Standing up for supporters

OH West Ham We Love You are very pleased to have come to an arrangement with Knees Up Mother Brown to publish our blogs.

As a group who value independent thought we feel the need for websites such as KUMB becomes all the greater with each attack on freedom of speech by the club.

Editor Graeme Howlett leads a group of writers who consistently provide good quality, thoughtful material for their readers and we are honoured to join them.

In a similar vein we will support all the good work achieved by Independent Supporters’ Associations such as WHUISA and Hammers United and urge the club to establish a dialogue with them as required by UEFA, Premier League and government regulations.

The practice of the club of relying on “friendly” sites to spread often contradictory and incoherent messages does nothing for supporters, especially when the board refuse to listen to any voice other than their own.

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Sullivan’s sting in the tail

IN the most predictable set of events since Jack Wilshere last presented himself to the club medical team, a West Ham slump in form has been followed by a welter of briefing against club employees. Even though Manuel Pellegrini’s job is said to be safe (it would cost a lot to sack him and his staff), Mario Husillos’ reign as Director of Football appears to be nearing a close at the London Stadium.

Pertinent to these events are the old Russian fable featuring a frog and a scorpion. Put briefly it goes something like this; A scorpion asks a frog to carry it across a river. The frog afraid of being stung defers. But the scorpion prevails, reasoning should it attack the frog they will both surely die. The frog relents and begins to carry the arachnid on its back. Midstream the scorpion stings the frog, dooming them both. The dying frog asks the scorpion why, to which the scorpion replies “I couldn’t help it. It’s in my nature.”

Just as the scorpion can never escape his deadly instinct even when it leads to his own demise, so Hammers owner and coincidentally Soviet paraphernalia wearer David Sullivan is drawn to implicitly criticising staff members via friendly journos and bloggers every bit as surely as a drunk will inevitably weave their way to a kebab shop. It’s in his nature, you see.

Quite what the bloggers themselves get out of the transaction is difficult to ascertain. Any “reflected glory” from our owners would be about as lustrous as a ten quid fake Rolex brought back from a holiday in Turkey. The paradox is Sullivan engages in this activity in an apparent desperate attempt to keep supporters onside – yet is the owner of one of only two clubs in the country that refuse to interact with supporters’ groups. He insists we supporters listen but refuses to reciprocate.

A good owner would stand or fall by their own actions, not donate responsibility to staff members. Many fans see through this charade and recognise the Chairman’s behaviour as weak and indecisive, just as in our own workplace we all know a boss for whom ‘shit rolls downhill’.

The remedy is for Sullivan to butt out. Unfortunately, he seems to have little idea of the overarching role a DoF actually entails, meaning any appointment would be on a haphazard basis. In that sense if no other it was a reasonable process that saw Husillos chosen not by the Hammers’ owner but by his own head coach that in any well-run club would be a subordinate. File under: Only at West Ham.

Sullivan’s period in the job saw him rely almost exclusively on agents instead of a scouting network, a process that has resulted in too many “marquee signings” at the expense of future revenues. There are persistent rumours at other clubs that West Ham are too close to one agent in particular. Until Sullivan comes face to face with the reality that he is the problem not the solution and the process is every bit as important as personnel we fear “Dabbler Dave” will persist and money will continue to be wasted.

West Ham 2-3 Newcastle

ON the evidence of the home defeat to Newcastle, West Ham are less a side claiming to have top six pretensions than one staring at a relegation battle – and with a set up ill-equipped to face that challenge. There have long been whispers emanating from the club that in all areas the Hammers are arrogant and yesterday all those chickens came home to roost. Forget the late rally, this was a team humiliated by a club so poorly run they appointed the woeful Steve Bruce as manager to replace Rafa Benitez.

To be fair to the Magpies, at least they didn’t settle for Manuel Pellegrini in the hotseat, a man whose entire operation appears to be characterised by arrogance. In that respect, if no other, he is a perfect fit for the Hammers.

First the bare facts: West Ham have won just three games from 11 in what has been a relatively easy start to the campaign. Worse, they’ve picked up just two points from the last fifteen including just a single point from consecutive home matches against Crystal Palace, Sheffield United and Newcastle. The side are currently an alarming nine points down on comparative fixtures from last season.

Expected goals come in at a reasonable seventh place at 15.79. But it is at the other end of the pitch the worries lie. A defensive xG of 21.45 is worse than Southampton, who a week ago let in nine at home. The only side with a worse metric are Norwich. A combined xG of 11.27 puts the club in the bottom three along with the Canaries and, you guessed it, Newcastle. Statistics strongly suggest the Hammers are overperforming!

A measure of the manager’s arrogance is he describes his club’s current form as a “lapse” and claimed “It’s difficult to explain why we played the way we did in the first 45 minutes. I do not understand why we played so bad”. What a shame he eschews analytics? None of us are on Pellegrini’s reported wage of £10million per annum (quite likely a good proportion of which buys an acceptance to accede to the wishes of Chairman David Sullivan – more on that later) but might offer one or two suggestions:

Just a thought, but if you are playing a Bruce-managed Toon, who have by far the worst attacking xG in the division and hadn’t scored away from home in 400 minutes but do possess pace by the bucketload, it might not be the greatest idea in the world to match 85-year-old right back Pablo Zabaleta (who has all the pace of a sloth who wishes to give up the hurly burly of sloth life and kick back a little) against the lightning quick French winger Allan Saint-Maximin. Neither was it the pinnacle of tactical awareness to play a 4-1-4-1 system that allowed Newcastle to merely lump the ball down the field upon receiving possession safe in the knowledge they had the numbers and legs to chase it.

Two of the goals conceded came directly from dead balls. Yet for all our highly acclaimed “big team mentality” (what does that even mean?) there is nothing to suggest training involves set plays at either end of the pitch despite the clear benefits from so doing. For their crucial first goal 6ft 1in central defender Ciaran Clark was being marked by 5ft 7in left-back Aaron Cresswell. And while on goals conceded it’s impossible not to comment on Roberto Jimenez, a goalkeeper whose only claim to competence would appear to be his vague physical resemblance to Italian legend Gianluigi Buffon.

Would it be too much of a stretch to think that, should first choice stopper Lukasz Fabianski be injured, we might need a replacement a little more accomplished than somebody who managed just four appearances for Espanyol in three la Liga seasons? Yesterday he came and missed a cross by yards to present an easy headed goal for Federico Fernandez before a lack of footwork led to him getting both hands to a Jonjo Shelvey free kick but merely pushing it into the net. So rancid was his display the stench could even be smelt as far away as the distant upper tier of the London Stadium.

On pitch we have a captain who has bought into his manager’s hubris. Prior to the Palace game on the 5th October Mark Noble mused: “We never think we can lose”. Reader, we did. In fact, we haven’t won a game since. The skipper then went onto claim he is part of “The strongest Hammers squad” in his decade-and-a-half in claret and blue despite it containing no strength in depth at goalkeeper, full back, central midfield or up top. “Pranks” pre-recorded for sponsors should not be part of a Premier League captain’s repertoire; the optics are poor when the team is losing, they lack class and appear unprofessional.

Andriy Yarmolenko was weaved, it would appear, from the same cloth. He is nowhere near as good as he thinks he is and offers little off the ball. Just as a park footballer wearing Predator boots needs to be pretty nifty to avoid a good shoeing, so Yarmolenko is not of the class, or physique, required to cut holes in his socks – this year’s nasal strip. Felipe Anderson needs to start justifying his £34m price tag too. Yesterday he looked like Matt Jarvis as he didn’t beat anybody, didn’t provide killer passes and wandered around giving the ball away. Still, at least he does all this to a Samba beat, so that probably makes it ok. (Hint: It doesn’t).

An honourable exception was Robert Snodgrass. Chasing and harrying as though his life depended on it, the Scotsman scored with a quality finish and gave the impression he was playing for his place. The midfielder offered the post match view that: “We need to be solid and resolute”. Amen. The club surely need more players with his ability either side of the ball. Expect him to be dropped for an attacker next week against Burnley.

Among the backroom staff the arrogance not only continues but is encouraged. Vice Chair Karren Brady (does anybody know what her role involves?) refuses point blank to give up her vapid and often offensive Sun column despite it doing harm to the club’s reputation. She also ignores UEFA, Premier League and Government regulation that insists clubs speak meaningfully with independent supporters’ groups.

Brady’s hand-picked “supporters” group the OSB act as an arm of the commercial department and do nothing to help fans while their Chair’s main role appears to be antagonising fans via social media. Likewise, Ben Campbell nominally “Head of Media Relations” is known to be at once dim, confrontational and a constant hurdle to journalistic access.

To get to the root of the unwarranted pride that characterises the club it is necessary to go to the top. Owner David Sullivan likes to insist any responsibility he bears for results ended when he bought a club in financial distress nine years ago. Despite personally doing very well from the deal he will routinely answer any criticism with a flurry of nonsense about how much money he has “put in” to the club.

He believes he knows at least as much as the managers he employs, refuses to engage anybody who questions his desire to meddle in the transfer market and will brief against those who do via his favourite websites. We note a piece last week on one such site decrying a recent non-Sullivan signing. In the same place a poll on Pellegrini appeared less than an hour after the full-time whistle yesterday.

The result is a club where sycophancy and chutzpah flourish while intellect dies a lonely death. We are fully prepared to accept our observations on this subject may be considered arrogant in themselves. Just don’t coming running to us when Steve Bruce is appointed manager.

West Ham 1-1 Sheffield United

THE contrast could not have been greater.

Watching on TV as England humbled the almighty All Blacks with a brilliant display of precision and power and coming away from the game breathless and exhilarated. Then later in the day trudging through the Stratford drizzle to see West Ham bumble and fumble their way to a lame draw against recently promoted Sheffield United.

Yes, they are different sports being played at quite different levels but if you aspire to be the best it must be worth adopting the processes that lead to being the best in all codes. There are parallels to be drawn, particularly as West Ham’s financial turnover is roughly equivalent to that of the RFU.

Ignore those telling you the boys with the red rose on their chest won because they showed “passion” (possibly one of the most overused and meaningless words in sport) and bellowed the National Anthem with gusto. England beat New Zealand because they analysed the opposition and sought weaknesses before putting in place a blueprint to exploit the flaws they found.

Coach Eddie Jones picked a team of individuals best suited to maintain discipline and carry out the game plan as the implemented individual skills to for the greater good. Most of all trusted they their defence, brilliantly organised by John Mitchell to hold out safe in the knowledge they had the players to hurt the Kiwis in attack.

It isn’t clear if Hammers manager Manuel Pellegrini uses statistical analysis to prepare his sides. Frankly, it’s doubtful; certainly, he never mentions it at pre or post-match pressers preferring to keep his comments as anodyne as possible and repeatedly speaking only of “big-team mentality” (heaven only knows what that means).

Team selection and formation against the Blades seemed capricious. Having struggled with a lack of midfield presence the Chilean decided to remedy the situation by playing Declan Rice on his own in a 4-1-4-1 formation(!) Andriy Yarmolenko and Felipe Anderson wide with Robert Snodgrass and Mark Noble given the job of supporting striker Sebastien Haller.

A not uncommon sight; West Ham six against six in defence

Arthur Masuaku, Ryan Fredericks, Angelo Ogbonna, Manuel Lanzini and Pablo Fornals were dropped from last week with Aaron Cresswell, Fabian Balbuena, Pablo Zabaleta, Robert Snodgrass and Yarmolenko coming in. Changing three-quarters of a back four seems odd, especially when the problems at Everton last week were further forward. Rather than a set of changes to improve the whole it appeared as though a frustrated and confused manager was punishing various players for heaven knows what. As a friend commented: “This is a team picked by Twitter”.

The system failed. The game plan had not been thought through. Without a tackler alongside him to break up play Rice was repeatedly outnumbered. Worse, the attack was a mess. Nobody was able to get alongside Haller, never mind advance in front of him leaving the Frenchman isolated and frustrated as he attempted to hold the ball up and play in … nobody. Meanwhile the wide men and fullbacks hit crosses in to … nobody.

Haller is an incredible striker with so many skills in his repertoire but the team are not playing to him. Pellegrini’s pre-match criticisms seemed both out of character and inappropriate. Without a second striker (given our lack of central midfield options we wouldn’t advocate 4-4-2) or better still a goalscoring midfielder coming from deep the former Eintracht Frankfurt player is wasted. Essentially Pellegrini is attempting to recreate the style he used at Manchester City without the individual skillsets.

The home side scored, as Pellegrini sides seem to, not through overwhelming the opposition but by a piece of brilliance – in this case a lovely cushioned volley from Yarmolenko that set Snodgrass away to finish calmly just before half-time. The Northerners equalised mid-way through the second half after two failed headed clearances by Issa Diop allowed an unmarked Lys Mousset to mishit his shot under a collapsing Roberto Jimenez in the West Ham goal. The rest of the game degenerated into sloppy pub football.

Once again we faced the drizzle.

There May Be Trouble Ahead

MANUEL PELLEGRINI’S preference for playing three attacking midfielders behind a lone striker is a real problem. The gains made from such a line-up are more than outweighed by losses in defensive solidity given the personnel available.

Don’t believe us? Perhaps you should read today’s report from football analytics experts Statsbomb that confirmed all our worst fears.

Essentially, our defensive expected goals or xG (the odds on us conceding) are the worst in the league. Our attacking xG is a bang average tenth. Not only do these statistics make expectations of a top six finish appear fanciful in the extreme, they point, once things settle down, to a possible relegation scrap with only Newcastle possessing a worse combined xG.

At this point it is worth saying that if Sebastien Haller stays fit there is little chance of the club going down – but that is pretty cold comfort given the money spent over the past two seasons.

On a sliding scale of manager Manuel Pellegrini’s attitude to team selection you might term it idealism, stubbornness or arrogance. Whichever you prefer, the fact is he has boxed himself into a corner.

For various reasons (return from injury and unfamiliarity with the Premier League prime among them) our attacking trio are just not firing. They have scored just three times between them in nine games; all from the left foot of Andriy Yarmolenko. Individually none have created more chances than Watford’s much maligned Tom Cleverley.

Given the alacrity with which we give up chances the obvious answer would appear to be replacing one of the attackers and reverting to a 4-5-1 or 4-3-3 with strength added in the middle of the park.

Unfortunately, the three players in our squad capable of playing the role are Jack Wilshere, Carlos Sanchez and Robert Snodgrass. The first has neither the defensive capability nor fitness to fulfil the role with Colombian Sanchez one of the worst ever players I’ve seen in the claret and blue. That leaves us with the 32-year-old former winger Snodgrass as the man to shore up the team alongside fellow 32-year old and skipper Mark Noble in the position that traditionally requires the greatest miles run per game.

As much as we might recommend the club buy one or preferably two fit central midfielders who are mobile and can defend as well as pass, we have to ask why Pellegrini and his Director of Football Mario Husillos preferred buying attacker Pablo Fornals (who is yet to realise his potential) over the summer to replacing the wantaway Pedro Obiang with a player that gives the team better value.

If either Noble or fellow deep midfielder Declan Rice cop a bad injury things could get even nastier than one of David Sullivan’s straight-to-DVD films.

It’s happening again

West Ham Vice Chair and OSB leader Karren Brady

West Ham’s Official Supporters Board, best considered an arm of the club’s commercial department, have been at it once more.

When it comes to ill-considered and embarrassing outbursts on social media, they are at least on a par with the club they represent.

Did we say “represent”?

Of course we did; any claim they look out for supporters was surely buried by yesterday’s Tweet, pictured here.

Nobody could trust such an organisation to look after fan interests so long as the OSB act as a shill for the club by promoting a sponsorship partner. They do not and cannot be seen as an honest broker between Hammers followers and the club.

Furthermore, tagging Sheffield United in the Tweet and thereby inviting Blades to become involved was at best a misjudgement, at worst could lead to serious trouble.

Yes, the internet is open to all but Saturday’s game is a grudge affair, the presence of away fans in home areas is a current and ongoing issue and assuming the tickets aren’t located in the Director’s Box it seems a poorly thought out effort to invite our opponents to participate.

Of course, we may be completely wrong and the OSB took a well-deserved break from antagonising their own fans in order to aim a sly dig at our friends from Yorkshire.

In which case we are less than pleased to remind you West Ham lost the pictured game 3-0.

Nap Hand For Masuaku and Cresswell

THE decision to award both Arthur Masuaku and Aaron Cresswell five-year contracts seems on the surface to be an odd one.

Follow that up with the explanation given on one of the clubs favoured websites; that the board were worried about other clubs picking the two players up on the cheap and we are rapidly descending into farce.

The only way this decision makes any sense is as a tacit admission our club don’t trust themselves in the transfer market and cannot be relied upon to either find or purchase superior replacements.

Given Cresswell’s 30th birthday arrives in a few weeks’ time and Masuaku has proved time and again he can’t defend, the immediate question to ask would be who would want them? We haven’t exactly noticed suitors queueing up for either left-back.

As with stocks and shares player values can fluctuate wildly; all it takes is a sudden loss of form and/or a serious injury. Having given Andy Carroll a six-year contract and Winston Reid a five-year deal only for them to experience a series of injuries you might expect the club to have learned from past experience.

Apparently not.

In the words of David Bowie: “Five years, my brain hurts a lot”.

You Don’t Know What You’re Doing

WEST HAM are currently applying short bans to supporters who advertise tickets for sale on social media in an effort to rectify the lack of available tickets to away games.

As you might expect of this club, the process that led to this more than regrettable conclusion lacked transparency, involved the Official Supporters Board and resulted in good honest fans being punished while far graver offenders carried on their business.

Here is how we arrived here:

The club commissioned a fans website who do pretty well publishing confidential chit chat received from senior club officials to produce a survey on tickets. Just coincidentally, one of the club’s OSB “representatives” happens to co-run the site chosen.

A sub-committee of the OSB were formed to look into away games ticket distribution. Three or more of the members of this committee were anonymous. Of the two members who outed themselves one was given suggestions on yet another website that included removing away season tickets, ending priority points and entering everyone into a ballot for high demand games.

Accusations abounded of bondholder and away season ticket holder abuse and the selling on of tickets. Throughout this process the Chairman of the OSB in typical fashion made it his business to run around social media blaming Independent Supporters’ Associations for “scaremongering” when in they were in truth presenting facts.

The meeting was held and little of substance resulted until letters were sent to fans banning them from home and away games for selling tickets.

Questions remain.

If it were that easy to contact supporters to ban them, why weren’t those very same supporters directly contacted to give their views in the first place?
So far there has been no announcement from the club as to any further measures. Are they looking at their own employees who bang tickets on (we know of one particularly egregious practitioner)?

Are the club taking a more confrontational stance on ticket touts – they appear far nastier transgressors than somebody selling a seat at face value because they cannot manage one particular game?

Summary:

If the club had provided a more transparent approach to the whole affair, including how many tickets are allocated to whom, they could have brought fans onside, got hold of the real culprits and engendered much goodwill.

Instead of which, they acted in poor faith and with shadowy intent as they stoked up bad feeling, increased suspicions of opacity and furthered mistrust.

We have no idea whether their behaviour is naked incompetence or an inherent loathing of the fans that provide their living.

Either way this is not how a successful club should behave. From our perspective the “West Ham family” seems pretty dysfunctional. Sadly, so long as the club continue their refusal to speak with ISAs we cannot metaphorically call Social Services in.

Who we, who we are

Oh West Ham We Love You is a loose collective of West Ham supporters who have been sharing thoughts about the club with each other via WhatsApp for some while.

We now believe there is room for our views to become more public.

We claim no constituency or mandate beyond our own.

Included in our group are season ticket holders, away season ticket holders, corporate users and “once in a while” supporters. We are men and women and have a wide age range.

What most defines us however, is our desire for a better West Ham. We believe with more thoughtful management across all areas the club have the potential to regularly improve their league position and consistently pick up silverware.

Let’s build something together.