Matchday: Hammers versus Boro

It’s only Boro but still preferable to being dragged around the shops.

West Ham BoroWhen the fixtures computer is busily whirring and blinking away today’s fixture is one you would happily see scheduled for the Saturday before Christmas when other duties might take precedence over the football. It might come as a surprise, therefore,  to discover that a match between West Ham and Middlesbrough, played almost 20 years ago, is still featured in the premier book of world records. But it is indeed the case and there for all to see in Guinness style black and white indicating the all-time world record for the most people simultaneously blowing bubbles:

“On May 16, 1999, a total of 23,680 people in the soccer stadium blew glycerine bubbles into the air for 1 minute. The mass bubble-blowing event took place prior to West Ham United F.C.’s home Premier League fixture against Middlesbrough F.C., at the Boleyn Ground, Upton Park, London.”

It is with a sense of pride that I continue to count myself as a world record holder but am equally surprised that the club’s PR department have failed, as yet, to mount a new challenge as another consequence of increased capacity. It seems that in the reported crowd of 25,902 for that 1999 end of season encounter there were 2,222 party poopers unwilling to stake their claim for posterity in the record books.

Today’s opponents Boro were elected to the Football League some 20 years before the Hammers but have pretty much kept their heads down ever since. Their one success was when Steve McLaren’s side triumphed over Sam Allardyce’s Bolton in the 2004 League Cup; what an enticing advertisement for the beautiful game that must have been.

“He (Zaza) is definitely a good player who came from a big club to a new country. New players need time. If we go back and think about Dennis Bergkamp, who needed – I don’t know – a year?”

– Slaven Bilic

Despite the lack of success, Boro have had some notable ex-players include Brian Clough who scored a phenomenal 204 goals in 222 matches for his hometown club, the little Brazilian Juninho and Fabrizio Ravenelli. Ravenelli is, I believe, still the only player ever to score a hat-trick on his Premier League debut (against Liverpool in August 1996) but despite his goals and Juninho’s trickery Boro were relegated in that same season; in part due to having 3 points deducted for failing to turn up for a fixture with Blackburn Rovers.

Head to Head

My initial instinct was that we would hold a healthy advantage over Boro in the head to head battle before remembering that we never travel well that far north. Accordingly it has been a fairly even contest. Our home record against them though is good having lost just once in the last 12 encounters (April 2000).  A particularly depressing match sticks in my memory from April 1989 where Boro were 2-1  victors (a pair of Bernie Slaven goals) in a quintessential six-pointer that ended with the two clubs partners in relegation.

P W D L F A Sequence
Home 30 17 6 7 47 30 DWDWWW
Away 30 7 7 16 29 53 WLDWLL
Neutral 1 1 0 0 1 0
61 25 13 23 77 83

Team News

Still no sign of any of the long term injured with Nordtveit facing a late fitness test following a knock; I can tell you now he is not fit to play at right back and so I am hoping common sense will prevail with Byram making a welcome return. From what has been said it looks like we will be persevering with Zaza up front as Slav sees him morphing into Dennis Bergkamp; although I can only see this being achieved by extensive surgery. It would be interesting to know the details of the loan deal, and the mysterious must-buy clause, as there has to come a point where everyone recognises he is not a Premier League footballer.

It is critical today that we find at least some kind of order and organisation in the midfield; Payet and Antonio and 3 others is the best I can suggest but I do hope for a dedicated defensive midfielder.

The other unknown is how many are still hungover from the midweek outing. As the ‘Gareth Keenan Investigates’ style inquest into the fallout has yet to be commissioned all we have are twitter rumours to go on.

Stewart Downing struggled to make an impact in the Championship last season because he was too good for the division.

– Aitor Karanka

Middlesbrough have no significant injury worries which means a return for the timid one-season-wonder Stewart Downing. Boro also have City flop Alvaro Negredo leading the line and he will be pleased to pitting his wits against the League’s most generous defence.

The Man in the Middle

Today’s headset wearing, card waving, whistle blowing official is Neil Swarbrick from Preston. He was in charge during our visits to Sunderland (where he sent off Lens) and Newcastle last year and so must be seen as something of a North-East specialist. He is best known for the mistaken identity red carding of West Brom’s Gareth McAuley in April 2015.

The Lawro Challenge – Week 7

Attempting to out-predict the BBC predictor and in some cases failing miserably.

Lawro Crystal BallWe have only had six weeks so far, so if we equate this challenge to a 38 lap race (9.5 miles on a running track), then we have only completed 1.5 miles so far. We therefore have a long way to go, but the field is already beginning to be stretched. Rich is obviously intent on running the sprint finish out of the other two by setting a fast pace and has already opened up quite a lead. But has he set off too quickly? We all remember the tale of the hare and the tortoise.

On the BBC website Lawro has now lost two of his six weekly prediction encounters. Firstly he was beaten by WWE star and Hollywood actor, Dave Bautista, who hadn’t heard of some of the Premier League teams, and then last week it was the turn of the world number one darts player, Michael van Gerwen to beat him. To boost his confidence this week they’ve put him up against comedian and actor, Elis James. James took part last year and only got one result and no scores correct to give him the honour of being the lowest scorer in the whole season.

  Rich Geoff Lawro
Total after 5 weeks 43 33 36
Score in week 6 9 4 8
Total after 6 weeks 52 37 44
Predictions – Week 7      
Everton v Crystal Palace 3-2 1-1 2-1
Swansea v Liverpool 1-3 1-2 0-2
Hull v Chelsea 1-3 0-3 0-2
Sunderland v West Brom 1-1 1-0 2-1
Watford v Bournemouth 1-1 2-0 1-1
West Ham v Middlesbrough 4-1 3-0 2-0
Man.Utd v Stoke 3-1 3-0 2-0
Leicester v Southampton 2-2 2-1 2-1
Tottenham v Man.City 2-2 1-2 2-2
Burnley v Arsenal 1-3 0-3 0-2

West Ham v Middlesbrough Preview

Looking forward to seeing off the Boro and starting to climb the table.

Embed from Getty Images

When I think back on all the games of football I’ve seen West Ham play, and the number is now approaching 1000, I find it very hard to recall many memorable games against today’s opponents. I was just four years old when we clinched promotion to the top flight in April 1958 when we beat Middlesbrough 3-1 at Ayresome Park with goals from Keeble, Dick and Musgrove. We were Division Two champions scoring over 100 goals in the process, and we were back in Division One after an absence of 25 years.

I know nothing about the game but I do remember my dad and my uncle, and various other friends of theirs celebrating long into the evening. The party at my nan’s house in Canning Town carried on long after I had been despatched to bed, but it was really the catalyst that got me into following West Ham’s results more closely the following season. Just a few months later I visited Upton Park for the first time.

Perhaps the most memorable game against Middlesbrough that I can recall was one that I watched on TV, when a Marlon Harewood goal in the FA Cup semi-final clinched our place in the final against Liverpool in 2006.

I never saw a league game against Middlesbrough until I was 20 years old because we were in the top Division and they weren’t! When they were finally promoted in 1974, after a gap of 20 years, they ran away with the Second Division title with Jack Charlton as their manager. So on a cold November day I added them to my lengthening list of clubs I’d never seen us play before, and we duly beat them 3-0. It was the first game in an unbeaten run that saw us reach fifth place by Boxing Day, although this was another of those “coming down with the Christmas decorations” seasons that saw us eventually finish 13th, although of course we were distracted by winning the FA Cup that year!

The following November we beat them again at Upton Park, but in the next two seasons we lost to them at home, and at the end of 1977-78 we were relegated ourselves. We didn’t meet them again until we were promoted back to Division One in 1981, when we beat them 3-2 but they were relegated themselves after finishing bottom, and we didn’t meet up with them again until the end of the 1980s.

We have had 20 home league games against them in my 58 years of watching West Ham and we have only lost four times, the last one being in April 2000, when in the penultimate game of the season they beat us 1-0. It was a bit of a crazy season in some respects. I particularly remember us putting five past Coventry the week before the Middlesbrough defeat. There was also the infamous 5-4 win over Bradford City where we came from behind when Di Canio and Lampard fought over taking a penalty, and we were also thrashed 7-1 at Old Trafford.

I always hate long sequences of not losing to a particular team, and Middlesbrough will believe that they have every chance of their first win at West Ham for over 16 years this weekend. But they don’t come here in the best of form either. They have only won once themselves in their first six games, beating local rivals Sunderland. They have drawn against Stoke and West Brom, and lost their last three games, to Palace, Everton and Tottenham.

I am confident that we can begin our resurgence and start to climb the table. With Swansea playing Liverpool I would hope that by 5 o’clock on Saturday we will be out of the relegation places and above both Swansea and Middlesbrough as we go into the second international break of the season.

After the break we visit Palace, then we have a home game against Sunderland. These are important games for us to pick up points, because after that we have a comparatively tough run of fixtures, where four of the next six matches are away at Everton, Tottenham, Manchester United and Liverpool, with just two home games versus Stoke and Arsenal.

Our biggest victory over Middlesbrough that I can recall was in the final game of our record breaking Premier League season of 1998-99, when two goals from Trevor Sinclair, and one each from Lampard and Keller gave us a 4-0 victory and a finishing league position of fifth place. Ever the optimist I am hoping that we can turn around our woeful start to the season and record a 4-1 victory today. What are the chances?

Counting Sheep – 7 – The Letters J, K and L

Cheating a little now as we compile the alphabetical Hammers challenge.

Counting SheepWhat began as a cure for insomnia on warm summer nights has begun to turn into a bit of an obsession. It all started with me trying to select teams of West Ham players whose surnames all started with the same letter.

I’ve picked six to date, “B”, “C”, “D”, “F”, a combined “G” and “H”, and “Vowels”. Moving through the alphabet my next letter was J, and I managed to write down 10 names including two keepers. The letter “K” was slightly easier and I managed to write down the names of 13 players. But I was worried about the strength of team I could pick from these two combined, so I wrote down all the “L”s I could think of and managed 14. Putting all three together I reckon I have a team to match any of those previously picked.

Therefore my all-time West Ham “J” plus “K” plus “L” Team in a 4-4-2 formation are:

Johnson (G)
Lampard (F senior)
Lampard (F junior)

So who are some of the notable names omitted? Jaaskalainen, Kurucz, Leslie and Lama are four keepers, plus Jenkinson, Jacobsen, Roger Johnson, Jimenez, Jarvis, Steve Jones, Kirkup, Kilgallon, Kitchener, Keen, Kovac, Robbie Keane, Kanoute, Keeble, David Kelly, Lindsay, Lazaridis, Lansbury, Llungberg, Lutton, Rob Lee, Elliott Lee. I remember seeing all of those at one time or another; some were better than others!

But, perhaps I’ve forgotten someone really good. Can you pick a team of J/K/L surnames to rival mine? I reckon one or two of my generation would have had Vic Keeble in their side, although I suspect not too many would select Roger Johnson or David Kelly, or even Robbie Keane on his performances for us, although he certainly had some career playing for others plus internationally.

And who would manage the J/K/L’s? There’s only one candidate I believe, John Lyall.

The Boy Never Quite Made It: Adam Newton

Remembering Adam Newton star of the FA Youth Cup winning team of 1999.

Boy Never Quite Made ItThe West Ham Under-19 side of 1998/99 swept all before them in claiming a spectacular league and cup double. The climax to the season was the two legged FA Youth Cup Final against Coventry City. The Hammer’s opened up a healthy 3-0 advantage in the first leg at Highfield Road and yet 21,000 supporters still turned out to watch the return at Upton Park a week later on Friday 14 May 1999. It took only a few minutes for West Ham to extend their lead and they eventually ran out 6-0 winners on the night (9-0 on aggregate).

The West Ham team that night was: Bywater, Newton, Taylor, Forbes, Iriekpen, Ferrante, Cole, Carrick, Angus, Garcia, Brayley

Expectations were high for a new golden generation arising at Upton Park. Apart from the obvious talents of Joe Cole and Michael Carrick there were other promising players including Izzie Iriekpen, Richard Garcia and, in particular, Adam Newton. It is full/ wing back Adam Newton who is the subject of today’s The Boy Never Quite Made It feature; although there are plenty of other candidates from that side.

WHU Youth 1999Newton had scored in both legs of the Coventry final. In the first a delightful chip over the head of the advancing Chris Kirkland and in the second an exciting run topped off with a ‘sumptuous’ strike past the stationary keeper. In many ways Newton was the star of the show even overshadowing the better known Cole and Carrick duo. There were even rumours of a million pound bid from Spurs shortly after the final.

At the start of the 1999/ 2000 season Newton had a brief loan spell with Portsmouth before returning to Upton Park for his West Ham debut in August 1999; a substitute for Marc Keller in an away defeat to Coventry City. A week later he made another substitute appearance (this time for Trevor Sinclair) in the 3-1 UEFA Cup victory over NK Osijek of Croatia. He made his final West Ham appearance in April 2000; again as substitute (for Scott Minto) in the 5-0 home win against (surprise!) Coventry City. Harry obviously regarded Newton as a Coventry specialist.

The following two seasons were spent out on loan at Notts County and Orient before being given a free transfer to join Peterborough United in May 2002. Newton spent six seasons at Peterborough in the Second Division and although they won promotion at the end of the 2007/08 season his contract was terminated. Born in Grays, Newton had represented England at U21 level but became a full international for Saint Kitts and Nevis during his time with the Posh.

The following season Newton signed a one year deal with Brentford and helped them win the Division Two title in 2009. One more, however, his contract was not renewed and he moved on to Luton in the Football Conference. Two years at Luton ended with a Play Off final defeat, no new contract and his final move to Woking in the Conference South.

Adam Newton appeared to have all the attributes to make it to the top at West Ham; skill, speed and athleticism. Sadly, it just didn’t come together for him and he is one more bright hope from the academy that never quite made it in the first team.

Ponchos for Goalposts

English footballers missing in action.

Tevez and MascheranoWhen West Ham took the field in the EFL Cup Tie against Accrington Stanley there were no British players in the starting eleven. By the end of the game a total of 14 players had been used of whom only Michail Antonio was British. I have to admit that I am not sure whether West Ham have started with an all non-British line-up in the past but it seems unlikely. However, as long ago as 1999 Chelsea had become the first English side to field an all foreign starting eleven.

I was also surprised a few weeks ago when I happened to come across the line-ups for the Championship fixture between Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest to discover that only 8 of the 27 players featuring in the game were English. It has become accepted that Premier League squads were dominated by overseas players but it hadn’t occurred to me that the same was the case in the second tier. So I decided to take a closer look.

There had been the occasional foreign player appearing up in English football ever since Max Seeburg from Germany turned out for Tottenham in 1908.  After a spat with Arsenal over the signing of foreigners and obviously worried by a growing trend the FA introduced a 2 year residency rule in 1931 which served to stem the onrushing tide at the time. Even so, foreign players appeared in each of the FA Cup finals between 1951 and 1956 with one of these, Bert Trautmann becoming Footballer of the Year in 1956.

In 1978 a European Community ruling declared that football associations could not deny access to players based solely on nationality and, as a result, the effective 47 year ban in England was lifted. The arrival of players such as Ardiles and Villa at Tottenham spearheaded the new foreign invasion. At the time various quotas on non-British players applied but these have long since disappeared. When Arsenal won the league in 1989 they were the last team not to use a single foreign player (for the picky, yes the squad did include David O’Leary and Niall Quinn; both from the Republic of Ireland).

As far as I know, the first foreign player to play for West Ham was Clyde Best who I assume qualified to play under the two year residency rule before getting a first start in 1968. An attempt to sign Israel skipper Mordecai Spiegler after the 1970 World Cup was thwarted by the red tape still in play at the time. After the 1978 ruling West Ham were relatively slow on the uptake with the first overseas player, Francois Van der Elst, not clearing customs until January 1982. By then everyone was in on the act and even second division Charlton had signed former European footballer of the year Allan Simonsen from Barcelona.  In 2013, West Ham had become the first English club to have fielded players of 50 nationalities; the majority of whom, it has to be said, barely made an impression.

I spent some time going through squad lists to see how teams in the Premier League and Championship currently shape up with regard to foreign players. For the purposes of the analysis I have used the squads listed on Wikipedia. Players are categorised on their FIFA registration and I have treated players from the Republic of Ireland as foreigners (possibly harsh seeing as any English player who has seen Riverdance more than once is probably eligible to represent the Republic).

In the Premier League, 60% of players are foreign. Watford are top recruiter with 84% of their squad hailing from overseas. At the other end of the spectrum, Hull and West Brom have only 25% foreign representatives. The top 6 clubs for foreign players are Watford (84%), Manchester City (81%), Chelsea (76%), Arsenal (72%), West Ham (70%) and Sunderland (69%). If you were to exclude players fro the other Home nations the percentage of English players overall drops to 35%. The top 6 origins of Premier League players are England, Spain, France, Belgium, Republic of Ireland and Netherlands.

In the Championship, 40% of players are foreign. Newcastle and Reading are joint top with 62% followed by Brighton (54%), Fulham (54%), Brentford (52%) and Nottingham Forest (51%). Two more teams have at least 50% of overseas players.  Rotherham brings up the rear with a mere 16% foreign contingent.

There has been a long running debate about the impact of the foreign invasion on the fortunes of the national side. In that we have just the single 1966 tournament victory to show for a period both before and after the invasion then you could make a case that it is neutral. However, it does raise the question of what happens to all the kids who dream of becoming a professional footballer. Many of us had that dream at one time living out the fantasy over the park, even without the lure of the vast financial rewards of today, but at least for some the dream came true making it into teams that were largely home grown. Sure squads are much larger now but my instinct is that if we looked at game time the proportion for foreign players will be even higher (in the 6 Premier League games to date 78% of West Ham starters have been foreign players) than that for the squad as a whole. I will delve deeper into this at another time.

With all the recent revelations about shady deals between managers and agents let’s hope this is not a contributing factor to the skewed make up of English club squads.  Was there some truth to Ravel Morrison’s claim as to why he was banished to the reserves at West Ham?

The Premier League is a worldwide phenomenon which has been enriched by foreign players; there is no getting away from the fact that the most exciting and flair players are from overseas. The multi-million dollar question is why this is the case? Are the local lads not up to the challenge? Would they rather chase Pokemon than a football? Have we not sorted out grass roots youth development despite Sir Trev’s best efforts? On those occasions that I have seen kids football they all seem to have mastered the Cruyf turn and the Rabana but not the basics.  For now, the mystery of the disappearing English footballer deepens.


That Was The Week That Was (Extra)

A special supplement looking at events in September 1998.

This Week Hammers HistoryGeoff writes some excellent features that look back on specific weeks in West Ham history. I hope he doesn’t mind if I add to this week’s article which was posted on September 26, as I have personal memories of the long weekend (in football terms) that stretched from Thursday 24 September to Monday 28 September in 1998. That is eighteen years ago. So anybody born in that week is now able to do various things legally that they weren’t supposed to beforehand. And I personally know somebody who had their 45th birthday on September 27 that year, and who therefore celebrates their 63rd this week. Happy birthday Mr. H.

The weekend in question is what might be termed Premier League Matchday 7 nowadays, although I don’t think the phrase existed at the time. So every team had played 7 games at the end of the weekend, except for Manchester United and Chelsea who had only played six for reasons that I cannot recall.

Manchester United beat Liverpool 2-0 in the Thursday game in front of the weekend’s biggest attendance of just over 55,000. Aston Villa beat Derby 1-0 to open up a five point lead at the top of the table with five wins and two draws in their seven games. Incredibly (for a team well on top) they had only scored eight goals and conceded just one. This was the first defeat of the season for Derby, who were in second place, and they too had very few goals in their games, with just six scored and three conceded.

There were far fewer goals scored at the beginning of the 1998-99 season compared to today. 153 goals had been scored in 69 matches. This season there have been 176 goals in just 60 games. Only one of the ten games that weekend produced more than 2 goals (a 3-3 draw between Tottenham and Leeds). This year, last weekend had 7 matches where three or more goals were scored.

Aston Villa were top, Derby were second and Wimbledon third, (with West Ham fourth). Other Premier League teams included Newcastle, Leeds, Sheffield Wednesday, Charlton, Forest, Coventry and Blackburn. 50% of the teams in the league 18 years ago are no longer in the top flight. To further illustrate the changing nature of teams at the top, five of those teams who are not currently in the Premier League have been champions in the top flight of English football in the last forty-five years.

Di CanioI remember the weekend for two particular reasons. Firstly, I was at Upton Park for our game which featured as the Sky Monday night football. Just over 23,000 were there to witness us beating Southampton (who were rooted to the bottom with just one point at the time) by 1-0, with an Ian Wright goal in the second half. Compare that to the attendance for our game against Southampton on Sunday!

But the most remembered aspect of that weekend was in the game at Hillsborough where Sheffield Wednesday beat Arsenal 1-0 with a late goal. A certain Mr. Di Canio got in an angry exchange with both Patrick Vieira and Martin Keown. The referee, Paul Alcock, sent off Di Canio, who was so angry he pushed the official, who then fell theatrically to the ground. The red card (and of course the push) led to Di Canio receiving an eleven match ban. This was effectively the end of his time at Wednesday, and early in 1999 Harry Redknapp took what many considered to be a massive gamble, and brought Di Canio to Upton Park. In the four years he spent with us he became an Upton Park legend.

And how did the season end? Southampton, who were five points adrift of safety when we beat them, avoided relegation. Perhaps our situation is not as critical as the doom-mongers amongst our fans would have you believe after our poor start this season? Villa did not hang on to their big early season lead and finished in sixth place, 24 points adrift of Manchester United, the champions. Derby fell to eighth, and Wimbledon fell dramatically from third after seven games, to finish fifth from bottom.

We had what still remains as our best ever Premier League season finishing in fifth place. Not quite as impressive as our 1985-86 third place in the top flight, but our best ever finish since the inception of the Premier League which has been going for around 25 years now. As a result we qualified for the Intertoto cup, and our success in that meant we went on to the UEFA Cup where we were eliminated by Steaua Bucharest of Romania. What is it about Romanian teams?

Incredibly for a team finishing in fifth place, Ian Wright was our leading scorer for the season with just nine goals. Following the end of the season he never played another league game for us again, going out on loan to Forest and then finishing his career at Celtic and Burnley.

But it was the events at Sheffield Wednesday that weekend that were to have a significant impact on the history of West Ham, especially for the following four years.