West Ham’s season 19/20. A Game of Hammers: Songs of expectation and despair
Author: Emily Pulham. Published: 18 August 2020 at 4:20pm
By Dennis Watling (@DennisWatling)
(Opening track: Let Me Entertain You by Robbie Williams)
Cast your mind back to the 24th August 2019. A beautiful sunny away day at Vicarage Road. Off the back of a hard-fought point away to a Brighton team, who had new a manager with the bright ideas we are crying out for. West Ham, all in white like the 1980 cup final, battle to beat Watford. Noble smashes home a penalty won by an energetic Lanzini. The away stand erupts as Anderson expertly tees up Sebastian Haller, who found acres of space for his first goal to restore our lead. Haller confirms the win with a bicycle kick, showcasing his athletic credentials that made us fork out a record fee for the centre forward. This was the day our season started.
We left the ground elated. First win of the season, our big money signing had done the business. The coming weeks solidified our optimism. Two wins, including another goal for Haller and a two great goals from a resurgent Yarmolenko, and a draw meant it was one defeat in our first seven and that was to the back to back champions Man City. Pundits and fans alike were optimistic that West Ham can finally make good on their ambitions to be the best of the rest. We beat Manchester United, and what’s more, the football was entertaining.
(Second track: Kings Horses by JET)
Alarm bells went off over our backup keeper in preseason and were confounded in our 4-0 drumming away to Oxford where he failed to dive for any of the goals. Of course, there was Fabianski’s inevitable injury. Enter Spain’s answer to Massimo Taibi. (Youtube him if you don’t know) We somehow draw to a Bournemouth side that so far had been performing as if they want to go down. The problems did not end in net. Last season’s superstar Anderson lost all ability to find space, run or cross. It was now clear for all to see that Lanzini was nowhere near the player he was before his cruciate, no excuses on fitness or team cohesion, he just wasn’t up to standard. Yarmolenko tried his best but form soon deserted him and another injury layoff meant we had no real choice but to play Anderson, no matter how bad he was playing. Not even going to comment on our full backs as otherwise this review won’t make it to print. Ogbonna and Rice were the only two worth the shirt by this point.
Perhaps we were too harsh on Haller, who was beginning to get sod all service. Despite this he still takes a rare chance against Palace to give us the lead in the next game before West Ham out West Ham themselves. Rice has a rare moment of madness and VAR screws us for the first time, and sadly not the last. A glimpse of the future that is yet to come as Roberto somehow allows Bernard to score from an angle that defied physics to poach Everton’s opener against us at Goodison. (That being said, he kept us in the game that day in his only good performance). We then go on a bleak run of just one point in the next four, meaning we only picked up 2 in 7 by the time we pay a visit to Stamford Bridge with all hope lost, until the team was announced…..
(Third track: My Hero – Foo fighters)
“Now we have a chance, ‘coz Martin’s in goal, now we have a chance, ‘coz Martin’s in goal. Dave Martin’s in goal”
And did we take that chance. A 1-0 win against all the odds. Dave Martin, West Ham fan, was in tears at full time hugging his father Alvin, a West Ham legend himself. Rightfully voted as moment of the season as announced on this week’s podcast (Listen to it if you haven’t, it’s as brilliant as ever). David Martin pulled off a heroic treble save in his Prem debut to keep our first clean sheet in 7 games as Antonio ran the show and was harsh to have a goal ruled out by VAR. A tough loss to Wolves followed, and then we somehow capitulated against a terrible Arsenal side in a game where both teams appeared to be trying to get their manager the sack. Another great team performance sees off Southampton and VAR in a game where Jan Bednarek could have punched the ref and still not get a yellow, Haller scored again at last and our new goalkeeping overlord David Martin kept another clean sheet in another heroic effort, but picked up an injury which meant Roberto was our only fit goalkeeper. (Please picture an It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia style title card stating, “West Ham lost the next game.”)
Pellegrini is sacked after two more defeats. It was around this time the Author decided to support Mainz 05 full time.
(Forth track: Everyone’s A Winner by Hot Chocolate)
“You could not live with your own failure. Where did that bring you? Back to me.” – Thanos, Avengers Endgame.
With El Pell out the door, along with all coaches, scouts and any remnants infrastructure, West Ham fans were elated to have serial winner David Moyes, who had been fired from his last four jobs and hadn’t even been interviewed since he was let go from his last job in May 2018 – West Ham. Despite the utter disgust from fans, West Ham beat a beleaguered Bournemouth 4-0, with Haller scoring another overhead kick and Anderson, yes, Filipe Anderson scoring after a mazing run off the back of a ball that peak Beckham, Figo, Pirlo and Zidane would have been proud of from the one and only Declan Rice. Seriously, youtube this goal right now and watch the assist, sublime. Sadly, the track stops abruptly immediately after this win.
(Fifth track: Bad Day by REM)
Fast forward 5 weeks into Moyes’ second reign of terror. 1 point in our next 4 and we’re dumped out of the FA Cup in humiliating fashion to Slaven Bilic’s West Brom side. Yes, the very same Bilic our board replaced with Moyes in 2017. This defeat was made even worse as West Brom RESTED their best players for this game. Post-match, captain Mark Noble openly calls out the lack of investment in midfield that fans and all manages bar Moyes had seen since the summer of 2016. West ham signed Tomas Soucek on loan in a very rare shrewd bit of business. We still draw 3-3 to Brighton despite being 3-1 up, with Brighton being the latest team to get a major assist from VAR when playing West Ham. We also sign Bowen in a refreshing show of ambition. We very nearly beat the near invincible Liverpool and trounce Southampton to pick up our first win in 8 matches, in a game where Haller, Antonio and Bowen channel their inner Yorke, Cole and Beckham to combine beautifully.
Throughout this period protest marches occur, and West Ham fans find a new hero in the Telegraph’s Matt Law, who fights our corner all the way in the press. If ever this author gets to meet him, he’ll legit buy him a pint. The board dismiss these protests as being a few hundred twitter warriors. Pictures show thousands of fans at the march.
(Sixth track: In Undertow by Alvvays)
Lockdown curtailed any fightback and attacking flair that front three could have taken into our next few games as Moyes drops Haller for no apparent reason. Between the lockdown and project restart, Karren Brady appeared to do everything in her power to infuriate the fans further in her Sun columns. Initially demanding the season be null and void, only to flip flop like the Conservative front bench a week later following widespread backlash. Board mouth pieces on twitter began peddling how badly this would affect club finances, almost as if the news coming out now had been common knowledge for some time. Jeremy Ngakia, an academy prospect that kept players out of the starting 11 that were on 100 times his wages, left in acrimony as the board failed to agree a contract with him.
Fans were well and truly fed up by the time project restart happened. One shot on target and no goals in two defeats had us fearing the worst, only outside the relegation zone on account of Watford, Villa and Bournemouth also trying to relegate themselves. Frank Lampard’s Chelsea arrived chasing a European spot. A clumsy penalty puts us one nil down, with VAR having disallowed Soucek a goal on account of Antonio being guilty of the offense of not being 5 ft 2. A fightback ensued through Soucek and Antonio before Willian equalised. Fortunately, the author of this article infamously predicted a certain Ukrainian could make the difference. (Excuse me whilst I shamelessly plug this again) http://www.thewesthamway.co.uk/2020/06/30/can-andriy-become-arnie/
(Seventh track: The Great Gates of Kiev by London Symphony orchestra)
Away from my back patting, Fornals and Antonio linked up to release the greatest Ukrainian export since the Klitschko brothers. Arriving into space on the right like Thor arriving in Wakanda, he raced onto the ball, West Ham fans at home jolted up in their chair as he skipped past Rudiger like he was an inanimate object, our hearts collectively in our mouths as he lashes home a shot low to the keepers bottom right. Split-second fear makes our blood run cold but there is no flag or VAR check. The goal counts. Pint glasses fly around living rooms across Essex and Kent as Andriy, in that moment, embraced his inner Arnie. This is not a drill. West Ham won a game of football, in the 92nd minute. Lampard also threw his toys out the pram in his post-match interview. Stop crying Frank Lampard.
(Eighth track: You Gotta Be by Des’ree)
The ending to our season was almost like every teams highlights at the end of a Premier League years doc on Sky. What followed was the most quintessential West Ham performance away in a draw against a tired Newcastle side and the less said about the Burnley defeat the better, but we should have taken our chances if you’re going to stay up. Then, Antonio made history by being the first West Ham player to score four goals in a game against a dead in the water Norwich as Haller looked on ruefully, reminiscent of Scar in the Lion King. Survival was all but secured as we trounced Watford 3-1 again with two games to go, bringing our season full circle. Antonio continued his run of form, Soucek scored his third goal in four games and Rice scored a screamer to silence his doubters once and for all. A draw away at United then a lethargic draw with Villa on the final day signed off the most turbulent season we’ve had since the Tevez year.
Although this article looks back and laughs at our misfortune. After the United win in September, how this season panned out was unthinkable. Damn you Roberto. Damn you VAR. But god bless West Ham United, the cause of and solution to all of our problems.