tries to control a ball with his Adam's Apple and lets in Oumar Niasse, which Adrian saves brilliantly. He seems quite good. We should probably play him more often.

Half time is approaching without the neccessary reward for our endeavours. And then we start passing again, and suddenly Kouyate has freed Lanzini by accident and the Argentine is sliding a left footed finish past Pickford from outside the box. It is a rose in the snow, a diamond in the soil and a bit of a worry if this kid is actually going to be in goal for us at the World Cup.

Everton are disjointed, with only Niasse and Tom Davies truly standing out. The latter is young, wears his hair like a matador and doesn't seem to quite have the pace to be a truly elite box to box midfielder. If Everton are going to carry on with their West Hamic transfer policy, we should make a bid for him - he'd be a legend here. Elsewhere I'd be inclined to mock the ageing Phil Jagielka if it wasn't for the fact that I'm genuinely worried he is the kind of player we will buy this summer.

Neither he or his two centre back partners are able to get particularly close to Arnautovic, who is thriving in his new central role. That tactical switch from Moyes seems to have flown under the radar but the ineffectual wide player of the first half of the season has been replaced by a Lidl Ronaldo and it has kept us in the division. We should probably acknowledge that at some point. The Austrian puts his own full stop on the sentence by turning Funes Mori and smashing a long range effort through Pickford's hands. Based on the evidence of this game alone, I am concerned that our World Cup goalkeeper has wrists made of crisps.

Everton threaten intermittently and even bring Walcott on, but their heart doesn't seem to be in it. The away fans look glassy eyed - they aren't used to such treatment in this part of the world. When they win a corner, I am relaxed as we know it will go long to the back post for someone to keep alive with a looping header back into the box. And as I wait for one of our defenders to do some defending there are three more headers and Everton have pulled one back. It is the most Allardician goal possible.

But Lanzini is in one of those moods he can get in. Everton have little by way of deep midfield cover and the Argentine is running riot with Joao Mario. Their passing and movement is exquisite and the final day of term feel is reinforced by Pablo Zabaleta continuously appearing in the box and trying to score - like an enthusiastic 12 year old trying to get served in a pub. It would be a popular goal for a player who has done much to endear himself to the crowd and yet must surely be replaced if we are in any way serious about improving this team. Time waits for no man, especially not one playing for the second oldest team in the division and the slowest in the hemisphere. I've seen baths run quicker than our midfield.

By the time Lanzini steps easily inside Coleman and places a glorious curling effort into the top corner, it feels like justice. Pickford could maybe have saved that one too, and in the spirit of glasnost I think he should try wearing goalkeeping gloves this summer, rather than giant inflatable hands. Panama have never seemed so terrifying.


Seriously, Jordan

And just like that, it's over. I am contented - maybe even malcontented - which is a strange and unusual feeling. My Pavlovian reaction to games of football in this place is to be upset and despairing, and wondering whether there will ever be time when we won't have to compete with the rest of the division with one hand tied behind our back, courtesy of our chaotic management structure. Instead today, I am smiling, as players mill around their pitch with their families, and the landlords remove the goalposts as they go because we've only got the place until six. Sadiq sure does know how to put the "lease" into "Please fuck off, the Stones are here in a week".

James Collins basks in the applause of the still stunned masses. I've always thought he was a decent squad player, but that his frequent injuries and uneven form made him a curious terrace hero. He has never once made 30 league appearances for us in a season, and played fewer times in the claret and blue than Steve Lomas. According to my Twitter feed, he is the lifeblood of this club. Maybe he is, and that's why we're dying.

I profess myself bemused by the sudden outpouring of love for a player in his mid thirties, with visibly declining skills. I can't understand those who call for a new approach to signings and then want Collins back, but perhaps I am once more forgetting the innate romance of football. I think Collins is a symbol of a past we all suddenly value more dearly than we cared to admit when we were marching out of Upton Park for the promised land.

***

"What she said was sad, but then all the rejection she's had
To pretend to be happy could only be idiocy" 
- The Smiths, "What She Said"

With this game being on a Sunday, we all got the benefit of hearing from "The First Lady of Football" once more before setting out in search of a pub within a mile of the ground. This time she manages not to insult anyone until the very end of the article, which is kind of like the time someone from HMRC managed to make it nearly all the way home before losing the USB stick with all the sensitive data on it.

For some reason the Baroness decided that she needed to use her last column of the season to say this:

"We have some problems at the London Stadium caused to a degree by the terms of our lease, which we are dealing with, but also to some degree by malcontents and keyboard warriors"

Yes, Lord Sugar, I decided to deliberately insult all my customers and pretend that their complaints about me were totally imagined.

I get that there are issues with the Labour Mayor wanting to make the deal signed by his Tory predecessor look bad, and I have no doubt that the failure of the landlords to adhere to their side of the bargain is frustrating and expensive to deal with. But the fact that the seats are miles from the pitch isn't an issue with the lease, it's an issue with the design. Here is the artist's impression that we were all shown before we moved to the Olympic Stadium:


Look closely. What is clearly shown here is a section of seating that overhangs the lower tier. This is not the case anywhere in the Olympic Stadium and a root cause of the frustration we all feel. The gap between the permanent seating and the temporary scaffolded stuff is incredibly distracting,  breaks your vision and, crucially, leads to a sense of disjointedness which is killing the atmosphere in the ground. Along with our back four all being grandparents.

This picture also fails to show the very obvious curvature of the seating caused by the running track. Pointing this out doesn't make me a malcontent or a keyboard warrior, but instead makes me a pissed off customer.

I have long defended Brady in these articles, because I think too much of the criticism thrown her way is because she is a woman. I stand by that because even a cursory glance at her Twitter timeline, or that of any other high profile woman in football for that matter, will reveal a distressingly high number of men abusing her for the simple crime of not looking like them. We privileged white middle aged males, who so dominate football in England should never kid ourselves about how many of our tribe are desperately terrified at the prospect of anyone different from us being given access to the game.

But, and I hate to follow that up with a but, we would surely benefit from less Brady at West Ham. At a cool million per year she would be poor value if she were full time, but as it is, she now has multiple jobs and hasn't done anything visible in her role with us since the infamous saga of the marches. The stadium move is complete, and it failed, but there is no changing that. I'm really not sure what her role is anymore, and if her view is that she wants to antagonise supporters, then maybe she doesn't either.

***

So all that really remains is for me to say thank you. 

Thank you to everyone one of you who has read these articles throughout the season, and even more so to those who then passed them to others. To those who have commented and "Retweeted" and "Liked" and "Shared" I am hugely grateful because I know that without you The H List would not have gone as far as it has. 

I must thank Graeme and the guys at KUMB.com for carrying The H List and for those who have supported me on other forums such as Reddit, In The Brown Stuff, Hammers Chat and WestHamOnline and my apologies to anyone I've forgotten. I am grateful too, to No Place Like Home and Blowing Bubbles for carrying articles of mine on their pages and to Jim and Phil at Stop!HammerTime for having me on their marvellous podcast throughout the season. I am very grateful to all of you. 

I was very proud to be nominated for an award at the Football Supporters Federation gala in December, and remain very humbled that so many of you took the time to vote for me. I was well beaten, though, so those of you who didn't vote should feel bad. 

I intend to write a couple of retro pieces over the summer, so please let me know if you have any suggestions for games or players. My only rule is I need to have seen the era....

It's been a tough season, and I've truthfully never felt so unsure about the direction the club is heading. We need a lot of new blood from top to bottom, and the splits in our fanbase are devastating.  But at the core of our disjointed mess still remains the club I fell in love with. Nothing can beat the electric thrill of the first time you see West Ham, and we shouldn't forget that for an entirely new generation of fans, the London Stadium will be their Upton Park. Sure, they might miss out on the strange alchemy of home games under the lights, or the heaving mass of humanity that was the North Bank when a goal went in, but they already have Lanzini ending Spurs title bid and Payet slaloming through the Middlesbrough defence and Carroll destroying the concept of beauty against Crystal Palace.


The night of the malcontents

Our club endures, and so do we. It remains the imperfect conglomeration of people and ideas and love and edginess and humour and failure that it has always been, but we've allowed that to be buried somewhat among the weight of this awful season. But in the storm, hope. Take it where you can find it - Declan Rice, Marko Arnautovic, the kids and their popcorn, the corner flag protests, your child telling you they can't wait to go to the game or, hell, it can even be David Moyes.

But whatever it is, find that thing that keeps you connected to your club. Treasure it and remember it, because I think it's getting harder to do that these days. And yes, while they can change a lot of things, they can't change that indelible link you have to West Ham. It's yours. It's ours. It most certainly isn't theirs. We are the concrete foundation of this club, and the more of us that stand shoulder to shoulder, the higher we can build up. I foresee another difficult season ahead and more than ever, we need to remember those things that made us Hammers to begin with and then stand side by side to remind each other of it. The owners aren't this club - it's me and you. Let's not forget that.

And of course, join WHUISA.

Until next season.

8 comments:

  1. A retro piece on winning the intertoto cup please.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Brian Coleman8:47 AM

    Thanks so much for providing the only consistently shining light through a season of abject misery. I go back a long way (yes, I can remember the '64 cup win)so if you go back almost as far, pieces on "Pop" Robson and/or David Cross would be gratefully received.
    Thanks again

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'm with Brian, my anticipation throughout the week has been for these articles. The football a sad second best.

    ReplyDelete
  4. 11.35 Everton sack Allardyce (in bid to get Paolo Fonseca before West Ham?)

    12.30 West Ham part ways with Moyes (in bid to stop Everton getting to Paolo Fonseca?)

    13.20 Portuguese media announce Paolo Fonseca likely to be staying at Shaktar Donetsk)

    The West Ham board are clearly all over the concept of comedy being all about timing

    To echo Brian and unknown thanks for supplying the thing I've looked forward to most about West Ham games this season (and last). In fact quite often the only thing. Can't help wondering whether the Dildo Bros are fans too cos they seem intent on supplying you with plenty of close season material to get us all through the gap til next August.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Anonymous7:46 PM

    Thank you, Mr HHS, for a most consistently entertaining, reasoned and balanced blog.

    DS just announced we'll be getting an experienced, top manager; we're getting Ranieri, aren't we? Only this time Kante's not in tow.

    At least you'll have plenty of source material next season.

    Happy summertime, everyone!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thanks all. It's been a long season but no doubt England in the World Cup will provide the tonic we all need...

    ReplyDelete