SAFC v West Ham: the Hammer who still fears the worst

Even before he became the editor of The Daily Telegraph, Tony Gallagher* had played a blinder as deputy editor (and acting editor) when the paper put MPs through the mill for their outrageous expenses. Some MPs, it is fair to say, questioned the notion of journalists lecturing anyone on expenses. But that’s another matter, as is Tony’s lifelong support for – and, despite two good results, gloomy outlook on – West Ham United, Sunderland’s opponents on Sunday if snow permits …

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Salut! Sunderland: (Before this mini-revival), a Hammers-supporting pal declared himself lost for words. What the devil went wrong, and did you not share the excitement of some fans when Sullivan/Gold moved in?

Notwithstanding our amazing result against Man United, we’re paying the price for undermining a series of decent managers. Pardew was sacked peremptorily a few months after taking us to the FA Cup final; Curbishley steered us to mid-table safety and then he was sacrificed; Zola was obviously an outstanding coach – it was no accident that Carlton Cole, Scott Parker and Robert Green were playing the best football of their careers under him – but he was destabilised the moment Gold and Sullivan arrived and never recovered. Grant, demonstrably, lacks the motivational powers required to effect a change.
The Sullivan/Gold era has been pock-marked by one ugly dispute in the press after another which is extremely undignified. Personally, I have never warmed to them, assuming their passion is really for the Olympic Stadium, which I guess would generate huge revenue.

Yet you turned us over at the Stadium of Light, in a cup our fans desperately wanted us to do well in, and clearly have some high-class players. Can you dig a way out of it, and would that require a change of manager?

I still foresee relegation unless there is a change of manager soon. They need someone with better motivational powers and a proven track record. Martin O’Neill springs to mind as a manager who may, just, fancy the challenge.

What were your minimum and maximum expectations when the season started?

I predicted a long, hard season, to be candid, but I hoped we might avoid relegation. The new arrivals like Barrera and Hitzlsperger seem like medium-class makeweights and, Obinna and Piquionne excepted, have not done enough to supplement a team that barely escaped relegation last time.
However, I have been delighted to see the consistently outstanding form of Scott Parker, still mysteriously overlooked by England, who is one of the few players to emerge with credit thus far this season. Green, despite his World Cup horror show, has also been excellent.
Our central defence is an awful worry. Upson cannot seem to find consistency and is paired with a different player every week. We’ve played without a proper right back for two seasons since the departure of Lucas Neil – hardly great planning.

What have been the highs and other lows of supporting West Ham (but please be too young to remember WHU 8 SAFC 0)?

Not too many highs on the horizon of late though I have a special memory of the 85-6 season when we put 8 goals past Newcastle – the only time my then wife-to-be has ever attended a game. It was also our highest ever finish in the division and we were in contention for the title until the final days.
My personal low was the two seasons we spent in the Championship from 2003. We were relegated with a side that included Joe Cole, Trevor Sinclair, Paolo Di Canio, Freddie Kanoute, Michael Carrick Jermaine Defoe and Glen Johnson.
Bad as that was – most of the above left us instantly – the following two seasons were awful. I have an especially grim memory of seeing Rotherham defeat us at Upton Park. Brighton too. The quality of the football was appalling and I couldn’t wait for promotion. When we finally escaped, by the skin of our teeth via a playoff, I felt as though I had escaped a high speed car crash.
I loved most of the subsequent Pardew era and especially the run to the FA Cup Final when the Gerrard wonder goal condemned us to a penalty shoot out defeat.

Who are the greatest players you have seen in your club’s colours, and who should have been allowed nowhere near them?

My personal favourite is Bobby Moore though honourable mentions must go to Billy Bonds, Alvin Martin, Alan Devonshire, Frank McAvennie and Tony Cottee. More recently, we enjoyed John Hartson in a golden spell, Eyal Berkovic was wonderful and Yossi Benayoun springs to mind. Di Canio was always great if a little mad. Joe Cole, sadly, needed to leave to realise his potential, though he has never quite reached the stratospheric heights I anticipated when I saw him win an FA Cup youth final.
The worst? A very long list, most of whom figured under Harry Redknapp. We bought a striker called Marco Boogers who endured a breakdown after figuring for just a few games and was last heard of living in a caravan. We also bought the appalling Romanians, Ilie Dumitrescu and Florin Radicoiu, after they played brilliantly in the ’94 world cup. I recall Florin preferred to go shopping at Harvey Nichols rather than face Scunthorpe in the League Cup.
Gary Duffy was another dreadful low point. I remember him turning his back on a Man U goal when we lost 6-0 and he rarely figured after that. He was an appalling excuse for a centre half.

Any thought on Sunderland, or the people who have been associated with both clubs: eg Pop Robson, Don Hutchison, Anton Ferdinand, George McCartney (a total flop when he came back to us), maybe others I’ve overlooked?

You were miles better than us when we met in April although we managed to eke out a nervy 1-0 victory.

Hutchison was a poor performer for most of his career with us. Anton was always good, though he seemed to fall out of favour at the very end of the Curbishley regime and was sacrificed for cash. He was always excellent, if in the shadow of his brother.
The same happened with McCartney, who was absolutely terrific for us and has never been adequately replaced. Sorry to hear he’s been a flop.
You look like a decent side this season, well set up and hard to beat. I loved Gyan in the world cup and he looks a good if expensive signing. Bent is always a danger and Henderson is obviously a great find. I always like Kieran Richardson but he has never lived up to his initial promise for me. Welbeck is a fantastic loan signing from what I have seen.

Have you already forgotten the World Cup or can’t you wait for the next one?

England were awful but I loved the World Cup and was delighted Spain won. I attended their semi final and was thrilled the best team in the tournament triumphed, especially with players like Xavi and Iniesta. I am already making sneaky plans for Brazil but will try to avoid watching our serial-underachievers if I’m lucky enough to go.

Is it time to abandon high-minded principles of fair play and accept that cheating – diving, feigning injury, trying to get other players booked or sent off – is part of the modern game? if not, how do we begin to stamp it out?

Video, video, video. I am 100 per cent in favour of managers having, say, two challenges per half to overturn dud decisions. Sky has made the referee’s job almost impossible and, without video, we will always have bonkers decisions. A balloon-aided goal anyone?

Name this season’s top four in order and the bottom three. If our clubs are not mentioned in either list, where will they end up come May?

Manchester United, despite their blip against us, will be the team to beat. Chelsea, for all Ancelotti’s genius, look old. Arsenal. Man City.
I fear it could be the 3 Ws heading down: West Ham, Wolves and Wigan. We beat Wigan 3-1 on Saturday and, while it could turn out to be a turning point, they were truly gruesome throughout so it’s hard to judge.
You will secure a very respectable mid-table finish at least after a good FA cup run.

And if it came to the worst, would the Hammers do a Newcastle or take longer tor recover?

I think the Championship is incredibly competitive and any one of 10 teams are capable of going up. I think we have the fanbase to make us short price favourites but there are no guarantees and you can easily go bust if your club is not well run. For every team that comes straight back up, there’s a Leeds, Sheff Weds or Notts Forest that seem doomed to a twilight zone.

Do you want your club to move to the Olympic stadium?

No. We don’t have 50,000 fans to fill it and I will be miles from the pitch but, as I said, I suspect the owners think it is a fantastic money-making opportunity.

What will be the score in our game and how, if not there, will you keep in touch with it?

A nervy 1-1 draw, assuming we take the lead. If you score first, I would see us folding quickly. I will be following it via BlackBerry or, if very lucky, via a dodgy pub satellite.

* Tony Gallagher on Tony Gallagher:
: I blame my father for West Ham. He worked in the East End so it became my club of choice. Now that I have children, I have passed the affliction to them, using the Jesuit principle of indoctrinating them young – important in an area where Arsenal dominate kids’ habits. My son Conal went to his first game at six months in a baby sling – a 2-2 draw with Man U and my daughters Catriona and Maeve both go occasionally.

Interview: Colin Randall

8 thoughts on “SAFC v West Ham: the Hammer who still fears the worst”

  1. Many thanks for your comments. I must say I under-estimated the degree of support for Grant this post would yield. My concern is that he is a manager who has now spent an entire year rooted to the foot of the Premier League and that, to me, spells someone who cannot deliver sustained performances. I exclude his Chelsea spell as that was a team, by the admission of its players, on auto-pilot. He is yet to prove himself as a manager suited to run a top flight club, though the fault for that lies squarely with our owners I suppose.
    As to Hitzlsperger, he may be great but the jury is out since Lazio let him go and he didn’t figure in the world cup.
    Jeremy, you are probably right on Mark Noble. He’s a good player, was a mainstay of the u21s, but is stagnating and is being left behind by the likes of Henderson and Wilshere.
    Delighted Anton appears to be playing tomorrow. I trust he’ll get a good reception from travelling Hammers, especially after his gracious interviews this morning.
    Enjoy the game.

  2. You can have McCartney back mate. We’ll pay for his flight down to Stansted. What a bloody waste of money he’s been. I thought we did well when we got 1M from you for him, then Mad Man Keane paid 6M!

  3. TI do not agree that Martin O’Neill would be better than Grant. Grant has not been given enough money to work with because there is no money. Nonetheless, he has kept them on an even keel when a death spiral seemed likely. They started their season with games aagainst three top clubs and have struggled as a result. Grant’s decision to play Spector in midfield (Man. U.) shows he is smart. The managers were undermined because the money was not there. Swelling off your defence is never a good idea. We miss Ferdinand, McCatney and Collins. The heart of the problems is as this guy says:

    Our central defence is an awful worry. Upson cannot seem to find consistency and is paired with a different player every week. We’ve played without a proper right back for two seasons since the departure of Lucas Neil – hardly great planning.

  4. Really good read.

    The player that I really like, and who always looks good whenever I see him is Mark Noble. Great things were expected of him a few years back, but the impression that I get (at least of the one that he’s creating in the minds of others) is that he has started to lose his way a little. What are your thoughts on him as someone who clearly has an intimate appreciation of the game and players (especially your own).

    Funnily enough, my impression of Scott Parker who I used to admire enormously was that he had taken a liking to kicking people rather than simply playing. I would deduce from your comments already that you wouldn’t agree with that appraisal.

  5. Don’t understand why anyone would think Zola was a good coach the Hammeswere dreadful under him. Why are young foriegners put ahead of young English coaches. Martinez Di Matteou and Zola are given top jobs, while English coaches go to the lowere leagues to earn their apprentership. Hollaway.Bruce Pullis annd even Rednapp weren’t given glamour jobs when they started. Is Grant better than Peter Reid who languishes at Plymouth, Mancini comes over here gets a bottomless pit of money and his team look average.

  6. While I agree that Curbishly was fired prematurely, I thought that both Pardew and Zola had reached their limits. Avram Grant has a vision which takes time to install, but I see it happening.
    Our problem this season has not been the standard of our players, which is higher than several clubs above us, but a lack of characters in the squad and in the coaching staff.
    Mr Gallagher calls Hitzlsperger a medium class makeweight, even though he has not played for West Ham due to injury. In the game which saw him injured, he was captain of Germany!
    Although 2 games don’t make a summer ( especially in this weather ), I believe the addition of Wally Downes to the coaching staff, has given us the lift necessary to start a move to higher places. He is an enormous character, and that rubs off on the whole squad, without undermining Avram Grant.

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