It was a warm Thursday evening (August 4th 2016 to be precise) when I paid my first visit to the London Stadium to see us beat NK Domzale 3-0 in the second leg of the third qualifying round to overturn a 2-1 deficit from the first leg of the Europa League competition. A few days more than nine months later, in what almost seems like a blink of the eye, I will be there on Sunday afternoon for the final home game of what has been an interesting season. Unlike some others I have loved the stadium from the outset, but recognise the teething problems at the beginning. Hopefully the majority of issues have been resolved, but some fans will never be happy about us leaving Upton Park, and some still post messages on social media to this effect.
It was never built to be a football stadium, but there is no going back (as recent pictures of what is left of Upton Park will testify!). We have to make the most of it, and as witnessed last weekend against our old adversaries from North London, the atmosphere can be electric when we get the right commitment and performance from the team. Perhaps in the not too distant future the athletics people can be bought off, and the design within the stadium improved to make it more like an old fashioned football ground, but whether or not this will ever happen is a matter for conjecture. I’m sure that if safe standing is ever agreed, then perhaps something can be done to turn an oval into a rectangle. But in the meantime, the stadium is what it is, and we can still trudge off to Stratford station after the game in good spirits when we see a game as good as the one against Tottenham.
So for the last home game it is Liverpool, a return of the game at Anfield a fortnight before Christmas when we drew 2-2. This was a game which featured the last ever goal in a West Ham shirt from an un-named Frenchman, and another from this year’s Hammer of The Year, Michail Antonio. The top three in this year’s voting also included Manuel Lanzini and Pedro Obiang, and I reckon that is a fair reflection of the individual performances of those players this season.
For so many young football fans who think that top flight football only began with the introduction of the Premier League, then they will never remember Liverpool being champions of England. By their own standards of the immediate pre-Premier era, then they have had a relatively lean time in recent years. But I am old enough to remember Liverpool being promoted into the top division in the early 1960s, and they have never remotely looked like dropping out of it since.
The infamous Bill Shankly led them at that time and they won the league title in the same year we won the FA Cup in 1963-64. This was the first of their titles in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, that saw them being the dominant team in England with 13 league championship trophies in that time (making 18 in total in their history). They have also been European champions on 5 occasions.
Our historical record against them is not the best, and they have beaten us over 40 more times than we have beaten them. In fact in head to head fixtures they have won over 50% of games, with drawn matches being more prevalent than West Ham wins too. But in recent times the tide has turned, and we have won three of the last five games against them with two draws. We have won the last three home games against them, and have scored at least one goal in nine of the last ten league meetings at Upton Park. One team or the other has won the last 11 league games at Upton Park, and we haven’t had a drawn home league match against them for almost 16 years.
After five consecutive defeats we have now remained unbeaten for five games, and will be looking to make it six to put a dent in their top four finish aspirations. Although they now sit in third place in the league, they could possibly end up as low as sixth if their results, and those of the teams chasing them go against them.
If you look at the bookmakers odds for this game, then they haven’t taken into account the recent meetings of the clubs, and Liverpool are odds-on to win. But so were Tottenham! However we go into the match with an ever lengthening injury list of first choice players, and it is hard to see us coming out on top. But then we thought that against Spurs too!
I’m hoping for a win, as ever, but will be satisfied to see us put in a performance and commitment similar to that shown a week ago, with whatever team we can put out. We go into the penultimate match of the season with a mathematical possibility of finishing as high as 8th or as low as 16th in the final league table. We are just three points off 8th, and four points above 16th. The eventual outcome is anybody’s guess, but I reckon somewhere in the middle of these two extremes is likely. Let us hope for a resounding performance to round off the first season at our new stadium.