International Football – England Win in Slovakia

Big Sam’s First Game in Charge of the National Team

England TeamI am not particularly a fan of international football these days. I prefer the club game and of course watching West Ham. However I am still proudly English and like to watch the major tournaments and the qualifying games. I am definitely not a fan of friendly games where unlimited substitutions take place. These are not true football matches, and serve little purpose in preparing the team for tournaments. They hold no interest for me whatsoever and I don’t usually watch them at all, unless of course a West Ham player is involved, in which case I might sneak a look. But, of course, despite the ever increasing dearth of English talent playing in the Premier league these days, West Ham’s English players have not had a look-in in recent times.

It was a different matter when I was growing up in the 1960’s. England international games were one of the few opportunities we had to watch football on TV. There was something quite magical about watching the national side then, and of course this was enhanced by England winning the World Cup when I was just 12.

Since we hosted Euro 96, when we came very close to winning, (losing to Germany on penalties in the semi-final) we have never gone beyond the quarter finals in a major tournament, often not getting that far. Despite this we have frequently qualified for the tournaments with ease, so something is very clearly wrong in how we tackle tournament football.

Since 1996, when Terry Venables lost his job, we have had six managers up to and including Euro 2016. Can you name them? In order they were Glenn Hoddle, Kevin Keegan, Sven Goran Eriksson, Steve McClaren, Fabio Capello and Roy Hodgson. Apart from one notable failure (the famous “wally with the brolly” headline refers when McClaren was outwitted by Super Slav) we have qualified every time, but not achieved very much in the finals themselves.

What do those six England managers have in common? They all won their first game in charge, something our old friend Big Sam has replicated with the last minute win in Slovakia. I won’t say too much about the game, other than that I think we deserved to win, we controlled the game, but we showed again how difficult we find it to score goals.

I was pleased for Allardyce, and despite my reservations about what I believe are his limitations as a manager, as a patriotic Englishman I hope he does well. One thing that is amazing really is how the England team has changed in the four years since Roy Hodgson’s first game just over four years ago in May 2012. England’s starting XI today under Sam was Hart, Walker, Cahill, Stones, Rose, Dier, Henderson, Sterling, Lallana, Rooney, and Kane. Personally I don’t have too many qualms about his choice, although I’ve never personally rated Henderson, and other attacking players such as Lallana and Sterling, despite being very good footballers, need to score more goals. Perhaps this is where our own Michail Antonio will get his chance (as long as he doesn’t get picked in the right back role!)

I looked up the starting eleven chosen by Hodgson for his first game, and not a single one of them were in the starting line-up today. His team was Green, Jones, Jagielka, Lescott, Baines, Milner, Parker, Gerrard, Young, Downing, and Carroll. There were four players with a West Ham connection, either then or later. The last West Ham player selected for England was Downing a couple of years ago when Hodgson picked him for one game, played him in a position that he wasn’t occupying for us at the time, and then discarded him.

So qualification for the World Cup in 2018 is now underway, and the initial results couldn’t really have been better. Three points from an away game in Slovakia, one of the tougher fixtures we will face, in a qualifying group that additionally contains the might of those footballing giants Malta, Scotland, Lithuania and Slovenia. It was boosted still further by the latter two drawing in Lithuania and therefore getting one point apiece. I am writing this before Scotland’s trip to Malta is more than half an hour old, with the score currently 1-1. But that result shouldn’t really matter in the final reckoning.

Big Sam’s absolute minimum requirement is to qualify for the World Cup finals with ease, just like his predecessors have usually done. The important thing will be what happens when we actually get there. That’s where his credentials to manage the national team will be tested. He will probably only get one chance.

The Language of Football – Number 1

50 Ways to Leave Your Lover (and even more ways to Score a Goal)

GoalFor any readers who are old enough to remember, Paul Simon sang in 1975 about 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover. I think he short-changed us though as I can only remember five ways. There may have been more?

He suggested to Jack to “slip out the back”, Stan was advised to “make a new plan”, Roy was told “you don’t need to be coy, just set yourself free”, the suggestion to Gus was to “hop on the bus”, and Lee was urged to “drop off the key”.

As I listened to the song on the radio recently it got me thinking of how many different ways there are to describe different types of goal being scored, and or the way a goal was scored, or phrases that described goals generally. A bit of poetic licence here but I tried to come up with 50 Ways to Score a Goal and came up with the following list:

always going in from the moment it left his boot, arrowed home, assured finish, back-heeled,banged in, blistering finish, blockbuster, bounced off his shin, breakaway goal,broke the deadlock, bullet header, bullet shot,

calm finish, capitalised, cheeky finish, chested, chipped the keeper, clever finish, clinical finish, connected, consolation goal, cross-cum shot, curled in, deadly finish, deflected goal, deft touch, devastating finish, diving header, doubled the advantage, drove the ball home,

emphatic finish, equalised, finished with aplomb, finished, finished from close range, fired home, flung himself at the cross, forced the ball home, found his shooting boots, found the net, found the top / bottom corner, gambled, gave the keeper no chance, glanced, goal that deserves to win any game, goalkeeping gaffe, good time to score, got off the mark,

headed home, hit home, hit on the half-volley, hit the target, hit the winner, hooked, in the back of the net, kicked, laced, lashed, last gasp equaliser, latched on to a suicidal backpass, late strike, leathered, levelled, lofted, long range effort, made no mistake, met a pinpoint cross, met the cross, met the rebound, mishit, miskicked,

nodded home, notched, netbuster, off the post, off the underside of the bar, on target, opened the floodgates, opener, opportunist strike, overhead kick, own goal, piledriver, poached, poked home, powered home, pulled the trigger, punished the defence, punted, put his laces through the ball, put the ball in the net,

rammed home, rebounded into the net, reduced the deficit, replied, rescued a point, rifled in, rising shot, sailed into the net, salvaged a point, scrappy goal, screamer, scuffed the ball, secured all three points, shinned the ball, side-footed, slid the ball home, slipped the ball under the keeper, slotted home, smashed home, squirmed under the keeper, stooped to score, stunning finish, sweet strike, swept the ball home, swooped to score,

tapped in, the net bulged, toe-ended, toe-poked, took the lead, trickled into the net, turned the loose ball into the net, unstoppable shot, volleyed, whipped into the bottom corner.

There are more than 100 there. The list is not exhaustive. How many others can you come up with?

Counting Sheep – 2 – The Letter C

Difficulty Sleeping These Warm Nights?

Counting SheepPreviously I advised ditching counting sheep theories if you can’t get to sleep, and selecting a West Ham team of players that you have seen whose surnames all start with the same letter.

My first team was the “B”s. Today I’ll pick my “C” team. To fit in all of the players I wanted to select I ended up with a 3-3- 4 formation, hence an attacking team with lots of goalscoring options.

So here is my all-time West Ham “C” Team:

Carroll (R)
Cantwell
Collins
Cresswell
Carrick
Cole (J)
Curbishley
Cole (C)
Carroll (A)
Cottee
Cross

And what other players did I consider but leave out? I couldn’t think of any other keepers, but in defence I omitted three different “Charles”, John, Clive, and Gary, Cushley and Coleman. Midfielders I left out included Cohen, Cullen, Courtois and Collison, and strikers were Roger Cross, Chadwick, Chapman, Carew, Connolly and Coker.

Have I overlooked someone I should have obviously included? Can you pick a team of “C”s to rival mine? Do you like my team or would you change it?

And who would manage the “C”s? We’ve only had one that I can recall – Curbishley (and he made my team, too).

Transfer Deadline Day

Oh What A Circus! (with apologies to Andrew Lloyd Webber)

Oh what a circus, oh what a show
Sky Sports has gone to town
Over the transfer of footballer David Luiz
They’ve all gone crazy
Reporting all day and rumours all night
Falling over themselves to get helicopters in sight

Transfer WindowOh What A Circus is a song from the 1976 musical Evita, written by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber. David Essex (a West Ham fan, but more famous as a pop idol of the 1970’s, and very recently an actor on Eastenders) later recorded the song, which uses the same tune as the more well-known Don’t Cry For Me Argentina. It was a commercial success for him going close to the top of the UK singles chart in 1978 at a time when his career and teenybopper appeal appeared to be on the wane. The song compares the life of Eva Peron to a circus. I make the same comparison with Sky Sports coverage of transfer deadline day to a circus. Some might call it a pantomime.

The circus comes to town twice a year when Sky Sports cancels leave for all reporters and sends them to stand outside training grounds, hiding behind bins, to be attacked by sex toys, to be drowned out by excitable teenagers keen to show themselves up on TV, whilst trying to grab interviews through car windows with players and managers or indeed anyone driving past them.

Jim White, rumoured to be soon taking over the prestigious 10am morning slot on Talk Sport from Colin Murray, wearing his bright yellow transfer day tie, anchors the infamous evening shift in the Sky Sports studio as the clock in the corner of the screen ticks down second by second. You’d think a rocket would be taking off for the moon, but no, it’s just the countdown to the window slamming shut at 11 pm. The window is open for the whole of the summer, but come the last day of August it has to be slammed shut as the cooler nights of Autumn approach. And even though they’ve had three months or so to conduct their business, the clubs have to go mad in the last few hours, panic buying and frequently paying over the odds for any player they can lay their hands on, hoping they’ve got a bargain, but unable to return any goods that turn out to be faulty or unfit for purpose.

To be quite frank just watching for a few minutes can drive you mad, as reporters in front of cameras confirm what “Sky Sources” ticker-tape says running across the bottom of the screen, and then breaking news highlights what everybody has just been going on about for the last couple of hours. And then a sidebar on the screen tells you exactly the same thing. So much repetition and for what? You can look on the internet later in the evening or in tomorrow’s newspapers and see all the transfers listed there.

But apart from the window slamming shut we get all the final day drama with all the usual jargon, last minute dramatic swoops, pictures of helicopters that may or may not contain David Luiz, phones buzzing, alleged sightings at motorway service stations or petrol stations anywhere, Ronaldo or Messi shopping at the Westfield shopping centre, Valencia in the back of a cab in Swansea or Liverpool (or putting his feet up in Ecuador), everyone with their sources, players spotted at training grounds, Jack Wilshere driving his car to Bournemouth, last minute intervention by Daniel Levy who suddenly decides he wants Sissoko, and descriptions of transfers or done deals or rumours using words like amazing, dramatic, sensational, shocking, exciting, impressive or incredible. How Sky Sports and the media in general can make so much out of nothing is amazing / sensational / incredible! And of course we have the usual social media where people in their millions are reacting (mostly in the most negative way you could imagine with expletives galore about transfers that may, or more likely may not, happen)

Poyet is going but Payet is staying (was there ever really any doubt?). World Cup winning, 33 year old, ex-Liverpool and Real Madrid right back Arbeloa has apparently signed. I started to follow him on Twitter and noticed he has 4.5 million followers! Wow that must more than the rest of the West Ham squad combined! It was reported that the move was instigated by David Sullivan who wanted to buy anyone who has ever worn a number 2 shirt to be absolutely certain that Michail Antonio never has to play in this position ever again.

And what’s this? 10.45pm – it is being reported that Valencia has signed for Everton on loan with a view to a permanent deal. £14.5 million? Have they watched him lately? Plenty of new blind alleys for him to find in Liverpool.

Oh what a circus, oh what a show!

Counting Sheep – 1 – The Letter B

Difficulty Sleeping These Warm Nights?

Counting SheepIt has been a really good summer this year. Despite a slightly late start we’ve had lots of very warm sunny days, followed by lots of warm nights. Do you ever have trouble going off to sleep when the night temperatures are high? If so, ditch those counting sheep theories and try to select a West Ham team of players that you have seen whose surnames all start with the same letter.

Trust me it really works. After a few minutes you’ll be fast asleep and dreaming of great West Ham experiences that you’ve had. I started with the letter “A” but soon gave up and put that one aside temporarily as I couldn’t think of a whole team. I may have to combine some letters together. You’d be hard pushed to come up with a team of players beginning with, for example E or I, or U. So that gave me an idea. I’ll come up with a team whose surnames begin with vowels.

But, to begin with I thought of a team beginning with the letter “B”. I knew that this would be a good starting point. For anyone old enough to remember, the 1964 West Ham FA Cup winning team had 7 “B”s in the line-up. I can still recall them now, Bond, Burkett, Bovington, Brown, Brabrook, Boyce and Byrne. The team was of course made up with Standen, Moore, Hurst and Sissons.

So here is my all-time West Ham “B” Team in a 4-4-2 formation:

Bywater
Bond
Bilic
Brown
Burkett
Bonds
Boyce
Brady
Brooking
Bellamy
Byrne

And what other players did I consider but decided to leave out? I couldn’t think of any other keepers, but in defence I omitted Burke, Breacker, Brown (the young Ken), Breen and Brush. Midfielders I left out (some contentiously) included Berkovich, Bishop, Benayoun, Boa Morte, Bennett, Bowyer and Bovington, and strikers were Ba, Brabrook and Clyde Best.

Have I forgotten someone really good? Can you pick a team of “B”s to rival mine? Do you agree with my selections?

And who would manage the “B”s? Bilic, Bonds, Boyce and Brooking all had a go at the manager’s job, two permanently and two as caretakers. All have been selected as players in my team. At this moment I’ll go for Bonds, but if Bilic continues as well as he did last season then he might take over.

I Wouldn’t Bet On It 6 – Lets Do the Vanarama

A cheeky August Bank holiday accumulator on the Vanarama National League.

Fancy A BetOur accumulator bet at the weekend was unsuccessful with just two of our five selections, Everton and Doncaster winning. Our attempt at selecting three matches to end in draws was much better, with two of the games being drawn. The treble would have really boosted our balance, but it was not to be, although we still made another small profit overall.

The winning games were:

1 point on West Brom to draw with Middlesbrough @21/10 (3.1)

1 point on Brentford to draw with Sheffield Wednesday @21/10 (3.1)

 Our cumulative balance is now 95.6 + 6.2 = 101.8.

When trying to predict the results of football matches, do you study the form or do you expect long running sequences to come to an end? Do you look at various divisions and expect the results to be more predictable? Many people believe that the Championship has tougher games to predict, and that there is greater equality throughout the division. So does it have the most drawn games? Well not this season so far. No team in the Championship has drawn more than two of its five games.

League 1 and League 2 have so far had a much greater proportion of drawn games. So if you think you can predict drawn games these may be the divisions to follow. Some teams in each of these two leagues have drawn at least three of their five games, with Northampton standing out as having drawn all of their five matches! So when they next play, is a drawn game a certainty, or will the sequence be broken?

Today there is a fairly extensive Vanarama National League programme (the old Conference) and some teams have started the season particularly well. There have been a much lower percentage of drawn games when compared to Leagues 1 and 2. We’ll have another go at the five game accumulator, with the guarantee of money back if one lets us down, plus five single bets of one point on each of the games, making a total spend of six points, reducing our balance to 95.8.

1 point on each of the following:

Tranmere to beat Guiseley @1/3 (1.3)

Dagenham & Redbridge to beat Sutton @15/8 (2.9)

Forest Green to beat Southport @4/11 (1.4)

Lincoln to beat Gateshead @10/11 (1.9)

Chester to beat Woking @15/8 (2.9)

5 game accumulator at 28.7/1 (29.7)

 The figures in brackets show the potential return from a 1 point stake.

Report: Manchester City 3 V 1 West Ham

Disappointment in the Taxpayer Funded Stadium Derby

mcfc v whufcWe all think we are experts at selecting the West Ham team that should play in any particular match. A quick look at social media would tell you why selection by committee doesn’t work. It has been tried for various sports teams and has rarely been successful. We have to trust the appointed person, in our case Slaven Bilic, to make his selections based upon a much more intimate knowledge of the personnel under consideration than we will ever have. We also have to trust that he and his staff have worked upon formations and systems and styles of play appropriate to the game about to be played. I would always trust Super Slav ahead of the current England manager, for example.

However, prior to today’s game, upon seeing our team and formation, and in anticipation of writing this article, I made the following notes.

  1. Disappointed to see us trying a 3-5-2 formation today with three centre backs. I think Slav has got this horribly wrong – I just hope he proves it to be a tactical masterstroke, but I fear not.
  2. The formation and selection mean that Antonio will once again be wasted at right wing back, which against a team of the attacking calibre of City will effectively mean he is playing at right back again!
  3. If Lanzini is fit enough to be on the bench then why not start him? We desperately need his creative flair, and even if he doesn’t last a full game, better to have a go from the start rather than waiting until we have potentially fallen behind.
  4. Disappointed to see Byram only on the bench. This lad could be our right back for years to come. OK, he made a mistake in the Astra game. He looks the type to learn from it. I would have liked to have seen a back four of Byram, Masuaku (who looks to have fitted in well), and two of our centre backs, either Collins and Reid or Collins and Ogbonna. I am always concerned by the Reid / Ogbonna partnership. I don’t think it works.
  5. With Nordveidt out, I would have loved to see Obiang in the side (who I prefer anyway) or Oxford as a defensive midfielder. Has Slav ever played Oxford again as a defensive midfielder since the opening game of last season when he kept the Arsenal midfield in his pocket?
  6. Valencia = blind alleys = total waste of time. Has he scored since we drew with City at Upton Park in January?
  7. Tore = I’m not convinced yet.
  8. My back four has been selected in number 4 above. In front of them I would have Obiang or Oxford as defensive midfield, Noble and Kouyate, Lanzini and Antonio, with Fletcher leading the line.