All change: Trains, missing seats and standing orders!

Travel difficulties and the matchday stadium experience.

Rail MapWe set out from Bury St Edmunds at noon looking forward the third opening game at the London Stadium. The Domzale game was the first, Juventus came next, and now the first home league game. We drove to Epping, parked the car, and boarded the westbound Central Line train at around 1.15 anticipating arrival in Stratford 30 minutes later.

Within minutes we knew this would not be the case. A message (from the driver) informed us that the train would be going no further than Leytonstone due to an incident at Mile End. No problem, no doubt we can get a bus from there we thought. The train reached Loughton at 1.30 and we all had to get off; it was going no further. And no trains would be going beyond Loughton until further notice as there was a person on the track at Mile End.

We milled around on the platform and discussed the problem with fellow supporters who we didn’t know, who became known to us as Paul and his son, Owen, and Rich. After a short conversation Paul said his car was parked close to Loughton Station so we could drive to a nearby overground station. Five of us set off in his car without a destination in mind as we drove away, and used mobiles and google to try to work out the best route to Stratford.

Google and tfl suggested Chingford to Hackney Downs, walk to Hackney Central and then train to Stratford. Parking was easy in Chingford on a Sunday, train connections arrived with no delays and the walk in Hackney was via a footbridge which apparently reduced the walk from 600 metres to 200 metres. We were there in plenty of time for the game.

The atmosphere beforehand was good, Bubbles was loud, and we settled down for what turned out to be a dull, uneventful game. Geoff’s article “Five Things We Learned From This Week’s West Ham Game” tells you all you need to know about the game itself.

Stand upThe stadium still has some teething problems. There was the continued issue of those who wish to watch the game whilst standing. The club had to reduce the capacity to 57,000 for safety reasons because of the refusal of a number, mainly in the lower tiers, who insisted on not using the seats provided for them. I can understand their frustration as in my younger days I preferred to stand at football games and did so for many years. I can also see the other side of the issue – people who wanted to sit but who were in seats behind those who were standing. “We’re West Ham United, we’ll stand if we want” those on their feet sang, some of whom didn’t appear to be taking much notice of the game itself.

The stewards moved in en masse and tried to reason with the standing supporters but no luck, they weren’t sitting for anyone. On my journey home I read social media where some of those standing were boasting of how they had seen off the stewards and got their own way. I also read others who had written that the stewards were mainly just taking seat numbers. They went on to say that, if the club were true to their word and wanted to eradicate the standing, and hence get a safety certificate to increase the potential crowd numbers, they would be writing to the “transgressors”. It would be a warning to them that if they refused to follow instructions then their season tickets would be withdrawn, and they would effectively be banned. Some were apparently ejected from the ground during the game, although I don’t know how many. The row continues on social media, and will no doubt still be an issue on Thursday.

56 people who had bought seats found that there were no seats for them to sit on – an administrative error I heard. They sat on the concrete or stood I suppose? The club apologised and said the seats would be there on Thursday.

Apparently the attendance was 56,977 leaving just 23 unfilled seats. There were many more than 23 with no occupants so these must have been the 3,000 that were reduced from the original expected 60,000. The club had obviously spread these around the stadium but some news reports were mischievously (I thought) trying to emphasise supporters not turning up. Perhaps the Mile End incident was another factor?

I was interested in the figure of 23 short of a whole thousand. On seven different occasions last season the official attendance at our home games was recorded as exactly 34,977, 23 short of 35,000. Incredible coincidence don’t you think?

I Wouldn’t Bet On It 4

The latest instalment of our regular betting for fun column.

Fancy A BetBefore embarking on this week’s column I will recap on the last bet where I placed 1 point on there being exactly 3 goals in the Chelsea v West Ham game last Monday. This fun bet was correct, although I would have preferred that we scored the late goal, not Costa, who I don’t believe should have still been on the field anyway. This brought our balance up to 95.1.

This week I will be concentrating solely on our game against Bournemouth today. Just looking at the Paddy Power website (many other bookmakers are available on-line) there are 138 different markets that you can bet on in this one game of football! But before looking at a selection of the possible bets I’ll look back on the results of the seven Premier League games played yesterday.

Of the three possible results in a game of football, home, away or draw, the favourite result came up four times (wins for Man. City, Tottenham, Chelsea and Everton), whereas the least favourite result was the outcome in the other three (wins for Burnley and Hull, and Leicester drawing with Arsenal). The second favourite result didn’t happen in any of the games.

“I’m massively confident of a victory today so I’ll stake 10 points on a West Ham win at 21/20 (20.5).”

A one point bet on each of the 7 favourite results would have resulted in an overall loss of about half of your total stake despite getting 4 of the 7 correct. A one point bet on each of the second favourite results would have meant a total loss of all your stake money. A one point bet on each of the 7 least fancied results would have resulted in almost doubling your money despite only getting 3 correct results. So on Saturday your best bet was to go for the least predictable results unless you were clever enough to mix and match and correctly predict all seven (very unlikely!).

The point being made is that correctly predicting the outcome of football matches is extremely difficult. That’s why I bet for fun only with modest stakes. I generally do better on horse racing bets and my modest bet yesterday was a fiver on Heartbreak City in the Ebor at York at 12-1. So I had a smile on my face yesterday afternoon, but with just £5 staked it wouldn’t have been heartbreak if I had lost.

So what fun bets will I be making on today’s game? The odds setters at Paddy Power haven’t done their homework properly because there are some stupid / hilarious odds on offer for the first goal scorer in the match. Some selected odds are: Sakho, favourite at 5/1, Ayew and Emenike available at 11/2, Lanzini at 15/2, Diego Poyet at 16/1, Song and Cresswell at 25/1, and you can even bet on Jenkinson or Joey O’Brien at 40/1. I think I’ll steer clear of all those! What nonsense and very poor from Paddy Power to not bring their database up to date.

I’m massively confident of a victory today so I’ll stake 10 points on a West Ham win at 21/20 (20.5). With those odds the bookmakers believe there is a less than 50% chance of us winning but I believe our chances are better than that and therefore think that offers me good value.

Then for pure fun I’ll stake the following:

1 point on West Ham to win and both teams to score at 13/5 (3.6)

1 point on West Ham to score 3 or more goals in the game at 11/4 (3.7)

1 point on West Ham to win 3-1 at 14/1 (15)

1 point on Mark Noble to score the first goal and West Ham to win 3-1 at 100/1 (101)

1 point on West Ham to win and Mark Noble to score anytime at 7/1 (8).

The figures in brackets relate to the return if the bet is successful.

If we win the game then I’ll be in profit just from the win bet alone, even if all the others lose. The five fun bets will give me additional interest when watching the game even though the chances of them winning are less likely. If we don’t win the game then I’ll lose all 15 points staked. But my stakes will be low so it won’t bother me at all. My biggest disappointment will be the fact that we haven’t won the game or collected the three points on offer in a game that I believe we should win.

I start on 95.1 points so the 15 points staked will reduce my balance to 80.1. Not particularly sensible betting perhaps but fun all the same.

Preview: West Ham v Bournemouth

We’d much prefer to be beside the seaside as Bournemouth become the very first league visitors to our new Stratford home.

Home to BournemouthIf you qualify to play in Europe after a successful Premier League campaign then you must expect the games to come thick and fast. And that is exactly what is happening. Less than a week ago we began the league season with a 2-1 defeat at Chelsea. Just three days later we were drawing 1-1 in Romania. And less than 72 hours will elapse before we take to the field for the very first home Premier League game in front of 57,000 spectators on Sunday at our new stadium.

For the second season in a row the fixtures computer has arranged for us to play Bournemouth on the same weekend in August. And both times the game has been in London when many of our fans may have preferred a trip to the seaside in the summer, rather than on a cold January evening as was the case last season. But if we think the schedule is hectic this year we need to remember that last season the home Bournemouth game was our fifth competitive home game of the season and our ninth game overall!

Last August it was a nightmare game from a defensive viewpoint as we conceded four times in a seven goal thriller. A great game for the neutrals as Slaven Bilic said, although I doubt there were many neutral spectators at Upton Park on that hot Saturday afternoon. Jenkinson and Cresswell both chose the same day to play their worst games in a claret and blue shirt, but neither will be playing this time of course. And virtually everybody in the ground on Sunday will be hoping that Antonio is not selected to occupy the right back position, although most will hope he is in the team!

“But if we think the schedule is hectic this year we need to remember that last season the home Bournemouth game was our fifth competitive home game of the season and our ninth game overall!”

Of course one look at the early league table reveals that this game is one of the season’s first six pointers with both ourselves and our visitors pointless after our opening matches. We scored three goals against them in both games last season and we are looking for another three goals and three points to open our account this term.

This is the twenty-fifth season of the Premier League so nobody younger than thirty will remember the old days when the top tier was called Division One. We did not participate in that opening season of the Premier League in 1992 as we had been relegated after finishing bottom of Division One the previous May in the famous bond scheme season that provoked ugly protests. It was these off field matters which many believed contributed to many poor performances on the field. So despite relegation from Division One we still found ourselves in Division One which was the name given to the second tier at the time, which is now known as the Championship of course.

Interestingly, in that season, which culminated in promotion to the Premier League for the first time the following May with a last day victory over Cambridge, we had our first home game on 22 August, a day later than this year. On that day we went down to Charlton by a single goal of the game in front of just 17,000 at Upton Park. For the next home game a fortnight later fewer than 12,000 were there for the visit of Watford, and the home attendance continued to fall game by game hitting a low of just over 10,000 for the visit of Sunderland in October, when we recorded a 6-0 victory. How times change when we consider that many are disappointed with the restriction to just 57,000 on Sunday!

Astra Giurgiu 1:1 West Ham

Drawing a blank on a European awayday.

Reece Burke v AstraOn Tuesday, Manchester City went to Romania to face the team currently sitting in second place in the Romanian League, Steaua Bucharest. City thrashed them 5-0, missed two penalties, and quite frankly could have run up a cricket score. Steaua, like their close Bucharest rivals Dinamo, have dominated Romanian football with forty-one league titles between them, shared almost equally, and are the two biggest teams in the country.

Two days later we visited the same country and traveled forty miles south of Bucharest to play against the Romanian champions, Astra Giurgiu, who won the title for the first time last season. This season they are in some disarray and have made a poor start, currently occupying ninth place in the league. Astra themselves have spent the majority of their existence in the lower leagues, and are considered to be a much smaller club than the two big Bucharest teams. We could only draw 1-1.

The result could have been so much better. Shortly before the Astra equaliser we missed a golden opportunity to extend our lead to 2-0 which would effectively have put the tie to bed.  Substitute Marcus Browne’s breakaway was excellent but his unselfish pass across the goal still left Antonio with a bit to do. I reckon he would still have been disappointed to miss the target though. It’s amazing how often missed chances lead to a goal shortly afterwards at the other end and this is exactly what happened a minute or so later. Slack defending at a corner, with Byram seemingly retreating from his original position covering the near post cross, and Collins making an uncharacteristically flimsy challenge for the ball, allowed our opponents an equaliser that perhaps they deserved for their spirited fight back in the second half.

……we looked increasingly vulnerable when Collins came on and we changed to a back three.This gave our opponents the initiative and was perhaps a tactical error by our manager.

In the opening period headers from debutant Calleri and Antonio, who looked more comfortable in an attacking role, almost gave us the lead. Then just before half time an Astra defender inexplicably handled in the area. The referee spotted the infringement and Noble calmly netted the spot kick, his twenty-eighth successful conversion from the spot from thirty-one attempts, including fourteen of the last fifteen.

When comparing our result to that attained by Manchester City it emphasises how far we are away from challenging at the very top. However there was not a lot in the Astra Giurgiu performance to suggest that they should block our path into the group stage when we meet them in the return in Stratford next week.

Defensively our young back line of Byram, Oxford, Burke, and the more experienced Ogbonna coped quite well, but we looked increasingly vulnerable when Collins came on and we changed to a back three. This gave our opponents the initiative and was perhaps a tactical error by our manager. Obiang was tidy as a defensive midfielder and plays a similar role to Nordtveit. Bilic seems to prefer our new recruit whereas personally I like Obiang and I think it will be a loss if he is on his way out as persistent rumours are suggesting.

In attack, Calleri looked as if he could be useful, although it was difficult to tell in this one game. The jury is still out on Tore although he looked a little better than he did against Chelsea. Carroll is Carroll and needs better service to benefit from his strengths. Antonio looked quite good playing in an unaccustomed attacking role! He was certainly our most promising and dangerous offensive player. Valencia continued to run down blind alleys.

I look forward to seeing us attack teams with Ayew, Carroll, Payet, Feghouli, Lanzini, Kouyate, Noble and Antonio, although how many of those will, or can be, fitted into the team (or even matchday squad) at once remains to be seen. Because of injuries that is a long way off, and it will be interesting to see if the club has the willingness to invest in further attacking players, especially recognised goalscorers, before the transfer window “slams” shut in a couple of weeks time. Surely if Valencia and Sakho leave then it is a must.

Match Preview: West Ham v Astra Giurgiu

What’s in store in Romania for West Ham’s European adventure?

west ham v astra 2015Last year our brief foray into Europe ended in the third qualifying round at the hands of Astra Giurgiu of Romania when they beat us 4-3 on aggregate. We held a comfortable 2-0 lead in the first leg when it all went wrong and they pulled back to 2-2. We put out a weakened team in the return leg as we were due to begin the Premier League season away at Arsenal just three days later.

We meet them again this season in the play-off round this time. If we can get past them over two legs then we will be into the league group stage with six guaranteed matches on Thursdays before the end of the year. This will have quite an impact on our league games and it will be interesting to see if we have the squad to cope if it happens.

The Premier League television requirements were not particularly kind to us with our opening league game last Monday evening at Chelsea, followed by this game on Thursday evening, and then we face Bournemouth in our opening home league game next Sunday.

Three games in a seven day period including a trip to Romania will be tough. Added to this is the return with the Romanians a week after the first leg then a daunting away trip to Manchester City on the next Sunday, and there is a real challenge for the team / squad at the beginning of the season.

“We should beat them over two legs quite comfortably to gain revenge for last season’s elimination and move into the group stage.”

Our opponents don’t come into the game in the best of form (a bit like ourselves I guess). Their league season began on 23 July when they suffered a 4-1 home defeat to the current unbeaten league leaders Dinamo Bucharest. A week later they drew 0-0 away from home, and then suffered their second home defeat 2-1 on 6 August. Last weekend they recorded their first league win of the season beating the bottom club who haven’t picked up a single point this season 3-1. Two of their three goals in this game came from the penalty spot, so perhaps they are as adept at “earning” penalties as Leicester!

Astra, the southernmost team in the country, were the Romanian champions last season (they finished first in the regular season and also following the championship round played by the top clubs) and qualified for the third qualifying round of the Champions League as a result, but were eliminated by FC Copenhagen. After drawing 1-1 at home in the first leg they were soundly beaten 3-0 in Denmark, and as a result stepped down to play in the Europa League. They have a tiny stadium holding just 8,500.

Steaua Bucharest (much larger stadium capacity 55,000), the reigning champions from the previous season, finished as runners-up to Astra in last season’s Romanian League. They are currently in second place in this season’s competition, five points clear of Astra after just four games. On that basis then form-wise they are currently a better team than our opponents.  Despite finishing fifth in the last regular season they moved up to second place after the championship round. As a result they, too, qualified for the third qualifying round of the Champions League but they performed better than Astra beating Sparta Prague over two legs. They progressed to meet Manchester City in the first play-off round on Tuesday. City thrashed them 5-0 in Romania despite missing two penalties.

We should beat them over two legs quite comfortably to gain revenge for last season’s elimination and move into the group stage. But we are West Ham. Who knows?

Chelsea 2:1 West Ham

Pouring through the debris of the season opener. A blunt attack, lack of ambition and more weak refereeing.

Costa ThuggeryWhen we elect a government to run the country we have accept that they will make decisions on our behalf. We can of course voice our disapproval but we have to wait until the next election before we can influence any changes (unless of course there is a referendum on a particular matter!). Football managers are not elected by supporters but I have a feeling that when Big Sam’s contract was not renewed, if there had been an election at the time then Slaven Bilic would have had a large majority. And in his first term of office he guided us to a very respectable seventh place in the Premier League, narrowly missing out on (some would say we were robbed of) a place in the Champions League, with a style of football that the majority approved of.

So we move into the second season and get through comfortably into the play-off round of the Europa League and then have to visit Stamford Bridge for the opening league game. I looked at Twitter about an hour before the kick off to see the players that had been selected, and was horrified to read the meltdown taking place by various individuals and West Ham groups before a ball had been kicked. The language was about as bad as it can get, the main attacks being on the manager’s team selection. Apart from all the words used to describe Bilic personally, the emphasis was on Antonio being picked at right back, Ogbonna being left out, the selection of Reid, Valencia (another subjected to vicious personal attacks), and Payet being left on the bench. Almost unanimously there was a call for Byram, Ogbonna and Payet to start and Antonio to play instead of Valencia in attack.

“It was therefore a complete surprise against the run of play when Collins scored with a superb shot, only his ninth career goal, but his fourth against Chelsea!”

Our supporters at the game were singing the Super Slaven Bilic song after about a quarter of an hour so were they taking an alternative view to the tweeters? We started promisingly for about ten minutes and then Chelsea gradually began to take over. Ayew had not really got into the game when he was injured on the half hour and Tore came on to replace him. Our defence were quite comfortable in the first half but we were unable to achieve anything in an attacking sense.

It all changed 50 seconds into the second half when Antonio got caught out of position and gave away a penalty. He was substituted, and the tweeters were happy that the point they had been making about Bilic’s insistence to play him at right back had been proved. Byram provided better cover from a defensive viewpoint. Although I am not a fan of most statistics in games, the Sky caption on 70 minutes that revealed shots on goal to be 14-1 in Chelsea’s favour was very telling.

It was therefore a complete surprise against the run of play when Collins scored with a superb shot, only his ninth career goal, but his fourth against Chelsea! Ah, that’s why he was picked! It was our first shot on target and came after 77 minutes. It would have been a most undeserved draw, and West Ham managed to do what they often do, conceding an 89 th minute goal. But Costa should not have been on the pitch when he netted the winner. He had already been booked when he raked his studs down Adrian’s leg, and should have perhaps had a straight red for that alone.

I take no pleasure in predicting a 2-1 defeat prior to the game. In truth I was expecting both sides to be better than they were. From a defensive viewpoint, when Byram was introduced we looked sound, although the distribution when we had the ball at the back was often poor.

“Let’s hope we learn some lessons from this match and put on a decent performance in Romania on Thursday.”

Only Kouyate of the midfield trio had a decent game in my opinion, but up front we were totally lacking in ideas. Carroll and Valencia didn’t have particularly good games although they were poorly served, and Tore looked like he was a complete stranger to the game.

What a disappointing opening! I had a quick look at Twitter before retiring to bed. It was once more in meltdown. The “told you so” brigade were once again in full force using the foulest language imaginable, hiding behind the anonymity provided by the internet. Yes, it was a poor performance. Yes, even the manager, with the benefit of hindsight, might have selected a different team.

This is my 59th season of supporting the team. This is what West Ham are all about. You never know what you are going to get from one game to the next. Let’s hope we learn some lessons from this match and put on a decent performance in Romania on Thursday.

I Wouldn’t Bet On It (3)

The final weekend flutter with a cheeky bet on tonight’s match.

BookmakerI stick to a number of personal rules when I am betting.

  1. Only do it for fun; don’t get too serious.
  2. Bet with small stakes only, never more than you can afford to lose – it doesn’t then matter if you do lose.
  3. If you are on a losing run don’t chase your losses and try to get them back too quickly. Just like Mo Farah being tripped and going to ground in the Olympic 10,000 metres final. He didn’t rush to get back on terms quickly, he came back gradually.

On Sunday (14 Aug) there was one successful bet:

1 point on Manchester United to beat Bournemouth at 5/6 (1.8)

But I had good fun with the draw bet on the Arsenal v Liverpool game and was interested right to the end as Arsenal came back into the game after being 4-1 down.

The balance in points is now 92.1.

For the Chelsea v West Ham game I’ll do a different fun bet:

1 point on there to be exactly 3 goals in the match at 3/1 (4.0)

By placing this bet the balance is now reduced to 91.1.

The figure in brackets is the potential return from a 1 point stake.