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 ? ;-))


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!!!

The HamburgHammer Column

Are West Ham ready for lift-off ?

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So there was no West Ham game over the weekend just gone, but if it has been all a bit too quiet for our collective liking, well, that’s merely the last remnants of calm before a very long and potentially season-defining storm: Seven games in just under four weeks is one hell of an ask for any football team, not to mention our gang of walking wounded yet highly “professional“ athletes.

Ice hockey teams are used to playing 3-4 games in 7 days regularly, baseball teams during a normal regular season play almost every single day, 162 games in total.

In our current situation it’s all coming together: A mad fixture calendar, bursting at the seams, with every game now taking on the significance of a cup final almost, with our club perched ever so fragile just above the relegation zone, having one eye on our own results and the other on the games of four or five other clubs, all of whom will be desperately trying to cling onto the buffer of the last wagon rumbling along at the rear of the illustrious PL gravy train, or rather liquor train in West Ham’s case of course!

Strangely enough our player availability doesn’t seem to have benefitted much from lockdown, so as usual we already have 3-4 players out with injury or niggles limiting our options. With so many games coming up in quick succession, rotating players in the final seven games will not just have to be a tactical ploy chosen by our magnificent manager but a decision dictated by the sheer necessity of circumstances. Some of our players may need to sit out every other game to prevent knocks or fatigue-related potentially season-ending injuries.

Pub quiz question: (It’s not really because there is no definitive answer.)
How many players need to be injured before we see Ajeti getting a start ? Has he said something nasty in training about Scotland or David Moyes’s missus to deserve continually getting the cold shoulder treatment from the gaffer, even with our top striker Haller still unavailable ?
At least Ajeti is a proper striker by trade…

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I said before we would stay up by the skin of our dentures – and I’m sticking to that view after seeing our relegation rivals struggle to find wins in their most recent games over the past few days.
Teams escaping the drop usually do so by scraping two or three wins together during the final stretch, not by getting three draws and two defeats in five games.

Don’t get me wrong. When I’m watching us play these days I am not impressed with our football. Far from it. Our performances don’t fill me with confidence. And David Moyes doesn’t exactly ooze confidence or tactical nous, neither does he appear to have the guts required for a relegation tussle.

Still, come along for the ride, fasten your seatbelts and remember this is a non-smoking relegation battle. Our cabin crew will be with you shortly, offering you a selection of tasty snacks and drinks, followed by a vast sample of our extensive range of duty-free items at unbeatable prices…oh, nevermind! ;-)

The way I see it West Ham and at least three other teams are presently out in the savannah sun, blundering on without a tour guide or a clue after getting lost on safari, suddenly being chased by a hungry lion, representing relegation from the rich hunting and grazing grounds which is the Premier League.

Now, West Ham of course are not particularly well equipped to outsmart or outmuscle this big cat, we don’t run particularly fast, neither can we boast any decent level of stamina or brute strength to save our skin.
Which already is heavily sunburnt to an unhealthy and aching degree, our liquid supply is down to just half a pint of warm and stale H2O and we also haven’t eaten (won a game of football) in quite a while.

What we do have is a shotgun and ammunition, however, the cartridges we are carrying are actually for the other rifle we left behind in the gun rack by mistake three days ago when we left the safari lodge.
We are weary, depleted and probably already have given up hope of ever shaking off that fearsome and irritating monster that is closing in behind us now by the way, being still very peckish. Does the lion maybe care that we shouldn’t even be out here among this bunch of losers/potential prey in the first place ?
Do ostriches spread their wings and fly to Europe every summer on holiday ?

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Under normal circumstances we wouldn’t stand a chance, but the other chaps running for their lives as well now, beside or right behind us, could actually be presenting us with an unexpected escape route here.

You see, one of our fellow sufferers has a bad hip, bless him, and only one bullet left in his rifle, if he misses the target with the only shot he has, his hands trembling with fear and horror, he is toast. Or rather ragout.

The other one has underestimated the problem altogether, having known only those docile lions from his local Birmingham Zoo and they get fed beef leg and pork shoulder, regular as clockwork, don’t they, so why then would a lion, any lion, even want to eat a human ? AAARRRGHH!!!
While he’s still busy pondering this undoubtedly interesting question the big cat in the meantime has latched onto his chest, providing a straightforward, yet cruel answer. Today it’ll be human leg and tourist shoulder for dinner for a change…what a treat!

And finally there is a third bloke, another poor soul who is really not that different from us at all, in terms of stature, strength and weaponry (or lack of it), alas, he just happens to find himself in the unfortunate position of being a step or two behind us.

So the Panthera leo (I’m mentioning the Latin name especially for you, Mr.Rees-Mogg, in case you’re reading this!) gets the other guy first (while West Ham are still slogging along unscathed, relieved to be able to tell the tale) and despite fighting back bravely with bad breath, colourful language, the courage of having nothing left to lose and the blade of a fake Swiss army knife picked up from a souvenir shop in Nairobi, the poor geezer just behind us represents the final course of the predator’s all-you-can-eat buffet this season.

After feasting on three humans the cat’s enormous appetite has been satisfied at last and there’s no need for the king of animals to hunt again…until next season…

So, there you have it, West Ham staying up, not thanks to our own admirable effort or footballing brilliance, but rather through rotten luck and ineptitude of other clubs.

That’s my rather bleak prediction and it’s with that picture in mind that I shall be watching the upcoming games. Not my idea of fun. It’ll be a chore. I think I prefer washing the dishes. But you never know for sure, maybe it’ll be brilliant and the lads will finally discover their shooting boots after all!

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It doesn’t make much sense to think ahead to next season at this point.
Will the boy in the picture above still be blowing pretty Premier League bubbles once September comes around ?
Or will we be playing the likes of QPR, Reading or Wigan (all of them former PL clubs at one stage) – not in the Cup but in league fixtures ? We’ll see. I probably won’t, as broadcasts of Championship games are harder to come by. Which then would certainly affect the future of this column.

The West Ham players still have the destiny of this club in their own hands and feet.
I’m not sure that’s much of a comforting thought at this point.
Two or three wins might be enough to see us through, looking at our rivals’ current form and squads, all fighting their own battles down there at the bottom of the league.

But should West Ham United even be in this awkward situation, time and time again ?

I don’t think so. So, let’s show some effing pride, passion and desire for once and JUST STAY UP!

We can sort out the rest later. COYI!!!

The HamburgHammer Column

Thrown to the wolves - it's football, but not as we know it!

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Welcome back my fellow sufferers of chronic WestHamitis!

Long time no write. It’s been a while since my column was available on here as your Monday morning breakfast read, the way it used to be before that barsteward of a virus took centre stage basically in every single country which has Hammers supporters living in it.

Not surprising then, unfortunately, that I developed a serious case of writer’s block in the process of dealing with the sample platter of crap we have all been served the past three months or so courtesy of the pandemic.

It didn’t help that on top of public life ALL football came to a grinding halt too, unless you were prepared to develop an outside-the-box passion for exotic foreign football and begin following the top league in Belarus all of a sudden as a last resort…which I really didn’t.

I’d rather feast my eyes on a decent amateur stare-out contest at a bus stop in Bavaria than watch competitive football from Belarus, but maybe that’s just my cynical self being a bit of a self-righteous snob.

Truth be told, being in lockdown hasn’t been easy at all, not for me, not for my readers I would assume, wherever you are. When the highlight of the week is the 500 yard trot to your nearest supermarket (which happens to be an Aldi in my case) once every seven days or so it is a clear sign that something in the world has been knocked upside down and inside out.

Which at this point is pretty much still the case of course for most of us.
I know it can be hard for families being crammed together in a flat for weeks on end, but as a bloke living on his own, let me tell you, it’s not easy being on your own almost 24/7 for a few months – thank God lockdown is slowly being lifted now in my neck of the woods – I’ve been out to have my barnet done, I’ve had cake with my brother on his 53rd birthday and I’ve been out swimming for the first time this year as well. All of which felt strangely luxurious, despite just being little things that used to be normal once.

The Wolves game has given me a great opportunity to ease myself back in with regard to writing again as the contest wasn’t really that exciting anyway, literally not much to write home about, so I can justify only writing a short(ish) match analysis for a change. Coupled with the fact that my beloved Concordia Hamburg still aren’t playing at the moment (and I have lost virtually all interest in Bundesliga 2) it means there’s not much point for my usual Hamburg football update either.

I tried to resurrect my matchday routine on Saturday as much as I could in order to create some make-believe version of normality, you know, screwdriver positioned on a stack of books in comfy chair range, wearing my claret vintage shirt with Bobby’s #6 on the back, West Ham mug in front of me with some nice steaming Rosie Lea in it, milk, one sugar – ready to go!
But somehow I just didn’t feel it. The game never gripped me and I wasn’t really in the mood that evening for repeatedly reaching out to cling to it either.

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Once the game started it was all weirdly wrong…or should that read wrongly weird ? Sure, it was nice to SEE Bubbles being blown into the Stratford sky by them pitch-side machines and it was nice to also HEAR Bubbles before and during the game, even if it was just the canned “Post-Corona-playing-behind-closed-doors-but-still-staying-up-Remix“ coming through my telly. But as soon as the ball was in play I was prepared to get excited. For a while at least.

Come on West Ham, show me why we have missed this game so much! Try to lift our spirits again if you can, if only for 90 minutes!

Initially I really tried to get in the zone. Which lasted for 15 minutes or so. West Ham by the looks of it very much stuck to the distancing advice provided by the medical experts, staying away from both ball and opposition players as much as possible. Flattening the curve in this respect was leaving my excitement levels as flat as a pancake. Or a blown out tire.

The game was lacking pace, endeavour, I would even say it was bereft of effort on the part of our players. Which seemed strange after such a long break. As the first game back I probably didn’t expect a fireworks display of sheer passing perfection on the pitch, but I also didn’t see this snorefest coming either. Wolves too did hardly break any sweat in 90 minutes, but still scored twice to settle the contest. We made it very easy for them.

Wolves are not the kind of side you’d expect to beat as a matter of course. Especially not a team like ours after a limp and lame performance at “home“.
Wolves are simply a better and more rounded outfit than us at this point.
Without at least matching their desire on the pitch we never really stood a chance. It was like a pack of wolves chasing a herd of dazed rabbits.

We will need to collect our points for survival elsewhere. Like in upcoming games against for example, ahem, Spurs, you know…YAY!!!

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No West Ham player covered himself in glory on Saturday really, although Rice looked much better than the rest (which isn’t saying much), other than that forgive me for briefly picking out Ngakia who didn’t exactly put on much of an advert for a club to break the bank to sign him up after that kind of display.

Granted, he’s very young, far from being the finished article and the Wolves attacking players running at him all game after probably identifying him as a weak spot early on were more than a handful, but Ngakia also wasted plenty of opportunities on the break to deliver any useful crosses from that right side. After this game I feel more relaxed about the answer to the question whether we will be able to keep him or not. I know some on here thought he had a decent game, I wasn’t convinced personally.

On the one hand it’s quite nice to have PL football back, on the other hand it is all so different now, so surreal even that my disappointment over losing 2:0 to Wolves had pretty much evaporated after just half an hour on Saturday evening. There, I’ve said it!

My priorities simply have shifted, especially to more personal matters.
(Feel free to throw the first stone now if you think that’s deserving of a good stoning!)

Today, as you’re reading this, I’m looking forward to driving my brother to another therapy session of his later this afternoon, something I haven’t done for three months now – for obvious reasons we didn’t meet during lockdown (the local rules issued by the authorities simply didn’t allow it) but his cancer treatment to my eternal gratitude has continued throughout without ever missing a heartbeat or appointment – and the first scan just recently showed that the treatment is working as well as the doctors could have wished for in their wildest, yet still realistic dreams.

He will still have to go under the knife one more time in a few weeks to get the remaining tiny shreds of tumour lasered into oblivion, but chances are he will eventually come out of it all healed. Cancer-free at last (or rather being in remission of oesophageal cancer to use the more accurate phrase).

After going through three years of hell, pain and being worried sick.

Fingers crossed and all that!

Of course I shall gladly take West Ham staying up as a very welcome bonus on top of that. But let’s not kid ourselves, we are still surrounded by massive trees on all sides, the relegation forest we’re in does have at least one exit somewhere, but we are definitely not out of the woods yet.

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The games will be coming thick and fast now, we will win some, we will lose some, but at the end of the season I am fairly certain we will stay up. Just. With maybe goal difference saving us. Not necessarily because we are such a great side, but because three other teams may end up having shown even less skill on the pitch and suffering even more rotten luck than us. The next few weeks won’t be pretty. It won’t be my idea of fun.

You certainly won’t want to buy the DVD with our season highlights after the last game has finished. But I am optimistic that West Ham will survive.
And then the rollercoaster will start again. This time in autumn probably.

To be fair, I wouldn’t mind a Ferris wheel style season at West Ham for a change, you know, moderate excitement, no big drama, no sudden turns or loopings, but just nice steady progress combined with an occasional nice view to enjoy.

Less upsetting for my sensitive tummy too…

Stay safe, everyone!
Forgive me, if I go over the top occasionally in my comments. The politics, the virus and all that other non-football stuff that occasionally can get people so riled up that they start swearing or dishing out insults on here (or even write an email to Iain to complain).

I’m sure all of that is going to mellow out once things begin to return to something resembling normality and everyday life. Whenever that may be…


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