Saturday, 31 March 2007

Shattering The Myth

The Times has become the latest newspaper to spin a story from the exclusive KUMB interview with Eggert Magnusson from a couple of days ago. Gary Jacob has picked up on the quotes regarding the club's intention to not reduce ticket prices even if the team are relegated at the end of the season. “I don’t like the discussions [about ticket prices] in the papers,” Magnússon had said. “Some politicians are trying to make themselves popular. The average salary of a West Ham supporter who comes to the games is second highest in the league — it’s just below Chelsea, and around £60,000 per year."

While Magnusson is busy being seduced by West Ham Fan's average disposable income, Alan Curbishley only has eyes for Carlos Tevez. According to The Mirror, The Irons manager believes the little Argentinian has shattered the myth that 'bigname' foreigners go missing when the going gets tough for them in English football. The Hammers boss said: "Tevez has taken the battle on. His work ethic is what has captured the fans' imagination. That's the first requirement you need. He's taken that on since he's got in the side and I think the fans have responded. It's certainly something we need to keep going. He does a lot of his work in short bursts and the difference in the last few weeks in what we've got from Tevez is that he's doing a lot of his work in the final third, instead of dropping off and doing it in the middle third. He's been prominent in a lot of our attacking, trying to get in behind people and forcing the issue. In previous games he was drifting around and linking up play. We've asked him to be more direct. In the last two games, the team work ethic in terms of the stats has been much better."

One person feeling no such love is former West Ham player Mark Ward. The diminutive midfielder appeared yesterday at Liverpool Crown Court for a proceeds of crime hearing where he was ordered to pay back nearly £10,000 in ill-gotten gains. The 44-year-old was jailed in 2005 for drug trafficking offences after four kilograms (9lbs) of cocaine with a street value of up to £645,000 was discovered during a raid at a house rented in his name in Prescot, Merseyside.

Lastly, The Guardian has two vaguely related West Ham articles. The first examines the 'Pards Factor' and the effect he has had since taking over at Charlton. The second story involves Newcastle United and the £3.3m they have recouped in compensation and insurance since Michael Owen got injured playing for England. Given the continued absence of Dean Ashton, I'm sure it is a situation the West Ham management will be monitoring with interest.

Friday, 30 March 2007

The Knot Tightens

The Mirror report that Eggert Magnusson will revamp West Ham's academy by scouring the globe for foreign youngsters. The article states the move is a new step for a club which prides itself on producing top-class English talent and quotes the Hammers chairman as saying: "We need a greater overview of what's happening all over Europe and have contacts that can direct us to the most promising players. We are looking at investing more." Interestingly, the comment has been lifted directly from the exclusive KUMB interview from a couple of days ago. Responding to a question about boosting the West Ham Academy, Magnusson replied: "When the season is over we will sit down and get a grip on the Academy, chat with the staff at the training ground and so on. We are more likely to invest more in the Academy but first I would like to see how it operates at the moment. I've not had the time to sit down with the people there and discuss it seriously. But I think we need more contacts in the rest of Europe. We need a greater overview of what's happening all over Europe and have contacts that can direct us to the most promising players. We have something in place but I think we have to strengthen this - so we are looking at investing more, if possible."

The talk of improving West Ham's Academy comes at a time when the current Under-18's side sit proudly atop the table with Arsenal. The side extended its impressive unbeaten run with a 2-2 away draw at Crystal Palace today. Tony Carr is certainly encouraged by what he has been seeing. Earlier this week he said: "With Mark Noble establishing himself in the team in the last couple of years and the names before him, which don't need to be repeated. We've got James Tomkins coming up on the rails and he'll be there or there abouts. We've got some very good players in our young teams so I think the state of our conveyor belt of players is quite healthy."

In other news, the people at BBC Sport predict West Ham will avoid a hefty points deduction from the Premier League over the signings of Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano. BBC Five Live's Mike Sewell said: "Any possible punishment will be proportionate. It will be a maximum of three points and a six figure fine. You can dismiss any notion that West Ham will be hit with a large deduction of points. Any points deduction may not even be necessary by the time the hearing takes place because by then the club could already be relegated." Of course, that is the ideal scenario for those involved in bringing this case. The legal ramifications for the Premier League should an enforced points deduction relegate West Ham from a position of safety would be extremely problematic. By the same token, a decision not to deduct points from the club, should they survive, would bring howls of protest (and legal recourse) from the team that finished third from bottom. It would be the Gordian Knot that nobody wants.

Thursday, 29 March 2007

Timing And The Essence Of Good Politics

Pierre Trudeau once declared that the essential ingredient of good politics is timing; it is a skill the West Ham management have yet to master. On the eve of our must win game against Middlesbrough, Eggert Magnusson has taken the opportunity to publicly lay the blame for the club's problems this season on the shoulders of the players. The article in The Times says the Icelandic businessman has witnessed a culture of complacency in the team after their exploits in finishing ninth in the Barclays Premiership and being seconds away from winning the FA Cup Final last season. He is quoted as saying: "I never mentioned anything about cancer in the dressing-room, which was reported in the press, but I did say that there were reasons why the team was not performing on the pitch. Part of the problem is that in your first season in the Premiership you have some drive and desire to see what you can achieve, but once you have done that, perhaps you think that things will happen by themselves."

In a similar vein, Alan Curbishley has decided to re-open the debate over Middlesbrough's weakened team selection in their recent match against Manchester City. In today's Independent he is reported as saying: "Everyone down the bottom is disappointed at what happened against Manchester City. It is not just the result, but when you do rest players and don't get the result it is a double whammy. At Charlton [Curbishley's former club] around this time of the season we were usually in a healthy league position and had never taken it for granted. When we played teams that were involved in relegation battles we put our strongest side out so that no one could look at us and criticise. It may not have had anything to do with the result but Neil Warnock has had his say and obviously it is a situation where we are all looking at other people's results now."

In other news West Ham will have to convince the leading criminal lawyer Simon Bourne-Arton QC of their good faith if they are to escape sanctions over the signing of the Argentinian pair Javier Mascherano and Carlos Tevez. The Guardian reports that Bourne-Arton, a silk with the Leeds-based Park Court Chambers, is a criminal-law specialist who has particular experience in white-collar fraud cases. He will chair the Premier League disciplinary panel examining the signings just as he headed the appeals panel that in 2005 marginally reduced the fines imposed on Ashley Cole and Jose Mourinho over Chelsea's illegal approach for the England left-back.

Finally, The Mirror claim Derby manager Billy Davies will try to take Matty Etherington if the clubs swap divisions in May. This follows a story from a few days ago that Davies is looking to sign Tyrone Mears on a permanent deal.

Wednesday, 28 March 2007

There Is A Light That Never Goes Out

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity... it is a tale of two interviews. The first is from the official site and features Mark Noble in ebullient mood ahead of Saturday's crunch game against Middlesbrough. The youngster still believes "all hope is not lost" and that there are "loads of games left" in the club's desperate battle against the drop. Although I can't agree with either statement it is hard to deny such blind optimism in the face of overwhelming and hopeless odds.

The second can be found on the EPL Talk website and features Ian Bishop as the guest on the latest EPL podcast. The interview is a lengthy and informative listen as the former Irons and Manchester City midfielder discusses heavy metal friends, a Smiths obsession, 80's fashion, his England B controversy, modern players who are reminiscent of his playing style, children's literature and the recent travails of West Ham. You will also learn about what he is up to now as well as how he discovered his Major League Soccer career was over.

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

Portrait Of Teddy

The Laburnum will be as yellow next June as it is now . . . But we never get back our youth. Our limbs fail, our senses rot . . . Youth, youth, there is absolutely nothing in the world but youth!" cries Lord Henry in Oscar Wilde's Portrait of Dorian Gray. Gray, of course, was able to halt the passing of time by offering up his soul to stay young - with hideous consequences. But Teddy Sheringham has somehow managed to reverse the ageing process with a simple diet of Page 3 stunnahs, Cristal champagne and tacky Romford nightclubs- until now.

For today comes the news that Teddy has been defiantly running from for the last ten years. A football club have dropped their interest in signing the veteran striker because he is simply too old. "But what about my leadership qualities?" he will plead. "You can't teach my experience and 'eyes in the back of head' vision," he will protest. "You can't coach my footballing 'first five yards in my head' super-brain and you can't lose what you never had in the first place can you?" he will ask. "That's all very well," will say Sydney FC's club's chief executive George Perry,"but we just have concerns about your ability to play on a regular basis in the Australian climate." It is a legitimate anxiety. West Ham fans have wondered about Teddy and the English winter for the last three seasons.

KUMB's Gone To Iceland

According to a report in Morgunbladid West Ham have offered a trial to 16 year old Icelandic striker Kolbeinn Sigthorsson. The highly rated youngster played a key role in guiding Iceland to the U17 European Championship Finals, scoring four goals against Russia and a further two against Northern Ireland. There has been a great deal of reported interest in Sigthorsson from all across Europe and Arsene Wenger has long tracked the player, inviting him to train with Arsenal every year since he was 13 years of age. Predictably, some commentators have already labelled the rising star the 'next Eidur Gudjohnsen'.

In an otherwise slow news day, KUMB
have published both parts of their exclusive interview with Eggert Magnusson in which the West Ham chairman discusses the proposed new stadium, season ticket pricing and his reasons for buying the club last November.

Eggert Magnusson Q&A Part One
It's a beautiful warm, spring day in East London. Green Street - fittingly perhaps - reverberates to the sound of reggae emanating from the busy market as I follow that oft-trodden path from Upton Park tube station to the Boleyn Ground... Graeme Howlett

Eggert Magnusson Q&A Part Two
I'd like to ask you about the threat of relegation. Four years ago Terry Brown infamously said 'there will be no fire-sale at this club', and that players wouldn't be leaving. Are we likely to have a wholesale clearout this time should we be relegated?... Graeme Howlett

Saturday, 24 March 2007

Bring Back Billie

Bring back Billie, that's all Wembley needs now
By Russell Brand

I like new Wembley just fine. It seems super. Yes, it was a financial fiasco and took much too long to be completed, but this seems to be de rigueur for construction projects. I've bought a new house and am getting it done up at the moment, and I must confess that I had less of a sense of needless cash haemorrhaging when I was a devoted user of crack and heroin.

At least those illicit transactions were immediate and generally authentic. I ne'er had a drug dealer suddenly quadruple his price then suck air lethargically over his teeth before informing me that my drugs would be six months late. Why, no self-respecting junkie would tolerate it. It's a shame Wembley weren't finished last season for the cup final between the Hammers and Liverpool. Not that Cardiff weren't a blast, it just would have been pleasant for West Ham to have played (and lost) in the inaugural finals in both Wemblies. I'm sure that's how you pluralise it.

Funny to think that the reason there's so many White Horse pubs around East London is because of the famous 1923 "White Horse Final", when Bolton triumphed over the Irons and a hundred thousand excess people turned up causing peaceful bother in the presence of the King, and one of the horses the mounted police were upon - I believe it were called Billie - was white. That tells us something of the power of image; there were loads of horses there that day. And policemen. And footballers. And the King of England, for Christ's sake but none of those things were deemed fit to entitle the first final because of the tyranny of iconography - that white horse looked good, plus "the man on the white horse" is a phrase synonymous with heroism; Pegasus was one, Gandalf had one and Beckham was photographed on one a couple of weeks ago to advertise pop.

I bet that white horse Billie was a right smug bastard. I bet he shat on the supporters willy-nilly, just for a jolly, and resented turning up at a football match, thinking he were was better suited to rescuing princesses and being a stud. That shouldn't be allowed either, male horses having it off for a job. It's a disgrace. My mate Matt says he rode a horse once and it was a big, muscly coward skittering about on its ridiculous tapered legs and spindle feet, too thin for its body. I'm also against them having shoes. And I'm against horseshoes being considered lucky. If they are, where's Shergar? He had four of 'em.

Photographs from that day in 1923 seem to be from another world as much as another time. All those hats and rattles and moustaches - I can't imagine those people crying or farting. One day folk will look at photographs of us, probably on digital monitors on their fingernails, and think we looked a proper sight with our tight trousers and silly hair. Actually that's just me, and I already look a bit ridiculous without the necessity for time travel.

Perhaps in the future England will have a team that can qualify for major championships without turning us into a nation of quivering, accusatory paranoids. Can we get a result in Israel today?

Confidence in the national side is low after Eriksson's reign and McClaren's appointment and subsequent losses. From where do we draw optimism for today's tie? As per bloody usual players that are great for their clubs look chastened and curtailed by the emblazoning of the three lions 'pon their boobs - Lampard, Gerrard, Ferdinand etc - so it is to the novel that we turn for hope, young Aaron Lennon, AJ and Preston NE's Nugent.

After the season I've endured at club level I'm kind of immune to disappointment. Unless Rooney takes to the pitch in lingerie singing Oklahoma! I don't think my expectations can be further wounded. If they don't win or at least draw today the hullabaloo will be renewed and we shall holler for McClaren's bonce, but with whom do we replace him? Though the years have onward rolled and much has changed since 1923 one thing remains the same: the significance of image. I, for one, am prepared to revise my antipathy towards things equine and demand Billie the white horse be made manager of England. He'll look great in photos, he'll be handy if there's crowd trouble, and if it don't work we can put him out to stud - and I don't think we'd get away with that with McClaren.

Guardian column

Friday, 23 March 2007

English For Footballers

As a follow up to yesterday's post, here is an account by Nick Raistrick about his time spent working as a translator for Chilean defender Javier Margas.

English For Footballers
By Nick Raistrick

To some people I had the dream job. The hours were flexible, the money was great and I got into games for free. Teaching English to a footballer couldn't be easier. "It's not like they use big words, is it?" many of my colleagues pointed out.

My student was Javier Margas, a World Cup international who had marked Alan Shearer out of the game at Wembley, and played against Ronaldo. I was employed by West Ham because I speak Spanish, having taught in Barcelona and Madrid, though I never had a formal contract. Most clubs recruit teachers through recommendation, as in my case. Occasionally, Javier would receive badly spelt mailshots from "teachers" offering their services at £200 a day. As one of my tasks was to read and translate his mail, these naturally went straight in the bin.

West Ham now make a real effort to keep their players happy. They employ an education officer to assist in this and, through me, made sure that the player and his young family were happy. Other clubs are catching up and realising that a player represents a multi-million pound investment, with maintenance costs that go beyond a flash new car every six months.

It is still difficult for fans to imagine that a player at their club can be anything other than permanently ecstatic, particularly on the astronomical wages they receive. However the change of climate, food, language and lifestyle can be difficult for players to deal with. From Viña Del Mar to Chigwell is a big step. And being constantly in the public eye doesn't help.

When I first met Javier his English was, literally, limited to "Hello," and even this was heavily accented. We chatted briefly in Spanish, and got on well. Javier was keen to learn English. He was eager that his family, too, should learn English and benefit from the cultural experience of being in a new country.

We started immediately, so my first lesson involved the player, his wife, the nanny and three children (aged two to eight) all doing "Heads and Shoulders" in a hastily improvised lesson that was interrupted only by the hysterical laughter of my bizarre "class", and the curious stares of hotel staff.

Devising a curriculum for a soccer player turned out to be a strange task. There are no coursebooks. One to one lessons involve a lot of extra preparation, and, of course, the pressure was on. I had two weeks before the start of the season, and endured sleepless nights imagining the sports headlines if it all went wrong: "Confusion in Hammers defence - Teacher to blame!"

I recorded some cassettes for him to listen to in the car, and created a neo-Subbuteo style cardboard teaching aid for positions. Hours were spent with a football in the kitchen with Javier shouting "Man on!" (Or sometimes "Man Up", "Man Off" or even "Man Down"). Needless to say the nanny soon got tired of being a prop in these classes.

I also spent many mornings at the training ground trying to decipher John Hartson, and making a careful note of the colourful ways that "Please pass the ball," or "Do be careful there," can be expressed in English (all the time gaining material for future classes) - players need to react instinctively to instructions on the pitch.

A Breakfast Television crew came to the ground to interview me ("Do you teach him swear words?"), much to the bemusement of the players who were as surprised as me to see a teacher getting press attention. They kicked balls and hurled water in my direction, and one even exposed himself, and I knew I had been accepted.

My role had expanded at this stage to cover welfare and translation. As well as frequent press calls, contact with club staff, estate agents, car dealers and tattooists all had to be covered. It was a strange to watch BMW dealers literally running, making coffee and generally offering the sort of service most of us never see.

It was important that the family did not feel isolated, so getting them online was a priority.

When the nanny offered me a plate of uncooked garlic bread I realised that a shopping trip was in order, to prevent a high-profile food poisoning case. This was a typically madcap and noisy affair, with children crying, shop assistants scattering, the sound of laughter and my protests as I explained that despite the generous offer, it wasn't a good idea for him to buy me a car. Occasionally West Ham fans would stop and ask questions "So, 'ow come you speak Chilean?" or "Tell him he's good."

Sadly my involvement with the club ended when Javier was injured. It was a traumatic experience for all concerned, and not just because I had to translate complicated passages of the surgeon's medicalese.

He is now recovered and back at the club. In fact he got sent off the other week. I hope it wasn't anything to do with poor usage of modal verbs. I suspect it wasn't...

Thursday, 22 March 2007

Not Insular, Just Amateur

I was listening to a Madrid radio station this morning when I heard an interview with Argentine journalist Marcela Mora y Araujo. She was talking about the Javier Mascherano Affair and how the player was always destined to fail at West Ham because of the intrinsic ‘Englishness’ of the club. She said the player is a completely different personality to Carlos Tevez and that he needed an environment that would nurture and refine his talent, as well as a manager who understood the tactical nuances required to best integrate him into the team. She accused West Ham of being the quintessence of parochial insularity, while insisting “Liverpool will provide a much better home for Mascherano. They speak Spanish and play a style of football that suits him.”

In many ways West Ham has always been a club defined by its Englishness. In the 111 years of its existence there have only been eleven managers, ten of who have been English. The one aberration, Lou Macari, lasted just one year. When West Ham won the FA Cup in 1964 they were the last all-English side to do so. A year later, the players who lifted the Cup-winners’ Cup became the first and last all-English team to win a European trophy. In 1966 when England lifted the World Cup and reached the pinnacle of it’s achievement on the world stage, West Ham made the single greatest contribution of any club to that defining moment. It was a vindication of ‘The Academy of Football’ ethos that has served to nurture a rich stream of home-grown talent through the ranks and onto the international scene. No club delights more in the emergence of ‘one of their own’. The famed youth academy has long been the envy of nearly every other club in the country. The top ten West Ham record holders for appearances and goals are also all English, and when Danny Gabbidon picked up last season’s Player of the Year award he became only the sixth non-English player in fifty years to receive that honour.

Few will forget the furious ‘racism’ row that erupted between Alan Pardew and Arsene Wenger over the former West Ham’s manager assertion that an English team should at least contain a back bone of English talent. As West Ham rounded off a thrilling first season back at the top level with a desperately narrow defeat in the FA Cup final, much was made of their Britishness. And not without reason, for Alan Pardew had gathered an unusually indigenous group. Of the 14 who did duty against Liverpool in the Millennium Stadium, only Yossi Benayoun and Lionel Scaloni were foreigners. Of the 12 Britons in the squad (to narrow it further), only Danny Gabbidon and Christian Dailly came from outside England. And (to narrow it even further than that) no fewer than eight of Pardew's team were London-born. Few teams have ever mirrored so closely on the pitch the demographic of their support of it.

It is not hard, therefore, to see why Marcela Mora y Araujo could reach the conclusion that she did even if the assertion is not entirely accurate. Indeed, far from the epitome of provinciality, Brian Belton argues that West Ham have a rich tradition of inventiveness and cultural assimilation.

West Ham United football club started life as an entertainment or distraction for the working men of East London’s riverside community in the wake of the 1889 dock strike. Their first manager was the consummate showman Syd King. Syd was behind ‘the electric tram’ that toured East London lit up by a constellation of light bulbs celebrating the Hammers’ achievement of reaching the 1923 FA Cup Final. If you look at the original architecture of the Hammers’ first home, the Memorial Ground and later Upton Park, you will see certain echoes in the structures, reminiscent of a showground, a hybrid of the racecourse, the fairground and the circus. The enclosures and stands which housed the supporters wee close to the pitch, painted in loud claret and blue. The football produced by King and his progeny and his successor, Charlie Paynter, was dynamic and muscular. Paynter also introduced the Cockney patrons of the Boleyn Ground to teams from mainland Europe and even more exotic climbs. He also organized European tours like the one of Norway in 1927.

Ted Fenton continued the tradition of inventiveness. With the encouragement and motivation of Malcolm Allison, Fenton continued to bring the best of European sides to Upton Park and a few good South American teams. He created a modern youth policy and opened the team’s horizons in terms of foreign innovation, which influenced the team’s shirts, boots and tactics. Gradually the effort to entertain incorporated the search for success through the adaptation of science, logic and mathematics to the requirements of football excellence.

With the arrival of Ron Greenwood at the club, a moral and ethical philosophy, which at times became close to being a religion, was added to the social make-up of West Ham. Greenwood, although not too far from Fenton in terms of his intellectual response to the game, was part of a modern European ‘church’ of football, which included the likes of England managers Walter Winterbottom and Alf Ramsey. Greenwood himself had been the England Under-23 coach before joining the Hammers.

As such, Greenwood’s effort to take the traditional physical strengths of English football and merge these with the best of continental and South American ideas were soon taken up at national level. West Ham thus became a kind of laboratory of football in the early to mid-1960’s, an ‘academy’ of soccer development.

In reality, there is a dichotomy between West Ham’s historical receptiveness to foreign ideas on the pitch and the club’s struggle to integrate foreign players off it. The problem is not one of insularity though. It is rather a question of education (of both the club and the overseas players) and the provision of adequate networks of support. At Arsenal and Chelsea, for example, there are on-site facilities with structured language programmes and personal tutors for all of their imported players. When Mascherano left West Ham he admitted he gave up on privately arranged English lessons after just a few weeks of trying. Why was that allowed to happen? At Bolton, surely the modern template for the successful assimilation of foreign players, there is a concerted effort to locate all the players in the same small community where integrated support is always on hand.

When Clyde Best arrived for a trial at West Ham back in the late 1960’s he recalls that nobody was there to meet him at Heathrow and how he wished at that moment he'd never come. He describes how he got off the Tube at West Ham, not realising he really needed Upton Park, and how it took a random Hammers fan on the street to direct a lonely, confused kid to the home of Clive Charles, another black player with whom he was supposed to lodge. From that appalling start, the club’s welfare care of its foreign imports never really recovered. When Samassi Abou was at the club in the late 90’s he could regularly be spotted around east London sat on his own in restaurants and clubs- a lonely figure unable to communicate with any one. When we had the Portuguese starlet Dani the club did little else but move him from the Swallow Hotel to the Tower Hotel so he could have bigger and more debaucherous parties. Then there was the case of Javier Margas who was living off uncooked garlic bread in the early days of his arrival because he didn’t speak a word of English and was wary of doing any shopping.

Generally speaking, the overseas players who have succeeded at West Ham have tended to be those who joined the club having already settled in the country or else those who arrived already capable of speaking the language. Nick Raistrick, who acted as a language tutor to Javier Margas, states that it is still difficult for fans to imagine that a player at their club can be anything other than permanently ecstatic, particularly on the astronomical wages they receive. However the change of climate, food, language and lifestyle can be difficult for players to deal with. From Viña Del Mar to Chigwell is a big step. And being constantly in the public eye doesn't help. To a certain extent, the club has been just as culpable when it comes to assuming that responsibility towards a player extends only to what is produced on the pitch.

It is only recently that the club began employing an education officer to help new arrivals settle in as painlessly as possible. In many cases, especially with the younger players, that is still not enough. All this is to say, that if Javier Mascherano was always destined to fail at West Ham then it has little to do with the Englishness of the club and everything to do with the amateurishness of our approach.

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Ashton Grounded Until Next Season

Today brought the news that every West Ham fan feared but secrectly expected- official confirmation that Dean Ashton will not play again this season. The Hammers striker had a further operation on Monday night to remove an area of scar tissue emanating from the original broken ankle he suffered while training with the full England squad back in August last year. Speaking on the club website, physio Steve Allen said: "We have left no stone unturned in our attempt to get Dean back out on the football field as soon as possible, but it was clear that he had gone as far as he could with the methods that had been used. We sought the opinions of the leading ankle specialists in the country and, following their advice, the decision was made to operate. It will be six weeks before he is back running, and we felt that the timing was right, in order for Dean to make a fresh start with the rest of his team-mates when the squad returns for pre-season training in the summer." Ashton has made just one appearance at the Boleyn Ground this season in a pre-season friendly against Olympiakos.

When Ashton does eventually return to football he will do so in a West Ham shirt. That is the opinion of chairman Eggert Magnusson who is quoted in the Newham Recorder as saying: "Dean is here to stay as I see it. He hasn't played all season, so I have no doubts that he will be a West Ham player for years to come. He has to start playing games before he can interest other clubs, then you can start to speculate, but he has to reach the level he was at before." There was no such positive news over Carlos Tevez. Magnusson admitted: "I'm sorry, but I have no control over whether Tevez goes or stays, I thought everyone knew that, it is no secret, so how can I control that? When I first held a press conference here I said that I would never enter into a contract where the club doesn't own the player - it is out of the question for me. So I am sorry, it is out of my control, it is for his owners to decide where he goes."

Also in the Newham Recorder are further quotes from Magnusson concerning the club's move to a new stadium. "My vision is to build a new stadium and to build a successful team slowly but surely," confirmed the Icelandic businessman. "I hope to have a new stadium for West Ham before the Olympics. It will be close to here, that is all I can say, and it will have a capacity of 60,000 plus because we have the fan base for that sort of figure." The article also confirms plans to develop the Academy as well as upgrading the training ground either at Chadwell Heath or somewhere bigger.

In other news, The Telegraph has picked up the Danny Gabbidon quotes from yesterday to claim West Ham's demise and potential relegation is down to complacency from the players and an inability to recognise the warning signs. The Guardian follow the same story, with Jeremy Wilson claiming fingers have been pointed in most directions when attempting to explain West Ham's startling decline but the problem lies largely within the dressing-room.

Finally, Guardian columnist David Conn predicts the Hammers face a pounding over third-party player agreements. The author of The Football Business and The Beautiful Game claims sympathy for West Ham's struggles will not soften the Premier League's probe into the deals for Tevez and Mascherano and the consensus around football is that the club, to compound an awful season, could have the book thrown at them. It is an informative and quite sobering read that suggests our increasingly desperate season could be just about to get a whole lot blacker.

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

Disappointment And Anguish

Lucas Neill was disappointed by the reception he was given by Blackburn Rovers fans on his return to Ewood Park according to a piece in The Times. He is quoted as saying: "It was strange going back to Blackburn. I spent five and a half years at the club and I thought the reception I got was quite disgusting, to be honest. For a player who committed himself for all of that time, never complained, never missed training, never missed games and gave everything I had, I was really shocked and quite disappointed. I still have a fantastic relationship with all the players, staff and management at Blackburn and they will be friends of mine for a long time, it's just unfortunate that the fans don't see it that way." It is a fair enough comment but perhaps Lucas should look on the bright side. At least he is not a Pakistani cricketer or Frank Lampard.

Elsewhere, Danny Gabbidon has revealed his anguish at seeing West Ham plunge towards relegation. Speaking in the Daily Mail, the Welshman reflects: "For us it has been a terrible season. This time last year we were in the FA Cup semi-finals, and now we are down at the bottom of the league. We finished ninth, qualified for Europe and almost won the FA Cup. Now we are bottom and sometimes you don't know where the next win is coming from. It has been a massive change, and hard to put your finger on why. There have been a number of things that have contributed to where we are. There's not one thing to blame. We didn't start the season well and everything has gone down from there."

Searching for answers, Gabbidon continues: "We have all got to look at ourselves and say 'have we performed like last season?' And the answer is no. Maybe there was complacency, maybe believing in the hype. We had such a great season last term and then when you come back after the summer you expect everything to be the same. If anything you must work twice as hard because the second season is a lot harder when you have been promoted. Maybe our achievements were too high, we thought we could do it again. We should have been looking at making sure we survived rather than thinking we could win all the time. The hunger of last season has not been as evident."

In a clear indication of the defender's future plans should we get relegated, Gabbidon concludes: "The thought of the Championship is not a good one. In the top flight you play against great teams and players every week and that is where you want to stay to play your football. I'm at the stage of my career when I want to keep progressing. I'm 27, I'm not at an age where I want to drop down a level. I want to be in the Premiership, that's where the best players are. And being in the top division will help me at international level. Anyone in the team would say we want to stay in the Premiership after what we achieved last season, but there still time to get ourselves out of it. If not, the players I'm sure will be assessing the situation."

There is further news concerning one of our injured internationals with the Mirror claiming Yossi Benayoun has declared himself fit to face England on Saturday. The Israeli had been expected to miss the game with a groin injury but he played a full part in training last night and is reported to have said: "The injury is behind me now and there is no reason why I should not be 100 per cent fit. We know England are favourites but we are desperate to win."

Monday, 19 March 2007

The Boy From Fuerte Apache

It is a slow news day so it gives me an excuse to feature a nice article I found about Carlos Tevez. It was written around 2004 but beyond that I have no further details...

The Boy from Fuerte Apache

He grew up in poverty loving Boca Juniors above all else. He has wild talent, unpredictable moves and amazing accleration. His football is magical, his goals exceptional. But he can't score with his head and his tongue flops out when he dribbles or shoots.

In a country where the 'new Maradona' label attaches itself to any half-decent youngster, 19-year-old Carlos Tevez is undoubtedly the closest thing yet. He even made his professional debut against the same team, Talleres de Cordoba. The only noticeable difference is that Tevez is right-footed.

Even Maradona sees himself in Boca Juniors' current maestro. "The things he does with the ball!" gasps the legendary Argentinian. "The first time I watched him, so tiny, at La Bombonera (Boca's stadium), he reminded me of myself."

Five foot eight and stockily-built, dressed head to toe in Nike training gear including his customary woolly hat (he has one for each day of the week; today's is black), Carlos Tevez has little of the air of a star about him when we meet at Boca's Casa Amarilla (yellow house) training ground. Sitting by the edge of a training pitch, the recently-crowned 2003 South American Player of the Year smiles when Maradona's name is mentioned. "The comparison with Diego is something to be proud of, but I don't think I deserve it," he says. "There was only one Maradona and there'll never be another. Perhaps I've picked up some movements because I learned to play football watching him on telly - and on the pitch when I was lucky enough to go to a football match, which wasn't often - but it's craziness to compare me to him. He delivered so much joy to the people. He was a World Champion, he was in Europe for so many years. Me? I'm a pibe (a boy), I'm just starting."

As he prepares to leave his teenage years behind on February 5, the reminders of Tevez's youth are everywhere. When Boca travelled to Tokyo for the Intercontinental Cup against Milan. Tevez felt more uncomfortable than he ever had when marked by rugged Argentinian defenders in important matches. The reason? The specially tailored suits the club had ordered. "I've never worn a suit or a tie in my life," he complained. "It's strange, I really can't see myself getting into that."

But it's on the training ground that the pibe spirit burns brightest. Out there he's a magnet. Laces undone, twisting, turning, trying Higuita's Scorpion Kick; whatever he does, Tevez is the centre of attention. People adore him because they see a little boy having fun, a kid who encapsulates both the amateur spirit and the age-old tale of the fan who becomes part of the team. In his spare time, Tevez even calls his four brothers out for a game, kicking around plastic bottles or whatever else he can find.

Already sportswear giants, Nike, are preparing to turn Tevez into the new Ronaldinho, believing that his charisma, style and poverty-stricken background are perfect for the South American market, and newspaper La Nacion recently commented: "Tevez is capable of becoming Boca's greatest ever idol, for he sums up characteristics of the four greatest idols of the club in his position. The explosiveness of Maradona, the feint of Angel Clemente Rojas, the physical strength of Alberto Marcico, and the sense of being the creative axis of the team so typical of Juan Roman Riquelme."

For Marcico, who coached him in 2002 as Boca's assistant manager, Tevez is already above his contemporaries: "(Pablo) Aimar, Riquelme, (Ariel) Ortega, (Andres) D'Alessandro, they're all great players. But Tevez is the most explosive player since Maradona. He's more complete than the rest. He's got personality and stamina, and he's equally aggressive when he has the ball or when he has to go and get it. Whatever stadium he plays in, he performs the same way. He's magnificent."

A broken tooth, a neck covered in scars from an accident with boiling water and his 'Apache' nickname are the tell-tale signs of Tevez's tough childhood. Fuerte Apache is perhaps the poorest, most dangerous of Buenos Aires's suburbs, a place where even the police fear to tread.

Tevez grew up with money scarce and simply feeding the family a constant battle. "So many people had to live with the things I had to," he says. "But the hunger vanished with an 'I love you' from our dads. That's the way it was for us."

In that environment, Tevez learnt one basic law: only the strongest survive. It was a lesson he would take to the potrero, the neighbourhood football pitch, full of stones, cans, craters and violence. There he learned to play football the hard way. "They say there's pressure at La Bombonera," says Tevez. "What pressure? The real pressure is at a potrero where everything is allowed, where nobody protects you, where you're playing against older and tougher lads! At the potrero, you work out how to do a bit of everything: go up and down, mark and play. You learn to cover the ball and to put up with heavy knocks.

"We played matches where the winners got sandwiches and Cokes (paid for by the losers) and they were terrific. The lowest tackle was around the neck, but you had to accept it. The prize was the prize and the honour was honour." If he had it his way, Tevez would still be playing there, "but I'm a professional now and have to take care of myself," he explains.

No sooner had Boca discovered Tevez's potential than they took him out of the potreros and out of Apache. One of his closest friends, Dario, had recently been shot to death. At Boca, Tevez quickly became friends with another dazzling young footballer, five years his senior. The star of the first team, Juan Roman Riquelme had himself been labelled the new Maradona and, like Tevez, came from a villa (shanty town).

"Roman is like my brother," says Tevez. "We both came from poor families and he helped me a lot. He always gave me things - shoes, jerseys - and he talked to me when I still hadn't played a match."

A few months after his debut for the reserves, Sunderland made an offer for Tevez. Boca turned it down flat. In October 2001, he made his first-team bow. Then, two weeks later, Riquelme was sold to Barcelona. "Roman came to see me and told me something I won't forget," recalls Tevez of his friend's departure. "He said: 'I'm leaving, but you're going be the leader of Boca now. If the team plays badly, it's your fault. And if it plays well, it's because of you. Face the fact that you're the conductor, the director.'"

Still only 18, Tevez faced it. "Playing for the reserves, he would win matches on his own," recalls Heber Mastrangelo, boss of Boca's youth teams, where Tevez scored 72 goals in three years. "He'd just grab the ball and dribble past everybody, opponents, team-mates, the referee. Amazing."

In the first-team, he appeared to play as if nothing had changed, but Tevez concedes that it was hard without Riquelme. "I had only just made my debut when Roman was sold, and the tag of being the successor to Riquelme was crazy too! Riquelme is almost at the level of Maradona: there will never be another player like him."

He also had to deal with his new-found fame. "How did I not get confused? Simple: by understanding that I'm Tevez and not Maradona. And besides that, luxuries are not important to me. You'll never see me in limousines or drinking champagne. I'm from the neighbourhood, a simple lad. I'm the same as I've always been. Maybe I'm a bit more famous to other people now, but that doesn't stop me doing the things I always did. I hang out with my best friends, drink mate (Argentinian tea) with them, play cards, I visit Apache, we spend hours playing PlayStation. I'm Carlitos, as always. The difference is that I'm on TV and in magazines now, but I don't believe the hype. I try to keep looking forward, otherwise I'll be a failure."

In 2002, Tevez came to England to play Manchester United at Old Trafford. The match would demonstrate another similarity to Maradona, a short temper. Reacting to a scything challenge from Paul Scholes, Tevez was sent off, but his memories of the visit are positive.

"I have David Beckham's shirt hanging in my room, alongside Riquelme's boots," he says. "Old Trafford is a superb ground. It's funny to have the supporters two metres away from you, though. In Argentina that would be impossible; they'd jump on to the pitch and steal the ball (laughs). Besides, the people were all sitting, neat and tidy, and no one threw anything - it was like playing at the theatre!"

For Tevez, there's no place like home. "I've played at Old Trafford, the Nou Camp and the Morumbi (in Sao Paolo) packed with 100,000 Brazilians, but nothing compares to La Bombonera. Do you know how it feels to be there? Mamma mia! It's awesome. You hear everything, the crowd sings the entire match, and sometimes you can feel the vibrations. You don't believe that the stadium actually trembles until you experience a match there. It's unique."

Back at La Bombonera, Tevez moved to the next level, but only after Boca manager, Carlos Bianchi had decided to play his star man further forward. Tevez says he admires four players - Maradona, Riquelme, Ronaldo and Gabriel Batistuta. The names are relevant because in Argentina the debate still rages over where he should play. He shines in midfield or up front. But is he a playmaker? Or a striker?

Bianchi, himself a prolific goalscorer, had no doubts when asked in early 2003. "For me, he is a forward, but he needs to add some of the secrets of the striker's position to his game. The champagne goals are important, but the banal goals really make the difference. I want him to score more banal goals."

Three months later, Tevez became the leading goalscorer in the Torneo Apertura with eight goals in 11 matches, plus his usual share of assists, as Boca streaked to the championship. Shortly after, he inspired his team-mates to Copa Libertadores glory.

Unsurprisingly, European clubs took notice. Bayern Munich have already made two offers, both rejected. Bayern vice president, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, believes Boca will settle for E20m, but according to Boca chairman Mauricio Macri, Tevez will remain there for at least two more years.

"Look, I don't drive myself mad thinking of Europe," is Tevez's view. "The guita (dosh) doesn't drive me mad and at Boca I'm very happy. I'm just a boy, I still want to go out with my friends and my family, things that I couldn't do in Europe because they wouldn't be there. Perhaps later I'd like to try European football, to be among all the 'monsters' who play there?"

If - or when - he does go to Europe, Tevez may yet spring a surprise. "If you'd asked me a year ago, I would have said I would most want to go to Barcelona, but nowadays, it's Villarreal," he says. "Why? Simple, to play with my friend Roman. The things we would do there! And Spain would be easier for me because of the language."

Villareal? Spain? Alberto Marcico believes Tevez can conquer the entire football world. "He's already the best Argentinian player in the world and soon he will play in Europe and show his qualities to them, as he did in South America winning the Copa Libertadores on his own. He's not only a Boca idol, he's the one player who supporters from all the teams want in the national team. That's because it's clear he loves and breathes football."

He certainly does. Recently, Boca made a generous offer that most 19-year-olds would accept in the blink of an eye: an appointment with a highly-regarded plastic surgeon who would remove the scars from his neck. When Tevez found out that he would need four months of rehabilitation, his answer was immediate. "What!?! Four months! First, if someone doesn't like how I look, it's his problem, not mine. And second, are you out of your mind? I could never go so long without playing football!"

And with that, he called to his brothers, found a ball and began to play.

Sunday, 18 March 2007

Secret Payments

As is typical for West Ham, the gloss of yesterday's victory has been removed by further tawdry accusations in the sunday press. Rob Beasley has continued his attack on the financial inproprieties of the fomer regime, this time claiming a secret payment of £339,000 was paid into a Swiss bank account to facilitate the signing of Argentine midfielder Javier Mascherano. As last week, the details are reproduced in full because the article will not be online for long.

£339K into a Swiss bank account but West Ham bosses declare sweet FA
By Rob Beasley

A Premier League club bunged a secret payment of £339,000 into a Swiss bank account over the shady transfer of a foreign star, the News of the World can reveal.

Crisis team West Ham made the hush-hush deposit to a company linked with a controversial soccer agent just days after signing Argentine ace Javier Mascherano last September. But a major News of the World investigation into the greed and dodgy dealings threatening our national game has discovered West Ham FAILED to disclose the money to the FA. That is a clear breach of FA rules which state that All payments in relation to transfers have to be made through the proper channels.

Last night chiefs at the Football Associaton promised a full probe after we handed over our evidence. If found guilty the struggling London club, favourites to be relegated, could face a huge fine, a fixed-term ban on all transfers AND even a possible points deduction at the beginning of next season.

The money West Ham paid—500,000 euros—was given to the firm Global Soccer Agencies which has links to Mr Fixit soccer agent Pini Zahavi. The News of the World has seen the official Swiss bank payment report for September 4 last year—just after West Ham's shock signing of Argentinian internationals Mascherano and Carlos Tevez on Aug 31.

The transfers of midfielder Mascherano and striker Tevez, 23, were shrouded in mystery. But Zahavi boasted how he helped broker the deal. In a surprise move, the promising young pair were signed from Brazilian club Corinthians, where Anglo-Iranian businessman Kia Joorabchian had a 51 per cent stake. At the time Joorabchian was trying to buy control of West Ham and was in negotiations with then chairman Terry Brown and managing director Paul Aldridge.

The two players' contracts were owned by companies and consortiums associated with Joorabchian and Pini Zahavi. Mascherano, 22, who has now moved on to Liverpool, was half-owned by Global Soccer Agencies, a Gibraltar-registered firm with direct links to Zahavi.

West Ham—who won at Blackburn yesterday—paid the £339,000 into GSA's Swiss bank account following the transfer. But FA bosses had no knowledge of this forming part of the transfer deal—in contravention of strict guidelines brought in to stamp out dodgy dealings and corruption. At the time of the signings, Zahavi told how he stood to make a fortune from the Mascherano and Tevez move. He bragged: "I am an honest man. I don't sell cars. I have nothing to hide. But it is quite simple. If the players are a big success, I make money. Not just if they leave West Ham in the future but if they do well at West Ham. West Ham's then chairman Brown called the transfers the "biggest in our history".

Last week we exclusively revealed that he and managing director Aldridge stood to trouser £9.3 million between them if the deal had gone through to sell the club to Joorabchian. Instead it was bought by the current chairman, Icelandic businessman Eggert Magnusson.

When confronted by the News of the World over the Mascherano payment, Terry Brown said: "Who paid it? Into where?"

He added: "You would have to ask the club, I am not going to comment on that. If it's wrong it's the club that has done wrong but I very much doubt we have done anything that's wrong."

And Paul Aldridge said: "Legal advice was taken at the time and a payment was made strictly in accordance with all the relevant rules and regulations."

Agent Pini Zahavi angrily denied he was the owner of Global Soccer Agencies and had pocketed the huge fee. "I am the advisor that's all, I don't own it. I have nothing to hide, I've done nothing wrong. I don't give a shit what rule West Ham broke. I am telling you I am not GSA," he said.

Our investigation will send shockwaves through football. West Ham are already being probed by the soccer authories over possible irregularities in the signing of the two Argentinians. Those investigations also carry the threat of major fines and points deductions.

A West Ham spokesman said last night: "All documents relating to the Mascherano and Tevez transfers have now been submitted to the Premier League to assist with their on-going inquiry. "That includes the so-called third party agreements and all payments relating to them which were passed on by the club's new owners in January."

Ex-Met police commissioner Lord Stevens, left, is close to wrapping up a detailed investigation into the activities of eight agents in relation to 17 suspicious transfers made by English clubs. Some of those cases could result in criminal prosecutions. Zahavi was asked to help with the inquiry but is understood to have declined.

The Mail on Sunday also makes mention of the story. It states that the Football Association have confirmed they will investigate allegations of financial impropriety surrounding West Ham's controversial signing of Javier Mascherano last September.

Blackburn Rovers 1 West Ham United 2

Tevez Shows Stomach For A Battle by Ian Whittell
Carlos Tevez may yet cost West Ham points as a result of an imminent Premier League disciplinary hearing following the controversial manner of his transfer to the club last August, but last night he was instrumental in his team earning three priceless, and highly dubious, points as Alan Curbishley's side recorded their first away victory of the season, to double the three points previously earned in draws... The Observer
Zamora Sparks Storm And Gives Hammers Hope by Brian Doogan
Bobby Zamora's controversial winning goal may be enough to instil some renewed belief in West Ham that they can still stave off relegation, but the goal should not have stood and Blackburn manager Mark Hughes was left fuming at the finish... Sunday Times
Tevez Plays The Villain To Give West Ham Hope by Les Ward
Carlos Tevez flashed a guilty grin to Blackburn midfielder David Dunn as he stepped up to score a contentious penalty to level the scores on 72 minutes. Heaven knows how he felt four minutes later following the part he played in an even more controversial 'goal' that sealed West Ham's priceless first Premiership away victory of the season... Sunday Telegraph
Hughes In A Huff As Zamora Rides Luck by Jon Culley
West Ham might still need a miracle to survive in the Premiership, even after winning only their second match under Alan Curbishley. But if they do go down, it promises to be via a route filled with drama... Independent On Sunday
Zamora's Controversial Winner Puts End To Samba Dancing by Mark Ryan
A lifeline on the goal line? "Devine" intervention? Call it what you will. But Alan Curbishley’s struggling team were handed hope in the most controversial fashion yesterday and West Ham’s manager seems to sense that mission impossible is no longer beyond him... Mail On Sunday
Curbishley Hails Rough Justice by John Ashdown
A penalty that was probably not and a goal that was definitely not could not mask West Ham's pleasure on Saturday at three points that should not have been. Alan Curbishley claimed his side's good fortune in victory went some way to restoring football's karmic alignment... The Guardian
Wayward Webb Fuels Debate by Ian Whittell
Exhibit A - not to mention exhibits B through to D — in the argument for video replays were in plain view for all at Ewood Park, although, given the almost incomprehensibly inept displays of Howard Webb, the referee, and Jim Devine, his assistant, on Saturday, it is doubtful whether the officials would have got it right even with the aid of technology... The Times
Hughes Blows A Fuse On Divine Intervention by Jon Culley
The temptation to rail against match officials is never easy to resist, as Mark Hughes discovered when every microphone and tape recorder at Ewood Park on Saturday evening invited him to vent his fury over the blunder that handed victory to West Ham and potentially blighted Blackburn's hopes of playing in Europe next season... The Independent
Tangled Webb Keeps West Ham Hopes Alive by Mark Ogden
Howard Webb has justifiably earned a reputation as the man most likely to replace Graham Poll as England's top referee, but the south Yorkshire official's career path will hit a brick wall if his assistants leave him exposed to the blind fury he was subjected to from players, managers and supporters after West Ham's inexplicable victory at Ewood Park... The Telegraph

Saturday, 17 March 2007

Crying Game

As a counter point to the Carlos Tevez article from yesterday, The Mirror carries an interview with West Ham's other ascendent star, Mark Noble.

Crying Game
By Darren Lewis

Mark Noble: 'I Wept at the end of the Spurs game because I know how the fans feel... I was in the crowd the last time we went down.'

His tears at the end of West Ham's last-gasp defeat to Spurs epitomised the anguish of every true Upton Park fan in what has been a nightmare season. But Mark Noble's heartbreak that day also brought renewed hope that there are still players at the club that care at a time when their commitment to the cause is being questioned.

So far this season the 19-year-old local hero has been denied a place in the first team because boss Alan Curbishley has stuck with experience during the club's relegation battle. But Noble's only two senior appearances this season - against Brighton in the FA Cup and Spurs in the Premiership last week - have both yielded goals and convinced his boss that his hunger is more valuable than the underachievement of better known players. As a result the Canning Town teenager is set to play again today at Blackburn and Hammers fans - who have called for him to be put into the team all season - will be delighted. Noble said:

"I cried in that Tottenham game because I don't want to see this club go down again. I know what it's like because I was in the crowd when we went down four years ago. My emotions were just everywhere and the only way they were coming out was through my eyes. It was a gutting feeling for me. I have had a lot of stick for crying as you can imagine from friends and stuff. But I couldn't help it at the time. There was nothing I could do about it and I just have to take it on the chin!"

"This is my job. This is all I know. I can't do anything else because I am no good at anything else. So when you can't get what you want it's hard. Some people take it in different ways. For me it's a massive thing when I lose. I don't like losing no matter what I do. Even when I am on the computer at home with mates if I lose I still get the hump. That's healthy, I think, because I never want to be in that position."

Born on May 8 1987, Mark Noble began his footballing career as a trainee at West Ham before loan spells took him to Hull and Ipswich. He could easily have stayed away from the car crash that has been the Hammers' season. Instead, he is desperate to help dig them out of trouble. He added: "In a way you have to be brought up round here to know what it is like for the fans. For some geezers it's their life. A lot of them just wait for the next Saturday for the game to come around. I feel so much of that through the people I know so it's hard when we get a result like we did against Spurs."

"I've lived near Upton Park for about 17 years. Places like Canning Town, East Ham and all around there. I have been going to the games since I was a small boy so it's great to play for the club but when we lose it is so hard. The up side, though, is that if you work hard and you lose, the fans back you. Just like they did in the Spurs game when they applauded us off the pitch. That's what we have got to do for the last 10 games - work hard, dig deep and try and create a miracle."

"When I was younger my hero was Bobby Moore because my dad always told me about him. He told me that Bobby was just magnificent, that he was so calm and that he had an aura about him that some players get and some players never do. He told me that he had that respect as a World Cup winner and its a pleasure to be associated with a club that has had a player like that. It's even better to play in the same stadium that he did. Other heroes are players who have gone the same path as me, like Joey Cole and Michael Carrick and Frank Lampard. They have gone through the youth cup and the first team and I am still looking up to them. Glenn Roeder gave me the chance to come in when I was a kid and train with players like them and John Moncur who was a West Ham top boy. So now it means so much to me now to follow them."

Noble is determined to make the most of the chance he has been given. He went on: "When I first broke through in the Championship two years ago it was the same then as it is now. The fans just love homegrown players coming through. With the amount of foreigners coming in it is hard for the youngsters because they just get sent out on loan to lower league clubs and some of them really don't get a chance. But I was determined this year to make my mark. So although I enjoyed my loan spell at Ipswich I came back and told Alan Pardew - who was our manager at the time - that I wanted to get into this team. When Curbs came in I finally got my chance. Now I just want to grab hold of it. I was gutted after the Brighton game to lose my place. I wanted to stay in the side but the manager told me that he wanted to go with experience to get us out of this mess."

"Now he has clearly thought: 'I am just going to put him in'. So hopefully my hard training has paid off and I want to stay even if we go down. There will obviously be some changes and the majority of players will want to stay in the Premiership. But I am sure there will be a few staying with me and if we can make a core around them then hopefully we can come straight back up. Having said all that I don't want to talk too much about relegation. Until it is mathematically impossible I want to focus on staying up."

Elsewhere, The Independent report that West Ham United have submitted their appeal to the Premier League after being charged for a breach of rules over the signing of Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano. The Argentine pair were signed in August and under scrutiny is whether the involvement of Media Sports Investment was against regulations.

The Night I Slept Next To David Beckham

With West Ham all but relegated there is some solace in sleeping next to David Beckham, and some positives of playing in the Championship
By Russell Brand

David Beckham was in the next room to me at a Manchester hotel on Tuesday night. There were adjoining doors. I felt like I should do something, knowing he was in there either with Posh or alone sleeping, like in that Sam Taylor-Wood installation, all peaceful.

The twits I was with wanted to put a gushing note under his door, a scheme I vetoed on the grounds that it would compromise me if I ever met him. He'd always have that over me. If we met at a high-class banquet for Essex dignitaries my status would be undermined by the knowledge that I'd desperately thrust my grubby scribblings into his private quarters. It seemed uncouth - like trying to sneak my fingers up the leg of his shorts and stretching his golden balls taut.

Also, what would I put? "Good evening David, hope you enjoyed your appearance at Old Trafford on the occasion of Manchester United versus European XI. Shame you couldn't play. Nice speech! PS: Do you miss Lakeside?" or "I can envisage you Dave, in there, yards from me mincing in your pristine pants - would you like me to pay you a saucy visit? Hang your panties on the door handle if yes."

I don't think that there's anything you can write in a note to a stranger that you poke under a door that wouldn't unsettle them. I shouldn't be bothering myself with inconsequential exhibition matches in Manchester when West Ham's season lies strewn in daft tatters. Currently they await news of whether points will be deducted as a result of fielding ineligible players, Argentinians Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano. Alan Curbishley is sanguine about it, claiming we have no points to deduct, which is an interesting argument. In West Ham's current position they may as well deduct unicorn tears or Fabergé eggs. I myself have adapted a similarly Zen and detached stance and have prepared myself for another season of Championship football.

My methods of consolation include:

1 There are some good clubs that may be in the Championship next season if they don't get promoted or relegated. It'll be nice to go to Loftus Road for QPR and Elland Road for Leeds if they don't go down, and to receive visits from Birmingham and Sunderland if they don't go up.

2 It is more competitive, with league positions not confirmed often until the final game of the season.

3 I might actually get to see West Ham win a few games.

There was talk to the effect that if a verdict can't be reached on West Ham's points deduction before the season ends that the penalty will be carried over until the next time they're promoted - an irksome prospect but currently irrelevant. First they must be promoted and is Alan Curbishley the right man for that challenge? Hunter Davies wrote in these pages on Thursday of the characteristics required to be a great manager and in his view they need to be a bit barmy. He cited Roy Keane as an example of a good manager in waiting because of Sunderland's change in fortune this season and because of Roy's apparent air of psychopathic menace. I find it impossible to predict which players will be good coaches.

Who would have thought that dear Sir Trevor Brooking would be possessed of such venom when he took the reigns at the Boleyn for the close of the 2003 season? Seeing him pumping his fist and bellowing on the touchline unnerved me. We've always known him to be such a gent, to witness him all charged and furious was disconcerting; like when my geography teacher, the usually gentle Mr Eckley, would topple into red-faced rage and pepper his rants with spittle. I'd just stand silent in the angry saliva shower and monitor the little bit of escaping wee-wee as best I could.

Perhaps that's what I should have inappropriately issued to the slumbering Becks, a request that he eschew his LA Galaxy payday, and get back to his roots and claim his birthright as West Ham's chief. Who could know or dare to dream what uncharted depths of management skill lurk beneath his immaculately tanned facade? What cleft, disrupted dressing room could fail to be inspired by the spectacle of an incandescent Beckham yapping shrill damnations and commands whilst nimbly flicking boots into the craniums of dissenters? The solution to all West Ham's curses lay sleeping next to me in Manchester, whilst I did naught but glut myself like a chimp on cashew nuts and hotel porn.

Guardian column


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