LOOKING FORWARD TO 2011-12

The fixtures for next season’s Championship have been announced and it’s evoked extreme excitement in me towards the season ahead. Unfortunately, seeing fixtures like our second match – Doncaster away (no offence intended) – only serve to remind me that our drop down to the Championship was completely avoidable. If only the owners had acted when the fans reacted to the failings of Grant… But what’s done is done and today is all about next season and beyond.

The good news is that the owners appear to have learnt from their mistakes in trying to run the club as cheaply as possibly. The irony is that had they spent a little more last summer, in terms of new player investment and retaining the likes of Daprela or Diamanti, then they would have avoided paying the inflated salaries of Robbie Keane and Wayne Bridge from January. Never mind, they appear to have learnt from their mistakes because

The appointment of Sam Allardyce marks the first time since Alan Curbishley that we’ve had a proper, experienced, football manager. As much as I liked Zola, he was not yet a real manager and Grant was, well, he was Grant. Big Sam is a proven manager at Premier League and Championship level – he has a reputation, contacts, and relationships that can all help to turn around the last few embarrassing seasons for West Ham.

As an example, the signing of Kevin Nolan has the potential to be the best signing the club has made since the Icelandic regime brought in Scott Parker. It’s actually more impressive given our position in the Championship. But Nolan’s signing is a direct result of how things are improving in East London. Whilst I doubt we’ll sign any more players of Nolan’s calibre, it’s a message to the rest of the squad is a clear one: things are changing at this club. The deadwood players simply must be cleared out and we must follow the example set by Newcastle United two seasons ago: if you aren’t committed to this club, then you’re not wanted. We’ve already shipped out some of the deadwood (Upson) but I am awaiting confirmation of the departure of Boa Morte, Dyer, Kovac, Faubert, Ilunga et al.

Now, it’s all very well saying this now that we are down in the Championship, but we’ve been due a major squad overhaul for a few seasons and the club has monumentally failed to do what was necessary. We may only be doing it now out of necessity, but at least it’s finally happening.

This system worked impeccably for Newcastle, who enjoyed a hugely successful promotion campaign, with one Kevin Nolan as their captain. After two seasons of despair and ruined weekends, I am now excited again about the thought of watching our club, and the thought of seeing a proper team take the field and get the result.

COYI

Here’s how the fixtures check out:

Sat 6 Aug – Cardiff City H
Sat 13 Aug – Doncaster Rovers A
Tue 16 Aug - Watford A
Sat 20 Aug - Leeds United H
Sat 27 Aug – Nottingham Forest A

Sat 10 Sep – Portsmouth H
Sat 17 Sep – Millwall A
Sat 24 Sep – Peterborough United H
Tue 27 Sep – Ipswich Town H

Sat 1 Oct – Crystal Palace A
Sat 15 Oct – Blackpool H
Tue 18 Oct – Southampton A
Sat 22 Oct – Brighton and Hove Albion A
Sat 29 Oct – Leicester City H

Tue 1 Nov – Bristol City H
Sat 5 Nov – Hull City A
Sat 19 Nov – Coventry City A
Sat 26 Nov – Derby County H
Tue 29 Nov - Middlesbrough A

Sat 3 Dec – Burnley H
Sat 10 Dec - Reading A
Sat 17 Dec – Barnsley H
Mon 26 Dec - Birmingham City A
Sat 31 Dec - Derby County A

Mon 2 Jan – Coventry City H
Sat 14 Jan - Portsmouth A
Sat 21 Jan - Nottingham Forest H
Tue 31 Jan - Ipswich Town A

Sat 4 Feb – Millwall H
Sat 11 Feb - Peterborough United A
Tue 14 Feb - Southampton H
Sat 18 Feb – Blackpool A
Sat 25 Feb - Crystal Palace H

Sat 3 Mar - Cardiff City A
Tue 6 Mar - Watford H
Sat 10 Mar - Doncaster Rovers H
Sat 17 Mar - Leeds United A
Tue 20 Mar - Middlesbrough H
Sat 24 Mar – Burnley A
Sat 31 Mar - Reading H

Sat 7 Apr - Barnsley A
Mon 9 Apr - Birmingham City H
Sat 14 Apr – Brighton and Hove Albion H
Tue 17 Apr - Bristol City A
Sat 21 Apr - Leicester City A
Sat 28 Apr - Hull City H

NOLAN SIGNS FOR THE IRONS

WHUFC.com announces Nolan's signing

Despite the media frenzy regarding this transfer, I didn’t want to believe it until it became official. And thankfully now it has. Kevin Nolan has signed a five year contract. In my opinion, he should certainly be made club captain, with Mark Noble as his deputy.

Somehow, I’m getting quite excited about next season now. I don’t even care if Nolan brings down his ridiculous chicken dance goal celebration, so long as he keeps scoring like he has done the past two seasons – welcome to East London, Kevin.

From the official site, it reads as though Big Sam was the major factor in Nolan’s decision.

“It’s been a bit of a whirlwind, but obviously once I knew that they wanted me, they have shown a certain hunger and desire to make sure I become a West Ham player,” said Nolan.

“Having the chance to link up with Sam again is a massive thing and obviously coming to such a massive club is great for me. I’m very sad to leave Newcastle but I’m coming to another massive club in my eyes and hopefully I can start off and be as successful as I was there.

“I came to West Ham because of the tradition of the club and everything about it. I’ve always enjoyed playing here and there was also the chance of linking up with Sam and working with him again.

“The be all and end all was that the club actually wanted me and the owners put faith in me and have given me a security of contract. Now it’s my time to repay them and hopefully I will do that.”

MATTHEW ‘I’M A CELEBRITY GET ME OUT OF HERE’ UPSON: THROW HIM TO THE WOLVES

In my 27 years supporting West Ham I have never felt such disgust as I do for departing captain Matthew Upson. It was about two years ago that he first started stalling on signing a new contract at the club and, honestly, at that time I was a bit gutted.

That soon changed.

Although he never excelled in a West Ham shirt, at his best Matthew Upson performed as should be expected for a club captain playing at centre back; he was fairly solid. Yet, as soon as he’d decided not to extend his contract, his performances dipped quite dramatically.

NAME: Matthew Upson STATUS: Missing in action

It must have been written into his original contract that he should be club captain, because it was clear to see that, over the last two seasons of struggle, Upson went missing. At any other club he would not only have been stripped of the captaincy, he would have been put on the substitute bench. His heart wasn’t in it and as a direct result nor was his head. When the club was calling out for a hero, the captain hid.

Was it Upson that grabbed hold of the dressing room at half time?

Was it Upson encouraging his team-mates after we conceded another goal (that he was probably to blame for…)?

Was it Upson coming out to the press and saying the team can survive?

No, it was the likes of Parker, Noble and Collison.

As the team stared into the face of adversity, poor performance after poor performance led most fans calling for him to never wear the claret and blue again. He didn’t only choose to commit his future to West Ham – he failed to see out his contract with effort, respect, or dignity.

It says a lot that many Birmingham City fans will know what I’m talking about. As a central defender, Upson is probably the worst man marker in professional football, who truly cannot defend an incoming cross. He was routinely out-jumped for headers by considerably shorter players, leading me to believe he was actually short. The fact that he is 6’1″ just goes to highlight his flaws as a footballer.

Out-jumped by the considerably shorter Malouda

He also has a turn of pace slower than the RMS Titanic – the fastest he moved all season was when he was mysteriously ‘injured’ as we sat 2-0 down away to Man City after 15 minutes. He bottled it and couldn’t wait to get off the field. Some leader, eh? What a professional. Fittingly, if I remember correctly, that was his last appearance in a West Ham shirt.

So good luck Matthew Upson, I somewhat doubt that you’ll get the move to a top-four club that you believe you deserve., and your England career is dead in the water, after the televised raping the German’s gave you last Summer. If the tabloids are to be believed you might be on your way to Wolves, who see you as a decent free transfer who can help sure-up their leaky defence. Someone better show them a DVD of your performances from the last two seasons; they’ll soon change their mind.

People consider West Ham fans to be harsh on former players, booing them when they return to play at the Boleyn Ground, but there’s a reason Joe Cole receives a standing ovation and Frank Lampard gets booed. I imagine Scott Parker will be leaving shortly too, but you can bet he’ll get a brilliant reception – even if he signs for Spurs. It’s all about your conduct while at our club.

Matthew Upson can expect to get a hard time next time we see him play.

WEST HAM 0 – 3 SUNDERLAND; THAT’S WHY WE’RE GOING DOWN

Had I written this post when I arrived at the stadium today, the title would probably have been along the lines of ‘Keen distances himself from West Ham job’.

In the build up to the match, caretaker manager Kevin Keen got me quite excited about his potential team selection, promising a starting eleven made up of players who will give their all to be in next season’s West Ham side. So to be honest, I was quite pissed off when I read that Wayne Bridge, Luis Boa Morte and Freddie Piquionne were all starting (and Victor Obinna was also one of the first subs to come on…). In fact, after promising a youthful side, the only somewhat new face was Zavon Hines – very disappointing. I would rather have seen a proper youth side go out there.

How was Wayne Bridge allowed anywhere near our squad yesterday? He’s off back to City now and I’d honestly be surprised if he plays for them again; judging by his performances in claret and blue, he is well and truly past his best, and his best was never that good anyway.

Typically for a West Ham fan, I had managed to build up some excitement about this match. Avram’s gone, ‘players’ like Upson are gone; there was real reason to look forward to an enforced new beginning. But the performance was awful. It was possibly, somehow, worse than some of those games under Avram. Keen didn’t have long to work with the team, but it’s safe to say he’s done himself no favours towards being appointed as the new manager.

We really did show today why we are going down. No cohesion, players out of position, players not knowing what to do with the ball once they receive it. It was pure and utter shambles. We just can’t work out how to carve out good chances and goal-scoring positions. It was just a horror show.

And that’s really all I’ve got to say about it.

The conga in front of the East stand was probably the highlight of the game for me. Good fun.

The home fans were a bit quieter than usual. In our corner of the East stand we did our best but I found it hard to even pick out clapping hands or chanting from elsewhere in the ground. I know we’re shit and we’ve just been relegated, but that would never stop me singing.

The Sunderland fans were in good voice and did their club proud. At one point a group held up a banner saying something about the disgraceful cost of tickets for away fans. It read something like ‘£48, you should be ashamed WHU’ – while I agree with them, you had to laugh at the situation. The bloke next to me looked at me and said, ‘How do they think we feel? I’ve paid £58 a match to sit here all season and endure this shit!’

Oh well. I’m pleased to finally say goodbye to the likes of everyone who never worked hard enough in the claret and blue: Upson, Bridge, Boa Morte, Obinna, Piquionne, Keane, Cole and a few others.

One last moan for this season. After being prompted, the players applauded the fans after the final whistle for all of 30 seconds before leaving the field. Although a lap of ‘honour’ would hardly be fitting for most of our team, I was disgusted that they still didn’t do a lap. Credit where it’s due: Rob Green spent a bit of time applauding the stands and Gabbidon, Collison, Tomkins and Parker at least showed the fans some respect by completing a short lap, which was nice. But the rest of them? They left the pitch as quickly as they could…

Showing his true class, Scott Parker was one of the last to leave the pitch and it was tough watching him wave goodbye to the fans.

WHAT’S NEXT FOR SUPER SCOTT PARKER?

Despite being resigned to relegation for a good few weeks, I’m still not sure it’s sunk in properly. Walking to work this morning I nearly had a heart attack over the minor realisation that both the sleeve badges and player names will now appear on our shirts in the hideous Championship styling – which looks like it was designed by a year seven design student. If that was enough to depress me, I’m not looking forward to realising the far more serious repercussions of dropping down to the Championship.

In my mind, the first two major developments will be getting the right manager in, and the future of one or two players, and I can’t stress enough the importance of not making decisions on the playing staff until the new manager is appointed.

Until the Bongo Brothers and Avram Grant cocked everything up, I was hopeful of Parker spending the rest of his career with us. His status as a West Ham legend isn’t in doubt but I was so dearly hoping he’d stay with us until he retired and receive a hero’s sign-off. Remember when Trevor Brooking retired and was held aloft on the pitch and applauded by adoring fans? I was picturing that for Scotty. Except football is sadly different these days. If we walked on the pitch to celebrate the career of a hero we’d probably all be banned for life from Upton Park, or the Olympic Stadium [shudder].

But it’s also worth remembering that Brooking stayed with us when we were relegated and played for us in the second tier of English football. In this day and age, is it too much to ask of a 30-year-old Scott Parker, still fighting for his place in the England team, to drop a division?

Firstly, were I the owners of West Ham, I would already have called Fabio Capello and asked him, honestly, if going down would affect the chances for Parker – if you were going to ask Parker to stay, this could be make or break.

Secondly, I’ve read quite a comments from people over at West Ham Till I Die with the same ideas as me; loan Parker out on a one-season loan to a Premier League club on the proviso that we can bounce straight back up to the Premier League. If we do, we take back our prized asset; if we don’t, a clause is activated in which the club loaning him can buy him outright for a pre-determined sum.

An idea like this is maybe unrealistic but it definitely has its merits. To West Ham, Parker is priceless; the job he does for us isn’t even worth ten or twenty million, because we couldn’t replace him with those amounts of money. Yes, going down is a strain on the finances but what would selling Parker for ten million help in the long term? Not much. Were we to loan him out his wages would be covered by the loaning club and we could also receive a loan fee of a couple of million. Scott does love it at West Ham, so could be open to the idea of keeping his options open on returning if we return to the top flight as the first time of asking.

If Parker does leave for good I hope it’s to the right club. It didn’t work out for him at Chelsea because he was a small fish in a big pond of players – At West Ham he was the big fish in a small pond and excelled remarkably – So he would be wasting his time going to any of Manchester City, Manchester United or Spurs, who employ a high rate of squad rotation.

Any clubs smaller than those above would be a waste of time in my opinion. Scott has nothing to gain by joining the likes of Villa or Fulham. He’s also a devoted family man and might be against the idea of uprooting his young family away from London, his hometown. A club I can see him being a success at is Arsenal. They’re a good side but are always one or two quality signings away from genuinely competing for silverware; the signing of a quality goalkeeper, defender and then Parker in midfield could be the difference between them fading out towards the end – as usual – and genuinely maintaining a title challenge all season.

I’m not saying I’d be happy to lose Parker, far from it, but it’s of little value in the long term to sell him for a silly sum like £10 million. But if he does go I hope he makes the right decision on where he plays his football next season.

MAN CITY 2 – 1 WEST HAM; STILL WITHIN TOUCHING DISTANCE

The absence of a match preview was because I said all I could on this match in my review of last weekend’s defeat at Chelsea. A result against City was highly unlikely so losing was never going to be a result that sealed our fate this season. What I felt was more important was to make sure that we had a team performance to be proud of, to play well and be unlucky, but courageous, losers. Quite simply, an encouraging performance was vital to us ahead of the match against Blackburn next weekend.

So it was always going to happen that we started shakily and the opening 25 minutes of this match were painful for West Ham fans to watch. Unable to get the ball let alone maintain possession, we didn’t so much drop deep, as start deep and stay there.

City scored their first early on after the ball rolled out to the edge of our penalty area and, as per usual, there were only opposition shirts laying in wait. It’s one of my pet hates of our team that, whenever the ball falls there we never usually have anyone challenging. So predictably, the ball fell to Nigel De Jong and he scored his first goal for Man City. You’ve got to laugh.

The second goal was laughable in our marking and poor Jacobsen’s finish. In Jacobsen’s defence, the ball was allowed to come in too easily by Gabbidon. How often have we been punished from wide areas this season without ever learning our lesson?

At 2-0 down after the first 15 minutes, it was hard not fear the worst. But then came a pleasing passage of possession for the Irons. Robbie Keane made a great run and was put through one-on-one and really can have no excuses not to score. During the replays it struck me that he stared for too long at the linesman to see if he was offside, before looking back around and finding Hart had closed him down. Thus Keane’s chip attempt was stopped easily by Hart.

Keane’s chance was our best sequence of play so far and the team reacted well to it. We enjoyed our best spell of possession and for the first time in the match we weren’t defending deep enough to sight the Titanic. What happened? We scored. I’m sure everyone of us was screaming penalty for the handball before Ba reacted excellently to get the ball in to the net.

I felt during the second half we worked hard and performed admirably. Don’t get me wrong, we weren’t good enough and I still don’t think we’ve got the tactician we need in charge, but we didn’t concede and crafted a few chances where we could have got an equaliser.

Ba looked decent and took his goal well, but his first touch when receiving the ball left a lot to be desired. Keane made some good runs, but the way we were playing he was forced to drop back to midfield just to see anything of the ball, in turn leaving us with less up top than Kate Moss. Hitz was decent enough and played some good balls. Our injury crisis has come at the wrong time for Hitz as I would have loved to see him rested ahead ofBlackburn. Freddie Sears again showed moments of good, intelligent wing play and I’d definitely like to see him back in the starting 11 next weekend. Likewise, I enjoy watching Spector in midfield and would like to see him in the same position next weekend. I feel if we do go down, he would be a good one to keep hold of. In the Championship, if we’re without Parker, he could be the midfield general we’ll need.

Upson, well he’s Upson. When he went off injured, he seemed to run off the pitch without any sign of discomfort, so I’d guess he just bottled this game and fancied going off instead of being on the end of another tonking. As it was, Da Costa came on and did the job and we didn’t concede again. Make of that what you will…

Overall I’m happy with the performance and result, when you think about it in context, we were one defensive mishap away from a whipping today and we turned it around and went close to grabbing a point. On a day when the performance was what mattered, I think we’ve set ourselves up nicely for Blackburn next Saturday.

But let’s not get carried away. We’re still not performing to anywhere near the levels we should be and Grant is not the man to take us on, which ever way we’re travelling.

I’ll be at the Blackburn and Sunderland games and I’m anticipating them with equal measures of confidence and dread; doesn’t that just sum up this season? You just don’t know which West Ham team will turn up. Even after we dominate a half and grab a two-goal lead, we could come out after half time and implode, and that is going to make the next three matches bloody horrible!

Come On You Irons!

ANTHEM ETIQUETTE FOR THE SLOTHS

Footballers evoke mixed opinions for me. Some show such passion and dedication that you start to think that they actually deserve their inflated wages, and some show such a lack of effort or respect for their position that you want to smack them in the chops and send them to live in a shanty town, where they’ve got to drink their own urine in a desperate bid to stay hydrated.

One thing players never forget is that they’re always being watched, especially during the national anthems. It’s a testament to their intelligence levels that they think they have to mime singing along to our anthem.

Although unavailable for comment, the Queen is reportedly furious that people - who do absolutely nothing for their wealth and privileged lifestyles - won't even sing along her to majestic anthem...

The way I see it you have two respectable options during this customary rite; either you just fucking sing the anthem, or you stare intently into space like the manifestation of professionalism, as if you’re about to explode with unrelenting masculine adrenaline.

The majority of players think they’re obligated to sing along to the anthem so they stand there like gormless cattle slowly moving their mouths to the words. Barely opening them enough to breathe, let alone talk or sing.

Love him or loathe him, but you can't question John Terry's passion for club and country

Can someone tell these athletic, sloth-brained millionaires that it’s OK for them not to sing along? Don’t disrespect the fans – and more importantly what the anthem stands for – by standing there pretending to sing. Either do it properly, or don’t.

Maybe try showing some of the same passion that the fans in the stadium do; if they followed your lead and mimed their way through the anthems, the tradition would soon be dropped altogether.