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

Going down. Under

West Ham go globetrotting

AT first glance West Ham’s recently announced pre-season tour looks a bad idea. However, on closer examination it immediately becomes apparent it’s actually completely fucking idiotic. With all respect to Aussie Hammers who have never seen their heroes in the flesh, a trip half way across the globe in the middle of pre-season in order to play Crystal Palace of the Premier League and Brisbane Roar – a middling team in a poor league is some way short of optimum preparation.

Previous tours to the US and New Zealand have resulted in a spate of injuries and there is no reason to think this one might be any different. Jack Wilshere can barely make Rush Green without hurting himself, so a bite from Queensland’s lethal brown snake appears all but nailed on.

Preparation for the rigours of 38 games plus season (46 if we are relegated) should be with a technical view to players hitting the ground running and maintaining that level of fitness throughout a demanding season. Instead of which the Irons squad face two 20 hour plus flights and 12 hours of jetlag to play in two meaningless friendlies. Do the club still possess a sports science team – and if so it would be interesting to know how they felt about the trip?

Six years ago, the players made a similar journey to New Zealand. And then-manager Sam Allardyce was less than pleased with the schedule as he remarked: “We only got back from New Zealand on Monday, which was probably a trip too far. The journey … was too far. We got a few injuries, that was the biggest disappointment.”

An all too familiar sight – Ryan Fredericks lies injured

Given the current small, ageing and injury-prone squad a good pre-season would be designed to minimise the risk of further injury. But sod those concerns, sod coronavirus and sod global warming – the first team face a ludicrous journey to a backwater city in a backwater league to flog a few shirts in a market that is small and far from emerging.

As ever with our inept owners a dollar in the bank now is considered worth more than any future investment. A clue to the reasons behind the tour can be found in the announcement on the official site that reads more as advertorial than any guide for fans. However much money the club receive it will be chicken feed compared to the rewards of the Premier League. Whether the club are seeking to re-establish a future at the top level or rejoin the elite all efforts should be directed towards onfield success, not a bung for club officials.

There is of course, an alternative scenario. Maybe our board believe Brisbane, Australia is far enough away for them not to face the sort of protest that has become the norm in our own country?

West Ham 3-1 Southampton

Bowen strikes

THE club narrative that protests harm the team has been thoroughly dismembered. Protests at Liverpool resulted in defeat but a sparkling performance against the Champions-elect. Thousands of protestors before the Southampton game preceded the most complete onfield performance of the season as the away side were brushed aside by the Hammers pace and power.

There is little doubt however, the David Sullivan-inspired PR offensive will continue with the latest instalment (more offensive than PR) involving rolling out a former ticket tout and alickadoo named Terry Creasey claiming “Bobby Moore would be turning in his grave” at the protests.

Aside from the fact his quotes in the Mail are so on-message they appear to have been written by Sullivan himself, they open the intriguing prospect of further revelations from “the other side”. As a manager himself Ron Greenwood would assert David Moyes must pick Pablo Fornals. And protest organisers Hammers United will have missed a trick if they don’t employ a medium to prove Vic Watson has always loved #GSBOUT.

Fans protest

There is a serious side to this – Sullivan has long sought to monetise the memory of Moore – to now use his legacy as a propaganda tool sits perfectly with a classless and cynical attitude towards death. This is the man who, let’s not forget, used the suicide of former lover and porn star Mary Millington as an excuse to release a posthumous exploitation film described by IMDB as a “tawdry tribute” that featured a lengthy interview by himself. For the record, Sullivan dumped Millington prior to her untimely death after drug abuse and depression (hers) affected their relationship.

As much as writing about Sullivan’s squalid and seedy past is a chore, Saturday’s game was a delight. Supporters were re-energised by both the pre-match protest and Monday night’s efforts against Liverpool that promised better results against less accomplished sides. Southampton, with the sort of lethargy often exhibited by mid-table sides at the fag-end of the season played their part.

Manager David Moyes played a side to have a go (he won’t play such a side for every game) and striker Sebastien Haller, relishing the space created as Michail Antonio and Jarrod Bowen regularly got themselves in front of the “Baguette Batistuta” played hell with the Saints defence. At the other end of the pitch it was obvious work had been done on set plays with six men defending the goal area at corners – also striking was a new attitude – perhaps a result of the appointment of motivator Kevin Nolan to the coaching staff. On that point it’s worth saying football whispers suggest Moyes’ struggles to appoint back room staff was due to a widespread feeling that stay up or go down staff would all be released at the end of the season.

Goals from Bowen, Haller and Antonio were more than enough to dispatch the South-coast visitors and leapfrogged the club above Bournemouth on goal difference and out of the relegation zone – a net return of only minus three against Manchester City and Liverpool away now looks a good return. The only negative from the day were the fading legs and lungs of poor Mark Noble. His lack of pace was directly responsible for Southampton’s goal and the days of him being an automatic choice appear numbered.

#GSBOUT

Take your own advice Sullivan

WEST HAM supporters were simply immense at Liverpool despite the decision by the club to reduce allocation from the normal 3,000 to just 1,800. The away contingent outsung the home side and fully got behind the team – but most of all displayed quite clearly via Sky Sports how and why they want David Gold, David Sullivan and Karren Brady to vacate their positions on the board.

The move by Sullivan to enlist the help of so many of his paid staff of ex-players to spread a message that fans should support the team is both bizarre and counterintuitive. Hammers United have been very clear all along fans should protest the board but support the team. The focus of the discontent is the lack of input the toxic three have given our club. Fans go to great expense journeying up and down the country to support the team. Meanwhile, Sullivan and Gold starve the first XI, reserves, Academy and Women’s team of cash at the same time as loading debt onto the club to line their own pockets.

Karren Brady’s “support” involves doing the club reputational harm via her column in The Sun newspaper. This week’s laughathon involved the Lady beseeching us all to “reflect on the importance of kindness” in the wake of the apparent suicide of Caroline Flack. Leaving aside the fact her own colleague David Gold, showing all the sensitivities of the Duke of Edinburgh, liked a Tweet claiming Flack to be “weak” (whispers are the club have now banned him from social media) Brady’s plea equates to Syrian leader Bashar al Assad taking to the press to denounce tinpot dictators carpet bombing their own civilians.

No doubt Robert Snodgrass, Andy Carroll and Daniel Sturridge, among many who have been the subject of Brady’s vitriol in previous columns, will be reaching into their boots to pull out the very hollowest of laughs at her newly-discovered piety. Just as ill-fitting is Sullivan’s Damascene conversion from dumping fans into the London Stadium’s sterile pit for financial gain (has anybody found out who owns the company Boleyn Phoenix yet?) to abruptly flooding the ether with messages about how crucial it is supporters get behind the side.

This fan believes the protest atmosphere at Anfield, which the team appeared to react positively towards, would signal the need for a protest at every game.

RIP the OSB

Karren Brady – the brains behind the OSB

FANS group Hammers United’s decision to reject a club offer to talk with the Official Supporters’ Board but instead insist on communicating with the Chairmen and Vice Chair has neatly highlighted how ineffectual the OSB are and marks the beginning of the end for the unasked-for and unwelcome group. Cut out of negotiation, the group can now be considered otiose. A piece on the official West Ham website highlighting their “achievements” served only to emphasise how rattled the club are.

Formed in the wake of the protests during the Burnley game nearly two years ago, the stated OSB remit was to improve “matchday experience”, a brief they have spectacularly failed to deliver. Instead they were formed in typically insular fashion as a Karren Brady brainchild to provide a nod towards fan engagement while creating a barrier between supporters and board. On this point it’s interesting to observe how desperate members of the West Ham hierarchy are to resist challenge. Brady’s function is as a buffer to protect Chair David Sullivan, while Tara Warren and the OSB shield Brady. Halfwit head of media relations Ben Campbell protects all of them. Everybody “on-message”, no free-thinking allowed.

As members are appointed not elected, the OSB cannot claim to be independent and don’t serve as such. Minutes of meetings are not made by officers but the club and are seldom released in timely fashion. On surface viewing they appear sketchy accounts of what we assume are lengthy events. Sub-committee minutes are rarely released at all. I have had no contact from my OSB rep and beyond an email address on the club website they make little attempt to reach out to fans. Their Twitter feed does little beyond promoting club initiatives and competitions and hasn’t posted in over three months.

As a measure of their transparency, this is the only picture of the OSB we could find

Their concerns don’t extend beyond the minutiae of sales inside the stadium, are all commercially based and take no account of “cultural” issues regarding fan experience. In common with the club they exclusively treat supporters as customers. They are happy to take credit for other people’s achievements, claiming to be responsible for free sanitary products when everybody knows it was down to a long campaign by Esther Jones Russell a particularly egregious example.

Having so far been highly critical of the OSB it is only fair to herald their achievements. The propensity with which high profile members get away tickets for games within the M25 and south-east region is quite remarkable.

OSB Chair David Baker has long claimed the club want a “strong” Independent Supporters Association and has frequently expressed a desire for a group similar to Liverpool’s Spirit of Shankly to represent fans. Few of Baker’s pronouncements merit serious consideration and such is the case in this instance – if his words meant anything the OSB would resign en masse to enable Hammers United to step into the breach. It is very clear the group are an obstacle to, not a conduit for, supporter recognition.

As they slide towards insignificance the club and Brady have a choice between a coup de grace or lingering death. Either way the loss of the OSB will not be mourned.

West Ham 1-2 Leicester

Pellegrini cut a forlorn figure

We believe he’ll attract new talent to the London Stadium as well as improving the current squad. Above all he is a winner … and we believe his experience, quality and proven record of taking teams forward quickly will ensure that he is successful here.

David Sullivan on Manuel Pellegrini

FOR one glorious moment we were witness to the dream as the largely disappointing Felipe Anderson broke free of his shackles both mental and positional and surged forward, running at the Leicester defence before playing a neat one-two with Ryan Fredericks and crossing low for Pablo Fornals to sweep home. A marvellous goal in construction and execution to give us a glimpse of what Pelle-ball was supposed to be.

Pablo Fornals celebrates his excellent strike

Unfortunately, the allegory doesn’t finish there – for the rest of the game West Ham looked, as so often under coach Manuel Pellegrini, devoid of coherence, tactically naïve, lightweight in midfield and a shitshow in defence. Nothing exemplified the manager’s reign more starkly than the comedic defensive efforts of centre back Issa Diop in the build-up to the killer second goal – the Frenchman couldn’t even foul an opponent properly. On the odd occasion Pellegrini entered his technical area the Chilean cut a lonely figure as his oversized white trainers rather cruelly cast him as the head clown at the West Ham circus.

The boss’s much vaunted “big team mentality” presumably never included contingencies such as Arthur Masuaku whose defending is at best, “up and down” and whose wayward header led directly to Leicester’s first goal. Neither could it possibly involve the all-round play of Carlos Sanchez, surely one of the worst players to ever pull on the claret and blue (and yes, we’ve seen Bill Green in the flesh).

More generally, Pellegrini never appeared to work on set pieces at either end to make up for deficiencies and personnel and is reputed to have never studied opponents never mind watched them. He decried the contemporary need for analytics preferring instead his own eyes.  

Most of all, his attacking players never produced enough chances to compensate for their lack of contribution in defence. The team needed an energetic box-to-box player to play alongside the sitting Declan Rice but more often than not had the 32-year-old legs of Mark Noble instead. Up top the manager paid big money for the excellent Sebastien Haller but starved him of chances and expected him to peel off defenders and find space like Sergio Aguero – a player with a completely different style.

Misery for West Ham as Leicester celebrate

There were notable improvements in performance against Leicester – for the first home game in four the Hammers managed to concede fewer than three goals – but that statistic needs to be set against the nine changes the opponents made with manager Brendan Rodgers confident even his reserve side would win.

Not even the return of Lukasz Fabianski and a penalty save following an uncharacteristic blunder off his line could stop the opposition. The feeling was always the opposition had a bit in the tank. Nothing emphasises the difference in relative squad strength more than Foxes defensive midfielder Nampalys Mendy. In only his second appearance of the season he looked at least as good any midfielder West Ham have played since the arrival of the current owners. .

Thus it was no surprise to anybody, not least we suspect, the manager himself, when the club website announced Pellegrini had been sacked with Vice Chair Karren Brady (she seems to be employed solely for such occasions) applying the coup de grâce. Pelle-ball had collided with reality in much the same way Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s awful election campaign. Perhaps Pellegrini also thinks he “won the argument”? It doesn’t matter, he can retire to his home in Santiago, Chile, safe from any financial worry. Who knows, he may even have an allotment?

Defending: The indefensible

ON Monday night West Ham lost 3-1 to Arsenal despite a half-time lead, as the Hammers conceded three times in just 10 minutes. Such was the nature of both the goals and the home side’s response to taking the lead they bear some closer analysis. Although the intent is to highlight inadequacies in game management and shape rather than performances, obvious individual errors will be addressed.

As pointed out in our match report the Hammers were a goal up against a side without a win in nine games. Under such circumstances the orthodoxy would be to tuck in, compress space and not allow the visitors possession or space. As our first pic shows, this could not have been further from the reality.

The Gunners had teased West Ham by playing the ball out from keeper to full backs and the home side enthusiastically leapt into the trap by attempting to press the yellow defence – something they don’t regularly commit to and have little experience of. Attempting any sort of press with a deep defensive line is football suicide. Consequently the Hammers midfield shape is awful with Mark Noble (who really should know better) jumping forward before handing over marking to Pablo Fornals – a job the youngster barely engages with.

Declan Rice has also been caught too far forward and trails his runner (the goalscorer Gabriel Martinelli). Robert Snodgrass is making every effort to cover his flank as the ball is played past him – but on the nearside, in what will become a recurring theme, Felipe Anderson is ambling towards his own goal with little purpose.

Rice never catches Martinelli who is in five yards of space and finishes crisply as three defenders concern themselves with striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang instead.

At this point it is worth talking about the role of wingers in manager Manuel Pellegrini’s system. They seem integral to his game – but it is unclear what, if any, function they provide. West Ham don’t cross the ball, the wide-men never tuck-in to help midfield and offer little support for their full-backs. Neither do they get ahead of a lone striker or run at opponents, making their role almost invisible. Anderson for example, has scored just one goal this year.

For the second goal Arsenal again played out from the back. Snodgrass is stranded up front while Rice and Noble remain compact in the middle. Nonetheless, there isn’t a claret and blue shirt within 10 yards of either an opponent or the ball.

One simple angled ball and the Hammers midfield is dissected. Angelo Ogbonna has inexplicably dropped off a back four that are otherwise in good shape. At the bottom of the picture £72millon signing Nicolas Pepe is moving into an attacking position without any attention from either Anderson or left-back Arthur Masuaku.

Just look at the space between Anderson and Masuaku as the ball is played into Aubameyang. All the left-back’s focus is on the striker before the latter turns and plays a simple ball out to the right.

Masuaku finally appreciates the danger, panics and rushes towards Pepe. Possibly unaware the player is left-footed, he shows him onto that side and the player finishes with a sumptuous curler unimpeded by any effort to block the shot or properly close him down. By now such is Anderson’s lack of commitment to defending he is barely in the shot.

For the third and final goal West Ham again attempt a reluctant press. Anderson chases for about 10 yards before giving up and stopping before reluctantly breaking into an amble. Again Arsenal play through an almost non-existent midfield with ease.

At this point is worth noting Ogbonna has again broken the line – possibly as a result of having no midfield cover in front of him. Masuaku is chasing back from an advanced position there was no point being in. The space between Ogbonna and fellow centre-back Fabian Balbuena is huge – and ultimately leads to the goal.

Aubemeyang is able to collect a diagonal ball and back heel it to an unencumbered Pepe who has advanced from the bottom of the picture.

The Ivorian has all the time in the world to cross to his team-mate who, bisecting the home centre-backs volleys home.

It is rumoured boss Pellegrini never watches opponents, preferring instead to “impose” his system on allcomers. Two words sum up this ethos; lazy and arrogant. The shape of his midfield is awful – no team can give the amount of space to opponents West Ham do and not expect to come off worse. The left flank is permanently a goal waiting to happen. Quite what happens in training is a mystery – players don’t appear to have much idea of what their individual roles are and little trust in colleagues to carry them out.

With the Chilean’s job under threat and regardless of whether you believe the current Board to be capable of appointing a competent successor (this blog believes otherwise) this shambles cannot be allowed to go on.