West Ham v Chelsea – Monday 15 August

A look forward to Monday night’s opener against Chelsea.

Last season the fixtures computer gave us one of the hardest possible opening fixtures, away at Arsenal. We rose to the challenge with a 2-0 victory, so the computer decided that we could comfortably cope with a tough away game, and gave us another one this year at Chelsea. Despite their poor showing last season they should not be underestimated – the bookmakers make them third favourites to regain the title (remember they were champions the season before last) behind the two Manchester clubs.

andy carroll versus chelseaOf course we beat them last season at Upton Park with a goal from Zarate and a superb winning header from Carroll. But perhaps the game is best remembered for Mourinho being sent off, and the pictures in the following morning papers as he cut a sad figure watching the game from the back of the directors’ box. We were also mightily unlucky in the return fixture at Stamford Bridge when we were robbed, as so frequently happened in the latter stages of the season, by the incompetence of the officials (in this case Mr. Madley). Chelsea’s two goals which earned them a draw were dubious to say the least. For the first the referee made our wall retreat twelve yards allowing Fabregas to score more easily from a free kick, and for the second he gave a penalty when Loftus-Cheek tripped himself up just outside our penalty area. Two scandalous decisions but it is all water under the Bridge now.

I can remember three occasions when we have played Chelsea in the opening league fixture. The first was in our cup winning season of 1963-64 when we drew 0-0 away. I was nine years old at the time and on holiday with my parents and sister in a caravan at the Martello Camp in Walton on the Naze. I didn’t find out the result until the next morning when my dad bought the Sunday paper.

Moore, Hurst and PetersAlmost 50 years ago to the day I was at Upton Park for the first game of the 1966-67 season just three weeks after England had won the World Cup. Moore, Hurst and Peters ran on to the pitch alone before the start of the game to receive the acclaim of the West Ham crowd of over 36,000. Unfortunately, despite a goal from Budgie Byrne, we lost that opening game 2-1.

Recently I have been re-reading Robert Banks’ excellent trilogy of books, An Irrational Hatred of Luton, West Ham Till I Die, and The Legacy of Barry Green. In the third book he recounts the first fixture of the 2000-2001 season when we lost 4-2 at Stamford Bridge, with our goals coming from Di Canio and Kanoute. The part I particularly remember is him describing the hot day, a large number in the crowd removing their shirts to resemble the beach at Blackpool, but saying that the donkeys were on the pitch. I seem to recall he was quite scathing about our performance.

There may well have been other first day games against Chelsea but these are the only three that I remember. So what will happen this time? They have a new manager, one of a dozen or more top flight bosses who were not Premier League managers on the opening day of last season. A former Italian international footballer and manager, he has impeccable club footballing management credentials having led Juventus to three consecutive titles from 2011-2014.

Perhaps 2-2 to match the result at Stamford Bridge last season? That would be a good result, although I have a feeling that we might just lose to the odd goal in three. I hope that I’m wrong.

Most Premier League teams play high profile friendly matches before the start of the league season and Chelsea are no exception. In some ways the results are meaningless as players are getting match fit before the real season gets underway. Nevertheless in the last fortnight or so they have lost narrowly to Real Madrid (as we did against Juventus), but they have also recorded impressive victories over Liverpool, AC Milan, and Werder Bremen.

It is a tough opening. Who knows if it is a good or bad time to be playing such a difficult fixture? I hope for a win of course as I always do, realistically I will be pleased if we draw the game, but I won’t be too disheartened if the result does go against us if we put up a decent performance. Perhaps 2-2 to match the result at Stamford Bridge last season? That would be a good result, although I have a feeling that we might just lose to the odd goal in three. I hope that I’m wrong.

A draw would be a good result there. Remember our “19th Century Football 0-0 draw” there in 2013-4 that annoyed Mr. Mourinho so much. It gave us the impetus to go on and win the next four consecutive games. And what are the chances of us repeating the result at Stamford Bridge of just over 30 years ago in March 1986? For those of you too young to remember Tony Cottee scored twice, Frank McAvennie and Alan Devonshire scored one apiece, as we thrashed them 4-0 on our way to our highest ever (third place) finish in the top division.

Where Will We Finish This Season?

My prediction of what the final league table will look like come May.

Last season, one of the country’s biggest bookmakers, William Hill, offered a prize of £50 million to anybody who could (before the season began) correctly predict the final Premier League table. If nobody was successful then £100,000 was on offer to the closest forecast. It cost £2 to make each entry, so they only needed 50,000 entrants to cover their costs if nobody could correctly list the finishing positions of the 20 clubs.

Bookmakers OddsAnd of course nobody did bag the £50 million. The odds of correctly forecasting 20 different clubs to finish in a particular order is, according to my calculations, somewhere between 2 and 3 million million millions to one. That’s 18 noughts. I’d call it trillions but that’s not strictly correct. Even if you thought that the top six were cast in stone, and the 14 other clubs had no chance of coming out on top, then perming the favoured six in any order followed by the remaining 14 in every combination would still result in around 63 million millions to one.

Yes it’s virtually impossible, especially with surprises such as the final positions of Leicester and Chelsea last season. To make a comparison, the odds of coming up with the Lotto jackpot are around 45 million to one, and the EuroMillions 116 million to one.

Nonetheless for a bit of fun I’ll have a go, so here is my forecast for the final Premier League table next May:

  1. Manchester City
  2. Manchester United
  3. Liverpool
  4. Chelsea
  5. Arsenal
  6. Tottenham
  7. West Ham
  8. Everton
  9. Southampton
  10. Leicester
  11. Swansea
  12. Stoke
  13. Crystal Palace
  14. Middlesbrough
  15. Bournemouth
  16. West Brom
  17. Sunderland
  18. Watford
  19. Burnley
  20. Hull

I’ll challenge my fellow writer, Geoff, to make his prediction and we’ll see who is closest next May. I reckon we’ll finish seventh, the same as last season. I hope that we win it of course, but I’m not sure that we are quite ready to challenge the big boys just yet. But I hope I’m wrong! The bookmakers make us eighth favourites to win the Premier League.

The New Stadium Experience

First impressions of settling into the new West Ham stadium in Stratford

I have always been in favour of our move into the new stadium. For me, Upton Park was never the same after the ground redevelopment following the Taylor Report. Now that I have been twice to the London Stadium (Domzale and Juventus) I will relate my personal experience so far. Of course we’ll be able to judge the move better when the season really gets underway with the start of the league games.

New West Ham StadiumFirstly, the journey. As someone who has for many years travelled from Bury St Edmunds (via Epping Station on the Central Line) to watch us play then this is slightly easier for me as I now don’t need to add the District Line journey. But this makes little difference really. The walk to the stadium from Stratford station (via Westfield) is deceptively longer than it would appear, although for me it is more pleasant than the walk I used to take from either Upton Park or Plaistow stations.

Stratford StationI’ve read some complaints regarding the time to reach Stratford station after the game; it took me 40 minutes after each game from my seat to the platform following a leisurely stroll. Again, not an issue for me, but for some who are in a rush then perhaps it is. I’ve noted many leaving both games early (with the mock fire drill chant from our own supporters!) so perhaps they are desperate to get away. I don’t really understand that one myself. In 58 years of regularly watching the team I have only left the ground once before the final whistle was blown.

The bag search outside was carried out by friendly people and entry via the turnstiles was easy both times with no queueing. When I reached my seat I found the view to be excellent. When I visited the Reservation Centre to choose my seat I tried to replicate the view I had at Upton Park and am more than happy to be sitting close to the front of the upper tier. The seat itself is considerably wider than the Boleyn seat with significantly more elbow room and leg room, and a better viewing angle (that is angled towards the centre circle, not square to the pitch).

“As far as the atmosphere is concerned I believe that this is generated by the fans and not by the stadium itself.”

One thing I’m getting a little cheesed off about is the song / chant that appears to be more prevalent in the new stadium (Stand up if you love West Ham / hate Tottenham / Hate Millwall etc.). Most people in the ground are there for those reasons anyway, they don’t need to stand to prove it! In many parts of the ground (mostly behind the goals and in the lower tiers generally) standing areas are emerging where fans are on their feet throughout. That’s absolutely fine with me, and these seem to be the sources of the stand-up chant. I just don’t think we need to be continually implored to stand. You can love West Ham or hate Tottenham in either the standing or sitting position! As the Juventus game wore on fewer were standing each time.

The toilets were clean (as befits a new stadium), and unlike Upton Park provided considerably more facilities, little queueing, hot and cold running water and soap, although how long the plumbing facilities remain at this standard remains to be seen. By the end of the game I was amazed at how many still manage to piss on the floor though!

One thing I won’t repeat is buying a coffee; I have to say it was in my opinion possibly the most foul-tasting coffee I have ever experienced.

As far as the atmosphere is concerned I believe that this is generated by the fans and not by the stadium itself. Last season at Upton Park the atmosphere varied from electric (at the Manchester United (league), Liverpool (cup), and Tottenham games, for example) to very ordinary / quiet at many other games. It wasn’t the ground itself that produced the atmosphere for me, it was the fans reacting to the games.

West Ham Boleyn GroundThe roof at the new stadium lends itself to increased volume when the fans react accordingly, and certainly the singing of Bubbles has been spine-tingling. I reckon decibel levels are much greater here than at Upton Park, although I’m not sure any measurements have been taken. I concede that the Boleyn may have had an added intimidatory factor due to the proximity of the crowd to the pitch, but this too was significantly reduced following the 90’s development into an all seater ground. When we all stood on the North and South Banks and Chicken Run it was a different matter.

Overall, I have to say that my expectations, which were already high, have been significantly exceeded by the London Stadium experience. I believe that it also gives us the potential (just potential mind) to move to the next level. Most people I’ve spoken to hold a similar view, but some disagree. I’ve read comments like sterile and other negative reactions to the move, but it’s all about opinions. You can never please everyone. Me? I love it here.

The New Football Season – We Play Last – Is It A Good or Bad Thing?

A fragmented start to the new season for West Ham due to TV and Europa League demands.

I am old enough to remember the sheer excitement and anticipation of the beginning of a new football season. All of the teams in the top tier (Division One it was called then), and throughout the Football League, would kick off at 3.00 on a Saturday afternoon and by 4.45 we would have all completed the first game. The Sunday morning newspapers would print the first league tables, which would often bear little resemblance to how they would look by the end of the season. But nobody under the age of 30 will recall those times.

Pools2These days it doesn’t happen like that. The bottom three divisions all kick off a week before the Premier League. Sky Bet Leagues 1 and 2 have a full league programme on the Saturday with all the games kicking off at 3.00 on Saturday, but the Sky Bet Championship has one game on Friday evening, nine on Saturday afternoon, and a further two on Sunday.

One week later the Premier League season begins. But we don’t all kick off at the same time. Because of television we have six different times for games to be played over the first weekend (how long before it is known as Matchday 1? – perhaps it already is and I’ve missed it!). One game kicks off at 12.30 on Saturday, five at 3.00, and one at 5.30. Then on Sunday we have games at 1.30 and 4.00. Finally on Monday evening at 8.00 our season eventually gets underway with a visit to Chelsea.

match-day-coverIronically if the Premier League table is printed in the Monday morning newspapers, we will not be at the bottom although we won’t have played a game (unless of course all the nine games played end in draws – most unlikely!). We will have zero points with a goal difference of 0, whereas it is likely that some teams will have lost their opening game and therefore have zero points with a negative goal difference. So without playing we will have a game in hand over all the other teams (bar Chelsea) but sit above the relegation zone. Of course once the game has been played we could move to either the very top or very bottom of the league!

The following weekend (Matchday 2 – you see I am keeping this up!) we have a slightly different arrangement of games. This time the games on Saturday and Sunday remain the same (that is, five different kick off times for the nine games, but the Monday night game is replaced by a match on the Friday preceding the weekend). So the final game on Matchday 2 is at 4.00 on Sunday, which is of course our opening home league game of the season when Bournemouth are our visitors.

“So right from the beginning of the season we are playing catch up every single weekend. Is this good or bad?”

If we move on to Matchday 3 the following weekend, then there are no games on either the Friday or Monday. One game kicks off at 12.30 on Saturday, six begin at the traditional time of 3.00 and then there is another at 5.30. That leaves two games for the Sunday, one at 1.30 and another at 4.00. Of course you know who is playing in the final game on the third weekend. Yes that’s right – us again, when we face a tough away fixture at the Etihad Stadium. So right from the beginning of the season we are playing catch up every single weekend. Is this good or bad?

It also seems to me that the fixtures computer appears to be fiendishly programmed to give us tough away games at the start of the season again, just like last year. The following weekend, after just three weeks, we have a rest. The first international break of the season kicks in after just three games!