by Rob Shepherd.
West Ham for the Champions League..? You’re ‘Aving a laugh! That’s some sort of surreal Russell Brand joke, right..?!?
But with over a third of the season gone the Hammers moved up into third place in the Premier League after their 3-1 romp over Swansea.
No doubt Hammers fan – comedian cum political agent provocateur Brand- will seize the situation and proclaim West Ham are on mission to stir revolution and break into the top four elite come the end of the season and move into Europe.
That might sound as fanciful a thinking as some of Brand’s recent rants about society. Indeed former Hammers star Tony Gale thinks so.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see West Ham kick-on from here and really set the cat amongst the pigeons. I’m sure many fans around the country would like to see a team like West Ham break into top four and get into the Champions League. It would be great for the game, but if my heart wants it my head says; no,” said Gale.
“I just think as the season wears on then teams like Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool will come and get stronger. Possibly Tottenham and Everton too. Then there are other teams who are up there like Southampton and Newcastle. And of course suddenly it doesn’t look like Chelsea will walk away with the title. That’s not just going to inspire Manchester City.”
“It’s a very big ask for West Ham. Then again, they have got where they are so far and it’s fair to say that its by this stage that the season really starts to take a proper shape. Nothing is impossible…”
Gale was an ever present when West Ham finished third in the old First Division in the 1985-86 season. The Hammers finished two points behind Everton and four off Double winners Liverpool. It is West Ham’s best ever top flight finish.
Interestingly after 15 games that season West Ham had accumulated 26 points and were in sixth place.
Thus far 15 games this season has brought one point point more; the Hammers lying third on Monday morning on 27 points, nine behind leaders Chelsea and six behind Man City.
Back then it was a 42 game season and 15 matches had been completed by early November.
By the second week of December the Hammers had raced onto 38 points from 19 games and had moved into third.
“Those are interesting stats,” admitted Gale.
“I remember back then we went on an a great run of wins just before Christmas and suddenly we found ourselves right up there.
“The confidence then kicked in and we just kept going. But because some games were postponed because of bad weather we had a pile up of fixtures during the run in and it caught up on us in the end.
“But we went very, very, very close. As well as the team are now playing I just can’t see them matching that. The fact is there is a group of teams who because of their financial power are just much stronger than the rest, more so than back then… although don’t forget the Liverpool side that season was one of their best and won the Double.
“Sam Allardyce understandably feels vindicated after the criticism he suffered during the last season and given all the speculation that he could be sacked shortly into this season.
“I hear him argue that nothing has changed in his approach nor the way the team play. But I have to disagree there. I think Big Sam has reacted to the feelings of the fans and what the board wanted to see on the pitch.
“There is no doubt West Ham are playing much more free flowing attacking football this season. Sam was under pressure to do that that. He has and look at the results.
“I think it’s also fair to say that those at the club responsible for the recruitment of the players during the summer need to take a lot of credit. The signings of Valancia, Sakho, Kouyate and getting Song on loan have been inspired. I have also been impressed with Cresswell. Getting Jenkinson on loan was clever.
“Yes there have been games when they’ve had to ‘dog it out’ as they did in the recent wins over Newcastle and then at West Brom. But if you are going to be up there that’s what you are going to have to do.
“I was in the Blackburn team that won the title in 1995. Kenny Dalglish’s assistant [the late] Ray Harford would tell us that even over a great season a team might only play really well over the 90 minutes for eight or so games.
“The rest of the time you would have good periods but then have to dig deep. In that respect West Ham have shown the ability to do so. Especially in the 3-1 over Swansea. It could have all gone flat when they went behind but they bounced back in style then showed character. It goes without saying it was great to see Andy Carroll not only looking to getting back to his best but also scoring goals.
“In that respect West Ham now have options upfront. In our season Frank McAvennie and Tony Cottee – who played virtually every game – could not stop scoring. It goes without saying when you have goals in the team you are going to have a chance against anyone. And with Carroll back West Ham have him, Valencia, Sakho and of course Nolan all of whom are scorers. That’s good strength in depth.”
Enough options and strength of depth to sneak into the top four..? Or at least equal their highest ever Premier League finish, which was fifth in 1999 under Harry Redknapp…??
Gale comments “I’ve been hearing the fans singing ‘We’re gonna win the League’. That’s all a bit tongue in cheek. As I say top four is a very tall order but maybe this season fourth place could be up for grabs, so the way the team are playing I would say it’s not impossoble but it’s a very tall order.
“To finish fifth and qualify for Europe would be fantastic. In fact, to even to be talking in these terms right now is an achievement in itself.”
Those Hammers supporters of a certain generation who had the mythical Alf Garnett as their big celebrity fan will recall one of his quips about West Ham, and not get too carried away just yet about their current position;
“They are just like these bleeding Christmas decorations… always starting to come down after Boxing Day!”
Next up for the Hammers it a trip to Sunderland followed by a home match against Leicester. Then on Boxing Day they travel to Chelsea and two days later it is at home to Arsenal.