Apologies for earlier distortion on images – the posting had to be made in haste
The first thing to say about Peter Thorne*, our West Ham “Who are You?” volunteer, is that he is not Billy Bragg, the Bard of Barking and famous Hammer. He is, however, Billy Blagg, blogging under that nom de guerre at WestHamOnline. As Peter, he is another of Monsieur Salut’s fellow contributors to the ESPN FC pages. Late panic over – his replies initially went astray – here are his full, frank and entertaining thoughts as Sunderland prepare to face his team on Saturday …
Another win on New Year’s Day. The season may not have been as good for you as some Londoncentric media coverage suggests but you must be chuffed with the relative ease of your return to the Premier
I was always confident the Hammers would be OK back in the Premier League. The fact is the club is a top division outfit, and has been for most of the past 50 odd years. Even in the seasons when they drop out of the top tier, West Ham look out of place in the Championship. The Irons are able to attract some top talent, have an envious scouting system and – when pushed – are prepared to spend a bit more than others in their position, so I thought we’d be alright as I was sure the Two Davids would release transfer funds with the mooted move to Stratford still on the cards. We were only relegated in the first place because Avram Grant was put in charge anyway. Mid-table will do for West Ham most seasons – anything more is unlikely with their current structure, but there really is no reason why they shouldn’t be able to hold their own in the vast majority of campaigns. But what’s with this Londoncentric media coverage? London is the greatest Capital City in this world or any other; why go anywhere else? I mean, what are you suggesting, move the BBC to Salford?
It always makes me chuckle to hear an avowed Hammers fan, Moose from TalkSport, reporting on your games. It’s natural enough in local papers and broadcasting but do you agree with me it sounds odd on national radio?
I’d like to see a return to days of yore when broadcasters were – to all intents and purposes anyway – entirely neutral. I don’t know who John Motson, David Coleman or Brian Moore do/used to support (well actually, I think Brian Moore was a Gillingham supporter, but I’m making a point so I’ll pretend I don’t know). Get rid of these people off our airwaves. Unless TalkSport want to offer me a job in which case…
Who has been particularly good for you, what do you make of Carroll when fit and where do you need strengthening (if not already done by the time this appears)?
I rate Andy Carroll a lot and although much has been made of his low scoring rate recently, his overall contribution to a side is incalculable. Most teams will designate one defender to mark him permanently with one or two others backing up, it opens up so much space and you notice it particularly when – unlike Liverpool – you’ve not always had a big presence up front (and I don’t mean ‘big’ as in size, I mean in reputation and ability). Rumours are Andy doesn’t want to stay beyond his loan period though, so I doubt this will concern West Ham beyond the summer of 2013. However, if he did want to stay then I think he’s a young player who can only get better and I’d be happy to see the club pay a reasonable sum for him.
Our midfield has been good this season with Mo Diame having a spectacularly good season. Mark Noble has been impressive and Nolan is always a danger. In defence, the progress of Winston Reid has been very encouraging and he looks a very dependable Premiership defender. Collins has also been good, although he has made a couple of high-profile TV covered rickets but it’s a shame the form of those two seems to have hampered the appearances of James Tomkins; a defender I believe could up there with Alvin Martin and Rio Ferdinand given the opportunity. We desperately need two full-backs but West Ham always need full-backs – we have tried playing without them since Billy Bonds retired – and a creative midfield player would be good but I suspect I’m just waiting for the second coming of another Trevor Brooking
Bring us up to date on the post-Olympics stadium – and the thoughts of Hammers fans on life after the Boleyn
The thoughts of Hammers fans? Good God! Who knows? I’ve been so aggravated over recent months about polls purporting to show fans aren’t in favour of the move. I saw one the other week: “Do you want to move to Straford?’ Answer ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ only”, it said. What use is that? If the Olympic Stadium fell through tomorrow, do you think the Directors would just say ‘OK, we’ll stay here at Upton Park then’? Access to the Boleyn by road is virtually impossible – the Barking By-pass looks like something from a Hieronymus Bosch painting every other Saturday – and rail access is overcrowded and unreliable. Queues outside Upton Park Station often look like a 1930s Soup Kitchen while parking around the ground is …well, you get my drift. It simply means the club has outgrown the area. WHUFC desperately needs a new home and we have a truly stunning park in our own back garden. If you look up ‘No Brainer’ in the dictionary it actually cites West Ham moving to Stratford as a definition. so if we don’t move to the OS, the option might be a green field site in Basildon or somewhere. Now, tack that onto ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ and you have a whole other argument.
I advocated a move – although, admittedly, I assumed there would be an opportunity to build a purpose-built football stadium in the Olympic Park itself – from the day after the bid winning announcement was made back in 2005. The running track will be an issue but I think there is much going on behind the scenes we’re not aware of. The Government don’t want a white elephant and West Ham need a new home, and I’m pretty sure both sides know they need to thrash something out. I’m confident it will be Ok. I was working in the main stadium for LOCOG during 2012 and I already love the place. The atmosphere was electric and I don’t see any reason why the Architects should lose that when the changes are made. As far as I’m concerned, this has to happen and any West Ham fan who says otherwise is sadly deluded.
What about the manager? Solid and all that but many fans were worried he wouldn’t play the “Hammers way”. Do you think/hope he’s there for the long term?
Get Billy/Peter’s book at the usual knockdown price from Salut! Sunderland’s Amazon bookshelf: http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0954833627/salusund-21
Again, I flew in the face somewhat when Allardyce was appointed but I like the old grisly, heavily-jowled bugger. He sets his teams up so that the opposition has to work hard to beat them and I was tired of supposed ‘Academy’ football when it led to the type of awful, soul-destroying defeats that we saw under Grant. I thoroughly enjoyed some of our away performances in the Championship last season, soaking up pressure and hitting attacking sides on the break – the type of thing I’d witnessed happening to West Ham time and time again over the years. What is the ‘Hammers way’? I always ask, I’m lucky enough to have seen it in the past but there’s a generation now who haven’t. It’s a long times since Sir Trev and Alan Devonshire glided over the mud in front of the North Bank. I believe that for too many years now, ‘the West Ham way’ means soft, toothless and easy to beat. Sam’s OK with me and I’m happy for him to stay a good while.
What are your highs and lows of supporting West Ham?
I’m old enough to remember FA cup victories and European runs so I have many happy memories. West Ham under floodlights in the ’76 European Cup Winners Cup quarter and semi finals will live with me till the die I go to the Big Ref in the Sky. But I am an emotional fellow at heart and I loved taking my kids to games and seeing their little faces even if the little sods didn’t become quite as passionate about the Claret ‘n’ Blue as their Old Man. Still, they are happy to say they are Hammers and that’s all I wanted really (I didn’t expect my daughter to go every week, after all). Lows? How long do you want this to be? Relegation under Roeder with a team good enough to finish in the top six was gutting; selling Rio Ferdinand when we really didn’t have too at the time; Avram Grant, the Icelandic mob, Tevezgate. The list goes on and on. The 2006 Cup final – really, was it too much to ask for just one win over Liverpool? It wasn’t as if we weren’t the better team that day either. Again though, it’s probably the more emotional things that stay with me. Losing to Stoke in the semi-final of the League Cup in 1973 devastated me when I was a small boy (before my sex change)
Who are the greatest players you’ve seen – or wish you’d seen – in Hammers claret and blue and who should have been nowhere near your colours?
I’m fortunate in that some of West Ham’s greats have been England’s greats. Bobby Moore was simply sublime; watching Moore was like seeing Michelangelo paint the Sistine Chapel – not that I saw the latter, you understand I’m not that old! Although I was young, it’s obvious that Hurst, Peters etc. would still walk into any England side although, admittedly, they would wear the Red of ManU or the Blue of Chelsea at the weekend. I was a huge fan of Bryan ‘Pop’ Robson, in my view the greatest player never to play for England alongside the buccaneering Billy Bonds, a similarly magnificent specimen. Sir Trevor Brooking was a personal favourite though; so gifted, so exquisite to watch I named my only begotten son after him. (I mean Brooking too, not Trevor which is a bit of a naff name, isn’t it?) When my son graduated from Uni with a First and they called the name of ‘Michael Brooking’ I almost burst with pride. Of recent years, only Paolo di Canio really seemed to capture the magic of old. I can’t get excited about players who will probably move on in a season or two.
Similarly, I don’t worry about players I haven’t seen in a West Ham shirt. That way madness lies. I get a headache from thinking about the ones I have seen in Claret and Blue who subsequently left, and imagining what might have occurred had they stayed! The Hammer’s ability to waste money and panic buy to avoid relegation means I’ve seen cartloads of players who should never have played for us. You tend to remember the ‘big buys’ that were supposed to lead to great things – Harry was great at buying crocked former internationals – but I recall grim days in the Second Division with player’s to whom who the term ‘third rate’ was a big compliment and that list, sadly, is too long to regale you with here.
How did you manage to make such a popular player out of George McCartney?
Dear old George. See my comment above. West Ham try to play without full-backs and have done for decades. Oddly when they do play with them, they are spectacularly successful. I have a whole thesis on it. George had a good solid season or two with us and never let us down so when the board decided to sell him over the head of Alan Curbishley and ‘Bluebottle’ resigned as a result, it kind of cemented George’s position with the fans. I think you chalk McCartney down under the column ‘dependable’.
I’ve always failed to persuade Billy Bragg to do this Q+A – at least I got you in the end
I’m a difficult sod to pin down. I’m not a professional writer and I spend too long writing about stuff when I should be working on things I get paid for. Trouble is I’m in IT and I hate it, so I use any excuse not to do what I’m supposed to be doing so I try and curb my enthusiasm for requests. It also takes me ages to write something – I think I have some type of latent Attention Deficit Disorder – and I have to keep re-checking and altering things when I should leave well alone.
Any good, bad or amusing memories of games between us, home or away?
Not too many to be honest, we seem to be the type of clubs that beat each other depending on the status of the other. The season Sunderland got promotion, your winning at Upton Park on a Friday seemed to consign us to another season in the Championship. Things looked really grim – another season down and we would barely have had a team left – then the following day every single result elsewhere went our way and we ended up getting promoted via the Play-offs. It was utterly bizarre; our whole season actually seemed to start as we watched you lot celebrating in the Trevor Stand in April. Wish I’d had a bet on us getting promoted immediately after that game. I reckon I could have paid my mortgage off.
What about Sunderland- the club, the support, the region – do you have any strong views either way?
I like the North-east – I have a lot of in-laws there so I find it best to be polite – and have no problem with passionate fans who follow their club through occasional fat but mostly thin. Sunderland are the archetypal ‘Sleeping Giant’ but there are a lot of you out there now carrying that epithet. I thought getting in Martin O’Neill was a spectacular bit of business and I’m really surprised things aren’t going as well as I though they would. I suspect like most clubs outside the top six or seven, you’ll have good seasons and bad and the best you can hope for is to hang around the top tier. Sad really, as anyone who beat Revie’s odious Leeds side is ok with me!
What will be the top four in order, who is going down and where will our clubs finish?
Who cares? Seriously, I don’t subscribe to the Sky/ Premier League Pol-Pot Year Zero maxim that we all care about the top clubs and hanker to see their every move. If ManU were playing in my back garden, I wouldn’t open the curtains. I’m not bothered. It was fun seeing Manchester City upset the Ferguson apple cart last season but I think the domination of the league by six or seven clubs is tedious in the extreme. The relegation battle is usually more entertaining and I can’t see Reading or QPR. surviving but suspect someone like Villa may join them as Wigan will probably wriggle out again. West Ham and Sunderland will stay up and be somewhere from between half-way and downwards.
Which single step should West Ham or the football authorities take to improve the lot of the ordinary supporter?
Reduce how much it costs to get in. We’re all struggling and many can’t justify the outlay for a 90 minute game. If we get the OS then we may be starting our very own ticket reduction scheme but, generally, it’s a major issue. There was never any chance of my son following in my footsteps at UP as he was never in the position to buy a ticket and just turn up with mates as I did. That’s sad and will kill the game if allowed to continue.
The antics of Bale (disputed) and Defoe (beyond doubt) in SAFC v Spurs again highlighted the diving issue. Has cheating become so prevalent that we might as well stop worrying about it and accept it as part of the modern game?
Never. It should be easily sorted out by a third referee with a TV screen. Why football hasn’t embraced TV as an additional benefit is a complete mystery to me. What’s with this ‘testing’ of goal-line technology? Can you think of single instance when people watching on TV didn’t know if a ball had crossed or not crossed a line within seconds? (Apart from the 1966 World Cup and that obviously crossed J ). In other sports, new technology has enhanced the experience – think Hawkeye in Cricket and Tennis – why shouldn’t it add to football? I simply don’t buy the idea that breaks up play. It must be less prevalent in football than Tennis where everyone stares at the screen while a replay is shown (usually accompanied with cries of ooooooooooh!). In football, it would be delicious to see players celebrating, only to have it chalked off for offside ten seconds (probably much less) later. That’s time already lost anyway so what difference would a third official make? With regard to fouling, retrospective bookings and ‘red card’ action would soon sort it out.
Will you be at our match? What will be the score?
I suffer from Asthma and visits so far North make me ill. I have a T-shirt – fur-lined ‘cos I hate the cold – that says ‘Southern Softie and Proud’ and I’m happy with that. Also, the Mrs is a Geordie so accessing your section of the North-east is frowned upon. I’d like to visit, of course I would, but what can I do against such things?
We’re now entering that period of the season when results seem to follow more of a pattern and I’d guess a 1-1 draw is on the cards here. If we do beat you at your place, I’d be worried about you getting into a relegation battle.
Peter Thorne on Peter Thorne:
I was introduced to the Hammers by my Granddad, I’m ‘old school’, born and bred in West Ham at a time when you supported your local club and anything else was punishable by a good kicking in the playground. Fortunately, West Ham were then one of the most recognisable teams in Europe having won the ECWC and supplied the Holy Trinity to England’s ’66 win so it wasn’t a chore. It has been at times since though!
I was always a frustrated writer but started the Billy Blagg column in 1998 when I saw an online request for contributors to a site then called the ‘Ironworks’ now ‘WestHamOnline’. It’s still what I regard as my ‘home’ site. I didn’t want to do the normal kind of match reporting so I just let my imagination run away with me, making up situations, characters and stories to try and make a point. As Blagg I could be more confrontational and plain awkward than I was as myself. I was always interested in fans and their rather bizarre way they relate to their clubs and football in general and I tried to get involved in that rather than what the players were doing, match reports etc. most of which I find boring. It seemed to catch on and I was asked to join ESPN Soccernet in 2002 as England correspondent for the World Cup where I tried to take a cock-eyed view of what was happening by discussing silly haircuts and odd names – things most fans do in the bar or at work anyway. I’ve done it for every major tournament since – in the last WC I prefaced every round of matches with a national drink and some food of one of the countries involved – the Mrs loved that job! – just to get some other conversation going on-line. It seems to work. Since 2002, I’ve been the regular WHU correspondent as well.
Off the back of that I had a book published ‘Nightmare on Green Street’ (still got some copies at my Mum’s if anyone has a fiver they need to get rid of) and I’ve been working on the follow-up since. I’m getting paid for some blogging contributions now though, so I’m reasonably happy about that.
Interview: Colin Randall