I am often intrigued by a debate amongst football fans about the size of their club. The ‘my club is bigger than yours discussion.’ Newspaper journalists and the media in general will often refer to x being a big club, or will a certain player want to join a ‘bigger’ club. But what is a big club? A club that is considered big today may not have been at some time in the past. Is it the fan base, average attendances, revenue, trophies won in history, or honours gained in recent times, or one or more of many other criteria that you could toss into the mix? A club that is considered big today may not have been at some time in the past. It’s all quite subjective really.
I watched a TV quiz show recently where contestants had to decide if clubs had won more FA Cups than Ipswich Town (one win in 1979). When the name Old Etonians came up the contestant scoffed. But Old Etonians reached the final of the FA Cup six times in the nineteenth century winning it twice and supplied a number of players for the England national team, including three in one match against Wales in 1879. Old Etonians were once a big club, but not now of course.
Few of us would argue against Newcastle United and West Ham United being big clubs at the present time. (Our fans sing that we are not just big but massive of course!). But if the criteria was based on trophies won in recent times then perhaps we would not be considered quite so big. West Ham last won a major trophy in 1980 when as a second tier side we beat Arsenal in the FA Cup final on that sunny May day when Sir Trev stooped to head the only goal of the game.
Newcastle have won four league titles, six FA Cups, and like ourselves have won an Inter Two Bob Cup and a European trophy. In fact they have won the ninth highest total of trophies by English clubs (we are about 18th on that list). But Newcastle’s last major domestic trophy was in 1955, though their last major trophy was when they won the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1969.
Both of us took steps towards rectifying the lack of recent honours this week. We beat Derby County fairly comfortably to move into the last 16 of the FA Cup. In theory we only need to win three games from here to reach the final at Wembley, and four to actually lift the trophy. But the draw has not been kind to us and our task has been made harder with a trip to Old Trafford in Round Five.
Newcastle are much closer to landing a trophy having beaten Southampton in a two-legged semi final to reach the final of the EFL Cup where Manchester United stand between them and achieving their aim. A rejuvenated Manchester United could put paid to both our hopes.
After battling relegation for much of last season the Magpies recovered well in the latter stages, and in this campaign they have turned it around to such an extent that they currently sit third in the Premier League with just under half of the season to play, and are among the favourites to be playing Champions League football next season. The Saudi-led takeover of the club is a massive contributing factor of course, but Eddie Howe deserves a lot of praise for building a team capable of challenging the top teams in England.
On the other hand as a complete reversal of last season’s fortunes we sit in sixteenth place just one point above the bottom three and in need of some good results in the second half of the season to ensure that we are still in the Premier League next season. Following the death of the Queen earlier in the season the reverse fixture was postponed so we have not yet faced the Magpies yet.
As so often seems to be the case we are once again hindered by injuries. In the transfer window that has just closed I think we signed two players, Danny Ings, a recognised Premier League goalscorer, but who is apparently injured already, and a young Brazilian who has gone into the Development Squad. Around nine players left the club in the window including some promising Academy graduates who barely got a chance to show what they could do in our colours. The manager must believe we have a big enough and good enough squad to move up the table. Many would disagree.
On form we don’t really have much of a chance in this game, do we? Third at home to sixteenth. I read that the Geordies have been trailing in games for just 80 minutes in total in their 20 league games to date, fewer than any other team. They haven’t conceded a single goal in the first half in any of their last sixteen Premier League games! They have only conceded 11 goals in total in 20 games, five fewer than league leaders Arsenal, and by far the best defensive record in the top flight. They have only lost once, a 2-1 defeat to Liverpool with the winner coming in the 98th minute. Nick Pope, (allegedly a target of West Ham last summer?), has kept six consecutive Premier League clean sheets. When did we last win an away game?
Just 3 points separate Leicester in 14th (on 18) and Southampton at the bottom (on 15). The points table for the last five games for the bottom 7 clubs is as follows (none apart from Wolves perhaps pulling up any trees or averaging a point a game):
Wolves 7, West Ham 4, Leeds 3, Southampton 3, Leicester 1, Bournemouth 1, Everton 1.
All seven teams are averaging less than a point a game for the season as a whole so far which is a figure that is generally enough to avoid relegation, and at this moment they would appear to be the teams who will produce the three who go down, although Forest and Palace are not too far above, and invariably a team that is not involved in the scrap at the bottom has a poor run at the season’s end.
The odds on a Newcastle win (3/5) are not as short as you might expect given the relative form of both teams and their league positions. The draw is only 11/4 with a West Ham win at 5/1. I reckon the best chance of us getting anything from the game is to play for a 0-0 draw. That’s probably what David Moyes has in mind too, as he seems to for so many of our games, particularly on our travels. The odds on the game being goalless are around 8/1, unlikely despite the fact that Newcastle have played six such games out of the 20 so far this season, Palace (twice), Brighton, Manchester United and Leeds featuring in 0-0 draws. Wolves, Bournemouth and Manchester City all held the Magpies to a scoring draw, and their solitary defeat at Liverpool should really have been a point apiece too, but the referee in that game seemed to continue playing until the Reds scored their winner deep into added time.
It’s time for Paqueta to demonstrate why he is preferred to the suspended Guimaraes in the Brazil national team; in fact time for so many to perform. Quite what Areola and Downes have to do to get an extended run in the league team is beyond me, but the manager will no doubt select some players in the team that many of us would not. I fear the worst but hope for a 0-0 draw, and being optimistically greedy how about snatching a late winner for three points in a 1-0 win? What are the chances?