Wednesday, 28 February 2007

Setting The Record Straight

Well, it's been over two weeks since his last confession but Dean Ashton has finally penned another entry in his online diary. Most of the article concerns his continuing rehabilitation but he also explains why the reports of his return to action in a reserve match against Charlton on Monday were hopelessly wide of the mark. By the far the most intriguing few lines in the entire piece appear towards the end.
I can't stress just how much I want to get back to help West Ham, because I am desperate to play in the Premier League next season. That is where I need to be to get back into the England squad, which is where I was before this all happened.
Of course, the comment could be innocent enough but it's also not hard to imagine how some people could interpret it as a tacit admission by Dean that Championship football next season is not on his agenda. Expect a flood of Ashton to Liverpool or Newcastle stories to emerge over the next few days.

For those unwilling to register on the site, here is the diary entry in full:

Setting the record straight
By Dean Ashton

You may have heard this week that I was ready to play again, however I want to set the record straight. It came out in the press that I was going to be playing for West Ham's reserves on Monday night, but it was a misunderstanding. People see it as simple – just a broken bone, but it's a lot more complicated than that.

I have even had people asking me how I got on in the actual game, which is just absurd! So I want everyone to know exactly what's going on. I have been seeing a specialist called Alan Watson at a sports rehab clinic called BiMal in Chiswick. I had a cortisone injection to get rid of some scar tissue there about five weeks ago, and after that everything was feeling really good. My ankle was actually feeling the best it has felt. So I started doing fitness work again; things like a week's worth of running and ball work. And I was feeling great. But because I came out onto the training pitches, looking really good, and being really optimistic, perhaps people got the wrong end of the stick.

The rumour mill went into overdrive and everyone was saying that I was going to play. But it was a pure result of optimism; people got caught up in how well I had done in training. But thinking about it more and more you can see it needs time. I want to get across that it's not a simple bone injury. The joint needs time.

So, it was all blown out of proportion. I have been out for six-and-a-half months now and I am desperate to come back but it's just not right yet. So until the time is right, it's just a case of working hard.

Because of the situation West Ham are in, obviously it would be a boost if I came back and believe me, nobody wants me to play more than I do. I am absolutely desperate to play, but there is no point in rushing it. It's not going to do me any good to come back before I'm ready, and I don’t think anyone would want to see me come back if I wasn’t 100 per cent. It would be like taking one step forward and ten steps back, so that is why it has to take time.

It's not that I am taking longer than I need to; it's just that my ankle needs time to get used to it all again; I am at exactly the right point in this stage of my recovery. I can't go and do five days in a row. I need to do two days on, then have a day off and build it up slowly from there. The actual fracture is superb, it isn’t a problem, but it is going to take me a good while to really build up the ankle joint and get used to the impact again. At the moment the rest is just as important as the rehab, my ankle has to get used to working all over again.

I'm not even thinking about match fitness at the moment. It's not the matches that worry me; I am just trying to build myself up slowly. It's not a case of "There you go, it's fine, off you go, you can play again." It's very complicated and it takes a long time for your ankle to get used to loading.

I can't stress just how much I want to get back to help West Ham, because I am desperate to play in the Premier League next season. That is where I need to be to get back into the England squad, which is where I was before this all happened.

If something is going to happen, people are going to hear about it first on, not anywhere else. I am the one who knows how it is, and the proof will come when I am actually playing.

Again, thank you all for your continued messages of support; it's nice to know that people are thinking about me, even though I am not playing.

Keep checking back and I'll keep you up to date on how I'm doing right here. Bye for now!

Taken from the website

Anyone wishing to contact Dean can find him at

Monday, 26 February 2007

Charlton Athletic 4 West Ham United 0

Valley Of Death For Horror-Show Hammers by Amy Lawrence
'Thank you very much for Alan Pardew,' sang the Charlton fans. It was a soundtrack that packed a fitting emotional punch for this strangely incestuous relegation collision. The ex-West Ham manager inspired his new team to their finest display of the season. Down the touchline, the ex-Charlton boss oversaw an absolute shambles.... The Observer
Curbishley Looks A Broken Man As West Ham Implode by Stuart James
The only thing missing after Alan Curbishley delivered his assessment of this humiliating defeat was a towel thrown from the West Ham manager's corner. Curbishley's crestfallen demeanour was that of a man who has come to realise he made the worst decision in his footballing life by choosing to return to management at Upton Park... The Guardian
Hammer Blow For Curbs by Joe Lovejoy
Alan Curbishley admitted beforehand that West Ham had to win if they were to survive in the Premiership, and relegation will certainly be their fate playing like this. The classic “six-pointer” was over as a contest before half-time, with Charlton three goals up, home and hosed, after 41 minutes.... Sunday Times
Curbishley Taunted By Home Truth by Nick Szczapanik
The Charlton Athletic fans taunted West Ham United on Saturday with chants of “Are you Millwall in disguise?”, which was harsh – on Millwall. West Ham were dysfunctional in attack and deficient in midfield, while a picture of their back four should appear next to the word “disarray” in any good dictionary... The Times
Same Old Story For West Ham And Curbishley by Phil Shaw
Grand opera and soap opera rubbed shoulders at The Valley. Before kick-off, a tenor in a Charlton scarf crooned Verdi's "La Donna e Mobile" on the pitch. As the drama unfolded, and people in the West Ham side went missing much as they do when EastEnders kills off a character, the visitors' end reprised the tune with the angry refrain:"We want our money back."... The Independent
Curbishley Falls Into Valley Of Doom by Jason Burt
Charlton didn't just take three points from West Ham yesterday. They over-ran them, destroyed them and crushed any remnants of dying belief that they can escape relegation. Goodness knows the maelstrom of emotions washing inside Alan Pardew and Alan Curbish-ley. The two men, whose destinies have been so inter-linked this season, had a day from heaven, for the Charlton manager, and a journey to hell for the one in charge of West Ham... Independent On Sunday
Curbishley Caught In A Whirlwind by Roy Collins
How much lower can this pitiful West Ham side go? And how much more can owner Eggert Magnusson take? The club for whom he paid £108 million were so woeful that hundreds of their fans walked out before half-time, and those who stayed sang: "We want our money back."... Sunday Telegraph
Collapse Leaves Curbishley Facing Reality by Clive Tyldesley
They said the result was all that really mattered, but the score may come to matter more. Charlton claimed the three most important points of their season to date, but the margin and the manner by which they won them could prove most important of all. Two teams who started the game level on points, ended it a world apart. Charlton are planning a getaway, West Ham are planning a funeral. One team were fighting relegation, the other were preparing for it... The Telegraph

Saturday, 24 February 2007

Hammers Go XL

The Times is carrying the story that West Ham have signed a shirt sponsorship deal with XL, a charter airline with links to Iceland. It begins from the start of next season. XL will pay the Barclays Premiership club about £2.5 million a season, more than three times the value of their present deal with Jobserve.

It is thought that there are contingencies in the highly likely event that the club are relegated at the end of the season. The deal follows an announcement last October that Umbro will be our new kit manufacturers from next season. XL, formerly known as Excel Airways, claim to be the fifth largest holiday company in the United Kingdom. The company has an annual turnover of more than £1 billion.

Saturday, 17 February 2007

Hammers Impervious To Gerbils And Mysticism

Losing toes and supporting Wigan are all worthwhile sacrifices in return for West Ham's Premiership survival
By Russell Brand

In the book Fever Pitch Nick Hornby articulates the commonly held belief that there is some mystical corollary between the events in a football fan's life and the fortunes of the club that they follow. Most football fans will have at some time in their life bartered with an indifferent God over the outcome of a match; offering to trade opportunities or endure penance if only their team can get a result in return. I know I have. I would have merrily snuffed out the wiggly existence of every gerbil I owned to prolong either of Frank McAvennie's twin tenures at West Ham.

Last season whilst quivering with girly nerves in Cardiff as the Hammers played penalty-spot lotto with Liverpool in the Cup final I contemplated what I'd be prepared to relinquish, in that moment, if only Anton Ferdinand could score. I were quite prepared to forgo saucy encounters and flattery for a month, I bargained if the ball were true and our Cup adventure were not ignobly curtailed I'd even relinquish a toe. Yes, a little toe from either foot. They look like they're being phased out by evolution anyway so it'd be an honour to swap one in return for a West Ham triumph in the Cup with a benevolent yet barmy God. Reina saved it. My toe remains, and the celestial white elephant stall where the spoils from these preposterous trades must end up was robbed of a bit of futile toot.

To people who don't follow football this twittish creed must seem right daft and I suppose it is, to force a relation-ship in your tiny mind betwixt your own life and the utterly abstract transpirings of 11 fellas in a field is loopy. Loopy, but forgivable when in a heightened emo-tional state you make these dizzy pleas, surrounded by others all willing for the same outcome, perhaps offering up dig-its of their own. Under those conditions 'tis understandable. But when last week I read in the Observer, scratched out by the inky talons of some irrelevant nerd that I, me, Russell were culpable for the dim fortunes of West Ham I was simultaneously both baffled and cross.

The nit in question suggested that West Ham's dwindling form and shameful results and my own recent success were oddly entwined, like I were a gluttonous conjoined twin to the club sucking up its nourishment to better present digital TV shows. Obviously, a simile this colourful was not employed to convey the vindictive point; the snickering hack just cobbled together clichés and puns and scurried off back to his nest to feast upon his own grunts and coax another voyeuristic squirt from his busy nib. As I'm a spiritual man (I say Hare Krishna as often as possible, sometimes even when I'm not being filmed) I'll offer the chap naught but love and consider returning to a life of self-destruction on the off chance that he's right and my ascendance is compromising West Ham's dwindling chance of survival.

West Ham lost to Watford perhaps not because of the tangible lack of good will between Alan Curbishley and senior players but because a few days later I was to host the Brits without any bother. Maybe Ferdinand's Bentley's window wasn't smashed out of impotent frustration by a misguided fan but because I myself on the very same day happened upon a shiny, new sixpence whilst shovelling snow.

The article, a review of the West Ham v Watford game, also implied that I should transfer allegiance to Wigan in order to avert this imagined phenomenon. Though my claret is tinged with blue I'll make the switch if it keeps us up. I'll worship Paul Jewell and stalk Emile Heskey whilst reading Orwell and guzzling pies, I'll do whatever it takes to avoid a Championship tour.

There are still 33 points to be had starting with three at The Valley as we take on Pards' Charlton next week and I've still got 10 toes. I'll do the voodoo if that'll help, what'll you do?

Guardian column

Wednesday, 14 February 2007

Face To Face: Frank McAvennie (parts 2&3)

Frank McAvennie became notorious as the one-time roadsweeper who swept through some of the toughest defences in English and Scottish football.

As a teenager he struck nobody as a football star of the future. He wasn't playing regularly, hated training and spent Saturdays on the terraces rather than honing his skills.

His talent was only noted by chance when he appeared in a game where a posse of scouts were watching another player. A career as colourful as any ever witnessed was about to unfold.

"I was a road sweeper for about 20 minutes," insisted McAvennie. "My dad was getting me a job with the council and I thought it would be on the lorries but when I turned up they got out a brush and one of those long-handled shovels. Some of my mates were sitting on the bus when it passed and burst out laughing so I legged it down to the social. I was banned from receiving dole for six weeks because I'd walked out of a job.

"Next I joined a firm that distilled whisky. Me of all people. Actually, I tried it and it made me aggressive when I was drunk so I never touched whisky again. Normally I just go soft in drink."

Frank's early footballing activity consisted of "jumping over the fence to play 21-a-side on the playing pitch at the local school" and watching his beloved Celtic with his dad on a Saturday afternoon.

So how on earth did he become a paid footballer.

"One day the Celtic match was iced off - they had no underground heating in those days," McAvennie explained. "A couple of mates persuaded me to go with them to a game they were playing. The manager asked if I was any good and next minute I was in midfield.

"The kid I was playing opposite was being watched by five scouts but by the end of the game they wanted me. Honest, if I'd known I'd have made the kid look good.

"I wasn't playing regularly but Johnstone Burgh, one of the best junior sides in Scotland, said I could play for them and go on trial to League clubs. They offered me £500. I asked, cheekily: 'Is that cash?' When they said yes I couldn't sign quick enough. I was unemployed."

Still McAvennie wasn't obsessed with making it into the big time - until he was snubbed by one of his heroes.

"As an avid Celtic fan I loved Bertie Auld - you know, the Lisbon Lions and all that," explained Frank. "He was manager of Partick Thistle at the time and after I'd had a trial for them Auld told me I wasn't good enough. It was at that moment I decided I was going to make it."

McAvennie had three trials matches for St Mirren and was sent off in the last of them, a derby against Morton. That should have been that - but instead it was the reason he was signed.

"The manager said he knew I had the skills but that proved I had the bottle as well," said Frank. "A fortnight later he was sacked.

"But I went from strength to strength. In the space of 18 months I went from being a kid on the dole to playing for Scotland Under-21s. We played in Italy, won 1-0, and I scored the goal. They were chucking bottles, the lot. It was like a Saturday night in Glasgow!"

While at West Ham over two periods Frank McAvennie played for a manager he loved and one he hated.

John Lyall takes the plaudits and Lou Macari gets the bouquet of barbed wire.

It was Lyall who first made him a Hammer when McAvennie was actually supposed to be signing for David Pleat at Luton Town. Lyall met him after the clock had struck midnight at a service station which was closed and in pitch darkness. And picking up the bill were, yes, Luton!

"I'd become St Mirren's top scorer from midfield and clubs started taking notice," McAvennie said. "David Pleat got hold of our phone number and was always talking to mam and dad. Eventually a deal was done between Luton and my club but not with me.

"I had to fly to London to meet David - we were on first name terms by now - but when he introduced me to his chairman, a Tory MP, he clipped me on the back of the head and said 'welcome'. I didn't like that and wouldn't sign.

"I was then told by St Mirren they had also agreed terms with West Ham. They had conveniently forgotten to mention that. There were six of us down from Paisley including directors and we were staying in a hotel at Luton's expense but a phone call went in to Lyall informing him of the situation.

"He met us all at Toddington Services at quarter to one in the morning. They were closed, of course - God knows what we all looked like skulking around in the dark. Lyall said he'd give me 10 grand signing-on fee but I was tired and a cheeky blighter and said unless I got £15,000 I was up the road home.

"John phoned all night and the next day flew up on the morning flight and signed me. He was a great guy and was good for me.

"I flew down to London early and went to the Live Aid concert at Wembley with two of my mates. We got a knockback at Stringfellows as well. I never let Peter forget that."

When McAvennie returned to Upton Park from Celtic in 1989 it was Lyall again who signed him but he was quickly sacked and Macari became Frank's new master.

"I only left Celtic because they owed me money but West Ham got relegated and then I broke my leg, so looking back it probably wasn't the best decision I ever made," admitted Frank.

"It was still good to go back to West Ham because of my love of the place but if I'd known Lou Macari was going to take over I'd never have gone. Me and Lou didn't get on at all.

"He haunted me. I didn't think he was a very good manager and he had about as much charisma as I have in my big toe. He set me back three months by forcing me to train when I clearly wasn't fit.

"I had to do a three-mile run on Christmas Day, for God's sake! Macari shouldn't have done that. On the road as well. I wasn't ready."

Taken from the Newcastle Chronicle

A MySpace Odyssey

This blog has just dipped its toe into the noxious realm of MySpace. You can find the Just Like My Dreams... companion site here. You have been called. If you answer, you will be counted.

Tuesday, 13 February 2007

Face To Face: Frank McAvennie (part 1)

As a companion piece to the interview, here is the first part of a lengthy article about Frank in which he discusses his 'colourful' past...

A kaleidoscope would never dazzle if compared to the multi-coloured Frank McAvennie.

A flamboyant footballer who played with the arrogant strut of conviction for West Ham, Celtic and Scotland, he did drugs, did bird in Durham jail, pulled Page Three birds by the treeful, drank himself stupid and blew a fortune. What a bird-brain, the do-gooders would maintain.

He made his good pal George Best look like a monk living in a monastery. As for Gazza, well, he's just a pussycat in comparison.

Yet somehow McAvennie has survived what would kill ordinary men and is living happily in Gateshead with his wife Karen. Trying to stay on the straight and narrow - well, with only a few slight diversions perhaps.

When I arrive at Frank's house I'm greeted by a smiling man with blond hair, black shirt and slick jeans. Not a wrinkled has-been soaked and ravaged by the deadly passing of time.

The twinkle in the eye and mischievous grin gives more than a hint of how so many topless models were most willing to tumble out of Stringfellows on his arm. He may be 45 in November but remarkably birds, booze and rock 'n' roll have not dimmed the light.

Jack The Lad may just have grown into a man. But don't bet on it.

He faces up to a wildly colourful past without self-pity or the two-fingered defiance of the untamed. Facts are facts and, damn it, life is still there to be lived.

Smoking endless cigarettes and forever chuckling at his own misfortune, McAvennie didn't make a single subject taboo despite spiraling downwards from an 80's icon earning £5,000 a week - a fortune at the time - and adored by millions of fans to an ex-player accused of being a drugs dealer and who spent agonising time in jail on remand.

"Aye, I was a great club man - Stringfellows, Browns and Blondes," he laughed. "Oh, West Ham, Celtic and St Mirren as well. Do ya know I'm in the Guinness Book of Records as the only footballer to play twice for three clubs. I mustn't have been so bad if they'd have me back, must I?

"I've always enjoyed life and enjoyed the nightclubs. I drank nothing but champagne at one time and, aye, I had a few model birds. It goes with the territory. If you have a couple of quid in your pocket you're everybody's friend.

"I went to London and scored 26 goals in 41 games in my first season. West Ham finished third and nearly won the championship. I was king, the fans loved me, and I loved life.

"Here was a wee laddie from Glasgow who was 21 years of age before he began playing and he was suddenly the toast of London. Of the east end anyway!"

McAvennie laughingly blames John Lyall, the fatherly figure who was manager of the Hammers, for the discovery that Stringfellows was fun enough to become his second home.

Dragging long on a ciggie, Frank smiled: "I was actually going to leave after a couple of months and go back home, you know.

"I hated London. I had such a strong Scottish accent that no-one knew what I was talking about. When I was shouting in training the other players thought I was trying to pick a fight. The boss had put me up miles out of London to stop me getting into any trouble and I was isolated. A single man with nothing to do.

"I went to see John and told him I wanted to go home. He asked me to give him three months and if I still felt the same he'd let me leave. And, being a lovely man, he arranged for the boys to take me on a night out and cheer me up. We went to Stringfellows and that was it. The place buzzed, the booze was all there and so were the birds. I was hooked."

If the pace of life quickened considerably it didn't seem to affect McAvennie's form. He was plundering goals, winning pay rises and becoming the darling of the Upton Park crowd.

"Tony Cottee was supposed to play up front alongside Paul Goddard with me tucked behind them but Sarge got injured in the first game against Birmingham and was out for a long time so I was pushed up. Me and Cottee scored 54 to 56 goals between us and used to make bets on who would score the best goal.

"We were both quick and we had a great supply line from Alan Devonshire, one of the best footballers I've ever played with.

"Life was sweet. I was on the Wogan Show on telly with Denis Law and mixing with showbiz celebs. I went to Blondes, the club owned by George Best, and to Browns as well. They were my locals, not the pubs. I could go myself because I knew friends would be in. Pubs encourage fights and I preferred to slaughter people with a bit of slick patter. You know, someone says you're crap with a fierce look on his face and I'd reply: `Aye, you're right but don't tell anyone. You're the only bloke that realises it.' I've always loved patter. Whenever I was down injured I'd exchange banter with the crowd.

"Bestie was terrific. He looked after me - we had the same agent - and so did Peter at Stringfellows, of course."

McAvennie's off-field reputation as a regular feature on the London party scene was building rapidly until it became legend.

Yet he maintains that others were just as bad - or as good!

"Ally McCoist and Gary Lineker could drink like troopers but the papers never slaughtered them because they used to sneak in and out without being noticed," maintained Frank. "Ally's a great lad but I had a personal thing with Gary. He beat me to the Golden Boot as top scorer in England but he had about 14 penalties in his total. I always said they shouldn't count.

"I used to knock about with Charlie Nicolas and Mo Johnston. We were the Three Musketeers. We'd have three-day sessions. Mo was probably the best drinker because he never suffered in the mornings at training as we did."

Like all hell-raisers, Frank believes he became misunderstood, a victim of his own reputation.

"Folk used to swear that they saw me drinking on the morning of a game," he said. "And the stories inevitably ended with me going out and scoring two goals. Ruddy marvellous, eh?

"In fact, I never drank before a game. Remember I played until I was 36 and I'm still alive so how did I do everything I was supposed to do?

"Take Gazza. I played against him when he was with both Newcastle United and Spurs and he was an outstanding talent but the Press got after him.

"I remember meeting him in a club. I was about to leave but he dragged me back in and began dancing with a girl. When he finished he laughed and sent her a bottle of champagne, which wasn't cheap. But the headlines in the Sunday newspaper were all about him being drunk and trying to nick some bloke's bird. Ridiculous.

"Unlike me he was never a bird man - he preferred to go drinking with the lads. All he was doing was having a laugh and a joke."

Of course, being a good-looking football star with the rakish image of an Errol Flynn meant the tabloids both loved and hated McAvennie. He was pursued wherever he went.

"I lost a lot of money on houses," he admitted. "I had two at a time in London. When I was going out with Jenny Blyth, the Page Three model, this paper wanted a photo of us in front of our house. So I said: `Aye, that's it,' pointing behind me and they took a load of photos. I got two grand and it wasn't even our house! "Some poor bugger saw his house splashed over the papers for months afterwards and must have been as puzzled as hell."

Drugs and crime, of course, are other matters completely and McAvennie was to see himself inevitably linked to both as fame faded and life became harder.

The Scot was supposed to snort cocaine during his playing days and famously was arrested in 1995 with £100,000 of his own money seized by Customs at Dover who said it was going to fund a major drugs deal. McAvennie supposedly claimed the money was an investment in an expedition to a sunken treasure ship but the judge backed the Customs.

The fallen footballer then stood trial at Newcastle Crown Court in 2000 charged with conspiracy to supply drugs and spent a month on remand at Durham Prison.

When I mention it, McAvennie goes serious for the first time in our interview. This is no laughing matter.

However, he defended himself rigorously both as a suspected user and supplier.

"I didn't do drugs all my career," he claimed. "I only took cocaine when I was out injured for 10 months with a badly broken leg during my second spell at West Ham and then again when I finished playing. But I'm clean now. My life hasn't been wrecked by it as people would like to suggest.

"As for the drugs charges and the month in jail on remand, that was a disgrace and was totally down to my lawyer. He couldn't get bail on a Saturday morning and on the Monday didn't turn up until lunchtime because he had a case elsewhere. I sacked him but I was already remanded.

"It was horrible inside. I hated it. There were some right villains in there and I was determined never to go back. That month inside brought me to my senses. It was the kick up the backside I needed.

"Even though I was cleared, the whole thing set me back years. I'm only starting to work again. I was made bankrupt and ended up claiming £50 a week on the dole. I was very bitter about the police at the time but life goes on."

McAvennie credits his second wife Karen, a Sunderland girl, with rescuing him from a dangerous life.

"She's great, she's good for me," said Frank, smiling again. "We've been together five years and married for three. I've stayed away from some of my so-called friends."

A voice interrupts. It's Karen.

"I pick his friends now," she said with a knowing smile and a wink.

"Aye," he agreed. "I live on Tyneside because of Karen but also because I can't live in London or Glasgow. They are goldfish bowls and not good for me.

"I have it made with Karen, I've got a good relationship with my ex-wife, and I'm seeing my son a lot these days. He's eight now and he has his own room here for when he comes down from Glasgow. I don't need my old lifestyle."

Surely it doesn't mean that the old playboy is now a totally reformed character on the straight and very narrow, does it?

"Well, I don't drink every day by any means - I haven't the same money in my pocket as I used to - but once in a while I do go for a session. My wife knows where I am, however, and she's happy," he said. "The only difference is that I used to drink for three days and recover in one, now it's the other way round!"

The obvious question had to be asked. Do you have any regrets, Frank?

"Only one," he replied, quick as a flash. "I went to Colchester one day and it pissed down the whole time. I wish I'd never bloody bothered."

The laughter could be heard echoing across the Tyne.

Taken from the Newcastle Chronicle

Monday, 12 February 2007

Frank McAvennie

Frank McAvennie has become the latest former Hammer to voice his criticism of the current team. The West Ham goalscoring legend has called on players at his old club to "roll up their sleeves" and fight as a team if they are to turn around this season's "absolutely diabolical" and "criminal" peformances.

As I have no wish to dwell on the misery currently pervading the club, below is a weird interview with Mac the Knife that I first read a couple of years ago. It might cheer someone up out there...if only for a few minutes.

Good morning Frank. Blimey, it's a noisy line. Can you hear us?
Oh aye, no problem.

Alright, we'll press on regardless. Rumour has it you've settled down. Can that be true?
Aye, of course I have. I mean I've done everything, in fact I've done it all twice, so those days are behind me. I've got a great wife who's good for me, plus I've got a good relationship with my ex-wife and I'm seeing my son a lot these days, so I don't need the old lifestyle.

Bah! Surely you must cut loose every now and then...
Aye, but not like in the old days. I mean I still go out and have a session but my wife knows where I am and she's happy with that. The only difference now is that I used to drink for three days and recover in one, now it's the other way round [laughs].

A three-day bender, that's some going. Your personal best?
Oh no, there was four days in a row once. I nearly killed myself, but never mind [laughs again].

Back in the day, who was the bigger playboy - you or Charlie Nicholas?
[Chuckles a somewhat mischievous chuckle] Ally McCoist! He was much worse than any of us! And Gary Lineker. They were far worse than us but the papers never slaughtered them for it because they used to sneak in and out unnoticed a lot [coughs, perhaps nervously]. I'd normally go on sessions with Charlie and Mo Johnstone, and of us three, Mo was probably the best because he never ever suffered in the mornings in training like we did.

We fancy a night of late-night revelry in our fair capital, preferably with a bevy of buxom beauties. Can you recommend a good nite spot?
Well I only ever used to frequent a couple during my time in London: Stringfellow's and Brown's. And these days when I'm back in London, I only ever go to Stringfellow's, so I'd certainly recommend you head there. Mention my name. Actually I was there about a month ago, just to say hello to Peter and the boys.

Is it true that you worked the Stringfellow's door as a meet-and-greet man?
[Laughs] Noo, that was that fella from Coronation Street... what's his name... erm, aye, Chris Quentin. It would have been nice if that rumour was true, but it wasn't me [laughs again].

If you can narrow it down, what's your poison?
[Like a flash, as if we had offered to pour] Vodka. Always has been. I can't afford champagne these days, and I've never been a lager man because it just bloats you up and makes you fart. So I'll have a vodka with diet Coke.

In your prime and given the choice, Frank: coke, booze or women?
Oh God, women. Yeah, not a problem. But having said that, they all tended to go hand in hand back then, you know [laughs that mischievous laugh again]. So I'd have all three.

I'll bet. And these days?
Definitely the booze. I'm happily married and I don't take drugs, so it's got to be booze for me.

Speaking of "these days", what are you up to?
I'm doing a fair bit at the moment, keeping very busy. I'm doing some after-dinners, which is great as I was born for that - having a drink and talking to people - and I'm setting up a footballers' golf thing for next year. And obviously I've been busy doing the book...

Shameless, Frank. So that'll be Scoring: An Expert's Guide, published by Canongate and out now priced £14.99, right?
That's the one.

West Ham are playing Celtic. Who are you supporting?
Ooh, it'd be a draw. Well Celtic's my team, everyone knows that, but it'd be hard to call. Hang on a minute.. can you give me a call back in 20 minutes, I'm just in the hairdresser's having my hair cut and dyed and they need to take the cap off my head...

We chuckle, for 20 minutes, then calls back. How's the hair looking, Frank?
[Laughs] Aye, not bad. It was getting back to the Eighties, y'know, so I got it cut quite short.

And dyed, by the sound of it. Is it true your hair's naturally ginger, rather than the famed platinum blonde?
It is indeed - you've read the book. It used to be a lot brighter but it's calmed down a bit now. When I got my first wage I got it highlighted and it's been that way ever since.

Right, back to the questions: Glasgow or London?
Well Glasgow's my city but I prefer London because nobody bothers me down there. I mean, the Glasgow people are great to me, but I'm just very conscious that everyone knows me and you can't escape.

But surely you get "bother" in Glasgow from Rangers fans...
No, they're no problem at all. I'm always treated brilliantly in Glasgow. In fact I was out in a bar up there with a Page 3 girl this one time; short skirt and boobs, the usual. Anyway, this fight broke out and there was beer and glass going everywhere. Frankie Miller, the [Scottish R&B] singer, was with us, but instead of protecting the girl, he dived on top of me to make sure I didn't get hurt! She wasn't best-pleased [chuckles].

When you used to shove cocaine up your hooter, what was your denomination of choice?
Well it depended where I was. If I was down in London it'd always be a £50 note. But up in Glasgow they still had pound notes, so I'd use them instead. [laughs]. They were the perfect size. And the other thing about Glasgow was that if you used a £50 with people round a table you'd end up getting a pound note back [chuckles again]. It never happened to me, but I've heard stories.

Who or what would you put in Room 101?
[Like a shot] Lou Macari.

Ah, for, as the book details at some length, making you train when you were clearly injured at West Ham and setting your recovery back several months...
Aye, he haunted me. But mainly because he's just not a very good manager, y'know, and he's got about as much charisma as I have in my big toe. He set me back for three months. It was a three-mile run on Christmas Day, for God's sake! He shouldn't have done that. On the road as well. I shouldn't have done it, I wasn't ready.

Does it also annoy you that none of your early goals were ever seen, thanks to the mid-'80s TV blackout?
Not at all. It was disappointing that my family couldn't see the goals at the time, but I've got all the tapes from West Ham so they saw them later. It was actually good because I could go and play my football, then go out and no-one except West Ham fans would recognise me, so I didn't get any bother. Well I say that, but I was once recognised in Liverpool after they'd beaten us about 7-1, and I got chased down the street by a bunch of blokes. I was with a girl, you know, and luckily this taxi drew up beside us before they could get us.

A close shave, Frank, a bit like the hair, eh?
Aye, very good.

Ahem, assuming you're wearing any, Frank, what colour underpants have you gone for today?
I'm wearing a pair of black Calvin boxer shorts. I wear black all the time actually, the colour hides a multitude of sins [laughs long and loud].

Kylie or Britney?
Definitely Britney, no question. I've met Kylie, you know, and she's exactly the right height for putting a drink on top of her head. Don't get me wrong, she's a sexy lady, but Britney's more to my taste.

Controversial choice, Frank. Cheese or chocolate?
To be honest, I'm not really into either of them. There's one cheese I do like, but I can't remember the name of it... [ponders loudly for several seconds] cheddar, aye, I like a bit of cheddar. That's not the one I was thinking of, it's a soft cheese, but the name still escapes me.

Never mind, it doesn't really matter. What's in your pockets?
Erm, my credit cards and some money. Not much money, mind, the hairdresser just did me for 50-odd.

Blimey, it must be a good cut for £50. Anyway, what newspapers or magazines do you take?
The Sun, the News Of The World and because I'm in Newcastle, I still read the Daily Record to keep up with what's going on in Scotland. And I get a lot of the lads' mags - FHM, Loaded and Maxim. They're a good read, and the pictures are good [laughs].

How much is a pint of milk? [Answer: about 40p]
Oh God. Err... well my wife buys it and I just pay for it - story of my life - but it's normally a four-pint bottle. Erm, 50p?

Close enough. Dark alley, late night, a lion and a tiger are squaring up. Who's your money on?
The lion, definitely. King of the Jungle and all that. I've seen lions chasing tigers on telly, so they must be shit scared of them. Aye, I'd have a score on that.

What was the last book you read?
The Tony Adams book [Addicted]. I was in prison and it put me to sleep at night [laughs]. It was a good book but not my kind of read, y'know. And in there you'd read anything.

You don't need to tell us that, Frank, but that's not a time we like to dwell on. Tea or coffee?
Coffee. I drink a lot of lattes. It's amazing how quick the weight goes on these days, so I'll have that with a sweetener instead of sugar. I still look pretty fit, but I'm not.

We'll take your word for that. Anyway finally, Frank, where are you off to now - a nitespot, perchance?
No, no, I've got a wedding to go to, someone on the wife's side.

Ah, hence the hair cut and what have you. You need to look sharp for that, right?
Ha ha, not likely, it's in Sunderland, so you don't need to make much effort [laughs loud one final time, and is probably still laughing as we speak]

Sunday, 11 February 2007

West Ham United 0 Watford 1

No Joke As Feeble West Ham Fail To Raise A Smile by Will Buckley
The arc of celebrity seems to have travelled from people being famous for doing something, to being famous for being famous to being famous for not doing something. A prime example of this curve is 'top comedian' Russell Brand who has built a career on having given up heroin... The Observer
Harewood Fails To Hit The Spot by Rob Hughes
When panic invades, when a gamble that has cost one West Ham manager his job and now threatens another goes so sourly wrong, we see disaffection appear like rust in the supposedly iron metal of a side once an institution of East London... Sunday Times
West Ham's Belief Drained By Henderson by Jason Burt
This was car-crash football. An East End soap opera whose plot-lines would be ruled out as too harrowing, or farcical, if ever submitted as a script. West Ham lost at home to Watford to Darius Henderson's first-half penalty, his first goal in 30 games, while missing one awarded to them. For both teams they were the first penalties awarded this season... Independent on Sunday
Boothroyd Only One Smiling After Tale Of Two Penalties by Simon Hart
This was, said Alan Curbishley in an interview broadcast on Upton Park's big screen before the kick-off, a "defining match". The only conclusion to draw from a crushing home defeat by bottom club Watford is that West Ham, like their visitors yesterday, are almost certainly heading for the Championship... Sunday Telegraph

Friday, 9 February 2007

Ron Remembered

"Ron was the encyclopaedia of football"- Bobby Moore

The very essence of a visionary is to observe the prevailing circumstances and offer radical alternatives which hint at the future. It is only with the benefit of hindsight that anyone tagged a visionary can be universally appreciated. When Ron Greenwood embarked upon his first senior management post at West Ham in 1961, British football was a brutal game with little finesse by comparison to its modern-day equivalent. Years ahead of his time, he introduced a continental style never previously employed upon these shores, based on possession and skill. He was a true visionary, a founding father of contemporary British football.

“His most famous line was ‘simplicity is genius’,” says West Ham star Billy Bonds, who played under Greenwood. “To Ron, football was entertainment and he never compromised his beliefs.”

“He encouraged players to express themselves,” says Trevor Brooking, who was brought to West ham as a youngster by Greenwood, and who would later play under him for England. “He put in place a philosophy that’s become ingrained at West Ham and that has been the challenge for all coaches at Upton Park since. I may be slightly biased, but I’d say Ron was one of the best three English coaches in the last 50 years.”

Greenwood the player emerged at Chelsea in 1940. A stylish, unflappable centre-half, his career was stalled by the outbreak of war; five years in the RAF, he joined Bradford Park Avenue. In 1949, he moved to Brentford and, after a second spell at Chelsea, saw out the final days of his playing career as captain of Fulham in the mid-‘50s.

His first full managerial post came at Eastbourne FC in 1957, and a year later, he was appointed assistant manager at Arsenal as his reputation spread. Greenwood was soon given responsibility for the England Youth and Under-23 sides, before taking over at West Ham in ’61, winning the FA Cup in 1964 and the European Cup Winners’ Cup a year later with what Brooking calls “an un-English like” performance.

In 1974, Greenwood handed over the managerial reins at Upton Park and stepped upstairs to become general manager and, in 1977, he was appointed England manager following the departure of Don Revie, ahead of media and fans’ favourite Brian Clough.

Unsurprisingly, Greenwood was often scorned by the press, especially during England’s cumbersome qualification for the 1982 World Cup. In Spain, he became only the second England manager to remain undefeated in a World Cup finals, but England still missed out on a semi-final place. “His technical thinking was way ahead,” says Greenwood’s England assistant, Don Howe. “I worked with Ron, Bobby Robson and Terry Venables and I think Terry and Bobby would say that Ron was the best of the three.”

Retiring from the game upon returning home, Greenwood added to his CBE with a Football Writers’ Association Tribute Award for outstanding contribution in 1983 and, in 2002, he was inducted into the FA’s Hall of Fame. He passed away one year ago today at his Suffolk home after a long illness, aged 84. The last word goes to Greenwood’s former West Ham protégé Geoff Hurst. “He opened the door to modern football,” says England’s 1966 hat-trick hero. A more apposite summation of Greenwood’s contribution you could not find.

Other reading:

David Lacey's tribute; Brian Glanville's eulogy; The Times obituary; Rob Hughes remembers; David Millar's lament; Tim Rich's tribute; The Telegraph obituary;

The Rich List

The Guardian have posted the annual Deloitte Football Money League table of the world's biggest-earning clubs. West Ham's revenue from last season puts them nineteenth on the global rich list and makes them eighth among all Premiership sides over the last twelve months. The figures reflect a club's turnover rather than its true worth but it still hints at the huge untapped potential that attracted the new owners into the club. Of all the clubs on the list only West Ham and Manchester City have featured without the aid of regular European football. When the new television deal is introduced next season the relative position of all Premiership teams will only strengthen further.

The rich list

05-06 04-05

1 (1) Real Madrid €292.2m €275.7m
2 (6) Barcelona 259.1 207.9
3 (4) Juventus 251.2 229.4
4 (2) Man United 242.6 246.4
5 (3) Milan 238.7 234.0
6 (5) Chelsea 221.0 220.8
7 (9) Inter 206.6 177.2
8 (7) Bayern M 204.7 189.5
9 (10) Arsenal 192.4 171.3
10 (8) Liverpool 176 181.2
11 (15) Lyon 127.7 92.9
12 (11) Roma 127 131.8
13 (12) Newcastle 124.3 128.9
14 (14) Schalke 04 122.9 97.4
15 (13) Tottenham 107.2 104.5
16 (n/a) Hamburg 101.8 n/a
17 (17) Man City 89.4 90.1m
18 (n/a) Rangers 88.5 n/a
19 (n/a) West Ham 60.1 n/a
20 (n/a) Benfica 58.8 n/a

Previous place in parentheses

Source Deloitte Football Money League

Thursday, 8 February 2007

The Irons New Clothes

Shhh...this is an exclusive glimpse of the new Umbro shirt we'll be sporting in the Championship next season. The snap was surreptitiously taken in the home dressing room at the Boleyn and comes here via Kumb.

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

Torch Goes Out On Olympic Dream

The organisers of London's Olympic Games have announced that they will not allow West Ham or any other Premiership club to move into the Olympic stadium after the 2012 event. The Times report that we had been looking at the possibility of using a slimmed down version of the stadium in east London, but the London 2012 board said that the consequent plans would need too many changes and delays.

A statement from the board said: "The board reiterated that the priority was to deliver an Olympic stadium on time and on budget. The board unanimously decided, therefore, that it would not be possible to deliver this in collaboration with West Ham, or indeed any other Premier League football club, due to the number of design changes and associated time delays that the West Ham proposal would incur." The intention of the committee is for the stadium to be reduced to a 25,000-seat multi-sport venue for combined commercial, school and community use.

The verdict delivered on Wednesday is no great surprise. It was reported earlier in the week that West Ham's hopes of moving into the Olympic Stadium had virtually disappeared because of tight deadlines and technical requirements. Lord Coe, chairman of 2012, insisted: "We've always made it clear we will go forward with track and field facilities but we'll encourage other sports to become involved. We have always stressed the need to provide a stadium with an athletics and community sports-for-all legacy."

Eggert Magnusson has always been keen to move West Ham out of Upton Park, where the capacity of 36 ,000 is deemed too restrictive for the long term ambitions of the Iclandic consortium. It is thought he will now turn his attentions to other possible potential sites. According to the BBC,
the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, has told the Olympic board he is anxious to assist and support West Ham's plans for developing and securing their future. After discussions with Mr Livingstone, West Ham are now exploring with the London Development Agency (LDA) the possibility of relocating and building a new stadium.

One of the options being considered is a site next to West Ham underground station, currently the site of Parcel Force. The land around Stephenson Street would represent a return to West Ham's roots. In 1897 Thames Ironworks FC moved into the nearby Memorial Ground only leaving on the expiry of their lease in 1904 after founder Arnold Hills disowned the club following the onset of professionalism in football. The club was reborn as West Ham United in 1900. The site already has an airport and hotels in the vacinity as well as excellent trasnport links at West Ham station. One thing that would need seriously addressing is the lack of pubs in the area! The Beaconsfield, Anchor, Bridge House and Salisbury have all fallen into disrepair. It is unclear how advanced Magnusson is with negotiations. It is believed he went on a guided tour of the site last week and another insider claims we have requested the formal price for the land even though Royal Mail cannot yet give a date as to when the site would be available.

Julian Dicks- Pub Landlord

One of football’s finest hard men, former West Ham and Liverpool left-back was nicknamed ‘the Terminator’ because of his no-nonsense approach to tackling. Dicks captained West Ham to promotion in 1993, picking up three red cards along the way and missing 13 games through suspension. Six years later, aged 29, Dicks was forced out of the game due to a series of knee injuries...

“I didn’t choose to retire; the decision was made for me by West Ham. They got the hump when my knee went. They wanted to pay me and kick me out but I refused because I wanted to play on. I had the surgery and when I recovered, I played 12 more games before Harry Redknapp picked me as left wing-back against Charlton. I’d never played that position before in my life and he knew it. I realized then that the writing was on the wall.

When I quit West Ham I had enough money in the bank to never work again. Then in 2001 I got divorced and my wife took it all. We’d set up professional kennels and were looking after people’s dogs. That was great because I love animals, especially English Bull Terriers. Some people find them threatening but it depends on how you bring them up. I had 13 at one time and two young girls and there was never any problem. When the wife left she took the dogs too.

So I decided to become a golfer. I’d been playing since I first injured my knee when I was 22, the doctor had told me all the walking would be good for it. By the time I was 27 I was playing off scratch and had the same coach as Colin Montgomery. I even shot a couple of holes-in-one which can be expensive when you’re playing with 20 other people and have to buy them all a drink.

Golf’s meant to be a gentleman’s sport but I tended to lose my rag when I fluffed a shot. I ended up smashing loads of my clubs. That’s me though- I like to do things properly and I can get frustrated if things aren’t working out. Anyway, my knee eventually ended that career as well. It started swelling up so much I couldn’t play more than nine or 10 holes.

I was only 29 when I retired from football so I always felt cheated that I didn’t have more time playing. In November 2001 my agent contacted the Canvey Island manager Jeff King, who’d I’d known for a few years, to see if he was interested in taking me on. He was, so I signed for the rest of the season and in my first game against Sutton, I felt a lot more like my old self. I launched into a few tackles, had a row with the ref, the linesman and the crowd- I really enjoyed it. But after the 12th game, my body let me know that it was going to have to be my last. I was in too much pain to carry on.

So I bought a pub, the Shepherd and Dog in Langham near Colchester. The secret to a good pint is easy: always clean your pipes once a week and the beer will always taste fresh. The pub’s more food orientated than beer though. Our grub is excellent- nothing’s frozen or processed and we do more than a thousand meals a week. We’ve got a fantastic wine list which I helped to choose. I’m not that keen on white but I like a couple of glasses of red and a couple of whiskies, not every day but most.

We have loads of football supporters come in just to say hello to me. Not just West Ham fans but Arsenal and Tottenham fans too. They used to boo me from the terraces but now we have a laugh. Mostly they give me stick about the tackles I used to make, in particular the time I was supposed to have stamped on the head of head of Chelsea’s John Spencer. I still claim innocence on that one and will do until the day I die.

When its closing time there’s no need for the Terminator treatment, because people know they’ve got to drink up. I don’t think I’ve ever lost my temper in the pub, although one time recently a couple of kids had too much too drink. I chucked them out. Most punters know when it’s closing time. They know there’s not going to be a lock-in, because I just want to go home and get to bed.

I always give 100 percent in whatever I do, it doesn’t matter if it’s playing football, playing golf or running my pub. But take me out of a competitive environment and I’m a totally different person. I’m quiet and don’t really lose my temper.

When I get the chance to relax these days, I like to go fly fishing, smoke a few Cohiba cigars and just get away from it all. Last month, I caught a 16-pounder in Chigborough near Malden. It’s written in the book down there, if you don’t believe me.

I enjoy working in the pub although my mind’s elsewhere. I still miss playing. I’d play local football if my knee would allow it, but I know that’s not going to happen. I’ve been out of the game for a few years now and I want to get back into it on the management side. I know you can’t just jump right into it so I’m looking to start coaching in the lower leagues. I’ve had a couple of offers but haven’t accepted them because they weren’t quite right for me. I’m back on the market though and I’ve put the pub up for sale so we’ll see what happens. I miss playing and if I’m honest I’m hoping that coaching helps replace it."

Taken from FourFourTwo magazine

Monday, 5 February 2007

Ugly Betty Swollocks

The vitriol spewing forth from Birmingham following the Matthew Upson transfer is starting to reach unhealthy proportions. In her Sun column on Saturday Karren Brady, without a shred of self-awareness, likened West Ham to Ugly Betty. She wrote: “No doubt West Ham feel they have done a clever piece of business buying Matthew Upson from Birmingham. I don’t think it’s clever at all. The truth is I feel as if we have been mugged. Strange kind of mugging, you might think, being held up at the point of a chequebook and forced to accept £7.5million. But anyone who has been in our position knows what it is like to see your contracted agreement with a player being insidiously undermined in a football version of a CIA operation.” Well, Simon Jordan certainly knows what it feels like after Birmingham poached Steve Bruce from the Crystal Palace hot-seat just four months into the job. Coventry City certainly know what it feels like after watching their season collapse following Birmingham’s poaching of star striker, Gary McSheffrey. More to the point, West Ham fans know exactly what it feels like after living through decades of stymied ambition and sustained player sales. If Karren Brady is looking for sympathy then she will be in for a long wait.

The simple undeniable truth is Birmingham did not have to accept the cash. For all the self–pitying and egregious moralizing about excessive ‘player power’ the crucial element of control for a player under contract still resides with the club. They could have resisted if the will was there, remained steadfast in their stance and forced the player to honour his contractual obligations. Karren Brady, the self-confessed money person at St Andrew’s, must have played an integral part in any decision taken. She can demur all she wants but, as Martin Samuel observed in his column on Sunday, for all her protestations this is a girl who just can’t say no. She didn’t when selling Robbie Savage to Blackburn, Jermaine Pennant to Liverpool or Emile Heskey to Wigan. West Ham made a generous offer and Birmingham acquiesced. There was no gun and no horse’s head in Karren Brady’s bed (save for the one atop her shoulders). West Ham as Ugly Betty? Try looking in the mirror Karren.

Sunday, 4 February 2007

Curb's (Not So) Magnificent Seven

The media hounding of West Ham continues unabated today with Nick Townsend pondering the question: Can Curb’s Not So Magnificent Seven be a match for Harry’s Nine? In his Independent on Sunday column, Townsend writes: “West Ham's Yul Brynner [Alan Curbishley], who, himself included, has amassed more of a So-so Seven than one of genuine Magnificence, with those hirelings recruited at a premium, may emulate Pompey's feat of last season, when Harry Redknapp's nine preserved the club's Premiership status. But then many would have opined that West Ham had a decent chance of survival anyway, particularly if Dean Ashton is available again this season.”

I’m not convinced that anybody who witnessed our hapless performances over the Christmas period could have concluded that our best chance of getting out of trouble was to do nothing in the January transfer window but wait on the uncertain return of Dean Ashton. Anyway, that is beside the point. The only reason I mention this article at all it is because it gives me an excuse to do some shonky paintshopping.

Aston Villa 1 West Ham United 0

Carew Is Pick Of Cash Crop by Stuart James
Ashley Young did not believe huge sums of money would guarantee happiness when he had the opportunity to join West Ham last month and the club he turned down could soon discover the same. Nobody was busier than Alan Curbishley during the January transfer window but the £17.5m the West Ham manager spent on six players promises to bring more pain than gain. How Curbishley must wish he could swap his quantity for Martin O'Neill's quality... The Guardian
Carew Lifts Villa Spirits by Brian Doogan
WEST HAM manager Alan Curbishley’s hopes of dragging Aston Villa into the relegation battle were undone by a magnificent finish by John Carew and a Hammers’ performance that betrayed urgency too late in the game. West Ham hit the crossbar and forced Thomas Sorensen to make a number of quality saves near the end, but Villa deserved to hold out... The Times
Carew Cuts Hammers Down As Upson Limps off by Conrad Leach
Maybe West Ham should cherish this defeat. This was as comprehensive a 1-0 thrashing as they have suffered all season long and yet there was just the single-goal deficit. If they can somehow improve - and they surely cannot get worse after this insipid display for all bar the last two minutes - then, possibly, salvation may not be beyond them... Independent on Sunday
Upson Injury Compounds West Ham's Misery by Stuart James
It was not only an eighth league match without victory that made this another miserable afternoon for Alan Curbishley. Having approached the transfer window like a last-minute Christmas shopper, the West Ham manager appears to have picked up more damaged goods... The Observer
Upson Blow For Troubled West Ham by Colin Malam
It is hard to imagine how things can get any worse for West Ham. Stuck in the bottom three and beaten for the fifth time in new manager Alan Curbishley's nine games in charge, the London club saw £6 million signing Matthew Upson go off with a damaged calf after half an hour of his debut... Sunday Telegraph

Saturday, 3 February 2007

Relegation Rants Are West Ham's Songs of Experience

If anything's going to bounce up and down, can it be boobs rather than West Ham
By Russell Brand

Any follower of a club perpetually threatened by relegation will recognise a chilling moment that occurs as the season reaches its close, a stark moment of clarity, too visually shrill to acknowledge but unignorable in its primary coloured boldness. As cruel as the blossoming beauty of an adolescent daughter to the eye of her menopausal mother - indecent, vicious nature with her calamitous, indifferent tricks.

The moment of which I speak but fear almost too greatly to name is one I myself endured this Tuesday night watching West Ham against Liverpool. After Liverpool's second goal and the lacklustre response of the crestfallen Hammers the dreaded thought, clammy and uninvited, slithered through my fragile mind like the gleeful boot of a greasy bullyboy sullying a perfect carpet of fresh lain snow. . . "Oh well, I suppose if we do go down at least we'll get to see 'em win some matches".

I tried to strangle the fledgling notion before it fled my brain box. But it were done and could not be undone. I'd countenanced relegation. Once you stare relegation in the face can your eyes ever be averted again? West Ham's owner Eggert Magnusson also drooled the loathsome murmur: "If we do go down we have sufficient resources to bounce back up." I don't want to bounce back up; I don't want to bounce down. This is not a time for bouncing. When has bouncing ever been the solution? Be it with cheques or bombs it always leads to heartache. A curse on all bouncing. Except boobs, I suppose, but they're the only exception.

It were a queer night all round - "We are West Ham's Claret 'n' Blue army" came the cry from the Centenary for periods of up to 10 minutes. Not Alan Curbishley's army, and not just because it doesn't scan well. At one point Alan Pardew's name was evoked. This for me was a stomach-churning chant, not because I don't cherish his memory but because it's too late, he's gone and can't be brought back by voodoo yelps.

The incantations became ever more intense till all were drunk in grim gallows revelry. Evangelical heads tossed back, the clap relentless as if willing West Ham to score and yet somehow delighting in failure like the embrace of death, a reaper's kiss. "We're losing, we're going down and we don't fucking care."

This impotent defiance, no longer about the game, but about defeat and death, heaven and hell. "You can beat us on the pitch but you can never break our spirits." My mate Jack turned to me and said "I don't like losing" but while there was little heroism from the team there was heroism from the terrace in this curiously English attitude of celebrating catastrophe, this petit Dunkirk almost more invigorating than victory.

So now Matthew Upson steps into the breach: can he offer salvation or will he get devoured by a pack of stray dogs on the trip to Villa, uncomfortably close to his former home? Lucas Neill lasted about 10 seconds before hurling himself on his sword - I suppose I should be grateful that during the celebratory, player purchase press shot while holding aloft his claret and blue shirt, flanked by Magnusson and Curbishley (still too early for Curbs) Upson's arm didn't fall off.

The transfer has reportedly left Steve Bruce suicidal, which must be a peculiar sight. One wonders what method he might employ, perhaps he'll try and batter a hole in an artery with furious fists or hurl himself off a pile of David Sullivan's porno mags.

Javier Mascherano has cleared off to Liverpool, doubtless to immediately become incontrovertibly brilliant, but Kepa Blanco has come and he has scored, and by jingo I'm in the mood for a bout of cockeyed optimism so I'm prepared to nominate him saviour. But is that what people want? Perhaps such as we, nurtured on a diet of glorious defeat, ought to reject redemption and deliverance and let the icy caress of death lull us into a Championship slumber, because, for West Ham, all dreams must fade and die.

Guardian column

Friday, 2 February 2007

Disloyalty is a Two Way Street

The Daily Mail has to print something extraordinary before I’ll give it a mention on this blog but today they stole a march on everyone with a convoluted story of shadowy intrigue, ineligible players, rule breaking and possible points deductions. Apparently the Premier League is facing a revolt among their own members amid growing suspicion that West Ham and Portsmouth have fielded ineligible players this season. The controversy surrounds the contravening of Rule U18 that forbids England’s top-flight clubs from signing players who are owned by a "third party" who would have the "ability materially to influence its policies or the performance of its teams". Complications came to light following Liverpool’s attempt to sign Javier Mascherano during the transfer window.

Now, far from me to downplay this particular media squall but I’m having a problem seeing this actually leading anywhere. Aside from the fact that the FA would be throwing themselves into a very expensive and protracted lawsuit, there would also be some very embarrassing questions asked of the officials who ratified the original deal for our Argentinians five months ago. In addition, anybody who looks objectively at West Ham’s season to date would have great difficulty in concluding we have benefited in any way from the presence of either of the two players. Mascherano has played something like 390 minutes of football in which time we have failed to register a single point. Tevez is still awaiting his first goal.

In other news, Matthew Upson has hit back at Steve Bruce following criticism of his move to the Irons. Bruce had complained that the transfer was motivated purely by money and engineered by an interfering agent. "The whole thing has been driven by his agent who wanted him to get a move," he said. ''I really believed he'd stay until the end of the season — and then he could have gone with my blessing." Upson thinks that Bruce should understand his situation after making controversial moves himself when he was the manager at Wigan and Crystal Palace. "In terms of moving clubs and honouring contracts, Steve has had his fair share of controversy in that area," Upson said. "He is fully aware of the situation and, whenever he has wanted to go, he has made it happen. I honoured my contract 100 per cent. If this deal had not gone through, I would still be a Birmingham player and preparing for the game against Colchester this weekend."


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