Only seven to go before ‘Who are You?’ researchers have to start turning their attentions to fans of Burton, Barnsley and Brentford. Pete May* is our West Ham guest, a highly respected author of books about the Hammers but also Sunday league football, the ‘joys of Essex’ and Dr Who. He senses Jermain may be due for a return to West Ham but that, unlike at Sunderland, he won’t be an automatic choice for the starting line-up. Read on for Pete’s interesting take on all things Hammers plus a cheeky offer to buy fellow supporter Keira Knightley a pre-match drink …
Salut! Sunderland: So are you settling more comfortably into your new home now or do you miss the Boleyn too much to enjoy the Olympic Stadium?
Pete May: it’s felt more like home since Payet went on strike and the crowd really got behind the team in the win against Palace. Most of the stewarding problems have been resolved, Stratford is easier to get to and I’ve no problem with wanting to increase capacity, though it still feels very big and circular. Next season will be easier when everyone is more used to it, though the club and landlords the London Legacy Development Corporation need to find a way of getting more seats in at the front and improving the retractable stands and maybe having the hoardings in a square shape. It will never be as intimate as the Boleyn Ground, but better results would have helped. If we had been winning 5-0 every week we’d probably have forgotten about most of the stadium issues.
Bilic, Big Sam or neither? Assess.
In many ways Sam Allardyce saved the club through getting a first-time promotion and establishing the Irons back in the Premier League. He’s a decent manager, though emotionally the fans never took to him, particularly when he ridiculed “the West Ham way” and cupped his ear to the crowd. Bilic is much more popular and has been given much more leeway by the crowd. He had a great first season but has made a lot of mistakes this season. Poor signings and trying to convert Antonio to a right-back haven’t helped, though he’s had a lot thrown at him with the stadium move and Payet saga. Slaven seems a thoroughly decent man, so I hope he’s given a chance to turn it round next season.
How hard was it to lose Payet – or were you so fed up with him by the time he left that it was a case of good riddance?
He was still making most of our goals but had looked distracted since the summer. He wasn’t scoring as many either and had stopped tracking back. Payet was probably the most skillful player I’ve seen at West Ham, but morale has definitely improved since he left. The fans would have accepted him wanting to better himself and asking for a transfer, but going on strike destroyed the love we had for him. So now it’s a case of, as the new song says, “F**k off Payet, Dimitri Payet…” With hindsight we should have sold him after the Euros.
You still have quality all over the squad but still need a couple of wins to leave those of us at the bottom behind. Who has been underperforming?
Lots of new signings flopped like Zaza, Calleri, Nordtveit, Tore and Arbeloa. Feghouli and Ayew have been inconsistent, Fonte and Snodgrass, though good players, haven’t done it for us yet, while Cresswell and Noble haven’t matched last season’s form. Best players have been Antonio, Obiang, Lanzini and since his return, Andy Carroll.
West Ham offered what seemed at the time an insultingly low figure for Defoe in the January window. Do you expect to see him back at the club on a free for next season and will he start most games or be a benchwarmer?
It wouldn’t be a surprise and Defoe could do a job for another season. I think most fans would forgive him for the way he left us (a transfer request the day we were relegated) as he seems to be a much-changed character these days and apologised for what happened. He might be on the bench some games, but with Andy Carroll around you always get a lengthy injury, so he’d get a run too.
What about us? Doomed without too much doubt and no certainty of an immediate return. Did you see it coming or are you surprised at how poorly Moyes has done?
I’m afraid it looks like certain relegation for the Black Cats. Thought Moyes might do a better job, but to be fair he’s not been given a decent budget and had to sell van Aanholt.
Any other thoughts on Sunderland – the club, the fans, the city and region?
Sunderland feels like a proper football club with passionate fans often let down by poor decisions at boardroom level. So not unlike West Ham. Losing Allardyce to England was unlucky as I think he’d have made progress this season. The club has to stop sacking managers every season, so relegation might help in rebuilding long-term. I’d stick with Moyes, because if he can repeat his Everton decade, he can do the job, hopefully with younger, hungrier players. Part of the problem has been every new manager clearing out the signings of the old boss and some poor buys, but still plenty of potential with your fanbase.
You do realise, of course, that when you beat us 8-0 we were robbed? Who knows what would have happened had Hurst’s first been ruled out (7-0?)
Yes, Sunderland would surely have gone on to win! I do remember Sunderland beating us 6-0 at Roker Park back in the 1970s and also a 6-0 to West Ham in division two at Upton Park back in the days of Billy Bonds as manager.
Back to the Hammers: explain the West Ham Way and tell us when you believe it was last a constant feature of the club
The West Ham Way is simply attacking football (or some might quip, “winning friends and losing matches”). It all stems back to dockers on the terraces wanting to be entertained and having football purists Ron Greenwood and John Lyall as managers. When Payet was on song last season we seemed to have it back
From a list of greats going back to the eras of Bobby Moore, Bllly Bonds, Sir Trevor and so many others who has given you the most pleasure (or would have done had you been old enough to have seen them except on old film)?
I saw Bobby Moore as a kid and won’t forget his composure. He definitely had an aura about him. Other players I’ve loved include the commitment of Billy Bonds, the skill of Brooking and Devonshire and the mercurial genius of Paolo Di Canio. Trying to get himself subbed against Bradford, then winning the game 5-4 after being 2-4 down was unforgettable.
Plenty of links between our clubs: Sam, Pop Robson, Jermain, Mary McCartney, Don Hutch, Anton Ferdinand … anyone stick out and why?
Remember seeing Pop Robson score some great goals and it was a shame he missed our two FA Cup wins. McCartney was well-liked and underrated. ‘Deadly Don’ Hutchison was never that deadly, though did score the goals to keep us up under Harry Redknapp, admittedly after Harry threw a plate of sandwiches at him!
I omitted PDC from my list. I bet you’re chuffed he was with you as a player not a manager
Indeed, we could have done without the Mussolini love-in, but he was very hot on banning ketchup. PDC is always entertaining, but I don’t think he understands players who do not have his dedication. Having said that he was sacked rather unfairly after about five games.
Best and worst times for you as a fan?
Best were the FA Cup wins of 1975 and 1980 and play-off wins of 2005 and 2012. I felt proud of our performance in the 3-3 FA Cup Final with Liverpool in 2006, even though we lost on pens. Bloody Gerrard. Worst was the Play-Off Final defeat to Crystal Palace in 2004 and our numerous relegations. And going to Oldham for a 6-0 League Cup semi-final defeat in the rain.
Best-known West Ham fans you’ve met? Does Keira Knightley actually get to games?
Phill Jupitus was a regular in Ken’s Cafe and has kindly provided me with cover quotes for my books. We have also bumped into actor Donald Sumpter, who has been in Doctor Who and Game of Thrones. He played Rassilon, President of the Time Lords, and I’m tempted to ask if he could go back in time and stop Lionel Scaloni booting the ball to Steven Gerrard in the last minute of the 2006 FA Cup Final. Keira was never spotted on Green Street, though happy to take her to the King Edward pub in Stratford after a match if she’s up for it.
This season’s top four and bottom three in order, plus where the Hammers will finish?
Chelsea, Spurs, Liverpool, Man City.
Swansea, Middlesbrough, Sunderland.
Since everyone’s at it, do we stop whingeing about cheating – diving, feigning injury, card-waving, wrestling at corners etc – and try to do it better – or is still worth trying to stamp out?
Still worth trying to stamp it out and I’m behind booking divers.
One step the authorities should take to improve the lot of the ordinary supporter?
Using the TV money to cap all tickets at £20
Will you be at our game? What will be the score?
Sadly not as away for Easter, but hope we can get the three points we need to be sure of staying up. Mind you, West Ham can normally help most teams on a poor run. I predict you’ll finally score against us and I’ll go for a diplomatic 2-2.
Pete May on himself: I’m a journalist, writer and West Ham season ticket holder. My latest book is Goodbye to Boleyn: West Ham’s Final Season At Upton Park and the Big Kick-off at Stratford, published by Biteback. It’s as much about the pre and post-match rituals as the football so should be enjoyable for all football fans. I also blog about West Ham at hammersintheheart.blogspot.co.uk. Check my books at this Amazon link.
Interview: Colin Randall