Extracts of Blagg's football blogs as he follows West Ham United and England through the usual series of near disasters.

Featuring links to the Annual Billy Blagg Advent Calendar of Christmas Songs.

Also featuring guest appearances by 'Captain Olympic'.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Unashamed plug time

In case, anyone is still in doubt about the many fingers I have in many pies, the Billy Blagg column - as it will always be to me despite the attemps of nefarious outfits to unmask me - is a regular contribution for ESPN FC and can be found here at the Blagg ESPN Column .

The Blagger's Blog spot is a sometime contribution where I try to post the more relevant stuff from ESPN (I'm contractually committed to serving up three columns a week and it's not always easy to find relevant things to talk about, despite Fat Sam's best efforts to show otherwise), along with more personal stuff from my life including pictures, photos and stories that don't have a home elsewhere.

Of course, it's also the seasonal base for the alomost legendary - I like to think anyway - Billy Blagg Advent Calendar of Christmas Songs.

It also gives me the opportunity to post photos of my cats - or, in this case, not my cat.

Molly was a foster-cat we were looking after and got quite attached too. The initial idea was we house her and her kittens for six weeks while she was found a permanent home, but she arrived without her kittens and stayed for over three months. We were going to offer to home her permanently but a rogue RSPCA officer (details on request) found her another home and we had to hand her back. The RSPCA are a great organisation for stopping cruelty to animals. some of their staff members aren't so good at dealing with humans though...

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Is Saitch Yer Daddy

It's not often you find football culture aligning itself alongside the world of Art, but among the usual blog posts here on ESPN FC, I think it's nice to celebrate another aspect of football - particularly one with such a fascinating back story.

'Is Saitch yer daddy' was a rather obtuse piece of graffiti that could be seen from the District line train at Bow Locks - no tittering please, there really is such a place - on the tube to Upton Park. Its meaning and the reason for it being where it was, are legendary and probably have little to do with the realities. But with strong rumours linking it with 'Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick' man' Ian Dury himself, it just gives an indication of how iconic something daubed on a wall has become.

'Is Saitch yer daddy' is now the name of an exhibition of West Ham related Art work at the EB & Flow Gallery in Hoxton EC2. Subtitled 'Trials, Tribulations and Triumphs of being 3,473 Miles from Upton Park and West Ham United'. The exhibition is a collection of 53 collages created by legendary music maverick, promoter and manager Kosmo Vinyl - Vinyl currently lives in New York, hence the sub-title - a man responsible, in good part, for ensuring we have all heard of Graham Parker, Stiff Records, Ian Dury and The Clash back in the late '70's.

The Collages' were created spontaneously as each of the results came in last campaign during the Hammer's Championship tussle, and Kosmo has seen fit to carry on the inspiration this season too. If you like Pop-Art and the type of work created by the likes of Roy Lichtenstein, then you may well be interested in this fascinating collection. If nothing else, it is serious viewing for Hammer's fans.

For those who follow the Claret and Blue and who are themselves thousands of miles away and would like to see Kosmo's work then, don't despair, the collages are also available online at the obviously titled 'Is Saitch yer Daddy' at Andy Pepper's - presumably another Kosmo pseudonym? - blog site at Is Saitch yer Daddy.

We anxiously await 'Upton Park - the Opera'.

Opportunity knocks with new home from home

It will be a wrench to leave Upton Park, but that likelihood became a reality last week as it was finally announced that West Ham United have secured a 99-year lease on the Olympic Stadium in Stratford and, following major conversion work that will cost in the region of £190 million that will include a roof extension and retractable seating - the stadium should be ready for the 2016 season.

This news will inevitably divide supporters, but hopefully, now that the years of talks, wrangling and legal ramifications have bought a conclusion to conjecture, fans can now realistically concentrate on the hopeful benefits.

My own thoughts on this move have been well-known since the possibility was first mooted following London's successful bid for last summer's games back in 2005. The day after the bid was won, I blogged the hope that somewhere on the Olympic site a place would be found for a purpose-built football stadium to house the local club. I never expected to end up in the main stadium itself, but have been hopeful since David's Gold and Sullivan bought the club that, in the hands of people whose heart was in the fabric of the football club and the local community, that something could be done to make what is essentially - to use the vernacular - a no-brainer, into something that would be palatable for all concerned.

The roof extension and retractable seating will surely turn this already impressive arena into a stadium fit for football, while the infrastructure is already in place following last summer's spectacular success story. If the same designers are able to make the ground as spine-tinglingly concentrated with noise as it was last summer, then fears about a lack of atmosphere - something, in any case, the Boleyn lost years ago - should be of little concern. Financially, with the sale of the Boleyn Ground and the £2m per year in rent required for the OS it makes sense, while the horrendous travel and parking issues are solved at a stroke.

I've heard all the arguments for and against the move and, barring the emotional attachment to a ground that has long since lost its atmosphere, appeal and geographical attraction for its support base, the only real question must be how do West Ham fill a 60,000 capacity arena?

Well, as nearly all of the Hammers home games this season have been sell-outs and floating supporters who don't always know well enough in advance if they are available on the day have long complained that they aren't able to make a morning-of-the-game decision, I'd estimate that a 40k crowd is easily obtainable even now. The increased profile of the club and the easy accessibility will hopefully make the team a more attractive proposition for those who just want to 'watch a game' and aren't able to necessarily trek across London - always an arduous task - but, more likely - it is to be hoped anyway - West Ham will be able to reverse the trends of the past few decades and actually incorporate a price structure that will attract young supporters and families back to football.

It's a sad fact of life that the days of a schoolboy or girl pitching up outside a ground on matchday and gaining entrance with a portion of that week's pocket money is as much an anachronism as footballs with laces and referees with top hats. But this is a nonsense if football is to survive as a spectator sport - rather than a TV opportunity - and it would be a spectacular coup if West Ham United were to underline their local and family roots by reversing a disturbing trend and getting young supporters in for a couple of quid.

Of course, ultimately, it may be that the Hammers new tenancy might tempt someone to invest in the club in much the same way the Abu Dhabi United Group did at Manchester City following that club's high-profile relocation, or as Chelsea managed years before with their huge ground investment at Stamford Bridge. Depending on your view on 21st Century football, that may be viewed as a good thing or a bad but, if nothing else, that would ensure the survival of a club that has suffered massive debts over the years and one that has faced a difficult future when survival in the Premier League depends so much in on-field investment.

West Ham's move to the Olympic Park marks a decisive day in the history of the club and, providing vice-chairman Karren Brady's statement that the club were looking forward to working with fans to "create a stunning new home that befits the pride, passion and tradition that the world associates with West Ham United", is a reality and not just a politically-charged stirring sound-bite, then it's hard not to get enthused over the opportunity to walk from easily accessible rail links, across the beautiful Olympic Park to a stadium that is already imbued with achievement and history.

West Ham fans should be viewing the next three or four years with some excitement for a change.

A night to remember: League Cup 71/72 – Part 3

Moore saves Bernard's penalty
"I have always resisted the temptation to describe any match as the most exciting I have ever seen, but this was the exception. This really was the greatest."Peter Batt – The Sun

"If this match had been presented as a piece of football fiction-writing, you would have rejected it as being too ridiculous."

Desmond Hackett – The Daily Express

Along with the match day programme and some brown faded newspaper cuttings, I found a stub for the Football League Cup semi-final 2nd replay. Do you know how much it cost nearly 50,000 people to see one of the greatest football games ever played? 35p! Think on that for a moment … and then think again …

The inside cover of the programme contains a welcome from the Chairman of the club hosting the 2nd replay of the epic League Cup semi-final between West Ham and Stoke City as Manchester United's Louis Edwards welcomes the fans and apologies for the fact that the ground is not working to its full capacity: "The building of the cantilever stand at the scoreboard end temporarily reduces the capacity by about 10,000 but I am sure the inconvenience will be worth it …"

If you were a Manchester United supporter and was there later perhaps, Louis, but for West Ham fans that had made the journey north and were packed into the Scoreboard end, the inconvenience was considerable.

You see, it was the 26th of January; it was cold and it was wet and it was Manchester. It could have been Siberia. Imagine how wet and cold Manchester is in January and then imagine it raining even more on top of that. And then add some more rain and some more wind. Then imagine huge puddles forming on the girders of the framework of the new stand, then being blown, from a height, down onto the heads of the massed Hammers fans. I was very young and I've seen some wet, cold nights since then but I don't honestly think I ever stood in such diabolical conditions since (and I was at the uncovered end when we lost 6-0 to Oldham in another semi-final). Are we quite clear on this? It was wet! Oh my God - it was wet!

The Stoke fans were happy with the relative comfort of the covered end where the sound ricocheted round the ground while the Hammers fans made their own noise that, despite dissipating into the night, made for an intimidating and electric atmosphere. The pitch was like a quagmire and huge pools of water formed in the penalty area as West Ham and Stoke took to the pitch that night. The mud was ankle-deep and the rain lashed into the players faces. "So British it made you want to stand up and sing 'Land of Hope and Glory'," wrote Batt again.

By the time of the second replay, the combined attendances for both clubs' cup runs stood in excess of a staggering 566,000 people. At kick-off, Stoke had played 920 minutes of League Cup football, West Ham 1060 minutes. At the end of the 2nd replay, over 171,000 fans had witnessed the semi-final epic alone. Surely this had to end somewhere?

The match began as it would continue, with early chances coming at both ends in a frenetic and exciting opening, but it was probably the 15th minute that will be the earliest and most important recollection for both sets of fans. A through ball eluded the Stoke forwards as Hammers keeper Bobby Ferguson bravely came out to claim the ball in the mud. Winger Terry Conroy chose to leave a foot in as he went to challenge for a ball that was comfortably in Ferguson's arms and the man in the green jersey failed to rise.

Moore stood over the prostrate keeper and wouldn't allow him to be moved while play was held up for seven minutes while players, trainers and even Ron Greenwood gathered round the concussed player.

There were no substitute keepers in those days - only one sub was allowed at all - and it was crucial to get Ferguson back in goal. Indeed, play did start again after Ferguson was prescribed smelling salts (!) but Moore quickly signalled to the referee, pointing out that Ferguson was reeling around the goal line like a drunk in the Mile End Road.

Play was halted again as the training staff walked Ferguson up and down the line to try and revive him before kicking balls to him in the tunnel to see how he would react. Instinctively, Ferguson palmed the balls away but he had no idea of where he was, nor what the occasion could be. In fact, afterwards Ferguson recalled nothing of the night at all.

Down to ten men and with Ferguson off, it fell onto the young Bermudan Clyde Best to go in goal but Bobby Moore took one look at Best, saw the fear in his eyes and took the jersey off him and strode into the penalty area. The Hammers fans roared their support along with a small prayer. Stoke, inevitably, tried to throw everything at the Hammers goal but only got their opportunity when right-back John McDowell attempted a disastrous back-pass that stuck in the mud. The defender recovered quickly but, panic stricken, could only charge down John Ritchie in the area and a penalty was awarded by referee Pat Partridge.

The chances of Moore saving Mike Barnard's penalty were "millions to one" according to legendary Brian Moore's commentary but, incredibly, Moore dived to his left to beat out the ball but, with West Ham fans celebrating and Stoke's holding their heads, the ball ran loose straight back to Barnard who lofted it back over Moore. Moore admitted afterwards that saving the penalty was one of his greatest feelings in football and it was only a shame it was followed soon after by one of his worst.

Another night it might have been all over but the Hammers came back. Pop Robson forced a brilliant save from Gordon Banks before the sublime Billy Bonds - having perhaps his greatest ever game for the Hammers - beat two men and cloying mud in a blistering run through the centre before hitting a left foot drive that took a deflection and flew past Banks. It was 1-1 in the 40th minute and the West Ham contingent's cheers sounded even louder shortly after when Ferguson rejoined the game, louder still in the first half of injury time when Bonds again ploughed past three Stoke defenders on the right wing and squared the ball for Brooking to lash home from just inside the area. This was glorious stuff.

Ironically though, it was the Stoke-inflicted Ferguson injury that led two-fold to the Potter's equaliser before half-time. Firstly, It was nearly eight minutes into injury time when Stoke's skipper Peter Dobing scored but, worse, an obviously unfit Ferguson was nowhere as Dobing ran in, wandering onto the edge of his area, enabling the Stoke skipper to simply drive the ball past him.

The second half started 15 minutes late and Stoke took an early advantage after only five minutes when Terry Conroy - football can be cruel can't it? - roundly booed by Hammers fans for his assault on the Hammers keeper, hit home as Ferguson again dived late to a ball skidding on the mud that crept inside his far post. West Ham's response couldn’t have been more positive. Sensibly deciding that they were virtually playing without a goalkeeper, the Hammers laid siege to Stoke's goal.

Redknapp, as in the 2nd leg, again hit the foot of a post with Banks beaten, before the Hammers suffered the ultimate ignominy in view of what had happened before. Alan Bloor clearly fouled Geoff Hurst in the penalty area but, though Hurst stumbled, he stayed on his feet and Partridge waved for the advantage. Hurst crossed for Redknapp - who had stopped expecting a whistle for the penalty - to recover briefly and again hit the post. "You're too much of a Gent, Geoff - if you'd gone down it was definite pen," was Alan Ball's post match analysis.

Again and again, West Ham attacked but this time there was to be no more controversial incidents or late drama. Stoke pulled everybody back and put themselves in front of everything the Hammers could throw at them. It was heart-stopping, stirring, exciting stuff and, when the whistle went with the score 3-2 to Stoke, the players just dropped into the oozing mud as the men in red and white stripes celebrated the first final appearance in their long history. There is a famous photo of Banks celebrating in front of the Stoke fans, fist clenched and covered in mud.

The normally placid Ron Greenwood was scathing in his attack on Terry Conroy later "You saw it - draw your own conclusions," he said, also admitting "He [Ferguson] doesn't remember anything about the game. He still doesn't know the score." Greenwood also complained about the attitude adopted in the second half towards Ferguson calling it 'simply bad sportsmanship'.

Looking back though it's hard to deny Stoke their victory either, controversial though it was; it's an old cliché but this was one game nobody deserved to lose. West Ham did get to Wembley and won three years later (another time ok?) but, nevertheless for some, that epic cup run and semi-final perhaps encapsulated all that there is to love and hate about West Ham. Entertaining, frustrating, terribly unlucky, irresistible at times, annoying in others, with great players mixing with lesser in a combination almost guaranteed to thrill and aggravate at the same time.

As for me, well I was never more upset and rarely as proud. Sodden through to the bone and dejected beyond belief, I saw the Stoke coaches rocking in the car park as the fans celebrated, and I prayed I could do that someday. I'm happy to say I did (although I'd like to have done it some more!).

As ever in football, you can couch anything you like with words and excuses but, for West Ham, their season ended that night in January. They slumped out of the FA Cup to a Frank Worthington inspired Huddersfield and flirted with relegation, as usual, before pulling clear. Geoff Hurst left for Stoke the following season and even the great man himself departed for Fulham within two years. I've often wondered what might have happened had the Hammers gone on to beat Chelsea as Stoke did and qualified for Europe.

It was virtually Bobby Ferguson's last hurrah too, fighting for his place with Peter Grotier before losing it completely to Mervyn Day, although, to be fair, Ferguson stayed as reserve for a good many years after. It could have been grim, but the spine of Lampard, Bonds and Brooking continued and they, at least, went on to greater glories.

But, there is a curious postscript to this story. In those days, when you travelled up north to games - never in the south - you were often handed a magazine called 'Football League Review'. It was the mouthpiece of the English game's governing body and contained reports, rule changes and letters - oh! And adverts - 20p for a pack of Park Drive tipped cigarettes anyone? £883 (!?!) for a Vauxhall Viva deluxe?

Sometime in the autumn - I don’t know how or when - there had been an offer to get tickets for the League Cup final in March. Convinced that the Hammers would be at Wembley, my Granddad simply applied and paid for two tickets (can you imagine that now?), and until January at least, it looked a sound investment. In March though, there were two West Ham fans with tickets to a Stoke City v Chelsea Cup final and no opportunity to sell but, never having visited Wembley at that time and certainly never seeing a final, it seemed a shame to waste the opportunity.

So it was that two quiet Hammers fans found themselves amongst the massed ranks of Stoke City fans in what eventually turned out to be the Potteries club first trophy in 108 years of existence. It's pretty odd to think I witnessed something most Stoke fans only dreamt of for years until they returned to play Chelsea again in the 2011 F.A Cup final. And it might not be considered the done thing in the fraught times of the 21st Century Premiership football but you know, I was really pleased for Gordon Banks.

Gone...but not forgotten?

Been busy working on the ESPN FC blog recently (Billy Blagg's West Ham Blog for those interested). But I popped in just to check some stuff out on here and was surprised by two things.

Firstly, it seems by the visitor's stats that a number of people had looked at the blog in early April - not sure why, was it my spectacular appearance on Radio 6 Music's Radcliffe and Maconie show? - and, secondly, I hadn't updated since the end of 2012.

So, I'm gonna welcome in the spring but bringing this blog up to date - if nothing else the third part of the Stoke story needs to go up here - and by posting a picture of some daffodils, my favourite flowers. I used to have some excellent phtos of daffs, taken during the bulb season in Holland, but my ex-wife has those now so you'll have to make do with one of these I found on Google images. Many thanks to Ed O'Keefe. I owe you Sir - or rather, my ex-wife does!