Right state of mind

OK, so it's not absolutely certain yet, but it looks like we are going down the dreaded play-off route if we want to get back into the top flight.

And I have already broken my new rule for such a situation, by using the word dreaded. We must banish such attitudes from our minds, not just the manager and players but all of us too!

All season we have dismissed the play-off avenue with near contempt. Of course we were going to go back up automatically, we are West Ham United, we are too good for this rubbish division. Actually, no we are not, otherwise we would be about to celebrate the title.

But now, we must have the right mind -set for the play-offs. We must not treat it like a chore, or an insult to be there. And we must not allow ourselves to be dragged into a damaging blame - game because we have not gone up the way we wanted.

Yes, if Southampton beat Reading on Friday, and we beat Brighton the day after, then win at Bristol City on Tuesday, there is still a fleeting chance. And I will keep believing until it is mathematically impossible.

But we spend so much time thinking and wishing for other results to help us, and they never do. We all wanted Brighton to beat Reading on Tuesday, they didn't and even missed a penalty. So let's stop worrying about everyone else, that was so, so, damaging last season also.

If it's the play-offs then we much be totally united, there's no point now moaning on about Big Sam. We all, I believe, came to that conclusion in the second-half against Birmingham on Monday when yet again, we were in a shocking hole of our own making.

The support for players, some flawed, some scared it seems, some not even thinking right in the first period, was immense. A great roaring atmosphere when the chips were really down.

Now that has to be the way from here on in, otherwise we will all get the blame for the disaster that could follow. I've only just got round to watching the recording of the Birmingham match and Sky's build-up was totally about us and the horror - their word - that it is for our lovely lads to play at the Boleyn when everyone is against them.

So we must make sure right now that the plays-offs are not like that. If we lump it, so what, if we give away daft goals, OK, accept it and keep on roaring them on. Anything else will just add to the believe that this is all our fault.

We all have bitter/sweet memories of the play-offs. The 2004 horror show in Cardiff when a Neil Shipperley goal gave Crystal Palace victory and we emptied out of the Millennium Stadium long before the south Londoners had even got their hands on the trophy. The mass of West Ham fans that day, silent, suffering and shuffling towards the station said it all.

That season we had finished fourth, lost the semi-final final first-leg 1-0 at Ipswich, Darren Bent scoring, but won a tremendous second-leg 2-0 at the Boleyn thanks to Matthew Etherington and Christian Dailly strikes. I recall I listen to that one in a Lake District hotel bedroom, on my own, while the missus had dinner on her own downstairs in the restaurant. She has had to put up with so much because of my obsession with the Irons.

Sunderland finished third that season, and didn't get to the final. That must not happen to us.

And there is not one player who was on the field that day in Cardiff against Palace who is still with the club. My one real memory from that final was seeing Michael Carrick tripped in the box, with referee Graham Poll admitting afterwards that he hadn't given the penalty because we didn't appeal!

The following season, after some really dreadful stuff under Alan Pardew - yes, that Pardew, the one we all see preening himself up in Geordieland. We got to Cardiff again. He did well for us for a long time, but there wasn't much complaining when he did get the hook.

And there were plenty of off-field situations around that time involving Pardew, I believe, that never really came to light - particularly after the Cup Final - that contributed to his exit. Much to do with how much he seems to love himself!

But we crawled into the play-offs that season and were just mightily relieved to be there at all. That meant we had the right mind-set as fans as well as players. We had been given a reprieve and the delight carried on right through to a great day out in Cardiff, this time.

It was Ipswich again in those semi-finals, and a home cock-up in the first-leg. We were 2-0 up through Marlon Harewood and Bobby Zamora, but managed to let them claim a 2-2 draw in the second period.

But Zamora's double at Portman Road secured a 2-0 win in the second-leg, another game I watched from a hotel room. Yes, another holiday - the things we have to do sometimes - and another evening my good lady tolerated my absence and the West Ham shirt I insisted on wearing all day.

The day out in Cardiff was special. My late brother was there, not too well at the time, having confided in me that he did not believe he would ever see West Ham back in the top flight. Well, he did, my son sat with him and somehow I found them at the final whistle to celebrate. It makes me cry even now recalling that day. (Yes, I know, there seems to be a lot of tears from me over the Irons)

It was Zamora again with the winner to cap a special day. I still have the memory of Mark Noble - substitute in all three games - overjoyed at the end, as was Elliott Ward, whose introduction into defence after a shocking defeat at Reading had a lot to do with our eventual success. It's nice to see the lad in the Premier League now with Norwich.

We finished sixth that season, 12 points behind third placed Ipswich. We must not allow that to happen to us.

The big difference between that season and this is that we had Teddy Sheringham scoring 21 goals that term, Harewood with 22 and Zamora with 13, four in the play-offs. How we could do with that quality of strikers now.

Being stuck at home these days in semi-retirement, there's a lot of time to watch TV and I have just turned on Sky to see one of their Premier League Years, the 2006-07 season, to see the non-goal at Blackburn that started the recovery. That is only five years ago, but it seems so much longer.

|It was the season when Carlos Tevez scored seven in 26 appearance for us, and that was considered by that dreaded independent tribunal to be the only reason we stayed up.

Only Robert Green , Noble and George McCartney are here now from that day - and of course Hayden Mullins was in the side who looks as if he could be going back up now he is at Reading. Why didn't we try to sign him from Portsmouth when we were struggling because of Papa Bouba Diop's injury?

And why, when we were struggling for goals, did we not go in for Jason Roberts? Or is it that Blackburn won't deal with Sam? Who knows. The things that could have changed this season.

On that 2007 season, I was working elsewhere on the day that we won at Manchester United to stay up, refusing to even listen to updates because I would never have been able to do my job properly if I had.

And I have still not watched the Great Escape DVD. I didn't even celebrate avoiding the drop, because I just knew that was only the beginning of a seriously nasty situation. Sheffield United, their tame MPs and former Sports Ministers made sure of that. I still also can't get over being lectured on morality by a womanising, playboy film star. But that's another story.

Yes, I've rambled on a bit, but what has happened to the club in five years, causes that. To me, it all means that somehow we must all pull together with the right attitude and common belief to get West Ham back in the Premier League so the rebuilding of our club can start in earnest. And if it must be through the play-offs, so be it.

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