Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Nice Drawing

Watford 1-1 West Ham United.  Vicarage Road, Saturday 25th February

Vicarage Road, outside, way before kick-off
A first for me, an away game at Vicarage Road, where I got to see another match that was quite satisfying. Points wise, not ideal, but nevertheless sort of crunchy, with some chewy bits. This isn't a match report...

...But it is a post that's based around one, single, solitary game, something which I haven't done for a while. It also comes way after anyone else has written about it, as if existing to be deliberately irrelevant. It's just I can sense that all the games in April are going to be written about, by me that is, in one long post at the beginning of May. There will be perfunctory detail and some amateurish photos. April is hectic, hectic I say. I've just finished booking my travel for that month, having been waiting for confirmation of the TV schedule changes that didn't really change much at all for West Ham, as it happens. Two home games and four away games in far strewn, hostile, alien locations (Hull, Sunderland, Stoke and, um, The Emirates). And by the time I write that inevitable six game retro-post, it'll nearly all be over, just three games away from my only ever complete season of match attendance, something I've never before attempted and will never do again.

The curious, the poor, and the reassuring (one paragraph for each in classic essay structure).

Did we have any strikers (does that word sound a bit dated?) available against Watford. Yes, I think, there was Calleri, and Fletcher, did they play?  No. Were they on the bench? Er, I can't remember. Maybe they weren't there for the Watford game, maybe they were, maybe they're not fit, maybe they are, maybe Bilic doesn't like the cut of their jib (just checked, Calleri was there, Fletcher not). Whatever, we dispensed with that idea and played without a recognised striker (uf, that word again). Do we have a right back? Yes! He's called Sam Byram. Did he play? No. Was he on the bench? Couldn't tell you, would have to check a proper match report for that information (okay, just checked, he was). Anyway he didn't play either. So we put Kouyate at right back, and Antonio as a free-form-quasi-striker (ach! again that word). This seems a little...curious, yes. I suppose Bilic knows what he's doing. And it turned out okay considering.

Vicarge Road, inside, a little after final whistle

Poor: Snodgrass, having impressed since his arrival, was off the beat for this game, and Bilic did right hauling him off in the second half for Ayew. I wouldn't want to criticise any other players, Kouyate gave away the penalty, but he's not a steady, experienced defender, is he? Antonio got himself sent off, that hand ball he did was a bit daft. But if he wasn't so daft we wouldn't love him so much and his moments of mad magic wouldn't seem so sublimely, crazily, poetic. 

Which leaves the reassuring bit. What I really liked about this game, as with the home draw against West Brom, is that West Ham were the team trying to do something, anything, whatever they could, to win the match. Lanzini was outstanding again, the niftiest, most creative player on the pitch by a stretch. Antonio gets in the "reassuring" paragraph, too, for his manful, ceaseless attempts to force the issue, finally rewarded by an assist, via both posts, for Ayew. I enjoyed this game, I so hope we can continue with this attitude and application for the rest of the season, despite the fact we are not going to achieve anything concrete.

For all the apparent madness of playing players out of position, despite giving away a penalty in a moment of madness, the team kept going, kept playing, and got an entertaining goal in front of the away supporters. Good afternoon.

Next please?  Chelsea at home (please please please can we win this?), followed by a trip to Bournemouth (I'll take a draw here if we can do Chelsea), Leicester back at the London Stadium, and then ten or so days to reflect before the aforementioned slew of April fixtures.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Ten Reasons for All the Empty Seats at the London Stadium

Between-fixture boredom has driven me to distraction.

Trawling the Knees Up Mother Brown website I found myself reading a forum thread which began with someone complaining about the club offering discounted adult upgrades for junior season tickets for the home game with Chelsea on 6th March.

The initial beef was that the ticket upgrade price would add up to less than a season ticket holder has paid, pro-rata, for their seat. This developed into a, reasonably civilised, debate about the £99 junior season tickets and how this has been exploited by some people.

I can't be bothered to calculate how much less it costs to upgrade a junior seat to an adult seat for this particular game as compared to what a season ticket holder pays. I imagine it's a few quid, maybe?

It's a night game. It's on TV. I'd like to see a full stadium. There are still tickets available on general sale, or at any rate, to anyone who has some sort of purchase history with the club. Fill it up!  Never bought a sweater for 30 quid and then seen it a week later in the sale for a tenner? Prices change, demand fluctuates, you pay what you pay at the time if you're happy with the product and the price. If it changes later that's just the way it goes.

However, the empty seat conundrum has been bothering me a little bit. Before the game against West Brom I got talking to a couple of Spanish lads who wanted to go to the game but the ticket office told them it was sold out.  Lo and behold there were hundreds of visibly empty seats dotted, and occasionally grouped, around the stadium. These lads may have been "tourists", but they wanted to see a game, and made the effort to get to Stratford to see West Ham v West Brom, hardly a tourist classic. Some on that thread on KUMB seemed to have an "anti-tourist" slant, I say, "get 'em 'in!". There's nothing to stop bona-fide, regular, West Ham fans getting into pretty much any game they want. And if you want to know what it's like to be a tourist attraction instead of a football club, you only have to visit Old Trafford or Anfield.

So, these empty seats.  I think there are myriad reasons for it. The idea that the majority of it is caused by people who have bought junior season tickets with the sole intention of upgrading them for certain fixtures doesn't convince me. Not to say that no one has done this, but we are talking about a lot of empty seats.

Here are a bunch of other reasons why there are empty seats:

1. Empty seats in the posh stand: These people are in the lounge networking.
2. They are in the concourse glugging overpriced plastic bottles (decanted into a plastic cup) of Carlsberg.
2. They didn't want to go and couldn't be bothered to put their tickets up for sale on ticket exchange.
3. They got too pissed before the game and were refused entry, or decided to stay in the pub as it's more fun.
4. They got free corporate or community tickets and didn't want to go, or those tickets are sitting forgotten in a desk drawer somewhere.
5. They leave their seat empty in protest because it ain't like the old days at Upton Park.
6. They went for a few games but it was rubbish and they've forgotten they bought a season ticket in the first place.
7. Anomalies caused by inefficiency, computer system blips or individual error at the ticket office.
8. They got lost, or gave up the will to live, whilst walking from Stratford Station to the stadium.
9. Because lots of the seats are white the empty ones are more noticeable.
10. Okay and maybe some people got a £99 junior season ticket and only use it for upgrading on the "big" games.


I was racking my brains to remember the game where Sammasi Abou missed an open goal from 30 centimetres out. Well, there it is. The wonder of youtube provided me with the answer.

To balance out that impossible to fathom miss, I thought it only fair to highlight a happier day for a player who, generally, is more fondly remembered for the fan's "Abooouuu!" chant than anything else. Against Barnsley he had a stellar game, a stormer. Bloody hell, even Loping Stan Lazaridis scored in this game. Funny how. in my mind, the decades had wiped out Abou's contribution to this game, yet I still vividly remember that miss against Manchester United.

Innocent days, that was a fun season at Upton park, my first as a season ticket holder, with the best seat I've ever had, in the East Stand Lower a few rows back not so far away from the centre of the pitch.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Reverting to Type..type, type

West Ham United 3-0 Crystal Palace. QEOP London Stadium, Saturday 14th January 2017
Middlesbrough 1-3 West Ham United. Riverside Stadium, Saturday 21st January 2017
West Ham United 0-4 Manchester City. QEOP London Stadium, Wednesday 1st February 2017
Southampton 1-3 West Ham United. St, Mary's Stadium, Saturday 4th February
West Ham United 2-2 West Bromwich Albion. QEOP London Stadium 11th February 2017

I've been lazy, again. Recently I've been reading and enjoying a West Ham blog called the H List. The time, thought, heart and humour put into it, not to mention the formidable quality of prose, shames my lightweight efforts here. It left me thinking I'd ditch this blog completely. Yet, at the same time, it inspired me to keep going with it. My blog certainly lacks several worthwhile qualities such as detail, originality or cohesion. But I'm not going to kill it just yet.

Laziness is a weakness of mine. At certain points during this season I admit it has been tempting to miss a game here or there, but the promise made to myself to attend every West Ham for a complete season has won out. Missing even one game now would be like a getting a hole in your favourite shirt, perhaps in a part of the garment that isn't too noticeable, but you know it's there anyway. And keeping some sort of personal written record of the season was part of that promise. So on we go...

My inability to post something even on a weekly or a game by game basis has resulted in my posts taking in blocks of games, which gives its own peculiar perspective to matters. If I'd been writing after the home league game with Man City I'd be in a very different mood I expect. But as it is that game falls in amongst three wins and a draw, and doesn't seem quite so soul destroying (however much so it was at the time).

Arcs of empty seats, just a few minutes after the final whistle of the home league game agaisnt Manchester City

Things are slowly changing at the London Stadium. It seems that, without trying so hard, almost accidentally, the match day atmosphere is beginning to improve. There was a good noise for West Brom's visit. Perhaps we're beginning to fully accept this stadium, you know, the one where we play our home games. We've had our tantrums. We've sulked. Could it be that with all that childishness out the way we are now ready to begin growing up and to embrace the new stadium? This has coincided with some much better home displays - the excitement and liberation of the last half hour or so against Palace, and the intense, positive approach against the obduracy, power and dark arts of Pulis' West Brom team. Slip in two fine away victories, brush the City game under the carpet, job's a good 'un.

Against Palace I do remember feeling frustrated and, let's face it, bored, during the entire first half. I don't think I was the only one. There was no inkling of what was to follow as the second period started in much the same manner. Two teams bereft of form and confidence playing crap football. The stadium was like death warmed up until the first goal. The relief and energy it provided was infectious. And then another, that joyful Carroll bicycle kick that sent the stadium into raptures. To then see Lanzini scamper through and dink one over the onrushing keeper and into the net was a sweet moment. This is why we are football fans, that warm feeling you get when your team does the business, with style. It was a cathartic half hour for all those who have, mostly, simply endured our performances so far at our home stadium.

A lonely looking Riverside Stadium in Middlesbrough
It was my first time at the Riverside. My friend and I got completely lost after the game having walked aimlessly in completely the wrong direction, instead of heading into the centre of town we took a grim detour along and round some kind of ring road, finally ending up back where we started at the stadium about an hour or so later. Almost as bad as the first time I went to Stoke... but that's another story.

It's not easy to have any strong opinions about Middlesbrough. They seem a team bereft of any particular identity. I'm sure 'boro fans don't think that (or do they now?). From my time spent up north I am repeatedly informed that neither Newcastle nor Sunderland consider them to be rivals, a game with 'boro is not a derby to them, only to 'boro fans.

Their current incarnation is somewhat lack-lustre. Traore looks great and repeatedly slalomed through our defence, but there was no other 'boro player thinking or moving quickly enough to take much advantage of it. When they did finally score I have rarely seen a group of fans go quite so nuts, me not having realised quite how few times they have seen their side score at the Riverside this season. Behind the goal they went seriously bonkers. But West Ham these days are often a tough proposition away from home. Another strong, steady, competitive away performance was enough to see us to a 3-1 victory, we had teeth where 'boro didn't.

A week and a half after that Manchester City came back to the London Stadium and destroyed us with classy nonchalance. In this game we made ourselves, and were made to look, weak, meek, clueless and not a little stupid. This is going to happen every so often, and I can bear it if it is every so often, rather than simply often. Bounce, bounce, bounce...

Pedestrian walkway over the rail tracks to St Mary's

Feeling still shamed and a little shell-shocked from the midweek loss against City just a few days before, knowing we have never won here, and having been to St Mary's last year on a blustery, rainy day to see us lose, I confess I didn't have a good feeling about the game with Southampton. But this turned out to be a great away day. From Exeter it's an easy journey. I got to Southampton early, the sun came out, I found a nice pub near one of the marinas. And then we went and won. It started with them going one-up early, not a good start, here we go again... But, yet again, the team put in a solid, effective away show, which has consistently been the most positive aspect of our season so far. Our three goals here weren't of transcendental quality, but they were hard earned and much deserved. I've moaned about the home games as so many others have, but my away season ticket has been top value. This particular day goes down as very good one for supporting West Ham.

I don't seem to mention particular players that often when I'm writing this blog, but it would be remiss not to talk about Andy Carroll, seeing as most everyone else has. Yet some things appear to be sadly inevitable, don't they? In the media this run of games put Carroll in the spotlight, that goal against Palace, important, decisively-taken goals in both the away games. Carroll for England, Carroll is shite, Carroll is unique, Carroll is a dinosaur, Carroll is god etc. etc. Bring on West Brom, imagine what havoc the geordie monster will wreak against them! Oh, Carroll is injured.

Add to that the lack of a fit right back and Bilic had to put out a rather odd looking team against them. No out and out striker, Kouyate standing in in defence. The players made a good fist of it, against a very strong West Brom. Snodgrass looked classy, Lanzini did his best stuff. It was a good, competitive game. We won some kind of moral victory with our more positive approach to the game, and really we should have had the three points. We didn't get them, but again I can stomach that. It wasn't for lack of effort, we were positive, we were pushing, as a team, the best we could. We gave it a bloody good go with a compromised eleven on the field, but couldn't quite hold out at the end.

You know what? I think I'm starting to really enjoy myself again with this West Ham lark..

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

The Good, the Bad, and the Jammy: 10 games in 41 days...

Manchester United 1-1 West Ham United  Old Trafford, Sunday 27th November 2016
Manchester United 4-1 West Ham United  Old Trafford, Wednesday 30th November 2016 (EFL Cup)
West Ham United 1-5 Arsenal. QEOP London Stadium, Saturday 3rd December 2016
Liverpool 2-2 West Ham United. Anfield, Sunday 11th December 2016
West Ham United 1-0 BurnleyQEOP London Stadium, Wednesday 14th December 2016
West Ham United 1-0 Hulll. QEOP London Stadium, Saturday 17th December 2016
Swansea 1-4 West Ham United.  Liberty Stadium, Monday 26th December
Leicester City 1-0 West Ham United.  King Power Stadium Saturday 31st December 2016
West Ham United 0-2 Manchester United.  QEOP London Stadium 2nd January 2017
West Ham United 0-5 Manchester City.  QEOP London Stadium 6th January 2017 (FA Cup)

...Which brought us 11 points (some of which were barely deserved) whimpering exits from both cup competitions, and, really, no fun at all.

The Walk to Old Trafford
It all started what seems like a long time ago, with a trip up to Manchester for back to back league and EFL cup games at Old Trafford.  My lack of activity writing for my un-loved blog is in direct correlation to the lack of inspiration this run of matches provided me.

I suppose, back when I wrote last, before this intense run of fixtures, I was still thinking, or hoping to be more precise, that, you know, a hot streak over Christmas and New Year could still get us in a position to achieve something this season. That it could be a blast. But witnessing all these games has been to realise that, at root, nothing much is changing for the better.  And it didn't.
Old Trafford under the lights

The promising 1-1 draw against Manchester United wasn't a step forward, exactly, but it was, at least, another steadfast, sensible away performance. The faintly positive glow left by that result was soundly extinguished a few days later at the same venue against the same team, who pulverised us 4-1 to send us out of the EFL cup (and from what's happened since to to put their own faltering season into gear).

Another spanking was delivered back in the league at the London Stadium. Our players (obviously not the Arsenal ones) wandered half stunned, dazed, blank-eyed and at a loss for what to do as they began to lose all grasp of basic concepts such as competing, or playing football. One modern fan tradition rapidly developing at the new stadium is to see how early can you can reasonably leave the stadium.  Some audacious fans decided 2-0 was enough.  3-0 was a popular choice with 72 minutes gone, and I don't think I've ever seen quite so many people exit quite that early. Ha! But West Ham went and scored a goal, didn't they? Still, 4-1 was also a popular choice. I went for 5-1 and stayed to the end. Mainly because I've never left a game before final whistle before, and wasn't emotionally ready to start doing so. Yet.

Reds under purple sky
A 2-2 draw at Anfield was the highlight of those 41 days. I always enjoy a trip to Liverpool, because it's a fun city to be in. The team, in a confounding but pleasing manner, put in another of those excellent away league performances that have been the only positive, and relatively regular, feature of this season.

Impressive new stand Anfield
Reid continued to look our most mature, competitive and commanding player. He's probably already hammer of the year. All the more impressive considering he is surrounded by accidents waiting to happen (you know who they are).

London Stadium kick-off soon!
What happened in the next two games, both of them at home, may turn out to be the difference between staying in the top division and going down. A non-event of a game with Burnley saw a late penalty get us three points. To top that Hull somehow lost to us despite their superior attitude and ability which saw them come close to scoring on half-a-dozen occasions, three of those hitting the woodwork. This time the winning goal was a tap in after Noble's penalty was saved. If we were fortunate to get the win against Burnley, how we got those three points off of Hull is beyond me.

Liberty Stadium Boxing Day 2016
To follow were another three points, this time meekly presented to us by a woeful, wasteful and lost Swansea team. They were 4-1 worse than us on that Boxing day, and that convincing win against such a weak team also reflected our, generally, superior away performances. But none of those three wins, nor the sudden surge up the table away from the relegation zone that they initiated, could paper over the cracks, faults and stains that afflict this current incarnation of West Ham.

As a calendar year in football goes, 2016 was a ride. The current malaise won't take away from those great memories of those final fanfares of comparative glory at the Boleyn. But that is, definitively, in the past, and is for a different kind of post.

From the away stand King Power
The final game of 2016 took us to Leicester. Time to see if the sudden glut of points, and luck, would have a positive impact on the team. Not really, no. A loss by one goal at Leicester's King Power Stadium brought matters into perspective. Those recent positive results (if not necessarily performances) didn't do us much good against a Leicester side who were noticeably, and despite their own poor form, tougher, quicker and cleverer than West Ham.

So onto 2017 as that 41 day period draws to a close. Feghouli became, briefly, the centre of attention, as I doubt he ever will be again, at least for the right reasons. Firstly there was his sending off after a promising start against Manchester United at The London Stadium. It wasn't a red card, as everyone apart from one man knew at the time. It personally took me several minutes to register it as part of reality, rather than something that had happened in another dimension. It strangled at birth what looked like it could have been an exciting game. The red card was rescinded within 3 days of being shown on that day, everyone already bored of the topic after so much media kerfuffle and indignation. The team put in a commendable and committed performance but, I guess inevitably United's superiority in numbers and quality eventually consigned the team to a two goal loss, despite their best efforts.

That red card wasn't Feghouli's fault, of course, but his glaring miss in the FA cup 3rd round tie against Manchester City certainly was. It came before the whole game went completely to pot as a competitive match.

Back several paragraphs I stated that I had never left a West Ham match before the final whistle sounded. This is no longer the case. We got kicked out of the FA cup almost as soon as we started it, as Manchester City put five past us without reply, of any kind. Evidently John Stones got the fifth, I wasn't there to see it. That was a spanking. Players, manager and club left shame faced. Fans left perplexed and nonplussed, rather than apoplectic, or even particularly upset.

The lack of consistency, game to game, and in-match, over the 41 days reflects the first half of season and suggests that what's left of it will be more of same. The low points are very low, the high points are scarce, there has been little memorable about what's happened so far for this season. The biggest disappointment is a lack of one genuine cracker of a game at home, the EFL cup win against Chelsea being the closest we've got to it. I hope this will be remedied soon and West Ham fans, old and new, get to witness some classics that will see them coming back and supporting the club for years to come.

And, in case you made it this far with what will probably be the longest post I ever write, here's the like for like premier league results comparison.

< 2016/17 2015/16 >
Home Team RESULT Away Team PTS GD PTS GD Home Team RESULT Away Team
Chelsea 2 : 1 West Ham 0 -1 1 0 Chelsea 2 : 2 West Ham
West Ham 1 : 0 Bournemouth 3 0 1 -1 West Ham 3 : 4 Bournemouth
Man. City 3 : 1 West Ham 3 -2 4 0 Man. City 1 : 2 West Ham
West Ham 2 : 4 Watford 3 -4 7 2 West Ham 3 : 1 Watford
West Brom 4 : 2 West Ham 3 -6 10 5 West Brom 0 : 3 West Ham
West Ham 0 : 3 Southampton 3 -9 13 6 West Ham 2 : 1 Southampton
West Ham 1 : 1 Middlesbrough* 4 -9 14 6 West Ham 2 : 2 Norwich*
Crystal Palace 0 : 1 West Ham 7 -8 17 8 Crystal Palace 1 : 3 West Ham
West Ham 1 : 0 Sunderland 10 -7 20 9 West Ham 1 : 0 Sunderland
Everton 2 : 0 West Ham 10 -9 23 10 Everton 2 : 3 West Ham
West Ham 1 : 1 Stoke 11 -9 24 10 West Ham 0 : 0 Stoke
Tottenham 3 : 2 West Ham 11 -10 24 7 Tottenham 4 : 1 West Ham
Man. United 1 : 1 West Ham 12 -10 25 7 Man. United 0 : 0 West Ham
West Ham 1 : 5 Arsenal 12 -14 26 7 West Ham 3 : 3 Arsenal
Liverpool 2 : 2 West Ham 13 -14 29 10 Liverpool 0 : 3 West Ham
West Ham 1 : 0 Burnley* 16 -13 32 12 West Ham 2 : 0 NEWCASTLE*
West Ham 1 : 0 Hull City* 19 -12 35 14 West Ham 2 : 0 ASTON VILLA*
Swansea 1 : 4 West Ham 22 -9 36 14 Swansea 0 : 0 West Ham
Leicester 1 : 0 West Ham 22 -10 37 14 Leicester 2 : 2 West Ham
West Ham 0 : 2 Man. United 22 -12 40 15 West Ham 3 : 2 Man. United

It shows that in the comparable games from last season we have very close to half the number of points we got last time out (22 this season, as against 40 last year). That's not a fall-off results-wise, it's a collapse. And goal difference emphatically reflects this, 15 to the good last season compared to 12 to the bad this season illustrates we can't even consider ourselves unlucky with our minimal haul of points, quite the opposite. There are no excuses. The bleeding obvious hurts a little bit sometimes.