Filed: Friday, 5th August 2011
By: Preview Percy
We turned up at Preview Percy’s rest home in the hope that it was one of those that had been sold off during the close season and the occupants moved on without leaving a forwarding address. Unfortunately for you he’s still there and he’s still as barking as ever. Still, at a cost of a packet of Werther’s Originals a week it’s cheaper than paying someone to do a proper preview. Just. This week the old so and so takes a look at our opening match of the season against Cardiff City.....
And so our season back in Division Two as (I will insist on calling it until my grave) commences with the visit of Cardiff City to the Boleyn Ground for a Sunday kick-off at 1.15pm. This will mean an early departure from church parade for some, and an even earlier departure from “chapel” (as I believe they call it down there) for the visitors. The early start to the season seems to have caught Transport For London unawares as they seem to have forgotten to close the Eastern section of the District Line for the weekend, thus accidentally conveniencing thousands of Hammers by making it slightly easier to get to the ground by public transport. This will, of course, come as no comfort to the visiting support the vast majority of whom will be travelling by charabanc over the Severn Bridge as a condition of sale. I can remember when we used to pity people who lived under regimes that imposed internal travel restrictions on its citizenry.
Cardiff are, of course, one of those sporting administrative anomalies in that, despite their being Welsh, they play in the English league system. This led to them entering both the FA and Welsh Cups for many years, famously being the only club outside England to win the FA Cup, beating Arsenal in 1927. Their 1-0 win was thanks largely to an error by Arsenal ‘keeper Lewis, whose Welsh nationality was, of course, a total coincidence.
They had a lot more success in the Welsh Cup over the years, something that led them to regular European qualification in the 1960’s and 70’s. In 1965 they went out of the Cup-Winners Cup at the quarter final stage, losing out to Real Zaragoza who, I believe, went out to the eventual winners in the semi-final. European nights are but a distant memory these days, thanks largely to the football politics that saw the FA of Wales withdraw Welsh Cup invitations from clubs within the English pyramid system. Although that “ban” was recently lifted, only Newport County accepted the invite to take part.
There are a number of striking parallels between the two clubs. Both have had (relatively)recent changes in ownership during periods of financial difficulties. The Bluebirds were taken over by Malaysian interests in May 2010 following a predictably disastrous period with Peter Ridsdale at the helm. During this period, amongst the stunts pulled by Ridsdale was the infamous “Golden Ticket” promotion. The general thrust of the deal was “buy your 2010/11 season ticket in January 2010 and we’ll freeze prices for two years and spend the money on players in the January 2010 window”. In fact Ridsdale was later forced to admit “did I say players? – sorry I meant to say ‘spend the money on keeping HM Revenue & Customs from putting us out of business’”. Although the specifics are obviously different, we couldn't help but recall a certain “Bond Scheme” of a few years back.
There are other, more recent, similarities resulting from the fact that both clubs failed last season to cement a place in the top flight for 2011/12 (albeit from different angles). We even had the same kit shirt sponsor until this season. The Welshmen have made the playoffs in both of the past two seasons, losing out 3-2 in the final to Blackpool in 2010, and last year getting beaten 3-0 at home by Reading in the second leg of the semis, after a 0-0 draw at the Wiggydome. Alleged Hammers target Shane Long picked up a brace for the Biscuitmen in the second leg with ex-Hammer Jobi McAnuff adding a late third.
Again like us, the failure to keep/attain top flight status resulted in the manager receiving his P45, David Jones being given his marching orders whilst being linked with the Boleyn hot seat. After talking to Alan Shearer about the vacant post they finally plumped for another former Hammer, Malky Mackay, whose name brings back memories of the last time we found ourselves at this level. A new manager usually equals new players and so out have gone ex-Hammer Craig Bellamy (back to parent club Man City for the time being), Jay Bothroyd (to QPR), Jay Emmanuel-Thomas (to Ipswich via parent club Arsenal), ex-Hammer Stephen Bywater (back to parent club Derby) and Seyi Olofinjaya (back to parent club Hull).
In have come Kenny Miller from Bursaspor (though most will be more familiar with the striker’s exploits north of the border over the years with Rangers), the splendidly-named Slovakian Filip Kiss (in on loan from Slovan Bratislava), former Coventry defender/midfielder Aaron Gunnarson, and ex-just-about-everyone striker Robbie Earnshaw, who has returned on a free from Forest to the club he left about 7 years ago. Earnshaw is the only player to have scored hat tricks in all four divisions, both main cups and at international level, a stat that might have been a tiny bit more impressive had he also managed the trick during a short loan spell in Scotland with Greenock Morton as a kid. The much-travelled Welsh international was born in Zambia and qualified to play for both his birth country and Wales, something that wags at the time said made him a “Taffrican”.
In goal they’re likely to go with Scot David Marshall, whose place as onion bag custodian was taken for the latter part of last season by the aforementioned Bywater. Bywater’s last game for Cardiff before returning to the Midlands to annoy his neighbours was in the playoff defeat to Reading, a match in which the ‘keeper was widely regarded as culpable for at least one of the goals. Marshall, who started his career at Celtic, has a handful of Scottish caps at full level but is name isn’t usually first on the list when the squads are announced.
In front of Marshall for much of pre-season has been defender Anthony Gerrard who is, of course the cousin of gangsters’ mate and vastly-overrated diving cheat Steven Gerrard. Gerrard (A) has recently been cleared to play for the Republic of Ireland’s full side having gained a few caps at U18 level. Gerrard found himself well down David Jones’ selection list last season after the then manager left the player out of the playoff final. Gerrard didn’t exactly help his own cause by turning up for 2010/11 pre-season training overweight, though, as a scouser, I expect it was somebody else’s fault. Cardiff shipped the player out to Hull on a season-long loan (Olufinjaya coming the other way as part of the deal) where Gerrard promptly picked up the Hull player of the year award. Gerrard did miss some of pre-season after picking up concussion in the 2-1 defeat at Bournemouth but has since recovered.
The club skipper is Stephen McPhail. McPhail first made his name as a youngster in the Leeds side that made it to the last four of the so-called Champions League many moons ago before all the bills that Ridsdale (than man again) saddled them with brought the club to its knees. McPhail ended up at Cardiff in 2006/07 after a couple of years at Barnsley, suggesting that early comments from George Graham that the player was the “new Liam Brady” might have been just a tad optimistic.
McPhail was diagnosed with lymphoma during the 2009/10 season but happily seems to have seen off that particular opponent; currently he is in remission and returned to first team action in 2010 after a four month lay-off. There were recently some ill-informed rumours bouncing about that the player's health might have had a serious turn for the worse but his “illness” turned out to be only the side-effects of some medication he was taking for another medical condition. His lack of pre-season action may, however,see him absent for this one as a result.
Like our own Dylan Tombides – to whom we all send our best wishes – McPhail's recovery from the lymphoma highlights the importance of early diagnosis in these matters and all of us here at the Avram Grant Home for the Bewildered would urge anyone with any sort of worries in that direction to get checked out as soon as possible.
Pre-season matches are notoriously unreliable as an indicator of the season to come – look at ours last year. However, for what it’s worth they’ve beaten Charlton, drawn with Yeovil and lost to Celtic & Bournemouth over the past few weeks. Like us, their preparation concluded with a “prestige” friendly against foreign opposition. In their case they had the better of a 0-0 draw at home to Parma.
And what of us? I hear you say (or would do if my ear-trumpet was actually working). Well it’s all change again isn’t it. Yet again I return from a few days of bingo and tea dances down at Eastbourne to discover that there’s a new manager in tow. Now I’ll be honest here. Mr Allardyce wouldn’t exactly have been my first choice as boss. It’s a debate that has raged long and hard in the forum pages of this website. There are those that say that playing football in what people like to refer to as “The West Ham Way” has got us where we are today. However, anyone thinks that we went down playing football last season clearly wasn’t watching (and boy there were times that I wish I hadn’t been!). What was clear from those performances was that there was a lack of backbone – the number of leads thrown away tells its own story in that regard. Clearly there was a need for more discipline (in the footballing sense) and in that regard Mr Allardyce has a good track record elsewhere over the years. However, the need to have a bit more grit, tenacity and, let’s face it, plain old fitness (how many late equalisers/winners did we let in last year?) about the place doesn’t (in my opinion of course) necessarily have to be done at the expense of a decent style of play.
Mr Allardyce has said the right things so far, suggesting as he has that he will try to ally his ideas to a passing style of play (at home anyway). My worry is that, if things don’t start well for us, the temptation to revert to the sort of thing that we saw from the likes of Blackburn might become overwhelming. However, I’m willing to give the chap the benefit of the doubt – not that he’ll have been losing any sleep over the random thoughts of an old buffer like me (nor should he!).
There have been some encouraging signs to be found in the personnel changes so far this close season. The arrival of Kevin Nolan looks a decent move as does that of Matt Taylor. I can’t quite bring myself to be get worked up about the arrival of Abdoullaye Faye though – though I suppose in some respects he does represent a nod to tradition in that we seem to have signed a player who has missed a lot of games in recent years through injury and he’s already missed a lot of pre-season matches for that very reason.
We're still looking for another striker – talks have been taking place with free agent John Carew but there's no news on that one at time of writing. Of the new boys Nolan, Taylor and O'Brien look certain to start. Whilst Faye now seems to have shaken off his problem, he has missed most of the “proper” first team friendlies, returning only for the 5-1 win by an “XI” over Grays Athletic. If he's not 100% Winston Reid is likely to partner Tomkins in the back four.
Since I last put quill to parchment we’ve said goodbyes to a number of players. Kieron Dyer had all the luck of somebody who cancelled his regular lotto numbers the week before they came up. Injury too took its toll on Danny Gabbidon whose long absences put paid to his realising anywhere near his potential. Matty Upson had a poor season last year and there doesn’t seem to have been a headlong rush to acquire his services. His international days appear to be over – which means that the job of covering John Terry’s all too numerous shortcomings at that level is now back in Rio’s lap. Dember Ba? Well he had his moments but the fact that he couldn’t get out of the door quickly enough spoke volumes for a player whose knees may yet give Newcastle cause to regret their signing.
Hitzlsperger is a big disappointment however. There were signs after Grant went that “Der Hammer” might want to stay only for the German to leg it as soon as the identity of the new manager became known. In fact so fast did he move that he picked up a speeding fine from Suffolk magistrates on the way – hanging onto his licence by the skin of his teeth on the grounds that he was unemployed and needed the motor to look for work!
Of course there has been much focus on those who are expected to go but are still about. Green, Parker and Cole are all still about and we should see them for at least part of this match - though how many more times we'll be able to say that is an as yet unanswered question.
Ok new season, new players, new boss – if ever there was a time for optimism this was it. So I’m going to go for a 2-0 opening day win which will put us joint top as soon as they print the league table though personally I used to prefer it when they left it until 2 or 3 games had passed). If I’m still talking about such lofty heights in 8 months time we’ll be well on track.
Enjoy the game/mwynhawch y gem!
Last season: N/A (there’ll be a few of these this season) Our last home match ended up with a nervy 1-0 win courtesy of a late Carl Fletcher effort.
Player to watch: Peter Whittingham – Whilst new boys Earnshaw & Miller (aren’t they that comedy duo?) will be the focus of much attention, Whittingham is one of those players that always seem to crop up with goals when you watch the highlights programmes.
Referee: Howard Webb – One of the better things about relegation was going to be avoiding some of the poorer select group officials. Unfortunately since the Premiership doesn’t start for another week it means this week we get Mr Webb whose career was already showing signs of inconsistency well before his disastrous World Cup.
Daft Welsh fact of the week: A few years ago a Welsh council emailed its in-house translation unit for a Welsh translation of the phrase “No entry for HGV vehicles”. The response came back pretty quickly. Unfortunately, nobody double checked it until after they'd used the phrase on a road sign, which is why Welsh-speaking drivers were greeted with the message: “I’m sorry I’m out of the office at the moment”. Also it is a little known fact that comedian/singer Max Boyce is Welsh. He doesn’t like to mention it much though.
Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.
by Lee Byron
02:53PM 6th Aug 2011
''Nice read there...
God knows last season I looked forward more to your previews than the games. At least I smiled when I read rather than when I watched our desperate plight.
Let's hope he's on the nail with a 2-0 win. An early goal or two from us could do much to settle what will probably be a nervy team. Focus and don't let our welsh foe settle.
I'll go for a 4-0 confidence filled display.''
by Tell how it is Charlie!
08:36AM 6th Aug 2011
''I think last year fitness was one of the reasons why the season was so disasterous. At least he has got rid of some of the deadwood such as Boa Morte. You don't get the feeling that Allardyce really rates Carlton Cole very much.
ps: Hopefully when you rate the players this season, one or two of the scores will be about general fitness. Remember Preview Percy, a striker is a little bit more than scoring goals. It's the running and work when they don't have the ball! Same with midfielders, they have to possess the ability to attack and defend!''
by Martin of Surbiton
07:04PM 5th Aug 2011
''You may be old and daft but your review hit the spot perfectly. LOL, as I believe is the saying (I am old and daft too, BTW).''
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