CLASSIC WALLPAPER #1: TEVEZ

In an effort to avoid reading about last night’s loss to Saints I decided to look back to the days of Carlos Tevez. Whatever your opinion on Tevez, nothing will change my memories of his season in the claret and blue; a dark season that was lit-up by this hard-working, passionate footballer who lent his enthusiasm to our club.

It makes me chuckle how fickle both sets of fans from Manchester are… My mate’s a Man Utd fan (yes, he lives in London), and I recall the days of us both agreeing Tevez is world class. Just the other night we had a heated discussion in the pub as said friend now considers him an ‘average’ player.

No such tomfoolery will ruin the legend of Tevez amongst West Ham fans.

I knocked this wallpaper up for my desktop at work and thought I’d offer it to anyone interested. It’s a nice, subtle image of one of the goals I remember celebrating the most in recent years. It marked the first goal for a player who put his heart into playing for our club, who came in with no real connection to the Irons but played as if his life depended on it.

Clicking on the image below should take you through to a bigger version.

TIME TO PIQ YOURSELF UP

Piquionne celebrates scoring against Spurs

I’ve been openly critical of Freddie Piquionne on this blog and I feel it’s with good reason. I once wrote a post calling Carlton Cole the ‘perpetual infuriator’, due to faltering levels of performance based on his effort rates, and this is slightly similar to Piquionne…

The reason Cole infuriates me will be the same as many Irons fans; I consider him, on his day, to be a player with enough class to play for one of Europe’s top clubs. (I was going to use the world-class description then, but thought better!) The only problem is that his performances are just too unpredictable – one game he can dribble through five players and score, the next he won’t even jump to win a header.

I always support Cole with enthusiasm because he always shows enough to keep me on his side, plus he must be one of our longest-serving players now, despite having the opportunity to move away following relegation. In the modern game I can’t help but reward loyalty.

Piquionne shows similar traits in his game but, while I will always support a player in claret and blue, I find myself totally unforgiving when I judge him. There have been a couple of matches when Piquionne has shown moments of brilliant skill and I’ve started to think that, with a run of games, he could be a decent player for us.

But when he does get a run of games he struts around the pitch like a poor-man’s Dimitar Berbatov. And that’s exactly what he reminds me of. For me, he plays with a very similar style to Berbatov; rarely breaking into sprint, ruining attacking build-ups with failed attempts at taking on his defender and an apparently complete inability to win a header despite being 6”2’. Only, unlike Berbatov, Piquionne can’t change a game with a single moment of magic, so I find him much harder to tolerate.

Whether this is a perceived lack of effort, or an actual lack of effort, I can’t say 100%, but I do know this: I am a mere 5”10’ and when I play football twice a week I take pride in tracking back to help my team, in out-jumping blokes taller than me through simple determination, and if I lose the ball I’ll chase it until my team wins it back – and I’m not being paid tens of thousands of pounds a week to do it. But I sure spend a lot of money playing this sport and watching the team I love – and like most fans all I ask is that the players put in enough effort to remotely justify their wages!

It’s not my style to dislike a West Ham player… Actually, I’ve just realised that’s a lie – I literally got annoyed having to look at Matthew Upson during the last few months of his time with us. Other players have annoyed me but still retained my support, as I mentioned with Carlton Cole. Another example is Luis Boa Morte, who wound me up no end but I could never get on his back too much because he always tried hard.

The latest news suggests that Piquionne could be on his way in a loan deal, possibly to join Ilunga at Doncaster, and I welcome this. I was actually surprised we kept hold of him considering the signing of Carew, who in my opinion is a vastly superior back-up striker. I’d guess that it was either too late to ship him out, or no one would take him.

So thanks, Piquionne, because there were actually some good times despite the negativity of this post. The winner against Spurs was a key factor in what became one of my moments of the season, and I remember him running from the right-hand side in central midfield and scoring a wonderful goal, even though I’ve forgotten which game it was (possibly Barnsely in the Cup?)! I even enjoyed hearing him in interviews as he certainly talked the talk, even if he couldn’t back it up with the walk…

But all in all, for me he is one of the few remaining ‘dead wood’ players that the club has been needing to shift for too long now!

Onwards and upwards!

COYI

FOOTBALL’S STREETS SHOULD BE PAVED BY GOLD

The Independent ran quite an interesting story this week featuring an interview with David Gold. While I’ve been fairly open about my reluctance to trust our board 100%, it has always been David Gold that I find the more endearing of the trio of Sullivan, Gold and Brady. Maybe it’s because whenever I see him I imagine him dressed as a vampire, or that he reminds me of a lion, or that he often retweets requests from fans on Twitter, but it’s probably because he comes across as a likable, decent, sound businessmen whenever I read an interview with him.

Any article about Gold usually contains the same sort of generic quotes about his life: ‘I grew up in poverty’, ‘I was born near the stadium’, ‘I played for West Ham school boys’, before going on to talk of his passion behind making West Ham a successful club. Maybe it’s all a clever ploy to get us fans behind him and his boardroom buddies, but the stories of having nothing and amassing a family wealth of £350 million is, unfortunately, very similar to the current fortunes of West Ham – he was one half of a duo that took us over when we had nothing, less than nothing, and their ambition is to take us forward as a successful, top-flight club in a world-famous, 60,000-seater stadium.

In this particular article my interest was grabbed by a discussion on ticket prices. The cost of attending matches has always astonished me; I love football and I buy into it in a massive way – each year I pick up some new merchandise and often buy match day programs. (I always regret wasting that £3.50…) I also adore certain players and feel that, as modern-day celebrities, they should be paid handsomely, but the current wages of top-flight footballers are a disgrace

How anyone can justify paying a footballer a sum like £100k a week is just beyond me and this is surely one of the main reasons behind the sorts of ticket prices we are seeing. I’ve had discussions with friends and family about this topic before and the argument that they have short careers often crops up. This is obviously true, so players need to make the money while they can, but I’d counter-act that with the fact that, even on £20k a week, a footballer could amass a wealth of millions over their career. They could then also earn more from sponsorship deals, endorsements and other extras. With most modern players showing a lack of loyalty to the club they play for this would also suit a wage structure in which a player can earn more depending on how long they’ve been at a club — £20k a week for the first two seasons, going up to £25k in you me third season at a club etc.

Football is traditionally the game of working classes but it is really in danger of losing any semblance to what it once was, and I genuinely think David Gold wants to rectify this. It’s ironic that Sunderland fans made a banner for their visit to the Boleyn Ground last season, damningly stating that West Ham should be ashamed for charging so much for the away support’s tickets . I agree, and I think there should be a flat price for away tickets at every stadium in each division. All clubs should agree on it before the season begins and stick to it.

I really can’t see how capping the cost of away tickets would pose too much of a problem to the leagues, but maybe someone with more experience or business knowledge could leave a comment if they disagree? Reducing the price of home tickets would be more problematic, as David Gold is only too aware. He says he’d love to do it at West Ham but the club can’t because “I don’t want to get relegated. You can’t do it in isolation. We all have to sign up to it. We’re all breaking even at best, most are losing money, but I’d feel better about it if we had full stadiums. Football is an industry awash with money, but it’s all being used in the wrong areas.”

I believe David Gold is good for our club because, despite his millions, he genuinely seems to have the best interests of the club and its fans at heart. From where I’m stood, it looks like he relates to fans of all backgrounds, stating that he feels ‘crummy’ that a typical working-class bloke can’t take his two kids to a West Ham game. Our proposed move to the Olympic Stadium would at least offer cheaper tickets, even if they are for the worst seats, but whether I agree with the stadium move or not, I definitely agree with David Gold’s attitude towards salaries and ticket prices – I just wish he could get some backing for it!

COYI

MILLWALL AWAY: WATCHING THE DEMOLITION FROM A SAFE DISTANCE

Jesus Cripps, it’s that fixture tomorrow. If you’re wondering whether I’m attending Millwall away then the answer is no. I can’t as I’m on holiday and I’ve got a delightful little day planned, though I am aiming to wake up at 4.30 in the AM and watch it online. The truth is, I wouldn’t be going even if I was in dear old London, I’d be too scared. I’ve passed by the New Den a few times on the train – once while shutting my eyes, desperately turning the volume up on my iPod and hoping that if I can’t hear anything then the locals wouldn’t notice that I was stood in a West Ham shirt – and it doesn’t strike me as a lovely area by any means.

On top of that, the ‘Avram Grant – Millwall Legend‘ prank was hilarious but it must have cost a fair few quid and I don’t want to come face to face with the sort of nutcase who is prepared to fund a private plane just to antagonize another club’s fans. No matter how funny it was.

As it stands Millwall have six from six and sit 15th in the table. Last time out they came a cropper to Birmingham City who walloped them 3-0. In fact, Millwall have only scored six goals so far this season, and haven’t hit the back of the net in their last two games. Compare that to West Ham’s current momentum in the league and it makes me confident we can get the result tomorrow. We’ve scored 15 goals so far this season, eight of which were in the last two games. More impressively we have won all three away games so far, scoring nine goals and conceding just won.

But this is football – and this is West Ham – form alone would never usually fill me with such confidence, but with the transfer business we have just concluded it feels like we’re riding the crest of a wave. A tsunami that is racing towards the big city of the Premier League that will have enough power to destroy all that tries to stand in its path. Our wave will also pick up more power as Big Sam continues working with his team, already the difference from the season opener against Cardiff to now is remarkable.

I was disappointed to read that the Irons couldn’t get Arsenal to write in a buy option to Henri Lansbury’s loan contract, but the lad possesses so much raw class that I’m struggling to leave him out of our starting 11. Instead of trying to decide who I think will start the match, I’d just like to say that I hope we see some more of David Bentley and get our overdue introduction to Sam Baldock – what a game in which to become an instant hero. Though I do think Cole will prove again why it was so important that we kept hold of him, and will bag a brace. I hope the back four remains unchanged because I’m a firm believer in the advantages of consistency.

But in all honesty, in Big Sam we have a manager who I actually trust. He’ll have done his homework on Millwall, and he’ll put out a professional side who can do the job. I just hope we don’t bloody lose! To all those fans who are going to the match – be loud, be proud but stay safe and sensible.

COYI

THE VALUE OF A DIAMOND

Alessandro Diamanti was a player who divided fan opinion. In a struggling team, he was seen as a luxury player who took up a position that would be better filled by a hard working grafter. I believe that was mostly Luis Boa Morte, the polar opposite of Diamanti.

The best finisher at the club for some time?

I was in the camp that valued Diamanti. Yes, for a struggling team, he was a luxury player. He had no pace, didn’t track back as much as you’d like and was a bit of a fancy pants, but there was no mistaking the sheer class of his left foot. He was the best finisher we’ve had at the club for many years, and I mean finishing goals and passes. His vision was sublime, often picking out reverse passes that fooled defences for fun.

In his only season at West Ham he finished second top-scorer with – if I remember correctly – seven goals, and that was mostly off the bench. He could pick the ball up anywhere around the box and properly test the ‘keeper, and that was a real joy to watch.

That being said, we were, and still are, a club that can’t afford luxury players right now. We need the entire squad to be hard working and dedicated to the cause.

I think the reason Diamanti is still on my mind often is because of the transfer fees. We apparently received sponsorship money from SBOBet ahead of schedule just so we could bankroll his £5.5 million move from Italy. Quite a sum of money considering our perilous financial position. The kicker in this story is the sale of Diamanti to Brescia, for a rumoured €2.2 million just one year later – a fraction of the amount we paid for him.

So, today we read from the club website that Brescia, having just been relegated themselves, have failed to make one of their payment instalments, and so West Ham have requested Diamanti’s player registration to be suspended until the matter is sorted.

Considering the West Ham board allowed themselves to be mugged when selling Diamanti, maybe they should ask to call it quits with Brescia if the player returns to East London. Many fans doubt his usefulness in the Premier League, let alone the Championship, citing lack of pace and effort, but I could see him tearing the Championship apart. On many occasions I witnessed Di Canio lose the ball upfield and sulk to himself instead of trying to win it back, nor did he have any pace, but I doubt I’d meet a West Ham who would begrudge his worthiness.

Maybe if the majority of our team hadn’t been letting themselves down so ashamedly, Diamanti would be been viewed as the jewell within a table-climbing squad.

BIG SAM’S FIRST PRESS CONFERENCE

Big Sam arrives at the Boleyn

Sam Allardyce took his first press conference since becoming West Ham manager today. Here’s what he had to say, courtesy of the club’s official site.

Sam, to start, how do you plan to achieve promotion this season?

“Without sounding too arrogant, I think that my experience and my expertise as a manager that I’ve gained, particularly in the Premier League over the last ten years, will help me to bring the club together, to get a team spirit and a togetherness that is going to achieve the ultimate – to get promotion back into the Premier League at the first time of asking.

“As difficult a task as that is going to be, I think it can be achieved. At a club the size of West Ham, it needs to be done as quickly as possible because the long-term goal is the Olympic Stadium and the team must be back in the Premier League when it is going to move into that great venue.

“So, I’ve got to instil a bit of discipline, a little bit of magic and creativity and certainly a bond between the players and the staff to drive ourselves on through what is a very difficult season trying to get into the Premier League. Lots of big teams are spending lots of money aside from ourselves to try to achieve that goal.

“It won’t be an easy task. There are 46 very difficult games, but last year we saw QPR and Norwich achieve it and we’re hoping to do the same.

“I’ve got to try to really get rid of the hangover that relegation brings to a football club and transform that as quickly as I possibly can into a positive mental attitude.”

Have you spoken to the players about their futures?

“Not just yet. They are all on holiday and will come back next week.

“I’ve talked to some of the younger players – Jack Collison and James Tomkins – this morning and it was great to see them in and around the training ground at this stage of the season. They could still be on holiday, as most are.

“I think when we all get together, I’ve got an awful lot to sort out in terms of pre-season training, staffing and relocating myself. I’m going to try to do that before the players get back and speak to them on an individual and a group basis and set out some goals, really, and what we need to achieve.

“I think we’ll look at moving some players on because their desire is to want to play in the Premier League. From a financial point of view, it suits us as well to lose that financial commitment because the drastic loss in revenue is what we all have to face at West Ham, first and foremost.

“Certainly the owners have got to really back-up with their own money to try to get us back into the Premier League. Some of the cuts we have to make will have to come and some have already been made, of course, because some of the players have already left.

“We will try to get as best a squad as we possibly can.

“On a positive note, we’ve signed on Abdoulaye Faye and Kevin Nolan already, which are good positive moves and, like I said, I think there are still some very good young and experienced players at the football club.

“If we all want to work together and go in the right direction, we can give it our best shot and hopefully that will be good enough next season.”

How many players will have to leave?

“The speculation is probably around Carlton Cole, Robert Green and Scott Parker. At the moment, we haven’t had any concrete bids for any of those players.

“Other than them, there is no rush to sell anybody else.

“Thomas Hitzlsperger has already left, as far as I’m concerned. He had his contract terminated and that position has moved on.”

There have been comments about the possible style of play you will employ and whether it will fit in with the ‘West Ham way’. What do you have to say about those comments?

“I thought that question would have come first! We will be OK. When did West Ham last play the ‘West Ham way?’. It can’t be the ‘West Ham way’ if we got relegated.

“The club has been up and down like a yo-yo so I don’t see the fans as thinking of that as playing the ‘West Ham way’.

“The ‘West Ham way’ is about winning football matches and the enjoyment of winning. The fans are in the game to watch winning football and I’m in the game to play winning football and to entertain the public, and that’s what I do.

“Everywhere I’ve been, I’ve entertained the public, regardless of the perception. The perception from the media is that ‘Sam Allardyce plays long ball’ but that’s only a perception. Football is run on perception today.”

Allardyce holds up the new shirt

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