The HamburgHammer Column

All hands to the pump - can the West Ham ship be saved from sinking ?

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The Brighton game was a kick in the guts, make no mistake about it. Holding a two goal lead late in the game and still not coming away with three points is hard to take.
As we all know, being a West Ham fan is a test of character, time and time again. This game was one of those character-building instances, with potentially massive ramifications for our club at the end of the season.

I needed cheering up before starting to type out the column on Sunday, so I followed the progress of the U23s at the away game against their Sunderland counterparts via my betting account game tracker, basically a boring old stats screen showing which team is currently attacking, shots on goal, possession of the ball and so on.

Sunderland were dead last in the table and the West Ham lads of course chasing promotion, albeit without the luxury of counting on budding prospects like Holland, Coventry, Powell and Kemp for the rest of the season.
But other guys were back in contention, like Xande Silva and Mesaque Dju.
So I expected a glorious win to give me a West Ham related lift. Easy, tiger!

It didn’t look good for the first 80 minutes as Sunderland had other ideas and somehow managed to go into an unlikely 2:1 lead, courtesy of a brace scored by their striker Joe Hugill (isn’t it ironic ? Actually, I have no idea if the lad is related to our own Jordan “Can’t wait to walk out here with all the bubbles” Hugill, but I couldn’t help but notice that name).

Then West Ham equalised ten minutes from time and went on to romp to a 4:2 victory in the course of just five frantic minutes of clinical efficiency. Including goals from our substitutes Silva and Dju. That’s how you do it! Three crucial points in the bag in the race for promotion, goal difference improved further, giving us an edge over promotion rivals Manchester United.
One tiny step closer to the next level…

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So, my mood finally was good enough to sit down at my keyboard and begin gathering my thoughts about our first team. Snatching a draw against Brighton from the jaws of victory is not something to get ecstatic about. We needed that win desperately. For confidence more than anything. We didn’t win a point. We lost two.

19 points lost this season from winning positions. That’s not the way to stay in the Premier League.

We neatly giftwrapped those goals for Brighton and had two massive defensive brainfarts to thank for our downfall.

But, just for a change, I will try to focus on some positives in my column today. Not easy for me to do at all, but try I shall. All the other business of owners, training facilities, net spend and apologetic statements by Sky Sports will take care of themselves anyway.

Let’s see then, shall we, what positives we still have going for our fight against relegation. And there still are some that might just about be enough to see us through…

Those brainfarts we suffered on Saturday are what they are, they happen occasionally, even to decent players, but they are few and far between in professional football.

Only at West Ham two of these could happen in quick succession in the same bloody game. But even at West Ham they are unlikely to happen much more often this season. I would hope so at least.

Fabianski will probably punch a clearance onto a teammate’s back like this once every 80 games, so that’s out of the way now. Ogbonna and Diop will have learned their lesson as well, maybe continue to work on similar situations in training, so next time a ball bounces around that dangerously close to our own penalty box, one of them will unceremoniously belt that ball into Row Z++ of the Lower Tier. Or into the Upper Tier, but I’m not sure it’s possible even for a PL player to kick a ball that far…

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What else ? Ah, yes, Tomas Soucek had his debut, freshly arrived in the most recent transfer window. Our new midfield chief of staff who I prefer to call Sous Chef, but that’s just me being silly and interested in good food…LOL

Like others on here I was really impressed with his first game. Considering he can’t have been 100% match fit due to the winter break in the Czech Republic, he showed everything I want from a good midfielder: Graft, constant running, an eye for a pass and the desire to help his team. He also was a leading figure on and off the pitch at Slavia apparently and you can never have enough leaders in your side when your back’s against a relegation wall.

When he joined the goal celebrations he looked like a seasoned old West Ham stalwart who was in the middle of his 143rd game at the club, not his first. To see him celebrate with Snodgrass was like watching two good mates who had known each other for ages when they had probably just been introduced 48 hours earlier.

Soucek is still young, a good all-around player, highly spoken off in his country and his previous club Slavia Prague. And he is bringing some fresh impetus, unstained yet of any negativity surrounding our club at the moment.
Apparently his biggest strength is his positional awareness, so he will rarely be caught off-guard which should mean our midfield won’t get overrun quite as easily and often as before.

My hope is that his arrival, drive and enthusiasm will rub off on his teammates (rather than the other way around) and he can help make all his teammates perform and play better in the process, whoever David Moyes may choose to pick in the remaining games. We need players running, tackling and playing their hearts out. Only then do we stand a chance to be a PL team in August.

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The same very much goes for Jarrod Bowen who arrived on Deadline Day from Hull. YouTube highlight reels can be misleading, but he certainly looks like a very useful attacking player, one of the most effective at Championship level, having his feet in plenty of goals, scoring a lot, assisting quite a few.
If he turns out to be a slightly healthier and more robust version of Antonio we have another weapon in our armoury as we certainly cannot expect Antonio to feature in every game from now until the end of the season, unfortunately, as Antonio is pretty much our personified “Get out of jail free“ card.
The more he plays for us, the better our chances of winning.

More positives ? Well, we are in the bottom three at this point and we have the two worst imaginable games coming up next, Man City and Liverpool away. Two games that the entire world, the football gods and their goldfish expect us to lose. Heavily at that.

So, two massive footballing lessons on the way there, with 5 goals conceded in each one ? Possibly, but not necessarily. For me, those two games are free hits. Go out there, try to frustrate them, nick whatever you can get in terms of goals or points. We have a tendency to raise our game against the big boys on occasion. Both City and Liverpool may consider those games as easy pickings, so they may rest some of their top players, maybe putting them on the bench.

And our new boys, Soucek and Bowen, will cherish the opportunity to play in these games against two of the top club sides on the planet. No way will they approach these fixtures as lost causes before a ball has been kicked. Again, I’m counting on their enthusiasm and fresh impetus to shine through and give our team a shot in the arm. We all know football is not being played on paper.

Liverpool and City are massive favourites to wipe the floor with us, on paper. But maybe, on the pitch, they will have a brainfart or two of their own to work in our favour. Maybe they have a really bad day at the office and we a surprisingly good one. Silly ? Maybe. But what reason would I have left to still watch those games if I wasn’t clinging on some faint and tiny hope at least ?

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Oh, I have more positives! Felipe Anderson should return to the fold in the not too distant future, adding some much needed pace and creativity to our play.
And if you look at the table there are more than just three teams involved in this very relegation scrap. Whereas the battle for the title is pretty much decided already, the fight against the drop features six or seven teams.
And all of them have very difficult games coming up in their respective fixture calendars.

They will also take some points off each other in certain fixtures.
Very difficult for any of the teams in the bottom 6 or 7 to put winning runs together. This will go right down to the wire.

If you look at their squads they don’t have better players at their disposal than us, they are simply getting more out of these players at this point, but that can easily change. Confidence is key. It’s probably fairly low for our team right now, but again, it doesn’t have to stay that way.

Bottom line: We have to make sure that we’re better than three other teams this season, no more, no less. It’ll not be easy, but it can still be done.
West Ham have looked atrocious so far this season, in quite a lot of games unfortunately.

But so have Norwich, Villa, Watford and Bournemouth. Palace and Brighton too are far from safe yet.

It’s frustrating, of course, that at this point we cannot simply look forward to our games as opportunities to watch beautiful football or guaranteed wins. But at least the players now have a clearly defined aim and task in front of them:

To run, sweat and fight in order to keep West Ham in the top flight.

It’s not quite the aim we envisioned at the start of the season, but, like it or not, we now need to navigate this ship called West Ham around those rocks and shallows of another relegation scrap and somehow reach dry land.

But it requires the crew of our vessel to really work their socks off at the pump to get all that bloody saltwater out of the boat that threatens to sink our ship. Players need to stand up and be counted. Go the extra mile. Players need to get this club out of the relegation zone and keep it outside the relegation zone.

Do it for good old-fashioned pride. Do it for the shirt. Do it for West Ham.

Do it to make yourself a transfer target for bigger or better clubs in the summer, if need be.

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Or maybe just do it for the myriads of fans who still want West Ham to win every game, those who go to the stadium or watch the Hammers on the telly from afar. This club is still loved by hundreds of thousands of supporters all over the globe, breathing and bleeding claret and blue.

And there is a new generation of fans growing up as you’re reading this, blowing bubbles, dreaming dreams, learning to be claret&blue and West Ham till I die.

For kids today this may entail buckets of popcorn, overpriced bags of pick’n’mix and watching the team play in a big bowl that was built for athletics events, but still these kids join their dads, moms, uncles, aunts or grandparents at the football and go to the games, watching their beloved Hammers. Join the others in singing Bubbles. And probably end up crying bitter tears of disappointment at the final whistle whenever we lose.

If not for us old moaning gits, make those kids proud to be West Ham.
Give them something to cheer. Something to hurl back in the faces of their smug mates at school who support Arsenal, Chelsea or Manchester United.
The best way to do that is to show heart, play good football and win some games. Staying up will then be a realistic (first) target.

Afterwards we can worry about other, bigger things again. About progress, development and next level. But we simply cannot afford to go down.

So, in that spirit:

Dear West Ham team, you all know how to play football, every single one of you, otherwise you wouldn’t have made it this far. You are in the PL for a reason. Start showing the fans (and the pundits) you deserve to be PL players and you will get all the support from the West Ham fans you could ever wish for.


The HamburgHammer Column

Football's not always a piece of cake - neither is life at times

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I wasn’t sure if I should even post a column this Monday as I have a bit on my plate at the moment, what with my brother being in hospital again, the rising levels of negativity surrounding my club(s), both at West Ham and Concordia and yet another league game, this time against a club with, similar to us, a recently appointed manager at the helm which unfortunately didn’t result in three more points for us. Still, was it a point gained ? Or two points lost ?

But I will do try and write at least a bit, gather some of my thoughts and invite you all, as usual, to post comments below as news, transfer rumours and quotes from the manager, players or the board may roll in throughout the day.
I will also try to tone myself down a bit as, frankly, football is not worth getting into a frenzy, especially if one of your loved ones is battling for dear life.
Which means I will still post, but probably stay away from fighting the same old wars on here time and time again.

For that reason I am not going to speak about the fan protest which took place in Stratford on Saturday shortly before the game. This has been thoroughly discussed on here in the comments and previous articles and, like it or not, the topic at hand is likely to continue to instigate debate and argument in the coming weeks and months anyway, without me adding fuel to the fire.

You all know where I stand on this and some people have already been moaning about all the board bashing, the repetitive negativity on here and other blogs, so for the time being I don’t intend to add further to it, not in this article anyway. But I cannot guarantee I will never again refer to these issues in my comments. Simply because how this club is being run does affect what happens with the team on and off the pitch – and what a manager, any manager, is able to achieve at West Ham in 2020 and beyond. It’s all connected and at some point in future we may even have no team left to support at all, so when fans criticise and protest, more often than not it’ll be because they love the club and care a lot about it being well.

We are without a shadow of a doubt officially in a relegation dogfight now – and we are likely to remain in that dogfight for the rest of the season, hopefully with a positive outcome at the end, meaning Premier League safety and the soothing comfort of the television money it brings for another season.

David Moyes certainly has his work cut out for him, the current situation at our club being one hell of a challenge that would prove tricky for any manager really, the injuries to our better players ain’t helping either (Antonio always struggling with his hamstring, Fabianski still out, Anderson out for 2-3 weeks apparently with the back injury he suffered when he landed hard and awkwardly on the pitch late in the Sheffield United game, Wilshere never being available etc.).

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At this stage you need players to stand up and be counted, guys with cojones and guts. Preferably with some skill at playing football as well.
I wouldn’t expect any of those to arrive in the transfer window, so they will have to come from within the squad we already have.
Moyes will have to work his magic with the current hand of cards at his disposal. Will that hand be good enough ? Or can he at least bluff our way out of trouble ?

Who then will be our committed and vocal leaders on the pitch for the rest of the season, galvanising their teammates to the level of effort and desire we desperately need to win games now ?

Do we actually have the quality to stay up ? On paper for sure, but we don’t play the beautiful game on paper, as we all know. We had a team back in the day that was deemed “too good to go down” and they did just that at the end of the season. That team contained players such as David James, Paolo DiCanio, Trevor Sinclair, Joe Cole, Jermain Defoe and Michael Carrick.

Names alone don’t keep your team up, skill, effort, desire and good old-fashioned teamwork on the other hand do.

I have full confidence that under Moyes we will be more solid defensively. But will we also find a way to be more clinical in front of goal ? We were pretty wasteful against Everton in that regard, in a game we could and should have won as Everton weren’t playing well on the day.

It’s going to be a long, hard and bumpy road for the rest of the season, yet, as for now, I still have faith we can stay up.
Not necessarily because of our own sheer brilliance but due to three teams playing even worse, saving our neck at the end of the day.

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There’s not much time to ponder and reflect as games are coming thick and fast these days. Beginning with a tough away trip to Leicester on Wednesday, followed by the arrival of an old friend in the shape of former West Ham player and manager Slaven Bilic who will bring his West Brom team to the London Stadium on Saturday for what promises to be a feisty FA Cup encounter.

Usually I would wish Slav and his team every success in football, but this Saturday I hope we do beat West Brom any which way we can, if only to raise our collective spirit and mood among a fanbase that surely could do with a lift. COYI!!!

As the game against the Toffees has shown though, football rarely is straightforward, nevermind a walk in the park or a piece of cake, be that a slice of Black Forest gateau or a nice chunk of chocolate roulade, if you prefer that. Sometimes football is a tough old hard biscuit. Or even an egg and cress sandwich gone bad.

I certainly don’t expect Leicester or West Brom to make it easy for us this week out of pity for the underdog or because their manager is still a much respected hero for many West Ham fans. It’s going to be a tense week, also for myself on a personal level – as you’re reading this I shall be on my way to seeing my brother at his local hospital after his most recent surgery last Thursday.

He is slowly recovering now from his operation, feeling bored senseless lying in bed all day, waiting for any news about his upcoming therapy which may include more chemo, maybe another surgery or probably some outside-of-the-box solution (some procedure aimed at deliberately causing the body to develop fever symptoms with unusually high temperatures in a controlled environment, if I understood it correctly), just in case the regular remedies aren’t working out. We shall see.

Let’s just say it gives me another thing to worry about other than just West Ham. Or Concordia who have also been struggling in their most recent winter break friendly yesterday afternoon against a very motivated young ETV Hamburg U21 side which beat the Cordi first team by an embarrassing 3:0 scoreline.

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It says it all really if the grilled sausage at halftime represents the highlight of the entire matchday experience…;-))

Hamburg SV and St.Pauli, by the way, will resume their league fixtures midweek after the coming weekend.

Talking Point

My West Ham team of the Decade

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Goalkeeper: Lukasz Fabianski
He hasn’t been with us for long, but of all the goalkeepers we had in the last decade, he is the only one I can/could watch without peeping through my fingers from behind the sofa and my blood pressure going through the roof every time a ball comes or came near our penalty box. Very solid and reliable custodian. Consistent as clockwork. And Polish. I like Poland and its people.
Especially if they’re good goalkeepers. Without his injury things might have gone a lot better for us this season.

LB: George McCartney
Had three spells at West Ham and was very unlucky with injuries in the latter stages. But when he did play we got tremendous mileage out of him. Not a glamourous player, but certainly the best pure LB we’ve had at the position in a long time. Oh, and as a massive Beatles fan I had to give him bonus points for the name alone. Shame we never signed Lennon. Or a Harrison.

CB: Angelo Ogbonna
Calm, composed and currently our best and least error-prone defender. Vastly underrated. A player who may only truly be appreciated once he’s gone elsewhere. If only he was a bit more vocal on the pitch at times. Some of our players could do a lot worse than taking Ogbonna’s on-field advice on board.

CB: James Collins
This Welshman represents a vital part of what our club is all about. Not the most naturally gifted player you’ll ever see. Still, the brilliantly nicknamed Ginger Pele always put his body on the line for the Hammers’ cause to clear balls galore and block plenty of shots. Was an absolute rock for us and became a fan favourite because of that. Always had a great rapport with the fanbase and I am proud to say I was at his final game for us inside the London Stadium when unfortunately he didn’t quite get the appropriate send off from the club he would have deserved.

RB: Joey O’Brien
We haven’t exactly been spoiled for choice at the position in the last ten years, have we ? For whatever reason we never had a truly great RB at our club in that period. Joey wasn’t magnificent either, but he was a no-nonsense, versatile and reliable player doing a job for us in many games over several seasons, wherever needed. Which more often than not was at RB. Another chap I would happily put in my West Ham United Unsung Heroes XI, but not at RB, that spot I would always reserve with my German towel for Tim Breacker, of course! ;-)

DM: Mark Noble
I simply can’t ignore Mr.West Ham when picking this team and yes, it is as much due to what he represents for our club off the pitch than what he actually does on the pitch. There are faster runners, better passers, more accurate shooters and more clinical tacklers out there than him, but this Canning Town lad is a West Ham fan playing for his and our favourite club and, quite simply, we have more spirit and fight in the team whenever he puts on the claret and blue shirt.

DM: Declan Rice
I chose Rice not just based on the still small sample size of performances but also because of his sheer potential. With the right coaching and development (he might only find at another club) he could not just become a good player, but a great one in the not too distant future. And it’s always nice to see a lad from the Academy make the transition into the first team. With a massive helping of luck he could be our next skipper for years to come. Either way, I saw the second ever goal he scored for us, against Newcastle, in person at the game when they opened the Billy Bonds Stand at the London Stadium.
The resulting cheer of the crowd was probably the loudest I ever experienced at a home game.

Winger/Striker: Michail Antonio
Another rags to riches (or Nissan Micra to Lamborghini) success story, a player starting out at Tooting & Mitcham (that’s actually a London based semi-professional football club, not a funeral director) and arriving relatively late on the PL stage. But boy, is he fun to watch when his hamstrings are functional! Running his socks off, scoring all kinds of goals and doing the silliest goal celebrations you’ll ever see. Also, our main scoring threat these days.

Attacking midfielder: Dimitri Payet
He only graced us with his presence for a short spell, but THAT final season at the Boleyn alone will put him in most Hammers fans’ “Team of the Decade“. Payet made every player around him better, he helped us to snatch victory or at least draw from the jaws of defeat, time and time again. And by sheer brilliance he turned standard freekicks into penalty shots. His freekick against Crystal Palace in July 2016 was the best freekick goal I saw in person inside a football stadium, ever! And no matter how unceremoniously it all ended between him and West Ham, we can all be grateful for having had the opportunity to watch Payet in his absolute prime while he was playing for us.

Striker: Marko Arnautovic
This is no popularity contest and you all know I never really liked the guy as a person. But as a player the Austrian with Serbian roots simply worked for us, when being in the mood and playing upfront instead of on the wing. Try to ignore all the phoney crossed hammers goal celebrations or his stroppy demeanour at times and you end up having to admit that Arnautovic was our most effective forward in a long time. Despite practically inventing the throwing-toys-out-of-pram-to-achieve-personal-advantage routine along the way. The arrogant git! ;-)

Striker: Andy Carroll
One silly injury after another. Early morning photos taken in nightclubs. And minor knocks leading to the player being out for another 3-4 months. It would be oh so simple to put Andy Carroll in a West Ham United Flops of the Decade XI as well, if you think about all the games he missed for us. If you instead choose to mainly remember the games he DID actually play in, you will never be able to forget the thundering headed goals and THAT bicycle kick against Crystal Palace. If only he could have given us 50 more games or so during his many years at the club…


Goalkeeper: Robert Green
An intelligent footballer who prefered books to booze or BMW cars. I never was quite as relaxed watching him trying to marshall his box as when seeing Fabianski do just that (as Green was prone to the odd gaffe) but overall Greeno gave us years of solid enough goalkeeping. I will never forget witnessing him protecting our 1:0 away victory at Arsenal in 2007 (Arsenal’s first home defeat at The Emirates) when he made what felt like 98 brilliant reaction saves. Unreal! He’s got a street named after him near our old ground, apparently…

CB: Winston Reid
The Winston Reid BEFORE his most recent injury was as solid a defender as they come in the PL. It took him a while to adjust to that level, but once he had done that he was a joy to watch and a ball clearing machine. And of course he will forever be enshrined in Upton Park folklore as the final ever goalscorer at our old ground. Probably the most unlikely goalscorer of all players out there on the pitch that day, bar the goalkeepers.
But this is West Ham, so maybe it was perfectly adequate that a CB of all people should provide the final bulging of the net at the Boleyn.

LB: Aaron Cresswell
My Final Boleyn Season shirt has his name and number on the back and that is mainly down to his crossing ability and his uncanny knack for chipping in with vital and unexpected goals (and my penchant for rooting for defenders in general who all too often get overlooked). If only that Karlsruhe butcher dressed up as a footballer hadn’t chopped at his leg and confidence in that meaningless preseason game, Aaron would most likely have become even more of a stalwart for us, subsequently ending up in my starting XI after all.

Midfielder: Scott Parker
Energetic, skillful, tenacious and hard-working player who ended up being too good for us really. If only we could have built a proper side around him, but alas, it wasn’t to be. IF ONLY should probably be our club motto, emblazoned in blue letters on our crest, in Latin of course (Si modo).

Midfielder: Thomas Hitzlsperger
As a German, how could I leave out my fellow countryman, especially if that guy was nicknamed DER HAMMER due to his fearsome piledrivers from distance ? Strangely enough, we never had many Krauts running out for West Ham in the first place – Dieter Eckstein and Savio Nsereko were the only other Germans at the club. Hitz was another player unfortunately held back by injuries. Hitzlsperger also is a genuinely nice guy who used to talk a lot of sense as a pundit on German telly for games of the German national side.
He is now CEO at one of Germany’s traditional big clubs, VFB Stuttgart, aiming to get them promoted back to the Bundesliga where they belong.

Midfielder: Manuel Lanzini
He could have been a star for Argentina in the last World Cup. But he twisted his knee in training before the tournament had even started. Injuries to West Ham players, a recurring theme. But Lanzini, on his day, is a guy who can still get fans out of their seats when receiving the ball in midfield with space to roam. Graceful player in the Devonshire mould. Plus, he has a tendency to score against Spurs. Which is a surefire way to get onto any West Ham team-sheet.

Striker: Carlton Cole
One of them cult heroes at West Ham. Scored 68 goals for West Ham in 293 appearances for the club, so actually one of our Top 20 goalscorers in our history, ahead of the likes of DiCanio or McAvennie.
CC initially came to West Ham probably with a plan to use us as a springboard to catapult him to a bigger club eventually, but somehow he got stuck with us. So, in return, we gave him a nice song for his valiant efforts, singing his name to a famous Spandau Ballet tune. Once that happens, you know as a player where you belong. The fans will always fondly remember Carlton Cole and he, I believe, will never have a bad word to say about West Ham.

Manager of the Decade: Slaven Bilic
What was not to like ? A manager that did get this club and the fans. Who acknowledged and appreciated the merits of our old stadium.
I knew Bilic when we signed him the first time from his playing days at Karlsruhe. I met him briefly once at Chadwell Heath and those 90 seconds or so confirmed my view that Bilic is not only a smart, multilingual guy but also a thoroughly nice person. Maybe a bit too nice to make it at a top club.
He gave us one of the most memorable seasons in our history.
You know I do have this romantic/naive/stupid view on football sometimes.
And despite his managerial setbacks and tactical flaws I still consider him one of the best fits West Ham ever had at the position, a modern day Lyall.
I’d have Bilic back at our club in a heartbeat.

Moment of the Decade: The opening of the Billy Bonds Stand
I could have picked a big event with dramatic effect, scenes of chaos or despair, or days that made us feel sad, like the cancelled march, the pitch invasions at the Burnley game or the passing of our oldest supporter, Mabel Arnold. Or I could have picked our rare victory away at Liverpool, a much happier occasion. A bittersweet and truly historical day, like the final game at the Boleyn.
Instead I’m choosing a less obvious or spectacular moment, but still a highly emotional one. It was seeing Bonzo walking out onto that giant vastness that is the London Stadium pitch, clearly overcome with emotion, joined by his kids, to witness the opening of the biggest stand at our new home stadium, dwarfing the Bobby Moore and Trevor Brooking Stand.
For the older fans among us, Billy Bonds is probably now the most loved and respected former player ever, due to his traits and performances as a player, but also because of the man he is, down to earth, honest, modest – a guy you’d gladly have in your section of the trench anytime. Or just to have him in the same room, talking football and West Ham. My heart was filled with joy and pride while my eyes were welling up with salty liquid when watching Bonzo on that pitch, waving at the crowd before wiping off his own tears with the same hand. And we even won that game for him after the ceremony.
Finally, when I met Bonzo at one of those “Meet the Legends“ evenings in Dagenham, he had me stuttering and stumbling my way through asking him to sign that famous black and white picture for me, showing him post-game with a band aid above his eye and some blood trickling down from under it.
No mean feat to get me into a state where I’m unable to put a coherent sentence or two together…Billy Bonds did just that. COYI!!!

The HamburgHammer Column

A New Year - A New Hope ? But who will be our hero ?

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I would like to wish everyone on this blog, be they site owner, fellow author, occasional or regular contributor and all our readers and lurkers a Happy New Year 2020!

May it bring you all peace, health, good fortune and happiness! Which is certainly what our football club could do with after what has been a shambolic first half of the season.

I won’t go into deep analysis mode here, I can’t be bothered to go over all the same old stuff again. We all know. We watch the games and we see our club is a basket case with a multitude of issues on and off the pitch.

Pellegrini was sacked immediately after the Leicester game which didn’t come as a surprise. Finally even my patience with Pellegrini had run out. He eventually lost me during this game when he brought Antonio on while taking Haller off. We have all witnessed how well both of them looked when playing together. And we were desperate for goals against Leicester’s second string.

This substitution seemed to be Pellegrini’s final “Please put me out of my misery“ message to the outside world. I reckon he’s glad he can go home to Chile now and enjoy his retirement.

As for his successor, I no longer care that much who replaces Pellegrini, under the current owners it doesn’t really make much of a difference anyway. Put Jack Sullivan in charge if you like. Or Neil Warnock. Lord Buckethead, Sporty Spice or the Sugar Puffs Honey Monster.

I don’t care anymore. If Moyes takes over he too will be gone 12 or 18 months from now. Rinse out and repeat. We can then ask Allardyce if he fancies a return. Or Avram Grant.

Our club is dying a slow death here, but the final nail in our coffin might come much sooner, if our board are not careful. I wish I could be writing something more encouraging at this point, with a more positive and hopeful twist.
But the club are giving me nothing right now to warrant a rallying cry.

So, all that’s left for us fans is to see how things will develop from here on. Surely we’ll have a new manager in charge very soon. Surely there will be an initial upturn in effort and application from the players, all enjoying a clean slate, trying to impress the new gaffer, whoever he may be.

Surely we will fight on and maybe, with the guidance of the new man in charge and a slice of luck, secure Premier League status again.
Then what ? More of the same ? Surely not.

I can sense some serious backlash from the fanbase on the horizon. Some will simply stay away, for a while or for good, but others won’t go quite so gently into the bad night.

Whatever may happen at West Ham next year, I hope you all have more reasons to be cheerful in your lives away from football in 2020!

It’s been an honour to write for the blog in 2019 (although admittedly my column has rarely been resembling a barrel of laughs in the past 52 weeks) and I intend to continue to provide my column for a bit longer at least.


The HamburgHammer Column

Christmas has come early - but we are not out of the woods

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Let me begin by wishing everyone of you Merry Christmas and a peaceful and joyous time with your loved ones over the festive period as this is likely to be my final column before Christmas Day what with West Ham not playing another game until Boxing Day.

Moreover I currently have a bit on my plate again family-wise and I also don’t have any desire left anymore to even begin talking about politics. So, here is yet another hastely composed article with a few observational nuggets of opinion of mine.

Whatever the circumstances, I still wanted to take the opportunity to at least acknowledge a fairly decent performance from our lads to give us all something to smile about for a change. Three points, a clean sheet and Haller finally on the scoresheet again after a very long power nap during which he didn’t quite have his shooting boots on.

It was by no means a perfect away game from us, though. It got very squeaky bum-ish indeed late on in the game (once the likes of Yarmolenko and Sanchez entered proceedings) and nobody could have been overly surprised if we had conceded a late equaliser.

We were quite unlucky though in terms of two goals being chalked off by VAR (rightly so), a penalty shout not going our way (it actually was more like two shouts during one incident, but to no avail), the referee certainly wasn’t on our side and Southampton pretty much performed according to their miserable placing in the league table. They are a terrible side and judging on recent performances they are a safe bet for the drop alongside Watford.

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Probably the biggest early Christmas present for Hammers everywhere was the emergence of the Haller/Antonio partnership upfront. For most fans it was blindingly obvious that both players would hugely benefit from being unleashed on opposing defenders together.

Antonio very much confirmed that sentiment when he was praising Haller after the game:

“It was good to play with him up front. Me and him have a good relationship at the training ground and it’s good to do it on the pitch. You could see the chemistry between us, we were always linking, close to each other and hopefully we can keep performing.”

Antonio did what he always does (when healthy), he ran the opposition ragged, being a pest and nuisance all over the pitch (yes, he was also tracking back and putting clearances in), he didn’t give Southampton any time on the ball and it was contagious apparently as his teammates also seemed to be more willing than before to run and snap away at the heels of their opponents.

For all his efforts it was a travesty how the referee seemed very determined not to give Antonio any calls if he could help it. I very much doubt he’ll be getting a christmas card from Antonio this year…

And Haller ? Well, my mate told me, I told you and now we all saw it: Give him support upfront, someone to actually pass the ball to or knock it down for them – and you create goalscoring opportunities. Haller looked like a changed man, he was busting a gut and seemed to be enjoying his football again. That’s the guy we spent around 45m quid for.
That’s how we gotta use him and that’s how we will begin to score more goals and put points on the board.

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And how about Señor Pablo “Fournails” Fornals ? He is beginning to hit a bit of a stride, innit ? Getting used to the pace and physicality of the Premier League, making good runs, with an eye for a cross or a shot on goal. He was a bit unlucky that his effort got denied by a fantastic save from the Southampton keeper. But it was plain to see that Fornals has a football brain and considering his young age we should see him improving by leaps and bounds over the course of the season.

He hasn’t quite reached the peak yet, but he has certainly left Base Camp and is now in the middle of the acclimatizing process somewhere between Camp One and Two.
Fornals is probably the player I would expect to develop into the biggest positive for us on the pitch next year.

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The key to how we fare from this day onwards for the rest of the season is, in my view, down to three key factors:

1) The return of Fabianski in goal which should do our stability at the back the world of good. Couple that with the next point.

2) Build our back four around Ogbonna. The stats don’t lie. We are stronger defensively with Ogbonna organising our back line. It probably doesn’t matter much if you pair him centrally with Balbuena, Diop or even Reid (if properly healthy and available again). But Ogbonna somehow seems to make his teammates that little bit better and calmer when he’s on the pitch with them.

3) Keep faith in the Antonio/Haller partnership. Those two together are one hell of a nightmare for opposing defenders when they’re heading towards the penalty box. It’s probably not quite the buffalo herd from Haller’s very successful spell at Eintracht Frankfurt, but a pair of angry bulls ain’t too shabby for starters either…

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Talking about the gaffer, well, I am actually indifferent at this point. I know all the arguments for sacking him, same as those for keeping him. Both sides of the coin have their merits. Once a manager is given the dreaded “One game to save his post” message, the tin tack is usually not far off and a win (like the one we have just seen against Southampton) may only act to delay the inevitable. By the looks of it, seeing out the season may be the best Pellegrini can hope for anyway. It doesn’t appear likely he will still be in charge beyond summer. Once the trust between board and manager has been dented it’s very difficult to fix again.

On the other hand we all know how expensive it’ll be to sack Pellegrini in the middle of the season. Changing managers on the fly is always a huge gamble which can work marvellously well or have no lasting or even short-term effect whatsoever. Thing’s ain’t exactly cooking in our kitchen yet, but it doesn’t look to me as if the players were not trying to win for the current manager.
He may not be the long-term answer for us, considering his advanced age.
So I am actually on board with either option, replacing him or keeping him.

I don’t see the manager as the main culprit in our current predicament, he is obviously partly to blame, that’s for sure. But a scapegoat to be sacrificed under a bus or a sharp blade ? Not justified in my book.

We now have to wait a while for our next fixture, thanks to the Scousers having their fingers in various pies this season. It’ll be Crystal Palace away on Boxing Day next (funny the fixture calendar presented us with another game away from the London Stadium on that day, must be a weird coincidence), one of those London derbies which are nigh on impossible to predict.

I shall still hope for the best, we have plenty of time to do some fine-tuning on the training pitches, some players to get their fitness levels up further and even Fabianski may be back between the sticks already, if we’re lucky.

At least things will be a lot calmer and more relaxed now under the christmas tree, thanks to a much needed win at Southampton. May you all have a wonderful Christmas! COYI!!!

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Hamburg football update: Mixed results. St.Pauli beat relegation rivals Wiesbaden 3:1 to give themselves some much needed breathing space down in the doldrums of the league table. At the other end of the table Hamburg SV missed a great opportunity to close the gap to Bielefeld in top spot after only drawing 1:1 away to Sandhausen.
And my Concordia lads suffered a humiliating cup exit against lower league opposition, 2:3 away to ASV (Afghanian football club). Very West Ham like, but still very soul-crushing. Hamburg lower league football is now in its winter break.

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