West Ham United v Stoke City

Preview Percy DOES actually know it's Christmas. He just doesn't like the fact very much.....

So Stoke then. Last home game of the season before Christmas. 3pm on a Saturday - which is right and proper. The rail networks seem remarkably free of large gentlemen showing bottom cleavage as they shovel ballast, though those of you who use C2C (STILL a poncey name for a train company, by the way) may wish to note that they will be diverting two trains an hour from Fenchurch Street to Liverpool Street to serve Stratford, missing out West Ham and Limehouse in the process. Something about shopping.

Stoke City then. 11th place on 22 points which is one point and four places behind us following last week's 2-0 defeat of Manchester City at the Britannia Stadium. Which contrasts sharply with their previous outing in which they contrived to lose to Sunderland who, although they have scraped a couple of points together recently, are still a desperately dreadful side. Hmmm. Beating quality one week and going down to rubbish the next? Remind you of anyone? They're through to the semi-final of the League Cup as well where they'll face the forces of evil of Liverpool.

As usual I sent the work experience kid with the Harry Potter spectacles out to find out what they'd been up to transfer wise. Well you don't keep a dog and bark yourself do you? Unless you support Spurs when that's precisely the sort of stupid thing you would do. He came back sniggering "you have GOT to use the phrase 'Enter Shaqiri' - trust me the kids will get it". I'll think about it. Anyway they broke their club transfer record by raiding the piggy bank to the tune of ?12m for Xherdan Shaqiri. Now Stoke seems an odd destination for a player of Shaqiri's undoubted talents to be considering. Actually it seems an odd destination for anyone come to think of it. Clearly the player himself had a few thoughts on the matter as originally, despite the clubs agreeing the fee, the deal fell through when Shaqiri failed to give his agreement by a set deadline imposed by the Potters. For a while it looked like he might end up on Merseyside as Everton came sniffing. The Toffeemen were not totally convinced by the player who Inter seemed set on offloading despite his being only a year into a four year deal. A loan deal was proposed but Inter were not biting, whereupon a whole month after the original deal had collapsed Shaqiri signed a four year contract at the Britannia.

?5.75m was the next biggest fee paid in the window. This went on someone called Jose Luis Sanmartin Mato who, in an admirable effort to prevent a major shortage of iron-on letters for those who like to stick a name on the back of their kits, goes by the name of Joselu. Joselu spent much of his early career on the books of Real Madrid, featuring in the main for their reserve outfit which is currently known as Real Madrid Castilla, who us old'uns will remember better as Castilla CF who we beat in one of the more unusual matches played at the Boleyn in the '81 Cup-Winners' Cup. Despite being decidedly Spanish, Joselu was born in Stuttgart, and, having made but a solitary league appearance for the real Real Madrid, it was back to Deutschland he went in 2012 where spells with Hoffenheim, Eintracht Frankfurt and Hannover followed.

They pulled in Glen Johnson on a free from Liverpool. Johnson's career seemed so promising but he suffered from signing for a succession of crap clubs such as Chelsea, Portsmouth and Liverpool. His departure from us in 2003 was, in effect, the ultimate sacrifice as the ?6m fee received from Chelsea went some way to ensuring the continued existence of the club, which was coming pretty close to administration at that time. That ?6m, incidentally was the first of the ?1bn plus spent by Abrahamovic, who had taken over with the banks coming very close to shutting Chelsea down, so those petrodollars of dubious origin actually managed to save two clubs along the way. Johnson's finest hour famously came whilst on loan at Portsmouth when he picked up an on the spot ?80 fine for trying to steal a toilet seat - he apparently placed a more expensive seat in a box earmarked for a cheaper variety. I suppose we can be grateful that he didn't do it the other way around. One day I am going to set up a scheme where we place special plaques at the sites where footballer stupidity had taken place. I have one reserved for the Portsmouth branch of B&Q.

They also went shopping at Barcelona, securing the transfer of Dutchman Ibrahim Affellay. I say "shopping", it was more a case of the player being left out on the front lawn at the Nou Camp with a note saying "free - please take". Affelay joined Barca in 2011 after a successful seven years at PSV, for whom he had come through the ranks after they had picked him up as a kid from amateur side Elinkwijk, who currently turn out in the delightfully-named "Hoofdklasse" level of Dutch amateur football (insert your own Allardyce joke if you must. I've moved on.) Injury cut short a loan spell at Schalke and he spent last season on loan at Olympiakos. By all accounts it wasn't the happiest of spells there and his coach described the player as a "rebel" who "needed to grow up". It wasn't much of a surprise when the Greeks made no attempt to make the deal permanent at the end of the season. Affelay has over 50 Dutch Caps (still funny after all these years) and is one of no fewer than four ex-Nou Camp inmates at the Britannia - five if you count Mark Hughes himself - the others being kid winger Mouha El Ouriachi, defenda Marc Muniesa and forward Bojan.

Bojan is an interesting character insofar as he has had a number of claims for his services when it comes to international duty. His Serbian background - Dad was a professional footballer from that neck of the woods - meant that they came sniffing around a few years ago. However his Spanish birthplace and mother saw him plump for Spain, for whom he would have been the youngest player to make his full international debut had he not gone all bob & dick on the day he was due to make his debut. H eventually made his debut in 2008 but to date he has but the one cap for Spain. He has also been capped by Catalonia, who inhabit that odd twilight zone of international football where they are not a proper country but sometimes they play proper countries. A bit like Scotland. He has six goals in seven matches for the Catalans.

So what's been happening in the big wide world then? On the global front, Michel Platini's appeal against his provisional ban has been upheld which means that he'll be absent from the Euro 16 draw this weekend. A bit like Scotland then. Whilst this would be a bonus for the likes of you and me, for some reason football administrators have their sense of perspective removed from their brains when they start the job. Platini will therefore actually be gutted at missing out on what I am fairly safe in predicting will be an over-long, overblown load of old twaddle.

Meanwhile Man Utd will be playing Thursday night football with those other bastions of mediocrity Liverpool and Spurs. Our own foray into said competition may have been ill-advised but at least I had a splendid week in Malta out of it. In July too - when it was warm.

Perhaps the most gob-smacking news of the week was the announcement that Bastien Schweinsteiger was to be charged with violent conduct after his assault on Winston Reid. Look out for the standard 3 match ban for Sweinsteiger coupled with a ?40k fine for West Ham for, well they don't usually need a reason do they. Actually the most disgraceful thing I read about the whole affair was the piece attributed to the intellectually - and cosmetically - challenged Martin Keown who described Reid as a disgrace. Given that Reid in no way overreacted to a forearm smash to the throat, Keown's comments are little more than libel. For a former player to deliberately lie in print for the sake of a cheap headline is pretty unacceptable in my book. Not surprising really. As a player Keown was a disgrace to his profession so it's hardly surprising that he should continue to act in similar vein in retirement.

Meanwhile, remember those days when we nearly had a full squad to choose from? Dropping like flies they are - so much so that the boss is upping sticks and shifting training operations over to Rush Green from Chadwell Heath. Missing will be (pause for breath): Winston Reid (Hamstring), former Stoke loan player Victor Moses (Hamstring), Manuel Lanzini (Hip/thigh), Diafra Sakho (not quite as hip thigh), Enner Valencia (decidedly unfashionable foot/ankle) and, of course Dimitri Payet (not understood ankle). That's six first team players out, though Valencia has progressed to the stage where he might feature at some stage in this one. Clearly Chadwell Heath was constructed on the site of an old Indian burial ground or something so the Rush Green move can only be good - until we discover it was constructed on landfill made up of broken mirrors or something.

The injuries will probably see a return to action for Jenkinson, whose indifferent form saw Tomkins favoured at right-back last weekend. Tomkins will probably move back into the centre to partner Ogbonna. There ought to be more of a role for Antonio who has been used but sparingly since his summer arrival. Meanwhile up front Carroll v the ever-thuggish Shawcross promises not to be one for the faint-hearted.

Prediction? Well much depends on the mentality contained within the squad. If we go out there whining and bemoaning our lot like a bunch of Scousers we're half way to being beaten anyway. On the other hand, there is still decent strength in depth in the squad - though admittedly one wouldn't want to see any more injuries - and a spot of spirit in adversity would go a long way to helping the side through their current travails. The visitors will be on a high having beaten the Citizens last weekend but the aforementioned defeat at Sunderland may be more of a benchmark.

I'll therefore be stopping off at Winstones The Turf Accountants and putting the rest home's fund (?2.50) to buy Donald Trump a Ladybird book so he has an information source more reliable on which to base his research on a tight 2-1 home win.

Enjoy the game!

When last we met at the Boleyn Drew 1-1 (April 2015) A fine Cresswell free-kick put us 1-0 up and gave us the first half. We sat back and conceded a late late equaliser (again) as Arnautovic, who had already had two efforts (rightly) chalked off, equalised in the last minute of stoppage. Sam Allardyce insisted that he was making plans for next season. He must tell us how that went one day.

Danger Man: Xherdan Shaqiri Not the sort of creative player they've been used to at the Britannia over the years. In a decent spell of form as well.

Referee Andre Marriner Not seen him since March 2015 - presumably because even Mike "Blatter" Riley got slightly embarrassed over the official's disgraceful (even for the so-called select group) performance in the 1-0 home defeat to Chelsea. A string of headlines shows that, even if he could be bothered to search for it, he is as far away from the plot as he ever was. A referee so bad, lest we forget, that even the pompous self-regarding moron Keith Hackett said he should be demoted from the so-called select group. To sum up then: not very good.

Irritating Celebrity Fan Of The Week Bit thin on the ground is yer celeb Stoke fan. Yeah Nick Hancock I suppose but you see about as much of him these days as you do fans of Donald Trump. So the prize goes to (c)rapper "Busta Rhymes" who has been pictured wearing a Stoke shirt on the grounds that anyone who seriously believes that the waste of the audio spectrum that is rap constitutes "music" is, by definition, irritating. And stupid.

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