Thursday, 30 June 2011

Silence Noise Silence

It was full daylight at 7.40 this very morning in 1908 when an enormous pale blue fireball trailed by a 500-mile tail of bright light, shimmering, multicoloured bands hurtled across the Siberian sky and consumed itself in the greatest cosmic explosion in the history of civilisation. This cataclysmic detonation occurred four miles above the Earth's surface over a huge, inaccessible and almost uninhabited pine forest near the Podkamennaya Tunguska River in central Siberia. Equal to 1,000 Hiroshima bombs, the blinding flash could be seen from 500 miles away. The colossal blast produced no crater but its shock wave flattened half a million acres of forest, and more than twenty miles from the epicentre scorched and splintered trees lay pointing radially outward in a vast circle of destruction. Almost 60 miles away at the trading post of Vanavara people were knocked to the ground by the force of the blast, and an hour later the seismic wave was picked up at the South Kensington Meteorological Office in London almost 4,000 miles away.

The debate still rages about the true nature of this titanic explosion. Most agree that some sort of extraterrestrial body, travelling at perhaps 60,000 miles an hour, detonated when it collided with the Earth's atmosphere. Some maintain that it was a 100,000-ton asteroid, others believe that it was a football-field-sized meteorite, and some insist it was a wayward comet fragment composed mainly of ice and dust. A more abstruse theory holds that the cataclysm was caused by a chunk of anti-matter, but a few assert that it was the explosion of the main drive reactor in a UFO manned by aliens bent on invading the Earth.

In the same way that the Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz of the Galactic Hyperspace Planning Council demolished Earth to make way for the building of a hyperspatial express route through its star system; all we can really say about the greatest cosmic explosion in the history of civilisation is:

There was a terribly ghastly silence.
There was a terribly ghastly noise.
There was a terribly ghastly silence.

Which probably also accurately describes the reaction of Tony Pulis when Sam Allardyce told him he would need to increase his offer to close to £7 million if he wants to sign striker Carlton Cole. The Potters are reported to have made an opening bid of £3million, plus various add-ons, for the 27-year-old England international. Although the Hammers boss declined to confirm the size of Stoke's bid, or reveal West Ham's asking price, he said Stoke's opening offer wasn't enough to prise the striker away from Upton Park. Despite being one of the highest earners at the club, the Hammers are thought to be looking for a deal almost double the money on offer before they will considering selling Cole.

Although Allardyce accepts the Hammers have to look at balancing the books after their relegation from the Barclays Premier League last season, he was keen to stress players would not be allowed to leave cheaply. "I believe at this stage that the offer is not good enough. It is not to the club's valuation," the West Ham boss said. "We are keen to keep our key players. However, we have lost our Premier League status and our financial position has to be addressed. A part of that might be players are sold back to the Premier League, but only so long as that is right for our club."

Stoke have tabled offers for Cole and Birmingham duo Cameron Jerome and Scott Dann as they attempt to make an early move in the transfer market. However, City are unlikely to be rushed into negotiations for a quick deal. They have shown in previous years they are prepared to be patient because they believe better deals are more likely closer to the August 31 transfer deadline. Stoke were keen on Cole last summer, but were put off by a valuation of more than £12m. Liverpool were also heavily linked to the striker last year, but Cole endured a disappointing season culminating in West Ham's relegation in May.

However, Stoke would hope to revitalise a player who has seven England caps, the last of which came against Egypt 16 months ago. City could offer Cole the chance to put himself back in the England frame by cashing in on service from wingers Matthew Etherington and Jermaine Pennant. Cole, who has two years left on his West Ham contract, has also been linked with West Brom, QPR and Newcastle this summer. West Ham signed the player from Chelsea in 2006 and he scored 11 goals last season and has a total of 42 from 165 appearances for the Hammers.

If Allardyce is forced to sell Cole, Scott Parker or Robert Green then he has vowed to "splash the cash" this summer to rebuild his depleted squad. According to Talksport, the Hammers boss will hold showdown talks with the three players when they return for the start of pre-season training tomorrow. Parker is strongly expected to leave the club, with Tottenham leading the chase to sign him, while Green has been linked with a move to Aston Villa or West Brom. Stoke are also expected to come back with an improved offer for the Cole. Despite the huge debt, Allardyce has assured fans that he will still look to spend some money in the transfer market if they are forced to sell their best players. "If we sell, we will use some of that money to buy, there's no doubt about that," he said. "We have lost £40m of revenue. A lot of the finance will have to be stumped up by the owners to get us back into the Premier League."

The same media outlet claims some of that cash could be used to make an improved offer for Peterborough striker Craig Mackail-Smith. Allardyce is keen to bolster his forward line as Demba Ba has already left the club there is growing uncertainty surrounding the future of Cole. With Robbie Keane having returned to Tottenham following his loan spell last season, Allardyce knows he needs more firepower if West Ham are to bounce straight back into the Premier League. Mackail-Smith played a major role in helping Peterborough gain promotion into the Championship when he scored 35 goals last season and is keen to show he can play at a higher level. Posh director of football Barry Fry claimed earlier in the week that the club had agreed a fee with Leicester, but was expecting West Ham to come back with an improved bid.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Daniel Levy

Facts are the enemy of truth...

Tottenham Hotspur have decided to continue their battle over the Olympic Stadium, and have gone back to the High Court in attempt to force a judicial review of the decision to award the venue to West Ham United. Spurs are refusing to accept defeat after last week's decision by Judge Mr Justice Davis to reject their bid and that of Leyton Orient's. Backing the Olympic Park Legacy Company's decision, Judge Davis said there were no grounds for a review and dismissed Tottenham’s challenge as "more the product of ingenuity than of substance"; or the legal semantics equivalent of Todd Margaret protesting: "I didn't shit myself, I pissed myself. I just fell in some shit after I pissed myself." He subsequently warned both clubs that he hoped renewal [appeal] on all points would not be "a knee-jerk reaction and careful consideration will be given to the extent of renewal, if any." Failing to take heed, Tottenham are again challenging the legal process that gave the stadium to West Ham United, and will now have the chance to make a case in an oral hearing at the High Court. That could be held as early as next week and could potentially be heard by a different judge.

Orient chairman Barry Hearn revealed yesterday that his club would also be appealing the decision and had already lodged oral submissions. The club are concerned about the implications of having the Hammers moving closer to them, fearing the loss of support at the club. Orient's Matchroom Stadium home, which seats 9,271 supporters, lies within a mile of the Olympic site, closer to the Olympic Stadium than West Ham's Boleyn Ground. The club fear the implications of suggestions the Hammers could offer free or heavily discounted tickets when they move into their new home.

Having consulted with their solicitors, Hearn made it clear this was not a compensation claim, but an appeal made in order to protect the future of Leyton Orient. "We believe we have a strong case,” he said. "We need to make it clear we are not in favour of West Ham moving into the Olympic Stadium – it's not about compensation. We are trying to stop West Ham getting the Olympic Stadium. We made it quite clear from the beginning, the move by West Ham threatens the very existence of Leyton Orient. I suppose if every council in the country was able to loan their football club £40m we wouldn't have an objection. I believe in the medium term it will eventually put Leyton Orient out of business."

Now, their north London cohorts are following suit. A statement placed on the Spurs website this afternoon confirmed they have also applied to the High Court again to renew their challenge. It said: 'The club has today applied to the High Court to renew its application for permission to bring a claim against the London Borough of Newham and the Olympic Park Legacy Company, the Mayor of London and Government Ministers for judicial review of their decisions underlying the bid process for the conversion of the Olympic Stadium after the 2012 Games. Under this process the club now has the opportunity to present its case at an oral hearing at the High Court.'

Tottenham and Leyton Orient had until 4pm today to decide whether to appeal against last week’s rejection of their attempts to block West Ham’s move to the Olympic Stadium, writes Paul Kelso, but already attention is turning to their options if the move goes ahead. Last week the judge dismissed their request and effectively warned them to think twice before appealing. Should the West Ham decision stand, Tottenham face a major challenge to rebuild relationships strained by the judicial review process. The club’s decision to challenge the government and London mayor’s office in court has caused major friction, with Westminster insiders describing a "trust deficit" as a result of the legal process.

After Thursday's news was announced, the Olympic Park Legacy Company said: "We are pleased with the ruling and continue to make good progress in our negotiations with the preferred bidder in order to be in a position to agree the final terms for the stadium's lease." Newham Council have arranged a £40m loan to finance the move from Upton Park for West Ham, who are promising to develop a venue capable of hosting "world-class sporting events, including top-level football and athletics".

Spurs turned their attention to the Olympic Stadium in Stratford, east London, after deciding their plans for a new development at Northumberland Park - next to their existing north London White Hart Lane home - were not economically viable. Planning permission has already been granted but rising costs means the club would have to find potentially half a billion pounds to go ahead with the so-called Northumberland Development Project (NDP) - unless they manage to acquire sufficient public backing. The amount of residential property that could be built to offset the development costs has also been reduced, notes Andrew Warshaw, and Spurs will now step up talks with Haringey Council to try and strike a deal over the massive local infrastructure costs.

Tottenham’s other alternative site at Tottenham Hale would also require significant public subsidy to be viable, states Kelso, and diplomatic bridges will need to be built to achieve that. "Obviously we are taking a fresh look at things and are trying to find viability to drive the NDP, but it won't happen without public sector support," executive director Donna Cullen told insideworldfootball. Their original proposal, part of a joint bid with AEG sport and entertainment group, had been to knock down the Olympic stadium, rebuild it as a football-only venue and, by way of a commitment to athletics, redevelop the National Sports Centre at Crystal Palace. Now, following the recent court judgement, their need to find an alternative strategy is even more pressing. "We never stopped looking at the NDP as an alternative option," insisted Cullen. "Of course we will have to fund a degree of it ourselves but no stadium ever happens in this country without public sector support. All we are asking for is the right balance."

Daniel Levy's need to expand is increasingly desperate as he aims to stay competitive with a stadium that holds only 36,000 fans, but Cullen insisted the club were not prepared to go heavily into the red to realise their dream of a stadium on a par with neighbours Arsenal. "We're going to go back and see what might be possible but there is only a certain level of debt the club can take on and sustain. It cannot and will not go beyond a peak level." She admitted the quest for a new ground had been made tougher by the failure to acquire a judicial review of the Olympic Stadium process. "We are not in an economic period where there is a situation of generous grants and we are obviously not asking at the best of times. However, our ask is very relevant. A stadium would absolutely affect the regeneration of an area of London that has long been ignored."

For their part, Spurs believe that they were receiving so little support from government that they had nothing to lose from the challenge. It is as if Levy has become locked in a Kafkaesque hell in which from a certain point onward there is no longer any turning back. Playing Sancho sidekick to it's quixotic ally, Orient have asked the Football League to consider whether West Ham’s move to the Olympic Stadium should be permitted under their rules. Any ground move has to be approved by the board. They are currently appealing the Premier League’s decision to approve the move, and the Football League may wait until after an arbitration hearing in October before declaring its position.

Meanwhile, with West Ham’s move to Stratford looking increasingly likely to happen there is mounting talk in football and Olympic circles that shopping centre giant Westfield is set for an active, possibly decisive role in the club’s future. Westfield already own the shopping centre on the edge of the Olympic Park, notes Kelso, and there is speculation they could eventually add the club that will be playing a few hundred yards away to their London portfolio. The company has already been heavily involved as a partner in West Ham United's stadium bid, and are considering bidding for the contract to convert the stadium, as well as being linked with a naming rights deal.

Writing in today's Telegraph, Kelso states it has long been suspected that the Stratford move is part of a strategy by West Ham owners David Gold and David Sullivan to sell the club on. Given Westfield’s interests in the Olympic Park, and owner Frank Lowy’s football links – he is chairman of the Australian FA and headed its failed 2022 World Cup bid – they make logical suitors. According to the Londoner, the potential dominance of the Westfield brand in the Olympic east may well be counterbalanced by an increased presence in the former Olympic west as plans for expansion of Westfield at White City are also revealed. In this bullish spirit of expansionism, redevelopment of the site next to the complex could mean 1700 homes and a further 48,000 square metres of retail space. The plans go on display for public consultation in July.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

The Circling Dog

This social media culture is wonderful. Twitter, for instance, brings friends closer, it's immediate, settles differences and it throws new people together. It can, writes Chris Lepkowski, be amazingly funny when people start to filter home from nights out. Yet, as the disgruntled football journalist from the Birmingham Mail points out, as far as the transfer circus and the media is concerned, they're not always the easiest of bedfellows.

He cites the example of Eiji Kawashima. The Japanese goalkeeper is a friend of his. Not in reality - but he does follow him on Twitter. Of course, this isn't the real Lierse goalkeeper, but a Twitter account set-up by someone to parody the real Kawashima, who for weeks has been telling everyone he will be joining West Brom. He was adamant that his signing was imminent. The Baggies, meanwhile, denied this when first put to them. Then they just laughed. These days it simply irritates them - especially when the real Kawashima issues an ultimatum telling the Baggies to decide whether they want him or not. Apparently, Eiji, they don't.

Such is the power of social media that a ridiculous story about Peter Odemwingie failing to agree terms with Arsenal - based on two 'friends' of his - was run by a Nigerian website. Not a usual news source, notes Lepkowski, just one which anyone of any age could set up in their bedroom and portray as a reputable provider of news. Trouble is that people get sucked in. They see the reports on NewsNow and assume it might, just might, be true. Such was the power of this report that again Albion moved to issue a statement denying it all. And who can blame them, not least when a UK-based agent is also repeating the false rumour on national radio to millions of listeners. As it happens Albion and Arsenal have had no discussions over Odemwingie, let alone got to a stage where he is quibbling over personal terms. Arsenal might yet want Odemwingie. But they've done little about it so far.

Herita Ilunga a £1.5m target for Greek champions Olympiakos? No, he isn't. Nor has he been. Julien Faubert about to move to Lazio? A club official reportedly met with the Frenchman's representative yesterday but that's as far as it goes. Which is what I told a contact in the print media this morning who emailed me asking for verification. That's not to say either story won't be true one day in the future, but for now that's guesswork. Which is where a lot of this fuels social media panic, be it on Twitter or on Facebook. A couple of websites report it in Italy and then it gets picked up and reported as news by the website branch of a national radio station.

The same has happened with the Samuel Inkoom rumour that broke a few hours ago. The Ghana rightback claims West Ham have asked about his availability, and is reported to have told MTNfootball: "Yes it's true Tottenham and West Ham and other English sides want to sign me, but at the moment I'm a player of Dnipro and will leave my agent to sort that out for me." The Dnipro defender insists he remains committed to his Ukrainian side, but in the same moment adds: "I will be going back to Ukraine and then I will decide what to do next." Whatever the truth of this story- and it has already started to be picked up by some of the major media outlets- the only thing that is clear is that the player is serving his own agenda in this instance.

Self-publicists and shop-windows, the trouble these days is that people are in such a rush to break stories that diligence no longer applies, moans Lepkowski. Nobody bothers checking with clubs to see if a story is true. They might check with an agent to see if it's true - and you can count on the fingers of one foot the number of agents you can truly trust - but even then they might not bother. Social media has not so much changed the way sports journalists work, it's shredded the rule book too. The growth of Internet and, more so, Twitter and Facebook leads to frenzied excitement and fevered panic. It's also fueled incorrect assumptions about the local beat writer's job. The implication being that many are out of the loop or manipulated because they are over reliant on getting stories from the club. That's completely wide-of-the-mark, states Lepkowski, lamenting the fact he doesn't get paid for such a relaxed lifestyle. The official websites of many, if not all, clubs churn out quotes from press conferences and interviews. Not always, but probably 90 per cent of the time, it's the journalists who drive the questions which will appear on your club's official website. Furthermore, if any journalist relied on club information as a sole source for their news then they wouldn't last 10 minutes in the job. They are simply more exposed now because others are willing to run stories without any checks.

In this climate of frenzied transfer activity - still a few day BEFORE the window officially opens - it's the local media who have to mop up the mess of others, all in the name of providing accurate news. The growth of social media, the expansion of websites who claim to carry the 'latest news' - it's immediate, people demand news. Let's not forget, says Lepkowski, that newspaper journalists are still working for print publications first and foremost. Some of them will sit on information for the sake of their newspaper deadlines - hoping that the story doesn't break elsewhere.

To get exclusives on every story would take some doing given the immediacy of news services who can report something (and then forget they ever reported it) - like the BBC did when claiming Martin O'Neill was to replace Avram Grant back in January- never to mention it again. Fast forward a few months and Sky Sports had Dave Jones installed in the same job. Never wrong for long, eh... Again, a few phone calls to the right people would have provided this answer, says Lepkowski. Again, it's about sorting out the truth from the non-truths, half-truths or the not-yet-truths.

Ultimately, all a football writer can do is run stories which he knows can be stood up, by several sources. If that means knocking down a rumour which isn't true, and he knows isn't true, then he will do so. Every day if necessary. Sometimes he can slip up, but it won't be through negligence. It's how the news business is supposed to work, when you're not in the market for 'Internet hits' or 'website traffic'. Others can fly the kites and get you excited or panicked about transfers which might or might not happen. These websites and social media networks have a place in society. And many fans love the speculation during the lull which is bandied around via various branches. But they can have a negative side too.

Take the example of Carlton Cole. The toblerone-booted striker doesn’t use Twitter any more and if you happened to come across some of the abuse which was directed towards him on the social network site, says Matt Diner, you would understand why. Accusations of laziness and not caring about the club were two of the less graphic statements directed at the 27-year-old, but while the likes of Manuel da Costa and Radoslav Kovac couldn’t wait to leave the club, Cole actually wants to stay. He understands he may have to be sold, but has no qualms about playing Championship football and helping the east Londoners get back into the top flight. Of course, this is no revelation for those truly in the know but it is still nice to have it confirmed.

West Ham were the club who gave Cole a chance, states Diner. He was never given a real opportunity to prove himself at Chelsea and after unsuccessful loan spells at Aston Villa, Charlton and Wolves it was at the Hammers who got the best out of him. There is no doubt that Cole is a confidence player and when the boss at the time Gianfranco Zola gave him that belief he repaid him. Twelve goals in the 2008-09 season and 10 the season after showed a rapid improvement from a player who had never been able to make double figures in his professional career, but it was ability in and around the penalty area which was so valuable. Super strong in the air he gave the side a focal point, while he was almost unstoppable running at goal. "Carlton is a humble boy and sometimes he’s too quiet. He just needed to realise how good he was," Zola said in September 2009. "He didn’t realise what he was capable of doing. We tried to stick with him and show him what he was doing and what he was good at, looking after him and every aspect of his game, including the mental approach. He’s realised he’s a good player and that’s made the difference."

Last season was a completely different story as Cole struggled to find any kind of form and although his power in the air could not be questioned his performances could. A lot of the blame for the Hammers’ poor scoring record was attributed to the striker, but playing him as a lone front man receiving little support was down to Avram Grant. His outburst after the 3-0 defeat to Liverpool in November showed how much he cares for the club, argues Diner, while his claim that the team needed to 'change its attitude' showed his frustration at the manager’s tactics. It’s clear the Israeli failed to install the confidence in him that Zola could. Now, Sam Allardyce has a chance to do just that and if he manages to get near the production that Zola did, West Ham will not only have a player who would succeed in the Championship, but the Premier League as well.

It is clearly an opinion shared by Tony Pulis. According to this morning's Mail, Stoke City have made a £3million offer for much maligned United striker. The article states the former England forward is one of the club’s higher earners and the club are keen to offload him but want a fee closer to £7million. Besides, Cole, 27, may even struggle to pass a medical. A quick scan of Lepkowski's cultural circus reaction reveals most West Ham fans are sweating more than... well, Carlton in a one-on-one with the goalkeeper. The indignation of those Hammers supporters who have mercilessly harangued Cole for the last few months is equalled only by the indignation of those same fans who think the opening offer is insultingly lowball for a player of his 'ability'. Meanwhile, those Stoke City fans who had been teased into expecting a £10million move for Sunderland's Asamoah Gyan are threatening to stick their manager's cap 'where the sun don't shine'.

Of course, the line between social media and traditional print journalism gets ever more blurred when the likes of David Gold set up verified Twitter accounts and directly informs his followers he expects West Ham to announce some further signings shortly. The 74-year-old co-chairman said last night that despite no news on the transfer front since the confirmation of Kevin Nolan's arrival, hard work continues behind the scenes. "Many of you are asking about signings," he tweeted, "but please bear with us as we obviously can't reveal any details until a deal us virtually done. Negotiations for new signings are ongoing."

Since the end of last season West Ham have parted company with 13 first team squad members, with only two - Nolan and Abdoulaye Faye - coming the other way. No doubt Gold only intended to assuage the fears of those fans who have seen the squad descimated by a raft of departures; hardly surprising though that the real effect was to stoke up the already feverish speculation as to who might be arriving. By this morning, the Twitterati had convinced themselves a new signing would be announced by the end of today. Craig Mackail-Smith, it is suggested, is in discussions as I type, after West Ham and Peterborough agreed a £3million deal. I strongly advise someone do their diligence before running that particular story though.

It could also be Max Gradel, according to several of the Red Tops this morning. The club are reported to be leading the chase to sign Leeds' highly-rated rated winger. Gradel took the Championship by storm last season when he netted 18 goals and was voted the club's player of the season. The talented 23-year-old is out of contract with the Yorkshire club next summer and Leeds do not want to see him walk away as a free agent. Talksport state Sam Allardyce is looking to build a team that is good enough to bounce straight back into the top-flight and feels the Ivory Coast international would be a valuable addition to his squad. Swansea have also been strongly linked with a move for Gradel following their promotion into the Premier League, but according to the radio station, West Ham now look the favourites to clinch his signature. That may be the case, but I would think it unlikely that his signature would be imminent. As far as I know an offer has been made for the player but it was quickly rejected.

Finally, having used this platform to offer a post structural discourse on the friction between social media and the written press as it pertains to the transfer circus, by the medium of a cut and paste assimilation of an online critique of social media by a member of the written press, with the intention of circulating that discussion on said social media platforms to be reassimilated by said print journalists for further regurgitation, I'm off to find out what @jacquesderrida (he is real isn't he?) has been getting up to over in the not-so-real world before this particular circling dog finally catches its tail.

Oh and please feel free to follow me... @JLMDTrilby (beware of imitations)

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Un Lion Ne Meurt Jamais

Sam Allardyce has ­confessed he still dreams of becoming England manager, writes Tom Hopkinson in today's People. The new West Ham boss even ­reckons that a successful debut season in the Upton Park hot-seat will put him in the frame to succeed Fabio Capello. The 56-year-old is on a two-year contract and his priority is to take the Hammers back into the Premier League. If he achieves that, thinks Hopkinson, with his England ambitions still burning ­brightly, then the West Ham/Allardyce ­partnership could prove very ­successful indeed.

Allardyce said: "Without any dreams or goals I would need to pack in ­management. It was a pretty distant dream that I might one day be considered for the England manager’s job when I ­started out at Limerick, but 15 years later I went very close. You have to reset your goals and your dreams, and my dream, first and foremost, is to make West Ham as ­successful as I ­possibly can – not only by getting ­promoted, but by establishing them in the Premier League. But if by ­fulfilling that dream you are brought closer to another one, then obviously that’s what you consider. In fact, it’s what you do the job for. That’s not being disloyal to any football club, it’s about always having ambition and striving to be better. If you have achieved, the club has achieved. You try to leave a club in a better position than when you acquired it and I’ve always felt that’s the one thing I have done. Winning leagues and cups is deemed the ultimate success, but when you re-invent a football club and start putting processes in place for when you’ve left, then the basis of a ­sustainable, successful football club is there for somebody else to take on. My job now is to re-invent West Ham in terms of stability."

Allardyce clearly still feels he has a point to prove to Newcastle owner Mike Ashley, who sacked him in 2008, and to Venky’s, Blackburn’s chicken farmer owners who followed suit last season. Despite his experiences at those clubs, however, he didn’t have to give much thought to working for another set of high-profile owners in David Sullivan and David Gold. He added: "I like a challenge. This game is very challenging and I made a bad statement about 11 years ago when I said I would retire when I reached 55. This is the life I want to lead. As precarious as it might be, I have been doing it for such a long time and it is because of the feeling of winning and bringing success to a football club. There have been some decisions made that I couldn’t control and that hurt my reputation. Now I have to rebuild my ­reputation here at West Ham. This job is not very good for your health. It is pretty ­damaging but, ­unfortunately, it’s a bit like being addicted to cigarettes. You need the nicotine fix – and I need the fix. I need the adrenaline running through my veins on a Saturday and I need the feeling of guiding a team to victory. The only time I questioned if I’d had enough was when I had a couple of stents put in at Blackburn. I said to the cardiologist, Mr Rowlands, 'Is that enough for me?' and he said, 'Not really, you’ll be all right and you can’t do without it'. This game can be close to giving you a heart attack at times, but I’ve survived so far."

West Ham fans will be ­desperately hoping Allardyce survives – and succeeds – this coming season and keeps those England dreams bubbling. If he doesn't, then he can always seek sanctuary in David Gold's newly installed panic room. According to the Mirror, the terrified football tycoon has turned his home into a fortress after learning he is on the hit list of Britain’s most wanted armed robbers. The West Ham co-owner has spent £250,000 installing CCTV, a direct phone line to the police and the aforementioned panic room. Gold, 74, has been ­living in fear since being told by police that he was a target of the gang, who have carried out a series of violent raids on rich businessmen.

He was given the warning after a crowbar attack which almost killed Phones4u founder John Caudwell. Police believe the gang, made up of a hardcore of 20 thugs led by a 'Mr Big', research every aspect of their victims’ lives and movements before striking. Mr Gold, who is worth ­£360million, said his friend Mr Caudwell had spoken to him and left him in little doubt about the threat he faced. He told the Sunday Mirror: "From the ­information the police gave me, it was a question of when, not if, the gang would try something. When I spoke to John Caudwell he told me, 'you’ve got to take this seriously because this gang is going to kill someone'. I have been terrified."

Gold, who also owns the Ann Summers lingerie firm, has turned a suite of his 30-room Surrey mansion into panic rooms. In the event of a robbery, he will lock himself and fiancee Lesley Manning behind heavy triple-bolted steel doors. Once inside, he has a direct line to the police and can watch any raiders on a TV screen linked to more than a dozen CCTV cameras. Guards patrol the 55-acre estate 24 hours a day. Mr Gold said he improved ­security after a near-fatal bout of septicaemia in February. "It made me realise how vulnerable I am," he said. "I wanted to take ­whatever measures I could to defend myself and Lesley. I’ve done everything I can and I feel much safer now. But I’m still on red alert until this gang is caught." Police have been following up new leads on last November’s raid on Mr Caudwell’s Staffordshire home after it featured on Crimewatch. Three men from Liverpool were arrested but later released on bail.

Talking of robbery, Chris Hughton believes the Hammers have pulled off the steal of the summer in landing midfielder Kevin Nolan. Birmingham’s new chief says West Ham boss Sam Allardyce has pulled off an amazing Championship transfer coup and admitted he would have chased his old Toon captain himself if Big Sam had not snapped him up first. He said: "Kevin will be massive. He was outstanding in the Championship season and again last season. He will consistently score goals from midfield, doesn’t miss many games, and has a good influence on the dressing room."

In fact, Nolan could inspire West Ham the way Billy Bonds used to, agrees Sam Allardyce. The Hammers boss has tipped his new acquisition to bring Bonzo-style leadership to the Hammers cause next season. The manager was asked whether the club's new midfield recruit could be the one to show the drive and determination demonstrated by Bonds during his incredible Boleyn Ground career between 1967 and 1988. Allardyce said: "He is a great leader on and off the field. It is very important that we get a team spirit and unity. He could be that [Bonds style character], but I don't want to put too much pressure on him."

The manager, who helped Nolan rise to prominence during their time together at Bolton Wanderers, said he expected the 28-year-old to be "a much better player than one I last remember." He added: "He is in the prime of his career. He has chosen to pay me a really good honour. Not just that he wants to play for West Ham but that he wants to play for me again because he enjoyed his time. Hopefully we will both benefit by that."

While Nolan settles in, Scott Parker has reportedly been told he can leave for £7m as wage bill forces West Ham's hand. The Mail is running the same story it has been carrying for months; namely, the club are ready to listen to offers for the Footballer of the Year. The midfielder, 30, has been linked with Tottenham, but so far neither they nor any other Premier League club have made a positive attempt to sign the highly regarded England man.

New Upton Park boss Allardyce has still to discuss Parker's future with him, but sources close to the club have indicated that the player's wages, believed to be about £60,000 a week, would force them to let the skipper move on, especially now they have signed a ready-made replacement in Nolan. Allardyce, of course, has experienced the disappointment of losing Parker before. Despite being successful enough at previous club Newcastle to earn an England recall after a two-year absence, Parker did not enjoy on Tyneside the kind of popularity he later experienced at Upton Park and was sold by Allardyce to West Ham.

While the Parker story is the only West Ham related rumour to make the Sunday tabloids; the chattering Twitterati have been keeping themselves amused by breaking one tranfer story after another. It started this morning with news that West Ham had agreed a £2.5m fee with Leeds United for Ivory Coast winger Max Gradel (medical scheduled for Tuesday for the really ambitious ITKs). By lunchtime, there was a slew of reports that Peterborough striker Craig Makail-Smith had also agreed a £3m transfer (variously turning down Stoke City, Norwich City and/or Leicester City depending on who you happened to be following). A few hours later, came the distressing news that West Ham and Ipswich are locked in a tug-of-war over the free transfers signing of 34-year-old thug-for-hire Michael Brown. Followed by the claim this evening that an official 400k bid has been lodged for James McLean of Derry City; and tonight's story that Stoke keeper Thomas Sorensen has been lined up as Rob Green's replacement.

From potential signings to a potential star already in the ranks with the news that Pablo Barrera was a stand-out performer in the CONCACAF Gold Cup final. The winger was the hero for Mexico as they triumphed with a 4-2 defeat of the United States. Barrera pulled his side back into a thrilling contest in Pasadena, California with Mexico's opening goal, having seen the US race into a two-goal lead through Michael Bradley and Landon Donovan. Mexico's equaliser came via Andres Guardado and, with the score at 2-2, Barrera then got his second - and the game's decisive goal - five minutes after the interval. Mexico never looked back from there and added a fourth via Giovani Dos Santos to claim a memorable victory.

Finally, it is 8 years ago today for the passing of Marc-Vivien Foe. God bless and RIP the most indomitable of lions.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

King Of Kings

My name is Sam Allardycias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!

...and for my next trick FC Basel will take Radoslav Kovac from this club and actually pay money for the privilege. You read that correctly. Radoslav Kovac is off to Switzerland and it's not to join Dignitas. The Sam Allardyce revolution gathered pace yesterday when the Czech Republic international, who made 13 appearances as the Hammers were relegated last season, ended his stay in east London by agreeing a deal to join the Swiss champions. Kovac, 31, leaves the Hammers after making 62 appearances since arriving initially on loan from Spartak Moscow in January 2009. He made the move permanent the following August.

With the Hammers now preparing for life in the Championship, Kovac said he wanted to embark on a fresh challenge. He had grown frustrated over the past few months at a lack of regular opportunities, having fallen down the midfield pecking order under Avram Grant. Basel claimed top spot in Switzerland last season and offered the former Czech Republic international a two-year deal as they prepare for UEFA Champions League football. Kovac could face the Hammers when Basel take on Allardyce's side in a pre-season friendly on 13th July, and is the second of West Ham's relegated Premier League squad to move on this week, after defender Manuel da Costa departed for Lokomotiv Moscow.

Curiously, Kovac hailed his days at West Ham as the best of his career; which given the ponderous ineptitude of his contribution is a sad indictment of the ability of both the man and the people who decided to sign him. The midfielder revealed his fond memories under the guidance of former boss Gianfranco Zola, but admits he and the Italian's successor Avram Grant did not see eye to eye. "The first two years were fantastic and were the best years in my career," he told "Those were great times under Gianfranco Zola. We had a good team and had good company. Then Grant came in and everything changed. I don't like to recall the final days and weeks but I was taking it as it was coming. Otherwise, life in London was great and my family was happy there. We learned a little bit of the language too."

Kovac also claims current boss Sam Allardyce wanted the 31-year-old to stay at Upton Park, but he found the lure of UEFA Champions League football too difficult to turn down. "Sam Allardyce came in and said he would like to co-operate with me," Kovac said. "They asked for €500,000 and Basel were willing to pay €250,000, but then they upped it and the deal was done. I felt how much they wanted to capture me. The talks with them were correct and very swift and, moreover, they are in the Champions League." Despite his affection for West Ham, Kovac was fully intent on leaving the club this summer, although he would have foreseen no problem in seeing out the final year of his contract had Basel failed to negotiate a transfer. He added: "Even though there was a managerial change, I still wanted to leave as I was not playing often. Naturally, if the deal had fallen through I would have stayed, it would not have been the end of the world." Well maybe not for you, Radoslav.

The news came on the same day that the club also parted company with first team coaches Paul Groves and David Coles. The pair arrived at the club a year ago next week as part of Avram Grant's backroom staff overhaul. Both followed Grant from Portsmouth, where they proved popular with fans and players alike. As is often the case when a new manager arrives, the exisitng staff are tarnished by their association with the previous regime. Coles, 47, is one of the country's most well-respected goalkeeping coaches and is widely regarded to have been responsible for David James' renaissance during his time at Portsmouth. 45-year-old Groves, a former Grimsby midfielder and player manager was hired by Grant in November 2009 as first team coach. He followed the Israeli to the Boleyn Ground last July.

Elsewhere, Marek Stech insists he is ready to stake his claim to become West Ham's first-choice goalkeeper next season, and in doing so seemed to indicate Rob's Green's imminent departure. The Czech Republic Under-21 international told Pravo: "Green wants to stay in the Premier League and he reportedly has an offer from Aston Villa. There are us three youngsters left for the position of No.1 and, besides that, there is also a new manager so I am optimistic. We have been relegated but the second division is more difficult than the top one. You play more fixtures, so paradoxically it is an advantage for me that we are not in the elite league as I have a better chance."

Stech could face competition from Ruud Boffin who impressed many fans after a solid debut performance against Blackburn last season. His situation is further complicated by the fact there is a clause in his contract that means the Hammers owe his former club Sparta Prague a fee once he plays five games. The 21-year-old played three Carling Cup games last term and hopes the two clubs can come to a compromise over the summer, but if not, he will push for a loan move after brief spells at Wycombe and Bournemouth in 2009. "West Ham are in talks with Sparta and the clause is still valid," he said. "It is a big amount of money and I am not allowed to be specific about it. I hope everything gets resolved before the start of the new season. I would not like to leave West Ham as I love the club, but I need to be a regular starter. I may have to go on loan somewhere. It would be difficult for me now to change clubs (permanently). After the Euro U21s, goalkeepers of my age will be in demand and they have been regulars. I am not a first-choice goalkeeper and that makes it a lot more difficult for me. I would then probably choose to go on loan in England. I want to start the new season as number one, no matter where that would be. I need to gain experience. If I'm playing once in 10 games it gives me nothing new. You lose self-belief, talent and confidence if you're not a regular."

Stech had been hoping to feature against Manchester United in the Carling Cup quarter-finals only to discover the Hammers' hierarchy wanted him to sit it out, but the young keeper is eager to put that behind him, even refusing to have an extra week off after the Euro U21s. "Green didn't do well in the World Cup and he wasn't overly confident after returning from that tournament," he said. "The third goalkeeper got injured too so I was in a good position. I was doing quite well in the reserves and putting pressure on Green in training sessions. My chance was coming closer but I simply couldn't play. I was fired up for that one (Manchester United) but then the club president came and told me that they would not pay Sparta," Stech added. "I didn't know there had been any clause whatsoever, I was shocked about that. I felt sorry about how West Ham acted in that issue, but it is gone now. There is still plenty of motivation left and it is no problem to stay and fight for a regular spot. England is the best place for football - packed stadiums and unbelievable fans. I will not throw in the towel!"

Similarly, defender Winston Reid has pleaded with Sam Allardyce to allow him to remain with the club next season. The 22-year-old is keen to stay at Upton Park, despite suffering relegation with the club last season, following a £3million move from Midtjylland. Reid, a New Zealand international, signed for the Hammers after impressing during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The new West Ham boss is understood to be keen on shipping the player out of the club or sending him out on loan. However, Reid told the Daily Mirror: "I want to stay. We have a job to do getting West Ham back into the Premier League. I have not spoken to the new manager but I don't think I will be loaned out or sold." The player failed to cement a regular first-team place and only made three appearances under Avram Grant after suffering a literal pain in the arse injury early on last season. He scored his only goal of the campaign in the club's 5-1 FA Cup victory over Burnley in the fifth round.

According to today's Sun, the club have already opened talks on a new deal for Jack Collison. Boss Allardyce met the highly-rated midfielder on his return from holiday this week and assured him he has a big future at Upton Park. Collison, 22, has two years on his contract but is one of the lowest paid at the club on around £5,000 a week. The paper reports the Hammers are likely to offer him a new four-year deal and double his wages, despite suffering relegation. Allardyce wants Collison to form the midfield backbone with new skipper-elect Kevin Nolan. The West Ham board plan to offer big bonuses and pay rises for a promotion in 2012, with Nolan in line for £500,000. Defender Jon Spector is also thinking over a new contract offer.

On the rumour front, West Ham have reportedly made a late bid to snatch Tranmere Rovers’ Dale Jennings from the clutches of Bayern Munich, according to the Mail. Sam Allardyce has signalled the offer after negotiations stalled between the Bundesliga side and the League One team over prospective add-ons. The 18-year-old former Liverpool trainee was all set for to fly out to Munich this weekend once the finer details were ironed out but West Ham have moved to trump the Germans with a £1.8million bid and will pay more cash up front. The paper claims the move has swayed cash-strapped Tranmere and they are now leaning towards accepting the Hammers' package. They already rejected a £600,000 offer for Jennings in January but realise it is a signing that can bring them a decent return. He has only made 29 league appearances but is seen as one of the best young talents outside the Premier League. Interestingly, football journalists in Germany have given Bayern's interest in the player little or no credence at all.

Other less substantiated whispers suggest a bid of around £750k has been placed with Southend United for 18-year-old midfielder Kane Ferdinand, which the Shrimpers are now considering; that discussions have been opened with Leeds United over wantaway winger Max Gradel; and that the club continue to monitor Peterborough United duo Joe Lewis and Craig Mackail-Smith. Also on the radar is free agent Jay Bothroyd. West Ham and Celtic are the two clubs thought to be closest to securing the signature of the former Cardiff striker. He held talks with the Scottish club this week but is yet to finalise any deal, leaving the door open for United. The little birds suggest Bothroyd would prefer to move to London. Lastly, the club are said to maintain a passing interest in defender Anthony Gardner, who spent last season on loan at Selhurst Park and is now a free agent following the expiry of his contract at Hull City. It was reported earlier this month that West Ham are ready to pounce for the player after a move to Birmingham City fell through following Alex McLeish's departure as manager.

Back to the courts, where Tottenham Hotspur and Leyton Orient have effectively been warned by a High Court judge not to appeal against his rejection of their attempts to block West Ham United’s proposed move to the Olympic Stadium. Writing in this morning's Telegraph, Paul Kelso states an emphatic judgment by Mr Justice Davis dismissed their various challenges as lacking substance, and advised against a “knee-jerk” appeal. He also ordered both clubs to pay the legal costs incurred by Newham Council and the Olympic Park Legacy Company, which combined could approach six figures. The clubs had sought judicial appeal of the Olympic Park Legacy Company’s decision to select West Ham as the preferred bidder for the stadium, and of Newham’s proposed £40million loan to fund the conversion of the arena. Four challenges, two from each club, were rebuffed, though a fifth application by Orient against the Government is yet to be decided.

Dismissing Tottenham’s challenge as "more the product of legal ingenuity than of substance", Mr Justice Davis warned both clubs: "I would hope renewal [appeal] on all points is not a knee-jerk reaction and careful consideration will be given to the extent of renewal, if any." Tottenham and Orient now have until 4pm next Wednesday to appeal and will consider their options over the weekend.

In an unusual move, the judge included a proposed date for an oral hearing in the first full week of July, which would represent an extremely quick turnaround for cases of this complexity. It has led sources at the clubs to question if the case is being rushed through to satisfy a desire to conclude negotiations over West Ham’s lease as quickly as possible, and therefore allow London to bid for the 2017 World Athletics Championships. Deadlines for bids to the IAAF, athletics' governing body, close at the end of August.

The oral appeal could be heard by a different judge and both clubs believe they have grounds to dispute the ruling, writes Kelso; particularly with reference to state aid rules, but the strength of Mr Justice Davis’s findings will render any challenge a high-risk move. The judge was dismissive of many of Tottenham's arguments in their challenges to Newham, which he treated as the lead case of those before him. At different stages in the four-page judgment, he describes their arguments as "puzzling" and "unarguable", and declares himself "not overly impressed" by the case they level. He is equally sceptical of Tottenham’s challenge to the OPLC, describing one of their grounds as no more than "a quibble", another as "legalistic and of no actual substance".

Tottenham argued that Newham’s decision to agree a £40million loan to West Ham as part of a joint venture breached European Commission law banning state aid. The judge said he was "puzzled by the claim" and said the various points raised by Tottenham were "unarguable in the present claim". Spurs’ argument that the council acted beyond its powers in making the loan was also rejected. "I do not think this point arguable," he writes. He also dismissed Tottenham’s argument that the Newham was "irrational" and discriminated against Spurs by not offering them a loan as well as West Ham, and thus passed up the chance to have two Premier League clubs in the borough. "I simply do not understand the… suggestions that Newham’s approach was inherently discriminatory,” he said. In conclusion he stated: "Ultimately I have taken the view that the grounds advanced are more the product of legal ingenuity than of substance."

Finally, Sam Allardyce has been speaking about the "great thrill" of getting down to work at West Ham United after his first week in east London. The manager took time time out to speak to West Ham TV about the task in hand, with a week to go until the first-team squad report back to Chadwell Heath. "It is a great thrill to be here," he said. "Even in an empty Upton Park it gives me a thrill and gets me back in the mood again. I have been out of work for six months or so and I have missed the old adrenalin rush."

Allardyce said the club had already begun to take a hold over him, and he claimed the potential support was such that the club could have high aspirations. "The club is steeped in such history and tradition. It is the only club I would have dropped down for. It has got the fanbase to achieve something special. With the right guidance, right direction and right support in all departments, I hope we can give them that."

The hard work has obviously already begun and, after the weekend, Allardyce and his new assistant manager Neil McDonald will be stepping up the preparations at the training ground in readiness for the players' return. "As difficult as a job it is going to be from an early stages point of view, of finding out what everyone does and sorting it out, I am really looking forward to it. Hopefully we can get through the work we need to get through as quickly as possible in how we need to change, change the mentality and how we need to drive the club forward at the first time of asking as quickly as possible. Come the kick off to the new season, we won't have done it all by then, but hopefully we will have done enough to start winning right from day one."

Allardyce said he is eager to ensure a return to the West Ham way of good football that is also winning football - and used an example of two former greats of the game that would not settle for anything less. "I used to play against Sir Trevor Brooking and Bobby Moore. I was fortunate enough to be on the same field as them. They were coming towards the latter stage of their career when I was just starting and it was a great honour to play against them."

My name is Sam Allardycias, King of Kings... and for my next trick, Olympiakos, you will be buying a decrepit Congolese malingerer but remember only his form from two years ago.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Hotspurned And Disoriented

West Ham have moved a stage closer to occupying the Olympic Stadium after a high court judge rejected applications from Tottenham Hotspur and Leyton Orient to challenge the decision to select West Ham as the preferred bidder for the stadium after the 2012 Games. Hotspurned and Disoriented were both seeking judicial review of the OPLC’s decision taken in February and the Government’s endorsement of their recommendation, as well as that of the Mayor, and also Newham Council’s decision to agree a potential £40m loan to fund conversion of the stadium in a joint venture with West Ham. They also believed that the process by which the loan to the joint venture company that will operate the stadium on behalf of West Ham and the Olympic borough was unfair.

Mr Justice Davis rejected four separate applications for permission to seek judicial review of those decisions at a hearing at the high court. A fifth application lodged by Orient against the Government is yet to be considered by the judge. He is understood to have written to all interested parties yesterday afternoon informing of the reasons for his decisions. However, reports the Guardian, the long-running and bitterly fought saga over the long-term future of the stadium is not over, with both clubs expected to consider further legal steps. Tottenham and Orient have the right to appeal against the decision to reject their applications and can request an oral hearing to make their case.

Had they been successful there would have been a full trial of the decision-making process, but Thursday’s decision potentially clears the way for negotiations between the OPLC and West Ham over the stadium lease to resume. The Olympic Park Legacy Company welcomed the decision, with OPLC chairwoman, Margaret Ford, stating the decision over the future of the £486m stadium was taken in the proper manner. "The court has decided to refuse both Tottenham Hotspur and Leyton Orient permission to pursue a judicial review challenge in relation to Legacy Company’s decision to select a preferred bidder for the Olympic Stadium," said a spokesman. "We are pleased with the ruling and continue to make good progress in our negotiations with the Preferred Bidder in order to be in a position to agree the final terms for the Stadium’s lease."

West Ham hope to move in for the start of the 2014-15 season, after spending £95m converting the 80,000-seat Olympic venue into a 60,000-seat football stadium. Karren Brady, the West Ham vice-chairwoman who oversaw the club's bid, welcomed the judge's decision. "We hope we can now focus all our energy and passion on delivering a fantastic multi-use Olympic Stadium for the whole nation," she said. "We were honoured to be unanimously chosen as preferred bidder by the OPLC. Their decision, after a robust and diligent process, was subsequently backed by the Mayor of London and government. Our vision – in partnership with the London Borough of Newham – remains for a globally recognised destination for all, with community at its core, capable of hosting world-class sporting events, including top-level football and athletics."

Newham council, which has faced criticism from Spurs and Orient over its decision to partner with West Ham and inject a £40m loan, also welcomed the verdict. "We are continuing to focus on securing a lasting legacy for the stadium and, together with West Ham United, are progressing well with the OPLC on bringing the matter to a commercial and financial close," it said.

Spurs had proposed to dismantle the stadium and remove the track, while West Ham promised to retain the athletics facilities but faces questions over whether it will be viable as a multi-use venue. After losing out to West Ham, Spurs were left considering whether to reactivate plans to redevelop White Hart Lane or find a new site in Haringay or beyond. A statement from Tottenham read: "The club now has the option of renewing its application at an oral hearing at the high court and we shall give consideration to this in the next few days. As previously reported, the club continues to hold discussions with both local and national government bodies in order to seek to determine a feasible stadium solution."

Barry Hearn, chairman of Leyton Orient, has argued that West Ham's cut-price ticket offers in the new Olympic Stadium will decimate Orient's support base. They will now meet lawyers to decide whether they'll respond to a rejection for a review of the Olympic Stadium call. A club statement on Orient's official website read: "Further to the decision by the High Court to deny Leyton Orient leave to review the decisions by OPLC and London Borough of Newham, the club will be seeking advice from its solicitors as to whether it will seek an oral hearing in respect of either or both decisions. The club continues with its Judicial Review against the Government and arbitration over the Premier League's decision to allow West Ham United to move to the Olympic Stadium without taking into consideration the adverse effect on Leyton Orient. The club will be making no further comment on the matter at the moment."

Thursday, 23 June 2011

The Art Of Reinvention

Sam Allardyce is often mocked as a manager with ideas above his station, writes Paul Doyle in this morning's Guardian, so it perhaps surprised his detractors when he agreed to descend to the Championship to take charge of West Ham. True, he was unemployed until the relegated east London club came calling, but for a man who was once interviewed for the England job and who last year suggested he could win doubles with Real Madrid or Internazionale every season, if only they were savvy enough to look beyond his reputation and hire him, there must have been a temptation to wait for an offer from a better-placed club.

Allardyce says that belief in his own abilities and reassurances from the owners convinced him that he can put himself and West Ham back to where he believes they belong. He has been given a two-year contract and says he expects the club to be challenging for a position in Europe by the time that expires. "I've taken a risk by losing my Premier League status, which I'd built up over 10 years," he said. "I don't want to spend too long in the Championship. Without sounding too arrogant, my experience and expertise as a manager is trying to bring clubs together and get a team spirit and togetherness, to get back into the Premier League at the first time of asking."

If not, then certainly before moving to the Olympic Stadium in 2014. Then it is a question of challenging for honours and qualifying for Europe. You have to admire the self-belief of a man, notes Jon West in the Independent, who established Bolton as top-flight perennials but was subsequently hired and fired by Newcastle and then Blackburn. Especially as the Hammers flirted with disaster under Gianfranco Zola two seasons ago before embracing it whole-heartedly with Avram Grant last term. "It's a difficult task but it can be achieved and at a club the size of West Ham it needs to be done as quickly as possible," he admitted. "The team must be back in the Premier League when it moves into the Olympic Stadium. My ultimate goal is to be in the top half of the Premier League searching for European places or cup finals as I did with Bolton, although that is a long time off."

Allardyce's employers, David Gold and David Sullivan, plus the vice-chairman Karren Brady, often made life difficult for his predecessors by publicly criticising the team, but Allardyce says the backing of Sullivan in particular was one of the main reasons he took the job. "They're going to be no worse and no better than any owners I've worked with before," he insisted. "And I don't have a problem with Karren Brady having a column in The Sun. I spoke with David Sullivan at length about what we wanted to do and how we needed to do it. I believe the owners will give me the support I need to help the club be successful."

They have already demonstrated their backing by forking out £4m to reunite Allardyce with Kevin Nolan, the midfielder who worked with him at Bolton and Newcastle, and also by giving a contract to Abdoulaye Faye, the former Stoke City defender who has also worked with Allardyce before. Those arrivals go some way to offsetting the loss of Mathew Upson, Thomas Hitzlsperger and Demba Ba, plus the raft of players signed on loan last season. "They've supported me on the financial side by purchasing Kevin and giving Abdoulaye Faye a contract to come here," Allardyce stated. "I was impressed with the way they went about getting Nolan. There was no messing about. I mentioned it might be worth trying to sign him and two weeks later he was here. Every relegated club needs a kick-start and make sure we are not out of the Premier League for long as that could be a catastrophic disaster."

Allardyce hopes to persuade Scott Parker, Carlton Cole and Rob Green to stay but admits that given the cost of relegation, they may be sold if suitable offers are received. His first demand is no-nonsense, straight-talking from West Ham's England trio. Allardyce needs decisions quickly from his top stars and wants them to look him in the eye and say whether they still want to be with the Hammers. "In the middle of all the mayhem going on here, I need Scotty, Greeny and Cole to be honest with me," he said. "All the speculation is around those three - but we haven't had concrete bids for any of them yet. I don't want to talk to them on the phone. I want them to look me in the eye and tell me what they want to do. They might walk out of the office and say they don't really fancy working for me because I've got a northern accent. If that's the case, we'll sell them. But we can only do that if someone bids for them. But they're not going to be pinched. There's no fire sale at West Ham."

The newly-appointed Upton Park boss still faces losing up to 15 of the players who led the club to relegation, according to the Sun. "Other than that there is no rush to sell anyone else," Allardyce said. "We will probably look at moving some of the players on because their desire is to play in the Premier League. From a financial point of view, it suits us to lose that financial commitment because the drastic loss in revenue is what we all have to face at West Ham. It certainly suits the owners, who've got to really back up with their own money to help us try to get back in the Premier League. We will try and get as good a squad as we can. There's some very good players at the club. If we all want to work together and go in the right direction, we can give it our best shot and hopefully that will be enough next season."

If Parker goes, he said, Nolan is likely to be captain. "He's already guided Newcastle back to the Premier League and I see Kevin as not only a great player on the field, but a great captain off it," Allardyce added. "When you've got Joey Barton almost crying on the TV because he's left [Newcastle] it shows you the respect that he's gained and what a character we're getting in Kevin. He guided Newcastle back to the Premier League at the first time of asking, he was their top scorer last season and he looks after all the players and drives them on. He's not going to come telling tales to me. He sorts out the stuff I do not need to know about and creates the team spirit we'll need if we're going to get promoted. Kevin is the first to let you know if something isn't right and he clearly felt he'd been let down by Newcastle. That allowed us to move in and sign him."

Allardyce wants personnel turnover to be "minimal" because "it's very difficult to change around a club that has been relegated but even more so if you lose 50% of your players because that means you have to bring another 10 or 12 in and you've got a bunch of strangers that you have to mould into a team." Although he has yet to speak to any senior players at the club he admits there was still much to be done. "Before we all get together I've got an awful lot to sort out in terms of pre-season training, staffing, relocation for myself, so I'm going to try and do that before the players get back and then speak to them on an individual and group basis," he said.

Of paramount importance is the need to "reinvent" West Ham and dispel "the negative attitude" that has engulfed the club; to end the perception of the club being a 'soft touch'. West Ham's new manager insisted that no team under his control would throw away a 2-0 lead away from home to lose 3-2, as happened at Wigan to relegate the Hammers to the Championship. Talking about that fateful end-of-season defeat, Allardyce said: "Put it this way, if we are two-nil up away from home, under me I don't think we will lose. If the players understand how you need to change your tactics within a game of football then they will not lose that game again. I think that is their game intelligence, and really they should have said that to themselves on the pitch irrespective of what the manager said."

The Dudley-born Allardyce also revealed the tactics he employed as a visiting manager when his teams went to Upton Park. "When I was a player I always wanted to come and play at Upton Park," he added. "The legacy always impressed me as a young man - Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst and then players like Trevor Brooking and Billy Bonds. It was a pleasure and a privilege to play against players like that although I wouldn't say I enjoyed it too much because we didn't win too many. As a manager coming back to Upton Park, the plan was always to stop the way West Ham wanted to play - the West Ham 'way'. That used to frustrate the fans and the players and then we were able to take advantage of that. Some of the West Ham players didn't seem capable of handling the pressure that we put on them, they weren't able to do what they wanted. Now, I have got to get rid of the hangover which relegation brings and reinvent this football club," he said. "Too often they have had fleeting moments of grandeur and a lot of depression."

Allardyce appears aware that this is also a chance to reinvent himself and to banish what he insists is groundless negativity towards him. He naturally rejects the depiction of his arrival at Upton Park as a culture clash. In fact, writes Jeremy Wilson, it took just five minutes for the tone of Sam Allardyce to shift from sunny optimism to outright indignation.

West Ham United's reputation for a certain style of flowing football had been politely referenced and Allardyce duly seized the opportunity to defend himself. "When did West Ham play the West Ham way?" he said. "It can’t be the West Ham way if you get relegated, and the club’s been up and down like a yo-yo. The West Ham way is about winning football matches and the enjoyment of winning. If the West Ham fans are happy with what they see, they'll come back in their thousands singing and shouting the players' names. I’m in the game to play winning football and entertain the public, and that’s what I do. I have to instill a bit of discipline, magic and creativity to drive West Ham through a very difficult season. Everywhere I’ve been I entertain the public, irrespective of the perception from the media that Sam Allardyce plays long ball. It is only a perception but most of football is run on perception today."

Harsh sackings at Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers have clearly not dented Allardyce’s self-confidence and he also bristled at the suggestion that his speciality had been keeping unfashionable clubs in the Premier League. "I'm only remembered at Newcastle for one [angry] fan jumping up in one game, which TV keeps showing, but in the first 10 games I was the best thing since sliced bread because we had the best start in 10 years. At Blackburn we increased the average attendance by 4,500. Entertainment comes through what your fans tell you. And at Bolton only two of my seven years were about survival so I shouldn't be tagged as a 'survival manager'. I'm a productive manager who breeds success. I've got a vast array of skills and I'll put them to work here and hopefully at the end of the year we'll all be blowing bubbles."

With that, even the England job was not dismissed. "If I get West Ham up and then into the top half of the table in the first season, then you lads will be saying Sam might have a chance for the England job. My ultimate goal is to be in the top half of the Premier League and searching for cup finals, European places. That, though, is a long way off. My only aim at the moment is promotion for West Ham out of this division as quickly as possible. If I don’t do that, then I don’t expect to be here."

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Da Costacutters

Tottenham Hotspur and Leyton Orient face a crucial week in oppostion to West Ham's Olympic Stadium move, writes Paul Kelso in this morning's Telegraph. The clubs will discover within days whether their challenge to United's tenancy of the Olympic Stadium has been successful after a High Court judge spent the early part of this week considering their case. Mr Justice Davis will rule on whether to grant permission for a judicial review of the decision to declare West Ham the preferred bidder after considering four separate applications from Tottenham and Orient.

The clubs are challenging the decision of the Olympic Park Legacy Company to select West Ham, the Government and London mayor Boris Johnson for endorsing that decision, and Newham Council's decision to agree to lend £40 million to a joint venture with West Ham that will convert and run the stadium. If successful, reports Kelso, Tottenham and Orient will be granted a full trial at which their challenge will be heard, which is likely to be no earlier than October. Both have already won the first round of their challenge after the judged rejected an attempt by the Government and the mayor to skip the first phase of the judicial review and proceed straight to a substantive hearing in the autumn. Tottenham and Orient objected, arguing that the judge should decide whether to grant permission for the challenge before hearing the substance of the case. That process began on Monday when Mr Justice Davis began studying several hundred pages of documents submitted by the various parties.

The legal challenges follow the acrimonious bidding war between Tottenham and West Ham that culminated in February with the Hammers being selected as preferred bidder. Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy, desperate to develop a new stadium to keep pace with their Premier League rivals, believes he was encouraged to enter the Stratford bid, only to be used to drive a better deal out of West Ham. Orient, meanwhile, believe that West Ham's move to within a mile of Brisbane Road will have a huge impact on attendances and the club's commercial prospects. Orient are also challenging the Premier League's decision to approve West Ham's potential move to Stratford. An arbitration hearing will be held in the autumn.

The clubs' submissions, copies of which have been seen by Kelso, reveal that Tottenham and Orient are challenging both the process and the substance of the OPLC's decision, and Newham's financial support for West Ham which they say breaches European laws on state aid. The submissions also reveal that one of the OPLC's grounds for rejecting Tottenham's bid was that their plans to renovate Crystal Palace as an alternative to retaining the athletics track was "inadequate and under-funded" and "does not provide a long-term sustainable athletics legacy". Spurs reject this argument, insisting that they provided a £500 million guarantee to underwrite their bid and the Crystal Palace scheme.

The role of Newham in providing a £40 million loan to West Ham is at the heart of the challenge from Tottenham and Orient, while the legal process is understood to have exposed tensions between the OPLC and the council over the key issue. Without the Newham loan, West Ham cannot afford to take on the stadium, but Tottenham and Orient argue that it is an inappropriate use of public money and was made unlawfully. Given this, they argue that West Ham's bid, which relies on council funding, is not financially secure and should not have been approved.

Tottenham argue that the Newham loan breaches EC laws banning state aid for private companies; that the council acted beyond its powers by entering into the deal with West Ham; and finally that Newham should have considered offering similar terms to them as they would then potentially have benefited from having two Premier League clubs in the borough. Newham's defence is technical but crucial. The council argues that in fact it has not agreed to make the loan, but simply agreed that its chief executive could make the loan in future, if a suitable deal can be agreed with West Ham over terms and conditions.

Tottenham argue that this admission proves that the OPLC should not have approved West Ham, as without the Newham money the bid cannot satisfy the key criteria that any tenant has "committed, secure and agreed" funding. Newham's claim that the loan has not been agreed is understood to have greatly concerned the OPLC, which based its decision to award West Ham the stadium on the fact that the funding was in place. The council and West Ham are understood to have signed numerous documents to that effect.

The Daily Telegraph understands that the OPLC was so concerned that it has written to Newham demanding clarification of the status of the loan. The council is thought to have responded that the loan will be available to West Ham, but Tottenham and Orient will claim that that admission negates the council's defence on other points. Describing the OPLC decision as "irrational, discriminatory and unfair", Tottenham accuse them of displaying bias towards West Ham in the bidding process and of secretly changing the rules by which the preferred bidder would be chosen. Tottenham argue that in key areas they were not given vital information about how the decision-making process would be made, particularly in relation to the five criteria on which the final call was based. The OPLC set out the criteria at the start of the process, stating that they were listed in order of importance, with the financial certainty of bidders rated the most important.

Spurs say that "without warning" the OPLC changed the rules during the final bidding, judging the criteria with equal weight. This, they say, worked against them as West Ham should have failed the financial test, and the areas they were "perceived as failing" – reopening the stadium rapidly and flexible usage – were third and fifth on the list. They cite a letter from Johnson as evidence of the confusion, even among OPLC stakeholders. Explaining his decision to back West Ham, Johnson initially said the objectives "were listed in order of importance". In a subsequent letter however he has admitted that this was "a mistake and obviously so".

Away from the legal proceedings and West Ham have reportedly offloaded Portuguese defender Manuel da Costa to Lokomotiv Moscow for £1.3million. The Mail state the 25-year-old, who had one year left on his deal at Upton Park, has signed a four-year contract with the Russian club. Da Costa joined West Ham on a three-year contract in August 2009 from Italian side Fiorentina, as part of the deal that saw Savio Nsereko move in the other direction. He has been capped 22 times by Portugal at under-20, under 21 and under-23 level.

The French-born defender started his career at AS Nancy and has also played for PSV Eindhoven and Sampdoria. He missed three months of last season with a foot injury and was said to be keen to move on after starting just 14 Barclays Premier League matches as the Hammers got relegated last season. "It would have been a step backwards to stay at West Ham, where I didn't always get in the team," he said. "Going to Lokomotiv is a chance to improve my game. Many famous players have come to play in the Russian championship, where teams like CSKA, Zenit and Lokomotiv are the top three clubs. Alexei Smertin (the Lokomotiv sporting director) told me of the club's ambitions, that Lokomotiv have serious intentions and intend to fight for the Russian title. I want to play in a good team and win. This is what prompted me to sign the contract."

Interestingly, Da Costa is due to stand trial at Snaresbrook Crown Court in a couple of months after pleading not guilty to sexual assault over an incident last October. The player has already admitted common assault on the female clubber after a row broke out at Faces Nightclub in Ilford. He was subsequently remanded on conditional bail to stand trial on September 12. He was also ordered not to enter Faces and not to contact the complainant. Da Costa is also yet to answer for his crimes perpetrated in the name of ball distribution, positional sense and defensive concentration; in all areas of which he has proved himslf to be a hopeless and futile recidivist.

Elewhere, the same paper insists West Ham continue to monitor Peterborough goalkeeper Joe Lewis; although some in the club's hierachy remain to be convinced about the 6ft 6ins stopper. The player has been on the radar of Premier League clubs for some time and some of the wealthier clubs in the Championship. He has developed a decent reputation and earned international recognition with England U21s and director of football Barry Fry has often been signing his praises with rumours of big clubs circling.

West Ham have repeatedly been linked but it is thought they have reservations about the 23-year-old following a few scouting reports from last season. Instead, claims the Mail, they are more likely to persevere with Robert Green if he is willing to stay and hope to develop a better defence under Sam Allardyce’s stewardship. That said, Premier League clubs are thought to be interested in Green. Aston Villa, West Brom, Newcastle and Manchester City all need goalkeepers of varying degrees as they look for either number ones or understudies yet Green will at least want to ensure he plays every week and that may keep him at Upton Park.

Talking of Peterborough, Talksport believe West Ham are ready to make a move for highly rated Craig Mackail-Smith. The striker, 27, has been linked with a number of Premier League clubs, but as yet has failed to reach an agreement over a lucrative move into the top flight. Hammers boss Sam Allardyce has already seen Demba Ba leave the club and is looking for a quality striker to spearhead their attack as they look to bounce straight back into the Premier League.

Mackail-Smith scored 35 goals to help Peterborough gain promotion last season, but is keen to showcase his talents at a higher level and could be tempted by a move to Upton Park. The radio station states West Ham have already shown they mean business by signing Newcastle captain Kevin Nolan and Stoke defender Abdoulaye Faye and now hope Mackail-Smith will become their third major signing of the summer. Peterborough's director of football Barry Fry admits West Ham have enquired about his availability but have yet to make a firm offer. "West Ham did ask me what we wanted for Craig," said Fry. "They have not made a bid as yet, but they are having a serious go at getting back into the Premier League straight away."

Other reports today suggest Bolton midfielder Matt Taylor could be on his way to Upton Park. The versatile 29-year-old can also play at left back and is said to be 'in talks' with the Hammers over a permanent switch, according to Setanta. Taylor began his career at Luton back in 1999 and moved to Portsmouth three years later in a £750,000 switch. After 178 appearances in six years at Fratton Park he joined Bolton, having lost his place at Portsmouth to Niko Kranjcar.

Gary Megson paid around £4million to take Taylor to the Reebok Stadium during the 2008 winter transfer window. During his first full season Taylor scored ten goals from 34 league games, then eight from 37 the following season. Last season he appeared in 36 of Bolton's 38 league fixtures. Should he sign for West Ham, Taylor would be the third former Bolton player to arrive at the club since Sam Allardyce was unveiled as the new manger.

Of the players already here, Skysports understands Jack Collison's representatives have entered discussions with West Ham over a new deal for their client. The talented midfielder is a player the club are eager to keep at Upton Park as they look to win an immediate return to the top flight. With Scott Parker seemingly to depart over the summer as Tottenham continue to be strongly linked, it will be left to the likes of Collison to help lead a promotion push. The Wales international is still under contract at West Ham but the club's management are looking to tie him to a long-term deal. Talks are set to continue over the summer as both parties look to thrash out fresh terms for a player highly-rated in the East End.

West Ham are also reportedly hopeful that young forward Zavon Hines will sign a new deal with the club. Hines, 22, is currently a free agent after rejecting the first offer of a new contract at the end of the season. Sullivan said at the time the player wanted 'silly money' and the fans would all be shocked if he told us the figures involved. Yet Allardyce is thought to be keen on keeping the England Under-21striker at Upton Park and hopes he can persuade him to change his mind. The new manager wants Hines to see how the club is heading in the right direction following their relegation into the Championship, and remains hopeful that Hines will pledge his long-term future to the club before the start of the season.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Accidental Exposure

Only at West Ham United could the much heralded launch of the the new home and away kit- complete with countdown clock scheduled for 9.30 tomorrow morning- be scuppered by an enterprising Hammers fan who had the genius insight to type '2011/12 kit' into the search engine on the new online site. I mean seriously, doesn't every e-commerce package have a fail-safe time and date release mechanism that should make this kind of slip impossible? I can't decide whether the skull-crushing incompetence that permeates virtually every department at Claret & Blue Towers actually makes me love the club even more or a just little bit less. Oh wait, the fact we can't actually get the shirt until a month after its 'official' release just made my mind up.

Monday, 20 June 2011

The Damned Ignited

Up this corridor. Round this corner. Down the next corridor. The next corner. Kevin Keen at my heels. To the office. The empty desk. The empty chair. Avram's office. Avram's desk. Avram's chair. Four walls with no windows and one door, these four walls between which he etched his schemes and his dreams, his hopes and fears. In his black books. His secret dossiers. His enemy lists- Avram didn't trust people. Didn't like people. He dwelled on people. Hated people. This the office. The desk. The chair. The massage table. In which he schemed and in which he dreamed, with his hopes and with his fears. In his books. His dossiers. His lists. To exorcise the doubts. The codes and the road maps. To obsession. To madness. To here.

Karren Brady puts her head round the door. No knock-
'Any chance of a cup of tea, love?' I ask her.
Mrs Brady says, 'The chairmen are waiting for you upstairs.'
'For me?' I ask. 'Why?'
'For the board meeting.'
I take off my jacket. I take out my handkerchief. I place it on the seat of the chair. His chair. I sit down in the chair behind the desk. His desk. I put my feet up on the desk- His chair. His desk. His office. His vice-chairman-
'They are waiting for you,' says Mrs Brady again.
'Let them wait,' I tell her. 'Now how about that cup of tea, duck?'
Mrs Brady just stands and stares at the soles of my shoes.
I knock on the desk. Avram's desk. I ask, 'Whose is this desk, love?'
'It's yours now,' whispers Mrs Brady.
'Whose was this desk?'
'Mr Grant's.'
'I want it burnt then.'
'Pardon?' exclaims Mrs Brady.
'I want this desk burnt,' I tell her again. 'The chairs and all. The massage table. Especially the massage table. The whole bloody lot.'
'Whose vice-chairman are you, duck?'
'Yours now, Mr Allardyce.'
'Whose vice-chairman were you?'
Mrs Brady bites her nails and stems her tears, inside her column for the newspaper already penned, just waiting to be typed up and sent.
'Change the locks as well,' I tell her as she leaves, Kevin Keen with his eyes on the floor and his hands in his pockets. 'Don't want the ghost of troubled Avram popping in now, do we? Rattling his chains, scaring everyone.'

There's a knock on the office door. Kevin looks up from his pens-
'Who is it?' I shout.
'It's me, Boss,' says Neil McDonald. 'I got it.'
I get up from that bloody chair. From behind that fucking desk. Neil comes in, brown parcel in his hands. He passes it to me.
'There you go.'
'What about the petrol?' I ask him.
'It's in the boot of the car.'
'Good man,' I say and unwrap the brown paper parcel- I unwrap the parcel and I take out the axe- 'Stand well back,' I tell them. 'Look out, Kevin!'
And I swing that axe down into that desk, his desk, Avram's desk... I swing it down and then up, up and then back down again- Into his desk and his chair. Into his photos and his files... Again and again and again. Then I stop and I stand in the centre of what's left of that office, panting and sweating like a big fat black fucking dog. Mrs Brady gone. Neil McDonald and Kevin Keen flat against the wall. I'm a dynamite-dealer, waiting to blow the place to Kingdom Cum...

Then Neil and Kevin help me gather up all the pieces of the desk and chair and massage table, all the photos and the files, all the bloody dossiers and every fucking thing in that office, and we take it all outside and pile it up in the corner of the car park, and then I go to the boot of Neil's car and take out the Castrol and pour it all over the pile, then I light a cigarette and take a couple of drags before I throw it on the pile and watch it burn-
To Kingdom Cum...
Burn. Burn. Burn.

Sam Allardyce officially began work as West Ham United manager today. With apologies to David Peace, the above is a fictional account based on that single fact.

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