Saturday, 30 April 2011

Ba's Fighting Spirit

Here is a Demba Ba interview with Simon Hart from today's Independent. I'm reproducing it here for posterity...

Ba backs West Ham to find the fighting spirit needed to survive by Simon Hart

Had things worked out differently for Demba Ba, he might be preparing to face Manchester City in the FA Cup final at Wembley in a couple of weeks.

Instead, a failed medical at Stoke in January means the Senegal striker will be acquainted with Roberto Mancini's men tomorrow in the colours of a West Ham United side facing not just one but four "cup finals", to use the language of teams mired in the battle for Premier League survival.

Fortunately, Ba is not a man to get down on his luck. "Stoke made a decision and I respect it. West Ham made another decision and it was a good one for them, I think, and a good one for me," says the 25-year-old, who grew up in a family of 10 in the south-west suburbs of Paris.

Ba's philosophical stance befits an individual who survived a string of rejections as a teenager seeking his way in the game – first by Lyons and Auxerre in France, and then by Watford, Barnsley and Swansea City in this country. "I didn't doubt myself or think about not making it in football, it was more 'OK, this one is not the right one – let's take the next one'," he recalls.

His five months as an 18-year-old in Watford's academy help explain his excellent English – the London accent may also have something to do with his friendship with Carlton Cole – and it also taught him "about movement, about fighting spirit and about the English mentality. It helped me when I came to West Ham".

He certainly took little time in making an explosive impact there with four goals in his first four games though that also had something to do with lessons learned during the circuitous career path he took between leaving Vicarage Road and his eventual return to England.

Ba's fortunes began to turn during a week's trial with French fourth-tier side Rouen in 2005, when he was pushed up into attack. "I had been playing more in midfield – on the right or in the centre. The manager said, 'Look I think you have more quality to be a striker' and it worked."

After a year at Rouen, Ba, at 21, moved into the Belgian top flight with Excelsior Mouscron. Although he suffered a fractured tibia there, he recovered in time to hit seven goals in the final seven games of the campaign – earning himself a transfer to Hoffenheim in Germany. "People were thinking it wasn't the best move and on paper it might not have been, but when you see what happened it was the best move I could have made," says Ba, who played his part in the rags-to-riches rise of the expensively backed village team from south-west Germany, scoring 14 league goals as they won an historic first promotion to the Bundesliga in 2008-09.

At Hoffenheim he worked under Ralf Rangnick, now coach of Manchester United's Champions League semi-final opponents, Schalke. "I had a really good relationship with him; he's a good, honest person. What he did with Hoffenheim and what he's doing with Schalke at the moment is absolutely brilliant. I learned a lot about how to press. He had an unbelievable pressing technique; tactically he was very good." He learned something else in Germany – a Dutch friend passing on his love of darts. "I improved slowly. I am not doing 180 in every shot, I just like to enjoy it."

Ba left Hoffenheim in the same month as Rangnick, the collapse of his proposed £6m transfer to Stoke opening the door for West Ham to sign him in a deal whose cost is largely dependent on appearances.

Not surprisingly Ba is eager to play down the severity of the much-reported problem with his left knee – a problem, he says, which dates back to the surgery he underwent in Belgium on his fractured tibia.

"That is when the problem started but I can handle it. I handled it the whole time I was in Germany and here as well. Every player has some little injury and keeps on playing with it their whole career and it is the same for me. It is not really an injury because when you're injured you don't play and if you look at the fixtures this year I've played 30 [club games]."

He may have lost his darts en route to London but he brought his scoring touch. At 6ft 2in and with the strength to shield the ball and two good feet, he appears well suited to English football. He struck twice on his full debut to help West Ham claw back a three-goal half-time deficit in a 3-3 draw at West Bromwich.

The catalyst for that comeback was Scott Parker's stirring half-time speech. "It was the speech of a captain," he says of the Football Writers' Player of the Year. "He mobilised every player – 'wake up and go outside and play'. We went out with another mentality that we needed."

They will need that mentality in their remaining four matches. Ba offers an emphatic "yes" when asked if the bottom-placed Londoners have the belief to stay up, despite a run of four straight losses. Looking ahead to tomorrow's visit to Eastlands, he draws confidence from last week's performance at Chelsea that did not warrant a 3-0 defeat. "We'll try to have the same performance as against Chelsea – unfortunately for us against Chelsea we weren't lucky with our last pass or shot but hopefully in Manchester it will be different. Maybe we will have fewer chances and play badly and win the game, who knows?"

Keep Smiling Through

The robbed that smiles, steals something from the thief...
It was predictable wasn't it? Our ushankared overlord drops an inflammatory communiqué to an apparatchik in the national press designed to get a reaction from manager and players... and manager and players duly proffer a solicited response in time for the next day's headlines. Several of the morning papers gleefully report Avram Grant has hit back at David Sullivan in the latest orchestrated 'war of words' at West Ham telling him: "I trust all of my players." Of course he does. And with it our national media continues to propagate new and congenial abuses.

The Sun reports co-owner Sullivan caused a 'new storm' at Upton Park by admitting he does not know whether he can trust the Hammers' out-of-contract stars to give their all in the club's battle against relegation. Although Grant insisted he neither read or heard what his chairman said, he was prompted to reply: I can say this - every player at this club has done everything they can to try and help the team stay in the league. I trust all of them."

Grant is set to include Matthew Upson, Jonathan Spector, Danny Gabbidon and Lars Jacobson - whose current deals all expire at the end of the season - in his starting line-up at Manchester City tomorrow. The Israeli said: "If you are professional by condition, it doesn't matter if you have a contract, don't have a contract, if your wife smiles at you, if the owners say nice things about you... I don't believe in these things. It doesn't matter as long as a player is professional by heart. Also, when a player is in the last days of his contract he wants to prove himself because he wants a new contract."

Indeed, if the vice-chairman ever expresses benevolence then you know you're in trouble. In the words of Chandler, Karren Brady gives the kind of smile you can feel in your hip pocket. Writing in her weekend column she states: "Losing 3-0 at Chelsea and dropping to the bottom of the table is no way to celebrate Scott Parker's election as the football writers' Player of the Year. It must be a unique feat and I suppose it could be said he has unique feet.Parker is a team man through and through and how we miss him at Stamford Bridge, even though we play well without reward. Again. As I've said before my players are better than any others in the bottom half of the league but I cannot prove it. Not yet anyway."

For his part, Sullivan admits he now rates the Hammers' chances of proving that superiority at '25 per cent'. Grant, whose side are bottom of the table with just four matches to go, insisted: "I am not a businessman like David. What I can tell you, though, is that we have a good chance to stay up and we will do everything to do it. It doesn't matter what percentage I rate our chances. If I say to you now there is a 51 per cent or 32.5 per cent chance it doesn't matter. It only matters in money because if he wants to give 25 per cent more to the players if they stay in the league, it is OK. If you put the chances of us staying up four months ago the chances were 10 per cent so it always changes. If we take four points from the next two games the percentage will be more than this but it will still continue until the end of the season."

Naturally, West Ham stars have reportedly taken umbrage at the claims that some might not be fighting hard enough to beat relegation. That tabloid favourite- a source close to one player- is reported to have remarked: "It's a strange way to motivate players by basically slagging them off. Sullivan should surely be conquering, not dividing. It's a bizarre statement at this time of the season. And if West Ham stay up with a goal in the last minute of the last game and it's scored by a player who is out of contract, Sullivan is then going to look pretty stupid." Well maybe, but at this point I'm guessing Sullivan could live with survival regardless of how it is secured. In fact, two things spring to mind here. Firstly, this well placed source can't have seen our porn-dwarf chairman in his russian hat; and secondly, there is someone in the West Ham dressing room who is not as well versed in the finer details of Il Principe as he needs to be.

This, of course, is not the first time this season Grant and the players have been involved in a war of words with the club's high-profile hierarchy. And the boss added: "They want us to stay in the league. But the most important thing for the players, even if the owner says they are the best players in the league, is to focus on what we need to do on the pitch. I am focused on these things and not other things. I can speak only about what I see. I could see yesterday, against Chelsea last weekend and the games before that the players are giving everything. Of course we can ask for more in quality but they are giving everything and the spirit is good. West Ham is a massive club and part of our vision is to stop fighting against relegation because West Ham did it too much in the last years and also this season. This season we knew it would be difficult but of course we didn't want to be in this place so we feel for the supporters. We are doing everything for them to feel good and I think even the supporters know the players give anything. They are behind us and if you saw the last game against Chelsea you heard them more than we heard the Chelsea supporters."

And after four straight defeats, Grant has lowered his points target for survival. "We have no intention to give up before any game," he said. "But of course the last three games will be the most important games. And I believe we can take points from these games. I said before we needed nine points and that will still be good. But now, because of the results of the other teams around us, I think seven will be enough."

That's the spirit Avram. Keep smiling through, just like you always do...

Friday, 29 April 2011

This Is Money Time

Manchester City, Blackburn Rovers, Wigan Athletic and Sunderland are all that now stand between West Ham United and oblivion, writes Jamie Jackson in today's Guardian. Six years after Alan Pardew guided the East End club back into the Premier League, Avram Grant has four games to prise his side off the bottom of the table, starting with Sunday's Eastlands meeting with Roberto Mancini's fourth-placed team.

Plunge into the Championship and a financial shadow will darken over the club. West Ham have around £80m of debt and will become tenants of the Olympic Stadium at Stratford for the start of the 2014-15 season, legal challenges allowing. Balancing the books will be far trickier in the proposed 60,000-seat stadium without the £45m a-year TV money from the Premier League, despite what the club and the Olympic Park Legacy Company may claim. Without Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal as visitors, thinks Jackson, it seems unlikely that in the Championship they could lift this season's average attendance of 33,000 to 60,000. Asked how nervous he is regarding the challenge of staying up Grant says: "I like this stage of the season because you see the real character, the real players. It's money time now. We need to be at our best. This is the money time."

David Sullivan is clear about the financial consequences if his club sink. He says: "There would be a £40m hole in our cash flow which would have to be met by myself and [co-owner] David Gold." That said, Sullivan is far from convinced West Ham's 'spoilt' players will put their bodies on the line to keep club up. In a frank and heartfelt interview with The Telegraph, the club’s co-owner and chairman also rated the team’s chances of survival at just “25 per cent” and said he personally will have “let down” the supporters if the demotion happens. Clearly frustrated, he questioned whether some modern-day footballers cared enough because they are “spoilt” by the huge amounts of money they earn and this can affect their performances.

West Ham are bottom of the Premier League with just four matches to go, starting with Sunday’s trip to Manchester City, and Sullivan said that this season’s struggles have shocked him. “We didn’t come here to be relegated, we didn’t think at the start of the season that we would be relegated and we have to put it right next season,” he said. “If we are in the Premier League we have to make sure we are not fighting relegation, if we are in the Championship we have to make sure we are in the top two this time next year.”

Sullivan has thought about addressing the squad for the season’s run-in, to ram home the importance of not getting relegated, but admitted: “I’ve been thinking about it but I think the players might think it’s a joke. I could go in there and give them a Churchill speech but whether it’s going to do any good, I don’t know. I think some players are spoilt, I don’t say just with our players, I’m saying with all clubs. How do you motivate millionaires? It's a problem all managers have.

"Alex Ferguson has got that fear factor and I do think that a manager needs that fear factor. You look at Alex Ferguson, Arsène Wenger and Jose Mourinho. The players are a little bit frightened of them. But I’m sure a few of the players are already looking at where they will be next season — their contracts are up, they’ll be off. It means the manager [Avram Grant] might have a hard decision to make if we go into the last game of the season needing a win to stay up — do you trust the fate of the club to them or do you make the decision that you will not play those players? It’s a very difficult decision. Do you go for players who are committed to the club? If you look at that last game and someone is on a Bosman [free transfer], will that player risk injury? Some will, some won’t. It depends on the mentality of the player.”

There is a clear frustration in Sullivan’s voice – and a personal toll also. The 62 year-old said he wakes up “10 times a night” worrying about the fate of the club he acquired in January 2010, but insisted he would rebuild the squad over the summer — with an exodus of players expected. “I’m battling on,” he said. “Obviously we are facing the reality that 70-75 per cent we are likely to be in the Championship next year. But there is still a 25-30 per cent chance we won’t be. We have to be realistic. The bookmakers put our chances at 28 per cent and you have to accept that. I feel for the supporters. We have fantastic supporters and I feel myself and David [Gold, the co-chairman ] have let them down. We have failed to deliver and the bottom line in football is that it’s a delivery business. Forget all the excuses – the bad luck, the good luck, the injuries – because over a season it sort of averages out. OK, it probably hasn’t quite averaged out for us this year but you can’t blame that.

“I can’t sleep at night. It hasn’t affected my health but it has affected my mind. I wake up 10 times a night thinking about the state of the club. I ask myself, 'What can we do?’ I know there is only so much you can do. But I can’t switch off at all. I’m sure most of our supporters can’t either. We are supporters also. Supporters who have made a huge investment, but that is secondary, and we, as supporters, are gutted at the way things have developed. We can scramble and stay up and salvage something but we can’t delude ourselves it’s been a good season. But at least we are in a better position to re-form for next season.

“There is no point denying it, but we are very depressed and we are very depressed for the club’s supporters. I feel I have let them down. I’m not a loser in life and to get relegated is a serious loss. It’s not the end of the game but it’s like a boxing match and you take a bashing for three rounds. It’s a 12-round fight and there are nine rounds to go, but you are in serious trouble.”

Sullivan insisted that he did not regret acquiring West Ham and inheriting the perilous financial state of the club he now runs. “We haven’t gone to West Ham to make money,” he insisted. “We would have bought Sheffield Wednesday for £3 million or £4 million if we wanted to make an investment. But we are not Sheffield Wednesday supporters; we are in this for the long haul. Whatever it takes, we will turn this around.”

Sullivan’s and Gold’s experience at their former club, Birmingham City, will help. On the two occasions they were relegated from the Premier League, they immediately returned to the top flight each time. “I hope that will count for something,” he said. “If it comes to it, we know what needs to be done and we can put together a side to get us back up straight away. I don’t accept it has come to that yet and there is a long way to go still. But there is certainly no point being in denial and declaring 'we won’t be relegated’.

“Against that the club is in a worse financial state. We will have to shed a few players and a few players will not want to stay. We will have to bring in new players to bring us back up. I think a lot of the players at West Ham will not want to play in that division [the Championship]. I don’t think it’s going to be easy and you need players who are proven in that division plus some young players who are fearless and who have the energy to play 46 games a season. We have some players who find 38 games very difficult.

“I’m anticipating bringing in players who are £2 million, £3 million. I can’t name names but you are looking at players who might be, for example, the leading goalscorers in the Championship. If you buy two guys who can get you 25 goals each, well that’s 50 goals and gives you the basis for going straight back up.” Grant’s future will also be decided. “We sit down at the end of every season, and whatever club we have been in, with the manager and hear what his thoughts are, what our thoughts are and we decide on the future at that point in time,” Sullivan said.

So if West Ham are relegated it will be the beginning of the end for an underachieving squad. Only Scott Parker, West Ham's sole star turn this campaign and duly recognised as the football writers' player of the year, is exempted from criticism. Carlton Cole admits their survival hopes depend on the fitness of the inspirational midfielder. Parker looks likely to miss Sunday's trip to Manchester City and is battling to be fit for the final three games of the season. "Scotty is one of those players that is a leading player on the pitch, he leads by example, he will say how he feels," Cole told his club's official website. "Scotty won't shy away from anything, from a challenge, those are the sort of characters you need in your team. Especially when we are fighting relegation as well, Scotty as a player and a person is someone who will always stand up and be counted. Any accolade he gets, any pat on the backs, Scotty deserves. That is how I look at it. I hold him highly up there as one of the best players in the league at the moment. For the last three years, as soon as he got over the niggly injuries he had when he was first here, once he started getting momentum, he has not stopped. He is like a juggernaut."

If the worst happens Parker would have to be sold to raise cash, though relegation would slice his value from around £15m to £10m. The midfielder would certainly be followed by many more, among them Cole, Robert Green, Mark Noble, Demba Ba, plus Thomas Hitzlsperger, the out-of-contract Matthew Upson and the loan signings Victor Obinna, Wayne Bridge and Robbie Keane. These are all seasoned enough performers to suggest West Ham should not be two points from safety, and Julian Dicks, the former West Ham left-back, is clear where the blame lies. "It is down to the players," he says. "I have seen an improvements for certain games but it's not been continuous."

This has been the tale since Gold and Sullivan bought the club last January. After Gianfranco Zola managed to avoid the drop but was sacked last summer, Grant took over, only to suffer a whispering campaign against him. "I blame the manager because I've always said the most important person at a club is him," Tony Cottee, the former West Ham striker, says. "I was extremely disappointed with Avram Grant's appointment."

On the opening day West Ham left Villa Park having lost 3-0, and a turbulent eight months began. Standing 18th then, Grant and his troops had to wait nearly five more months for the table to show they were above the relegation zone. Ahead of the visit of Wigan Athletic on 27 November West Ham were bottom, so the club designated the match a make-or-break "save our season" encounter. A 3-1 win followed but they remained 20th. When a Freddie Sears strike confirmed a 2-0 win at Wolves on New Year's day, Grant's mantra that fortunes would improve had a glimmer of credence.

Yet matters on and off the pitch were about to worsen for him. On 8 January Karren Brady, the vice-chairman, used her Saturday newspaper column to reveal that the deal to sign Steve Sidwell from Aston Villa was vetoed by her, not the manager, who then had to deal with awkward questions regarding this intervention. A week later West Ham were bottom, following a soul-destroying 5-0 reverse at Newcastle United, and Arsenal were due in east London.

That morning, reports claimed that Grant would be sacked whatever the result, with Martin O'Neill lined up to replace him. The owners were forced into denials and the sense of turbulence surrounding the club was heightened by the rumours. Arsenal defeated West Ham 3-0 but somehow Grant clung on. Cottee again: "The owners deserve credit for rescuing West Ham when they did as the club would have gone bankrupt. But since then they've made mistakes including the handling of the Martin O'Neill situation. If they'd sacked Avram Grant first they'd have got Martin."

Since that farrago, West Ham have escaped the dreaded drop zone for only a fortnight in March. Now, four defeats from their past four outings – West Ham's poorest sequence since the campaign's opening – have them once more in trouble. "The ramifications of relegation don't bear thinking about," Cottee says. "They're £80m in debt [and] they pay a fortune to the players in wages. The top ones would leave, the younger players would be vulnerable to the bigger clubs: exactly what happened in 2003 when the club was relegated. And, they move to the new stadium in 2014."

If West Ham overcome the legal challenges by Tottenham Hotspur and Leyton Orient they will have to invest at least £95m in Stratford. This includes a £40m loan from Newham council, extending the debt to £120m. The OPLC says it has assurances that relegation would not affect the club's ability to take over the stadium, and Ian Tomkins, the club's Olympic Stadium director, says: "The business plan has been modelled on different scenarios. The stadium is not only about West Ham United – concerts, potential naming rights, there's a whole range of [financial] opportunities. It is about taking West Ham United to the next level, breaking out of what can become an almost cyclical pattern of staying up and then the threat of relegation."

That said, Owen Gibson insists serious questions remain over West Ham's ability to repay a £40m loan on Championship forecasts and their ability to fill the stadium. Writing in the Guardian, he notes the Hammers' partner, Newham council, has controversially loaned the sum to the joint venture that will operate the stadium and charge the club rent. West Ham have said only that they will repay the loan as quickly as possible but have not said over what time frame.

In addition, each of the partners (including Live Nation, Essex County Cricket Club and UK Athletics) has been guaranteed a specific number of days under a calendar drawn up as part of the submission to the Olympic Park Legacy Company. UK Athletics has been guaranteed at least 20 days but has already admitted that there are not any events, apart from the world athletics championships, that will attract more than a few thousand spectators.

The OPLC and West Ham say negotiations over the final lease are continuing as planned but lawyers say they will not be able to sign it until the judicial review challenges issued by Spurs and Orient have been heard. Barry Hearn, the Orient owner, believes that could take up to 18 months. Originally, the OPLC and West Ham had hoped to have the lease signed by the end of the financial year and are already a month past that deadline. Depending on how long the legal battle drags on, plans to begin the £95m conversion project straight after the Games, in time for the 2014-15 season, could be at risk. That would have implications for the OPLC's wider regeneration master plan.

West Ham are in effect underwriting the non-profit making elements of the plan – UK Athletics, community use etc. The club insists that even on Championship forecasts it can easily meet the terms of the loan, which is underwritten by both owners, while continuing to pay down debt and compete for players. But there is no more detail beyond that in the public domain, beyond the vague promises of David Gold and David Sullivan.

Lastly, whether the club are in the Premier League or not, there remains a question mark over whether West Ham will be able to fill the stadium once any initial burst of enthusiasm has passed. They claim that the improved transport links and the allure of the Olympic Park will grow their fan base. They also claim that retractable seats will bring fans closer to the action, but some stadium designers question how that can be done. And given that they plan to give away 6,000 tickets for each match to local schoolchildren and have vowed that families will gain entry for the same price as a single existing ticket at Upton Park, they may struggle to keep those promises while bringing in enough revenue to compete on and off the pitch.

Friday, 15 April 2011

The Mouse That Roared, The Lion That Squeaked

Remember, men. There is nothing wrong with surrendering to overwhelming powers, as long as it is done in a military manner...

West Ham United’s proposed tenancy of the Olympic Stadium faces a barrage of legal challenges after Leyton Orient joined Tottenham in arguing that the financial basis of their bid is illegal, and implored the Premier League to withdraw its approval for the move from Upton Park. The process now looks set to become mired in a flurry of litigation after Leyton Orient's chairman, Barry Hearn waged war on the Government, the Mayor of London and Newham council. Actions against the Olympic Park Legacy Company and the Minister of Sport are also pending.

In a move akin to that of the Duchy of Grand Fenwick, which proudly retains a pre-industrial economy dependent almost entirely on making Pinot Grand Fenwick wine, only to be usurped by an American winery making a knockoff version, Orient claimed that if West Ham move into the Olympic Stadium it could put their institution out of business within three years. Hearn made his aggressive move a day after Tottenham Hotspur also launched an application for a judicial review of Newham's processes. Orient have accused the council, which made a joint bid for the venue with West Ham, of granting "unlawful state aid" to the club in lending them £40m. "We are saying quite specifically that the £40m loan is unlawful and illegal," Hearn said. "We are asking them to withdraw it. It is state aid and they don't have the authority to make this kind of commercial investment under their charter."

West Ham are relying on the £40 million loan from Newham Council to convert the Olympic Stadium following the 2012 Games, but Orient and Tottenham, whose bid for the stadium was rejected in February, argue that the loan breaches British and EU law preventing state aid for private companies. Tottenham and Orient are seeking a judicial review of the council’s decision to agree the loan to West Ham.

Newham Council agreed to borrow the money over 25 years at preferential rates available to local government and forward it to West Ham, who will make repayments from ticket receipts. Newham taxpayers will be liable for the debt in the event of default, but their mayor, Sir Robin Wales, has argued that the borough is gaining a community asset.

Tottenham argue that Newham did not act equitably because the loan constitutes state resources that were offered only to West Ham, conferring on them an advantage over their rivals. They and Orient argue that the loan was secured at a far better rate than West Ham could have achieved privately, and that without the loan the club could not have made the bid that they did.

Spurs and Orient also argue that Newham’s support for West Ham, already based in the borough, was irrational because were Tottenham to move to the Olympic Stadium, it would double the benefits to the council and the community. They also claim that the council had acted beyond its powers — ultra vires – by using public funds to assist a commercial entity. At the very least the challenges will further delay the agreement of a lease between West Ham and the Olympic Park Legacy Company, which was scheduled for completion by March 31.

In a letter addressed to Sir Robin Wales, the Newham mayor, Orient's lawyers accuse the council of being exposed should West Ham default on the loan, of conferring an advantage on the club by giving them a loan at preferential rates and of not offering the loan to any other bidder. Newham, which has 21 days to respond, refused to comment. The council and West Ham are negotiating with the Olympic Park Legacy Company (OPLC) over the detail of their final agreement on the £486m stadium. But they have previously argued that the loan does not expose council tax payers, could not have been spent on anything else, and is underwritten by West Ham's owners, David Gold and David Sullivan. They are expected to argue the £40m will be put towards community facilities that will benefit local residents.

Hearn revealed his full intentions yesterday, 24 hours after Tottenham informed Newham they were bringing legal action. "The biggest case that has gone in today is the Newham one," he confirmed. "What are they doing lending £40m to a football club? They are not allowed to be involved in commercial deals. This is state subsidy of a commercial operation, which falls foul of European competition laws." The Orient chairman told Sky Sports News: "The whole plan is that we do not want West Ham in the Olympic Stadium, it is black and white, we think they are on our patch. We have started today with the official announcement we have submitted for judicial review an application request against Newham Borough Council."

West Ham beat Tottenham to the title of preferred bidder in February following a protracted bitter battle. The executives of the Olympic Park Legacy Company voted uninimously for the pledge to keep the athletics track, over a bid from Spurs and AEG that argued the only viable option was to rebuild it as a dedicated football ground. But Orient claim that West Ham's presence at the stadium will be detrimental to their own position as the local club for Newham residents. Hearn said he is no longer concerned with finding a new home for Orient or seeking compensation: "My efforts are not focused on anything other than stopping West Ham."

He believes West Ham's plan to subsidise tickets, including giving away 6,000 per match to local schoolchildren, will fatally undermine Orient. A club statement released before the Legacy Company decision said: "The decision of the Olympic Park Legacy Company to award the use of the London 2012 Olympic Stadium in legacy to either West Ham United or Tottenham Hotspur will have grave implications on the future of London's second-oldest Football League Club and threaten our proud traditions as a community-based Club. The impact on Leyton Orient will be huge. The prospect of excess capacity leading to discounted tickets and the broader appeal to floating fans of a more high-profile club threatens to swamp us. It is tragic to think that the true legacy of the 2012 Olympic Games could be the death of one of football's most-established community clubs."

Hearn has already written to Prime Minister David Cameron and London Mayor Boris Johnson asking them to look again at the decision. He is funding the legal challenge with the £1 million proceeds of Orient’s FA Cup fifth-round replay at Arsenal."This is about one thing only, stopping West Ham getting occupancy of the Olympic Stadium," he said yesterday. "It’s not about compensation, alternative stadiums, it’s about stopping them getting in there because it will put us out of business."

Hearn is also challenging the Premier League’s decision to approve West Ham’s move from Upton Park, an issue that will be heard by an arbitration panel under FA rules in the next two weeks. League rules state that the impact on other clubs has to be considered when a club propose to move ground, and Hearn believes Orient’s circumstances have not been given proper weight.

If Tottenham or Orient are successful in arguing that Newham’s funding is illegal, or in any of a series of other challenges being considered, the OPLC could be forced to withdraw its support for West Ham and restart the bidding process. The applications for judicial review against Newham are part of a slew of legal challenges against the Olympic Stadium decision. Hearn is also seeking judicial review of the Government and Johnson’s decision to approve West Ham as preferred bidder for the Olympic Stadium.

Tottenham, meanwhile, are considering seeking judicial review of the Government and mayor’s decision, as well as the process by which the OPLC came to recommend West Ham. Among possible grounds of complaint is how the OPLC applied five criteria on which the decision was based. Originally these were weighted in favour of financial criteria only for the rules to be changed for the latter stages of the bid.

Spurs are seeking to overturn the Olympic Park Legacy Company’s decision to recommend West Ham for the stadium, or failing that, pressure London mayor Boris Johnson and the Government into providing them with more support for an alternative ground development in Haringey.

Although Newham Borough Council, the OPLC and West Ham all declined to comment, OPLC's chair, Baroness Ford, who has long‑standing experience of public tenders, said last week she was confident it had followed due process throughout. However, she conceded no final contracts could be signed while the legal process continues.

Hearn is clearly in no mood to back down. "We think various parties have acted unlawfully and illegally and they need to be called to task," he stated. "This is an all-encompassing charge by Leyton Orient, a battle by the little man against the big forces of evil if you like, this represents a challenge to our future and we have no choice but to fight our corner, and we believe we have right on our side." Whether this mouse that roared secretly expects a quick and total defeat is unclear. Perhaps the Duchy of Brisbane Road is simply hoping to rebuild itself through the generous largesse that the the 'big forces' bestow on their vanquished enemies. Think less Germany through the Marshall Plan at the end of World War II, and more the newly built hockey stadium to be situated in the Eton Manor section of the Olympic Park after the Games.

Elsewhere, the 'big man' is having plenty to say himself. Benni McCarthy has revealed that he cannot remember when he last spoke to West Ham manager Avram Grant. The South African striker recently had his contract at Upton Park terminated, having been taken out of the 25-man Premier League squad. "I don't really know when I last spoke to him," McCarthy said. "But he's got a lot on his plate at the moment. I'm sure he could help his position if he'd maybe take a little bit more time to speak to players. That's what you do if you are a manager and you have a good relationship with players, you get results. But I'm not the type of person to go to a manager and give them ultimatums - they make decisions on what they see in training."

The South Africa international, who failed to score in his 14 appearances after joining from Blackburn in January 2010, also acknowledged that his fitness problems were partly self-inflicted. He told Sky Sports News: "I let myself down. I just went hiding under a rock because I couldn't deal with the fact that I was injured. I never trained how I could train because obviously I was out for two months (with a calf injury) so I wasn't allowed to train or anything - it was just treatment, treatment, treatment."

Although Scott Parker will win the fans’ Hammer of the Year award again this season, surely it should go to the now departed McCarthy, snipes John Dillon in the Express. After 14 appearances without a goal for West Ham following a £2.2million move from Blackburn, the striker walked off with a £1.5million early contract pay-off this week. No player could have done more, he reasons, to uphold the club’s long tradition of doing the most utterly ridiculous, laughable, unfathomable, pointless, confused, desperate and infuriating thing that it can manage in the face of all common sense.

It could only happen to West Ham, agrees The Sun. The portly striker agreed a huge pay-off just halfway through his 30 month contract. This might save the Hammers £1million in wages but the South African has still cost them £6.75milion. Prior to arriving at Upton Park, McCarthy scored a respectible 151 goals in 352 games for five clubs. His return at West Ham? Nothing in 14. Then there was Freddie Ljungberg, whose £85k a week, £3million transfer fee from Arsenal and £6million pay-off worked out at £520k a game. Plus another £18million all in for Kieron Dyer at £600k a game, for 30 appearances and no goals. No one can match West Ham for buying pap. Joey Beauchamp left inside 58 days without playing a game after London traffic pitched him into meltdown, while Florin Raducioiu was found shopping in Harvey Nichols when he should have been preparing for a cup tie in Stockport. And don't even mention Marco Boogers, who disappeared in his caravan. Welcome to the Hall of Fame Benni, the latest in a series of West Ham lions that squeaked.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

How To Philosophize With A Hammer

To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering

Tottenham Hotspur yesterday took their first predictable step in their legal battle to challenge the decision to hand the Olympic Stadium to West Ham United. The club are seeking permission from the High Court to bring a judicial review of Newham council’s involvement in the provision of a £40million loan to finance West Ham’s move to the stadium after the 2012 Games.

Central to Tottenham’s concern is the fact that it only came to light publicly in March – after the Olympic Park Legacy Company had made their decision – that Newham tax-payers could "on a theoretical perspective" be liable for the loan should West Ham default on the repayments.

Questions have also been raised at how Newham’s all-Labour council came to agree the loan and whether they were given ample time to fully understand all the financial consequences before making their decision. The money will be provided by central government and loaned by Newham to a new stadium company that will be set up to manage the Olympic Stadium.

At this stage, Tottenham have sought permission from the High Court to bring their claim for a judicial review. Newham now have 21 days in which they can set out whether they wish to contest the claim and on what grounds. Tottenham said they had no choice but to launch proceedings as Newham had not responded to their requests for further information into their processes. Tottenham have also sought answers from the OPLC, the Mayor of London and also two governments. No decision has yet been made on whether to take legal action against these bodies. If Tottenham succeed with a judicial review they could only annul rather than reverse the decision to award the Olympic Stadium to West Ham.

In a statement, Spurs said: "The club has today sought permission from the High Court to bring a claim against the London Borough of Newham for judicial review of Newham's process in providing a loan for the conversion of the Olympic Stadium after the 2012 Games. The club wrote to Newham asking it to explain its reasons and justification for its decision, but Newham has declined to respond to this request for information. Due to the time limits which apply to claims for judicial review, the club has had no alternative but to issue these proceedings in order to protect its position. The club continues to hold discussions with both local and national government bodies in order to seek to agree a feasible stadium solution."

Tottenham are risking £1million in legal fees by challenging the decision to award the Olympic Stadium to West Ham, although financial considerations will not be a major deterrent for Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy. The costs would be about £500,000 and the club would incur a similar amount from the other sides combined if they lost. That is still a small outlay when the revenue generating potential of moving into the stadium runs into many millions. They are desperate to move from White Hart Lane to a bigger home to consolidate their Champions League status, and the Olympic site is favoured ahead of more costly options in their heartland of Haringey. If they push ahead, the case is thought likely to be concluded by mid-July.

Tottenham lost out in a bitterly contested battle with the Hammers to become the new tenants of the stadium in Stratford, east London. The Olympic Park Legacy Company (OPLC) chose West Ham’s joint bid with Newham after the east London club pledged to retain the athletics track. West Ham intend to convert the 80,000-seat stadium into a 60,000-capacity facility and plan to move from Upton Park in 2014-15 with a 250-year lease and to give a 250-year lease to UK Athletics.

Tottenham's plans, part of a joint bid with AEG sport and entertainment promotions group, had been to create a stadium without the track and to redevelop Crystal Palace for athletics. Newham Council, West Ham and the Olympic Park Legacy Company (OPLC), which is in charge of securing the future of the Olympic Park after the Games, all said they would not comment about the new development.

Last month, when Tottenham signalled their intention to seek a review, the OPLC declared itself confident that it had made the right decision. The body said in a statement: "We are confident that if these judicial review proceedings are pursued, our approach will be entirely vindicated by the courts. The OPLC ran a very rigorous and transparent process in its selection of the recommended preferred bidder."

OPLC board members unanimously voted 14-0 to make the Hammers their first choice to move into the £486m stadium. Margaret Ford, chairman of the OPLC, insisted they have not put a foot wrong in the process which saw West Ham chosen over Spurs as the preferred bidders for the stadium. "In terms of anyone launching inquiries or reviews into what we did I don't believe we have put a foot wrong in this process," said Ford. "I have complete confidence we took a decent decision based on a really robust process and it's for other people to decide whether they want to pick holes in that. At the very start of this process I said, this may be subject to a National Audit Office inquiry, the Public Accounts Committee, it may be subject to a judicial review as it is such a high-profile transaction and we have to absolutely pay so much attention to detail."

West Ham, who were named in February as the preferred bidder, have estimated it could cost £95m to convert the venue after the Games. They have begun a competitive tender, which could take at least three months to complete, to find potential contractors to convert the stadium. West Ham are also still in the middle of trying to strike a deal with the OPLC so that they can move into the stadium in 2014. The OPLC's choice of West Ham as preferred bidder has also been rubber-stamped by the Government and London mayor Boris Johnson.

From High Court to FA tribunal where Carlton Cole has admitted a Football Association disciplinary charge relating to comments he made on Twitter during the England verses Ghana friendly on 29 March. In comments that were later removed from the social networking site, the West Ham United striker said: "Immigration has surrounded the Wembley premises! I knew it was a trap! Hahahaha. The only way to get out safely is to wear an England jersey and paint your face w/the St. George's flag!"

Cole later said the comments were a joke. He has admitted the improper conduct charge and requested a personal hearing, to be heard no later than 21 April. Cole is likely to escape a ban but can expect a fine in the region of £10,000. Although there is no precedent for allegedly racist comments expressed via Twitter, the then Liverpool striker Ryan Babel was fined a similar amount in January after re-tweeting an image of the referee Howard Webb in a Manchester United shirt.

As for matters on the pitch- or more usually the treatment table as far as frangible Kieron Dyer is concerned- Talksport insist the Vitreous One could make a shock comeback for West Ham against Aston Villa on Saturday. Dyer, 32, has been plagued by injury problems once again this season and has only made eight Premier League starts for the east London club.

The former England midfielder was sent out on loan to his former club Ipswich last month in a bid to get him some much needed first-team action. Ipswich boss Paul Jewell wanted to keep Dyer at Portman Road for the rest of the season but was told by Avram Grant that he wanted the player back for their crucial run-in as they look to stay in the Premier League. Jewell said: "Kieron spoke to the manager Avram Grant and he said he wanted him to feature in some of the games between now and the end of the season."

With West Ham crashing to a 3-0 defeat against Bolton last Saturday, Grant is set to make changes for the must-win game against fellow strugglers Aston Villa at Upton Park. Talking of which, defender James Tomkins, who started in the opening match of the season at Villa back in August, is looking for the Hammers to make up for that dismal performance at Villa Park this Saturday. "It is going to be a huge match," he admitted. “Aston Villa are down there as well, so that is going to make it a bit of a six-pointer. Hopefully we can get some revenge on them for the opening day of the season. They are a good team, but we are a good team as well and we can beat them."

Tomkins believes the agony of a Premier League survival battle last season will stand the team in good stead when they scrap away for vital points this time. Proving, as I have always suspected, that he is clearly an advocate of Nietzchean aphorisms: "that which does not kill us makes us stronger" (in diametric opposition to Dyer's nihilistic contention: "that which does not kill us simply prolongs the agony"). Still only 22, and when not studying Twilight of the Idols in the dugout, the youngster has already chalked up 72 appearances in claret and blue, including vital games in Gianfranco Zola’s relegation battle last year. "We have got a lot of experience from last year having gone through it and I think it is pretty similar this time round," he said. "I think it is going to be hard because the teams all around us are picking up points – everyone is beating everyone – so we will have to see what happens and just take one game at a time."

Last season, West Ham managed to stay up with just 35 points, but this time it looks like being a much bigger task. So how many points does Tomkins think they require this time round? "I think we need to get over 40 points to stay in the league," said Tomkins defiantly. "That is the way it is going at the moment, so I think about three or four wins will be enough." Back-to-back defeats by Manchester United and Bolton will have hit the confidence of the team, but Tomkins insists that morale is still high in the camp, despite the losses. "We are upbeat," he said. "We have had good results against teams around us and though we’ve got to play a couple of hard teams, we can beat anyone on our day. We have beaten some big teams this year, so we can do it again."

Finally, according to the Mirror, the Hammers are tracking Sporting Lisbon's Portugese international forward Yannick Djalo. The Bissau-born Djaló, 24, has reportedly already been scouted by Tottenham, Everton and Fulham this term with Sporting ready to sell for around £8m this summer. He has also attracted interest from a number of Serie A clubs, although his agent insists England remains his more likely destination should he ultimately move.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Jefferson's Lost Paragon

Do you want to know who you are? Don't ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you

I raised a toast and drank to auld acquaintance on Tuesday, writes Frank Keating in this morning's Guardian. There was a bitter taste to it, of course, because it would – should – have been Bobby Moore's 70th birthday had cancer not so wretchedly cut him down at 51, in 1993.

Had he made his three-score-and-10, ponders Keating, I wonder what the great, good fellow would have thought about his lovely uncomplicated game becoming, in the meantime, so angry and malevolent with itself; or how the most valorous of all England captains viewed the sulkily tedious machinations over the captaincy of Signor Capello's current ragbag squad. I fancy an incredulous, despairing little smile would be playing around Bob's lips, writes Keating, as it usually did whenever provocatively posturing twerps squared up to strike airs and attitudes.

Fond, faraway memories of Moore can at least help restore one's faith in big-time football and its players. Moore's beguiling, unhurried, clean-cut skills on the field are taken as read and celebrated by history, and the longer he has been gone the more lustrous shines the legend for chivalrous goodness and constancy, the more hallowed and undying his niche in sport's hall of fame.

In the week a new, bold young Masters champion has been anointed Keating is reminded of a piece he never tires of quoting by Alistair Cooke, about another Bobby, another courtly nonpareil, Bobby Jones, who inspired the very foundation of the Masters at Augusta in 1934. The paragraph holds luminously good still for Bobby Moore:

"What we talk about here is not the hero as sportsman, but that something which a civilised community hungered for and found: the best performer in the world who was also hero as human being, the gentle, wholly self-sufficient male. Jefferson's lost paragon: the wise innocent."

How bemused then Moore would have been to hear the news that Benni McCarthy has left his beloved West Ham after having his contract terminated by mutual consent. McCarthy struggled to make an impact at Upton Park, failing to score in his 14 appearances after joining from Blackburn at the end of last winter's transfer window for a fee in the region of £2.2m. According to conflicting reports, the South African will walk away with a sum somewhere between £1.5million-£2million after agreeing to the deal. The striker, 33, would have received a further £2.3m if he had opted to sit out his £38,000-a-week contract until it expired in June 2012.

A statement on the club website,, read: "West Ham United have mutually agreed with Benni McCarthy to part company with immediate effect." It continued: "The club would like to wish Benni the best for the future." McCarthy was left out of the Hammers' 25-man Barclays Premier League squad for the second half of this season following the transfer-window signings of Robbie Keane and Demba Ba. The club had initially tried to send him out on loan in January but Championship sides were put off by his high wages. He was also fined £200,000 after failing to adhere to a weight-loss regime. An insider with an obvious gift for litotic understatement stated: "Benni has been a bit of a disaster. He hasn't been involved in the matchday squad for a long time and it's not really worked out."

How incongruous would Moore have found a situation where gross professional incompetance can yield hyperbolic pecuniary reward? Similarly, how bewildered would the decorous legend have been by the news Carlton Cole is to contest his FA charge for improper conduct following his Twitter 'race' jokes. The West Ham striker caused controversy after making ill-advised immigration quips about the Ghana fans at Wembley. He posted several comments during England's 1-1 draw in the friendly match - all of which he then hastily removed after he was inundated with criticism and complaints from a large section of his followers.

Firstly, Cole wrote: 'Immigration has surrounded the wembley premises! I knew it was a trap! Hahahaha' The England international, who wasn't involved in the game, then posted: 'The only way to get out safely is to wear an england jersey and paint your face w/ the St. George's'flag!' Realising that his comments were causing offence, Cole tweeted: 'To my ghanian brothers dont take it so seriously, its just jokes! Youve played well! Done africa proud!' However, his jokes didn't stop there as he followed it by writing: 'Next friendly is gonna be Poland then Albania, government think their sly! I see it a mile away! Haha' Responding to the complaints from fellow Twitter users, he then posted: 'Why are there so many sensitive people out there! it was a joke & its not even racist!'

The West Ham striker has until 6pm tonight to respond to the charge and sources close to Cole last night claimed the centre forward would respond before this evening's deadline. West Ham officials have reminded Hammers players of their responsibilities when they use Twitter and other social networking websites. Lord Herman Ouseley, head of Kick It Out, football's equality and inclusion campaign, said apparently harmless comments could cause offence. Ouseley said: "We continually urge the responsible use of mediums such as Twitter, particularly due to their increasing accessibility and popularity. "What can seem like harmless comments can be deemed offensive by others and lead to unwittingly reinforcing negative stereotyping, including racist ones. We will work with all our partners to ensure that education on what is and isn't unacceptable behaviour, is ongoing."

Elsewhere, West Ham co-owner David Gold is planning to watch their home game against Aston Villa on Saturday, his first outing to Upton Park since he recovered from cholangitis and septicaemia. In unrelated news, Blackpool's Charlie Adam has revealed he is flattered by his PFA nomination - but has backed West Ham's Scott Parker to win it. The Blackpool midfielder said: ‘I gave my vote to Scott because he’s been terrific all season.’ At last, a sentiment that Bobby Moore would recognise.

Which brings us back to Frank Keating, who was blessed as well as lucky in that the last task of his youthful flibbertigibbet career with Independent Television was at the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, as Moore's "minder" when he was signed to join our commentary team after England's calamitous quarter-final defeat against West Germany in León.

It could only be called a dream assignment for we were both of an age and he was inevitably the most matily congenial, humorous and wise of comrades, recalls Keating. Minding Moore in Mexico remains one of the most memorable fortnights of his life. English football's tragically lost paragon would have been 70 on Tuesday, he concludes, truly an immortal to stir the nostalgia and to give thanks for on egregious days such as these.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Falls The Shadow

Despite playing in the most beautiful spring sunshine imaginable at the weekend, it still never rains but it pours for West Ham United. The season is at that point where timing can become everything yet even the fixture secretary seems to be against them. The previous weekend's loss to Manchester United made it seven straight League defeats to Sir Alex Ferguson's team so West Ham could have done with playing a side on Saturday with a whiff of the patsy about them; somebody willing to surrender and give them three desperately needed points.

Instead, writes Chris Brereton in the Independent, they faced another outfit that they have come to dread in recent years as Bolton Wanderers were also looking for their seventh win on the bounce against West Ham. To make matters worse, the Londoners had never won in 11 previous games at the Reebok Stadium. The portents were not good. And they soon got worse. Wonderfully executed finishes from Daniel Sturridge and Lee Chung-Yong ended the game as a meaningful contest after just 19 minutes, allowing Bolton to relax and go on to play some of the most entertaining and sumptuous football of their season.

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow

In spite of it all, Avram Grant believes West Ham need just three more wins to secure survival in the Barclays Premier League this season, insisting his players are committed to the cause. The Hammers enter the last hurdle of the season just a point adrift from safety in 18th place following this latest dismal 3-0 defeat.

Emotions certainly ran high in Lancashire with midfielder Mark Noble involved in an angry exchange with goalkeeper Robert Green. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a West Ham side on the brink of relegation will slip into some form of civil war. However, compared with the last time the drop came calling in east London, what went on between Noble and Green was small beer. When, in 2003, a far more talented side than the one Avram Grant presides over were sliding towards relegation, West Ham supporters hounded Glenn Roeder in his own home, observes the Guardian's Tim Rich.

Almost eight years ago to the day, Joe Cole and Jermain Defoe's Hammers left the Reebok Stadium snarling at perceived injustice after a loss that played a big part in their relegation. That side also included David James and Glen Johnson and perhaps it was the nagging realisation that they were not too good to go down after all had something to do with their despair and disarray. On Saturday they experienced similar feelings, only reserving the anger for each other this time around, swept away by a team that could have been forgiven for having their minds on next weekend's FA Cup semi-final.

It mattered not, back then, that their then manager grew up playing football opposite the training ground at Chadwell Heath, notes Rich, or that his brothers were season ticket holders in what was the Chicken Run at Upton Park. One day, eight Aprils ago, Roeder collapsed with a brain tumour and, when he returned to Upton Park with Newcastle United, his lasting memory was seeing the faces of men, some older than himself, still twisted by hatred. In comparison, the bitterness between Noble and his goalkeeper that finished with one aiming a punch at the other before being separated by their captain, Matthew Upson, will not linger long.

Neither man is likely to face disciplinary action by the club or by the Football Association, who did not charge Green when, after keeping a clean sheet in a 1-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur, he made an obscene gesture to the Upton Park press box. Frankly, for all the protection he was offered on a hot, disastrous afternoon in the Pennines, Green might have wanted to knock every one of his defenders out cold.

"I saw there was something going on," said the West Ham midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger, describing the seconds after Daniel Sturridge's wonderfully struck opener. "I didn't know exactly what but I could see they were having an argument. In the dressing room they shook hands and it's all sorted out. We can't afford to have arguments going on after the game, so that's a good thing. The game is over now and we shouldn't be looking back, although this was a terrible afternoon for us. We can't make any predictions about whether we stay up or go down now but surely if we play like this it is going to be tough."

In 2003, after that epic battle with Bolton to avoid the final relegation place, West Ham, with Trevor Brooking at the helm, slipped under with 42 points. Grant, who because of a touchline ban watched the debacle from the directors' box, thinks they need to win half of their remaining games to avoid history repeating itself.

The final three, against Blackburn Rovers, Wigan Athletic and an out-of-control, freefalling Sunderland, seem winnable but, as Grant pointed out, unpredictability is a motif running through West Ham's history. "The team are low because they lost an important game," he said. "They need to be not happy like I am not happy. But on paper everyone thought going to Tottenham would be harder than going to Bolton. We drew there; we lost here. Liverpool at home was hard on paper because they had big momentum at the time but we won."

Defiant Grant insists his players can start to overcome their frustrations this weekend in their crunch clash with Aston Villa at Upton Park and make a giant leap towards his magic target to avoid relegation to the Championship. "The players are very committed to the team," Grant said, in his weekly email to the club’s supporters. "We need to look at the whole picture. We have played well over the second half of the season and we have won our battles and everything was going well. We must learn from Saturday. I still believe that we can stay in the league. What you saw in the first half at Bolton is not something that you see every day in our team. It was an exception. We will do everything to make sure it remains exceptional. We will show that we can play and we have shown this season that we can recover from situations like this."

Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow

So, to next Saturday where James Collins’ next mission is to bury his former club and save Aston Villa from relegation. Collins’ winning header against Newcastle settled the nerves at Villa Park and leaves them another victory away from the safety target of 40 points. But for Aston Villa to be secure, they must beat West Ham on Saturday and push their hosts closer to the drop.

While Villa have been clawing their way out of danger with a draw at Everton followed by Sunday’s win, their first in the league since February, West Ham are back in the bottom three after losing two successive games.

"West Ham are in a tricky spot," said Collins, who had five seasons with the Hammers after a £3.5 million move from Cardiff in a double deal with Danny Gabbidon. "But we are not comfortable in the position we are in either. We’ve got to go to West Ham looking for three points. Anything less will not be good enough. I am sad to see West Ham where they are, the club are a big part of my life. I went there as a young man and I met my wife in London. The Hammers are always going to be close to my heart. This will be the second time I’ve gone back there in tricky circumstances where both clubs are fighting for points."

Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow

The target in that previous game in November 2009 was hugely different because Villa were aiming at Champions League football and a minimum fourth-place Premier League finish – but West Ham came out 2-1 winners. It is a game Carlton Cole remembers well. The striker is urging his West Ham team to stage a Tiger Woods-style rally to escape relegation.

Woods, of course, came back from seven shots behind on the final day of the Masters to share the lead. But while Woods ultimately failed, Cole believes the Hammers can beat the drop; starting with a victory at home on Saturday to put their survival bid back on track.

Cole, who watched Woods’ revival, said: "Watching the golf reminded me of us. Tiger fought right until the end, even when the chips were down, we have to do the same as a team." Following Saturday’s Villa game the Hammers go to Chelsea and Manchester City, before hosting Blackburn.

Finally, Avram Grant has criticised the FA for charging Cole with improper conduct over a tweet about Ghanaian fans during the recent friendly against England. "Immigration has surrounded the Wembley premises! I knew it was a trap! Hahahaha," honked Cole at the time. "I think the FA are in fighting mood," roared Grant. "But to charge Carlton with racism needs a big imagination."

This is the way the season ends
This is the way the season ends
This is the way the season ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

When I decided to return to this place after almost a year's absence I never intended the past to suddenly rush in on me in a way that is hard to fight. It's just the club never seems to change. Dogfight, godsmite, backbite, stagefright. It isn't me pushing back the gossamer thin door into the past and then reliving. It is the past that has broken through and is now enacting itself exactly as before. Trapdoor, racewar, downpour, softcore. Apparently it's true the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. I didn't even know that T.S. Eliot had been a West Ham blogger.

Copyright 2007 ID Media Inc, All Right Reserved. Crafted by Nurudin Jauhari