Matthew Kemp*, who contributed a pre-season piece in August, makes a welcome return to talk about West Ham’s more than half-decent start to the season, unhappy memories of Gary Breen at Upton Park and his club’s reliance on team work rather than, Carroll apart, “star players” …
Salut! Sunderland: A pretty good start, two home wins and a draw more than offsetting the sharp reverse at Swansea. Did you expect this kind of start or have you been surprised?
Seven points are all gratefully received though we have yet to play the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea. If you include the League Cup win against Crewe, we have also had four clean sheets. It’s going to be a long old season, and we can’t become complacent. Big Sam’s aiming for a top half finish, yet in all honesty a mid table position would be a good result. When I heard one of the Norwich fans saying after our 0-0 draw that these were the type of games they should win, it reiterated to me that West Ham are not seen as title favourites!
Carroll, Vaz Te and others show the strength in your team. How important are these individuals and where are you still weak?
The main weakness is in defence, as we only have three recognised centre-backs, though Guy Demel can also operate in this position. I am hoping we will secure John Mensah’s signature as a free agent. Whilst his career has been plagued by injuries, including his spell at Sunderland he is in my opinion worth a gamble. He is currently on trial at the club. Aside from Carroll we don’t have any star players, and work well as a team. The Bentley brigade are long gone
Was the drop to the Championship helpful in its own way or just an ordeal to be got through as quickly as possible?
The Championship is a tough league to get out of. Whilst many results were pleasing, it wasn’t a certainty that we would be promoted, and we did it the hard way, albeit the day at Wembley was an enjoyable and rare treat! Relegation did allow us to reduce the wage bill, and many who have left didn’t really go onto be hugely successful, Thomas Hitzlperger and Matthew Upson are two that spring to mind
And is Big Sam the man to lead you onwards?
Fans are indifferent about Big Sam, as many say we do not play the West Ham way. Personally, it’s not as basic as hoofing the ball to the big fella up front, and we’ve bought in flair via Yossi Benayoun, and pace via Matt Jarvis. The team are more physical now, and with players such as Cole, Carroll, Diarra, Nolan, Collins and Diame there will be a few yellow cards flying around. Allardyce signed a two-year contract, and is in year two of this, so watch this space. Gold and Sullivan know the default position come Xmas, would be to welcome back Old ‘Arry Redknapp should things not work out
Your owners displeased a lot of SAFC fans with their hike in prices for that last game in the Premiership, making us pay for the fact that survival might have depended on it for you (in the event you were already down). Do you rate them and the level of commitment they have shown?
Oddly enough I disagree with the comments on pricing, though this may be more to the advantage of the home fans. Gold and Sullivan introduced kids for a quid for certain games, froze season ticket prices, and honoured a discount that was set up by the Icelandic regime for fans renewing in the 5th season. They inherited a lot of debt and have dug deep into their pockets to pay this down, and also bring in new players. Signing Carroll was a no brainer, yet he still commands an alleged salary of £80k a week!
Off the field they have given discounts for season ticket holders at the club shop, while Karen Brady has tightened the purse strings to help reduce the debt. Gold and Sullivan are West Ham fans and as sensible businessmen will get the club out of the red. I paid £45 for my adult ticket at Norwich, and were given more tickets on the basis the Canaries knew we would sell out the away end. I felt this was quite expensive, given a child season ticket at their club costs around £90. Sadly, that’s football
Who are the best players you have seen – or wish you had seen – in West Ham colours and who should have been allowed nowhere near them?
My favourite West Ham players that I have seen would be Paulo Di Canio, an absolute legend, and Julian Dicks. Julian used to put fear into the opposition, had a lethal left foot, and scored more than his fair share of goals.
Paulo’s name is still sung around the ground, and I was at Upton Park to witness his legendary goal against Wimbledon in 2000, which was named as the goal of the decade in a Sky poll. Many believe he is destined to become manager of West Ham at some point, and the start of his Swindon Town managerial career looks promising.
Carlos Tevez is another, as although his brief season with the Hammers was shrouded in controversy he was an amazing player, who created goals, and also gave 100 per cent to the cause. He still crosses his arms in the shape of the Irons when he plays at Upton Park, and refused to celebrate when he scored against us, whilst playing for Manchester United.
Lastly, Frank McAvennie and Tony Cottee – what a partnership that was in ’86, we nearly won the league, I still ask myself what if …
Clearly, other players such as Bobby Moore, and Trevor Brooking would also be in the legend status, though I only saw Brooking play in my younger years.
It would have been great to retain the players we brought through the academy, imagine a team with Joe Cole, Michael Carrick, Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand, Jermaine Defoe when all in their prime..
For the worst players to don a claret and blue shirt, I have already given that accolade to Gary Breen in my previous article, yet Northern Ireland keeper Allan McKnight comes a close second, with Marco Boogers taking the third spot
Your own best and worst moments as a Hammers supporter?
The best time as a Hammer was Wembley last season, sitting amongst 40-50,000 West Ham fans was an amazing experience. Another game that rings true was in 1995 when our 1-1 draw against Manchester United consequently meant Blackburn Rovers won the title.
One of the worst games has to be losing to Notts County in 1991, with Oldham drawing 2-2 v Sheffield Wednesday. The League Division One title was ours, and the club’s name had been engraved on the trophy. News filtered out that Oldham had scored a penalty in the last minute, meaning the title was heading to Boundary Park, and the trophy had to be changed!
Any thoughts on Sunderland: the club, the city and region; the supporters and any past games that stick in the memory?
I’ve met many Sunderland fans in the past and have always had time for them. I enjoy hearing about the rivalry between them and Newcastle. I met Mick McCarthy once, and albeit he was once Millwall’s manager, enjoyed chatting to him, and found him to be a top bloke. The clubs have shared similar highs and lows.
I was at the Division One game in October 1992, when in front of a low crowd of 10,326 West Ham beat Sunderland 6-0, goals from Clive Allen, Mark Robson (2), Kevin Keen, Alvin Martin and Trevor Morely. I have the game on VHS! I was also at the home game many years later in the League Championship when Sunderland beat us 2-1 to secure the league championship, in front of 33,482 fans. We took the lead before half time through Marlon Harewood, yet Julio Arca equalised early in the second half, with a late winner coming from Stephen Elliott
Name this season’s top four in order and also the bottom three
Top 4 will be Manchester United, Man City, Chelsea, Arsenal
Bottom 3 – Wigan, Reading, Southampton
If your team and mine feature nowhere in those lists, where will we each finish?
West Ham to finish around 15th, and Sunderland to be 13th
Did the success and spirit of the Olympics make you blasé about the return of football or were you as excited as ever about the new season?
The Olympics actually had the opposite effect. I attended the Mexico v Brazil final at Wembley, so I was eager for the for new season to begin. Seeing the Olympic stadium in all its splendour made me even more hopeful, that if West Ham could secure the stadium, and have retractable seating, and make it fit for football, it would be one of the best stadiums in the UK
What about cheating in football? Diving, feigning injury, trying to get opponent booked or sent off, shirt-pulling etc – do you recognise it when your own players are guilty, who are the worst culprits and what should be done to stamp it out?
I hate cheating in football, and feel it is a continental thing to dive in the box, or feign injury in order to get a player booked. Many remember Di Canio for his infamous push on Paul Alcock in 1998, yet in 2001 he won the FIFA Fair Play Award when he shunned a goal scoring opportunity, and caught a the ball from a cross, when the Everton keeper, Paul Gerrard was lying injured on the ground. For all his class, Ronaldo did like to dive. I feel linesman and referees are clamping down, and it is good to see the offenders are being booked. I think goal line technology, and playbacks should be used to help officiate games. I want to win and lose fairly. Given the money involved in football, we should embrace the technology available in the modern game
Club versus country. Which means more to you?
West Ham come first I’m afraid. My interest in the international team has waned, yet I do feel sorry for Hodgson given the limited number of English players he can choose from given the saturation of foreign players in the top league
Will you be at our game and what will be the score?
As a season ticket holder I will be at the game. I predict a 2-1 win for the Hammers. McClean for me is your danger man
* Matthew Kemp on Matthew Kemp: I have supported West Ham since 1983 and attended my first game standing in the North Bank v Swansea City. I work in the City, and have been a season ticket holder since 1986 (I am in the Bobby Moore Upper). My father is a West Ham fan, and my six year old will also be following the claret and blue. I initially wanted to be a journalist (yet this was not to be!) having written for my university magazine, some local newspapers and a number of fanzines at West Ham such as OLAS (Over Land & Sea). This allowed me to interview a number of players, including those at Tottenham, as I know Pat Holland (ex West Ham). I also have occasionally contributed to the website Knees Up Mother Brown (Kumb.com). I currently live in Shenfield in Essex, a hotbed for professional footballers, which includes Mark Noble, and ex Professionals, Clive Allen, Trevor Brooking, Glen Roeder and Bradley Allen!
Interview: Colin Randall