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West Ham United
Posted by Billy Blagg on 08/04/2012

(Originally posted on my Blog and at following the Hammer's win at Wembley in May)

It’s odd to think that, in many ways, West Ham have endured yet another torrid year. The fact that the Hammers remained unbeaten for long periods during the season, recording a record number of away wins before stumbling slightly, only to end the whole thing on such a brilliant high with the best football day out many of us have had for a long time, has made it easy to forget the turmoil of February and March.

Think back to the period leading into the home defeat by Reading where a large number of home draws had helped produce a dreadful atmosphere at some of the Boleyn games. The abuse and the calls for the head of Sam Allardyce – and that’s some head let’s not forget - and the growing fractious behaviour between the Manager and the fans, seemed to signal we were heading, yet again, for another Irons-style meltdown.

Some of us thought the criticisms were an over- reaction and ever so slightly ridiculous – I lost count of the number of arguments I had online (and I’m not talking about on my home site of either) with supporters stating that the only way to save our season was to sack the boss and try to get in Di Canio, an argument as pointless as it was unlikely – but there was a growing feeling that things were going to end in tears.

Missing out on the automatic promotion places and being consigned to the lottery of the Play-offs only helped cement the concerns and, I won’t lie, I feared we’d blow it against teams ‘up for it’ against the supposed ‘strutting arrogance’ of a side supposedly too big for the league it was forced to play in. But I’d not taken into account the BFS factor and I don’t think I can be blamed for that because, simply, it’s not something I’ve seen too much of over the years at West Ham!

Condensing 10 months into one ‘What If?’ is always dangerous but, IF West Ham had lost out to Blackpool last Saturday – and let’s be honest the men in Tangerine had plenty of good chances to do just that - to say things would have looked very much bleaker could well be something of an understatement.

In a fascinating interview on Radio 5 Live on Sunday, Wally Downes confirmed that West Ham already had two business plans in action; the Premier League one we can now presumably expect to see coming into fruition over the coming months, and the Championship option which would have seen the loss of at least four or five high-wage earners from the playing staff. Don’t look round Guys but I think we just dodged a bullet!

But, with promotion gained, I think it’s time to look again at some of the supposed issues with Sam Allardyce and his ‘style’ and management of West Ham United because for me, there was one thing apparent in his handling of the team, not just all season, but particularly in the chase of Southampton post Reading and, more significantly, in the Play-off’s. That thing is something West Ham teams have lacked a lot in the past and can be summed up in one word: professionalism.

I have nothing but admiration for the way that Allardyce prepared the team for the semi-final against Cardiff – rarely have I seen a Hammers side dominate in such a single-minded manner over 120 minutes. Against Blackpool things were different admittedly, but even so I always felt that the team knew what needed to be done and worked hard to achieve it.

More importantly, when Ince Jnr. threatened to alter the balance of the match after half-time, Allardyce was quick to spot the problem and introduce McCartney. Decisive substitutions? Shouldn't we be waiting 20 minutes to see if it pans out ok? If you want to see what difference that made then watch the game on replay; simply the final turned on that one introduction. Be honest, how many of us can recall the last time a West Ham boss put a defender on to stop the opposition and it actually worked?

So adept is Allardyce at working this way I think his strengths have actually been overlooked by the fans, particularly with his supposed arrogance or inability to accept blame for when things go wrong.

The way I see it is I think Sam expects a certain level of professionalism and trusts the players to deliver that. If they can’t then they will soon be on their way but, if they can then Allardyce will offer them a system that, for the most part, will produce positive results. It may not always be pretty but when Sam’s mortgage – and more importantly – the club’s future depends on it, who can really argue?

When Allardyce takes off a striker when the side are leading 1-0 at home with 10 minutes to go, he expects the player he introduces to help shape the formation required to shut the game down and see the three points won. This is an anathema to West Ham and their fans weaned – not as we are led to believe – on a system of free-flowing football that demands we can go on and score a second and a third but, rather, on the belief that we have to attack because we’ve never been able to bloody defend!

Of course, when the change doesn’t work and we do concede – I’m thinking about the home game against Middlesbrough here – Sam cops the abuse and is accused of being defensive and limited in his coaching. But I’ve come to look at it another way, I think Sam trusts and expects his players to do what he tells them and – although sometimes he’s bound to come a cropper if the opposition score a spectacular equaliser as Boro did that night – for the most part the tactic will bring strong rewards.

Allardyce plays the percentages and when they don’t work he offsets that against the times they do because he knows most times he will come out on top. When Sam’s tactics have worked, the points have accumulated rapidly. Can anyone really say they didn’t get a bit of pleasure from seeing, as an example, West Ham do to Brighton on their own patch what visiting teams have been doing to us for years? Someone said that night in October that Bobby Moore would be spinning in his grave. Personally, I think he’d have sported an ironic smile – he always wanted Ron Greenwood to put a bit of steel in the side and stifle the opposition more (Read the Great Man’s autobiography for details of how he begged Greenwood to employ a hatchet man). I think he and Sam would have hit it off just fine.

For the first time in my memory (which admittedly is fading fast, but still!) West Ham United has become a difficult team to beat. What’s more, if you’d told me I’d ever see a West Ham side win what is, effectively fifteen away games in a season, I’d have a) thought you insane and b) assumed we'd gathered another ‘Class of ’86' and were destroying opposition on the back of attacking, free-flowing football. That this side can frustrate opposition on their home turf, kill a game off and win points from unlikely places is something of a minor miracle.

And can we blame Sam as he stands like the little boy in the Hans Christian Anderson fairy-tale telling everyone the king has no clothes? Of course, he’s going to be confused by a bunch of fans claiming that we’re not playing the ‘West Ham way’ when, since he’s been playing and managing, the Hammers have, for the most part, been an under-achieving, sometime relegation dodging, sometimes not, mid-table at best, claret and blue frustration? No wonder the bloke gets ********d off at us! This season we’ve been given a Rolls Royce and we’ve complained because he didn’t put enough petrol in the tank. I wouldn’t mind so much but most of the people complaining never even saw any of the champagne football so let me tell you, amongst the silky skills and the slick passing there were a helluva lot of defeats at places like Middlesbrough, Forest and Leeds.

I won’t pretend I wasn’t a bit worried last August but Sam Allardyce has completely won me round. I’ve enjoyed this season better than most others in recent memory and if BFS continues to irritate and frustrate the opposition next year then it should be a long time before we bother the Play-off games again.

Sam and his brand of football sit just fine with me and, for the first time in a long while, I’m looking forward to a Premier League season with a little more hope than expectation. Amazing what you can do when you get a Professional in, isn’t it?

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Posted by Dave from Ottawa on 08/04/2012

Nicely put. I've been watching the irons since 2-2 home v Ipswich in 1962. Anyone who thinks we've always played "the West Ham way" couldn't have seen the many games we lost or threw away 'cus we were awful.

Allardyce does play percentages in planning and executing games, and gets the according results. As with all plans, they do not survive contact with the enemy, and sometimes plans do not work because of an outrageous unplanned event. Overall I was pleased with last season, although a little worried entering the play-offs.

I am looking forward to the upcoming season. I think a reasonable and balanced squad is taking shape, although RB & coverage needed. I think Henderson will make it as GK. Hope Spence makes it through to the show at RB. Midfield OK. Lots of forwards for once! COYI

Posted by Dave Pask on 08/06/2012

Welcome back West Ham and welcome back Billy.Missed your writing over the past year.

Posted by nip on 08/06/2012

Just look at where Bolton and Blackburn are right now...two teams that were hard to beat until Allardyce left. I'm pretty sure West Ham is going to be in good shape for the coming season under the Allardyce's guidance.

Posted by The Wanderer on 08/07/2012

It's great to see your page back even though I'm a Bolton fan and you've taken our page! (not that any of our correspondents kept our page up to date anyway). Your page is easily the best correspondent page on this site - you were very much missed last season.

I look forward to reading your comments on how Bolton Wanderers 'B' team (as I like to refer to my WHU friends who live up here) fare back in the Premier League this season.

Well done for defending Big Sam too. The bottom line is Big Sam is a good manager and the irony that Big Sam's WHU are replacing two of his former sides in the premier league shouldn't be lost. But if WHU fans would prefer to come and watch the likes of Peterborough Utd this season then they are welcome to come to the Reebok!

Posted by Fede on 08/09/2012

Hi there! I am Glad to read you back. Hope the hammers had a good season after a year in the Championship!

Posted by BigSamrules on 08/10/2012

I'm not a West Ham fan or a fan of any club that Sam Allardyce has managed but I agree with your comments. Bolton always punched well above their weight when he was in charge. He may not be the free flowing style type manager but he's very pragmatic. He knows he has limited funds compared to many other clubs and also understands the players he has and what their skills are, and he makes a system that works very well considering what he has. If he stays at West Ham I expect West Ham will always be in the top half of the premiership.

Posted by John Hall on 08/12/2012

I've been a hammers fan since 1965. At last, I sense we're capable of consolidating a spot in the Premier League - we should look at it as a 5 year plan : establish a squad,adjust to the pace and fitness level, hold our position in the bottom half, build the squad over time, and finally appear in the top ten when we're ready ! 2012 looks like the year we begin the process with professionalism, not just hope. Bring it on!

Posted by Kyle on 08/17/2012

read the post at the time, and it's a great piece. I don't agree with his philosophy on direct football and percentages of shooting, but I'm also not a premier league manager. Further everything else he does with discipline, fitness, managing players, etc is top drawer. We were running at full steam through the play-offs while the opposition were clearly knackered. I've only been a fan for six years but they are as mentally disciplined a team as I've seen, and that's saying something given the season before his arrival.

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Billy Blagg Born at an early age a mere defenders' spit from the Boleyn ground, Billy Blagg has seen every West Ham game from 1898 onwards. Blagg was mentioned by Kenneth Wolstenholme in 1966 as one of the people on the pitch during the famous Hammers win over West Germany that lifted the World Cup and he returned to the pitch again for the 1975 FA Cup Final but stayed on the terrace for 1980 FA Cup victory. Blagg, 26, now lives with his eighth wife and innumerable children in a small semi-detached with chintz curtains in Dagenham, Essex and still attends every Hammers match and training session.

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