What happened last season?
Gordon: The old Chinese curse says "may you live in interesting times". Someone in E13 must have really upset the proprietor of their local takeaway last year!
The season started with the the return from serious illness of Glenn Roeder and the disappearance of much talent - mainly in the direction of Chelsea. After an unspectacular start Roeder was dismissed. It was suggested in some quarters that the dismissal might have occurred during the close season but for Roeder's illness. Either way the general feeling was that Roeder was a decent enough chap who simply wasn't up to the job.
Then came the return of (later Sir) Trevor and the Pardew affair where Reading chairman Madejeski spent weeks blathering on about taking matters to the highest court in the land, or, failing that, Watchdog, before finally getting out of his Jacuzzi, taking the money and running all the way to Brighton to pinch Coppell.
Denied a pre-season to work with the players, it took an age for Pardew to get his first win. Matters weren't helped by Jermain Defoe suddenly becoming public enemy no.1 amongst Nationwide referees who seemed to take great delight in showing him red cards at every opportunity. Defoe who, when not suspended, had shown himself capable of terrorising most defences in the division, was the subject of much "will he stay or will he go" speculation. Chairman Terence Brown decided to make him feel oh so welcome by memorably describing the striker as "not right in the head" at the club's AGM, just in case of the unlikely event that Defoe hadn't already taken the SFX-inspired decision to leg it ASAP. Defoe hung on for a decent club to come in for him for as long as possible but, with deadline day in the ridiculous transfer window looming, he was forced to go to Spurs in return for some cash and Zamora.
We continued to stutter through the season, helped by the fact that whenever we lost so did our closest rivals. A fairly solid, if at times unconvincing, run in saw us clinch the play off spot that had on occasion looked most unlikely. A trip to Wales was confirmed during a breathtaking evening at the Boleyn when Ipswich were beaten 2-0 in the play-off semi final second leg following a 1-0 defeat at Portman Road. All optimism went out of the window with the announcement that the final would be refereed by Graham Poll, who added to a very long list of dodgy decisions against us by denying us a penalty described even by most Palace supporters as "cast iron" and that, coupled with our own failure to turn up saw us lose a poor match 1-0 to condemn us to another year in whatever this league is called this week.
Thank goodness we had Euro 2004 to occupy a few weeks while we got our breath back!
Phil:We looked the best thing ever (for instance, against Watford - a sublime,
Brazil-like performance) and the worst thing ever (against Stoke - which is
still giving me nightmares now) in almost equal measure for most of the
season. Having said that, let's not forget the fact that went through three
different managers last term, so reaching the play off final was a massive
achievement which Pardew should take a good deal of credit for. If we had
stuck with Toaster Head then we almost certainly would've been languishing
towards the foot end of the table whilst he sat on his hands once more,
rather than rubbing shoulders with the elite at the top.
Etherington was a revelation, and he did himself no harm by saying that he
was looking forward to playing for a bigger club than Spurs. Dailly actually
learned how to defend towards the end of the season. Repka is a bloody
legend (FACT). Bywater replaced James far more than just adequately. Carrick
was an enigma (in so much as he'd be man of the match one minute, then pull
out shrieking in a girly voice from anything remotely resembling a challenge
the next). And the return of Steve "Ginger Vieira" Lomas provided a much
needed quality that the team had been missing all season - running around a
lot, fouling people, occasionally winning the ball.
The play off final was a good day out ruined by 90 minutes of football.
Douglas: I grew up in the sixties in that post-war East London overspill, Basildon. In a household that was claret and blue through and through, my formative years as an Irons fan were influenced by folklore and tradition I heard from older supporters. Indeed this remains relevant in the club's current predicament. The 'folklore' recalled my Grandad, who was one of the legion of East Enders who swelled the FA cup final attendance in 1923 to 120,000. Nobody in my family knew whether he had a ticket that day, or paid at the turnstile, or simply 'bunked in'. Like so many, he was swept along to Wembley in claret and blue optimism.
West Ham's proud tradition I also learned, was not only as an attacking footballing side, but which had always been inconsistent. They would start a season well but finish poorly, or vice-versa. Last season was a classic example of this frustrating innate inconsistency.
In the first instance, matters were not helped by the haemorrhaging of talent away from Upton Park following relegation: One by one; Cole, Sinclair, Johnson, James and Defoe all departed. The involvement of three different managers (Roeder, Brooking, Pardew) in one season is hardly a foundation for stability. All of this was compounded by injury set back and patchy performances from senior pros such as Lomas, Dailly, Lee, Horlock, Melville and Brevett.
The Play-offs provided a microcosm of West Ham's inconsistency. The second leg semi final victory over Ipswich under the Upton Park floodlights was the Irons' best footballing display of the season, taking us to the Millennium Stadium. Oh Dear. The defeat to Palace in the final was the most tepid and lacklustre excuse for a team performance that I have witnessed in forty years. Like my Grandad 81 years earlier, I travelled to Cardiff (with a ticket!). Just like in 1923 when West Ham overran Wembley, around 10,000 Irons supporters were locked out of the Millennium Stadium without tickets. Such passionate support, which has transcended generations, deserves better.
Anon: Not bouncing straight back was a major disappointment but not a surprise. The problems the club had in the Premiership remained with us and fall into three areas: Defensive frailty, inconsistency and motivation.
Firstly, our defence remains shaky. This was one of the main reasons for going down in the 0203 season and it hasn't improved enough. Secondly, we're maddeningly inconsistent and have developed into a complete Jekyll & Hyde club - you never know which West Ham will turn up. Lastly, too many of the players spent much of the season thinking their mere presence was enough. Egos and reputations don't mean a lot in the first division and this is compounded by the fact that every other team in the division sees West Ham as a big scalp.
Alan Pardew is assembling a talented squad following the complete decimation of the Premiership team that got relegated. Naturally it will take time for the team to gel - and Pardew seems to be heading in the right direction - but the key factor will be injecting some much needed desire into the players.
What's going to happen next season?
Gordon: The weird thing about last season was the way that some clubs' supporters seemed to think that we all thought we were going to walk the league. A quick look about the web will confirm that once the crown jewels had been sold off most of us thought we would be looking at mid-table obscurity at best so the play-offs came as a somewhat unexpected plus. This year Pardew has had a pre-season to work with the players and he is now working with a squad that is basically his. The signing of Rebrov could prove interesting, though most observers would like to see a few bob spent shoring up the defence. Trouble is that, pending the sale of Carrick, a few bob is all we've got.
On paper, however, the squad as it stands should be capable of a play off spot at least. In practice? Who knows? One thing that being a Hammer tells you is that whenever things start to look good something or someone stupid will come along to mess it up for us. The only certainty is that life in E13 will continue to be far from dull. In the meantime I'm laying off the takeaways.The weird thing about last season was the way that some clubs' supporters seemed to think that we all thought we were going to walk the league. A quick look about the web will confirm that once the crown jewels had been sold off most of us thought we would be looking at mid-table obscurity at best so the play-offs came as a somewhat unexpected plus. This year Pardew has had a pre-season to work with the players and he is now working with a squad that is basically his. The signing of Rebrov could prove interesting, though most observers would like to see a few bob spent shoring up the defence. Trouble is that, pending the sale of Carrick, a few bob is all we've got.
On paper, however, the squad as it stands should be capable of a play off spot at least. In practice? Who knows? One thing that being a Hammer tells you is that whenever things start to look good something or someone stupid will come along to mess it up for us. The only certainty is that life in E13 will continue to be far from dull. In the meantime I'm laying off the takeaways.
Phil: A difficult question. Realistically, there's no reason why we shouldn't win
the league. We have arguably the most solid defence in the league (look at
last season's stats if you don't believe me) and a strike force of Harewood,
Sheringham, Rebrov and even Bobby "Whoops, missed" Zamora should bag a
hatful of goals between them. Young players like Reo Coker, McAnuff,
Nowland, Cohen and (hopefully) Elliott Ward will make more of an impact.
Hutchison looked like Pele compared to some of the jokers at this level, he
should get a better run out now that he's injury free. Mullins is dependable
all over the pitch.
Hopefully Pardew will see the error of his ways and play Marlon Harewood up
front. With a bit of luck we've seen the back of motivational t-shirts
bearing the slogan "Long ball to Deano!" (last seen in the play off final)
And, whatever happens, we'll NEVER be Spurs. Which I am eternally grateful
Douglas: Let's establish some facts: West Ham are a big club with massive untapped potential. Located in a geographical area that decade after decade produces top England internationals, the club need to make sure our youth policy secures even more of this local talent. West Ham enjoyed the highest average home attendance figures in Div One last season and always attract solid away following. The club has a proud tradition and a stadium that is three parts complete(If the East stand is developed it will seat over 40,000).
Realistically I expect the 2004/5 season will be like last season and so many others, inconsistent.
Consistency in performance will only be achieved when the side is settled. With a mix'n'match squad of emerging talent, ageing journeymen and transfer speculation surrounding Michael Carrick, this will be difficult. Sherringham is hardly an investment for the future - the best we can hope for in a long season is 30 appearances and 15 goals. Marlon Harewood needs to be played as an out-and-out striker, not on the right flank. Zamora has still got everything to prove. We desperately need a 'quality' central defender to play alongside Dailly (if he stays). Cohen, Reo-Coker, McAnuff and Nowland all possess potential, but are not the finished product.
In summary; our song reminds us "fortune's always hiding". I anticipate that in spite of the best efforts of Alan Pardew, West Ham will continue to be inconsistent, looks like the dreaded play-offs again.
Anon: Further consolidation. I think the squad will take more time to bed in and a proper pre-season should help. Top 3, definitely. Champions, maybe.
Soundbites (from assorted Census correspondents)
"Thanks to this survey I now have to re- read that bloody awful book on Chaos Theory. Cheers."
"quit wasting my time, bastards"
"Its stopped raining outside."
"Much as I enjoyed participating in this survey last year and this, I have no interest in doing it again next year -- unless Watford get promoted along with the Hammers!"