Daily Archives: 19/09/2013

Wigan and Swansea Doing Well in Europe as West Ham Struggle at Home – by Rob Atkinson

Bobby Moore Lifts the World Cup for the 'Ammers

Bobby Moore Lifts the World Cup for the ‘Ammers

It’s the advent of a New Order we’re seeing in European competition this week – Swansea’s highly impressive performance against fallen giants Valencia being the headline, but Wigan’s solid draw in Belgium also drawing praise.  These are not names we’re used to seeing as our various clubs sally forth to uphold the good name of English football by giving Johnny Foreigner a good old punch on the boko (figuratively speaking, of course).  The fact that most domestic teams consist of Johnny Foreigners in a ratio of about 8:3 is neither here not there.  They’re British clubs and as they stomp all over some hapless bunch of continental also-rans, we feel a surge of pride – don’t we?  Even Spurs are doing OK against some unlikely collection of Norwegian lumberjacks.

So what about the old names that have been replaced by these Johnny foreigner come latelies?  Forest, Leeds, QPR and Derby all used to campaign successfully abroad, but their recent domestic record is of failure; all are currently embarked on varying programmes of recovery.   And then of course, there’s West Ham.  Whatever happened to them?

West Ham, you will recall (or possibly not) had a real European Reputation in the sixties, and even a partial one in the seventies.  In three consecutive years from 1964 to 1966, the late, great Bobby Moore hoisted silverware at the old Wembley as West Ham won the FA Cup, then the Cup-Winners Cup and then famously the World Cup.  That last one is a bit of a joke actually, although Hammers’ fans tell the tale seriously enough.  After all, their captain lifted the Jules Rimet trophy in ’66 and their players scored the goals.  But as former Irons winger of the time Harry Redknapp admits, even with Moore, Peters and Hurst, the Hammers finished an average of about 17th in that period.  “It just goes to show how crap the other eight of us were”, remarked ‘Appy ‘Arry.

Therein, perhaps, lies West Ham’s real problem.  They’ve just never quite made it as a Big Club, various shiny baubles notwithstanding.  They have this East End identity, they reek of the Krays and Leslie Grantham and other criminal types.  But as a serious football institution, they’re not quite there.  Even their most famous fan, Alf Garnett, supports Spurs in real life.  So the Hammers are left as a club with no real grasp on greatness, one whose main defining characteristics are the Bubbles Song and being generally recognised as bigger than Leyton Orient.  That mid-sixties heyday was their zenith – by the grace of Ron Greenwood, a Pope John Paul II lookalike and future England supremo – and assisted by three world-class players who were content for a spell to be big fish in a small pond, the Hammers punched above their weight like some cocky rat boy from Bethnal Green.  It couldn’t last, but while it did we became almost accustomed to the sight of a Hammers side fighting to conquer foreign fields – although in later years there would usually be an unhappy ending at the hands of Anderlecht or someone as West Ham met their Waterloo, and the Bubbles – well, burst.

So nowadays, if you want to look beyond the Big Lads at the top of the Premier League – and pending the return of fellow Euro-fighters like Leeds and Forest – it’s Wigan and Swansea we’ll be cheering on against those cross-channel types, whatever our domestic prejudices might be.  It IS good to see British clubs doing well abroad – or at least most of them.  Sadly it seems that the days of our youth when the famous claret and blue was well-known in stadia the length and breadth of UEFA – those days are probably gone forever and the best chance of the Hammers being in Europe again is if there’s a war.  Still, you never know – and they certainly have a better chance than my beloved Leeds.  For this season, at any rate.

Well done Wigan and Swansea, you did us proud.

Leeds Must Bounce Back After “Gutted” McDermott’s Unhappy Reading Test – by Rob Atkinson

Adam le Fondre - Leeds Target, Leeds Nemesis

Adam le Fondre – Leeds Target, Leeds Nemesis

To paraphrase a more illustrious member of the Atkinson clan – Rowan of that ilk – if winning a game of football in the last minute of stoppage time is finger-lickin’ good, then losing in a like manner is just ass-wipin’ bad.  And it could so easily have ended in a Leeds win at Reading last night; nobody could have disputed the fairness of a narrow away victory as United had looked marginally the likelier of two willing teams on a night of ebb and flow.  As the final minute or so ticked away, it had appeared that the impressively raucous band of away fans would be heading home jubilant.

Heading home, in fact, is precisely what Jason Pearce should have done with what looked like the last clear-cut chance of the game.  It was a good chance, a very clear-cut chance of the “my Gran would have buried that” variety – and Pearce should have gobbled it up.  But sadly, he missed, Then, predictably, Lady Luck performed a clumsy and unattractive pirouette, and within two shakes of a donkey’s tail Steven Warnock had managed to get himself a second yellow card.  He trailed off miserably, the resultant free-kick was pumped into the Leeds area and there was Adam le Fondre, rumoured target for United all summer long, to glance the ball past Paddy Kenny.  1-0 and finis, the whole game turning on the slings and arrows of that outrageous last minute.  Ho hum.

It’s encouraging to report that the hysterical reaction we had come to expect in the wake of just about any Leeds United defeat has been much less apparent under McDermott’s Elland Road regime than it has been in the year or so before.  And quite rightly so; Brian is quietly evolving a Leeds United metamorphosis the effect of which runs deep and transcends the statistical impact of mere results.  It’s hard to think of any man more deserving of an extended honeymoon period – without actually getting married – than the unassuming and softly-spoken United chief.  Most of what he has touched so far has turned to gold and the feeling is that, as he becomes ever more firmly entrenched, he will increase his influence over transfer policy at the club so as to secure the recruits he is all too well aware he still needs.  Brian will go about his business with justified self-belief – and apparently with the enthusiasm and loyalty of his playing staff – whatever the mood of the support may happen to be in the light of results good or bad.  And yet it’s still important that he has the confidence, belief and full backing of the fans.  If that’s not the case then a slight pressure can start to build which is felt not necessarily in the manager’s office but perhaps more tellingly in the boardroom.  The longer we can all pull together, the better for the good of the club as a whole and for the manager’s chances of reviving his sleeping giant.

So it’s important that Leeds do bounce back from this latest setback and – if possible – put together a few results to edge back towards the play-off zone.  This would keep the pot of supporter positivity and optimism bubbling away nicely as well as regaining the momentum of a season that had been jogging along nicely.  Optimism and positivity are still very much on the agenda of the knowledgeable fan who knows his or her stuff.  The only two defeats have been narrow affairs, against teams that were in the top-flight last year – and both results could so easily have been different.  Rudy Austin’s piledriver would have earned a point against QPR and Pearce’s horrible miss should instead have secured a tasty victory for Brian at former club Reading.  Admittedly, “what-ifs” butter no parsnips, but they DO serve to show that the team is not getting played off the park, even by the pedigree end of the division.  At this stage of the season that’s no idle claim, and we can still be optimistic and feel that the future looks bright.

Saturday’s game at home to Burnley is a chance to re-launch the good ship Leeds on its voyage towards what we all hope and think could be a place in the end of season play-offs.  Three points are eminently achievable against the Lancastrians, despite their own decent form and comfortable win over Birmingham on Tuesday.  It will be interesting also to see if Noel Hunt can maintain his steady improvement; a goal from him could be just the kick-start he needs not only for his own sake, but also for the team as a whole. Elland Road on Saturday could just be his stage and, if that proves to be the case, the charge towards the top could be back on again.