An expedition into the unknown

RapidHammer’s monthly column for West Ham Till I Die

The header of my first monthly column in August was: “Your Nightmare Returns”, chosen with the paradoxical intention to prevent West Ham from bowing out of the Europa League being beaten by the same team as last year. Unfortunately, as we all know, that kind of psychotherapeutic intervention (asking for something in order to achieve the opposite result) didn’t work in this case. Astra Giurgiu won the second leg in our new home, and with an aggregated score of 1-2 the Hammers just “nearly reached” the group stage of the Europa League. One month later we have all but bigger problems than missing out on European football though.

Nevertheless the fact that West Ham United is not to play in the Europa League anymore makes me sad especially because play-off winners Astra were drawn into the same group as Austria Vienna, the arch rivals of my hometown club SK Rapid. Assuming that it had been West Ham instead of Astra playing in Group E, it would have been something special to cheer for West Ham in the Ernst Happel Stadium in Vienna against Austria in that fixture this autumn.

But as I said before, the lack of more European football in West Ham’s new London Stadium is a minor problem. To be honest we should be all but relieved that there won’t be any more distractions from abroad for an unsettled team with a lot of injuries which now has to concentrate on finding form and momentum in the domestic competitions. By the time I am writing this post the Sunday games of round 5 have not been played yet, but by the end of this weekend West Ham could be in a relegation spot.

Could we have seen that coming?

Well, we have to admit that the start to the Premier League this year has not been great with two defeats and one win in our first three games. But we had also gained just three points by this stage last season, and what a glorious season it had been! It also seemed that West Ham had done good business in the transfer window and so, by the end of August, regardless of being unlucky again with injuries to some key players, we all were still dreaming dreams and scheming schemes of an other famous season “in our stunning new home”. It was going to kick-start after the international break in September, we thought. We could not have been more wrong.

To make the bursting of the bubble even worse the first game after the international break looked bright for forty minutes with a 2-0 lead in the London Stadium against Watford. But the game ended in disappointment with a 2-4 defeat, and one week later we now have to settle with another 2-4 defeat at West Brom. Shipping eight goals in two games suggests that West Ham’s problem is not the lack of a “20 goals a season striker” (as the board and many supporters may have thought), but there are evident problems at our back four and with the defensive work of the whole team.

Also the hype about the new “almost 60,000” stadium has worn off a little with all the problems with crowd management, permanent standing and supporters dissatisfied with ticket allocation and the seats they have bought. It’s no surprise that a transition as big as this one with an increase of more than 20,000 supporters per game and a lot of new stewards in surroundings unfamiliar to everybody is far from easy.

And – having started this article on a psychological note – we should not forget that we all, the club, the players and the supporters, are in a difficult emotional state right now. Well, a football fan and especially one who is supporting the mighty Irons is never far from disappointment and despair: “The natural state of the football fan is bitter disappointment, no matter what the score”, a famous quote from Arsenal fan Nick Hornby’s “Fever Pitch” goes. But for West Ham, this is not a “natural state” of football feelings this time.

Just imagine you have decided to leave your old home, move to a new house, face all the problems with building or renovating it, not to mention removing all the furniture and other belongings and shipping them to the new place at last, just to find that in the new home a lot of things don’t work as they should. That’s not what you had expected and at least everything is very different from the familiar surroundings you were used to. That is not only the typical uncertainty factor and misfortune we have been used to as West Ham supporters, just having beaten the likes of Arsenal or almost won the FA Cup and losing to minnows or fighting relegation the other day (season). We have been able to cope with that for decades, using sardonic humour and other remedies, and blowing bubbles again at our good old Boleyn Ground the next Saturday. But the situation club and supporters are in right now is very different from that.

Even for all who have been in favour of the move, almost everything we have been used to (including the crest) has changed, and the atmosphere as a whole seems to be much different from Upton Park. It will take a lot of time until the feel-at-home-factor will be here to stay again. This should not influence the performance of the team; a squad of highly paid professionals should be able to play their game at any pitch … but I fear it does anyway.

Though I have not been to the Olympic Stadium since its transition for West Ham (hoping to be able to come in December) I know what I am speaking of. Not only that my family moved several times, also my home town club Rapid has just got a “stunning new home” by the beginning of this season. And although the so-called “Allianz Stadion” has been built at the same place as the old ground and Rapid has qualified for the Europa League and has won more games than lost in the new ground, my feelings are quite ambiguous and I am really struggling to feel at home on the new terraces.

“Every game and every season is like an expedition into an unknown territory”, German author Axel Hacke wrote in his book “Fußballgefühle” (“Football Feelings”, p. 16). For West Ham this season is more than that, I would compare our journey to a space mission, as our old song goes: “They fly so high …” Now I hope the club, the manager, the squad and we, the supporters, are going to show that we are equipped well for this task. I, for one, will be happy this season with a safe landing of our claret and blue starship in mid-table security.

Come on you Irons!


Your nightmare returns

RapidHammer’s first monthly column for West Ham Till I Die

Good times for Austrian West Ham supporters: the season has not started yet, but in Austria we have already been able to watch four games of our beloved Hammers without having to travel the 900 miles or so to England. I am going to contribute to the West Ham blog “West Ham Till I Die” with a monthly column from now on, reflecting an Austrian West Ham fan’s point of view, after having written a first blog post a year ago ( click here ).
This is my blog post which is going to be published on Saturday:

Three pre-season friendlies were played in the Austrian provinces of Styria and Burgenland where West Ham held their training camp at Bad Tatzmannsdorf. And the Europa League qualifier against NK Domzale took place just 60 miles from the Austrian border in Slovenia’s capital Ljubljana.

Hence the members of the supporters club “Austrian Irons” and quite a few other West Ham supporters from Austria were able to watch our heroes live at these matches last month. Now we are looking forward to travel to our first games in the London Stadium – though the start of the season on Monday is going to be celebrated in a Vienna pub called “The Tube Station”, run by Barry, an Essex born lifelong West Ham supporter.

I seized the opportunity to watch the Hammers in the neat, fairly new Stozice Stadium in Ljubljana against NK Domzale, combining the game with a business trip to the Wörthersee Stadium in Klagenfurt in Southern Austria. The upper tier of the Klagenfurt Euro stadium was meant to be disassembled (like the London Olympic Stadium) after the Euro ’08, but (like the London Olympic Stadium) that decision was overturned, resulting in long lasting administrative procedures in which I have been involved over the past years, to make the 30,000 stadium permanent.

I linked up for the trip to Slovenia with guys from the “Austrian Irons” and an Austria based fan from Indonesia. And I really can prove that we were there – the “Austrian Irons” banner could be seen on TV every time a corner was taken from our end (left)!

Unfortunately the Hammers played well only in the first half; from the second half hardly an attacking move from the Hammers can be reported. We saw a lot of action though, and it was Andy Carroll who got on all the headers in the box in front of the away end – albeit it was the West Ham box, and in the end we were on the losing side and had to overcome a 1-2 deficit in the second leg ( which we convincingly did, as we all know, with a 3-0 win in West Ham’s famous very first game in the new London Olympic Stadium! -> ).

Now in the Europa League play-off West Ham was drawn again, like last season, against Romanian side Astra Giurgiu. I hope Astra Giurgiu will not be able to do the same feat that my home town club SK Rapid Vienna did against an other club in claret and blue in 2009 and 2010: Aston Villa was eliminated twice in two consecutive years by the green-whites, their fans bringing a banner with them stating: “Your nightmare returns”.

But in fact Rapid Vienna bears more resamblances to West Ham United than to Astra. Though I know that not all Austrian West Ham fans will be happy with that (because a lot of them will support a different club at home), having chosen the username “rapidhammer”, I have to tell you that there are a lot of similarities between the Hammers and the Greens from Vienna: Both of these clubs are very well know and respected for their passionate support. And both clubs have moved with the start of this season to their new grounds, and interestingly Rapid played its first game in their new “Allianz Stadium” against Chelsea FC, West Ham’s opponent on Monday. Let’s hope West Ham will achieve a similar result: Rapid beat Chelsea 2-0.

Also in their history the clubs from Vienna and London have a lot in common: Rapid Vienna was founded in 1898 as “1. Wiener Arbeiter Fussball-Club” (First Vienna Workers FC) while West Ham was founded as “Thames Ironworks FC”. The clubs initially played in colours which are different from today’s kits (Rapid’s original colours were red and blue – unfortunately not claret and blue). Both clubs have played in two European Cup Winners’ Cup Finals; West Ham won the Cup in 1965 and lost the final in 1976, SK Rapid played in the finals 1985 and 1996 and unfortunately lost out on both ocasions. West Ham and Rapid both lost their finals in Brussels in 1976 and 1996 respectively.

But that’s enough of Rapid Vienna for now, because I don’t want to risk what happened in a pub in Graz some years ago when West Ham also held a training camp in Austria. I joined fans from east London and Styria singing “Bubbles” there, but when I mentioned “Rapid” one of the other Austrian guys rose in front of me stating: “Rapid – we’ll kill you!” But I was lucky, a fan from London saved me, saying “But he’s West Ham”, and all ended up with another round of the fantastic Styrian beer.

I promise not to mention the club from Vienna in this column in the next time – bar if West Ham and Rapid are drawn into the same Europa League group, of course!

But first West Ham has to overcome Astra and also make a good start into the new PL season against Chelsea on Monday. The Austrian Hammers are optimistic and looking very much forward to the start of the season. Especially the game which has been played in Kapfenberg against Karlsruher SC was a great opportunity to get in touch with the West Ham players, and that’s what many Austrian fans did. Of course not being able to have a season ticket at West Ham’s new ground, we are a little unsure if we will be able to get tickets for games this season as they are expected to sell out quickly. Having to book flights and accomodation not too late and being unsure if we are going to be allocated with tickets will cost a lot of nerves, I think. But anyway, having managed to get to a lot of West Ham games at the Boleyn in the past, we will come over to London E20 too in the future!

I will report back in September with an other column, having got on board some wins and points by then, and hopefully not having to write about the “return of a nightmare” when Astra have been back to London.

Come on you Irons!

Thursday’s the day

West Ham will start their new life at the Olympic Stadium on Thursday night with an Europa League second leg tie against Domzale from Slovenia. And this first game in the now so-called “London Stadium” is a must-win match, the Irons having to overcome a 1-2 deficit from the first leg in Ljubljana last week.

Rapidhammer and his friends from the Austrian West Ham supporters club “Austrian Irons” were there in the fairly new Stozice Stadium in Slovenia’s capital (right), only to watch an average first and a very bad second half from their beloved Hammers. And as Domzale is a good team in playing on the counter attack the second leg is far from easy cheesy for Slaven Bilic’ men.

The team in claret and blue will have to play much better than down there in Ljubljana! But with a crowd of more than 50k behind them in the new ground, which will be more than ten times the crowd at Stozice, this game under the lights has to be – and will be – a win for West Ham!

Come on you Irons!!!

Hammers to remain in Austria

Two bad injuries during pre-season

WesthamThe West Ham first team will remain in their training camp in Bad Tatzmannsdorf, Austria this week until they travel directly to Slovenia to face NK Domzale in the capital city of Ljubljana at the 16,155-capacity Stozice Stadium, Claret and Hugh reports.

The state of the art football camp facilities in Austria’s most Eastern province of Burgenland include a main pitch and an artificial pitch. The players are staying at the luxury Avita Resort hotel just next door.

The Hammers will make the 165 mile trip by coach for their first leg of the Europea League third qualifying round which will be played Thursday 28 July at 8.45pm CEST (7.45pm BST).

Meanwhile it has emerged that Aaron Cresswell will be out for four months after having been injured in the pre-season game against Karlsruher SC on Saturday. West Ham convincingly won the game 3-0 (Goals: Carroll, Feghouli, Fletcher) against the 2nd Bundesliga outfit, but late on a horror tackle meant that Cressie was badly inured and had to return to London for treatment.

Another Player already injured is Manuel Lanzini who should have played for Argentina in the Olympic Games in Rio, but had to fly back to London for treatment as well.

Let’s hope they both get well soon! Come on you Irons !!!

West Ham in Bad Tatzmannsdorf

West Ham United has travelled to Austria for their pre-season camp in Bad Tatzmannsdorf in the Burgenland.

The Hammers will play three pre-season matches with FC Slovacko, Rubin Kazan and Karlsruher SC this week:

19 July v FC Slovacko, 18.00, Rohrbach an der Lafnitz (Burgenland)
20 July v Rubin Kazan, 18.00, Krottendorf (Weiz, Steiermark)
23 July v Karlsruher SC, 17.00, Kapfenberg (Steiermark)

Read more:


Es ist eröffnet im Westen von Wien

Das Allianz Stadion ist eröffnet – letzten Samstag ging mit einem Freundschaftsspiel gegen Chelsea (2:0) die offizielle Eröffnung über die Bühne. Ich war diesmal nur am Fernseher mit dabei, hatte schon eine Woche vorher beim pre-opening für Mitglieder das erste Mal das fantastische neue Stadion “live” bewundert. Und natürlich werde ich auch am nächsten Samstag, wenn es beim ersten Meisterschaftsspiel erstmalig um Punkte geht, im neuen Rapid Stadion sein!

Der alte Name des früheren Stadions an diesem Platz, ”Weststadion”, soll – so heißt es – bei Europa League-Spielen, bei denen kein Sponsorname erlaubt ist, wieder verwendet werden. Die Fans vom “Block West”, der nun im Süden liegt, haben aber schon beim Eröffnungsspiel das “Weststadion” hochleben lassen.

Weststadion – warum eigentlich?

Das echte Weststadion unterscheidet sich ganz erheblich vom neuen Rapid-Stadion: Es gehörte seinerzeit noch der Gemeinde Wien, war zu Beginn sogar auch Austragungsort von Heimspielen des Stadtrivalen Austria und war unter dem Namen “Weststadion” alles andere als beliebt bei den damals noch die alte “Pfarrwiese” gewohnten Rapid-Fans. Erst ab seiner Umbenennung in “Gerhard Hanappi Stadion” (1981) und dem ersten Meistertitel, den Rapid dort 1982 holte, wurde das Beton-Rechteck Kult und schlussendlich “Sankt Hanappi”.

Klar ist auch: ohne den Sponsor Allianz hätte es das neue Stadion nie in dieser Form gegeben. Ob sich da nicht manche wieder einmal ein bisserl zu wichtig nehmen mit ihrem Kampf gegen Kommerz? Und warum zurück zu einem Stadionnamen gehen wollen, der alles andere als ein Versprechen für eine große Zukunft ist? Das Weststadion musste 1977 wenige Monate nach seiner Eröffnung sogar wegen Baumängeln vorübergehend wieder gesperrt werden – hoffentlich kein schlechtes Omen, dass der Block West nun wieder diesen Namen verwenden möchte!

Für mich ist es daher das “Allianz-Stadion” oder “das neue Rapid-Stadion”. Und eines sollte jedenfalls für alle gelten, wenn man hier heraußen in Hütteldorf ist:
“Nur mehr Rapid Wien”!

Video vom pre-opening “Nur mehr Rapid Wien”

Match Report SCR v CFC 2-0 von der Homepage des FC Chelsea:

“There was plenty of pre-match fanfare on display to celebrate the opening of the Allianz Stadion, a neat 28,000-capacity arena with an impressive large terrace behind one goal”
“Those in blue faced an unusually hostile atmosphere for a pre-season friendly, and it was with a cacophony of whistles raining down on Moses that the Nigerian won our first corner”

We’ll Never Forget

The Boleyn Ground in Green Street has been handed over to developers Barratt London & Galliard Homes recdently. And this picture of West Ham’s ground may be the saddest one of Upton Park ever published (left). But we all know what we are heading for – the now “London Stadium” called OS in Stratford is not very far away, in less than three weeks time the Hammers will grace the pitch there.

It’s hurting to see the old Lady like this though – deprived of the Hammers Arms and the John Lyall Gates, with no football played there anymore, and no “Bubbles” ringing from the terraces.

The final goodbye to that fabulous old ground that served West United so well for 112 years will be followed by the pre-opening of the Olympic Stadium which West Ham will play against either Shakhtyor Soligorsk of Belarus or NK Domzale of Slovenia on Thursday 4th August in the UEFA Europa League third qualifying round. And on Sunday 7th August the official opening match will be played when West Ham host Italian champions Juventus.

We will not look back in grief, but that’s our promise:
We’ll never Forget you, old Lady Boleyn!

Come On you Irons!!!

Video – new West Ham Store and update on transfers: (Spencer Owen)
BBC – What will become of Upton Park:

Europa League draw on Friday

< Allianz Stadion / London Olympic Stadium

West Ham Utd and Austrian clubs SK Rapid and FK Austria Vienna cannot play each other in the next qualifying round of the Europa League according to UEFA’s seedings ahead of the draw on Friday, 2 p.m. (BST) respectively 3 p.m. (MESZ).

West Ham though will play at least three games in Austria in July in their upcoming pre-season tour, and the Hammers could be up against Admira Wacker from Lower Austria in the Europa League if the Austrians overcome their opponents in the second qualifying round, Käpäz Ganja from Azerbaidjan.

Europa League  - alles was man wissen muss:

Europa League draws
15.07.16: Dritte Qualifikationsrunde
05.08.16: Play-offs
26.08.16: Gruppenphase
12.12.16: Runde der letzten 32
24.02.17: Achtelfinale
17.03.17: Viertelfinale
21.04.17: Halbfinale

Europa League games
14.07.16: Zweite Qualifikationsrunde, Hinspiele
21.07.16: Zweite Qualifikationsrunde, Rückspiele
28.07.16: Dritte Qualifikationsrunde, Hinspiele
04.08.16: Dritte Qualifikationsrunde, Rückspiele
18.08.16: Play-offs, Hinspiele
25.08.16: Play-offs, Rückspiele
15.09.16: Gruppenphase, 1. Spieltag
24.05.17: Finale (Friends Arena, Solna)

UEFA Europa League:

Four signings so far

West Ham’s latest signing of this summer is Ashley Fletcher, an England U20 international striker.
The 20-year-old has joined the Hammers on a four-year contract and becomes the fourth signing of the summer following the arrival of Havard Nordtveit, Sofiane Feghouli and Gokhan Tore.


J’en ai marre!

Finale verloren, aber Dimitri Payet im Team des Turniers

Es reicht!” Ein Monat EURO ist wahrhaftig genug. Die letzten Spiele, all diese Verlängerungen und Elferschießen, waren Schwerarbeit – nicht nur für die Spieler, auch für den Zuschauer!

“We’ve got Payet” endete in der 58. Minute

Als Dimitri Payet im Finale in der zweiten Hälfte beim Stand von 0:0 ausgewechselt wurde, meinte West Ham Chairman David Gold auf Twitter, es sei nun klar, dass Frankreich das Finale gegen Portugal verlieren werde, man tausche einen Spieler wie Dimi nicht aus! Und tatsächlich: in der Verlängerung erzielte Éder mit einem Weitschuss – ähnlich jenem, mit dem Payet beim ersten Spiel der Franzosen gegen Rumänien vor einem Monat das Siegestor erzielt hatte – den entscheidenden Treffer.

Und Portugal, bei dem der schon in der 8. Minute bei einem harten Einsteigen von Payet verletzte Cristiano Ronaldo in der Verlängerung mit bandagiertem Knie an der Outlinie wie ein (respektloser) Assistenz-Coach von Nationaltrainer Fernando Santos agierte, konnte nach den Tränen über die Auswechslung des Stars Freudentränen weinen und den Euro-Pokal in die Höhe stemmen.

Frankreich-Hands, das keines war

Entscheidend für den Siegestreffer war – neben der Auswechslung von Payet – vielleicht auch ein vermeintliches Handspiel des französischen Verteidigers Laurent Koscielny in der 106. Minute des Finales:  der englische Schiedsrichter Mark Clattenburg hatte ein Hands des Arsenal-Verteidigers knapp vor dem französischen Strafraum gesehen, das in Wahrheit der eingewechselte Portugiese Éder begangen hatte, und zeigte Koscielny dafür die gelbe Karte. Koscielny regte sich furchtbar auf, und das, wie die Zeitlupe zeigte, zurecht.

Den Freistoß jagte Raphael Guerreiro zwar nur an die Latte des französischen Tores und auch der französische Keeper Hugo Lloris wäre noch dran gewesen, aber nun schöpften die Portugiesen noch einmal Mut und mobilisierten ihre letzten Kraftreserven. Und beim nächsten Zweikampf zwischen Koscielny und Eder nur zwei Minuten später ging der wuchtige Portugiese an Koscielny vorbei, der die Chance gehabt hätte, seinen Gegner durch ein Halten am Trikot zu stoppen. Weil er aber zuvor irrtümlicherweise verwarnt worden war, schreckte er wohl davor zurück, denn ein taktisches Foul hätte wahrscheinlich die Gelb-Rote Karte und eine personelle Dezimierung für seine Mannschaft bedeutet. So ließ Koscielny Eder ziehen – und der traf mit einem fulminanten Schuss zum 1:0-Sieg aus 24 Metern (109. Minute) – ein ähnlicher Fernschuss wie jener von Payet im ersten Spiel der Franzosen gegen die Rumänen.

So schloss sich der Kreis: Portugal war Europameister, Frankreich verlor das Finale. Und 7 Jahre nach Thierry Henrys vom Schiedsrichter übersehenem Hands, das letztlich die Qualifikation der Franzosen (statt Irland) für die WM 2010 bedeutet hatte, spielte ein zu Unrecht geahndetes  Hands eine entscheidende Rolle im EURO-Finale. Im Fußball gleicht sich eben alles aus …

Payet will be back

Der im Finale nicht nur durch das Foul an Ronaldo, sondern auch wieder durch ein paar schöne Passbälle aufgefallene Payet kommt jedenfalls ohne Verletzung – nach seinem verdienten Urlaub – zu West Ham United zurück. Und Ronaldos Real Madrid wird ihn ja nach seinem Foul an deren Star-Spieler wohl kaum verpflichten…

Ob er schon beim bevorstehenden Trainingslager in der Steiermark zu den Hammers stöß, ist offen. Keinesfalls wird er den Hammers aber in die USA nachfahren, wo West Ham derzeit noch auf einer US-Tournee sind. Dort haben sie ihr erstes Vorbereitungsspiel klar mit 0:3 gegen Andreas Ivanschitz’ Seattle Sounders verloren.

Nach den USA kommen die Hammers nach Österreich

Am kommenden Mittwoch spielen sie gegen Carolina Rail Hawks, und nächste Woche kommt man dann in die Steiermark. In der pre-season tour spielt Slaven Bilic Mannschaft am 19. Juli v FC Slovacko, 18.00, in Rohrbach
am 20. Juli  Rubin Kazan, 18.00 in Krottendorf, und
am Samstag, den 23. Juli gegen den Karlsruher SC in Kapfenberg, 17:00.

Come on you Irons!