Crazy Sundays and our brave new world

I've been away. You can tell, can't you?

So first things first... welcome back Slav, you have been missed and every one of us desperately wants you to succeed from the very start. Thanks and goodbye big Sam, doubt though that you will be missed!

The well-worn arguments about our former boss, the classless abuse from some sections of our support, and the painful, inept end to his reign has finally been consigned to the past.

I would have argued for an extension to his contract up until around the time of the carnage at West Brom in the FA Cup; a safe pair of hands, never gets relegated, all that sort of stuff.

But the shameful end to the campaign overshadowed every sort of calm debate. Whoever you are, if you win three of your last 21 league games, you get the tin-tac. Show me a managed anywhere in the world who would have survived that.

And in hindsight, we now know that all of Sam's staff were actively looking for new jobs while the horrors of the last months of our campaign were unfolding. And then Ian Hendon has the cheek to blame us for the shambles because we didn't back his boss enough. Think it was more than that Ian, maybe too many people didn't care a jot about results.

But it's gone now. If you'd have asked our fans on the last day of the season who they wanted as a new manager, a vast majority would have included Slaven Bilic in their top three. So we have got what we wanted and now we have to back the guy to the hilt, because I sense it's going to be a rocky ride, but hopefully never a dull moment.

As for us, we have got European football back, and now I can get into familiar moan mode! A club like ours, certainly at the moment, does not believe it can qualify for the Champions League, we don't have the money, resources or players. So if we want Europe, it has to be the Europa League, and all the problems that entails.

The main one is the wholesale destruction of our fixture list. Gone, ladies and gentlemen, are the days of Saturday afternoon, 3.00pm kick-offs. History.

When the fixtures were released for next season this week, every game was listen on a Saturday. Yea, right. Now we know that Sky and BT will murder that idea anyway, that's what happens. But the Europa League is not far behind. And if you are unlucky enough to be playing a home match in the schedule the Saturday after a Thursday tie, then the damage is even worse. And that's what we have walked into.

If we get through the two qualifying rounds and the play-offs (six matches in all), we are in the group stages and that gives us six more games before Christmas. And a swift look at our fixture list reveals that if we get into the group stages, we will have just THREE home games on a Saturday at 3.00pm before Christmas.

If we progress further in Europe into the knock-out stages, and right to the final (stop laughing, Fulham did it) we will have just FOUR Saturday home games with 3.00pm kick-offs in the second half of the season. And that is before the TV campanies start shifting other games around to Friday, Sunday and Mondays.

And guess what. If we get to the semi-finals, it will also mean that the much-argued about last game at the Boleyn against Swansea, will also be moved to the Sunday. At the last minute, too.

Aiming high in Europe - but at what cost?

Now I like my Saturday afternoon football, and for out-of-town fans like me and my lad, Sunday home games or midweek for that matter, are a real pain. Now I know it's my choice that I live in the heathen northern lands near Manchester, but there are many, many more long distance fans who this will disrupt.

But you cannot complain too much, it's hardly the club's fault and we all want European football, don't we. But travel by train on Sundays is a nightmare these days, and usually more expensive.

Now I am one of the fans who are going to the Olympic Stadium with a heavy heart but very aware of the financial needs of a club like ours if we are to progress. One of the good points is that Euston and Stratford are a darned sight easier route than the District Line, and quicker, so there is a sort of silver lining.

But back to the fixtures. If we get into the play-offs and group stages, seven home league games will be switched from Saturdays. Plus the away trips to Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City and Sunderland. After the new year, four more home games plus the trips to Chelsea, Leicester and West Brom will be moved from Saturdays.

But, hey, this is a brave new world. One we all wanted and this is what the likes of Everton and Spurs - and now Liverpool - do all the time.

But I still am determined to be positive about the new campaign and this last season at the Boleyn. Bilic is a good choice, and probably the best we could have got from the second tier of managers around Europe.

Football has a fierce, elite, class structure. Once you get to the Champions League as a player or manager, you do not want to leave it. Only really silly money - as Manchester City found a few years ago when they were mounting their oil-money revival - gets players like Yaya Toure out of the Champions League bubble.

It would be easy now to slag off our owners for shooting for the moon and trying for the very best. Some would call it naive, but I feel they deserved to go for it and hope they caught a big fish. Rafa Benitez nearly joined, but when Real Madrid come calling there is no choice. Benitez has always, always wanted that job, and we were just his insurance policy if it didn't happen, and he had known about the possibility for many weeks.

Just like Slaven knew about us. He said he had paid close attention to our final games of the season, and has watched hours of recordings. Rather him than me, those of us who saw those final, dying matches of a couldn't-care-less Allardyce regime would not willingly watch the DVD again.

Bilic is a good choice, even though he has much to prove as a manager in a really top European league, but already there has already been much raking up of the past, and not just the Laurent Blanc stuff. One very nasty article on an obscure website written by an Irishman who claimed he used to work for Hadjuk Split, the Croatian club Bilic once bought into, was as near to being libel as I have seen on the internet.

I have no wish to enlarge further, but I am sure if you look hard enough you can find the piece. I just hope that Slav's lawyers have not found it by now, because the laws of libel still operate on the net, something that far too many folk who post on fans' websites fail to understand. You have to prove what you write, simple as that.

What we are swapping is big Sam's 'mafia' of coaches, players and agents for maybe Slaven's lot. His own coaches, players he knows, agents he always works with. Frankly it is the same the world over, all managers tend to operate in the same way.

But if we get a few talented Croatians (Luka Modric, please) and some decent Turkish players , that will be fine by me. And of course David Sullivan is now doing his director of football bit with relish, assisted by Tony Henry, who would probably have played against or known Bilic from their times playing and working in the north west.

So, for now, I suggest we all maintain our youthful, schoolboy, enthusiasm for our great club. Otherwise you will be worrying about things that haven't, or may not, happen on the transfer front.

We seem to be losing out to Stoke, Swansea and Southampton in the race to sign decent foreign players. But I doubt Bilic has arrived at Upton Park without a few deals already done in his head, at least.

They are all back training next week, and two weeks from now we will be involved in European action. It has been a long time, far too long for a club we are told is the 19th-best brand in the world and in the top 20 of European clubs when it comes to finance and turnover. Under-achievers isn't the half of it.

We are seeded, so I refuse to accept that the first two qualifying rounds will be too problematic. The play-off might be, but if we want to progress as a club we have to show we can handle this and that will attract better players in seasons ahead.

So, Slaven, the very best of luck, we are all right behind you. You will need luck, but I just hope those scary eyes of yours will generate some real passion and effort from our team after the first half of the year. Welcome to the funny farm!

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