Was John Lydon (Johnny Rotten) prophesying about West Ham when in 1978, he proclaimed with indignant submission, on the San Francisco Winterland Theatre stage; “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”
I look to the quality of performance much more than I do to our results as a gauge of where we fit into the Premier League ranks, but of course the standings at the final whistle are all that count in retrospection.
I have two set standards when it comes to the purity of our beloved game and how we as a club should behave. In business, we should be professional, show integrity and communicate effectively, whilst being loyal, supportive but not suffer fools gladly.
In football, we should be solid defensively, progressive & creative, excel at passing & moving, whilst tactically adaptable, determined to the cause, unified in collective thought, passion and skill. When under pressure, we are resolute and never give up, we are damns that stand fast against any enemy bouncing bombs, whilst spirited in the counter-attack.
Do I ask too much?
I am one of life’s observers, I find pleasure in scrutiny of performance and the poetry of excellence regardless of a chosen occupation. However, “I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who would attempt to poison and destroy my brothers” – Pulp Fiction
Or words to that effect!
The malaise that has spread throughout our club has made us all question whether our club traditions still exist but the abject displays burning our retinas for too long have made us question; “Where did the West Ham Way Go?” Can they return? The performance and result away to Huddersfield Town last Saturday afternoon may give us some heart to think so.
I grew up in the 1970’s when the old Division One was our playground only to be demoted at the tail end and into the early 1980s into the second tier. Whilst of course there were difficulties to contend with and battles that were won ugly, for the most part we were able to demonstrate football that pleased the eye…especially that of a 5-year-old boy living in rural England who would tune into Star Soccer & Match of The Day with his dad, to be schooled in how football should be played.
They were heady days; Two FA Cup wins, European Cup Winners Cup finalists, Alan Taylor & Sir Trevor Brooking piercing the net with foot & head and childhood heroes that permanently seared onto my mind’s eye.
Fast forward 37yrs 7months, no more silverware to scream about from the rooftops, a couple of promotions that filled us with hope for a better tomorrow and a couple of Cup finals that were embattled with pride but ultimately we lost the campaign.
For nearly two years, our team has ceased to entertain with creative freedom, have lost the ability to delight with skill and confidence and now seem ever more cemented in a strategic disregard to retain possession, pass & move with aplomb and fail to find the quality conduit to link a battle-weary defence and a strike force moreover stranded in no mans land. Even when we stoop to deceive with a well-deserved win, we are just as likely to fly high with emphatic defeat.
You might think me harsh, you might think me delusional…you may even think me a propagandist of grey cloud thinking but let me entertain you with what I have seen and what is likely to beset us until a quantum leap occurs that transforms our play.
We seem inconsistent, at best, to pass with any confidence and accuracy. This only leads to losing possession and enabling the opposition the grand stage to test our defences. We have a forward attacking force that fails with alarming regularity to purposely trouble defences or penetrate the 18yd box with conviction, let alone fire on a target with high precision that would make Phil Taylor take stock…oh how fortunate he has now retired to spare us the comparison!
We have a midfield duo that cannot, will not and must not…ever play with each other, cannot find a pass and look as lethargic as wilting carnations after a full day on the razz at your cousin’s wedding.
We have a left side imbalance between neat passing interchange, trickery and wizardry but with seldom a decent cross into the box or an end result to the dynamic play that leads to another teammate progressing further.
We have a right side that has a senior statesman of notable history who endeavours to push forward but develops amnesia when defensive duties resume. We have the backup qualities of mercenaries turning up to a gun battle with pea shooters and a defence that is riddled with error potential, injuries and schoolboy clearance tactics. We may hold our own against rampaging hordes when all our cavalrymen are fighting fit, but we are vulnerable when infirmity knocks at our door.
I take a breath!
Whilst granted the doom and gloom may yet prevail, there have been some highlights that make me question my own negativity. We have the talent and potential to hover high above the mediocre and display the occasional performance that fools us into thinking our troubles have left us behind. Arnautovic has begun to perform like we’d hope he would, Masuaku has introduced some inclination to drive forward, Whilst Lanzini continues to be our creative lead. Noble returned to drag the performances up by the bootstraps and overall our defensive set up has improved with some heroic & stoic performances.
However, we still haven’t found what we’re looking for…that problem in midfield remains the constant thorn in our side and this may be the lynchpin to our survival in the league. We have undoubtedly improved in some ways under Moyes but we continue to struggle in other areas. We have a deficiency in our depth of squad and too much is expected of current youth players to fill the void. Maybe the January transfer horse-trading may help our plight…only time will tell. Whilst we lack quality further within our ranks, we run the risk of apathy to reinforce whilst results temporarily leap. If we should succumb to injuries or individual dips in form…or heaven forbid face off against a team with better quality, then we could indeed become the afternoon’s whipping boys once more…too pained, too scarred and too emotionally injured to rebound with conviction.
So the next match you see, whether home or away, at the stadiums, in the pubs or at home, whether at home or abroad…lay a scrutineering eye on our passage of play. How we deliver a pass and how we move into space to receive the ball. How we match and compete, how we drive forward and recede and how we create with certainty that leads to repetitive opportunity…irrespective of whether we win, lose or draw! Look beyond what is unfolding before your eyes and take the season as a whole. You might be forgiven for thinking that we have nothing to fear…but consider our position, evaluate our opponents and ponder how our fortunes will fare against mightier foes.
But…most of all, ask yourself why are we lumping the ball long in an attempt to lead an attack that fails with alarm, that hands the ball to our opponents with a ‘Thank-You’ note and bypasses a midfield that barely seems at the races. Ask yourself when we launch the long-range missile which, leads to success…is that due to fortune, method or an ailing defence that is flattering our advances. Somebody tell me I’m wrong…please! I wager you’ll note a pass back from kick off to a defender who hoofs it long or our keeper who launches the torpedo far into the 12 O’clock distance avoiding a play out from the back at all costs.
I hope to be wrong! I hope we are able to show consistency, able to delight the fans with our potential and not aimlessly load the tubes, fire and hope to hit the target.