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FA CUP SPECIAL why we’ll finish LVG’s career ~ COLLISON on WHU’s stars of tomorrow

BY FANS, FOR FANS WWW.BLOWING-BUBBLES.CO.UK MARCH 2016 #57

NOBLE CALLING

Just what has West Ham’s captain fantastic done to upset England boss Roy Hodgson?


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This could be the most exciting month in a very special season T his month will host a few very special weeks during what has become an excellent season in such an important year for the club. Some 9,000 fans travelling to Manchester for a FA Cup quarter final clash against a United side lacking a few key players and relying on a few promising youngsters will be one to treasure – win or lose. Then comes the chance for us to get a double over Chelsea, and while there have been massive improvements to the performances and results of the Blues, I have every confidence we can beat

them. Finally, everyone at Blowing Bubbles is looking forward to Mark Noble’s testimonial on March 28. David Bowden sums up beautifully what this game will mean to our captain, our returning heroes and the fans. We couldn’t build up to this special occasion without looking again at Noble’s chances of getting a call-up to the England squad. We unleashed leading writer Brian Williams to cover this on-going saga and I believe if Roy Hodgson read Brian’s beautifully crafted and compelling argument for his call-

up, Nobes would get a chance to prove his worth. Speaking of Mr William’s fine work, I must congratulate him on becoming a best-selling author. Last month his book Nearly Reach the Sky, topped the West Ham category on Amazon – taking over the top spot from Harry Redknapp’s autobiography. If you’ve not yet read Brian’s farewell to the Boleyn, I would encourage you to buy a hard copy or download it onto your Kindle.

David


The big interview - Jack Collison

‘West Ham are entering an exciting new era under Bilic’ Former fan favourite Jack Collison tells David Blackmore that Mark Noble deserves an England call and Martin Samuelson will be a star

W

est Ham fan favourite Jack Collison has tipped Michail Antonio and Martin Samuelsen to become leading players for West Ham in years to come. The midfielder, who announced his retirement last month at the age of 27, also called for Roy Hodgson to call up Mark Noble to the England squad, and believes the Hammers skipper would ‘easily’ slot in the England midfield. In a wide-ranging interview, the former Wales international admits he cannot wait to return to the Boleyn Ground at the end of this month to play in Noble’s testimonial. ‘It was a really nice touch from Noble [to ask me to play] and I was really excited when I got the text,’ Collison, who scored 14 goals in 121 appearances for West Ham, said. ‘It’s going to be an amazing event and I just feel lucky that I’ll be able to get out there to play. ‘What better way to honour one of the best servants West Ham have

Friends: Jack Collison says Mark Noble helped him at the start of his West Ham career

had in the modern era. Nobes has been fantastic for the club. ‘He has probably played under seven or eight managers now and he has always been a regular - even more so this season. He’s been in good form.’ Collison explained the role Noble played in his own development, and added that he could not believe the Hammers

star was still waiting on an England call up. ‘Nobes was good to me as a youngster coming through,’ he explained. ‘He has been there and done it and he looked after me and I’ll be forever grateful for that.’ ‘I think [his England chances] is a no-brainer especially with the type of football West Ham are playing, I think he could

slot in there really easily. The England midfield is a very competitive place to get into at the moment with the emergence of the likes of Dele Alli and Ross Barkley but I think Nobes has shown he can hold his own at any level. ‘With the amount of games he has played and the way he is driving West Ham forward at the moment, if he doesn’t get a call-up there’s definitely something going on there.’ Collison’s last club was Peterborough United, where he has also been their Under-21s coach since last summer, and he has been very impressed with what he has seen of Posh’s West Ham loanee Martin Samuelson. ‘I can remember Peterborough played West Ham in a pre-season friendly and Martin was tremendous that day,’ the former Bournemouth and Wigan Athletic loanee said. ‘Ever since then there have been a few people looking out for him, and then we heard that he was coming on loan


Hero: Jack Collison was very popular with the West Ham fans


to Posh. I can remember that he came into training and we saw just what a good player he was. His balance, his footwork, the way he goes past people, it’s just unbelievable. ‘Over the years there have been lots of players who can do that in training but he has gone out on the pitch and put in some great performances. ‘Then against West Brom in the FA Cup he showed the rest of the world that he has arrived. What a performance it was and more importantly he delivered on the big stage against Premier League opposition. ‘I think he is very fortunate that he is at a club like Peterborough who try to play the right way, he is getting well looked after and protected by the coaching staff and hopefully now he will get the opportunity to play quite a few games and help them push for promotion.’ But can he make it to the top of the English game? ‘I don’t see any reason why not,’ replied Collison, who played for Wales 17 times.

Bright future: Martin Samuelson has spent this season on-loan at Peterborough United in League One

‘He is 18 years of age. For a player of any age to go out and play like he did against West Brom, I think he has got a big future ahead of him. ‘Not only is he a good player but he has also got a great attitude. He works hard and wants to be out there playing football every day.

In his pomp: Jack Collison in his playing days

‘He settled in really well here at Peterborough. It’s always tough for a young fella to go out anywhere on loan, but he is a nice lad, people like him and everyone wants him to do well because he is such a nice fella.’ As for the current crop of youngsters seeing regular action at the Boleyn Ground, Collison picked out Michail Antonio as being a ‘fantastic signing’. ‘From the moment he put on that shirt, he has worked hard, put his body on the line, made tackles, got forward at every opportunity and what’s been very pleasing

has been the goals he has scored. ‘I think if he keeps applying himself the way he has been then there is no doubt that he is going to get better and better and go on to become a big part of West Ham’s team.’ The conversation turns to his first game for West Ham against Arsenal on New Year’s Day 2008, he continued: ‘What better place to make my debut than at the Emirates. ‘I knew Freddie Ljungberg was struggling before the game, but before I knew it he was coming off and I was preparing to go on. ‘I’ve said it a couple


of times in interviews before, the last words I was told before going onto the pitch was to try and get close to Cesc Fabergas which was one hell of a challenge but it was a great experience. ‘I can remember feeling that although I was pleased to have made the breakthrough and got my debut for the first team, I came off the pitch thinking I had an awful long way to go before I’m ready for that.’ Although Alan Curbishley gave Collison his debut, Alan Pardew had been the man in charge when he was invited to train with the senior side. ‘He gave me a taste of the first team with me training with them regularly and he took me to the FA Cup final for the experience. ‘That was great for me and James Tomkins at the time to have a little taste of it and see what it was like and I think that helped inspire us to go back and work even harder so I was very grateful to Alan for that. As for his favourite goal and moment during his West Ham career, Collison’s first goal was something he will always regard as being ‘special’. ‘Unfortunately we lost the game but that was a great feeling scoring at the Boleyn in front of the home fans.’ Another moment that will remain with Collison for the rest of his life was the League Cup tie against Millwall

In-form: Michail Antonio has been a revelation for West Ham this season

in 2009, just two days after his father died in a motorcycle accident. ‘It really was a special and strange night. To lose my Dad at such a young age was difficult to deal with,’ he said. ‘I made the decision to play and the support I received was amazing to be honest. I know the game will be remembered for various other reasons like the pitch invasion and the trouble before but for me that was a night where the West Ham community really came together. ‘They united to help me get through probably

the hardest 90 minutes of my life. You could see the emotion had got to me at the end as I walked around the pitch.’ And Collison admits he feels he has always had a strong relationship with the West Ham faithful, and that was why he wanted to write an open letter to the fans when he left the club. ‘The West Ham results are always the first I look for because of the connection and journey I had there. ‘I’ve still got a few of my good friends there like Noble, Tomkins and James Collins. Obviously

I want my friends to do well and I want West Ham to do well. ‘It really is an exciting time now, they’re going into a new stadium, they have a great squad, and they’ve got one hell of a manager. ‘I imagine I’ll be able to get down a bit more now I’m retired and watch West Ham take their first steps into an exciting new era.’ BBM * Collison was speaking to Claret and Hugh for Moore Than Just a Podcast. Listen to more from the team at www. moorethanjustapodcast. co.uk


Your shout

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Antonio and Cresswell prove the Championship has talent M ichail Antonio continues to make a mockery of those who called him a ‘missing man’ when he was out of the team earlier in the season. The winger, who was signed from Nottingham Forest on transfer deadline day, has now scored in West Ham’s last three Premier League games and has easily established himself in Slaven Bilic’s first choice 11. It has been a rapid rise for the 25-year-old and is a testament to the club’s scouting system and transfer policy. Antonio’s recent performances, and indeed left-back Aaron Cresswell’s, go to show that you don’t have to pay top dollar or shop abroad to find talent.

Hero: Michail Antonio was signed from Forest

The pair were signed for less than £10million between them – a bargain in today’s money – and proves there is plenty of quality around in the lower leagues if you are prepared to give

LETTER OF THE MONTH

it an opportunity. Well done to the club for giving them a chance – I look forward to seeing who we will add in this summer’s transfer window. Darren Cole

Comeback over Everton was beautiful Everton have been our bogey team for as long as I can remember. We always seem to struggle against them and I’ve lost count of the number of times I have left Goodison Park with the feeling I’ve just been mugged. That’s why the 3-2 win over them, when we were 2-0 down and facing a penalty at one stage, was one of the

sweetest of what is rapidly becoming our most wonderful season in recent memory. It was also special as the Toffees were responsible for Dimitri Payet missing so many games over the Christmas period when they thuggishly crippled him in the original game at Upton Park. The final whistle will live long in my memory. Mike Mead

On target: Dimitri Payet

Agent fees are a major issue Sean Whetstone’s review of the club’s accounts (BBM February) was informative and easy to read. It clearly shows West Ham are moving in the right direction and have come a long way since the threat of administration hung over the club when the Icelandic’s were in charge. However, I was concerned by the news we are paying more than £7million a year to agents. I’m sure we are not the only club paying this kind of money but it isn’t right and something needs be done to stop so much money going out of the game to these parasites. Luke Richards

Imagine United at the Boleyn

I may be the only West Ham fan in the world to think it, but I don’t want us to beat Manchester United at Old Trafford in the FA Cup quarter-final. Instead I want us to draw. Can you imagine how amazing the replay under lights at Upton Park would be? We’ve had some wonderful nights at our stadium but this would be a fantastic moment. It’s what football is all about. Jessica Must


GEORGE

PARRIS

THE HAMMERS’ HERO PULLS NO PUNCHES IN HIS EXCLUSIVE COLUMN

Payet is top class

Happy days: West Ham’s players celebrate the goal against Spurs

I

Spurs clash saw Upton Park roar one last time

wasn’t able to get to the Spurs game but I listened to it on the radio and the atmosphere sounded great. We deserved to win by the sound of it. You have to be wary when you score so early into a game and you’re trying to hold on, but it didn’t seem that way for us. Yes, Spurs had a patch where they played well but we sounded very comfortable. As for the atmosphere, it always is great at the Boleyn for local derbies

and for games against Tottenham, especially given it was our last game against them and we had the chance to stop them going top of the league, but it was also under the lights at the Boleyn which always feels that little bit more magical. There is just an aura around the ground for evening games. It just adds that little bit extra excitement. I can remember plenty of special nights playing under the lights, like when we beat

Newcastle 8-1 or the cup game against Everton. You just felt like the fans were even more behind you. Hopefully these special nights can be replicated at the Olympic Stadium. Wouldn’t it be great to have another Spurs or Liverpool game from this season to really get the ball rolling in our new home? I think what has happened this season on the pitch has really helped people get more excited about moving.

I was delighted to hear that Dimitri Payet saw off competition from the likes of Harry Kane, Willian, Odion Ighalo and Mesut Ozil to scoop the London Player of the Year Award. It’s a great achievement when you think of just how many top sides are based here and all the star quality players they have. From the times I’ve seen him play this season he has been the most prominent player, and I think he has thoroughly deserved it. I don’t think it’ll be the last trophy he will pick up this season. I’m sure there will be another couple on the way - including the Hammer of the Year award. Even when he hasn’t performed as well as he might have liked, he’ll still have put in some amazing free kicks and corners, and whenever he has a free kick you expect the net to bulge.


Pub talk

The Blowing Bubbles team settle down to put the world to rights... West Ham have a chance of finishing above Manchester United for the first time in a generation this year. What is the main reason for this? Emily Pulham: Mainly because Manchester United’s form has been terrible this year. It says a lot that their form is actually improving because of injuries to all their first team players. In hindsight, they should have kept Moyes. There’s something about falling out of a frying pan and into a fire here. Also West Ham are outstanding this year. Stuart Plant: Culmination of Bilic’s leadership and winning mentality. In addition, the David’s fine investment in terms of transfers, and the knock on effect that has both for competition for

Spender: Louis van Gaal has spent a fortune at United

places and for having better players upping the performances of those around them like Mark Noble with Dimitri Payet, and James Collins with Angelo Ogbonna. Danny Rust: The main reason is that we not

only have one star, but we have a superb squad and strength in depth for the first time in some years. Dimitri Payet, Manuel Lanzini and Cheikhou Kouyate are all superb and can create chances, while the full

backs are dangerous going forward too. In the past, we would have crumbled when we have had our injury problems but because of the squad we have, we can bring someone into the side who doesn’t make us any worse. Meanwhile, Manchester United have been woeful at times and I fancy us to finish the season above van Gaal’s side. Marcus Johns: I think it all comes down to belief. Under Fergusson, United went out with the belief they could beat anyone and they usually did. This season, they don’t have that under LVG while Bilic seems to have instilled it into our players, which was evident against Everton. We have that belief now. There seems to be a growing campaign for England to select Mark


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Missing: Jack Wilshere hasn’t played but could still go to the Euros Noble. Would you take him to the Euros if you were Roy Hodgson? EP: If I were Roy Hodgson I’d try really hard to buy my soul back from whoever I sold it to. Mark Noble’s probably the only person I’d take to the Euros right now besides Michail Antonio, of course. I’ll buy them their official M&S suits myself if I have to. SP: He’s the best English midfielder in terms of chances created, tackles won, successful passes, and pass com-

pletion this season. If I were Roy, I’d pick Jack Wilshere as he plays for Arsenal. If I were a reputable England manager mind, I’d pick Noble all day long. DR: Mark Noble has been fantastic this season and he should have won his first England cap years ago. Roy Hodgson seems to be reluctant to take him despite Noble being one of the most consistent English midfielders over the last couple of years. Hodgson has said that he

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will take Jack Wilshere this summer as long as he is fit. But he is yet to play this season so why should he get in ahead of Noble? Plus we always seem to go out of major tournaments on penalties and Noble can certainly take a good penalty. He should be going to France. MJ: If I were him, then yes. I would want a Mark Noble in my team every time, especially when you consider how well he has been doing. But much like Cresswell and Antonio, players playing for more attractive clubs will be picked, no matter what form they’re in. From a West Ham Fans perspective, I’m happy that they’ll all get the rest ahead of next year! The atmosphere during West Ham’s 1-0 win over Tottenham was pretty special. What was the best atmosphere you ever experienced at Upton Park? EP: The atmosphere has been outstanding every time we’ve beaten Spurs, but for me, one of my all time greatest feelings in that ground was the atmosphere

Strange: Roy Hodgson has refused to pick Mark Noble

Memorable: Adrian scored against Everton in last season’s FA Cup

when Adrian took his gloves off to smash in that penalty and finally advance us past Everton in the FA Cup. It was the first time I ever saw a legend be born in front

of my eyes. It was an absolutely magical thing to experience. SP: My first game in 1998, a 0-0 draw at home to Derby, with John Hartson being sent off in the first half. Everything is that much more magical and alluring when you’re seven, even when your favourite player gets sent off! The last game at Upton Park will be something else though. DR: The one that immediately springs to mind to me is the extra time win over Liverpool

a few weeks ago. I don’t think I’ve ever heard or seen Upton Park celebrate a goal like when Angelo Ogbonna scored the winner. MJ: That game would be up there – as would the FC Cup replay against Liverpool this year. It may be short term memory issues, but the feel good factor around this season and the need to give the Boleyn a fitting send off, seems to have lifted the atmosphere to a notch it’s not been at for many years.


West Ham still have to play Arsenal and Leicester City. Who will win the Premier League title this season? EP: Hopefully Leicester City. What a difference it would make to the world of football if a team that wasn’t flooded with money won the league based on skill, excellent management and hard work. It would open up the league for any team to believe they could do it if they are determined enough. If they don’t do it, it’ll be Spurs. I’m not happy about it either, but they have a good side this year and are genuine contenders if they don’t bottle it SP: I can’t see anyone other than Leicester or Tottenham winning it.

Most fans would rather Leicester win it as they have been thoroughly enjoyable all season, plus it would be good for the League. I expect City to finish very strong though. DR: I hope Leicester City go on and win the title, and I honestly think they will. I kept expecting the Foxes to drop off but they haven’t so far. They have the easiest run in of the top four and do not have any other cup competitions to concentrate on. MJ: I know people have been writing Leicester off for ages, but I do think the pressure will get to them and they’ll choke, and Arsenal will come through and take the title. BBM

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Leaders: Could Leicester City really win the league?

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Bilic’s boys are on the cusp of something quite amazing

I

don’t know quite what to say about West Ham anymore. I’m running out of good things to say which is unbelievable really. I thought it might be a bridge too far for us to go to Everton and get a result. Yes, we’ve had a fantastic season and we’re on a good run but the Toffees are our bogey side. To fight back in the manner we did and win the game is what I’m really loving about this team at the moment. There’s a belief that we will win and they just don’t give up. That’s such a new feeling for us and it’s a belief that goes right through the team. Every single player on the pitch gives everything and they are playing with such freedom at the moment. I know Romelu Lukaku scored against us again. I can forgive Reece Oxford for the goal because he is still

Smart: Slaven Bilic is one of the few managers in the Premier League who can change a game learning his trade. I didn’t like how Aaron Lennon ghosted his way through the defence to score his goal but let’s gloss over that because the comeback was sensational. It’s the best way to

win a football match, but we’ve done it all this season. We have ground out results, we’ve come back and recouped plenty of points, and we’ve had everything else in between. We’ve also scored goals

from open play, from well-worked set pieces and in the air. I’m just running out of ways to praise the team. Slaven Bilic’s substitutes against Everton were positive at 2-0 down, bringing on Andy Carroll and Diafra Sakho. He never thinks that we are beaten, neither do the players, and I just love that about us right now. I was also loving Michail Antonio on Goals on Sunday. He seems like such a nice kid and I loved the fact that he was going to sign for Spurs but his Mum said no - there is a song in there somewhere. It was also interesting that he said he knows he is going to score when he is on the pitch. He knows the ball is going to find its way to him in a good position. It’s the sort of thing you hear from winners. We’ve not had this


belief since the Boys of ‘86 - when they said they would walk out on to the pitch knowing they would win, rather than hoping they would. There’s a big difference between the two. I must admit I was a bit insulted when our magnificent Spurs victory was described as a ‘shock’ by some pundits. We’ve beaten Arsenal, Manchester City, Liverpool, and Chelsea - there was nothing to suggest that Spurs coming to the Boleyn was a gimme. We were up for it, and the game reminded me of the spirit of ‘86. If we manage to break into that top four and stay there until the end of the season, it will be a similar achievement to that which Tony Cottee, Frank McAvennie, and co managed to do 30 years ago. With all the money that Arsenal and City have spent on players, to finish in the top four would be our biggest achievement we have had since 1986, without doubt. It’s funny to think the only team we’ve not beaten - or even looked like we would on the day - has been Leicester, and it’ll be interesting to see how we get on against them when we visit them in April. The confidence of both sides is through the roof, and we could still be in the hunt for a fourth place as well as the Foxes being in title race. It’ll also be interesting to see

History: Slaven Bilic’s team can emulate the famous 1985/86 side

how Bilic sets us up for this game. I love watching him on the side lines kicking and heading every ball. The way he sets up the team every week, you can see that he has done his homework on the opponents. He doesn’t just say to the team and staff, this is what we are doing and that’s it. He also changes things during the game when things aren’t going to plan like at Everton. There aren’t many

managers in the Premier League who have the ability to be able to do that in a positive way, and Slav has done it a few times already this campaign. Finally, I think our win against Spurs was a massive dent in their hopes of winning the Premier League, and I think it showed there are chinks in their armour. Every team has the opportunity every now and again to have a say in how things are decided,

whether that’s who wins the league, who gets relegated or who gets into Europe. As well as denting Spurs’ hopes and the possibility of damaging Leicester’s chances, we’ve also got to play Arsenal too. But we’ve still got plenty to play for ourselves and for once in a long time, we’ve got the chance to create our own history, rather than ruining the party for others. BBM


Mark Noble testimonial

‘Hodgson probably wouldn’t pick Pirlo if he was Italy boss’ The England manager is a fool to ignore West Ham captain Mark Noble

BRIAN WILLIAMS @BrainWill26

H

e plays in claret and blue; he’s West Ham through and through; now he should represent England too, Mark Noble, whooaaoo. Sorry for the extra line there, you really shouldn’t tinker with classic West Ham anthems. But I do think it’s high time our club captain got the international recognition he so richly deserves. It isn’t going to happen, of course. England manager Roy Hodgson made that perfectly clear when he was asked about Noble’s chances on Match of the Day. Rather than give a straight yes or no, Hodgson preferred to talk about Leicester’s Danny Drinkwater instead. When he did refer to Nobes directly he sounded like a bloke telling a love-struck friend that

Bizarre: Roy Hodgson has failed to give Mark Noble a chance in the England team his plug-ugly girlfriend had a nice personality. So Noble is behind Jordan Henderson, Fabian Delph, Jack Wilshere, Dele Alli, Ross Barkley and Drinkwater in the international reckoning, is he? I can only assume Andrea Pirlo would never have got a game for Italy if Hodgson had managed the Azzurri. Even when I remove

my claret and blue tinted glasses I can’t see the sense of England’s current selection policy. Those three big cats on the national badge need Specsavers more than Sixties superstar Clarence the cross-eyed lion ever did. Normally, I wouldn’t be too put out by a West Ham player failing to win an England call-

up, especially when it involves a major tournament because they usually come back knackered. Remember what happened when David James, Trevor Sinclair and Joe Cole returned from Japan and South Korea after the 2002 World Cup? Yep. We got relegated. In Dean Ashton’s case, he barely came back at all. A tackle by Shaun Wright-Phillips during a training session shortly before Steve McClaren’s first game in charge effectively wrecked his career. But this time it’s different, Mark Noble deserves an England cap. No one’s perfect, of course. There is always going to be the odd pass that goes astray or the occasional free kick conceded in dangerous territory, and even the best of them get caught in possession sometimes – especially, as happens with Noble, if you are the sort of player who is always looking to find a better-placed team-mate, never shirks a tackle and relentlessly shows for the ball.


These days he gets it right far more often than he makes a mistake. It’s also not just him breaking up the play but creating goals for others and scoring a couple of belters himself. Several times this season I have walked away from Upton Park thinking Noble was man of the match. One of those performances, the league win against Liverpool, brought an unexpected reward when he captured a plastic bag that was blowing across the ground and played out the rest of the game with it shoved down his shorts, thus saving himself 5p the next time he went shopping. Happily, his sold-out testimonial on Easter Monday will bolster the bank balances of the Richard House Children’s Hospice, Help for Heroes and the DT38 Foundation by considerably more than that. Even his post-match interviews are quality. When asked what Dimitri Payet is like in training, he replied: ‘Rubbish!’ He made his West Ham debut at the start of the 2004-05 season under Alan Pardew. It was Alan Curbishley who shackled his attacking instinct, claiming he was too slow to hurt opposition defences. I believe that was a terrible managerial assessment, and a huge setback to Noble’s career. After the grim Curbish-

Star: Mark Noble is in the form of his life this season but looks set to miss out on a place at Euro 2016

ley years came Gianfranco Zola, Avram Grant, and Sam Allardyce, all of whom preferred him in a holding role. Super Slaven Bilic, of course, made him captain at the start of this season and has given him the chance to showcase his attacking skills as well as his defensive

qualities. Increasingly, he reminds me of a certain William Arthur Bonds. And I don’t say that lightly – Bonzo is quite simply my favourite Hammer of all time. He, too, flourished when given the chance to play further forward. Billy Bonds never

got to play for the full England side. There were a couple of under-23 appearances, and he was on the bench for a World Cup qualifier against Italy in 1977. But at a time when some very ordinary players were being picked to represent their country and he was producing


the best football of his life, he didn’t get a full cap. Bonzo was still turning out in claret and blue in his forties. Noble has been a regular at Upton Park for so long it’s easy to think he’s almost as old. In fact, he is only 28. The chances are he will never surpass Billy’s incredible 799 appearances for the Hammers – but having made more than 350 already he’ll certainly make a big hole in it. Like Bonzo, Noble got international recognition as a youngster. He captained the England under-18 team, was a member of the England under-19 set-up in the 2005 European Championships, and then went on to captain the under-21s in the 2009 tournament, at which England finished as runners up to Germany. It kind of makes you wonder what the point of all that junior representative football is when someone with as much experience as Noble doesn’t get a single cap for the senior side. He is eligible to play for the Republic of Ireland because of his Irish grandparents. He’s not ruled out the possibility, but it is clear his heart lies with England. Nobes does have some knowledgeable pundits championing his cause. Robbie Savage and Paul Merson both reckon he should get that elusive cap. So does Jamie Redknapp. ‘He is West Ham’s Mr

Preferred: Roy Hodgson seems to favour Leicester City’s Danny Drinkwater

Consistent,’ Redknapp wrote in the Daily Mail. ‘You would do well to find a player in the Premier League who gives more for his team than Noble, but he’s a quality player, too.’ If there were any justice in this world Mark Noble would be going to France in June to represent England at Euro 2016. If, as I expect, he is overlooked it would balance the scales for me if our captain spent the summer with his feet up preparing for a rather different European adventure – in which he would wear a badge with two crossed hammers rather than one with three cross-eyed lions. BBM * Brian Williams is the author of Nearly Reach The Sky – A Farewell to Upton Park, published by Biteback

Hero: Mark Noble has grown into the role of captain at West Ham


Hammers legends to sparkle at Upton Park one last time David Bowden looks forward to seeing old friends at= Noble’s bash

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ootball heaven comes to the Boleyn later this month as Hammers heroes past and present combine to celebrate Mark Noble’s testimonial. Such is the admiration the Canning Town man holds amongst the West Ham faithful, this ‘friendly’ is the first of its kind to sell-out. It goes to show that when these types of matches are done right they can really prove profitable for the chosen charities. Noble, who played his 350th game earlier this year, is enjoying a renaissance of form under Slaven Bilic, and this match represents a chance for him to play with some old friends at the Boleyn for one last time before the Irons move to pastures new in August. While the sceptics will tell you that many in attendance are there to see players like Paolo Di Canio, Ian Bishop and Trevor Sinclair, it goes to show just how highly regarded Mark is amongst his fellow peers. These are players the 28-year-old would’ve looked up to as a kid whilst he was running around the Chadwell

Back in goal: Ludo Mikloško is set to play Heath training ground as a baby-faced academy product. Now years on, he is giving those stars of yester-year one last chance to play on the hallowed turf, and one last time for us fans to purr over Di Canio’s step-overs and wonder what might have been had Dean Ashton not had his leg snapped in half by Shaun Wright-Phillips. Joining those two striking sensations are some old faces that are sure to whet the appetite.

It will be particularly great to watch Ludek Miklosko between the sticks again alongside Julian Dicks’ hard-hitting free-kicks and Ian Bishop’s luscious locks running down the wing. Personally, I cannot wait to see my boyhood heroes Matthew Etherington and Trevor Sinclair in claret and blue again. It makes me go all misty-eyed thinking back to the tricky wingers marauding down the flanks whipping

inch-perfect balls into the box for the likes of Carlton Cole and Freddie Kanoute to tap home goal after goal. The only thing that could make this match better is the return of King Carlos Tevez, if Marky Nobes can pull that off it really would be football heaven for the West Ham faithful. So what can we expect from the game? I suspect it will be a slow-paced encounter as these kinds of matches so often are, packed with humour. It’s not very often that ‘testimonials’ are given out to players these days but the fact the board have realised this and given Noble reward for this shows just how appreciated the Hammers skipper is. To be able to go to a game at the Boleyn this season without any nerves gives fans the chance to soak in everything that our ground has to offer. And another sell-out enables Noble to share the wealth with his three chosen charities, Richard House Children’s Hospice, DT38 foundation and last but not least the Help for Heroes fund. BBM


FROZEN IN TIME Saturday, February 27, 2016: Michail Antonio celebrates his winning goal as West Ham beat Sam Allardyce’s Sunderland 1-0 at Upton Park. The result kept the Hammers in the hunt for a European place this season.


FA Cup Special Tough: Louis van Gaal has endured an awful time at Manchester United

Taxi for Louis! Why West Ham can finish Van Gaal at United The Dutchman is on thin ice and a FA Cup defeat could see it crack

LUCY WOOLFORD @lucy_whufc

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his month sees an all-important FA Cup quarter-final for West Ham. They travel to Old Trafford on March 12, which sees

their planned match-up in April postponed, as it will be FA Cup semi-final weekend. Louis Van Gaal is under pressure, there’s no doubt about that. Can West Ham prove to be the nail in the coffin of the Dutchman’s Manchester career? Here are six reasons why the Hammers can force an end to Van Gaal’s short reign at Old Trafford..

1) He REALLY wants to win the FA Cup This year, the FA Cup is bringing something special for the Hammers. However, LVG has voiced his love for the trophy and said that it his ‘wish’ to win that over the Europa League. Reports were rife that he would lose his job should United have lost to Shrewsbury, so we’re well aware of how highly the club is rating the

importance of an FA Cup final this season. West Ham have a chance to end his hopes (or two if we can’t get the job finished first time!), something that would be more than disappointing for the manager personally and the club, in a season that is unlikely to bring an awful lot more. 2) We initiated the downward spiral West Ham went to


old Trafford back in December and held out for a 0-0 draw, with a performance that saw the Reds booed off at the final whistle. It’s fair to say it was uninspiring football and certainly not the ‘Man United way’. That game was the first in a long line of bad performances and results, the side lost their next four games in all competitions against Wolfsburg, Bournemouth, Norwich and Stoke. Van Gaal won’t be thanked for this desperate period in the season and it goes a long way to explaining what will be a disappointing league position for his team. 3) His worse record Vs West Ham than David Moyes’ David Moyes won two out of two games against West Ham in his short reign. Whatever way you look at it, that’s a 100% record – bare with me here. At the time of writing, LVG has won one out of three. By the end of the season, that could be just one out of six. The stats don’t lie. 4) Life on the road ends at Upton Park The football gods have been conspiring a bit here - FA Cup and Europa league results mean that it looks more likely that the Hammers’ last ever home game at the Boleyn could be against Manchester United in a rearranged mid-week

fixture. This could well be the final chance for the United manager to taste life on the road in England. Surely, if a loss is what greets him in East London, in what could prove to be a crucial game for their final league position, the board will assess the season as one to forget, with the Hammers maybe proving to be the last straw. 5) Losing the race for 5th position Whilst for most of the season, the northerners have been ahead of West Ham in the Premier League table, recent times have seen a little bit of a leapfrog battle between the two. At this stage of the season, it looks as though both clubs are realistically looking at fifth position, something that will suit us far more than Man United. As much as it pains me to say, history has United finishing higher than West Ham every season since the Premier League’s invention. They’ve been dominant and have won the league 13 times in that period. Finishing below the Hammers would be a major decline in form. 6) He’s lost the plot anyway Can the next two West Ham fixtures force LVG into doing something even weirder than he already has done? We’ve heard ‘horny’ comments and Murphy’s

Back: A fit again Andy Carroll could cause United plenty of problems Law claims, he’s stolen a not-offside-but-is-offside move from a Danish side. To top it all off, he dived on the sidelines, in what was probably one of the most surreal (and utterly hilarious)

moments of the Premier League. Surely we can come up with something at Old Trafford and then at Upton Park that will send further alarm bells ringing with the powers that be at Manchester United. BBM


FA Cup Special

Our travelling Hammers prove West Ham are a sleeping giant

David Meagher says taking 7,000 to Blackburn was a pretty big deal

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ur trip to Blackburn for the FA Cup fifth round encounter was an uplifting experience for a number of reasons. First up, it was really pleasing to see the FA Cup being treated with respect as the royalty of competitions that it is. It may not be the most lucrative in terms of television or prize money, but it has a history that brings an undeniable sense of romance that ‘proper’ fans cannot ignore. For Hammers fans, the level of interest was so great that tickets sold out in hours, and on the day the resulting atmosphere was almost like a home game. After all the damage the ‘big’ clubs have done to the FA Cup in recent years with them ignoring it in pursuit of more financially enticing activities, the scenes at Blackburn were just the shot in the arm that the FA Cup needed. The match also provided visible evidence of the tremendous passion and loyalty of our fans. Blackburn were swamped both on and off the field as the 7,250 Hammers fans made

Superb: West Ham’s fans were treated to a great win at Blackburn Rovers

their presence known by singing their hearts out throughout. But boy, didn’t they have plenty to sing about, and therein lies the nub of the revolution at West Ham. We have always had passionate and committed fans, but now we have a squad, a manager and a board that is truly

worthy of that support. Many sceptics laughed when West Ham took on the Olympic Stadium, suggesting that they would never fill the 54,000 seats. Well they were wrong with an estimated 30,000 on the priority waiting list for the remaining 7,000 or so season tickets.

In January 2010 when Sullivan and Gold took over, we were filling Upton Park to 89 per cent capacity with an average attendance of 31,000 per game. Now, a recent poll ranks us as the ‘most committed’ fans in the Premier League based upon having the highest occupancy in Premier League at 99.8 per cent. No doubt the lure of spending time at the Old Lady Boleyn in her final season is a factor, but the level of demand for season tickets for the Olympic stadium indicates an enduring increase in interest. Don’t get me wrong, a jump of 20,000 in capacity is massive. It will take us from having the 14th largest ground to fifth after Wembley, Old Trafford, Emirates and Etihad. As a comparison point, we have one tenth the number of followers of the official club twitter account compared with Man United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool. Separate polls in 2014, however, ranked Upton Park as having the sixth best atmosphere and as the seventh noisiest


Fans must fight to keep the magic of FA Cup replays alive

Class: The Hammers support is up there with the best in the country

ground in the Premier League. Things have gotten even louder since, as Tottenham found out last month, but the Olympic Stadium is much bigger than the Boleyn and will need a lot of noise if we are to bring that home atmosphere with us. Last year we were

BY ALEX SHILLING

voted wittiest fans in the League on the basis of our witty chants – let’s hope the laughter continues into our new home. But whatever else, you don’t need a poll to see that at the moment West Ham are Europe’s fastest growing and right now (probably) the Premier League’s happiest club. BBM

I have been outraged at the scandalous proposals to get rid of FA Cup replays. Everyone loves a cup replay under the lights and an extra-time winner. It’s one of our nation’s proudest sporting traditions and when even Arsene ‘there are too many games’ Wenger is defending it, you know that they have got it wrong. The Arsenal manager’s new stance on the matter may have something to do with the fact that the FA Cup is likely to be the only thing that saves his job this season, but whatever. In Spain, top flight sides can only play teams in the Copa del Rey from two divisions below them and there are no replays. The last 32, last 16, quarter and semi-finals are two-legged affairs - but teams already know that prior to the first leg. There isn’t the same romance and championing of the underdog that we have in England, with a League One or League Two scrambling a late equaliser to force a midweek replay against

a Premier League side. The plucky underdogs are rewarded for their efforts with not only a cash windfall but also the satisfaction of knowing that they have massively inconvenienced a bunch of top flight millionaires and their self-entitled fans. As far as the argument about England being knackered for major tournaments goes, I’m sorry but in the words of Alan Curbishley, it don’t matter. For the following reasons... 1) Like a lot of fans, it’s always club over country for me. 2) England wouldn’t get beyond the quarters of a World Cup or Euros if the players only played five games of tiddly winks a season; the problems that leave us trailing behind other European nations run far deeper. 3) Over the last five seasons, just three out of the 10 FA Cup finalists have had to replay any games at all en route to Wembley. So I say this: rally around the replays and get angry. As West Ham fans, we’re rightly proud of our history. Now we need to do our bit for the national cause and protect our country’s footballing heritage.


The Gold Sisters Successful: Jaqueline Gold was awarded a CBE in the January honours list

‘Dad gets so nervous on match days he is hardly able to eat’ Jacqueline and Vanessa Gold talk West Ham with David Blackmore

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est Ham heiress Jacqueline Gold says she can’t wait to see the Hammers step out for the first time in the Olympic Stadium. Co-owner David Gold’s daughter, who was made a CBE in the January honours list, has inherited he father’s love of the club and is

confident the Irons will be in safe hands for years to come. In an exclusive joint interview with her sister Vanessa, the 55-yearold, who turned the Ann Summers family business into a major high-street brand, also heaped praise on captain Mark Noble.

Kicking off our chat I ask the pair about when they were told their father was going to be the co-owner of West Ham. Jacqueline said: ‘The three of us have dinner together every single week, and have done for the past 25 years, and it was over dinner one evening that Dad told us

that he had completed the deal that day and was now the proud owner of West Ham United, along with David Sullivan.’ Her sister, who is the managing director of Ann Summers, added: ‘I remember feeling extremely happy but I can’t say that either Jacqueline or I were too surprised.


Happy family: David Gold is flanked by his daughters Vanessa (left) and Jacqueline at an awards ceremony


‘We always knew it was his dream to own West Ham one day and knowing how passionate he is, I think we both knew he would achieve it one day.’ Jacqueline, who was honoured for her services to entrepreneurship, women in business and social enterprise, recalled her first memories of growing up in a Hammers supporting household. ‘Our earliest memories of West Ham were going to our Grandma Rosie’s house, which was almost directly opposite Upton Park at 442 Green Street. ‘I remember Dad dropping us off to go and watch the game and we would help Rosie sell West Ham souvenirs to all the supporters from the front steps of her house.’ And her favourite player? ‘Sir Trevor Brooking – a wonderful player and now a regular in the Boardroom,’ she replied. ‘He is a great ambassador for the club.’ The conversation turns to today’s squad and when asked for their current favourite players both Jacqueline and Vanessa were quick to point to Mr West Ham himself. ‘We have some fantastic players in today’s squad but Mark Noble really stands out,’ Vanessa said. ‘He has such a fantastic work ethic, is right at the heart of the team and we love his loyalty to the club.’ Nodding, Jacqueline

Loving: Jacqueline with her father David added: ‘We also really like Adrian. I follow him on Twitter and he is so passionate about the game and the club.’ As for their feelings towards leaving Upton Park, Jacqueline continued: ‘Of course we’ll be sad, because we grew up around the ground, it’s our second home. ‘But if we want to progress as a club then where better to go than the iconic Olympic Stadium? I think it might feel a bit strange at first but the opportunity to watch our team play there, will be phenomenal.’ The vice-president of the Children’s Trust and

supporter of both the National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC) and the Retail Trust said West Ham have had a huge impact on her life. ‘I go to every home game, my six-year old daughter has been a mascot, it’s my second home,’ she explained. ‘It has been a very positive influence for me and my family. ‘I like nothing more than sharing my passion for the game with friends – particularly if I get to tease them after a victory against their team.’ Vanessa added: ‘I have always loved football since I was very little,

but being a West Ham fan feels like being part of a football family. ‘I like the fact that when we win, we all win together and well, when we lose, best not to talk to us for a few hours.’ Turning to their father, both Jacqueline and Vanessa describe West Ham’s co-owner as their best friend. ‘He is caring, charming and he always has time for everyone. We love his company, he really does light up a room with his stories, pearls of wisdom and his wit, which if you follow him on Twitter you will have seen for yourself,’ Jacqueline said. ‘As a businessman he


Fan: Jaqueline admired Trevor Brooking

‘My Dad’s heart has always been with West Ham United’ Blowing Bubbles also caught up with Dave Sullivan, son of co-chairman David, to ask his views on leaving the Boleyn, his favourite West Ham players and Slaven Bilic...

has incredibly energy and a real zest for new ideas and opportunities. ‘He always asks the question no one else thinks to ask and he instinctively knows the good ideas from the bad. ‘We admire him immensely; he has been a great mentor to us both, as well as inspiring many more.’ But what about Mr Gold, the West Ham fan? Vanessa replied: ‘As a fan, well, he barely eats on match day. ‘We sit next to him in the boardroom and he is so busy and involved but still has time to chat with fans on the way into the ground. I would say he is

optimistically nervous at most games and whilst he gets excited every time we score, he doesn’t usually relax until we have two in the bag.’ Last month heralded the six-year anniversary since Gold and David Sullivan took over the club and both explain how ‘extremely proud’ they are for what the duo have achieved for the club. ‘They have great track records as businessmen and as football club owners and really have the club’s best interests at heart. To have secured the Olympic Stadium is an incredible achievement.’ BBM

What were your earliest memories of West Ham? Can you remember your first game? My first game was the Burnley game in 2009 when we won 5-3. It was prior to my Dad and David Gold taking over and we were invited to West Ham to view the club and all that stuff. We were in a box and I don’t remember much other than worrying towards the end of the game when Burnley started scoring. Who are your favourite West Ham players and why? I really like loads of our squad so this isn’t easy. I like players with flair or strength or speed so naturally I would have to say Payet for his flair but I also like Kouyate and Sakho because of their physical attributes. Also they both score goals and are great to watch. Will you be sad to see

West Ham leave the Boleyn? Yeah I will be as will any West Ham fan. There are so many memories of happiness and sorrow tied to the ground so it will be tough to leave. But it is what we need to progress as a club. What’s your Dad like as a father, businessman, and a West Ham fan? As a businessman, he is a hard worker and very tough in deals. [Before the summer transfer window shut], he was working probably 12 hours plus per day. As a Dad he is very funny and has a lot of valuable wisdom, and as a West Ham fan he is avid and passionate. He has always wanted to be at West Ham that is where his heart has always truly been. Where is the strangest place you’ve met a West Ham fan? I am not too sure but I think the European adventure, despite the fact it ended way too soon, was enlightening as we saw how many West Ham fans are scattered all over the place. We saw this in Malta with the Maltese Hammers. * Follow Dave Sullivan on Twitter at @DaveSulley


Nigel Reo-Coker

Where did it all go wrong for former Hammer Reo-Coker?

Ten years ago the England under-21 star had the world at his feet... Captian: Nigel Reo-Coker enjoyed a fine start to his career

GEOFF HILLYER

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@geoffhillyer

t’s been ten long years since that great season under Alan Pardew – not only performing well in the Premier League, but also reaching the FA Cup Final, before that goal from Steven Gerrard snatched a famous win away from us. One of the reasons that season was so successful was Nigel Reo-Coker, who had been made the club captain in 2004. Known as the engine room in midfield before his acrimonious departure to Aston Villa, he made 120 league appearances, scoring 11 goals. It seemed inconceivable that he wouldn’t be turning out for the England full team one day, having played for the under-21s. Fast forward ten years, and he’s just been released by Montreal Impact in the MLS. In between, rather than

playing at table-topping clubs, he’s taken to the field for Aston Villa, Bolton Wanderers and Ipswich Town – hardly teams that set the world alight – before heading over to America. Where did it all go wrong? Perhaps, with hindsight, the seeds were sewn in 2007. West Ham had endured a terrible season under Pardew and increasingly looked odds-on for relegation. Pardew was sacked

after a particularly traumatic 4-0 defeat to Bolton, replaced by Alan Curbishley. He not only steered us to safety with an improbable run of wins at the end of the season, but also identified problems within the camp – the so-called ‘Baby Bentley Brigade’, of which Reo-Coker was a part. Despite rediscovering some form towards the end of that season, in the

summer the board ‘failed to reassure him concerning his future at West Ham’ and he requested a transfer. It was at this point that some supporters felt that he was getting too big for his boots, particularly as his performances for much of the previous season had left a lot to be desired. Almost inevitably, an £8.5m move to Aston Villa followed, but even as the transfer was going through, Reo-Coker had slightly more direct words for the West Ham hierarchy. ‘It was an experience which has hardened me but I don’t think it was an experience anyone should be forced to go through, like I was, at the age of 22,’ he was quoted as saying. ‘But it has made me a stronger character and I will now channel that in the right way. If people want to see me as obnoxious or bitter about what went on then that’s their prerogative but my honest opinion was that I was hung out to dry.’ Sadly, his attempts to ‘channel the experience in the right way’ didn’t


Washed up: Reo-Coker has pleyed for several teams in the MLS

Reo-Coker’s career timeline 1996: Signs for Wimbledon after being spotted playing for Croydon. 2004: Moves to West Ham and is quickly made club captain. 2005: Leads the Hammers back to the Premier League, via the play-offs. 2006: Plays for West Ham in the FA Cup final defeat to Liverpool. 2007: Joins Aston Villa in an £8.5m deal after asking to leave West Ham.

always work. A bust-up with then-Villa manager Martin O’Neill saw him dropped from the first team in 2009, and after being released from the club two years later, he once again had harsh words for his former employer. He reportedly found out his services were no longer required whilst on holiday. The next stop on the journey for Reo-Coker was Bolton in July 2011. During his time there, he made 42 appearances

and scored three times, but once again, the team struggled during the season before eventually getting relegated. Handily for Reo-Coker, he was able to activate a release clause in his contract, but rather than heading for a table-topping team, he was off to Ipswich Town for a few months before heading across the Atlantic to play. There’s no doubt that Nigel Reo-Coker was a good player. The problem with him,

you felt, was that the other important part of the game, his attitude, went missing when it mattered and that rubs against the grain of supporters’ goodwill. It’s a real pity, really. I’m sure he would say he’s had a successful career, but I wonder how he feels when he looks in the mirror. You feel with him that it’ll always be a case of what might have been – a bit like the FA Cup Final he captained, really. BBM

2011: Joins Bolton Wanderers on a free transfer but is relegated in his first season at the club. Activates a release clause in his contract and leaves on a free transfer. 2012: Eventually signs for Ipswich Town in the Championship after failing to find a Premier League club. 2013: Signs for the Vancouver Whitecaps in the MLS. 2016: Released by Montreal Impact.


Chelsea away

Four trips to the Bridge where we gave Chelsea the Blues... It hasn’t all be bad on West Ham’s short journey across the capital

registered a historic victory at Stamford Bridge to set us on our way to what remains our only ever Premier League double over the Blues. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink gave Chelsea the lead from the penalty spot, but Jermain Defoe levelled five minutes before the break. A Paolo Di Canio brace either side of a Gianfranco Zola goal ensured we’d take home all three points. Of course, one of those Di Canio goals remains of the best goals ever seen in the Premier League, a 30-yard volley that left Carlo Cudicini with no chance.

JAMES JONES

@JJ2388

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e’ve not enjoyed great success against Chelsea in the Premier League era, so if we do register a good result against them it’s always a well celebrated achievement. As you’d expect, we’ve had more fun against the Blues at home than we have at their place, but as we prepare to face them at Stamford Bridge this month I’m taking a look at some of the most memorable away meetings with Chelsea in the last 25 years. Chelsea 1-2 West Ham October 1994 With a side that boasted 10 British players, West Ham went to Stamford Bridge and grabbed all three points for the first time since a 5-3 win there in 1986. Martin Allen put us in to the lead in the second half before Paul Furlong levelled for the hosts in

Hero: Paolo Di Canio scored a famous goal against Chelsea in 2002 the 62nd minute. John Moncur was on hand to net the winner just five minutes later, as the Hammers held on for their first ever win at Stamford Bridge in the Premier League era. Chelsea 1-2 West Ham February 1996 Having been comfortably beaten 3-1 at home earlier in the season, Harry Redknapp’s side went to Stamford Bridge in search of revenge, and with a starting XI that included two men

currently bringing glory back to the club in Julian Dicks and Slaven Bilic, West Ham got just that. Gavin Peacock put the hosts in to a ninth minute lead but Dicksy drew us level just after the hour mark. Danny Williamson netted a 72nd winner to ensure we left west London with all three points. Chelsea 2-3 West Ham September 2002 In season with very few highs and way too many lows, West Ham

Chelsea 0-0 West Ham January 2014 This one will forever be remembered for the term ‘19th Century Football’ and is arguably the game in which Adrian wrote himself in West Ham folklore. The Spaniard pulled off a string of world class saves, including one in the 97th minute to keep out Frank Lampard, to ensure we earned a valuable point against a Chelsea side who were on a run of seven consecutive wins. BBM


West Ham Ladies

Ladies night at Upton Park is a big hint of a brighter future

David Blackmore says a game at the Boleyn Ground shows progress

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n years to come March 2016 could be seen as one of the biggest months in West Ham Ladies’ history and the dawn of an exciting new era for the club. Their game against Tottenham Hotspur Ladies at the Boleyn Ground on March 8 showed just how far they’ve come from some pretty awful and depressing lows in the four years that Blowing Bubbles has covered the club. They had hoped to break the Women’s Premier League attendance record of 3,256, which was set at the Amex by Brighton & Hove Albion and Charlton Athletic back in December 2015. As Blowing Bubbles went to press, I had every confidence leading up to the game that they would be able to break it for several reasons, including the fact that it gave West Ham fans another game to watch under the lights in the final season at the Boleyn Ground. But whether they have or they haven’t, the fact West Ham United gave permission to the Ladies to use the Boleyn in

Beautiful: Upton Park is a special place under lights

the first place speaks volumes to someone on the outside for how the Ladies are seen in the men’s club hierarchy. It’s also testament to the drive, determination and enthusiasm of the club’s two chairmen, in particularly Stephen Hunt. Ever since they arrived at the club, the focus has been on transforming the Ladies with a focus on getting them into the Women’s

Super League by 2017. Is this game at the home of West Ham United a sign of things to come? Will there be chances to see the Ladies playing at the Olympic Stadium? It looks promising, even if the results on the pitch haven’t been. This season was always going to be a transition. Players have left, including a few senior players such as Stacey Little, new recruits have

been brought in, and youngsters have been promoted into the first team. The results have reflected the journey the club is on – last month’s hammerings against Blackburn, Charlton and Coventry were key examples – but the bigger picture of what the future could hold for the Ladies must stay in the forefront of the minds of the players, coaches and


everyone else associated with the club. It’s going to be very interesting to see how this month’s clash against Spurs impacts the Ladies’ attendances for the remainder of the season, and into next season. No doubt there will be plenty of young girls in the stadium – possibly experiencing their first (and last) live game at the Boleyn. The Ladies will be seen as heroes with some of the youngsters walking away from the game dreaming of perhaps one day playing for the West Ham Ladies. Whether or not this will translate in them wanting to pitch up come rain, wind or sun every Sunday to watch the latest Ladies league game remains to be seen, but the club cannot be faulted for doing everything in its power to appeal to the West Ham community and position itself as another avenue for supporters to enjoy another XI proud to wear the badge. I’d personally like to see the Ladies get the chance to play after the men - something that

On the ball: West Ham Ladies do battle with London rivals Spurs

happens on a regular basis at Twickenham after England men’s play. We’ve always enjoyed a wonderfully successful and positive relationship with the club even dur-

ing the rough times and look forward to continuing our coverage of the West Ham Ladies. We will continue to report independently and ask the awkward questions,

but we will never be negative, we will continue to support them, and we envisage being able to report on more highs than lows over the next four seasons. BBM

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Supporters’ club of the month

#12: Station 936 (Italy) This month Blowing Bubbles caught up with Station 936, an Italian West Ham supporters club from Italy. Here is their story… The first steps of our passion for English football started around 1980 when TV Capodistria and TV Switzerland started to televise games. Many Italians loved the style of play and the unique atmosphere that England’s beautiful stadiums create. There are many different reasons why fans would chose West Ham to follow but the club’s great crest, famous stadium with the stands close to the pitch, the warm and passionate fans and the fact it was from an interesting district in East London, with special people, all appealed. In 1995 we decided to send a letter to West Ham United, because we wanted to know if it was

Drinkers: Some of the Station 936 members in the Boleyn pub

possible to go and see a match without much trouble. The club replied with lots of information about the stadium and even provided details of how to use the underground and what the ticket prices were. A few months later some Italian Hammers watched West Ham United play Chelsea. We can remember a beautiful and warm atmosphere, the continu-

Proud: West Ham have plenty of Italian fans

ous encouragement and tough tackles. It was a great experience, and when we returned home from England we shared our passion with our friends, and soon other Italians wanted to go to London. The launch of the internet in the late 1990s allowed more fans to connect and the blogs and stories of those supporters who had been to London encouraged more to make the trip.

The arrival of Paolo Di Canio to West Ham increased interest further and a lot of Italians became West Ham supporters, and Gianfranco Zola also attracted a new generation. In 2010 we were recognised as an official supporters group by the club and we have now featured in both the match day programme and on the club’s website. Today we have more members than ever and every year all the Italian Hammers gather somewhere in Italy for a great ‘Claret and Blue Hug’. For more information about our group visit our website (station936.it). We also have a YouTube channel and are on Facebook and Twitter. BBM


The last word

The moment the world finally started to understand Payet West Ham’s superstar put on a show to remember as we sank Rovers Star: Dimitri Payet has been fabulous for West Ham this year

JULIAN SHEA @juliansheasport

I

f, as the song suggests, they didn’t understand about Dimitri Payet before, then after his FA Cup masterclass against Blackburn last month, it is safe to say the footballing world does now. As opportunities to enjoy the Boleyn Ground are reduced week by week, many West Ham fans may have settled for a draw and another night under the lights in east London. But such was the nature of the drubbing that no one can have had any complaints about everything being done and dusted at the first time of asking. And it’s no surprise that it was West Ham’s No.27 who was at the heart of the action. Although Payet has been at West Ham less than one season, he has done enough to justify a hefty contract rewrite

and become this generation’s Paolo Di Canio – and there can be few compliments higher. Not only is Payet a player dripping with talent, but his presence and the security and confidence that gives his team-mates inspires them and lifts their games. Payet was a class above anyone else against

Blackburn and drew team-mates into his orbit with one of his most dominant displays yet in a West Ham shirt. It was Payet who put the visitors ahead from a perfectly placed freekick. Cheikhou Kouyate thought he had made it 3-1 after a beautiful string of passes – the Payet effect again – only

to be denied by a debatable offside flag, but within minutes Emmanuel Emenike, who brought a refreshing directness and willingness to shoot, obliged with the third. The Nigerian could easily have ended the afternoon with a hatful himself but had to settle for just the two – his second setup, inevitably, by Payet. The Frenchman then rounded off a dazzling personal performance with a brilliant solo effort in injury time, running from his own half. West Ham are certainly not a one-man team, but Payet is unquestionably its inspiration. It is no coincidence that fellow midfielder Mark Noble has risen into England contention playing alongside him, with his joy at doing so clear for all to see. West Ham have done all they can to stage manage the Boleyn’s last hurrah, but in Payet they have someone whose class means he makes by his own rules and writes his own scripts. That may turn out to to be the season’s crowning glory. BBM


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