Monday, 30 April 2007

Racing Certainties?

According to a story on the Sky Sports website West Ham have joined the race to sign Racing Santander's highly-rated defensive duo Ruben Gonzalez and Ezequiel Garay. Our Spanish feeder club, who have already provided us with the services of Yossi Benayoun, currently sit eighth in La Liga and both players have played a major role in that success. The Hammers dispatched a scout to El Sardinero at the weekend to watch Racing's clash with Deportivo La Coruna and Spanish sources say Garay and Ruben were the reason behind the visit. The article states we are not the only club to have shown an interest, with Manchester United, Tottenham, Everton and Bolton having all watched the pair in recent months. A Racing spokesman admitted: "It is certain that many scouts from the Premier League have been watching our games this year, but as of today we have not received any offer for the players."

In other news, Paul Jewell has accused the Premier League of "bottling it" when it came to punishing West Ham United over the Carlos Tevez case. In the story in The Guardian, the Wigan boss said a "precedent" had been set whereby clubs can now expect financial censure rather than a points deduction for the fielding of ineligible players, and claims a Premier League "insider" pleaded with officials at Wigan to beat West Ham on Saturday because of the unsuitable nature of the punishment. He broadened the subject by mentioning "other London clubs quite high up the league," who may use third- party agreements to sign players. Jewell said football's authorities are "frightened of what they might find" if they delve too deeply into certain clubs' practices.

The Daily Express suggest he could be thinking of Brazilian defender Alex, alleged to be a Chelsea player, who is playing for PSV Eindhoven and appeared against the Londoners in the Champions League. The Blues deny they hold Alex’s registration but do say they have first option to buy. In the same article, Jewell says he felt something was strange when League Two club Accrington Stanley played two ineligible players but were fined only £12,000 by the Football League less than a month ago. "I did smell a rat when Accrington Stanley got fined to be perfectly honest,” said Jewell. "Bury got kicked out of the FA Cup for fielding an ineligible player and when it came to fruition that West Ham might have done a similar thing, they might have got their heads together and said, ‘Listen, don’t take points off Accrington Stanley, you’d better fine them."

Still with Wigan and chairman Dave Whelan has 'jokingly' threatened the Premier League with a legal headache if Wigan go down instead of West Ham. In a piece in the Manchester Evening News it is suggested Whelen could end up in a legal battle with the Premier League fighting for reinstatement of his club, plus financial compensation should his club go down and West Ham stay up. Fulham are also believed to have sought legal advice on the matter in what is becoming an increasingly fractious situation. Across the Pennines, and Sheffield United manager Ted Warnock has broken his silence on the Premier League's decision not to dock points from relegation rivals West Ham United. The Yorkshire Post carries an outspoken attack in which Warnock accuses those running the English game of both favouritism and double standards. "If it had been Sheffield United, Watford or Wigan – I think there would have been points deducted," he said. "Everybody knows that. And I think they (the Premier League) have set a rod for their own back. You can basically do what you want now and not get any points deducted."

Finally, there is a heart-warming story in the Daily Mail that claims the club are set to withhold more than £1million in payments to former chairman Terry Brown and withdraw his eight complimentary seats at Upton Park as they seek some redress after being fined £5.5m by the Premier League. Chairman Eggert Magnusson will consult major investor and club life honorary president Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson this week before deciding whether to go after Brown, who was club chairman when the deals were made, for some of the fine imposed. As part of the takeover, it was agreed Brown should be paid a salary of £600,000 per year for the next two years and given prime seats at Upton Park. It seemed likely today, though, that Magnusson, who is increasingly keen to distance him from the previous regime and holds the former chairman largely responsible for the problems with the deals, would withhold those payments.

Sunday, 29 April 2007

Claret And Blue, Through And Through

Amid the hysteria of the inquest and the victory at Wigan, the following excellent article about Mark Noble was originally missed. I'm reproducing it here as I can't find the original link.

Mark Noble: claret and blue, through and through
By Jason Burt

The boy from Beckton was wanted by Arsène Wenger as a schoolboy but decided to play for West Ham, the club he supports. The classic local boy made good tells Jason Burt why he believes the Hammers will stay up.

I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles...

Saturday 3 May 2003. Upton Park. The tension is exhausting. Exhilarating. But somehow Paolo Di Canio scores. He tears off his shirt, skids towards the corner flag, fists shaking like a maniac. The 35-year-old Italian has not played for almost three months, but he has beaten Chelsea. He has also given West Ham an improbable chance of avoiding relegation.

Mark Noble was there. In the stands, singing "Bubbles" as if his life depended on it. Next to him was his father, also Mark. Noble, then just 15, was a West Ham apprentice, and dreaming of emulating his hero Joe Cole, who played that day. "Hasselbaink hit the post late on," Noble recalls. "Chelsea were firing on all cylinders but it just wouldn't go in for them. It's the game that sticks in my mind."

Memories come thick and fast for a young man steeped in West Ham. Memories from when he was nine years old, just turning 10. Memories of his father leaving work at Rainham Steel, where he did the lagging, and driving his son, every evening after school, up to north London and up to Highbury. Arsenal, and Arsène Wenger, wanted young Mark. But he wasn't so sure. And not just because he was born in Canning Town, not just because he was West Ham.

"Heath Park, Barking Colts, Lake View," Noble laughs. They mattered more to him at that age. The teams he played for at the weekend, a young midfielder - "greedier than I am now," he says - winning trophies and helping his friends, his neighbourhood, the place where he was born and bred. But Arsenal, Millwall, the clubs that came calling, wanted him to stop playing for them, stop the Sunday league stuff and concentrate on the very real opportunity he had of a pro career.

"But my dad knew I loved it," Noble says. "He was a decent player himself, although maybe he didn't like to tackle! But it was with my friends. There was no pressure. It was enjoyable. Dad just said, 'You have the chance but I'm not going to make you. You play the football you want to play'."

So he did. Noble won trophies. He played at Wembley, he played at Stamford Bridge. The teams he played for were good. Even his school - Royal Docks - did well. So his dad told the clubs the same thing. "He ain't going to play unless he also plays for his school." Except by then it was West Ham who were asking him to stop. Even so the schoolboy remained determined. "Your school is part of how you grow up," Noble says. "How could I say: 'Oh, I'm not allowed to play any more?' It's not right. My school days were fantastic. I loved having the teacher come in during the lesson, on an afternoon, and say: 'Can he be excused, we've got a match to play?' I couldn't let my mates down. But from 15 onwards it was just West Ham."

Pretty Bubbles In The Air...

It's another Sunday morning. This time Noble is in West Ham colours: claret and blue. His father is watching. "And you could hear the other dads hollering," Noble recalls. "But he just stood in the corner. By himself. Afterwards, in the car, sometimes he'd say something. But it was always encouraging. I really respected that."

Noble's career was moving on apace. West Ham were serious about him. For a young boy who went to school each September with a new West Ham kit, a new West Ham lunchbox, a new West Ham flask it was unbelievable. And then Glenn Roeder, the manager, invited Noble to train with the first team. "I remember the day," he says. "I stepped out. Stepped out on to the gym here, where we are talking now, and John Moncur was there. Joey Cole was there. Trevor Sinclair. Di Canio. It was just unbelievable.

"What a credit to Glenn. I think he saw potential in me and wanted to involve me. I really, really enjoyed it. It was amazing because when you are in that kind of situation you resort to instinct. I was there for just a week and I was doing things in training that I didn't know I could do."

There is another, vivid memory from that time. "It snowed every day I was there," Noble remembers. "And one day we had this big snowball fight just outside. All the first team were involved. I was about two-foot nothing at the time but they included me. It was amazing."

It was, also, amazingly good. West Ham played the game correctly. "Ball on the floor," Noble repeats like a mantra. "Practise your skills, your touch, your passing. That's how every kid here is taught to play. It's still the same. Touch, pass, touch, pass. It's the way it will always be at West Ham. It's the foundation of the club and it's not for nothing that it's called the academy of football. It's a credit to the club and to the area. So many have gone on to play for England and this is a club where if you are good enough you get your chance."

They Fly So High, Nearly Reach The Sky...

Noble's chance came on 24 August 2004. The year after West Ham had gone down. Di Canio's goal had not been enough. Cole went, Defoe went, Kanouté and Di Canio. They all went. The guts, the flair, the names. All gone. West Ham, struggling in the Championship, drew Southend in the League Cup. Noble, then 17, was thrown on as a substitute. West Ham won 2-0. "My girlfriend came and watched me but my mum and dad were on holiday in Cyprus. They had no idea I was going to play but I think I did OK." Afterwards Noble stepped outside the ground in his smart suit to meet his girlfriend. Nothing happened. So they walked back to his parents' house in Beckton, without anyone noticing.

Noble had to wait almost five months for his next appearance. Still West Ham struggled but, in the FA Cup, they beat Premiership Norwich City 1-0. Noble started. And starred. He walked home again but suddenly it wasn't so easy to be anonymous. "I was starting to get noticed," he laughs. "So I had to stop doing it after that. It was a shame because I just lived five minutes round the corner, so why shouldn't I walk home?" By now he was starting to get close to the first team in the games that really mattered, and then suddenly Alan Pardew, who had succeeded Roeder, threw him in. "I played a big part in promotion," he says of the season 2004-05. "I had a great run." Noble played 13 games and West Ham crashed the play-offs. They reached the final and he was on for the last 30 minutes at the Millennium Stadium. "Unbelievable," mutters Noble again of that afternoon, that 1-0 win over Preston North End, at Cardiff. "Unbelievable."

Then Like My Dreams, They Fade And Die...

But the Premiership, once West Ham returned there, wasn't what Noble thought. "I never really got my chance," Noble says of that first year back last season. "And it knocked me a little bit." Eventually he did what he didn't want to do. He went on loan. First to Hull City and then to Ipswich Town. "For my own personal development it was the best thing for me," Noble recalls. "As much as I loved being here I needed first-team games. At Ipswich we went on a run of eight matches unbeaten and it was a great club to be at."

West Ham, too, were going well. "I played just four games for West Ham that season," he says. "And then I suffered an injury to my lower back. I was just finding my feet and my season was over." Just as it appeared that West Ham had found their feet, the rug was pulled from under them. Second-season syndrome struck. "It's baffling," Noble says. "Last season we came off the back of a promotion. You saw it with us and with Wigan and, maybe, this year with Reading. The adrenalin and the confidence pulls you through, but it has to peter out at some stage. A lot of teams go through this. Ipswich did it. Fifth one year and relegated the next. But we want to avoid that fate, and I really believe we can get out of it. I really, really do."

It was while at Ipswich that Noble heard about the arrival of Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano. "I came in from training and the boys said something and I just replied, 'You're having a laugh.' But he [Tevez] has been a real credit. He wasn't getting in too much at first and wasn't scoring but now we are seeing his full potential. His football means everything to him. As it does for me. He wants to train all the time, he wants to be better and he's showing that now. He has a soft spot for the fans because they love him as well. He wants to stay up and hopefully if we can do it we can keep him as well."

Fortune's Always Hiding, I've Looked Everywhere...

It's Sunday 4 March 2007. Noble has returned to West Ham but, apart from the FA Cup tie against Brighton, hasn't played. He's been told by Alan Curbishley, who took over when Pardew was sacked in December, that the team needs "more experience". He's talented but too young for the dogfight. "I understood what he said. But of course I just wanted to play," Noble recalls. But then West Ham, having spent £19m in the January transfer window, were humiliated 4-0 by Pardew's new team, Charlton Athletic. "Everyone was thinking, 'That's it now. It's all over'," Noble says.

The next game was Tottenham at home. Noble vowed, when he returned from Ipswich, that he wouldn't go out on loan again. He would fight for his place. "And maybe, after Charlton, the gaffer just thought 'I'll put him in'." After 16 minutes Noble scored. "It was a dream come true," he says. Then Tevez scored but in the end Spurs prevailed 4-3 and there were tears, very public tears, from Noble as he left the pitch that day. It was all too much. "Obviously that's been highlighted," he says. "But I didn't know what else to do. I just wanted to win so badly that nothing else mattered. No, I wasn't embarrassed. I couldn't help what happened."

But then West Ham beat Blackburn. And Middlesbrough. And then, unbelievably, Arsenal. For the first time at the Emirates Stadium. Tevez was the catalyst but so, too, was Noble. The boy from Beckton. "The lads come from all different backgrounds," he says of his team-mates. "It's just that I play for the team I supported. It's a little strange. I lived five minutes from the ground and there are people I used to go to school with, used to hang around the streets and get into mischief with. All my good friends are from that way."

Then Sheffield United beat West Ham and the Great Escape, Part Two, appeared over. But Everton were beaten and now, today, it's Wigan Athletic away followed by Bolton Wanderers and, on the final day of the League season, Manchester United. Noble, for one, still believes. "I thrive on it - I love it," he says, and his gaze is unflinching. "I've told the manager one thing: I want to play every minute of every game." At Upton Park, in recent games, the atmosphere has been unforgettable. The memories, once more, are coming thick and fast. "It's scary," Noble says. "There's a great noise, a great occasion, with every game. We feel that confidence. It's crunch time, we know, and we know that the only thing that will keep us in this League are points. The performances don't matter. But the bigger the crowd, the better it is. It gives you the edge, the energy, that extra bit of speed.

"It makes you do things you didn't realise you could do. And when that West Ham crowd sings 'Bubbles', when they switch that music off as we kick off, and you hear 35,000 people and one voice all singing the same song. It just makes me shiver."

...I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles, Pretty Bubbles In The Air. United, United, United.

Saturday, 28 April 2007

Wigan Athletic 0 West Ham United 3

Tevez Has Hammers Feeling just Fine by Ian Whittell
Twenty-four hours that could prove to be the most important in the recent history of West Ham concluded at the JJB Stadium, where Alan Curbishley's team strolled to a victory that did not flatter them... The Observer
Hammers Turn Heat On Wigan by Andrew Longmore
Two results for West Ham in two days. First came the news that the club would not be docked points for the irregularities in the transfers of Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano last summer; then a welcome victory... Sunday Times
Tevez Lifts Maelstrom For hopeful Hammers by Guy Hodgson
Reprieves are coming for West Ham on a daily basis. On Friday they escaped a points deduction and yesterday they loosened the tentacles pulling them out of the Premiership. They have a realistic chance now of avoiding relegation... Independent on Sunday
Tevez Makes His Point In Tormenting Wigan by Simon Hart
No points deducted for breaching player ownership rules and now three precious points accumulated in the battle to beat the drop. West Ham yesterday grabbed the lifeline extended to them by the Premier League disciplinary commission... Sunday Telegraph
Tevez Leads The Uprising by Joe Bernstein
West Ham's relegation rivals may consider it daylight robbery that the club have escaped a points deduction but you cannot fault their players’ efforts for trying to stay in the Premiership on merit... Mail on Sunday
Inquiry Let-Off Galvanises Hammers by Michael Walker
West Ham United had 5,000 followers here on Saturday but there was no need for them to be fed loaves and fish: they had their miracle already. Or a carvery, some might say... The Guardian
Jewell: They 'Bottled It Over Tevez' by Kaveh Solhekol
West Ham United fans have a dream. In two weeks they will follow their team to Old Trafford and watch Carlos Tévez and his teammates beat Manchester United. West Ham will stay up, Wigan Athletic, Charlton Athletic and Watford will go down and the East End of London will rejoice... The Times
Jewell Leads Wigan's Chorus Of Discontent Over Hammer 'Let-Off' By James Corrigan
"They bottled it," was Paul Jewell's blunt assessment, although he was referring not to Wigan's tame submission to their relegation rivals, but to the Premier League's altogether more meeker lie-down over the Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano affair... The Independent
Jewell Resorts To Theories As Tactics Fail by Martin Smith
If Paul Jewell is to be believed, Wigan collapsed against West Ham under sheer weight of expectation: not only from their own supporters, but from the mandarins within the Premier League... The Telegraph

Inquest Aftermath

The over-worked media factory has been running red-hot overnight, belching out great noxious plumes of West Ham related stories. The Times leads with the banner headline: 'West Ham Deceived Premier League To Sign Argentinians'. The article states West Ham United were so desperate to sign Carlos Tévez and Javier Mascherano that they lied to the FA Premier League to cover up contracts agreed with the Argentina players. The panel said that Paul Aldridge, the former West Ham managing director, had lied to Richard Scudamore when the Premier League chief executive had queried how they had managed to secure the players so cheaply and whether there were any documents that he had not seen. Aldridge said “no”. This was not true because there was an agreement between West Ham and Kia Joorabchian, the businessman who owned the rights of the Argentina players. Messrs Brown, Aldridge and Scott Duxbury [then legal director] were anxious to complete the registration of these players by the deadline,” the panel said. “They knew that the only means by which they could acquire them would be by entering into third-party contracts. They were aware that the Premier League, in all probability, would not approve of such contracts. They determined to keep their existence from the Premier League. The chief executive [Aldridge], told Scudamore a direct lie, that there was no documentation in respect of the players that had not been seen,” the panel said.

Duxbury, now the deputy chief executive, was found to have misled the Premier League. He had telephoned the organisation a few days before the transfers took place to ask if there could be a break clause in the contracts of the players, who were owned by offshore companies. He was told no and advised as to the rules. Duxbury believed that he did not have to disclose the agreement with Joorabchian and advised Aldridge to say that all information needed to register the players had been provided. When it became apparent that the players were to sign, the Premier League asked Duxbury if there was a third-party agreement in place. They claim that he said “no”. He denies giving an answer. “Jim Sturman [West Ham QC] submits that all Duxbury is guilty of is an error in judgment. We do not for one moment accept those propositions,” the panel said.

Eggert Magnússon’s eyes will water as he ponders the size of the cheque that will soon be added to the FA Premier League’s charity fund. But, for once, things could have been worse. In the opinion of Kevin Eason, the verdict given yesterday should be viewed as a godsend by the Irons chairman. By not suffering a points deduction, West Ham retain a chance, however slender, of remaining in a league that will be drowning in money next season. You can read about the financial implications of the decision here and also in a related article about the '£40 million Premiership lifeline'.

According to Matt Scott in The Guardian, West Ham are looking to sue the old regime over the fine. At an internal meeting last night the club were exploring their legal options with a view to going after the club's former chairman Terry Brown, who picked up more than £30m for the sale of his 36.6% equity in the club. Elsewhere there have been rumblings about the incongruous nature of the punishment in relation to the severity of the crime. There is an emotive two-page article by David Bond in the Telegraph that claims 'No Justice If Tevez Keeps West Ham Up'. The piece ponders that if it is Tevez who scores the goals, starting at Wigan this afternoon, which keep the club up, then it would be rough justice for West Ham's rivals who, after reading yesterday's 26-page report by Premier League disciplinary commission chairman Simon Bourne-Arton, QC, must wonder what you have to do to get docked points.

One man who will have no such concerns is Carlos Tevez himself. In an exclusive in The Sun, the Argentine striker insists his conscience is clear over the legal furore. "I don’t feel guilty because I have always acted in good faith," claims Tevez. "The fans know that and that is why they love me. Ever since I have been at West Ham I have only ever worried about playing as well as I can and giving my best to the team. It is a complicated situation but I am sure these problems and the team’s bad position in the table were not caused my myself and Javier Mascherano. Right now I just want to put my mind to the match against Wigan." Also in the paper is a rant by Harry Redknapp, who claims to be 'staggered by the Argie blunder'. It's a grimly amusing read when you remember the Manny Omoyinmi fiasco and Harry claims to be hugely relieved that the fans have not been punished for an administrative cock-up.

In the Mirror there is a piece that poses the question: Can you think of a topflight side that has had a worse season? It would be difficult. What follows is a sobering account of the nightmare journey from '90 seconds from FA Cup glory to 90 minutes to save season'. In a similar vein, the Paul Hayward column in the Daily Mail begins: "Boy, have I got a book for you. It’s a thriller, a weepy, a comedy, a confessional, a whodunnit and a morality tale with a beginning, a muddle and a spectacular end." The beauty of this project, our author explains, is that the action is compressed into a perfect 12-month frame, starting with a road-trip to Cardiff and finishing maybe with a journey down the plughole.

It's Not Natural, But By Jingoism I Love Chelsea

It's entering the realm of the forbidden, I know, but I really do want Chelsea to win in Europe
By Russell Brand

I don't know if I ought to admit this, it seems to be a taboo on a par with snogging pets; which I would never admit to - no, that love will never dare speak its name - probably because "that love's" got a gob full of Winalot to ensnare a randy Scottie dog. Just to clarify, I don't snog my pet or anyone else's and that's why I'd never admit to it, I just wanted to raise the notion of the forbidden, and in so doing have probably placed my relationship with my cat, Morrissey, in jeopardy.

I dare say some people on reading what I'm about to render would prefer I, nightly, dressed Morrissey in little cat suspenders and stilettos and emptied myself of the burden of my masculinity into his perfect fizzog - such is the profundity of my forthcoming admission. So, here it is: When English teams play in Europe, even Chelsea, I don't want them to lose. Actually, I want them to win, in spite of the fact as a West Ham fan (I know I mention this every week but one must cater for the uninitiated, though we can perhaps safely assume that an unsuspecting reader, happening upon this column for the first time would unlikely have got past the earlier, revolting depiction of feline fellatio) at every home game, in all but one of which Chelsea are absent, I am obliged to invite them through song to "stick their blue flag up their arse".

Now, Chelsea play Liverpool in their semi-final (I know that's obvious but again, assume ignorance) and you might imagine that my personal allegiances would lead me to favour a victory for the Reds, and typically they would but I rather like the idea of an epic Manchester United v Chelsea triptych as the finale to the season. Plus, whilst I'm making ill-judged confessions, I like Jose Mourinho. I like his arrogance, his intellect, his determination and, yes, I think he's handsome. This is not to the detriment of my love of West Ham - two crossed Irons is the only tattoo I'd consider having - but when it comes to European competition I like to see English sides do well, Scottish an' all; I was sorry to see Celtic go out to Milan, who I hope lose to United on Wednesday giving us an all-English final.

My patriotism has been enhanced by my current period of prolonged absence; I'm in Hawaii making a film and shall be here for two months. I think army recruitment officials oughtn't focus on depressed British towns but instead our preferred holiday destinations because I'm usually quite an anti-establishment type of fella but out here I weep at any mention of the Albion and would happily kill a man for a slur on Princess Anne, let alone Her Majesty. God forbid anyone should utter a negative word about dear Di - I'd carve the lyrics of Rule Britannia into their chops with a sharpened pineapple.

I suppose the logic of my position (on football not the aforementioned hypothetical Royalist revenge beatings) is that if English football is proven to be the best in Europe West Ham's current position is somehow more tenable - "why, if they were in Serie A they'd be cleaning up." The charges they're facing wouldn't look out of place in the corrupt Italian league of last season. Poor ol' West Ham, who'd've thought the first pair of corporately owned, brokered-in-a-deal by a prospective new-chairman-superstar, South Americans they purchased would have led to such trouble? By the time you read this a decision will have been reached on the Hammers' punishment, I hope it was financial rather than a points deduction, let's get relegated on our own "merit".

I personally think the way the season has panned out is punishment enough - Pardew's gone, we're going down and Mascherano has cleared off to Anfield to immediately and predictably become brilliant, what a fiasco. So surely I'm entitled to a modicum of guilty, patriotic pride when English teams triumph abroad? Please, your Honour? Why, there's not a Uefa-appointed, three-man panel on earth that would convict me.

Guardian column

Friday, 27 April 2007

Carry On Regardless

If West Ham lose at the JJB Stadium tomorrow afternoon there will be no excuses. Manager Alan Curbishley has refused to allow his plans for tomorrow's vital fixture at Wigan to be affected by the Premier League's investigation into the transfers of Javier Mascherano and Carlos Tevez. With the Hammers having been in the dock for the last two days Curbishley's plans could have been blown apart had the League decided to dock points- a scenario that would have resulted in almost certain relegation. "At the moment, whatever comes out of the inquiry is irrelevant," he said. "It's secondary to what we've got to do this weekend. The timing of the inquiry is not ideal but perhaps it’s been done for the benefit of all the clubs around us, not just for West Ham. Who knows what thinking has gone into it. But they’ve been determined to have this inquiry and there is obviously something there they want to investigate. I’m not going to be distracted by that. The most important thing is to get the points we need." The message is clear; despite the plethora of off-field distractions the fight for survival must 'carry on regardless'.

It is not something lost on Nigel Reo-Coker. "The Wigan match will be another test of character and I am looking forward to it," he said. "Whatever happens tomorrow and for the rest of the season, this has been a really testing season but you know what? I would not have changed a minute of it. I've found out a lot about myself, the people around me and the game itself which will hold me in good stead for the future. I'm still only 22 but I've learned so much from this season and I'm still learning."

The players can do their cause a massive favour if they can get the win tomorrow, and the West Ham captain feels the supporters can play a huge part. At least the players know they will not be short of backing as they have paid the coach travel to the JJB for 5,100 fans. "The game will be similar to the one at Sheffield United but we need to do a lot better," said Reo-Coker. "I believe we will. I know we have more than 5,000 going up on the coaches but I am told we could have as many as 8,000 fans up there which will be great for us. People are calling this the £50million game because that is what it means to stay in the Premiership. All I know is this is the biggest game of our careers."

The Inquest Verdict

West Ham have been fined a record £5.5m after pleading guilty to breaching Premier League transfer rules when signing Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano. But, perhaps crucially for the Hammers' Premiership survival prospects, they have escaped a points deduction. The decision, made by an independent Premier League commission in London today, concerned a breach of Premier League rules U18 and B13. The former forbids clubs from signing players who are contracted to third parties that could "materially influence its policies or the performances of its teams"; while the latter stipulates that all clubs must act with "the utmost good faith" towards the Premier League.

When West Ham signed the Argentinian internationals from Brazilian club Corinthians last summer, the players were contracted to four offshore companies - a fact that, according to the commission, Hammers bosses deliberately concealed from league authorities. "[West Ham] knew that the only means by which they could acquire [the players] would be by entering into the third party contracts," said the commission. "Equally, they were aware that the FAPL, at the very least, may not - and in all probability would not - have approved of such contracts. They determined to keep their existence from the FAPL."

It is believed the contracts only came to light when Mascherano subsequently left West Ham to join Liverpool on loan last January. West Ham has itself changed hands in that time, of course, and it is probable that the punishment would have been more severe if the people responsible for the signings were still at the helm - the new owners cooperated fully with the inquiry and pleaded guilty to the charges.

The hearing report also warned West Ham that "the registration of Tevez can be terminated." Accordingly, Tevez would not be allowed to play again for the club until it was proven that a new, legitimate arrangement has been made that prohibits any influence by third parties. That issue has at least been resolved. An official response on the West Ham website confirms that the Argentine striker is available for selection for the rest of the season, including tomorrow's game against Wigan Athletic. It reads: "The actual registration of Carlos Tevez has not been called into question and he remains a West Ham United player approved by the Premier League.

A statement from West Ham said the club had received a fair hearing. "The club regrets the fact that they fell foul of the FA Premier League regulations, but the new owners now want to focus on matters on the pitch and remaining in the Premiership," it read. "The threat of a points deduction has now been removed and the club's fate remains in its own hands. The club believes that promotion and relegation issues should be decided on the pitch and we are pleased that the commission agree with that view. The club will reflect on the financial penalty that has been imposed and will take advice before commenting on the possibility of an appeal or any further steps that might be taken."

Today's fine was the heaviest ever imposed by the Premeir League, far exceeding the £300,000 Chelsea were charged for tapping up Ashley Cole while he was still an Arsenal player. In fact, the monetary penalty is the biggest handed out in English football history, dwarfing the £1.5m fine Tottenham Hotspur received for financial irregularities in 1994.

Gordon Taylor, the PFA chief executive, said that West Ham escaped a points deduction because of their precarius position at the bottom of the Premiership: "If West Ham were in a comfortable mid-table position I think there would have been points deducted as a deterrent for the future. But I think with a relegation battle blowing up it's fair justice and something West Ham will be relieved about - particularly if they stay up. Fans of other clubs may not be happy with the verdict but if you need to stay in a division because another club has been deducted points it's not the sporting ethos you would want."

A personal statement from Eggert Magnusson reads: "I would first like to express my relief that this matter is now over. This has been a difficult time for West Ham United but we can now look forward and focus entirely on the remainder of our season. I am delighted that our destiny will be decided on the football pitch, which I believe is only right. We can now look forward to the final three matches of the season without this cloud hanging over us, and I am sure that will be a positive factor as Alan Curbishley and the players prepare for a vital match against Wigan Athletic tomorrow. I would once again like to thank our supporters for their loyal support during this difficult time, and I can assure them that everyone here is fully committed to the aim of retaining our Premiership status in the coming weeks."

Further reading: The Premier League Hearing (in full); Timeline: How the Tevez/Mascherano signing ended in tears

The Inquest Concludes

West Ham United are likely to be found guilty and fined when an FA Premier League inquiry announces its verdict today on charges that they acted improperly and withheld vital documentation in the transfers of Carlos Tévez and Javier Mascherano. Gary Jacobs in The Times says the club vigorously defended charges during a hearing in London that lasted just a few hours yesterday and are now likely to escape a points deduction. The Daily Mail are in agreement and predict West Ham will be 'let off the hook' with a substantial fine when the independent Premier League commission reconvenes. The article suggests that the commission members are likely to consider a points deduction too harsh, but also the expected punishment is sure to cause outrage at other clubs, who would regard it as too lenient. Paul Jewell, boss of the relegation-threatened Wigan side who meet the Hammers on Saturday, said: "Whoever is doing the inquiry will be desperate for us to beat West Ham. It should have been dealt with a long time ago to give everyone a fair crack of the whip. That would have given West Ham an opportunity to deal with it, if they had lost points. Now it’s come to the stage of the season where it seems crazy to have to make a decision."

While Paul Jewell bemoans the timing of the case, Alan Curbishley insists he harbours no grudge against Wigan for urging the Premier League to dock West Ham points if the club were found to have broken rules in their signing of Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano. When the inquiry into the Premier League charges began in February, Wigan chairman Dave Whelan said: "If anyone has broken the rules they should have points deducted." In today's Telegraph, the West Ham boss states: "I think that is normal. Anybody involved in the relegation battle will be looking at anything and Wigan have voiced their opinion on it. If the boot was on the other foot, we would probably be doing the same. For us the most important thing is to get the points we need and worry about what decision is made later." Whether that is a circumspect piece of diplomacy ahead of tomorrow's crucial game is unclear. What is apparent is that Alan Pardew would not want to see his former club relegated by today's verdict of the three-man panel. "I think, all things considered, it is best if the football decides," Pardew said. "On the pitch is where it matters, so it will be absolutely fine with me if it is the status quo after the hearing."

In a further twist to the trial, The Guardian reveals that Paul Aldridge, West Ham United's former managing director who oversaw the transfers of the Argentinians to Upton Park, has not been called to give evidence to the Premier League disciplinary panel. Aldridge left West Ham after the takeover by the Icelanders Eggert Magnusson and Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson this season but he made himself available to the disciplinary committee and admits he is puzzled why his personal testimony is not wanted. "I've had written correspondence with the Premier League but I don't know if it's been heard," he said yesterday. "I have made myself available but no one's asked me [to attend]. I would like to be there to argue any case against me. I suppose they might think that [the deputy chief executive] Scott Duxbury was and is the legal view at the club and they can rely on that. But there is a charge that the club was acting in bad faith and I would have thought that my testimony might seem useful. We took a lot of legal advice at the time and we were very comfortable with the position."

Thursday, 26 April 2007

The Inquest Adjourns

West Ham's hearing regarding charges relating to the signings of Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano has been adjourned until Friday. Representatives from the club, including chairman Eggert Magnusson, and from the Premier League attended the hearing in London on Thursday.The hearing broke up around lunchtime but proceedings are expected to be concluded on Friday.

Meanwhile, the squad's one club assault on the country's judicial system is continuing unabated. According to local media sources, West Ham footballer Matthew Etherington has been fined £2,000 and banned from driving for a year for drink driving. Etherington, 25, pleaded guilty to the charge at Harlow Magistrates' Court yesterday. He was caught at the wheel of his Land Rover in Harlow and found to be just 2mg over the legal alcohol limit, the court heard. The midfielder was due to go to trial at the magistrates' court but admitted the offence at the last minute.

Prosecutor Charlotte Davison said: "At 1am on August 25 last year, Mr Etherington was seen driving in Harlow towards Church Langley. He was stopped by police who carried out a breath test. It was positive and he was taken to Harlow Police Station. Blood analysis revealed 82mg of alcohol in 100ml of blood. The legal limit is 80."

Stuart Cooper, defending, said the Premiership star had not known he would be over the limit when he got behind the wheel. He said: "He had been at a friend's house, for a lads' night in, and he had had a few beers and was returning home. He felt fine, he didn't think he was over the limit. As far as he was concerned he was safe to drive and he was not breaking the law. There was no suggestion that the quality of his driving was impaired, he was not showing signs of intoxication. The officer simply said he could smell intoxicating liquor on him."

Mr Cooper said Etherington, who has battled a gambling addiction, had initially taken advice not to admit the crime, which was why his guilty plea was at such a late stage. Etherington, who was smartly dressed in a grey suit and yellow shirt, spoke only to confirm his name, address and date of birth at the hearing. He was banned from driving for 12 months, but told he could reduce the penalty by three months if he attended a drink-drive course. He was also fined £2,000 and told to pay £400 court costs.

The Inquest Begins

The club will begin their defence of charges that they acted improperly and withheld vital documentation in the transfers of Carlos Tévez and Javier Mascherano when an FA Premier League inquiry begins today. If West Ham are found guilty, they could be handed a fine and points deduction when the hearing ends tomorrow. As Martin Smith in the Telegraph observes, if the independent disciplinary commission do their worst then the coach transporting the team might as well sail past Wigan's JJB Stadium on Saturday and keep going until it reaches Scunthorpe, Burnley or some other Championship destination. The strides the club have made on the pitch in the last five weeks could turn out to be like ascending a downward escalator: they could effectively be relegated by kick-off this weekend.

The Premier League has two main grievances. The first is they are unhappy that the agreement with Kia Joorabchian allowed for the possibility that he could affect club policy and team performance, something which is strongly contested by West Ham. The Premier League rule U18 states "no club shall enter into a contract which enables any other party to that contract to acquire the ability materially to influence its policies and/or the performance of its team". The club will argue that Joorabchian did not influence whether the players were selected to play. More serious, perhaps, is that the club told the Premier League that they had provided all the relevant documentation when the signings took place on the final day of the transfer window in August. This claim turned out not to be true. The Premier League has appointed a three-man panel to investigate. It will be chaired by Simon Bourne-Arton, QC, and consists of Lord Herman Ouseley, the chairman of Let’s Kick Racism Out of Football and a former executive chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, and David Dent, a former secretary of the Football League. West Ham have appointed Jim Sturman, QC, who specialises in criminal and sports law, to argue their case.

West Ham have already indicated that they will appeal if found guilty and are deducted points, claiming that the rules had been broken by the previous owners. In any appeal, Eggert Magnússon would highlight a previous case in 1994, when Tottenham Hotspur were deducted points for making illegal payments to their players. Sir Alan Sugar, the chairman at White Hart Lane at the time, successfully challenged the FA ruling by stating that the board could not be held responsible for the actions of a previous administration. According to the Mail, a fine in the region of £300,000 is still the likeliest outcome. If this is upheld the club will try to recover the money from former chairman Terry Brown, who negotiated the transfer details.

The same newspaper also has a story about Carlos Tevez's outburst on Argentinian television last night. The article picks up on the quotes aimed at critics who have attributed the arrival of the two South Americans as a major factor in United's demise this season. Tevez said: "The people who have blamed me and Mascherano for everything do not understand football. These problems have never been caused by us either because of the transfer or the problems on the pitch. Javier and I are not to blame. Anyone who says that is wrong. I care for this club and have only ever done everything I can as a player and as a person to help West Ham this season." Naturally, the article neglects the additional quotes that are of more direct interest to the club's fans. In response to a question about his immediate future, Tevez replied: "It is impossible to speak about it now as it all depends on the club and the table. But if West Ham stay in the Premier League, I want to stay."

In other news, the Mirror claim Watford have targeted reserve keeper Jimmy Walker as their first-choice replacement for Manchester United-bound Ben Foster. England international Foster will return to Old Trafford once his season-long loan expires and Aidy Boothroyd wants the experienced shot-stopper as his replacement. Of course, any deal will clearly depend on where Robert Green sees his future in the event of relegation and whether Roy Carroll can see anything clearly at all.

Sunday, 22 April 2007

West Ham United 1 Everton 0

Zamora Goal Gives Curbishley Reason To Smile by Jamie Jackson
Nervy, edgy, frantic and desperate. West Ham fans can hardly expect survival to come any other way. But the other ingredient evident here was a vital bravery... The Guardian
Zamora Keeps Implausible Dream Bubbling by Ronald Atkin
If not exactly bubbling, West Ham are at least still breathing, hoping to dodge the drop. A bellowed chorus of their anthem released the sell-out crowd's pent-up anxiety after six agonising minutes... Independent on Sunday
Zamora's Goal offers Reason To Believe by Clive White
West Ham are still breathing, still believing, which in the case of the former is quite remarkable since they had to survive six minutes of added-on time... Sunday Telegraph
Zamora Gives Hammers Hope by Patrick Collins
After spending months in the condemned cell, Alan Curbishley has suddenly acquired the confidence of a man who may have found a key. His natural caution remains, since everything could still go hopelessly wrong, but West Ham have somehow given themselves a chance of survival... Mail on Sunday
Curbishley Frets At Prospect Of Points Deduction by Jeremy Wilson
Nothing will be straightforward this season for West Ham United. Within minutes of recording a fourth win in six matches to retain hope of Premiership survival, Alan Curbishley found himself fielding questions about Thursday's Premier League disciplinary commission... The Guardian
West Ham Eye Escape Plan by Gary Jacob
A little more than a week ago, as they tiptoed from Bramall Lane bewildered and seemingly broken after a 3-0 defeat by Sheffield United, West Ham United were staring at another mission impossible... The Times
Curbishley gets Intense About Wigan by Evan Fanning
The Premier League inquiry into alleged irregularities surrounding the transfers of Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano from the Brazilian side Corinthians begins this week, and may yet be the deciding factor in West Ham United's future... The Independent
Doomsday Looms But Curbishley Stays Focused by Martin Smith
If the Premier League's independent disciplinary commission do their worst this week, the coach transporting the West Ham team might as well sail past Wigan's JJB Stadium on Saturday and keep going until it reaches Scunthorpe, Burnley or some other Championship destination... The Telegraph
Forget The Rest, Let's Beat The Best by Simon Cass
Delighted with another victory against a top-six side, West Ham boss Alan Curbishley admitted he urgently must find a solution to the quandary of why his side cannot produce a similarly professional performance against their fellow strugglers... The Mail

Saturday, 21 April 2007

Beware Of The Wrath Of The Man Bereft

A chin with a thin Kirk Douglas cleft
squad by the bleeding left
don't shout he's deaf
head over heels in love with death
beware of the wrath of the man bereft
no marriage plans for action man
Action Man from the Ou est La Maison de Fromage anthology (1978), John Cooper Clarke

Last week's excellent episode of The Sopranos dissolved out to the music of John Cooper Clarke. I have no reason to mention this save to say that it was a perfect symbiotic amalgam of the world's greatest television show and the world's finest punk poet. Sometimes in life things just fit together, like a hoary old footballer and a desperate need for media exposure. In today's Mirror there is an amusing 'exclusive' by Neil McLeman, with a headline that screams: 'No Way To Treat A Legend'. The 'legend' is Teddy Sheringham and the subject is a 1980s popstar-style career that is fading irrevocably to grey. "Sheringham is fast becoming more famous for being the very ex-beau of Big Brother bully Danielle Lloyd rather than one of the original stars of the Premiership Years," observes McLeman. "Love him or loathe as the archetypal modern footballer, it is not a way to end a career." Sheringham agrees. "I have been very frustrated," he complains. "I get paid to play football and that is all that I want to do. This manager doesn't like or respect the way I play football, I presume. I don't know that there is anything else that has happened that could have affected the situation - he hasn't told me."

In other news, Alan Curbishley has decided to clamp down on premature and over-exuberant goal celebrations. As the second lowest scorers in the Premiership this season you might imagine our collective inability to actually hit the back of the net might be the bigger concern, but not so. "When we score, everyone seems to get involved," Curbishley said. "Even the defenders seem to find themselves in the corner of the pitch. Chelsea were waiting to kick off and saying: ‘Let’s get on with it.’ If we score against Everton, I hope it might be a bit different. They say it is a vulnerable time when teams have scored. I’d like to think they have their minds on the next couple of minutes. Let’s eradicate it."

In the same article Curbishley has reiterated there is no 'agenda' behind team selection. Several players, including Yossi Benayoun, have expressed their dissatisfaction about not being included by the manager. The midfield player returned against Chelsea, but Marlon Harewood has not been in the squad for the past four matches and Paul Konchesky for five. "You can’t keep everyone happy," Curbishley said. "If the players who are left out expect to be on the bench, they need to give a thought about the manager’s problems. If people can’t get in the squad of 16, it’s up to them to get themselves back and one way is to be in people’s faces in training. That is the attitude that’s got to happen for those out of the side, and those in the side have got to stay there." Finally, the Irons manager predicts that Dean Ashton will not be leaving in the summer if we are relegated. "I don’t think we’re under undue pressure that others would be," he said.

Feeling Upbeat

The not-so-secret diary of Dean Ashton, aged 23 and three-quarters, has been updated today. There is quite a bit about his recovery and very little about anything else, which is probably indicative of where his priorities are at the moment.

Feeling upbeat about my second op
By Dean Ashton

I had a second operation on my ankle last month. It had to be done because I felt like I'd hit a brick wall in my recovery. For the last seven months I hoped that I might have been able to make it back in time for the end of the season, but I was having quite a bit of discomfort when I was running and I wasn’t able to push on and get myself back.

We had tried all the methods possible but something wasn’t right, so I went to see an ankle specialist and he said the best thing to do is go in with a camera and remove any scar tissue that was in there. They removed quite a lot, and I think that was the reason that my recovery had plateaued. The operation wasn’t as bad as when I first did it and I didn’t have a cast or anything, I just had to rest and put my feet up for two or three weeks while it healed. I was back on crutches during that time. It wasn’t ideal I've got to say, it was really hard work. But because I had got to a stage where I wasn’t making any progress I just saw it as something I had to do.

It was a lot easier to stay positive and keep myself busy this time around. It is not easy, I had done seven months out already and no-one likes to have an operation, but I feel as upbeat as I ever have. I am just going to work as hard as possible and get myself stronger and fitter than I was before. There are plenty of other players who have missed out this season as well; I'm not the only one. There's Michael Owen, Joe Cole, Jimmy Bullard, there are quite a few. It happens so I'm not going to let it get to me.

I am just about to start a new training program and it does feel a lot, lot better already. I did the two weeks of doing nothing, and now I am doing some swimming and generally getting movement going. I have also been up at Total Fitness in Manchester again; I found it beneficial last time so I've been there for some more intense treatment. I'm not too sure what I'm going to do next; perhaps some running in the hydrotherapy pool in the next couple of weeks. Then I can progress it on the exercise bike and cross trainer to see how it reacts.

My aim is to get running by the end of the season. The pressure is off in one sense because I know I am not coming back this season, so I don’t feel like I'm against the clock, but even so I want to get fit as soon as possible - the sooner the better. I am not going to just take my time for the sake of it. The idea is to get back ASAP, and then I can work as hard as I can to be ready for pre-season and the season itself.

I don’t really want to go into how the team are doing at the moment, but only for the reason that I haven’t been watching all the games in full, I've just been getting on with my work. I also don’t really have a firm opinion because I haven’t been around the place to know what's going on. I would love to get involved with the lads but unfortunately it just doesn't work like that when you're injured.

Brutal Laptop Reality Destroys My Island Fantasy

West Ham's impending relegation is only slightly more bearable from the other side of the world
By Russell Brand

Oh I get it, wait until I'm safely tucked up in my "Prison Paradise" Hawaii, and then have English football transform into the most thrilling, rewarding game on earth. Man United v Roma? 7-1? Oh come on, it's absurd. I'm on an island where I can't even get my thirsty, deprived little fists on English newspapers and enjoy the analysis, let alone actually watch matches, oh what I wouldn't give to have grimy, inky fingers from holding the prestigious pages you now grip - or the dear old Sun, I'd be happy with the Telegraph and Star for God's sake.

Instead of which, I am trapped amidst this tedious beauty reading about West Ham beating Arsenal at the Emirates on a laptop screen - the horror, the indignity, it's so un-English. Of course whilst abroad, I become so aware of my national identity as almost to become a poisonous racist or at least social shipwreck. I'm considering wearing a knotted hanky on my head and eating bangers and mash on the beach whilst rolling my eyes at the turtles and surfers.

If surfing had not been invented and I found myself in the ocean with a surfboard, which would exist without function in the parallel universe of my devising, I would after perhaps an hour's endeavour deem surfing to be utterly impossible and implausible. The bonkers fact that everyone here can do it seems to me a denial of the laws of physics - I might just as well design a sport that involves the practitioners wearing pig's-trotter goggles and playing billiards with their shins.

Perhaps this loopy event might cause me less arse-ache than following the team I'm chained to by heredity and geography. West Ham's brief, triumphant run collapsed after they'd done enough to inspire some dumb optimism in me, making a mockery of the practice that I'm sure a lot of belligerent football supporters undertake - particularly if they suddenly have time on their hands, stranded yards from the location where Lost is filmed - I've been studying the fixtures of my own team, Wigan, Charlton and Sheff United and calculating a points prognosis based on my results predictions.

Unfortunately this system is impeded by the idiotic bias of the practitioner. Using this device I swiftly deduced that Sheffield United and Wigan would be joining Watford for a Championship jaunt next season because I am incapable of excluding aspiration from the process. According to my system the Hammers will triumph at Bramall Lane and then hold Chelsea to a draw at Upton Park, securing four points from a possible six. Fine, except the relentless march of time and truth has brutally presented me with an unpalatable brace of thrashings from those encounters.

When poring over the fixtures I convince myself that I'm being objective and even now, after the fallibility of the system has been made painfully evident, I still find myself looking at forthcoming games and thinking "ooh, I think Everton at home should be three points" and "oh, I see Charlton and Sheffield United are playing each other - they'll hopefully field teams ridden with convicted sex offenders and face an automatic 20-point deduction leaving West Ham in the clear, wahoo!"

I suppose the inevitable relegation of West Ham will seem more bearable from the other side of Earth, just sad text messages from friends and internet-derived news. Not for me the doleful trudge down Green Street and agonising colour photos adorning glib red tops. I'll be witnessing the fall from a hammock drenched in delicious cliches.

I heard today that coconuts kill more people than crocodiles (than are killed by crocodiles, not 20 people a year and 17 crocodiles in the coconut league of death. I don't know the stats for crocodile deaths - I don't have that much free time). I shall have to keep my wits about me, I don't need the word "coconut" cropping up in my obituary . . . "Ballbag comedian killed by falling coconut whilst lamenting West Ham's relegation". Tragically I wouldn't be able to read my own obituary because you can't get the papers here. And I'd be dead.

Guardian column

Friday, 20 April 2007

What's The Frequency, Eggert?

"What's the frequency, Kenneth?" is your Benzedrine, uh-huh
I was brain-dead, locked out, numb, not up to speed
I thought I'd pegged you an idiot's dream
Tunnel vision from the outsider's screen
I never understood the frequency, uh-huh
You wore our expectations like an armored suit, uh-huh...
What's the Frequency Kenneth (1994), REM's Monster album
I have a theory, albeit not founded on much, that you can tell which players will still be here next season based solely on their level of interaction with the media. Whilst the majority of the squad, including the club captain, have kept their counsel as the doom clouds have gathered, a select few have refused to hide. In recent weeks there has been messages from the stoic Lucas Neill, the contemplative Robert Green and the passionate Mark Noble; all three I hope and expect to see in the claret & blue when August ushers in. We can now add to that list James Collins. In an article entitled 'Hammers Must Make Impact Quickly' the Daily Mail quotes the combative defender at considerable length. "The manager has said to us that we need to win three out of our last four games if we have any chance of staying up and it will be a tall order," concedes Collins. "We have got to believe we can do it, otherwise there is no point in playing. We have got to put the Chelsea defeat behind us because we have a massive game against Everton on Saturday. I know the result didn't show it against Chelsea, but if we go out and show the same kind of effort and commitment, I am sure we can get another win under our belts." I know he was culpable for one of the goals on Wednesday night but I do like James Collins. He's ginger, he's Welsh and he's liable to break into a rousing rendition of 'Men of Harlech' when the spears begin to fly... while Anton will look impassively on.

While James Collins continues to find favour, one man clearly out of form and seemingly on his way of the club is Marlon Harewood. In a separate article in the Daily Mail, Alan Curbishley has been at considerable pains to insist he has no agenda concerning his squad selections. "I’ve always said I don’t have an agenda here,” he said. “We’re in a position where whoever is in the team must get on with it. Whoever is substitute, whoever is brought off, whoever is left out is not important. We’re all in this together and we have to get our heads down and give it everything. Marlon didn’t play well at Blackburn so I changed it. Also in my thinking is that we are conceding too many goals from set-pieces and Kepa Blanco can be useful in our box in that respect." Of course, it doesn't really matter how often your manager says he has no 'agenda', not when Carlton Cole gets a place on the substitutes bench ahead of you. The message could not really be any clearer or louder or simpler.

Elsewhere, The Guardian reports that there will a police investigation into the Chelsea bus missile incident- not that it matters. We have been pissed on so much this season that it really ceases to have an effect any longer. As Seinfeld observed, once you're wet you're wet. The article states that the Metropolitan police are investigating the hurling of a missile at Chelsea's team coach as it approached Upton Park before Wednesday night's Premiership fixture against West Ham United. The object - not believed to be a brick (no, it was a bottle) - shattered the outer layer of glass on one of the coach windows. The Football Association will not be looking into the incident because it occurred outside Upton Park but police confirmed last night that they were pursuing the case. The Chelsea coach was travelling along Barking Road more than 90 minutes before the 8pm kick-off when the object was thrown despite the presence of a police escort. The Stamford Bridge club later confirmed that none of the players or staff on board had been hurt during the incident (how the hell did the flying glass miss Frank's arse?), the like of which is rarely seen in Britain. West Ham say they will cooperate fully with any police inquiries but, with no CCTV footage available (ouch, pity the poor bastard who picks up this case), an arrest for criminal damage seems unlikely.

Finally, not even a hastily painted Stipe stripe could throw the paps off the scent yesterday, as an elusive Eggert Magnusson was cornered by Sky Sports News for an interview he clearly didn't want to give. Staring implacably through the cathode rays he told the watching audience: "I still believe we can do it. I'm an optimist but it's getting serious now." Fair enough, I myself only started worrying about relegation around last October time. In response to a question about Alan Curbishley, Eggert insisted: "I've been impressed with him for many years and my impression since he's been at West Ham hasn't changed." Well, okay I'll buy that. I'm still with you Mr Magnusson sir. Finally, to a loaded question about some of the off-field antics of certain squad members, our Icelandic chairman unblinkingly replied: "They are all good players, I believe in them." It was at that point I knew one of us had lost it. What's the frequency, Eggert?

Thursday, 19 April 2007

Alan al-Sahaf

Alan Curbishley delivered a defiantly upbeat message this morning; one that flew so intractably in the face of overwhelming contradictory evidence it would have caused even Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf to wince. On the official site, our Cockney Minister of Information insisted: "We've got four games left and we've got to win three of them to get to 38 points and give ourselves a chance...Everton play here at Upton Park on Saturday and now we've got to the point where we've just get on with it out there on the pitch and try to give our supporters something to hold onto, once again. We fight on!" Give it up Al, the players have.

Also on the official site is Robert Green's astounding observation that Chelsea's strikers are actually quite good. "The first goal Wright-Philips struck early right into the bottom corner and the second one is an unbelievable finish from where he was," admitted the beleaguered keeper. "You're looking at the players you're playing against and the qualities they have. They've had probably ten chances to score in the game. You look at the forward line that they've got and the players they've got playing for them. We couldn't afford to give them too many chances."

As if the Chelsea forward line is not already impressive enough, it could be about to get even better. One unforeseen consequence of the game last night is that it may have hastened the departure of Carlos Tevez. The Premiership Rumour Mill believe the Argentinian could be set to make the move to west London, having scored the goal that united both Roman Abramovich and manager Jose Mourinho in their admiration. The article in the Daily Mail suggests both were also full of praise for Tevez's admirable work ethic as he refused to give up his side's cause in the 4-1 defeat. Chelsea have had a long-standing interest in the player but his five-star display last night has only heightened the desire to land him.

West Ham United 1 Chelsea 4

Wright-Phillips Stuns West Ham by Henry Winter
Like London buses, Chelsea fans had to wait two years for a Shaun Wright-Phillips goal in the Premiership, and then two came along at once at Upton Park last night. Wright-Phillips' classy brace lifted the champions to within three points of Manchester United, and condemned West Ham closer to relegation... The Telegraph
Lampard Takes Inspiration From Coach Attack by John Ley
Chelsea steamrollered West Ham into submission last night - but only after the team bus carrying the players was struck by a brick as it approached Upton Park. One window was cracked, but nobody was hurt. Later Frank Lampard, Chelsea's former West Ham midfielder, confirmed that the coach had been damaged... The Telegraph
Cruising Chelsea Hammer Out Four Title Warnings by Kevin McCarra
It was supposed to be a week that took Chelsea to the brink of collapse, but in the end this game was no more than a warm-down after the gruelling extra-time victory over Blackburn Rovers in the FA Cup... The Guardian
Time Running Out For Curbishley by Matt Dickinson
Chelsea have up to nine matches left this season and, with so much at stake, it is unlikely that any will be played out as peacefully as the last 25 minutes at Upton Park last night... The Times
Wright-Phillips In From The Cold To Keep Chelsea In Hot Pursuit by Sam Wallace
Life at Chelsea now dictates that there must be a new hero every match to keep their remarkable march on track and for Shaun Wright-Phillips that day could not come soon enough... The Independent
Rock Solid Chelsea
Chelsea shrugged off a hooligan attack on their team bus last night to keep the heat on Premiership leaders Manchester United. A brick was hurled through the window of their coach outside Upton Park but they went on to thrash West Ham 4-1 with the help of two goals by Shaun Wright-Phillips, cutting the gap at the top to three points... Daily Mail

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