Here at All Out Football, we pride ourselves on providing football fans with a platform to voice their opinions. Whether it be through writing articles or literally voicing your opinion in a podcast, we welcome football fans from all over the country to tell us their story.
I was fortunate enough to speak to a West Ham fan who made himself known to nearly the entire fan base in September. Xiang Pan – better known as Pierrex – became something of a sensation on Twitter when a parody account made Mark Noble second guess the nationality of one of his biggest fans. For those still unaware, Xiang is Chinese and definitely not South Korean. Aside from being a Chinese West Ham fan, there is nothing out of the ordinary about Xiang. At 30 years old, he works in vintage motorcycle parts sales, but it is evident he lives for football just like the rest of us. Talking to him, you immediately become aware that this is a guy who knows his stuff; impressing in both his tactical nous and realistic optimism. His love for West Ham is unique and genuinely revealing. In the first of a two parts, Xiang explains why opted for Claret and Blue over more popular and successful clubs like Manchester United and Liverpool as well as offering his opinion on Slaven Bilic’s position and Chicharito’s struggles. He also discusses his love for Hammers skipper, Mark Noble and what it was like to finally experience a West Ham match earlier this year.
On West Ham…
It goes without saying that West Ham are not Xiang’s local team, nor can he be accused of glory-hunting. He is the first to admit that the club have very few fans in China and that the reason for that is partially down to their lack of success in the Premier League. In fact, he attributes Football Manager for introducing him to the Hammers in 2005. The following year Xiang watched his first West Ham game and arguably one of the greatest FA Cup finals of all time, the crushing defeat on penalties to Liverpool. After that, Xiang began to pay more attention to the club and soon became aware of their long and proud history. Perhaps the most enlightening factor behind Xiang’s decision to support West Ham is the 2005 film, Green Street. A favourite among football fans, the cult hit is ‘very famous’ in China and has obviously gone some way in putting the Hammers on the global map.
In addition to the 2006 FA Cup final, Xiang also highlights the 4-3 defeat to Tottenham in 2007 as a memorable game for him. Overlooking the nature of the loss, he reflects on the importance of Carlos Tevez’s first goal for the club in helping the club to ultimately survive relegation. Aside from these infamous defeats, he also points to happier times, such as the 4-0 triumphant against Manchester United in the League Cup (2010), the Play-Off final victory against Blackpool (2012) and the trio of wins over Tottenham over the course of the 2013/14 season. The heartbreak and joy of those fixtures effectively sum up what it is like to be a West Ham supporter.
On his first visit to West Ham…
2017 marked the first year in which Xiang was able to make the long journey over to England to watch his beloved Hammers in action during his honeymoon. Remarkably, it was West Ham who influenced Xiang and his wife to make London the destination for their long-planned honeymoon. He credits his wife’s ‘thoughtfulness’ in making his self-confessed ‘biggest wish’ come true.
Obtaining tickets for fixtures was an altogether different challenge. Given the time difference, Xiang had to wait until UK time before contacting the ticket office. However, he was quick to praise the staff for their help, noting how they were ‘very kind’ in helping him to become a Claret member before helping him book the tickets. In the end, Xiang was fortunate enough to see two Premier League fixtures – the London derby defeat to Tottenham and the 1-0 win over Swansea – as well as the League Cup clash with Bolton.
Whilst criticism for the London Stadium is not as rife as it once was, it is certainly fair to say that it is unlikely Xiang would have enjoyed as much success in booking tickets had West Ham still been at the Boleyn Ground. It is still far from perfect, but the move has at least afforded the likes of Xiang Pan the priceless opportunity to see their team in action.
You only have to look at Pierrex’s Twitter to see who his favourite player is. Like many, Xiang believes Mark Noble embodies everything West Ham United stands for. His admiration and respect for the skipper shines through and it is refreshing among a fan base increasingly critical of a player who has struggled for form over the last fourteen months. Noble’s style of play bares similarities to Xiang’s favourite player of all-time, Luis Enrique. Xiang recognises that he is drawn to the ‘never-say-die’ attitude of the two, but the ‘crazy, bull-like’ attitude of Enrique – both on the pitch and in his decision to swap Real Madrid for Barcelona – edges the Spaniard ahead of Noble for the time being.
Noble started all three games Xiang attended, but the latter also got to interact with his idol outside of the London Stadium. After first meeting his hero outside Rush Green, the club then arranged for Noble and Sam Byram to surprise Xiang and his wife in celebration of the Chinese Mid-Autumn festival. Aside from Noble, Xiang also highlights academy products, James Tomkins and Jack Collison, and current starlet, Manuel Lanzini as some of his other favourite players.
Noble’s relegation to the bench in the two matches that followed have played a role in Xiang losing faith in Slaven Bilic. ‘Without Noble, no person can pass the ball… even Lanzini needs more time to get back to the ball’, summarising that in Noble’s absence the team rely heavily on the long ball to Chicharito and win few games without the influence and leadership of the captain.
On Slaven Bilic…
Bilic has lost many supporters over the last few months, including Xiang. He urges that it’s time for a change in the dugout by saying that it is the ‘three points that are more important… so it’s a good time to say goodbye’. He goes on to reminisce about the horror show that was Avram Grant’s 2010/11 managerial reign, believing that the chairmen should learn from their previous mistake of ‘giving wrong people more time’ and sack Bilic before irreversible damage is done. When it comes to Bilic, Xiang’s message is simple: ‘Please remember Grant’.
A growing number of fans have also begun to downplay Bilic’s achievements in his first season. Instead, the 2015/16 season is being rewritten in some quarters as the season Bilic and the team were carried to over-achievement by Dimitri Payet and the Boleyn Ground. Whilst Xiang’s feelings are not this extreme, he believes that Bilic has struggled to control games without Payet. He also laments the Croat’s transfer policy. Despite bowing to the financial pressures of an increasingly inflated transfer market (including breaking their transfer record twice in as many years), Xiang remains unconvinced by the quality of the players brought in.
When it comes to who should replace Bilic, Xiang’s choice is a divisive one: former Hammers boss, Alan Pardew. His short-term impact aside, there is little appeal in Pardew returning to East London. However, it still remains more likely a destination for Pardew than either of his last two former clubs. Coincidentally, Pardew just so happens to be the manager who handed a 17 year old Noble his debut in 2004…
Chicharito’s time in Stratford has been underwhelming so far. There is no doubting his quality, but he has struggled for form and goals since joining West Ham. The team has been unable to link up effectively with the Mexican pace man and that has left the latter a visibly frustrated figure. That said, Chicharito has still managed to find the net four times in ten games and accounted for 40 per cent of the total goals scored by the team in that period.
Admittedly, there are more immediate concerns facing the club, but many are still looking at how we can get the best out of such a natural goalscorer. Xiang sums it up nicely by saying ‘he [Chicharito] needs more chances in the box’ and for a player whose 41 Premier League goals have all come inside the 18 yard box, it seems like an obvious solution. Clearly there continues to be a breakdown between the midfield and attack that has limited Chicharito’s chances with Xiang pointing to the lack of short forward passes and the ineffectiveness of the wingers as reasons for his struggles.
A Hernandez-Sakho strike partnership was also mentioned and it is likely we would have already seen the two link-up had it not been for Sakho’s ongoing injury trouble. Unlike Andy Carroll, ‘Sakho knows how to pass the ball and cut inside’ without using his head, according to Xiang, however it remains to be seen whether the want-away striker can inspire Chicharito to form.
Make sure to check out Part Two of Pierrex’s story, where he discusses all things football in China – from the Chinese Super League to the troubles plaguing China PR. You can also follow him on Twitter at @pierrex523.
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