The HamburgHammer Column

Mountains, molehills and magpies: Defeat in first game, once again!

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Football is back!!! I meant to start the new season and the first paragraph of my debut article with a barrage of witty banter, puns and hopeful observations. Because that’s what you usually do as a football fan whenever a new season comes around, don’t you ? No matter if you support a club in the PL, a second division club in Hungary or a local amateur side in Iceland: You hold great expectations, you feel like a kid the night before Christmas, you hope.

You start the new season on 0 points, with a goal difference of Zero, like everyone else. Clean slate. Fresh start. New beginnings. For a brief moment you’re on a par with the big clubs in your division. You are excited about the new signings your club has made, looking forward to seeing the new recruits run out in your club’s colours for the first time.

You are positive the next season will be better than the previous one. You may even be reasonably confident. Some are foolish enough and dare to dream. Why wouldn’t you ?

Then the first whistle blows and 90 minutes later reality gives you a big sobering smack right on your kisser. Welcome back to a new season of PL football indeed! 0:2 against Newcastle in what on paper looked like our only truly winnable game among our first eight fixtures. Of course that irritating twat Wilson had to score for them! If only Repka was still around to teach that complete nincompoop some humility. For our beloved team on the other hand it is backs to the wall stuff right from the sound of the starting gun fading away.

That’s the fifth time in a row, by the way, we have lost our first game of the season. Who says we’re not consistent ?

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I didn’t go into this game with any expectations of getting even ONE point out of it. Not after the recent shenanigans. This time there was no excitement for me, no hope. I felt like the kid whose christmas present was already broken after just 90 minutes of playtime.

My matchday routine throughout was lacklustre to mirror the current mood at West Ham London. And the performance. Our club right now is in a frighteningly challenging position on and off the pitch…and it showed!

I can’t single out any player for us worthy of extended praise because our performance on the whole was flat. Reasonably early on I stopped counting how often we had given possession away carelessly. Or passed backwards to a player who didn’t really want the ball. Upfront we looked bereft of ideas, bite and confidence. We hit the crossbar twice, but no team has ever preserved league status by winning crossbar challenges.

To be brutally honest, I was looking forward to seeing Diangana cut into the opposition’s box a bit more often against Newcastle and our new £35m star CB Tarkowski was almost invisible for us throughout the entire game.

If you find that the last sentence appears to be dripping with bitter sarcasm that’s because it is. Sarcasm, my dear readers, is one of the few mechanism I have left within my metabolism to cope with what’s happening at West Ham at the moment.

“Never measure the height of a mountain until you reach the top. Then you will see how low it was.”

Dag Hammarskjold said that. No, he was not a pontificating sweeper playing for much loved Swedish side IFK Norrköping in the Seventies. He was a Swedish economist and diplomat. A pretty smart fella.
And also the second ever Secretary-General of the United Nations. There are several ways this quote can be set in relation to what’s currently happening at West Ham.

Right from the start, thanks to losing to Newcastle and an incredibly unkind fixture calendar early on, West Ham will have a mountain to climb in order to not be firmly rooted near the bottom of the table after eight games. And probably the rest of the season. We’ll be lucky to even have 5 points in the bag out of a possible 24 to start the season.

Maybe I am making a mountain out of a molehill here. Maybe we will be welcoming some signings before the transfer deadline to shore up our defence after all. Maybe we will sign a pacy striker (to replace Hugill and Ajeti) who can do a decent job for us upfront in whatever role Moyes wants our striker(s) to play. Maybe we can even keep Rice for another season.
Maybe we’ll be alright after all, whatever alright means for us these days.
Alright for the board is not necessarily what’s alright for the fans. Or the manager and players.

Once we get our usual 3-4 injury-related lengthy absences of key players this season though, that mountain we need to climb in order to fend off relegation might as well be located on Mars.
And I mean the planet, not the chocolate bar…

The top of the mountain the ultimate goal for West Ham’s endeavours in 2020 seems to be, once again, just staying up, somehow, someway, on a wing and a prayer, on the never-never, by hook or by crook. That’s why we moved stadium, folks! That’s why we are West Ham London now which of course sounds so much cooler than West Ham United. Who wants unity in a football club anyway ?
Only those pesky keyboard warriors and malcontents would want that, so screw ’em !

Staying up should not even represent a mountain for us anymore, after the most successful move ever to the London Stadium. The days of squeaky bum relegation scraps were supposed to be behind us, not to mention next level and Champions League football waiting just around the corner, just behind one of those Stop/Go! signs, right next to The Orbit.

Staying up should have been our leisurely Sunday hike, our casual stroll up the local hill with the kids and the family canine, back home for tea and scones in an hour and a half. No sweat!

Instead it’s going to be another painful slog of a relegation battle straightaway – with every game this season taking on the significance of a Cup Final for us.
Can anyone think of a single other PL team we can realistically expect to dominate on the pitch and beat convincingly ? Right now I really can’t.
And I don’t have to tell you who has to carry the can here, you all know!

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God, how I hate writing down musings like this, it’s depressing even for me – and I am the chap typing away here! If there were positives, I’d be waxing lyrical in one paragraph after another. It’s more fun to write about winning football.

So I really hope we get some positive news soon, ANY news, related to West Ham, with the power and capacity to lift our collective spirits. For many of us it’s a crap time anyway, for a variety of reasons including the pandemic.

Football was supposed to be an outlet, a distraction. West Ham right now aren’t helping in this regard. It’s not even the question if our team is crap. It’s not. At least not on paper.

We have some really good players who on any given day can perform and get fans out of their seats at the stadium if they were in them seats to begin with of course.

It’s just that all the other teams in the PL have been strengthening. Some quite massively. Right now I would even rank West Brom and Leeds as stronger than us. We’re probably on a par with Fulham.

West Ham are treading water and we are not even treading with conviction, taking a huge gamble by trying to stay up with minimal spending and in general struggling to be an attractive proposition for talented footballers at the moment. If I was Tarkowski I think I wouldn’t even bother answering the phone if West Ham were calling. Like it or not, right now you can’t really recommend any halfway decent players to join this club.
That appealing image of the likeable underdog, everybody’s second team from East London has gone for good. If we got relegated now I don’t think the PL would actually miss us.

West Ham have always been a bit like a soap opera, right now it’s gone up a notch, we’re like Eastenders on a bad cocktail of valium LSD and ecstasy, washed down with a bottle of cheap wodka from Lidl and some apple-flavoured Tango. No, I’ll retract that: The Eastenders writers would probably return the current West Ham storyline back to the club with the words Too much drama, too bonkers, even by our standards!“ scribbled on the back of the envelope.

To finish the West Ham bit on a positive note: I am looking forward to seeing the new edition of WHTID up and running soon and hopefully I will be able to continue writing as well, preferably after the occasional West Ham win. COYI!!!

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Hamburg football update: Starting with the cup fixtures, yesterday St.Pauli lost their first round fixture 2:4 against minnows Elversberg (equivalent of a League Two side). Hamburg SV play later this afternoon against traditional East German club Dynamo Dresden.

As for Concordia football it’s all gonna start for real next Friday, with the league game for the first team, then on Sunday the cup game for the women’s team against the reigning cup winners.
Due to the pandemic every club needs to establish a health and safety routine for home games in accordance with the local circumstances and requirements, consisting of limiting the number of fans allowed at the games, deciding on where people have to wear masks on the premises and how to enforce social distancing rules for the fans who are allowed to watch, taking contact details of everyone at the turnstiles etc.

Those rules may slightly differ from club to club, it’s entirely possible that some clubs due to their facilities may initially not allow away fans into the ground at all – which would be tricky for me as I am supposed to write the match reports for Cordi’s away fixtures for their matchday programme again this season. Being able to watch the game is crucial for obvious reasons.

In Concordia’s case, for instance, they will stop selling beer at the ground for the time being as that will allow them to sell more tickets. 200 per game instead of 100 with booze readily available.

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Talking of beer: In order to quench my thirst for live football (after having to live almost five months without) I watched a total of FOUR preseason games over the weekend at Cordi’s home ground which now features a spanking new set of state-of-the-art LED floodlights which will be great for those Friday home games under the lights in October and November.
(Finally the lads will be able to actually see the ball after 7pm no matter where on the pitch it may bounce.)

The first team won 5:0 (every goal a stunner), the second team/U23s drew 2:2, the third team (last season’s U18s) won 3:0.

My special favourites, the women’s team, beat St.Pauli’s second string 4:1 on Saturday in their final preseason “friendly“, however, the game won’t be remembered for the winning scoreline but unfortunately for a rather nasty and ill-timed scissor tackle in what looked like a totally innocuous situation near the touchline that led to Cordi’s most skilled player, speedy and resilient winger Michelle “Mini“ Hille, lying still on the ground, crying in pain for three minutes solid (when even Hille cries, something is seriously wrong), grabbing her foot before being carried off the field with an ice pack wrapped around her ankle. Still, it apparently swelled up overnight, big time, going dark blue. Her educated guess (coming from a player who has been tackled and injured regularly in her young career) is that she may have done her ligaments which would keep her out of contention for a significant number of games.
She’ll do a scan later today and hopefully we will see her kick a ball in a game again in 2020. Fingers crossed, Mini!


The HamburgHammer Column

The price of Rice - why keeping Declan is the best transfer business we could do this summer

Let me start by thanking you all for reading my column throughout this weird and bewildering season just gone and bearing with my endless musings, puns and rants at our board. There was (still is, of course) a pandemic running wild which led to the PL calendar and football all over the world (except Belarus) grinding to an unexpected halt for several months, then there was the little matter of Supergrassgate on here (which kept Daz and me away for a short while), but then, thankfully, football finally returned and West Ham very belatedly turned on some style and swagger to secure league status for another season, especially important in these unpredictable times. I hope that I will be able to continue with my column again next season/when the new site is up and running. Let’s hope it will provide us with more wins, better football (maybe even fans returning to the stands) and plenty of inspiration for me to find some more jolly puns for my headlines. COYI!!!

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Thank God this season has finally run its course, I don’t need a repeat of all this either. If you had predicted that kind of season to happen, putting a tenner on it in your local betting shop last summer, you might consider yourself well minted now.

Who would have thought Pellegrini would be sacked halfway in ? Who would have thought that the backup goalkeeper we had brought in for Adrian should turn out to be a textbook example of “How not to come out for the ball when you’re a goalkeeper in the Premier League” ? Who could have predicted that a pandemic would stun the world and almost lead to the football season being voided altogether ?

And who would have thought we’d make two January signings destined to turn our season around with a gusto and impact reminding Hammers fans of the arrival of John Hartson and Paul Kitson midseason in February 1997 ?
Jarrod Bowen and Tomas Soucek were key factors in making sure we will still see PL football at West Ham (at least on the telly) in the 2020/21 season.

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Our final league game wasn’t much to write home about. We didn’t really need a result and it showed. In the end a 1:1 draw was a fair result maybe, but the longer Villa managed to get away with dirty little fouls without getting booked, the more I was wishing for us to beat them and send them down. Luckily for Villa, goal-line technology enjoyed a refreshment break in their game against Sheffield United, helping the Villa(i)ns to a crucial point.
I bet lawyers are rubbing their hands in greedy expectation already with the prospect of a court case or two coming up…

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It’s the first Monday after the end of the season and the transfer window is now open again. I’ll just say that again: THE TRANSFER WINDOW IS OPEN AGAIN!
It will be a very short break now, next season will start in seven weeks already and that now means hectic wheeling and dealing in the world of football, with a plethora of phone calls ensuing between agents, clubs and players, maybe the odd fax machine will get a recall too and clubs all over the country will try to get rid of their deadwood while bringng in new and exciting players, finding targets according to current team weaknesses – and all of this in a financial climate of most clubs struggling to find money, some probably to a degree they will be very reluctant to water their training pitches out of fear of rising water utility bills.

The thing here is this: I can and will name you a few players I would be prepared to let go, trying to generate some funds to invest in new players. But my musings will be largely irrelevant. Does the club want to sell these players ? Are there other clubs willing to make an offer, paying the wages in full ? (Which in our case sometimes veer towards ridiculous levels when put in relation to contributions of said player on the pitch.)
Does the player agree to the move or prefer to see out his contract ?

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I wouldn’t mind allowing Lanzini to leave. Our #10 (literally) has, as we all know, scored some wonderful and crucial goals for us, but that knee injury has massively dented his confidence in his own body, affecting the way he moves and the ability to influence games. In these situations a fresh start elsewhere might prove a win-win scenario for everyone. His role can be filled by Fornals, Noble or Jack Wilshere.

I would keep Wilshere as it’s unlikely we’ll find a buyer for him anyway, so let’s ride out the final year of his deal and see if he can keep healthy and contribute. I am sure a player like Wilshere will be licking his lips at the prospect of playing on that same pitch with the likes of Bowen, Antonio, Rice and Soucek next season.

Roberto is an obvious choice, he will be staying in Spain now, the same country where Pellegrini will manage a club again, coincidentally. So two of the main protagonists of our downfall this season just gone will be plying their trade under the Spanish sun. Who else ? Balbuena. Moyes doesn’t seem to trust him and he should still warrant a halfway decent fee from a club in Spain or South America.

Ajeti (who I think is a fantastic young player, but Moyes seems to disagree) needs a fresh start elsewhere too (with Celtic his rumoured destination), but will his new club take the risk and sign him on a permanent deal immediately or start with a trial run of a loan with an option to buy ?
Winston Reid is a really sad case. Last ever goalscorer at the Boleyn, but since then incredibly unlucky with injuries. I just hope he can continue to play his football somewhere, but he’s not gonna earn West Ham much of a transfer fee, here, unfortunately, we have got a long-term deal on our hands gone massively Pete Tongue.

As for positions we need to fill: Definitely a LB, maybe a versatile type who can play on both sides almost equally well. Another young CB for sure to challenge (and help out) Ogbonna and Diop would be a great idea too. Also a new striker replacing Ajeti, preferably one that fits our system and has a chance of actually playing occasionally. And if a deal can be struck for a decent midfielder/winger from the Championship, why not ?

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We also have some promising youngsters being around the fringes of the first team next season, chaps like Nathan Holland, Abijola Alese, Gonçalo Cardoso, Conor Coventry, Josh Cullen and Xande Silva. They will not all be sitting on the bench on matchdays at the same time of course, some may feature quite a bit, some just once or twice, others on the list will probably not make a single appearance for the first team next season.

But surely they will be providing additional options for David Moyes to have a butcher’s at in preseason training. There’s no better (and ultimately cheaper) way for a club on a limited budget than to bring through youngsters from your own U23s.

Finally, my main topic for today – an obvious one, potentially a painful one but one every West Ham fan is acutely aware of, maybe frets over or worries about: The immediate future of freshly crowned Hammer of the Year 2020, Declan Rice.

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Make no mistake: Declan Rice is a “once-in-a-generation" type of player, an outstanding footballer, both physically/technically, but also character wise. Mature way beyond his years.

HOTY at just 21 years of age, future captain material, for both club and country. Brilliant at CB, probably even better at DM. Still very young, meaning there is so much more to come from him on the football pitch.
Almost frightening to think that his current level is probably merely slightly above the floor of hisability, with his ceiling being two or three metres further above.*

The sad truth is that such a player is not meant to spend his entire career at a club like ours (insert dig at previous and current owners here). So let us all agree that eventually he will be wearing a different club’s shirt.
An image that makes my stomach turn and a few drops of salty liquid running from my minces, then again I could just be chopping some onions…

I really hope a transfer doesn’t happen THIS summer already. One-club players seem to be becoming relicts of the past in football, not just in England.
Players who stay with their club for longer than ten years are now almost extinct like good old Brachiosaurus and his Jurassic mates.

We managed to hold on to Bobby Moore for a long time (16 years), but that was 50-60 years ago – if Bobby was playing today he’d be tapped up in no time so he could play for mega money at Manchester City, Liverpool, maybe Barcelona or Milan.

I know that, strictly speaking, Bobby Moore wasn’t a one-club player at all, he played for Fulham too, plus some teams in the USA while also running out nine times for a club in Denmark at the end of his playing days, but you know what I mean.
Moore was, is a West Ham legend. When you mention Bobby Moore, people immediately think West Ham and England.

Mark Noble is pretty much a one-club player too (apart from a brief loan spell), but, no disrespect to Nobes, he was/is nowhere near the level that Rice is going to reach eventually.

Rice appears to be happy right now, enjoying his development at West Ham (and how could you not be impressed with that?), enjoying a new way of playing now that Soucek is in the engine room with him. Rice knows he has the PL world at his feet at West Ham, he knows he would be our skipper for years to come, he’d be playing every minute of every game (injury permitting), he’d be the undisputed main guy, the first name on the teamsheet, Bobby Moore reborn. A potential West Ham legend.

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But will all of the above be enough for Declan Rice ? When there is a bigger world out there, with Champions League football, with medals and trophies waiting for him ?
Where he will be sharing the pitch with 10 other superstars playing for the same team, rather than be one of maybe 2 or 3 quality players at West Ham ?
Where he can play for his boyhood club Chelsea with his mate Mason Mount ? Where pundits will be talking about him a lot more regularly than they ever would about even the most accomplished West Ham player ?

I could make all kinds of witty puns now, with rice as the main protagonist. You know, like rice being the main food staple in all them Asian countries. How to never break another man’s rice bowl.
How giving rice to someone will feed that person for a day, but teaching them to grow rice will keep them fed every single day. But this is serious.

Declan Rice is important for the future of West Ham.

Chelsea may put a price on Declan Rice that may seem adequate and fair to THEM. It is likely to be a price that isn’t fair to West Ham.
Or represent his true value to our club. Let me elaborate.

Declan Rice is worth FAR more to us simply by playing for US than being sold. Because of the way he makes every teammate of his look and play better out there. Because of his contagious enthusiasm. Because he represents what West Ham have always been renowned for: Bringing players through the ranks to one day be a regular first team player and maybe even a legend. Or, more likely, be sold off to a bigger club once they have reached a certain level of consistency and greatness.

$ay Chelsea give us 80m quid for Rice next month, just for the $ake of argument. A lot of legal tender that, I know. But some players are worth so much more than something as trivial as money. Knowing West Ham, part of the fee would be used to balance the books (thanks in part to wealthy owners who are always cash-poor when it suits them, especially after the Pellegrini experiment going pear shaped), maybe to pay back the most recent payday loans, transfer some interest payments to the owners, maybe do up the training facilities a bit. That then leaves, what ? £40m ? £50m ?

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How do you even begin to replace a player like Declan Rice with £50m ? Especially a club like ours who has a history of being hit (sometimes) and miss (significantly more regularly) when it comes to new signings ?

Just a year or so after the transfer, the effects of the Rice money will likely be gone, evaporated, vanished into thin air. While Declan will continue to progress, making another club play better and look more accomplished on the pitch.

I know it’s just the way how things work in modern football, but I don’t like it. Everytime it happens, especially when it involves our club, my enthusiasm for big league football dies another little death.
Death by a thousand cuts, they call it.

Rice leaving West Ham now would not be your average cut with a pen-knife though, it’d be one ruthless slash with a machete across shoulder, chest and tummy – I’ll just leave you with the gory details of that mental image. No, I’d rather not watch that if it can be avoided.

So, against all hope, I’m still clinging to those scenes of Rice celebrating his Watford belter with his teammates and the gaffer. His satisfied grin when accepting the HOTY trophy from the hands of Sir Trevor.

I’m convincing myself he is grounded enough to listen to the advice of guys like Tony Carr who suggested to him he should stay at West Ham for the time being to further hone his skills and not to put at risk the trajectory of his impressive development by joining a bigger club too soon.

I’m telling myself to believe that he will be attracted to the vision of himself leading out the West Ham side as proud skipper, leader of men and brains of his team.

I may be setting myself up for utter disappointment here of course, but I’ve had plenty of practice with that at West Ham over the years.
Fortune’s always hiding. And all that…

My column may not be out on Mondays without fail during the break, however, if there are news about players leaving or joining the club, I will certainly try to rustle up an impromptu column…

COYI!!!


The HamburgHammer Column

One Two Three and SAFE! West Ham sting tame hornets

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YES!!!!! Never in doubt! That’s pretty much job done. The cookie has been nibbled, the goose been cooked, the broth been boiled. Done and dusted. Sorted. In the bag. Not quite mathematically yet, as our resident teacher Dan Coker might keep reminding me, but come on!

Villa will not turn their entire crap season around all of a sudden in their final two games by winning them with gargantuan six-goal efforts while keeping clean sheets at the same time. (Can Villa even keep one clean sheet against Arsenal OR us ?)

Teams down the bottom simply don’t do that kind of thing. West Ham on the other hand have now won 10 from a possible 15 points over the last five games, 2 points per game on average – you are unlikely to get relegated with that kind of momentum in your dressing room.

In contrast Villa only got 4 out of 15 possible points, less than a point per game and very much relegation form.
That’s why great and greatest escapes only happen once in a blue moon.
And they always coincide with having momentum on your side.

Bournemouth lost all their momentum and also the fixture against Southampton yesterday – it means that they can no longer catch us.
Which, in theory at least, just leaves Watford and Villa from our selfish perspective. There is a tiny mathematical possibility for either of them to stay up while sending West Ham down.
However, I really wouldn’t want to be in their shoes at this point…I’d rather be West Ham now, thank you very much! ;-))

Our boys have really done their homework in those busy weeks, playing one game after another. Suddenly the boys are actually playing some neat football again, stringing passes together, scoring goals and generally looking like they have been working together on passing patterns and automatisms on the training pitch. The players no longer look like strangers when the game kicks off.

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Moyes has managed us well enough in this period, even in the games we lost we didn’t suffer a humiliating drubbing which is why our goal difference is now so vastly superior compared to the beleaguered bunch at the bottom, so that the clubs still fighting for survival below us not only need the mother of all miracles, but also shiploads of good fortune, plenty of four-leaf clovers and myriads of rabbit feet on top to still stand a miniscule chance of overtaking us in the table. Maybe with several dodgy VAR calls thrown in for good measure.

Not on your nelly! Or for our American friends: No way, Jose!
Nie im Leben, vergiss es! As us Krauts might say.

I was never a champion of mathematics at school, but it ain’t gonna happen for Villa and Bournemouth (or Watford), they can’t get to us anymore, we’re safe.

As you’re all aware, West Ham have gone through plenty of crap, mud and tears in their history, but being relegated in the current scenario now, despite our goal difference and all, would really be a step too far even for those barmy football gods who once conspired to relegate us with a 42 point tally almost 20 years ago, but the football deities certainly were wasted and high on cannabis that season, surely they are all grown up and mature now, so for certain they won’t dare playing with our emotions and collective blood pressure in this fashion ever again.

Talking of which, I was reasonably calm and in good spirits prior to the Watford game, I had already finished my grocery shopping for the weekend, had soaked up some sunshine down the local lake and after having a quick matchday meal of pasta, I put the kettle on to get ready for watching the game.

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Same West Ham shirt on and same claret and blue mug as for the Norwich game, but ONE quite significant change: One day prior I had changed the picture on the West Ham poster calendar which proudly graces my living-room wall, switching the picture from Cresswell to Ogbonna this time, I suppose it worked…Ogbonna had a textbook level performance at CB and deservedly got picked as MotM…;-))

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I had barely touched my mug of tea when Antonio had already put us 1:0 in front after six minutes with a nice finish. That was how a striker puts away opportunities. Clinical. Beautiful shot. Just what the doctor ordered.
And sooooo important. Watford had won their previous two games despite conceding first, but still I knew the goal was doing OUR confidence the world of good anyway. And so it proved.

Just four minutes later my screwdriver was once again airborne, defying gravity in celebration…another wonderful goal, this one even better than the first strike: Jarrod Bowen, one of the key players responsible for igniting our recent turnaround, putting one on a silver platter (or should that read gravy boat ? LOL) for our very own Czech Sous Chef, Tomáš Soucek, who rose high to fire in a bullet of a header as if they were going out of fashion. Top goal all around that one.

Soucek is fast becoming my favourite player and when you look at the way he plays, the runs he’s making, his intelligence when reading the game, the way he’s talking to his teammates during the game, the timing when jumping for headers, you can easily forget how young he is: 25 years, best years still ahead, with a wise head screwed onto a young body. Mature beyond his years. Soucek looks as if he has played in three World Cups already. If only we could keep him and Rice around for the next few years at West Ham, now, THAT would be a midfield anchor to build a team around! We’ll see…

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At 2:0 up I was already certain that Watford would struggle to come back from this, then Noble played a clever short pass back to Declan Rice (see how effective sideways and backwards passing can be ?) and with the kind of verve Thomas “The Hammer“ Hitzlsperger in his prime would have been proud of, Dec launched the mother of all belters, catching the Hornets’ goalkeeper wrong-footed and reduced to banging the grass with his fist in frustration. WHAT A GOAL!
3:0 up after 36 minutes! What happened to the team that couldn’t score for toffee all season ? Kidnapped by Martians ? Held hostage in a basement in Ipswich and replaced with proper footballers ?

What a nice sight it was to witness the sheer unadulterated joy on the faces not just of Declan himself but his teammates and the gaffer too, celebrating the goal. Absolutely delighted! I felt the same way.

My favourite scene of all in the entire game probably happened just as the ball was bulging the net when Rice scored, the reaction of his midfield partner Soucek who couldn’t help but throw his hands up to grab the top of his head, not quite able to compute what he had just seen.

Yes, Tomáš, that’s the geezer you could be playing alongside for the next few years if you sign for us and convince your new mate Declan he should stay for a while and become the next West Ham captain.

Just do your best there, Tomáš – we trust your ability off the pitch as much as the skills you have shown for us on the pitch already so far…

As for the Hornets ? Well, apart from one decent spell in the second half which brought them their consolation goal courtesy of Troy “Dodgy Knees” Deeney they were as placid, docile and sluggish as your common bumblebee on a nice summer’s day.

I know bumblebees can sting too if they feel threatened, but on the evidence of this performance Watford didn’t really look as if they even had a sting or wanted to play their football in the PL next season.

Gutless, showing not much fight, wasteful with their goalscoring opportunities. I can see them ending up as one of the relegated teams after all, bearing in mind who their final two opponents are…

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Another player deserving a mention is young Ben Johnson who had to come in at RB for Fredericks who seems to have picked up a calf strain in training.

I loved Johnson’s performance for several reasons. He stepped up at short notice in a high-stakes game. He didn’t look fazed or out of place. His game was neither spectacular nor flashy. It didn’t have to be. He is a defender. Forgive me, but I like my defenders to defend first and foremost.

IF they have that job covered, by all means, they may go and join the attack occasionally when it suits. But the play from our full-backs this season in general has been questionable, time and time again goals were conceded because opposition players have regularly exploited our Achilles heel willingly and expertly, catching our defenders off-guard far too often.

Johnson though looked solid at defending. That’s pretty much all I would expect my RB to do. Everything above or beyond that is a bonus in my eyes. Cut down on the number of goals we concede next season through mistakes made from the FB positions and we will win additional points and find West Ham in the right half of the league table.

It’s the one position we need to strengthen more than any other in the upcoming transfer window. Fredericks and Cresswell are decent backup options at PL level, but not automatic starters.

I reckon I will talk a bit more about players we should get rid of in my opinion and what positions we should look at in the coming weeks in one of my next columns once the season is officially finished.

Let me just say at this point that I would not want to see another gung-ho style overhaul of our squad with eight players leaving and five or six new faces arriving, we don’t need that. We need some consistency, calm and composure at the club now, smart heads and solid business which has to start with the gaffer who should be allowed to bring in his two or three main targets, whoever they are.

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Now, I ain’t privvy to the training sessions, I don’t hang around Rush Green twice a week, as much as I’d love to do that, so I have to go by what I read, what I hear from players in interviews, what I see on the telly when they’re interacting with teammates or the manager during games.

The players seem to have a lot of respect for Moyes, there can be no doubt they have been busting a gut out there on the pitch for him, so we would stay up and Moyes could be allowed to stay on this time around. (Allegedly he would have stayed even in case of relegation, but you never know if that agreement would still have applied once relegation had become reality rather than a mere posssibility.)

Moyes must be doing something right as the players look fitter, stronger, more durable. Antonio has been the best PL scorer throughout the Covid-19 period since the restart, he has been playing A LOT of football lately, still his hamstrings seem to enjoy his exploits on the pitch as much as our new wonder striker himself. Long may it continue.

I cannot begin to tell you how relieved I am that West Ham will still be playing PL football next season. This alone increases the likelihood of me still writing this column.

It just wouldn’t be the same, me writing my column after only reading a match report on German teletext, it helps to actually watch the game in full.

As always, hopelessly naively perhaps, I do hold at least some hope for better times next season, for a bit less drama at the club, fewer injuries, fewer off-pitch distractions, but a season to give us all around more joy, goals and points from our lads’ football.

I actually do appreciate the rollercoaster ride that supporting West Ham tends to resemble most of the time, I do even enjoy it in a weird, ever so slightly masochistic us-against-the-world kind of way, but I could really do with some less frantic turns and fewer loopings next time around – our season doesn’t always have to be like riding the Nemesis at Alton Tower ten minutes after having munched on an overpriced slice of pizza from a food stall vendor.

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There’s absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying the gentle ups and downs of the good old Octonaut every once in a while, you know ? A bit exciting, yes, but not overly bumpy and upsidedowny to a degree that would result in you feeling sick to your stomach and make you eat some of that pizza backwards…know what I mean ? ;-))

COYI!!!


The HamburgHammer Column

You look like the Ant that swallowed the canaries - 4 goals, one step closer to safety

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I had quite a choice of puns this time around with several more in the pipeline to pick from for my column’s headline after our away win against Norwich.

Eventually I simply picked my personal favourite.
Which came to me just after Antonio had scored his second goal just before halftime.

Also in contention were “Canaries buried in goal mine collapse”, “Canaries’ survival hopes have flown south“, “Don’t be Kruel – No Mercy Antonio strikes!”, “The Canaries have ceased to be in the Premier League, this is an ex-canary!“ or, for all you Beatles fans out there, “And your bird can sink”. And how about “Canaries pining for the swords!“ ?
Maybe even “Killing 11 birds with one Antone“.

All brilliant of course…but I needed only one headline…;-))

Shame that these birds have flown now, Norwich are such a lovely source for finding all kinds of witty puns and you all know by now how much I just love my play-on-words. Is punability even a word ? ;-)
If it is, the Canaries are definitely in the Champions League of punability.

Be that as it may, more important than even the funniest pun could ever be is of course the fact West Ham now have three more vital points in the bag! Which spells trouble for both Villa and Bournemouth accordingly, despite the fact they won their respective fixtures too yesterday. But there’s only three games left. Which means every game is a Cup Final now…

OH YES!!! If you had offered West Ham fans the world over this result and performance before kick-off, I bet that Hammers everywhere would have snatched all your arms and legs off without thinking twice, regardless if he or she was following the game in Hackney, Hainault, Huddersfield, Hamburg, Helsinki, Honolulu, Hanoi or Houston.

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What they saw was a solid team performance against a home side that was frankly so harmless and tame it was actually painful to watch at times.
Like an experienced and armed hunter walking into a petting zoo of cuddly and furry guinea pigs, bunnies and kittens.
It never felt like an actual contest between equals.
Men against boys more like. With us being the men for a change.

No wonder then that Norwich were the first team this season to have their relegation status officially confirmed. On the strength or rather weakness of that performance they won’t be missed much in the PL except as a courteous opponent dropping plenty of points. And for being very punable of course…;-))

But you can only beat what’s in front of you and our players certainly did their bit to ensure we will see PL football being played at the London Stadium next season after all, be that with fans inside the stadium or not.
Every single player did contribute in a positive way for us. Nobody had a stinker of a game for West Ham. Which was nice and rare to see.

We are not mathematically safe yet, I am aware of that.
But looking at the remaining fixtures, the league table and, more importantly, current form shown over the recent FIVE games played by each team, then Bournemouth and Villa don’t just have still quite a mountain to climb in order to stay up during the final stage of this crazy season, they will have to do it barefoot, without rope, cord or webbing, in a hailstorm with no gloves on, without the guiding light of a headtorch while the peak of the mountain lies somewhere way up shrouded in fog.

They need a lot of other games going in their favour while still winning at least two of their own remaining games. It’ll be incredibly hard for them.

So, in short: I don’t see either of them two reaching the top of that mountain. Neither will be in the Premier League next season.
And I still believe this to be the case despite Villa and Bournemouth winning their respective games yesterday.
They have closed the gap a bit to make things a bit more interesting. I still don’t see enough in both the Villa and the Bournemouth side to keep them up now. Too little too late. I think. And hope.

Where then to start with our win against Norwich ? With Michail Antonio of course! It is rare for any player to score four goals in a single PL game. Even if you are a very good striker. It gets even harder if you’re a West Ham player. We simply don’t score four goals in a game often. We concede four or more, no problem! Scoring them is a different matter.

Still, Antonio did it. Against a woeful defence, granted, but he took his opportunities in clinical fashion. Like the lethal striker he probably is after all despite actually having played mostly as a winger in his career – not to mention the occasional stint at RB. Maybe Antonio is a great goalkeeper as well, who knows ? Maybe we will find out next season. LOL

So Antonio scored four, with a bit more luck it could easily have been seven or eight goals in total for us, with Bowen, Soucek, Fornals and Antonio missing several more opportunities to add to our tally.

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You have to go back all the way to September 1981 by the way (I was nine years old at the time) to find the most recent West Ham quadruple goalscorer in a league game for West Ham, prior to Antonio.
It was none other than David “Psycho“ Cross against Spurs.

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Cross is a wonderful man, not just because he scored four times against our friends from North London (a feat very likely to guarantee yourself instant legend status at West Ham), but because I got to meet him and have a chinwag at an event in Dagenham a while ago and Cross is such an easy guy to root for, very approachable and chatty, with both feet firmly on the ground and still a big West Ham fan of course. Not a Psycho at all these days…

Saturday was very much Antonio’s day but every player in our team put a proper shift in. To be fair, Norwich pretty much handed our players the key to the city on a velvet pillow, our lads had so much space and time on the pitch that it was not only almost farcical at times.
I was also already chilled and completely at ease once we had managed to score the first goal at Carrow Road.
It felt like game, set and match there and then.
From that point onwards Norwich looked like a relegated team, a beaten side. And not even a good one at that!

Of course we didn’t have a perfect performance, not every pass of ours found a teammate, not every shot was on target, but we looked composed throughout and all that confidence which was gushing from the Norwich players in buckets seemed to get soaked up readily and gratefully by the boys in claret and blue.

If only we could play like this more often against better sides too. But at least our team should now be able to approach the upcoming games with a bit of swagger and freedom. Maybe play with a bit weight lifted from the players’ minds and shoulders, to perform more freely and just enjoy their football again. As that would translate into the fans as well being able to enjoy watching West Ham afresh.

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A key player for us on Saturday was Mark Noble who always seems so much better and more driven when starting a game after a short spell on the bench. He was also being played in a more advanced role which I thinks suits our Mr.West Ham just fine. When he has to do a lot of defending, tackling and sliding his socks off in the midfield engine room he tends to pick up (unnecessary) yellow cards from late tackles and such like and he is also not really in a position then to play key passes near the opposition’s box.

Playing further forward on the other hand allows him to chase defenders around, win balls for the team and bring others into play with pinpoint passes or chipped balls into the danger zone. He looks more efficient that way, it’s definitely a role Noble might and should play more often now and also next season.

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I’m trying not to get too far ahead of myself mentally in terms of next season. I’m pretty sure we’ll be playing in the PL. I’m also certain we might be losing a player or two that our fans will not be happy to see depart. Rice being the obvious elephant in the room. Anderson another name on the list. Or Sebastien Haller. Some fans may also wonder if we will actually be able to sign Soucek on a permanent deal or if a bigger club will step up now, trying to tap up the Czech midfield maestro and strike a deal with him and Slavia, thus nicking him away from Stratford.

We will see. What will be will be. Financially it’s paramount for our club to still be in a plush and comfy seat in one of the carriages of the big money gravy train bearing the Premier League logo.

You don’t want the turmoil and financial chaos associated with another relegation at West Ham, not in the current climate, not while we’re playing home games at the London Stadium, not while we’re trying to find new owners in the short to medium term.
Sullivan and Gold won’t be around forever and they neither have the funds nor the nous to take this club further.

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Can David Moyes take this club further ? I have never been his biggest fan. Never have been, unlikely to ever be in future. But more than anything at this point in time we need stability and continuity at the position for a while.

I certainly hope that Moyes is the kind of manager who can spot some decent and affordable talent from the Championship (Bowen) and abroad (Soucek) while also bringing more youngsters closer to and into our future first team matchday squads. That’s, in my view, how Moyes can really help our club with steadying the ship. Building a younger, hungrier and cheaper squad in financially trying circumstances at West Ham while making sure we don’t find ourselves in a relegation dogfight time and time again.

A lot of other issues are up to the board though which is where our real limitations a s a club currently lie. But that’s a discussion we’ve been having on here a lot in recent years.

My gut feeling tells me it’ll soon pop up again in conversation on here, especially once the transfer ballyhoo starts rearing its head once more in a few weeks’ time.

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Right, Watford next. Loads of players available for selection, maybe even Anderson and Snodgrass. Guys like Wilshere, Lanzini, Yarmolenko, Haller, all itching for a start in a crucial game against local rivals and current neighbours in the league table. Another very winnable game for us.

A point will probably be enough for us in the end, thanks to our cushion and goal difference, and push us over the finish line. I would very much prefer though if we took the momentum and swagger of the Norwich performance right into the Watford game and get another three points. This season has been a gruesome test of endurance for our fanbase and a rollercoaster of emotions, Alton Towers Nemesis style, in more ways than one.

Let’s reward the faithful Hammers fans wherever they may be with another good performance, more goals and our next PL win. COYI!!!


The HamburgHammer Column

Slog on the Tyne, all whine all whine! Still one more point towards safety

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Close, but no cigar! Not even an electronic ciggy. Only a faint smell of cold smoke, the whiff of if-only and stench of what-might-have-been. Just a single point then on Tyneside which so easily could, should have been all three! There were a lot of things though I did like about our performance (and I also did my personal bit in terms of wearing my lucky shirt again and drinking from my lucky West Ham mug of our recent-win-against-Chelsea fame!).

We had quite a bit of possession, we created loads of good scoring chances, we attacked Newcastle in their own half when they had the ball, we caused them problems throughout the game.

All importantly, we started on a really positive note with a very early goal, highly unusual for us (I couldn’t believe how open Antonio was, before picking his spot he had ample space and time that would have allowed him to set up a deck chair inside the box and pour himself a longdrink prior to scoring), we actually took the lead twice, but predictably couldn’t hang on. Twice.

No other team this season has lost more points from winning positions in the PL than us (24!!!), so this one didn’t come as a massive surprise, but it’s still frustrating of course. And definitely something to work on with the players.
At least we’re league leaders in one category, although it’s not one to be proud of. Not the kind of stat you want to put on a T-shirt and flog in your club shop, is it ?

Newcastle’s first equaliser I could sort of live with as a fan of the beautiful game, because it was a great passing move, crowned by a masterclass in finishing by Almiron whose positioning was spot on. Made our defending look bad, but still, a quality goal and Newcastle of course can play a bit too, so we were always unlikely to keep a clean sheet against them what with the current run they’re on.

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But I haven’t got much sympathy for the way we let the second equaliser happen, a mere 60 seconds or so after we had taken the lead again through Sous Chef, our new Czech mate Tomáš Soucek who really begins to look like a great signing for us. As a team, collectively, we seemed to switch off after his goal – and you can never ever do that in this league. Punishment is never far away from cockiness. Power napping does have its merits in life, scientifically proven and all, but not during a game of football. Or while being behind the wheel on the M25.

Boot the ball unceremoniously into touch. If need be, stick your leg out, stop the Newcastle attack, takethe booking for a professional foul on the chin, but DO NOT concede the equaliser straight away!
I’m convinced if we had kept our calm for five minutes after scoring, we could have held on and brought all three points back to London. As it is, thanks to other results going our way again, we now have a very useful cushion of four points coupled with a superior goal difference.

Looking at our remaining schedule and that of the other teams down there in the doldrums of the PL table, that cushion looks like a valuable asset at this point.

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We really only need to equal what our relegation rivals will manage to gain on the pitch, points-wise, in order to stay up. The pressure now is very much on Norwich, Bournemouth, Villa and Watford, far more than us. While we have a run of very winnable games ahead, that certainly is not the case for Watford, Villa or Bournemouth. Plus, we can now pick from an almost fully fit squad.
Of course I want us to win ALL our remaining games, for confidence reasons and in order to create a positive spirit around our club for the coming months in preparation for next season.

This season overall has been a shower of ice cold crap for us, let’s try to finish it on a high at least. What’s lifting my mood somewhat is the fact we are scoring goals again and those goals are coming from different goalscorers and usually involve plenty of players in the build up. When we score it’s a real team effort. That is something to look forward to in the coming matches.

But let’s not party too hard just now, it still was a game we could and maybe should have won. Our turd has been polished a bit, but it doesn’t smell of roses. Our away record is still atrocious.

Plus there is another bit of news I really wasn’t impressed with over the last few days. West Ham (usually spelled incorrectly as Westham) very rarely feature in the sports news section on German teletext.
When we do, it’s usually due to bad news. And indeed it was.

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The news involves Sebastien Haller and West Ham missing/delaying a recent payment to his former club Eintracht Frankfurt. A transfer fee instalment to the tune of 6 million Euros was apparently due for payment, on May 18th, to be precise. But West Ham didn’t pay. Frankfurt didn’t get their money. For one reason or another.

We don’t have the full details of the matter at this point of course.
West Ham are saying the delay was due to a legitimate contractual dispute of some kind. What exactly that dispute might have been about and how it could warrant West Ham not paying the €6m on time I do not know.

What I know is that is doesn’t look good. Or professional. Eintracht Frankfurt obviously saw a strong enough case to complain to FIFA and ask for them to intervene. Again, this sort of business doesn’t do you any favours if you’re a professional football club plying your trade in the Premier League. Words travel fast in footballing circles…

It’s things like these that make me feel really uncomfortable with the people running West Ham as of now. As fans we don’t expect our team to be world beaters. We lose a lot more games than we win on average. Our football isn’t always brilliant. But I’m sure as fans we would expect our club to pay their bills on time, to generally act in a professional and honourable manner and to not find ourselves in the news for all the wrong reasons. I suppose we will find out more about this sorry affair in the next few days.

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Final bit of news in terms of a very brief Hamburg end of season football update: Once again Hamburg SV have failed to gain promotion back to Bundesliga 1, so it’ll be a third consecutive season for them in Bundesliga 2. As usual they have also sacked their manager and finances may dictate that their goals for next season are more about consolidation and living within their means rather than gunning for promotion again. Looks like modesty and a more realistic approach is going to be the new motto for them now.
Similar really to St.Pauli who only just escaped relegation and as a result they have sacked their manager too.

As for Concordia, the season has been cancelled of course, but transfer dealings in the background have been sorted in a highly efficient fashion to overhaul the squad once more which is now pretty much complete already with about 12 players leaving and 10 replacements coming in. And the Cordi Women’s team (who have been promoted to the top tier of local Hamburg women’s football, their third consecutive promotion by the way) have also announced their first two new signings early on, a new goalkeeper named Lisa and a midfielder called Steffi. You can never really go wrong with a Steffi when it comes to German sports legends…;-))

Let’s hope that by next Monday when my column is out once more we will have made even more significant strides towards PL safety. COYI!!!


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