West Ham visit Leicester to complete the first quarter of the season.

Can we start to climb the table?

As we near the centenary of the end of the First World War, we are also approaching 100 years since West Ham’s first ever games in the Football League in the following year, and our very first meetings with this weekend’s opponents, Leicester. They were formed as Leicester Fosse towards the end of the nineteenth century, but changed their name to Leicester City in readiness for the 1919-20 season when our paths first crossed. The initial game was at Filbert Street, their home for over 100 years before they moved to their current stadium around twenty years ago. It ended in a goalless draw, and then one week later in the return at Upton Park we won by a solitary goal. We were both Division Two sides at the time, and we have now met them on around 130 occasions in both the second tier and the top tier of English football. We have the upper hand winning slightly more games than the Foxes, although it is a close thing.

But nothing could be closer than the climax to the 1922-23 season in Division Two just three seasons later. A week after taking part in the infamous White Horse FA Cup Final, the very first final to be held at the original Wembley Stadium (which we lost 2-0 to Bolton Wanderers), we went into the last day of the season at the top of the league on goal average from Leicester and Notts County (goal difference wasn’t the deciding factor then), all tied on 51 points. We were looking for our first ever promotion to the top tier of English football, but had a tough fixture at home to Notts County. A draw would have guaranteed promotion, but we conceded an early goal, and despite constantly attacking could not get an equaliser, and lost. In those days there wasn’t the communication that exists today, so we thought our promotion hopes were dashed. It was much later when news arrived that Leicester had also lost their game, so we did move up to Division One for the very first time.

The amazing thing about our games versus Leicester in that promotion season was that we drew the home game (2-2), but in an extraordinary match at Filbert Street we won 6-0. Had we won that game just 1-0, 2-0, or even 3-0, then Leicester’s goal average would have been better than ours at the end of the season and they would have been promoted instead of us. And what was even more remarkable was that Leicester only conceded 19 goals in total in their 21 home league games that season, and we had scored six of them. In addition we had achieved promotion scoring only 21 goals in our 21 league games at Upton Park, but we won more games on our travels and scored 42 away goals in the process.

One of the best games I remember against Leicester came almost exactly fifty years ago in November 1968 when we beat them 4-0. My favourite West Ham goal of all time was scored by Martin Peters that day, and I was standing on the North Bank behind the goal that it went in. Bobby Ferguson, our keeper, had the ball in his hands and rolled it out to Peters on the edge of the box. Peters then advanced forwards a few yards and a couple of passes later the ball went out to John Sissons on the left wing. Sissons, a tricky winger, moved forwards and from just inside the Leicester half played a long diagonal cross into the penalty area where it was met by Peters on the volley as it came over his shoulder. His thunderous shot from about 12 yards almost decapitated Shilton in the Leicester goal as it rocketed into the roof of the net. He hadn’t stopped running from the moment he passed the ball out to Sissons. The goal combined a move from one end of the pitch to the other and also wonderful technique from the goalscorer.

You can see that goal on the internet, or at least the last part of it, but that doesn’t really give you the opportunity to appreciate the sweeping move from beginning to end. Incidentally I met Martin Peters many years later at a book signing for his autobiography (around 2006), and told him that it was my favourite ever West Ham goal. He couldn’t recall it and told me that he hardly remembered any of his goals. I got him to sign my copy of that 1968 programme as well as his autobiography. He scored so many in his illustrious career including of course, the second goal in the 1966 World Cup Final. Perhaps this was an early sign of the dementia / Alzheimer’s that he now sadly suffers from.

At half-time this Saturday we will be exactly a quarter of the way through the season. Our seven points from nine games, which include six defeats, would normally be relegation form, but we are outside of the bottom three, and surely now looking upwards rather than over our shoulder. It is not an excuse, but we could add the order of the games in the fixture list as a possible additional reason for the position we find ourselves in. In our first ten games we have met the teams who are currently 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th in the league table, so we have yet to meet any of the teams towards the bottom, where on paper at least, the games should be easier. We have already met 5 of the top 6 “elite” teams, with just Manchester City to come in the second quarter of the season. And while I am mentioning the fixture list, have you noticed our opening game of the season in the last five years has been against Tottenham, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United, and Liverpool, in that order. Hardly the recipe for a good start! What chances it will be Manchester City next season?

Our second half performance last week against Tottenham was an improvement on the first half, and in my opinion we didn’t deserve to lose the game. Only a couple of excellent saves from Lloris denied us an equaliser. I hope that Obiang is soon fit again to take his place in midfield, but it appears that this game is too soon. I don’t see too many changes from the last line-up. I was impressed by the trickery and pace of young Diangana, and expect him to make an impact this season in the team. Perhaps Anderson could be moved to try out the so-called number 10 role to relieve him a little of wide defensive duties which are most definitely not his forte! I predict the following starting eleven and squad for this game: Fabianski; Zabaleta, Balbuena, Diop, Cresswell; Rice, Noble; Snodgrass, Anderson, Diangana; Arnautavic. Subs. Adrian, Ogbonna, Fredericks, Masuaku, Chicharito, Lucas, Antonio.

For those of you who like a bet on West Ham to win, then level stakes on all nine league games this season would probably have you slightly ahead of the bookmakers, depending of course on whose odds you took, as they can vary. This is a surprise to some as we have only won two games, but the odds on those victories would have ensured a payout in excess of the seven losses. This time around we are around 5/2 to 3/1 to win the game, and 10/1 to win the game 2-1. For those of you who like a fun bet then this week I will be focussing on Issa Diop who I am sure will score sooner or later. Diop to score the first goal in the match is 50/1, and the odds are the same for him to score the last goal. For him to score at anytime in the game you can get 18/1, and for him to score two or more goals you can get 250/1. A bet on Diop to score the first goal in the game and West Ham to win 2-1 is priced at 400/1, and the same odds are on offer for him to score the last goal in a 2-1 victory. Of course bets such as these are very unlikely, but I like to combine one with my bet on West Ham to win the game for a bit of fun.

Four of Leicester’s league games this season have had a score of 2-1, and three of those they have lost, including two 2-1 home defeats. Despite our lengthening injury list, I expect us to win the game 2-1 and Issa Diop to score one of the goals. It is about time that we started to climb the table, and our fixtures in the run-up to the end of the year give us every chance of doing so.