Written by Carl Walker
‘Long Live the Boleyn’ is spray painted in blue against the almost claret brickwork on one of the houses close by to The Boleyn Ground, or as I have always know in to be, Upton Park.
At the end of last season the West Ham faithful said goodbye to their iconic home ground that has been used since 1904 and looked to pastures new in near by Stratford and the new home of the Olympic Park.
The final farewell to Upton Park was definitely a fitting one, a 3-2 win over Manchester United in a thrilling game, a game which also practically ended Manchester United’s hopes of Champions League qualification. The game itself summed up West Ham’s season, a gritty determined performance, laced with flair and goals which saw them finish the campaign in an impressive 7th.
Slaven Bilic, a real fan favourite helped mastermind a wonderful season for West Ham in 2015-2016. Continental qualification, via the play-offs would be up for grabs in the new season, at a new home for the Hammers with the stars to boot aswel. Things were finally looking up for West Ham, or so it seemed.
On Friday evening, Manchester City rolled into town for the first ever F.A Cup tie at the Hammers new home and after an indifferent Premier League campaign so far, a real chance to give the supporters something to cheer about, however Pep Guardiola and Manchester City had other ideas.
Manchester City were simply devastating, Silva pulling the strings, Sterling and De Bruyne with the pace in behind and Aguero up front was enough to see Manchester City run out 5-0 winners, and being 3-0 up at half time. In the 50th minute some of the home fans were queuing to leave the stadium. So what’s happened this season?
Several different factors have contributed to West Hams struggles. Lets start with the obvious one, the new ground. With any new club that looks to move there is always a process of settling in and ‘teething’ problems if you like. The pitch itself is massive, bigger that Upton Park and the fans seem miles away from the pitch due to the running track that was in place for the Olympic games.
credit Vincent Teeuwen
At Upton Park, the pitch was smaller, the fans were tighter, right onto the touchline almost, helping create an intimidating atmosphere and at times helping to become a twelfth man, just like in that final game against Manchester United last season.
If you don’t think that moving into new surroundings should be an excuse for poor performances then please allow me to point you attention to two clubs from North London. Both Tottenham and Arsenal have played their Champions League games at Wembley and both have been eliminated in the group stages.
This season has been very much below par so far for West Ham and another suggestion was why don’t they try and adapt to their new home by training there? Well because West Ham don’t own the ground, this wasn’t possible at first, however there is an agreement in place now and hopefully this will help.
There have also been troubles off the pitch with the new ground. The zone around the ground feels almost Chernobyl like, like an exclusion zone once you are in, it’s just bland. There is also major issues with the ground itself.
The policing and stewarding has been terrible, this has seen fighting between rival fans both in and outside the stadium, the segregation or lack of has seen supporters take advantage of this. There has even fighting between plenty of home supporters amongst themselves. If the players have been accused of showing a lack of fight on the pitch, the supporters off it definitely haven’t.
I am well aware that the club and the police cannot be blamed for the actions of the supporters, ripping up seats and throwing missiles in not acceptable. The club have subsequently handed out lifetime bans to anyone involved.
The police radio system that is used for the police to communicate will not be full operational until February, so in the mean time, temporary measures will be in place, however they don’t seem to be working. The fact that a Premier League club has been allowed to move to a new ground when some of the fundamental regulations are not fully working has been shambolic.
On the pitch there has been no shortage of problems either. During the summer, with the move impending West Ham looked to strengthen the squad. Additional season ticket sales and increased TV money meant West Ham could be a little more ambitious in the market. The recruitment has been awful this summer.
Some smart free transfers in Feghouli and Nordtveit was followed by Lanzini’s loan move being made permanent. All good so far. Bilic wanted a striker, someone to help fire West Ham even further up the table and possibly challenge for Champions League glory, a fitting stage for their new marvellous stadium.
Linked with a host of names including Benteke (who moved to Palace), Carlos Bacca (stayed at AC Milan) and Alexandre Lacazette (stayed at Lyon) West Ham finally settled on Andre Ayew from Swansea, who was subsequently injured on his Premier League debut and missed four months of the season, leaving West Ham and Bilic scrambling around for a striker with the window closing.
Jonathan Calleri was brought in on loan, but has had that terminated early and with Diafra Sakho injured and Andy Carroll also ruled out it was left young Ashley Fletcher to lead the line. Simone Zaza was also brought in on loan to ease the burden, but again to no avail.
West Ham also had problems defensively and sold James Tomkins to Crystal Palace, and when Cresswell, who had a tremendous season in 2015-2016 was also ruled out injured, West Ham were desperate. A few more sub par transfers have followed and some key players are now returning from injury which has helped drag West Ham away from the relegation zone.
The January window has rolled around and true to form West Ham have been chaotic, like a drunken girl throwing themselves at everyone, desperately trying to find someone to take home, its been madness and it’s only the 9th January.
Bids for Robert Snodgrass and the evergreen Jermain Defoe have been rebuffed, West Ham have also had bids turned down for Brentford’s Scott Hogan. A far Cry from the likes of Lacazette or Bacca in the summer who were seen as the top targets.
If it wasn’t for Michail Antonio, West Ham could find themselves right in that relegation battle, the versatile man has played in pretty much every position and sits as the clubs top goal scorer and should easily win player of the year for the Hammers.
So what do West Ham need to do? The first thing is to try and keep Andy Carroll fit, since the big man has come back he has been brilliant. He is so hard to play against, great in the air and strong, he pulls defenders all over the place. If Ayew can also stay fit it could be a fantastic partnership.
Dimitri Payet’s season last year was unbelievable. A brilliant season domestically with West Ham saw him become an instant fans favourite. Technically gifted and with a great delivery from corners and free kicks he was vital for the Hammers. He also came agonisingly close to international honours in the summer with France. Get Payet back in the hole and allow him free reign, on that massive pitch and you will see the best of him again.
West Ham’s defence is another are for concern. 35 goals conceded already this season in the league and out of both cup competitions to Manchester opponents, they need to add some steel along side Reid and Cresswell. Darren Randolph should be no.1, no question. Adrian is simply not good enough and looks like he always has a mistake in him.
Slaven Bilic needs to strengthen in January. A centre half and right back being top priority and if possible a striker. This is all dependant on money available and the fact is it is notoriously difficult to do business in the winter window.
Slaven Bilic’s job, for now, is safe and he certainly can’t take all the blame for the poor recruitment over the summer and with the next two games against Crystal Palace and Middlesbrough absolutely vital, he may be gone before the window shuts.
Personally I think he should be given time, West Ham’s fans should brace themselves for a bumpy second half to the season though, especially if January is quiet on the transfer front, and with the teething problems still evident at the Olympic Stadium, it may be a season of mid table consolidation rather than European qualification this time around.
Long live the Boleyn, and I am sure it will for West Ham fans but in this brave new world, change is the order of the day. Here’s to hoping the West Ham faithful can make their new stadium, their new home.
West Ham fans, is this spot on? Are you confident you’ll have a better second half of the season? Let us know in the comments below!