My West Ham Story

The Barking Beefburger back at the Boleyn

“You dirty northern b*******!” The terrace chant from our game against Burnley surely was one of the more unusual lullabies I had to sing to myself on Saturday Night (or Sunday morning, whatever way you wanna look at it) in order to get at least a few hours of sleep after an eventful day. Sleeping in the matchday lounge usually occupied by an electrical company and their prawn-sandwich munching guests was utterly bizarre.

I was keen to take in the mesmerising view around the four stands of the Boleyn dimly lit by some moonshine, so I stepped out on the balcony. Only the next morning I learned that the door actually was supposed to be locked as the other sleepover guests apparently couldn’t open their doors.

The West Ham hotel staff might want to check out the balcony doors in room 309. :-)

As my head was hitting the pillow in full glorious view of the Bobby Moore Stand I could try to recollect some of the many things I had experienced on matchday and the Friday before.

The Friday was mainly filled with having a stroll around my former place of work and residence. I couldn’t believe how much Barking had changed – and not necessarily for the better. Numerous pubs were boarded up, some apparently for several years already. The eyesore called Linton estate had been torn down and not only did Barking now feature a brandnew library with highspeed Internet connection but also, wait for it, some highrise buildings had been erected to offer luxury flats to the rich and famous elite roaming the streets of Barking. Luxury flats in Barking, if ever there was a bigger contradiction in the space of four words I have yet to hear it.

I had also paid a visit to some of my former colleagues at Hapag. How surprised I was when I learned from my former boss that I would be meeting the lovely trainee sitting just two metres away from us again the very next day as she was working as a West Ham matchday receptionist, a fact that should become vital the following day.

Then it was all about getting my ticket sorted out, our most favourite cabbie BSB told me on the phone he’d stop by in his cab, I was supposed to get in, we would drive for a bit and then we would sort out the exchange of ticket and cash. I was skeptical when I heard the idea, but as most of you will know BSB is good as gold and he was the first of the WHTID regulars I met and like the others about to follow each and everyone was fantastic company, witty, kind, welcoming, entertaining.

Next day started out noonish at the first watering hole, the Barking Dog. What used to be a depressing craphole in my memory had turned out to be a very decent pub with good service and a great choice of beer. And yet another smashing fellow in Barney Magrew. We had met only 60 seconds ago and yet we were already discussing various West Ham related issues. Which continued when Iron Liddy appeared. To be followed by Longtime Lurker and his son.

Suddenly we got bad news: Apparently West Ham were making trouble with regard to accepting our suitcases as check in for the sleepover was scheduled to take place no earlier than 8pm. I wasn’t looking forward to carrying my suitcase around all day, so I told Liddy we should make a little detour to the West Ham main reception area.
I was ready to throw a hissy fit, play the irate German who is throwing his toys out of the pram. All as a means to an aim.

What happened then can only be described as piece of p***. As who should we bump into there ? Sophie, the lovely Hapag trainee working her West Ham matchday shift.

It took us about 30 seconds to leave our stuff, give our thanks to Sophie and head on to pre-match pints in the Central where we met up with more WHTID regulars like russ, Heedsy, Toddyhammer. Again at the hazard of boring you to death I have to repeat the fact that every fan I met was a character, genuinely nice, funny and yes, even charming.

On to the game which has been discussed on here at length. It was my first time in the Chicken Run and I was impressed by the level of support there. The chanting never stopped. Nobody sat down there during the game, not for a minute. There were some decent verbal exchanges with the Burnley fans. And constant singing, including all the classics and yes, also the Miklosko song. Straight after the final whistle I made my way towards the Miller’s Well, the catchphrase of the day being “What happens in the Miller’s stays in the Miller’s!”. Not only did I meet a former mate there, to whose first wedding I had been invited 15 years ago, I saw even more illustrious WHTID guest: Safehands as official instigator of the sleepover, Billy, The Voice of Reason, Toddyhammer, Mr.Lids, Sean Whetstone, Nigel Kahn, Brian Williams plus wife, BSB plus wife and as special guest of honour Tony Hanna plus wife, coming all the way to Newham from Down Under.

What a treat! We drank, we chatted about the game, West Ham, life and death, football in England and football in Germany until it was time to head for the sleepover.

There was a nice evening dinner, more drinks and chat of course and MOTD. One has to say though that for a Premier League club there was precious little going in that West Ham bar that evening. One might even say it was a little bit dead in there.

Which brings me to the final thought about our stadium move.

Previously I had staunchly been pro move. Taking in the atmosphere now on matchday in the Boleyn, in Green Street and the pubs around the Barking Road, seeing and hearing our fans, smelling the stadium food and seeing the fanzine sellers and merchandising stalls, I got goosebumps. After all these years I had been away I had conveniently forgotten how much the Boleyn belongs to the East End. How important the matchday routines are for each and every individual fan.

How Upton Park is going to change once West Ham have moved away. As I was standing barefeet on the balcony of my West Ham hotel room at 2.48 at night I felt my eyes welling up. And I swore to myself to do two things. One: Come again in our final season for a proper farewell to this utterly beautiful and atmospheric football stadium.

And to check out the OS which I did the following Sunday. I paid a visit to the reservation centre. They obviously didn’t show me the virtual views from the seats as I was only a cheeky German tourist and not a bondholder. But of course they gave me all the marketing lingo about how fantastic everything would turn out for the fans and West Ham.
Yeah, right! I still think overall the OS on our doorstep was too good an opportunity to turn down. The move makes sense from a financial standpoint.

And of course us fans will gradually forge new matchday routines. But the cold, sterile atmosphere from the Westfield shopping complex didn’t fill me with confidence.
I’m sure the OS will be a great place where we can play our games and more fans can get tickets. But will it ever be a home like the Boleyn is ?

Thanks again for making this a weekend to remember for a long time. West Ham fans are special. Especially those who post on here regularly. I am proud to have a second family in East London. And I cannot wait to be back. One final time. In the Boleyn. Next season. COYI!


Talking Point

What West Ham can learn from Bayern Munich

Let me make one thing very clear right from the start: I hate Bayern Munich and most of their fans with every fibre of my being. I hate their dominance in German football and the way they are signing key players from most other clubs in Germany, not necessarily to improve their own team (as usually they end up warming a place on the Bayern bench occupied by other superstars already) but rather to weaken those teams that could seriously start challenging Bayern for domestic titles.
I hate the way they attract plastic fans a la Chelsea, people who claim to be fans, but have never seen Bayern Munich play at home or have any kind of attachment to Bavaria or Munich for that matter.

But there is one thing I seriously admire them for: And that is the way they are catering for their most loyal fans and their families by making sure there are affordable tickets on offer. And when I say affordable I mean extremly cheap, compared to Premier League and especially West Ham ticket prices. The following examples are no typos by the way.
I’ll start with the most expensive season tickets for us normal folk for the current season (no corporate boxes including free food, drink and halftime entertainment).
It’s 580 pounds for an adult and 290 pounds for children up to and including the age of 13. Again, that’s the most expensive seats.
At the other end of the scale you have the season tickets in the safe standing areas: Tighten your seatbelts! 108 pounds for both adults and children.
That’s the season ticket covering 19 Bundesliga home games. That’s just 5.68 pounds a game! Not quite kids for a quid, but remember, this is for a season ticket, so most people can afford not only to still go and watch the football, they can also afford to take their wife and kids if they are so inclined.
Of course there are medium priced tickets available that give you a better view while still being reasonably cheap.

The thing is: Bayern could charge a lot more for their tickets and the Allianz Arena would still be packed to the rafters. Former Bayern president Uli Hoeness (currently let out of prison on parole after being jailed for tax evasion, he still has to return to prison at night) has a very clear stance on ticket pricing.

Quote: “We could charge more. Let’s say we charged £300 (for the cheapest season ticket). We’d get £2m more in income but what’s £2m to us?
In a transfer discussion you argue about that sum for five minutes. But the difference between £108 and £300 is huge for the fan.
We do not think the fans are like cows, who you milk. Football has got to be for everybody. That’s the biggest difference between us and England.”

I know that Bayern’s finances are far removed from our current position whatwith the debt and Bayern having played in the Champions League for dozens of seasons.
But I think the principal approach alluded to in the above quote also applies to a certain degree to English clubs, West Ham included.
The big money in football is no longer made from the ticket sales. It’s mainly coming from massive TV deals, from sponsorship, merchandise sales and catering.
The counter argument seems to be that our club could be losing out on transfer targets if we charge significantly less for tickets than other clubs. Which doesn’t really explain why West Ham tickets at this point in time are among the most expensive in Britain.

I still think it is overall a good concept and could eventually even improve West Ham’s financial status. First of all affordable tickets would allow more of the normal football fans back into the stadium, them and their kids (it’s always good to get ’em hooked early). At that point the club loses a bit of money due to the cheaper tickets.
But the money making machinery starts once those fans (including kids) are through the turnstiles, food, drinks, a programme, a Sakho shirt for the dad, a scarf for the wife, Adrian style goalkeeping gloves for the junior and the West Ham till goas ka-ching!
I have no doubt that people spend more money on these things when actually attending games instead of watching the game at home or in a pub.

Filling the ground to the rafters and generating subsequent income from catering and merchandise will become more difficult, yet more important once we are in the OS.
The TV money is likely to become even a bigger part of a club’s income, so West Ham should seriously reconsider their ticket pricing policy.
They don’t necessarily have to do a Bayern there – but it should be possible to make West Ham ticket prices average again compared to other teams in the Premier League.
West Ham tickets among the most expensive in the country ? It doesn’t fit our heritage and needs to change.


Talking Point

The expulsion from Paradise - will Allardyce lead us into the OS ?

Which West Ham fan could ever forget that glorious Saturday in May when Vaz Te shot the Hammers back into the Premiership just a few minutes prior to the final whistle.
Players hugging and celebrating on the Wembley pitch while the Hammers fans in the stands were singing their very own version of the Coldplay smash hit “Paradise”.
Suddenly Allardyce was Cockney rhyming slang for paradise and it was true – Allardyce had brought the club back from its knees to the promised land of the Premier League where not milk and honey flow but a seemingly endless stream of TV revenue beckons plus a global audience of hundreds of millions of football fans.

These days though Allardyce (again) may have bitten off more than he can chew from the forbidden fruit (or should that be chewing gum ?) as again fans are not happy with a recent run of just one point of a possible nine, albeit including games against biggies like Chelsea and Arsenal. It was not so much the results as such but the manner of the defeats, some baffling decision by the manager regarding his lineup and resting certain players in certain games and of course the still somewhat mysterious treatment of Mauro Zarate.

I think it’s fair to say that Allardyce had managed the nigh impossible in the first two or three months of the season: He had won over a lot of his fiercest critics among fans and pundits. And most possibly his employers as well. With Nolan and Carroll unavailable West Ham were playing breathtaking and exciting football with Sakho and Valencia upfront and a diamond formation behind them. Players were constantly running, chasing, interchanging positions. It was unexpected. It was unpredictable. It was pacy. It was successful. It was downright brilliant.
We all have seen what happened next. Injuries took Sakho and Valencia out of the equation for a while. Carroll and Nolan were available again and while the results initially were still good the football had changed again to something which was eerily similar to the fare on offer for the majority of games last season, albeit with a generally better quality overall due to our much improved squad.

Which leads us (and more importantly the board) to the question of what lies ahead for Allardyce. I’m sure the manager would love to see an extension to his contract arriving on his doorstep rather earlier than at the end of the season as originally planned. The board apparently want to wait matters out though and take in the rest of the season to evaluate performances, development, maybe even satisfaction among the fanbase.

Make no mistake, Allardyce has done a fantastic job up to this point. He took on the job when West Ham very much resembled the ugliest bird at the graduation dance.
Not an attractive proposition at all. Relegated. An ageing and very mediocre squad. With virtually no team spirit to be seen anywhere. A shambles really.
Allardyce took us back to the Premier League at the first time of asking. And he’s kept us there although the football at times was diabolical. And he did this with very limited ressources. There are not a lot of managers around who can stretch a limited budget as far as Allardyce, vital for a club like ours not blessed with owners who have hundreds of millions of pounds to spend without thinking twice. Our team spirit is the best it’s been in years. We rarely get a thrashing on the pitch these days.

But Allardyce keeps on dividing the fanbase. Some just don’t like him as a person. Some despise his perceived stubbornness and inabilty to shoulder the blame for anything. Some don’t like his formations and lineups or what they see as an extreme loyalty to certain players while ignoring others perceived to be better options.
Some fans still think Allardyce knows best and is maybe the best manager West Ham could wish for at this point.
Others think Allardyce has done a fine job, but taken us as far as he can and therefore want him gone. At the end of the season or earlier.

It’s hard to tell at this point if indeed the board may have actually made their mind up already about NOT extending Allardyce’s contract. And it’s also possible that Allardyce may know, or at least sense, that his days at West Ham might be numbered. With the OS on the horizon the main objective can no longer be to just stay up.
Especially after the brilliant first half of the season future West Ham teams need to constantly play attacking football which is pleasing on the eye AND pleasing on the points tally. Can Allardyce deliver that and can he make the West Ham team as unpredictable and nasty to play as in the early parts of the season ?

Personally I reckon that Allardyce knows he will not be leading West Ham out onto the pitch of the OS. In my view he’s merely going through the motions which he can afford to do as we are virtually safe already. That’s one bonus payment pocketed for him. More money may be available depending on league position or qualification for European football. But would Allardyce really try really hard to get West Ham into Europe if he already knew that another manager would be taking the squad to Rome, Lyon and Prague next season, and not him ? I doubt it. Allardyce is not the kind of manager to “go for it”. He is a safety net kind of manager, perfect for putting stability into clubs, but not good enough to make “the next step”.
The ideal solution in my view is an amicable parting of ways at the end of the season. Which of course may result in the current season petering out in unspectacular fashion.
But if unspectacular in this case means midtable obscurity, it would be just about acceptable I reckon. West Ham qualifying for Europe with Allardyce is not impossible, but I have a gut feeling it’ll be up to his successor (whenever he may arrive) to clinch European football for West Ham.

.

Talking Point

Keeping highflying Hammers happy

In a week where West Ham have reached their highest league placing in 15 years you see a lot of smiling faces in and around the Boleyn. Fans, the manager, the board, most players all wearing a massive grin on their boats these days that make a Cheshire cat look sullen in comparison. But with the lofty heights we find ourselves in this season comes a whole new set of challenges and very unfamiliar problems. Suddenly other clubs appear very much interested to sign up several of our players, not just one or two, and rightly so.

As soon as a team dares to enter the rich hunting grounds at the top of the table other clubs are bound to look to dismantle a team that is clicking as well as ours.
I’ll just say I hope our board stay true to their word that West Ham is no longer a selling club.

If we want to continue growing as a club and become bigger ourselves just as we are about to move into the OS we must hang onto the spine of our team, keeping players like Tomkins, Cresswell, Song, Kouyate, Sakho, Carroll and Valencia at this club. Offers from bigger clubs for sure are just around the corner, but the board should be very careful about who they’re letting go. As far as I know our debt is pretty much under control prior to our move to the OS after which we only have to pay a relatively low rent for the OS, so on paper we may not actually have to sell players for financial reasons for a change.

Another massive and unfamiliar problem that comes with our current territory is keeping the spirits in our dresing room high. Which sounds easy enough to do on the back of three league wins in a row. But with a big and talented squad like ours there is a catch: Even a West Ham team can only field eleven starters and name seven substitutes.
Competition for places is something new at West Ham and most fans love it for obvious reasons. The downside is that it leaves quite a few players on the bench or even in the stands who are itching to play and would probably be starters in a lot of Premier League clubs below us in the table.

I am sure players like Zarate, Amalfitano, Jarvis, Cole and Valencia would love to start more games, young Diego Poyet too, having just returned from his loan spell at Huddersfield. All of these players have individual qualities and skills to offer, but they share in their current fate of having to play the waiting game.

This is where Sam Allardyce has to do a tough job handling players’ egos and keeping our players happy in a way they can perform to the best of their ability once they are being called into action. We’ve all heard the rumours about Zarate considering a transfer to Italy in January to get more playing time.

Of course our rarely used players will get their chances again. There will be injuries, there is the African Cup of Nations coming up, the busy Christmas/New Year schedule and the FA Cup as well. We will need our big squad soon enough, but it must be a nightmare (while being a nice problem to have at the same time) to have so many players at your disposal who are all quality players that could easily be regular starters.

Some of them might need an arm around their shoulders at times or a nice word of encouragement into their ears occasionally, our coaching staff hopefully know how to handle these players.

There are no easy answers here. Do you put more emphasis on keeping those players happy who have been here for many years and give the likes of Noble, Nolan, Carroll and Cole more playing time ? Do you try to play the new signings like Zarate or Amalfitano as often as possible in order to keep them happy, not creating a situation where they get desperate enough to leave the club ? Or do you simply focus on performances during games or in training to choose your starters and bench players ?

I love watching our current team celebrating their goals on the pitch and the bench (thank God there are many reasons to have those celebrations this season!) as it shows the current good spirit and harmony within our squad. I’d like to see this spirit continue to thrive, not being disrupted by unhappy squad members.

Am I overthinking this probably and will things take care of themselves over the course of the season ? Or is it just par for the course for a team like West Ham improving its performances and status in the league as we speak ?


Talking Point

Relax - West Ham are playing

A third of the season is gone and the Hammers are sitting in a very respectable fifth place in the Premier League table. It’s easy to forget that we are ‘only’ ten points above a relegation place at this point, but in reality the gap between us and the Burnleys, Leicesters and Hulls of this world feels a lot bigger these days. It’s a rare thing for West Ham walking in thin air and the rarefied atmosphere near the top of the table, but this doesn’t feel like a fluke. Against Newcastle we didn’t deliver our best football, but we still managed to win against a team bang on form. It’s fair to say that at this point we don’t even know what our best team is. We’ve never had the entire squad available, fit and healthy, but this may happen soon.

Even Sakho will probably return much quicker than anticipated as he is such a passionate player who just wants to get out on the pitch again. Watching our beloved Hammers play these days is a weird experience as so many things have changed due to us having a vastly improved squad. Usually I tend to watch games being very much on edge all the time, watching through fingers covering my eyes, not being able to bear the tension. Tension ? What tension ?

This season more often than not I am very much relaxed. With our back four plus Adrian I don’t expect our lads conceding a shedload of goals. And I am always confident we are going to score goals as we always have someone on the pitch these days capable of converting something out of very little, even our defenders can now score from a teammate’s wayward shot on goal. Normally I would sit down, look at the upcoming ten games or so and make a list of which games are winnable, drawable or basically lost causes. This season I go into games full of confidence we can win on any given day.Team spirit appears to be skyhigh. Competition for places all over the pitch.

Yet fans, myself included, continue to moan. Allardyce putting out a formation we perceive to be negative. Nolan starting a game again. Zarate not starting games. Reid not signing his contract. Sakho suffering further injury through pathetic treatment from a Senegalese physio. Players being asked to play out of position. What is there to moan if a club like us are sitting in fifth place in the table ? My answer: We are creatures of habit and as West Ham fans we had plenty of reasons in the past to moan, about various issues on and off the pitch. As West Ham fans we are conditioned to worry, conditioned to feel disappointment, suffer setbacks or seeing our dreams fading and dying. I still actually find myself in a state of shock about how well our club is doing and my only way of coping with it is clinging on to some good old fashioned moaning, but these days thankfully about merely minor irritations. Moaning somehow feels like a security blanket for me, it reminds me of my old West Ham. I appreciate that most other clubs in this league would love to be in our current position and have only our ‘problems’ to deal with.

So, West Brom next then, another game I can watch in a much more relaxed manner as I just know our lads will be up for it. No doubt I won’t be able to guess the starting eleven (who can these days ?), but we will give the Albion one hell of a game. Forgive me should I continue to moan about petty little things in the game thread again, about Allardyce, our formation, maybe playing with only one striker upfront or the inclusion of Nolan. I can’t help it. I’m not used to the thin air of fifth place, as a West Ham fan I’ve never really been out of basecamp before.

Hopefully I won’t be suffering from some serious altitude sickness soon. Our bubbles are just flying so high at the end of 2014.


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