Filed: Monday, 18th May 2015
By: Tom Kilbey
As I write this, I'm pondering our season. On the TV, West Ham are playing Everton. Itís the start of May, itís the final game at Upton Park this season, itís a sell out and the sun is shining. But I'm only half watching.
Like much of the second half of the season, thereís not too much to get excited about. Itís 10th vs 11th, and within the first thirty seconds of this game, the commentator used the phrase 'fair play-off'.
Much has been written about our demise in the second half of the season, and I donít intend on adding to that here. For whatever reason, our performance since Christmas have generally been below par, and weíve been falling like a stone down the Premier League since. The final blow to our season was our miserable exit from the FA Cup at the Hawthorns. Allardyce shrugged the defeat off after the game, claiming he had no reason to apologise to the 5,000 travelling fans. After all, he was guiding his side into a top half finish.
And by any objective measure, he is right. If fans were offered 50 points, and a season free from relegation worries at the start of the season, of course we would have taken it. And crucially it represents an improvement on the previous campaign.
But when our FA cup hopes were dismantled, that essentially represented the end of our season. And it seems the players felt the same way; weíve only won two games in the league since (both 1-0 victories at home against Sunderland and Burnley).
As a result of our mediocrity, all attention has been turned to the Fair Play League, a competition we appear to be on the verge of qualifying for. There has been much debate about the merits (or otherwise) of a European campaign next year, with lots of sense being talked on both sides. While itís fair to say I am sitting on the Sam Allardyce fence, I am firmly in the ďEuropa League would be goodĒ campaign. Hereís why.
Recently, with regard to ticket prices at the Olympic Stadium, I spoke about how emotions can get in the way of sensible decision making. But Iím going to ignore that briefly here. I turn 22 at the end of the month. Apart from a couple of Intertoto Cup games that my Mum dragged me to at the age of seven that I donít remember, the only European game Iíve ever been to is West Ham vs Palermo. We all know what happened there, and the least spoken about that the better.
But I do remember that match, and the special atmosphere in the stadium. The Palermo fans were like nothing Iíve seen before, and although we were totally outclassed, there was a feeling in the air that night that felt different from a normal game.
I always laugh when commentators persist with describing Upton Park as a ďspecial stadium under the lightsĒ. In the last few years, thatís about as much a myth as is Kevin Nolanís goal scoring prowess. But European football, under the floodlights, at the final season at Upton Park should create the atmospheres that is so often spoken about, but so rarely realised.
Emotions out of the way, letís talk practicalities. The main argument against not participating in the Europa League is the number of additional games we would have to play. This usually takes two forms: firstly, the fact that our season would start alarmingly early, and secondly that, presuming we qualify, we will play a ton of games that could adversely affect our league form. Letís take each in turn.
Okay, so if we qualified, our season would start on the 2nd July. Last season, we started our pre-season with a game against Stevenage on the 12th July. So we would start our season ten days earlier than last season. Compare this to many of the sides around us, who are off to play post-season friendlies, before sending many of their players to the Copa America, and all of a sudden, it doesnít look like such a big deal.
You could argue that travelling to the far reaches of Europe would not be good for our pre-season preparations. Perhaps, but then our pre-season last year saw us take to New Zealand and to Germany. And if we progressed through the qualifying stages, weíd play eight games in July and August Ė last season we played nine games in pre-season.
We could literally treat the early round as our preseasons. Surely a few competitive games have got to be more beneficial than friendlies against Stevenage? Plus, presuming we get a few wins, we will have the winning feeling and mentality going into the start of the Premier League.
As well as this, we could use these games as the perfect opportunity to get players such as Andy Carroll and Diafra Sakho match time to get them prepared for the start of the season. And we shouldnít be feeling compelled to play full squads for these games either. The quality in the early round is quite frankly awful. Because of this, our games should steadily get more competitive, which is exactly the way we usually schedule our pre-seasons anyway.
The issue of additional games during the season is a more valid point. Itís a phenomenon that is observed every season. In recent years, it has been Spurs that have suffered, and this year, Everton had a very poor first half of the season. But I ask you, who has had the more exciting season, Everton or West Ham?
While Everton suffered in the first half of the season in the league, they had some fantastic wins in Europe, and many of their fans would have taken the opportunity to follow their side to some impressive stadiums around Europe. Their journey ended in March, at which point they turned their intensity up in the league. What this meant is that their season did not peter out, and they have finished strongly.
After all, if we turn our nose up at the Europa League, then where do our ambitions lie? Are we happy with a dull (albeit successful) season that ends with mid-season mediocrity? My feeling is that, in the long run at least, we are not. So, if we donít want the Europa League, then are we not going to be happy unless we qualify for the Champions League? Of course, thatís ludicrous. And since I donít want our season to rest solely on an FA cup run, this is why a run in the Europa League is so appealing to me.
It is true that the depth of our squad has been exposed in recent weeks and months with injuries. Over the last couple of seasons, we have had the irritating habit of receiving injuries to all players in a certain position. But that aside, if weíre brutally honest, the sight of Carlton Cole or Joey OíBrien isnít going to scare many defences at European level. So we have to buy, and the board have made no secret of their intentions to do just that.
I think our aim this summer is to build depth. We have shown on several occasions that our starting eleven (when played in the right positions) can be a match for anyone. Our priority this summer should be to continue to recruit quality players, but to build depth in the areas where we seem exposed when we suffer a couple of injuries. Then our squad, along with the youngsters that so many of our fans want to see blooded, should be able to show what they are made of in games that actually matter.
Finally, with whispers of a new manager circulating around Upton Park, a Europa League campaign could be a selling point to new managers. It is a notable coincidence that the two managers with whom we are most heavily linked with, Benitez and Bilic, are managers who have taken the Europa League very seriously this season. While it hasnít caught on in England, there is an increasing sense that the Europa League is a good competition to be in, especially with the winner of the competition now receiving a place in the Champions League.
So while I concede that there will be some concerns if we are awarded that European place, there are a great deal of benefits that we could reap. If we could enjoy a successful European run at the expense of two or three league places, I wouldnít have a problem with this. A season of excitement is what the final year at the Boleyn deserves. Maybe weíll get knocked out by a Moldovan second division side in the first qualifying round. But maybe, just maybe, we could have a final season to remember.
* Please post any comments you may have below and follow me on Twitter at @tom29whu for more debate on all things West Ham.
Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.
12:14PM 28th Jul 2009
''Nice to read a bit of positivity instead of all the doom and gloom merchants, well done!
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