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03/04: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 22/11/03, 3.00pm
West Ham United
By Matt Rowson

If there's one thing that BSaD maintains a clear and consistent policy on (okay, apart from the Franchise. Don't go there, in more ways than one...), it's that Eastenders is magnificent.

This statement requires neither justification nor debate.

However, there have been periods over its eighteen-year run during which the accuracy with which East-end life is represented has been challenged. (By this, I mean above and beyond the frequency with which Walford landmarks bearing a suspicious resemblance to various corners of Watford materialise - most recently, the church in which Andy and Kat's wedding comically failed to take place being the spitting image of the church in Sutton Road, round the corner from popular pre-match hostelry The Estcourt Tavern).

A general lack of black or asian characters has often been a bone of contention, for one thing. Perhaps of more immediate relevance, the rather inconsistent importance (or otherwise) of football in the general scheme of things. I can't be the only one pondering the fate of the once-vaunted Walford Town, who seem to have vanished into the ether somewhat. If only Arthur Fowler had still been around to mobilise a Supporters' Trust...

Now, instead of Walford Town, we have Gary Hobbs, Alfie Moon and Charley Slater gradually being revealed as dyed-in-the-wool 'ammers fans. Which is fine, to be honest. Unlike the majority of those unfortunate enough to suffer an Essex upbringing, I'm fairly ambivalent to West Ham. My concern is more to do with the viability of Walford as an East-end borough. For whilst I have no doubt that there are plenty of honest-to-goodness Hammers fans in the East-end of London, you'd surely need a scattering of Manchester United shirts around the market stalls to make the picture complete.

Back in the stranger-than-fiction world of Division One, West Ham have plummeted from being one of the brightest slightly-on-the-edge-of-things-but-should-do-okay-in-the-cups sides in the Premiership to the ignimony of the Nationwide in an implausibly brief space of time. Whilst Glenn Roeder was ultimately held culpable for at least some of the problems prompting this collapse, club Chairman and largest shareholder Terence Brown seems to be the chief target of fans' frustrations at the moment. It's difficult to sift the heated emotions out of the debate sufficiently to comment objectively on the situation, but either way this sideshow can't be helping Alan Pardew's attempts at giving a promotion bandwagon some momentum. Nor is it easy to see how the situation can be satisfactorily resolved... either Brown stays, in which case protests will persist and distract, or Brown offers to go and leaves the club in limbo. He's hardly likely to just walk away from a large stake in the club after all, but nor are there likely to be folk queuing up to buy...

Former Watford custodian and Supporters' Trust member David James will be between the sticks, making a welcome second return to Vicarage Road since he left for Anfield in the early nineties. His deputy is long-time reserve Stephen Bywater, signed as a seventeen year-old from Rochdale five years ago.

West Ham's defence is a liability by tradition, and this season is proving little exception. You can't help but think that the combination of more money than sense, a nasty chip on his shoulder and a regular appearance on Albert Square suggest that Andy Hunter played a part in funding the £5.5million that West Ham paid Fiorentina for Tomas Repka a few years back. Repka has been playing as a defensive right-back recently, but Middlesbrough loanee Robbie Stockdale should have recovered from a hamstring injury in time to be considered on Saturday.

On the left, Rufus Brevett will be out for another month or so, leaving the full-back berth to another loan-signing, Newcastle United's Wayne Quinn. New captain Christian Dailly, the rock who would supposedly have plugged Scotland's defence against the Dutch onslaught had he not been suspended (aber natürlich Berti), will play alongside Ian Pearce in the centre. Other options include Anton brother-of-Rio Ferdinand, highly rated England U17 international Chris Cohen, and Leeds loanee Matthew Kilgallon.

In midfield, Michael Carrick appears to have been trampled in the rush for the exit and still lines up alongside Pardew's first recruit, Hayden Mullins. Matthew Etherington, a summer signing from Spurs, should play down the left with Don Hutchison filling in on the right, a problem position which the Hammers tried but failed to fill with a loan move for Moustapha Hadji, who moved to Hertha BSC Berlin instead. Rob Lee is another midfield option, as is former Hornet David Noble, who is yet to make any real impression, but Steve Lomas and Kevin Horlock are both out injured.

Up front, Jermain Defoe has joined the impressive and growing list of significant players to helpfully time their poor tackles, temper tantrums and consequent suspensions to coincide with a Watford game this season... he starts a five-game ban. The unenigmatic Brian Deane, all too frequently a scorer against us in the past, is certain to start and will probably be partnered with charmless little scrote David Connolly, who is being rushed back from a thigh injury. Neil Mellor, another loan signing, has been out with a foot injury but may also be back in contention, but Richard Garcia is injured.

We've failed to beat West Ham in our last seventeen (SEVENTEEN) encounters in all competitions, and indeed the last eleven league meetings have all gone the way of the Hammers by the odd goal. We always lose at Norwich City as well, mind, and if rumours linking Bryan Robson with a return to management with Bradford are proven accurate then we might even look forward to breaking another hoodoo by winning at Valley Parade later in the season, so hope remains.

And apart from all of that, the last time I missed a game to attend a marital function was on the day of the game at Anfield in 1999. Which went rather well as I recall, all the better for the fact that the groom on this occasion was a Liverpool fan. Well, Saturday's celebration revolves around a West Ham-supporting groom, so let's hope that a consistent pattern develops. More consistent than an Albert Square storyline, at any rate...