Talking Point

Victory for the Forest

I usually hate international breaks. In football I am a “club over country” guy, and therefore I’m not looking forward to international games so much as other football fans may do. But this international break feels different for some reasons.

First because we went into it on a high, with West Ham mustering back to back wins in the League, and the Irons are undefeated in four games now (including the League Cup). Therefore this time we aren’t eagerly awaiting the end of the international break because our club were in desperate need of securing more points to get out of the lower ranks of the table. West Ham now comfortably sit in 7th with seven points out of four games, and they have almost evened out the the poor goal difference that resulted from the heavy loss to the champions in the first game of the season. Therefore everybody can relax, have an eye on the outcome of the Euro qualifiers, and look forward to the Monday evening game against Aston Villa.

And also very important for my positive mood was that I was tasting victory with my hometown club Rapid Vienna before the international break too, in one of the most anticipated and important games of the season: The green-whites won the first Vienna derby of this year, defeating FK Austria Wien 3-1. Those results make it much easier to tolerate this break with no games of our beloved clubs within two weeks.

Unbelievable things can happen on a football pitch

But there is also a different – and much longer – kind of break for league football this autumn in a certain stadium located in Austria’s southern province of Carinthia. Yeah, there are more unbelievable things which can happen on a football pitch these days than a shock victory of an underdog from time to time! Or would you have ever thought that a modern football ground could be transformed into a forest?

That’s exactly what’s taking place for seven weeks now in the Wörthersee Stadium in Klagenfurt, Austria! An art installation consisting of 299 trees was opened to the public in Austria’s most beautiful stadium last Sunday. The installation called “For Forest” can now be watched for free every day, forcing football out of the stadium until October 27th.

The project was conceived by Swiss artist Klaus Littmann (pictured below) – who saw a pencil drawing “The Unending Attraction of Nature” by Austrian painter Max Peintner (above; forforest.net) more than 30 years ago – and finally was able to turn this artist’s striking dystopia into a much disputed, controversial reality together with landscape architect Enzo Enea.

About time for this art installation, but wrong timing for the footy

Peintner’s pencil drawing originates from the 1970s and is a statement against the threat to our natural environment by imagining a time when forests will exist only as exhibition objects. Austria’s largest public art installation seems to come at the right time when the implications of climate change become more and more obvious. But its realisation also means that Carinthian football club Wolfsberger AC, which have qualified for the Europa League for the first time in their history, will not be able to play their group games in their federal province of Carinthia, but have to shift their matches against Borussia Mönchengladbach, AS Roma and Turkish outfit Basaksehir to the Styrian capital Graz.

The Wörthersee Stadium, which is named after the adjacent beautiful lake, is home ground to second tier club Austria Klagenfurt. They now have to play their games on the training pitch of the stadium, as long as mixed woodland is occupying the original stadium, before it will be transferred to a place somewhere nearby (where it will keep growing as a memorial forest). The adapted training venue can host 2500 – 3000 spectators, hence Austria Klagenfurt have lost the opportunity to attract much more spectators to their upcoming ÖFB (Austrian Football Association Cup) game against first division outfit Sturm Graz!

With multi purpose use, conflicts are inevitable

Nevertheless in my opinion the realisation of this art project is a brilliant idea and from the pictures I’ve seen so far it looks great (pics: Christian Rainer; https://instagram.com/chri.rainer?igshid=8ntstnzvfc3l). But I have had a lot of discussions with friends, some of them heavily criticising the installation which temporarily prevents the ground from being used properly. Though according to its building permit the Wörthersee Stadium is not only to be used for sports, it is a multifunctional arena which also hosts concerts and other events throughout the year. And without this multi purpose use the stadium never would be viable.

As West Ham fans we already know that in a stadium which isn’t used for football only, conflicts of use do emerge from time to time, as it was the case two years ago when West Ham had to start their season with three away games because of the athletics. In Klagenfurt without doubt it would have been better to let the installation take place earlier in the year to avoid a conflict with the Europa League. But on the other hand the recent conflict of use is an other evidence to demonstrate that Carinthia and Austria need this 30,000 football stadium.

The ground has been built for the European Championship 2008 and often been dubbed a “white elephant” since. It is used from time to time for games of Austria’s national side (Austria beat Germany there in June 2018!) and has hosted the Austrian cup final several times. The Europa League would have been a perfect fit, but let’s hope Wolfsberg or even Austria Klagenfurt qualify for Europe in years to come and then get the stadium filled again with 29,900 football fans instead of 299 trees.

I’m a fan of the “For Forest” project, as I already said. I know the Wörthersee Stadium quite well and have been to it quite often, not only to watch football games but also because of my profession as lawyer representing the City of Klagenfurt in the environmental impact assessment and the construction law procedures. Our law firm also have organised a Symposium on sports law there for some years. And after having been there supporting Rapid Vienna together with Austria’s loudest and most enthusiastic supporters, though without success twice within three years, now I wonder how it will feel to visit a very quiet Stadium, watch the trees from the terraces and hear the rustle of leaves instead of the chants of the football fans. Victory for the forest this time …

A victory for the Greens at last?

Well, you may know that my hometown club Rapid Vienna’s colours are green and white, and they call themselves “the Greens”. Unfortunately Rapid have already been defeated twice in the Austrian cup final in the Wörthersee Stadium by Red Bull Salzburg. So for once I could be relishing in the rare sight of the “greens” having occupied the pitch, celebrating their victory, though they aren’t wearing shirts and shorts of this colour but green leaves. Could that be a good omen for the next game in this year’s ÖFB Cup when Rapid meet Salzburg as early as round two in a „premature cup final“ on the 25th of September?

Anyway, let’s hope league football will make a glorious comeback after the international break, and “claret and blue” as well as “green and white” will delight us with beautiful goals and cracking victories on the football pitch next weekend! But until then, why not have a debate on what you think about “For Forest”, the controversial art installation on the Klagenfurt pitch?

Discuss!


Talking Point

New Number 7 Found Quickly

But Hammers still in desperate search of a hitman

With Marko Arnautovic having departed to Chinese side SIPG Shanghai under highly annoying circumstances (on which I don’t want to waste words anymore) West Ham have immediately got a new number 7 in Andriy Yarmolenko.

Prior to West Ham’s first game of pre-season in Austria, Andriy said:

“I’m changing because it is my number in the national team and also because it is a lucky number for me and I hope it makes me play well for West Ham.”

Having been out for much of last season due to injury the Ukrainian added: “Maybe a little bit I am like a new signing!”

If he keeps fit, Yarmolenko could partly fill the gap that Arnie’s departure has opened in West Ham’s squad. But with Andriy being a winger it will be necessary to quickly also find other offensive options to guarantee that West Ham will reach their goals: finishing within the first third of the Premier League table, and to do that with offensive and entertaining football. Manager Manuel Pellegrini’s first transfer target Maxi Gomez unfortunately could not be signed, and therefore the search for a new striker has to continue.

With forward Andy Carroll released in the summer after another injury-affected season, also his squad number was handed to a new player in the 3-2 win over Austrian Bundesliga side SCR Altach, with Chicharito sporting the shirt no. 9. It is to be seen though if the Mexican will keep this squad number, as a new center forward might get it, and it is not a certainty at all that Chicharito will remain at West Ham.

Frenchman Sebastien Haller, playing for German side Eintracht Frankfurt and having netted 15 times in the German Bundesliga last season, is rumoured to be West Ham’s new striker target. He is said to be at the centre of a €40 million bid from the club, but he has no get out-clause in his contract and the German outfit will be reluctant to let Haller leave, as with Luka Jovic one of their stars has already joined Real Madrid and another one, Ante Rebic, could leave for Inter Milan.

West Ham’s shocking scoring record

West Ham is desperate to sign a really prolific front man after years in which the Hammers’ scoring record has been on low tide. A survey published by ClaretandHugh ( click here ) showed that West Ham are the only Premier League team to not have a league top scorer in excess of twenty goals this century.

The last player to score more than 20 goals in a season for West Ham, believe it or not, was Tony Cottee. The striker who just has turned 54 on July 11, scored 22 goals in the 1986/87 season. The season before, Frank McAvennie scored even more goals, hitting the net 26 times in the First Division when the “boys of 86” achieved West Ham’s all time best finish in the top flight! Together Cottee/McAvennie scored 46 league goals that season when the Hammers came a close third behind Liverpool and Everton winning 26 of their 42 games.

Long time gone … but in Pellegrini we trust! And in his director of sports, Mario Husillos, who hopefully will engineer an other transfer like the one that brought new midfielder Pablo Fornals to West Ham United recently!

Though there seems to be some doubt at West Ham that the Argentinian director of sports will be able to bring arguments weighty enough to lure Haller from Frankfurt to the London Stadium: media reports emerged on Friday that in this transfer case additional help by another agent, Willie McKay, has been called into action to help completing the deal.

Come on you Irons!


My West Ham Story

The New Kit: Looking Back to the Past or Another Step Forward?

West Ham United’s 2019/20 new Home and Away kits were unveiled last week and, as the official website have let us know, the all-white 1980 FA Cup-inspired away shirts are “proving particularly popular with supporters“. For me though West Ham’s new home kit is something very special, because the original shirt which has inspired Umbro, was used back in the time when I first came across West Ham United.

In these times, when I was attending grammar school in my home town in Lower Austria, my classmates and I were very much interested in English football. In 1975-76 Liverpool had won the UEFA Cup and then, for six seasons in a row, the “Champions League” of this age was won by English clubs: from 1977 to 1982 Liverpool were winners of the European Cup three times, Nottingham Forest won it twice and Aston Villa once! English clubs hence were the best in Europe and that drew my and my classmates’ attention to the First Division of the English Football League. Back in these days every Sunday the evening sports show in Austrian TV had some of the goals that had been scored over the weekend on the often deep and muddy pitches of the English grounds. And the FA Cup Final could even be watched “live” every year on Austrian TV!

Goalkeeper shirts had to be green

The English goalkeepers in these days always wore green shirts, and so I also got me a green goalkeeper shirt for the matches we played in school (a colour which I had always liked because it is the colour of my favourite Austrian club, Rapid Vienna). Playing in goal myself, I was particularly interested in English goalkeepers, and it was Phil Parkes of Queens Park Rangers to whom I paid special attention, because one of my close friends, with whom I shared the passion for Rapid Vienna, had already become a loyal supporter of the Hoops.

The fascination of claret & blue

But not only blue and white hoops had caught my attention, also these claret shirts with the blue sleeves were something very special for us, because West Ham’s and Aston Villa’s “claret and blue” were completely unusual colours for football shirts in Austria.

Therefore I also kept an eye on West Ham’s results and when the club won the FA Cup in 1975 and reached the 1976 European Cup Winners’ Cup Final, also the Hammers became one of the teams to watch! And that brings us back to the new home shirt, because the strip which served as a model for the 2019 claret home shirt (shoulders, upper part of the chest and sleeves in blue) was used from 1976 to 1980 and was first sported in the European Cup Winners’ Cup Final in Bruxelles against Anderlecht in May 1976. I watched this game on TV and I have kept a newspaper cutting of the match report showing then West Ham keeper Mervin Day and a West Ham defender in the new shirt.

These days also were the time when I first travelled to England in 1976, repeating that journey in 1977. And then I visited Scotland some years later in 1980 when I already studied at university. But as all of these trips only could take place in July, my hosts would just treat me to a match of cricket and no live football could be watched! But on our trip through Europe with an “interrail ticket” in 1977 we were able to manage getting to Kaiserslautern in Germany to watch our first live game of an English team: QPR played a friendly there on the Betzenberg against 1. FCK. Phil Parkes still played for QPR then.

Phil Parkes, Trevor Brooking and FA Cup glory

When Phil Parkes moved from Loftus Road to Upton Park in 1979 for a transfer fee of £ 565,000, being the most expensive goalkeeper at the time, attention switched from QPR to West Ham more and more, and I can confirm that QPR was not on my radar anymore. And I remember very well to have watched the FA Cup final 1980 when the Hammers won the Cup thanks to Trevor Brooking’s famous header which beat Arsenal: “1-0 to the Cockney boys!”

The 1976 home shirt was used by the Hammers for today unbelievable four seasons, but in 1980, as we all know, this shirt was not the one which Trevor Brooking sported on the Wembley pitch against Arsenal in May 1980, when the Hammers won silverware for the last time in their history so far. In that final both of the teams played in their away kit: the Gunners in yellow shirts and blue shorts (well, and the shorts could really be called “short” these days!), and West Ham in all-white. Therefore it’s no surprise that the new white Umbro away kit inspired by the cup win of 1980 has proved so popular among West Ham’s fans that its pre-orders have hit record numbers since its launch last week. I’m sure I will be tempted to order one as well soon, especially as since last season non-sponsored shirts are available in all sizes, not only for children. But somewhere in my wardrobe I should already have an old white cup final replica shirt, just couldn’t find it the other day.

Quite some years already

I also have some old shirts of my Austrian favourite team Rapid Vienna of course, which I started to support in primary school. When I became a “Rapidfan” by the end of the sixties, it took them 14 years to repeat their winning of the Austrian championship, albeit they had won it in 1967 and 1968 for the 24th and 25th time in their history. And with West Ham it’s even worse: Now it’s almost forty years since winning the FA Cup in 1980, and even the latest cup final in which West Ham have played dates back to 2006, quite some years already!

Fourteen years seemed to be a very long time for a young guy, whereas I now feel that the 14 years since West Ham’s promotion back to the Premier League in 2005 (which was followed by a fantastic season under the tenure of Alan Pardew with the highlight of the cup final against Liverpool) have passed very quickly. But forty years are quite a long period also for an older man, aren’t they? And haven’t older people got the habit to become impatient from time to time? Will there ever be a season when the Irons win some silverware again? Maybe next season, forty years after 1980?

If the shirt can help that task and inspire the Hammers to return to Wembley glory, as FA Cup-winning defender Alvin Martin is quoted on the official website , so be it. But more important is who’s at the helm as manager and which kind of business he can do in the summer. Therefore I’m happy with the shirt, but I also say: “In Pellegrini we trust!” Manager Manuel Pellegrini has started to build something special at West Ham and we have already seen a change of mentality of the team in several games throughout the last season.

Let’s hope that the new kits do not only serve as mere reminiscence of former success, but will bring back some silverware to the club in the near future! West Ham have made some big steps forward in the transition season that was 2018/19. Now they should be ready for the next level if MP is allowed to continue what he has begun.

Let the “Pellegrini Regulation” continue! Come on you Irons!


Talking Point

The Magic of the Play-Offs

While I was writing this post, Charlton and Sunderland were just battling it out in the second of three play-off finals within three days. On the Saturday Newport County and Tranmere Rovers met in the League Two-play-off final with the Rovers earning a spot in League One thanks to a last-gasp extra-time winner, and now the League One-play-off final was to decide which club would win promotion to the Championship next season.

And being the climax of this sequence of play-off games, on Monday the Championship play-off final, this year not being played on a Saturday afternoon but on a bank holiday at 3 p.m., will decide which outfit will be the third club to be promoted to the Premier League for the 2019-20 season. The venue of all these finals, of course, is the same as every year, after the play-off finals have returned in 2007 from their temporary exile in Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium to New Wembley.

An English export hit

The play-offs and the extra excitement which they add to the end of the season have been some kind of an English “export product“ to other countries in recent years, though not only to decide promotion and relegation (e.g. like in Germany where this year the “Irons” from east Berlin, 1. FC Union, are a contender for promotion to the Bundesliga), but also in order to gain the winner a spot in the Europa League. This is the case in Austria for the first time this season.

The Austrian Bundesliga have got a completely new league format in 2018-19, with the twelve clubs being divided into two groups after 22 games and their points tally cut in half (which seems quite unfair, but should make a premature decision of the title race less likely; that didn’t prevent FC Red Bull Salzburg from winning the league for the sixth time in a row though!). Within the top group, after ten more games, the Austrian champion and three or four European spots (dependent on the cup winner’s place in the table) were to be decided according to the league ranking, but then the fifth club to play in Europe is going to be selected via the new Europa League qualification play-off.

From lower tier to Europe

This play-off has added incentive and extra excitement to the “relegation group” of the Bundesliga: whereas the club finishing sixth in the table of the lower tier faced straight relegation (there was no play-off to save Wacker Innsbruck, the lowest ranked team, from the drop, like in Germany where a relegation play-off is played), now a play-off semifinal and a two-legged play-off final is going to decide if the club I support in my home town will play in the Europa League or not next term.

Rapid Vienna unexpectedly could not finish in the top half of the Bundesliga after 22 rounds, and – less surprisingly – could not win the Austrian cup final, losing out 0-2 to Red Bull Salzburg on the 1st of May in Klagenfurt . Therefore the last opportunity to qualify for Europe now is to win the Europa League play-off semifinal (which consists of only one game played out by winner vs. runner-up of the relegation group) and then to claim victory in the two-legged play-off final against the club finishing fifth in the “championship group”.

Rapid’s opponent in the first game on Tuesday will be SV Mattersburg from the eastern part of Austria (Burgenland), and if they proceed to the final they will play on Thursday and Sunday against Sturm Graz (dependent on the results of the last round of the Bundesliga top tier).

A fixture list in the English style

This is going to be a sequence of games which really can be called an “English week” for Rapid: two mid-week-games, providing only one day of rest between the first and the second game, reminding us of the packed fixture list of the English Premier League at Christmas time and New Year. Especially as these games are played at the very end of the season, we can expect a whole bunch of players suffering from cramp in all the upcoming games, not only in the Austrian matches …

I’ve watched live in the stadium a “domestic play-off” only once so far, this game being the Championship-play-off between West Ham and Blackpool in 2012 . What a joy that was when Ricardo Vaz Te scored the 2-1 in front of the claret and blue part of the Wembley terraces! I had flown over to London just for that game and returned home the next morning and, having booked very short-term, I had not informed any friends that I would be in London that day. But, as it often happens “by chance”, I bumped into Sam Haseltine who ran the football blogger platform “Football United” by then after the game.

Now I very much hope that also my second play-off, this time at home in Austria, will be a success! Rapid Vienna did very well last season in the Europa League. They beat Steven Gerrard’s Glasgow Rangers FC in the group stages (pic), providing me with some late revenge for Gerrard’s goal in the 2006 FA Cup Final.

Now, while I’m finishing this post, Charlton have scored the 2-1 at Wembley, the clock showing the 94th minute. Heartbreak for Sunderland and pure ecstasy for Charlton that are sent back to the Championship. I feel sorry for the Black Cats, but this is football, and this is the magic of the play-offs!

The manager who’s celebrating his club’s return to the Championship now, is a former West Ham player, and it was West Ham-loanee Josh Cullen who knocked off a very quick free kick which lead to Charlton’s last-minute winner! Manager Lee Bowyer, who once played for the Hammers in midfield in 2003 and from 2006-2009, has guided the Addicks, which have been his first professional club as a player, back to the Championship in his first full season as manager. And Charlton have been the first team winning the third tier play-off final in seventeen years after having gone behind in this match. That’s an other beautiful story, but it’s also hard lines for Sunderland on the other hand! Clubs play roughly 4,500 minutes in a season and then to lose out on promotion in the last minute is absolutely brutal!

A festival of football

Yeah, anything can happen in football – especially if everything is determined by one odd game! That’s the magic of the play-offs and of the other upcoming finals.

On Monday in Germany, VfB Stuttgart and “Eisern Union”, the “Irons” from east Berlin for whom I keep my fingers crossed!, are going to play out the second leg in Berlin (first leg 2-2) which will decide upon promotion and relegation from the Bundesliga. On the same day Aston Villa and Derby County play each other in the Championship play-off. And just one day after Rapid Vienna’s first play-off game on the Tuesday, the European festival of English football will begin on Wednesday:

English clubs – regardless of Brexit – play out Champions League and Europa League between themselves on 29 May and 1 June respectively.

Let the finals continue!


My West Ham Story

My Year With West Ham

Being a supporter from abroad for whom there is no point in buying a season ticket, I can only pick some games per season and every West Ham match which I go to in the London Stadium must be selected carefully. Flights have to be booked in time (sometimes with Laudamotion, one of the airlines of Austrian compatriot Niki Lauda who sadly passed away on Tuesday), the trips must be coordinated around other meetings or events which I attend in London, and then I have to hope all goes well and the date of the game isn’t shifted to a conflicted kick-off time. And you know, with West Ham, you never can be sure if you will get any reward for all the bother. But that’s what football and being a football supporter is all about: following your team during good times or bad, and trying to go to as many games as possible.

Only Manchester City and Liverpool have done better

And this season has been a really good one for me and I was very fortunate with the games I have selected to watch in the London Stadium! I graced the upper tier of London Stadium’s West Stand in the 2018-19 season on five occasions, being able to watch the games against Wolves, Burnley, Crystal Palace, Arsenal and Southampton. These were not only more games than in previous seasons, but above all I could celebrate four wins, and West Ham suffered only one defeat when I was present. I‘m sure this is my best points ratio since I have supported West Ham! Only Liverpool (2,55) and Manchester City (2,58) have won more points per game this season than I have (2,4)!

Wolves 0-1

But first we got our fair share of West Ham’s bad start into the season (losing out four times in a row for the second year running), as our first “live game” was the 0-1 defeat to Wolves in September.

I have to admit that this was a game less interesting and exciting than the Proms’ concert #65 which we had attended the night before at the Royal Albert Hall (Stravinsky, Ravel & Berio, conducted by Semyon Bychkov).

And the Sunday afternoon we spent at Hampstead Heath, strolling through the sunny park, walking along the ponds, and enjoying scones at Kenwood Brew House Cafe, which was a much more pleasant time than the one we spent 24 hours ago. Only the sunshine had been bright over the LS pitch as well.

But to add also something on the positive side of this trip (in addition to the scones at Kenwood House), on this journey we discovered a new kind of hotel in London, operated by a hotel group called CitizenM, which we would use for all our following stays this season.

A new philosophy

But after this fourth league defeat in a row it seemed the players began to understand the new way of playing that Manuel Pellegrini was asking of them, and when I had the opportunity to come back to London in November, our stay consisted not only of an environmental law conference in the City, an Andrea Bocelli concert in the O2 Arena and a visit to Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London’s Westend, but also of a thrilling 4-2 win over Burnley in the East London Stadium!

Burnley 4-2

In the game against the Clarets West Ham went in front twice, courtesy to goals of fellow Austrian Marko Arnautovic and of Felipe Anderson, but on both occasions Burnley was able to equalise. Nevertheless Anderson with his second and Chicharito with West Ham’s fourth goal sealed the Iron’s win in this entertaining encounter, showing that this team now had developed a real winning mentality under Manuel Pellegrini. Well, and they had already defeated Manchester United a month ago at the London Stadium (3-1).

What a wonderful world

We love to come to London in December with the family, soaking up the British capital’s Christmas atmosphere with carol singing in Christmas concerts, ice rinks at historic places, street markets and the beautiful lighting in Regent Street. Hence we had to be in good voice on our December trip, singing Christmas carols at St-Martin-in-the-Fields in the evening and “Bubbles” the next day at West Ham, and it became a joyful afternoon in claret and blue with a 3-2 win over Crystal Palace!

As you know, this game was part of West Ham’s best ever December in Premier League history! The Hammers were 0-1 behind at halftime, but after the interval we again saw Chicharito and Anderson score, along with a beautiful long range shot from Snodgrass. Chicharito’s fox-in-the-box goal put West Ham in front, and Felipe Anderson scored a beauty to make it 3-1 with a right footed strike into the far top corner, a goal which recently became West Ham‘s “goal of the season”: after some quick build-up play, the Brazilian picked a beautiful shot over the diving keeper – a strike which proved enough to win West Ham this game, although there was a bit of “same old West Ham” when the Eagles pulled one goal back afterwards.

That could have led to a nail-biting finish, but I always had the feeling that a fourth goal for the Irons was more likely than an equaliser – evidence that I was getting more and more sure of West Ham’s newly gained winning mentality under MP. “What a wonderful world”! Also West Ham-wise we could join in this song performed by Katie Melua in the concert we attended at Westminster Hall in the evening after the game.

Comeback of the West Ham way?

Arsenal 1-0

And then it got even better on our next trip to London as we were there when West Ham celebrated the famous win over Arsenal with Declan Rice’s first Premier Legue goal! Yeah!!! It was an imperious display of young Declan in his holding midfield role, with his composed passing and the scoring of the decisive goal, and Dec grabbed all the newspaper headlines the other day. The 1-0 win was a totally self-assured, exciting and entertaining performance of the whole team, with lots of ball on the ground, reminding us of what was once called „the West Ham Way“.

Well, and Marko Arnautovic’s waving good-bye when the Austrian striker was subbed throughout the second half was just a side note in the morning papers, and in the end the transfer to China which Arnie and his brother had wanted to engineer in January fell through like Theresa May’s Brexit Deal.

Fortune’s hiding again

My next chance to fly to London didn’t come before the beginning of May. Therefore I could only watch via telly and the internet what happened after that brilliant win over Arsenal. This part of the season (from February to April) reminded us that “Rome wasn’t built in a day”, and that Manuel Pellegrini would need more than one season to revolutionise a club whose fans have sung that “fortune’s always hiding” for ages. The team played inconsistent within this period of my absence from the London Stadium, they were eliminated from the FA Cup against much lower opposition and had to be happy that Fulham, after West Ham had been five games without a win, and later on Huddersfield came to the London Stadium to help the Irons get back to winning ways. The club had ranked ninth in the Premier League after the Arsenal win, but they never were able to climb higher up the table, injuries and dubious decisions of referees didn’t help, and Pellegrini’s claim to play for Europe was scuppered by a series of mixed results which saw West Ham drop out of the top ten for most of the time.

First-away-team-to-win-at-Tottenham-Hotspur-trophy

But the best was yet to come this season. Tottenham’s new stadium had been finished and Spurs had managed to win all their home games there prior to West Ham’s first visit to their new ground. Well, I think that not only I was sure that the Hammers would be the first team to win there (as they had done 12 years ago in an other London derby when Arsenal was beaten for the first time at the Emirates).

When Tom Jones, the architect of the Tottenham Stadium, came to a sports facilities conference in Vienna, just some days before the Hammers’ game against Spurs, I let him know that West Ham would be the first team to inflict defeat to the home team for sure, and I even dared to put a bet on West Ham winning this game with Betway. As we all know, I was perfectly right to do so, and Michail Antonio’s beautiful goal from a brilliant Marko Arnautovic pass sealed an historic win!

Arnie again, at last!

And one week after West Ham had successfully claimed the “first-away-team-to-win-at-Tottenham-Hotspur-Stadium-trophy” (a quote from the Southampton match day programme), we finally were on our way again from Vienna to the London Stadium for the last home game of the season vs. Southampton, a game in which we would for the first time see the new claret carpet surrounding the pitch, and would have the rare opportunity to see two Austrians on a Premier League pitch: one in the coaching zone (Saints’ manager Ralph Hasenhuttl) and the other one hopefully playing in the West Ham team, and starting to score again at last!

Saints 3-0

Marko Arnautovic’s form had improved in the games prior to that match, but obviously it was mandatory that we came back to the London Stadium before he hit the back of the net again. On an unexpectedly cold Saturday afternoon, with bright sunshine alternating with rain several times, Arnie in fact started scoring again! He put West Ham ahead with two goals, one in each half of the game, before Fredericks with his first PL goal sealed a comfortable win for the Hammers. Arnie’s two goals were his first ones since the beginning of January when he had scored against Brighton and Birmingham! And for the last minutes of the game he even wore the captain’s armband again after Mark Noble had been substituted.

Well, we’ve already heard that MP is planning with Arnie again for next season, and I hope that the Austrian who has been West Ham’s top scorer in the last two seasons will be at the club for another year!

Our stay in London lasted for three other days, with a Sunday highlight of eating the best scones of our lives at “Maison Bertaux” in Soho, just behind the Palace Theatre, beating the ones at Kenwood House at the beginning of the season by far! And we came back to Royal Albert Hall, where we didn’t listen to a concert this time, but participated in a truly inspiring and motivating LC19 leadership conference on the Monday and Tuesday together with Christians from 80 countries and all denominations!

And in the end, not only our stay in London, but also West Ham’s season, ended on a high note: their win at Watford helped them climb up the table in the last round and finish in the top half of the Premier League in MP’s first year at the helm!

And next season …

Well, I hope to come back to London, despite Brexit, several times next term. And by doing so, as our trips to the London Stadium have turned out to be talismanic for the Irons this season, I hope to contribute to West Ham performing even better at the next call, and the “Pellegrini Revolution” will continue!

And prior to the kick-off of the 2019-20 season (on 10 August) it seems the Hammers want to do me, as well as my compatriot Arnie, a favour by travelling to Austria and to China in pre-season. But with West Ham, you know, things aren’t always as good as they seem:

The Austrian pre-season friendly (11 July) will be played in Vorarlberg, which is almost as far away from Vienna as Stratford! And when Arnie will step onto the pitch in China later in July, he will find out that he’s still on West Ham’s and not a Chinese club’s payroll. Well, on the other hand, for me the latter would be something that I’m particularly pleased with!

Come on you Irons!


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