The cup that cheers - sometimes

You can virtually tell the age of our fans by the way they react to a cup draw that sees us set for a clash with a non-league or lower division club.

You could sense the joy when we were drawn away to Kidderminster Harriers in the FA Cup fourth round, one of those increasingly novel draws these days performed by folk who don’t seem to know what they are talking about, aided this time by our former ‘keeper David James who gave the impression he was on a different planet - cue jokes about his performances for us - and forgot to draw the last tie!

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Mind you, cup draws these days are dead certs to be hilarious, they couldn’t even get the Champions League draw right this season. The key point here is if you make the whole thing ridiculously complex, then someone in a posh suit and with just one job to do is certain to balls it up, if you will pardon the expression.

The end product of Sunday’s draw gave licence for all our younger fans to see the tie as an easy stepping stone to round five. I know, you can’t tell them! Somewhat older folk see all the obvious pitfalls because we have experienced them all. So much so that on past experience, West Ham should qualify for their own special award - the one for ‘the most ridiculous exit from a cup competition’ trophy.

It’s matches like this, against a club which spent five seasons in the Football League in the very early part of this century but haven’t bothered the scorers much since, that do little for my heart rate. I’m sure there are many veterans out there in West Ham land who know what I’m talking about.

We have to hope that David Moyes, who has changed just about everything else about our club, will be right on top of this one. Ian Wright, who had 22 games and nine league goals for us at the back end of an illustrious career doesn’t have any doubts.

Asked if this would be one of those regular West Ham banana skins, based on a fully deserved past record, Wright said...’no, they are a serious club these days.’

Moyes has started the right way in cups, with wins at places like Gillingham and Stockport where we would have lost, absolutely no doubt, in those circus years. That circus lasted from about 1961 to 2000.

In that time (take a deep breath), we managed to get dumped out of cups by Darlington, Rotherham, Swindon, Mansfield, Hereford, Newport, Luton (twice), Torquay, Crewe, Grimsby, Stockport - the Iain Dowie game - Wrexham, Northampton and Tranmere. Oh, and we made manful attempts to fail against Emley, Farnborough and Aldershot.

It’s this sort of stuff that leaves a scar or two. I can recall witnessing at first hand eight of those. If any of you saw more, you have my condolences. That is the lot of the vulnerable, as we are now called.

It’s not been that bad for the youngsters, hence the sustained delight that followed the Kidderminster draw. But even in the last 20 years we have lost to Aldershot (they managed it second time around), Chesterfield, Reading, Wigan, Wimbledon and Oxford.

Now we can all recall those last two. The Wimbledon debacle a particular favourite of mine, exposing the lack of planning or understanding of English cup football by Manuel Pellegrini, he of the ludicrous statement that we should go out and believe we are a big club. Yeah, right, that worked.

Felipe Anderson was kept out of the fray, presumably even Pellegrini had worked out the faint-hearted Brazilian wouldn’t handle a kicking well. He did come on, scored a free-kick and then disappeared as the Dons battered us. A pitiful display.

Then there was Oxford, we lost that one 4-0 - again with Pellegrini in control and Diop, Snodgrass, Wiltshire, Zabaleta and Fornals in the side. Equally pitiful.

I find it hard to believe any of that would have happened with Moyes at the helm. And my head, if not my heart, tells me National League North side Kidderminster will not inflict another humiliation on the Hammers.

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They are 115 places below us now, in the sixth tier, somehow in the northern section but about 50 miles north of Bristol. Yet they put Championship Reading out in the third round (2-1) so we dare not take them lightly.

We have been there before, of course, a 1994 trip to Worcestershire under Billy Bonds and a scrambled 1-0 win thanks to a Lee Chapman goal. Kiddy were on the crest of their non-league wave then, Conference (now National league) champions and having been refused admittance to the Football League because of ground problems.

They had a wooden stand that failed all the right requirements and promised to have a new stand in place for the start of the next season. The EFL said no; the stand was ready but hey ho, that’s officialdom for you. Their ground and stand were ready also for the 8,000-capacity attendance that day I recall, a live TV game.

The Kidderminster boss then was Graham Allner, an old mate of mine, who spent 16 years at Aggborough. He won the FA Trophy and the league but having got the club to the brink of the EFL, had left to allow Jan Molby to complete the task.

Kidderminster went through financial meltdown, got relegated and are nowhere near the side that Allner managed. As for us, from that ’94 team probably only Alvin Martin would get into today’s team. You hope this is a different side and far too good for Kidderminster - but you never know. Let’s not mess this up.

We got there with a decent, if not stunning performance to beat Leeds. Our front four of Vlasic, Bowen, Antonio and Lanzini were outstanding. You doubt Leeds will be the same erratic side when they are back at the London Stadium on Sunday, again we have to step up a gear from the cup tie display.

We play Norwich first though, the rearranged EPL game initially called off on 19 December because the Canaries had Covid, illness and injury problems. It means many fans who would have been there that Saturday will not be able to make the rearranged game due to travel and work reasons.

There are more than a few fans now who are doubting the constant list of games called off. Norwich, it has been suggested, had only four Covid victims that day. Leeds had ten out on Sunday, Manchester City played at Swindon with 21 cases in the camp. There is something amiss here.

Leicester, who played in the cup on Saturday have now had their game with Everton three days later called off. If I was a cynic I would suggest a few clubs are milking this, while we have had a few Covid cases of our own - Coufal on Sunday, Fornals before that and Zouma at the moment. But we have played on and used our Under 23s and squad players.

And in all this, having lost three on the trot to Arsenal, Spurs and Southampton, we have bounced back with three wins in succession. Maybe as Ian Wright said, we are a serious club after all these days.

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