Saturday, 7 April 2007

Relegation 2002-03

Nigel Winterburn's sobering recollections of the fateful relegation season of 2002-03.

West Ham United 2002-2003
Manager Glenn Roeder
Team included David James, Joe Cole, Frédéric Kanouté, Jermain Defoe, Michael Carrick, Paolo Di Canio

The atmosphere and the belief among the players in 2002-03 was first class. But the main problem was that we didn't win a home game until the end of January and when you get in such a poor run of results you find it very difficult to get out of. We had an absolutely fantastic team at the time - Paolo Di Canio, Fredi Kanouté, Joe Cole, Michael Carrick - and I still can't believe a team with players like those was relegated. Early in the season we were thinking, "well, there are still 20 or 30 games to go." You get past Christmas and say, "We're still only halfway through the season." But then reality set in.

We were battling away but couldn't get out of trouble and by the time we got everything together it was too late. When you start a season poorly and can't win at home - a lot of teams rely on their home form to stay up - you can feel the tension. The crowd are behind you for 20 minutes but if you don't get that first goal you feel the nervousness roll down from the terraces and it translates on to the pitch. Any mistakes by individual players and you can hear the moans and groans. When you're in poor form it affects the players even more and inevitably the away team scores and then you get that feeling of "here we go again, another home defeat."

We had a group of players who were not performing to their potential and the pressure began to mount. You feel the need to win three or four games on the bounce but it's very difficult to do that when you've only won two or three games all season. This West Ham team has given itself a slight chance but the way Charlton are going they would have to pull two other teams down into that battle. They're probably going to have to win another four or five games and I find it hard to think they can do that with some of the games they've got left. I think they will go down. I feel sorry for the supporters. They've got to come back and support their team, whereas a lot of players move on. That's what happened with the team I was in and it will happen again this time.

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