Pandemic pandemonium

Going viral – but not in a good way

Don’t just stand there
Let’s get to it
Strike a pose
There’s nothing to it
VAGUE

@dirtyepic7 after Madonna

FIRST the good news – without any live football now or in the foreseeable future to indulge our passion, here’s a link to a substantial library of past games. Enjoy!

From now on this blog will become darker. As a fan of the zombie film genre our immediate outlook appears bleak – especially as we can’t “Go to the Winchester, have a nice cold pint, and wait for this all to blow over.” The cold reality is people and businesses will struggle, friends and loved ones will die. For most of us under the age of 80 it will be our nearest experience of the privations of war.

Football’s response whether at club, FA, Premier league, UEAFA or FIFA level echoes that of the governments either side of the Atlantic. Requiring honesty and leadership we instead get tribal responses as various factions indulge their favourite pastimes of jockeying for advantage. Given the very real likelihood no football will be played before August a domestic three-week delay to buy some time and kick the can (ball?) down the road is pusillanimous.

This situation is exactly what executives pay themselves huge wages for but they’re sitting on their hands. Don’t hold your breath and expect much in the way of enlightenment from this week’s UEFA summit either – the blindingly obvious decision to postpone this summer’s appallingly constructed Euros will be the most on offer.

The season is surely over and in the vacuum of leadership the usual rentagob suspects step forward. Which brings us nicely to the West Ham Vice Chair “Lady” Karren Brady. Her column in Saturday’s The Sun was offensive and deliberately so. By claiming the season should be void and highlighting it would mean Liverpool forfeiting a League title that surely not even the most one-eyed Manchester United fan would deny them was crass and once again brought West Ham the wrong sort of publicity. Never mind it was being published in a paper with a history of offending Scousers.

Send in the clowns

As with football, so our nation. Giving up on leaking bits and pieces behind the paywall of the Telegraph and “unnamed government sources” Prime Minister Boris Johnson was put up in interview yesterday (Monday) to answer questions. A feat he applied himself to with a customary lack of rigour. The country is in desperate need of a war leader – but never mind Churchill we didn’t even get Chamberlain. Just who was it again first coined the phrase “an inverted pyramid of piffle”? By suggesting people don’t gather together but not banning public events he’s effectively denied businesses an insurance payout and thrown them under a bus. Everywhere he moves a trail of debris follows.

For both Brady and Johnson a lack of trust and divisive stance negates the option for them to ask us to pull together after doing their very best to render apart. (Note to those who think they may detect a party-political bias here: There is little to no reason to have expected any better had the result of the most recent election been any different). There is a psychology study of panic buying but equally supermarket raids speak as much to a dearth of calm or authoritative leadership from our executive.

Options seem limited – especially as we won’t be going down the pub (did Johnson say whether we could or not – I can’t remember?) never mind playing football for some considerable time. The best suggestion – it will not happen – would be for the Premier League to collect up all the TV money owing for this season and divvy it out equally among all 92 clubs to stave off the chance of extinction for League One and Two clubs. An Italian idea to split the current season of two years appears more realistic, even if wouldn’t help smaller clubs it at least has the benefit of keeping the lawyers at bay.

The common theme is people revelling in their power without accepting even a scintilla of responsibility. We must fill the vacuum. Sport can bring people together – let’s find other ways of building communities? Be kind to each other! Perhaps stick a note through the old boy’s door down the road offering to do some shopping, give your mum a ring etc. Perhaps take the best piece of advice I’ve heard: Act not as though you’re scared of catching the virus – but as though you already have.
Most of all take care.

xxx

PS Here’s a public information film from Vietnam on the virus. It could take up three minutes of your self-isolation. It’s also a fucking banger. You’re welcome.

Better than any UK Eurovision entry

A day in the life

I read the news today, oh boy
About a lucky man who made the grade

Lennon/McCartney
A message to you Sully

EVENTS off the pitch took at least as much precedence as the game against Everton. Instead of a match report I’ll present a diary of West Ham-related events throughout the day.

Foodbank collection:

After the short ride in on the Central Line and a stroll through Westfield watching happy dads and sons playing table tennis, I headed for the food banks collection point to say hello. Possibly the only thing our monarch and myself have in common is these days I don’t carry cash (the only time I ever need it is when I get the car washed) and was unable to contribute.

Between 1 April 2018 and 31 March 2019, the Trussell Trust’s foodbank network distributed 1.6 million three-day emergency food supplies to people in crisis, a 19 per cent increase on the previous year. More than half a million of these went to children. This is a disgraceful statistic. In the fifth largest economy in the world that figure should surely be zero – and I loathe the idea of foodbanks. However, my moral objection doesn’t mean I won’t contribute and every Christmas the missus and I do a shop for our local centre. Yes, I know it’s a paltry effort – but it’s something.

The protest:

Following a short walk along the river with a mate we arrived at the site for the Hammers United protest around half an hour before events were due to commence. As with many others, I suspect, we were less about protesting ourselves and more about seeing what the fuss was about. Hellos were said, introductions made, and we spent an enjoyable few minutes reminiscing, joking and taking the piss with friends old and new. My favourite line came from a girl replying to my observation about a nameless person associated with the club whom I described as “incredibly fucking thick”. “Yes”, she said, “It’s the only part of his personality that’s authentic”. Boom!

Take it to the bridge

Estimates vary between one and two thousand as to how many people turned up – but either way it was a good turnout. As well as many familiar faces, there were also a good proportion of familiar “faces”. Disappointingly, I didn’t hear a word of any of the speeches due to a poor PA system, even if I am told all contributors spoke well. In all honesty I’ve been dubious about the aims of any protest and have expressed that opinion on social media. But it seems to me Sullivan, Gold and Brady’s PR output over the previous week – it’s always offensive – was enough of a goal in itself – even if it was of the “own” variety.

In her emetic Sun column Vice Chair Karren Brady described her highlights of a decade at the club as “naming the Billy Bonds Stand” and “the first game at the London Stadium”. Highlights indeed. Following her promise of a “World class stadium for a world class team” she has rowed some way back to “First and foremost West Ham are now financially stable” and compared us against failing Bury FC. The only “world class” aspect of her tenure is the phenomenal effort at managing her own expectations.

The takeout from all this is that under the pressure of the forthcoming protest the club press “machine” revved up with all the efficiency of departing Hammers keeper Roberto defending a corner. For as long as the board are embarrassed in this fashion they will continue to blunder.

West Ham bring a new meaning to Public Relations

Stewarding:

Off we tootled to the search areas prior to going into the ground and it became apparent my mate was not well. Almost doubled up with pain, he was struggling to even walk and sweating like Harold Shipman on a Saga holiday. By the time we moved through the gates it was clear he needed more assistance than even I, as a trained first aider, could offer. Left curled up against a pillar I went in search of help.

The first steward I spoke to had clearly never been trained for such emergencies and didn’t know what to do. As did the second. Controlling my anger and pointing out my mate could well be having a heart attack I asked to speak to their supervisor. He just shook his head.

Eventually, I managed to get hold of somebody who knew what he was doing. Steward Henry was brilliant and took charge of the situation as we got the patient sorted, seated and on the way to recovery. For all the claims of how our stewards are trained, they clearly are not. Although a bad situation could have been a lot worse it is nonetheless hugely concerning three separate stewards didn’t know what to do. For all the good it will do I shall be writing an appropriate letter.

The game:

By this point the Hammers side to face Everton had been released. Five starters over 30-years-old. A bench comprising of a keeper, a striker, four centre-backs including two with no first-team experience and a wide player. This is not as has been claimed “our best ever squad”. Part of my friend’s brief rehab included a rest in the club café – a place I’ve never before entered. On the wall were paraded the shirts of the 1980 FA Cup winning team to provide a useful and stark contrast with our current side.

Those were the days

The match itself was of Shakespearean drama – unfortunately the play was Much Ado About Nothing. A game of low quality, both goals came from first half set pieces. The home side had the better of that initial period but faded following the equaliser. Those around me agreed former manager Manuel Pellegrini would have most likely lost. Also clear was current boss David Moyes desperately needs quality reinforcements. I don’t imagine anybody thinks he will get them.

Let the protests continue.

West Ham 2-3 Newcastle

ON the evidence of the home defeat to Newcastle, West Ham are less a side claiming to have top six pretensions than one staring at a relegation battle – and with a set up ill-equipped to face that challenge. There have long been whispers emanating from the club that in all areas the Hammers are arrogant and yesterday all those chickens came home to roost. Forget the late rally, this was a team humiliated by a club so poorly run they appointed the woeful Steve Bruce as manager to replace Rafa Benitez.

To be fair to the Magpies, at least they didn’t settle for Manuel Pellegrini in the hotseat, a man whose entire operation appears to be characterised by arrogance. In that respect, if no other, he is a perfect fit for the Hammers.

First the bare facts: West Ham have won just three games from 11 in what has been a relatively easy start to the campaign. Worse, they’ve picked up just two points from the last fifteen including just a single point from consecutive home matches against Crystal Palace, Sheffield United and Newcastle. The side are currently an alarming nine points down on comparative fixtures from last season.

Expected goals come in at a reasonable seventh place at 15.79. But it is at the other end of the pitch the worries lie. A defensive xG of 21.45 is worse than Southampton, who a week ago let in nine at home. The only side with a worse metric are Norwich. A combined xG of 11.27 puts the club in the bottom three along with the Canaries and, you guessed it, Newcastle. Statistics strongly suggest the Hammers are overperforming!

A measure of the manager’s arrogance is he describes his club’s current form as a “lapse” and claimed “It’s difficult to explain why we played the way we did in the first 45 minutes. I do not understand why we played so bad”. What a shame he eschews analytics? None of us are on Pellegrini’s reported wage of £10million per annum (quite likely a good proportion of which buys an acceptance to accede to the wishes of Chairman David Sullivan – more on that later) but might offer one or two suggestions:

Just a thought, but if you are playing a Bruce-managed Toon, who have by far the worst attacking xG in the division and hadn’t scored away from home in 400 minutes but do possess pace by the bucketload, it might not be the greatest idea in the world to match 85-year-old right back Pablo Zabaleta (who has all the pace of a sloth who wishes to give up the hurly burly of sloth life and kick back a little) against the lightning quick French winger Allan Saint-Maximin. Neither was it the pinnacle of tactical awareness to play a 4-1-4-1 system that allowed Newcastle to merely lump the ball down the field upon receiving possession safe in the knowledge they had the numbers and legs to chase it.

Two of the goals conceded came directly from dead balls. Yet for all our highly acclaimed “big team mentality” (what does that even mean?) there is nothing to suggest training involves set plays at either end of the pitch despite the clear benefits from so doing. For their crucial first goal 6ft 1in central defender Ciaran Clark was being marked by 5ft 7in left-back Aaron Cresswell. And while on goals conceded it’s impossible not to comment on Roberto Jimenez, a goalkeeper whose only claim to competence would appear to be his vague physical resemblance to Italian legend Gianluigi Buffon.

Would it be too much of a stretch to think that, should first choice stopper Lukasz Fabianski be injured, we might need a replacement a little more accomplished than somebody who managed just four appearances for Espanyol in three la Liga seasons? Yesterday he came and missed a cross by yards to present an easy headed goal for Federico Fernandez before a lack of footwork led to him getting both hands to a Jonjo Shelvey free kick but merely pushing it into the net. So rancid was his display the stench could even be smelt as far away as the distant upper tier of the London Stadium.

On pitch we have a captain who has bought into his manager’s hubris. Prior to the Palace game on the 5th October Mark Noble mused: “We never think we can lose”. Reader, we did. In fact, we haven’t won a game since. The skipper then went onto claim he is part of “The strongest Hammers squad” in his decade-and-a-half in claret and blue despite it containing no strength in depth at goalkeeper, full back, central midfield or up top. “Pranks” pre-recorded for sponsors should not be part of a Premier League captain’s repertoire; the optics are poor when the team is losing, they lack class and appear unprofessional.

Andriy Yarmolenko was weaved, it would appear, from the same cloth. He is nowhere near as good as he thinks he is and offers little off the ball. Just as a park footballer wearing Predator boots needs to be pretty nifty to avoid a good shoeing, so Yarmolenko is not of the class, or physique, required to cut holes in his socks – this year’s nasal strip. Felipe Anderson needs to start justifying his £34m price tag too. Yesterday he looked like Matt Jarvis as he didn’t beat anybody, didn’t provide killer passes and wandered around giving the ball away. Still, at least he does all this to a Samba beat, so that probably makes it ok. (Hint: It doesn’t).

An honourable exception was Robert Snodgrass. Chasing and harrying as though his life depended on it, the Scotsman scored with a quality finish and gave the impression he was playing for his place. The midfielder offered the post match view that: “We need to be solid and resolute”. Amen. The club surely need more players with his ability either side of the ball. Expect him to be dropped for an attacker next week against Burnley.

Among the backroom staff the arrogance not only continues but is encouraged. Vice Chair Karren Brady (does anybody know what her role involves?) refuses point blank to give up her vapid and often offensive Sun column despite it doing harm to the club’s reputation. She also ignores UEFA, Premier League and Government regulation that insists clubs speak meaningfully with independent supporters’ groups.

Brady’s hand-picked “supporters” group the OSB act as an arm of the commercial department and do nothing to help fans while their Chair’s main role appears to be antagonising fans via social media. Likewise, Ben Campbell nominally “Head of Media Relations” is known to be at once dim, confrontational and a constant hurdle to journalistic access.

To get to the root of the unwarranted pride that characterises the club it is necessary to go to the top. Owner David Sullivan likes to insist any responsibility he bears for results ended when he bought a club in financial distress nine years ago. Despite personally doing very well from the deal he will routinely answer any criticism with a flurry of nonsense about how much money he has “put in” to the club.

He believes he knows at least as much as the managers he employs, refuses to engage anybody who questions his desire to meddle in the transfer market and will brief against those who do via his favourite websites. We note a piece last week on one such site decrying a recent non-Sullivan signing. In the same place a poll on Pellegrini appeared less than an hour after the full-time whistle yesterday.

The result is a club where sycophancy and chutzpah flourish while intellect dies a lonely death. We are fully prepared to accept our observations on this subject may be considered arrogant in themselves. Just don’t coming running to us when Steve Bruce is appointed manager.

VAR from the madding crowd

JUST as some West Ham fans are prematurely writing off £24million summer signing Pablo Fornals, we believe the Video Assistant Referee should be given time to flourish. That is not to say the system isn’t without its faults. VAR has been brought into the Premier League too quickly, without full assessment and minus any thought for us, the supporters who pay for the privilege of attending games.

Nevertheless, we believe if implemented properly we might see the twin benefits of a reduction in big-team bias, a feature of top-flight football ever since we’ve been watching, as well as a welcome reduction in referee error, leading to a fairer game for everybody. Those of us who prefer consistency to “common sense” in officiating would benefit.

First a description of how the system works: Administered from Stockley Park in West London VAR is concerned with four areas only; goal/no goal, penalty/no penalty, red cards and mistaken identity. A referee, assistant and Hawkeye operator are in communication with officials at the ground.

The criticism falls broadly into two camps: The information given to supporters and the way it is implemented. We see no reason why the decision under consideration shouldn’t be more clearly explained – a retaken penalty in the first game of the season against Manchester City was handled farcically with few people in the stadium aware of what was happening.

Big screens (except at Old Trafford and Anfield where none exist) have the capacity for far more information than at present. An audio feed from the referee would surely help. Replays of the incident under review are routinely played on television. There is no good argument for match-going fans receiving less information, especially as the vast proportion will be in possession of a smartphone. Any suggestion crowds might be “incited” by being better informed is ludicrous.

It is useful to compare the use of VAR with rugby union’s Television Match Official – a sport where initial scepticism has matured towards an understanding and appreciation of the usefulness of a video referee.

In rugby, the referee will make an on-field decision and ask the television match offical (TMO) whether it is correct. If an official is doubtful over an event they ask the TMO something like: “Is there any reason why I can’t award the try?”

In football, the only time this seems to apply is for offside and only after a “goal” has been scored. When it comes to penalties and red cards, VAR only comes into play when there is a “clear and obvious error” – a subjective criterion which has created a reluctance for VAR to get involved.

The different use of replays creates an unequal balance in the relationship between officials. In rugby they seem to work as a team whereas the football referee is at the behest of his colleagues in the box – something FIFA were keen to avoid (“The referee is the sole judge of fact in law”). Rugby fans’ awareness of why, say, a try is disallowed and being able to follow that decision via a miked-up referee and replays on screens seems to enhance their experience, with the bonus of correct decisions being reached.

It is with a wry smile we recall one of the big pre-launch arguments (and one we never subscribed to) was VAR will “Kill post-match argument around decisions”.