It was a cold February Thursday afternoon in 1979. I was on my way home from work when West Ham appeared on the radio on the sports news at the end of the main news bulletin. At the time we were a second tier side so it was very unusual for us to show up in a sports news item on a weekday afternoon. Then I heard the announcement that West Ham had broken the world record transfer fee for signing a goalkeeper. £565,000 for a 29 year-old from QPR (then in the top flight) with one England cap to his name. It was considered a bit of a risk because even then it was alleged that he had dodgy knees. But he stayed with us for over a decade and became possibly the best goalkeeper we’ve ever had. Certainly he was the best keeper I ever saw playing for West Ham. Reg Pratt, the chairman at the time, made a comment that I can’t recall exactly, but it was along the lines of the fact that Phil was too much for us to possibly afford? But it happened.
The point of relating this is that until I heard on the radio that he had signed for us I didn’t even know we were after him. I was an avid fan who liked to keep abreast of all that was happening at the club but I didn’t have a clue. Contrast this with the situation we have today where, in every transfer window, fuelled and hyped by the written media, social media, and in particular Sky Sports, there is continual speculation regarding players that we are apparently chasing. So many names appear and nearly all of them are wide of the mark, but they spark a frenzy on West Ham sites with fans seemingly believing what they read, and adding their comments pro and against as if they are experts. I prefer the first scenario – the one where I find out that we have signed an excellent player without even knowing about it until he has the shirt on.
The Said Benrahma saga is a specific example of the nonsense surrounding football transfers today. How long has the transfer window been open? As I write this with about five minutes to go until the five o’clock deadline I still haven’t seen confirmation that Benrahma is a West Ham player, although there are some sketchy reports that the deal has been done on a loan basis with an obligation to buy. Apparently the reason for this is that the two clubs didn’t have the necessary time to complete the necessary paperwork to make the deal permanent by the 5pm deadline! There was a lot of reporting about a failed medical which was disputed by David Moyes in his lunchtime press conference, but really it can only be West Ham who typically make such a shambles of transfers. The circumstances regarding the change from purchase to “loan with obligation to buy” are a complete mystery at the moment, but will perhaps be revealed in the fullness of time. As a long- time fan I was just getting ready to hear how the transfer fell through at the last minute (the kind of statement I have heard before), but was then pleasantly surprised that it doesn’t appear to be the case.
I hope that we have secured the signing because, from what I have seen when watching Championship football, Benrahma is one of the most exciting talents in that division (just as Jarrod Bowen was). I don’t dispute what a number of our fans have said when they have suggested that this was not a priority position for a new acquisition and there are other areas of the pitch that perhaps need strengthening first. But we have signed what looks like an excellent right back in Coufal, and Craig Dawson at centre back is no mug either, even if he isn’t a world class signing that some had hoped for. For me he is a better buy than Tarkowski would have been at that ridiculous price being quoted, and if that has enabled us to fork out for Benrahma then so much the better.
But did I imagine that the chairman recently made a comment regarding “too many wingers”? Many fans didn’t understand why Diangana was allowed to go, and a few still believe that Anderson would have come good again, but I believe that Benrahma may be a better proposition than both of them and I hope that turns out to be the case. The purchase still makes the chairman’s comment look a little silly though.
But enough of all this transfer nonsense, a quick recall of where we were before the unwelcome international break halted our progress. If you thought that the 4-0 win over a talented Wolves side was just another of those West Ham moments that happens once in a while, then you would have been surprised that we even surpassed that when visiting the league leaders Leicester, and comprehensively thumped them 3-0, and (just like the Wolves game) it could have been more. 7-0 in two games against two of the more fancied teams in the Premier League. As well as the host of chances that we created in each game, perhaps one of the most pleasing aspects was keeping two clean sheets, and defending as a team as well as any West Ham side I have seen in recent times. A 3-0 win away to the league leaders would have been headline news, but it barely raised a mention in the media in view of two other extraordinary results that weekend, with Tottenham winning 6-1 at Manchester United, and Villa thumping Liverpool 7-2.
Going back briefly to transfer signings, Coufal played superbly on his debut at Leicester, and looks an excellent acquisition. I was watching some international football in the week (something I don’t usually bother with much these days) and started to watch England facing Denmark. Rice seemed to be having a decent game, but I was bored with the match and switched over to watch Scotland facing the Czech Republic. Although the Czechs lost the game 1-0, they were playing really well. I was mostly interested to watch our two players, Soucek and Coufal, who along with their colleagues (most of whom seemed to be Slavia Prague players) were creating chance after chance but just failing to score. In view of the success of our two recently bought Czech players, perhaps a further raid in Prague for skilful footballers wouldn’t be the worst place to look in future?
So we look forward to another Sunday game (have we played a single game this season on a Saturday with a 3pm kick off?) against our neighbours from North London. Two in-form teams, neither of whom probably wanted the season to be disrupted at this point, will resume their local rivalry. But, despite the form of our opposition I hope that we go into the game full of confidence and continue to play as we have done in the last three league games. I know we lost at Arsenal but we could easily have won that game too. The pessimism surrounding the club has disappeared for the moment and we can be optimistic for another fine performance. We follow this game with matches against the top two from last season, and both Liverpool and Manchester City will be well up for improving on their start to this campaign.
Assuming no injuries I wonder if we will line up in the same formation with the same personnel that won at Leicester? As far I can gather the manager has a fully fit squad to choose from as he resumes his seat in the dugout, with Diop, Fredericks and Masuaku fully recovered from isolation / minor injuries. Just looking at recent history between the two clubs then the fixture looks like a home win, and the newly acquired Bale inspired Lilywhites (What kind of nickname is that? Do fans still use it?) will hope to record their fifth win in the last six meetings in all competitions against us. But as we have seen in our recent games against Wolves and Leicester, we appear to have turned the corner from a defensive viewpoint, and hopefully we will be difficult to break down. Michail Antonio is in splendid form and has a good goalscoring record against Tottenham so let us hope he can extend that in this game. The two managers have been in in opposite dugouts 14 times, and Mourinho has never lost. Well that is just the kind of statistic I like to see. There’s always a first time. Of course Tottenham are odds on to win, but you can get around 9/2 on West Ham notching a third successive league win this season. That’ll do me. P.S. It’s now 10 p.m. so I thought I’d better check to make sure that the signing of Benrahma was completed satisfactorily and it was. That’s good. With our history I wouldn’t have been surprised if there had been errors with the completion or submission of the paperwork, so I thought I’d better make sure!