The West Ham Football Report

John Russell


Report: West Ham United 2, Birmingham City 1

An at-times inspired display of football against Birmingham City provided West Ham United with their second away victory of the season. There was one change from the side which lost to Manchester United the week before as old stager Edward “Teddy” Sheringham was out injured, replaced by Bobby Zatamora, while eighteen year old Mark Noble continued in centre midfield in the absence of Nigel Reo “do do do do do” Coker, even though it had been rumoured that Christian “Footballing Genius” Dailly would start ahead of him. Fortunately this didn’t happen—and with Sheringham and Reo Coker being injured, Hayden Mullins was captain.

West Ham started slowly, but fortunately this lethargy was matched by Birmingham’s somnolent approach and their general lack of talent—but then, out of nowhere, Birmingham scored—which was a surprise—the Birmingham fans were surprised anyway and there was a short delay before they started cheering, but it was a desperate, plaintive, existential type of cheering, a kind of conditioned response like the undead in George Romero’s films trying to remember what they did when they were alive.

Birmingham, here in the UK, is called a post-industrial “wasteland”—a disheveled cultural sprawl of shopping malls and call centres. Many years ago when Queen Victoria traveled around the country in her private train, her servants were under strict orders to close the curtains of her carriage when they passed through the Black Country (this is roughly the area of England where Birmingham is located) so that the sight of the blackened and wealth-producing industrial landscape would not offend her aristocratic eyes. Ha Ha—well it’s better nowadays in a basic material sense—but in the move to post-proletariat status, the Brummies lost any authentic folk culture they may once have had and now there is nothing …nothing except the spectacularised capitalist merry-go-round of low-quality commodities and television. West Ham has an industrial past not unlike Birmingham and most football clubs, being formed originally by workers from a ship-building company called the Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Co. Ltd in 1895.

About 5 minutes after their goal, West Ham nearly scored courtesy of the Israeli genius Yossi Benayoun—who crossed to “Marvellous” Marlon Harewood—whose looping header was saved by the Birmingham keeper.

For those who don’t know, West Ham has produced some of the best British players ever. For example, Bobby Moore, who is often described as being a gentleman—maybe you’ve seen the famous photo of him hugging Pele in the 1970 World Cup? Pele was the best ever footballer (and probably the best ever sportsman generally) and the Brazil 1970 team were probably the best ever football team.

No one says “soccer” outside of America because no one outside the U.S. gives a fuck about American football or knows anything about it, so for most of the population of the world there is only one type of football. The type West Ham play. Or Arsenal. Or Inter Milan. Or Barcelona. Or Boca Juniors etc., etc. In the Times newspaper yesterday someone wrote that football was the true sport of the masses and that was why it appealed to poor children in Brazil and Africa.

I was watching a documentary last night, “History of Rock.” There was some American rock historian and it became obvious that America is totally fucked by the fact that Led Zeppelin was not American—they are the missing link. They are the missing piece in some complex U.S. hegemonic jigsaw. It’s kind of why America has lost its confidence. A lot of Europeans in fact think Led Zep ARE American. They should be, but they’re not.

I don’t know much about Birmingham, Alabama in the States (I’ve just been told Martin Luther King led a protest or march there—cheers Joel!), but here in Birmingham (UK), the ground is about a twenty-minute protest march from Birmingham New Street station in the centre of Birmingham, and the centre of Birmingham is like one big shopping mall. One of my other interests apart from football is old style, public sculpture (as opposed to the current fashion for relational or participatory models: e.g. Aleksandra Mir, Jeremy Deller, Thomas Hirschhorn). I am in favour of permanent, heavy metal (or stone), municipally situated sculpture. In Birmingham there is a fantastic example of this in Dhruva Mistry’s large installation of fountain-based sculpture, situated in the middle of the pedestrianised Victoria Square (close to New Street station). Sitting in the upper pool, is a monumental female figure titled “The River” which represents the “life force,” although the locals have nicknamed the figure “The Floozie in the Jacuzzi.” Around the rim of the upper pool is a quote from Burnt Norton, one of the Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot:

And the pool was filled with water out of sunlight,
And the lotus rose, quietly, quietly,
The surface glittered out of heart of light,
And they were behind us, reflected in the pool.
Then a cloud passed, and the pool was empty.

And at the bottom of the fountain are two smaller figures representing youth, two Sphinx-like animals and two abstract pillars with lamps. Mistry has always declined to comment on the meaning of his sculpture. There’s also a Anthony Gormley sculpture in the square, which has one of his figures sunk into the pavement up to his thighs and leaning forward—when West Ham plays Newcastle away I’ll describe his “Angel of the North” which is up in Gateshead.

Birmingham substituted the injured Muzzy Izzet (he plays for Birmingham, but is in fact a West Ham fan). This was the second change they had made as Mario Melchoit had been replaced by former West Ham winger Stan Lazaridis in the first few minutes after an injury. Tomas Repka got his compulsory booking when he stopped a Birmingham attack deliberately with his hand and all the Birmingham fans were crying for a sending off..

By this stage it was becoming apparent that Matty Etherington and Yossi Benayoun needed to get into the game more if West Ham were going to achieve anything, and to be honest things weren’t looking good. And then out of nothing, Bobby Zamora scored a simply breathtaking goal. A long throw was put into the box, Marlon Harewood flicked it on, Bobby received it, flipped it over the defender’s head, turned inside two other defenders, then maybe another two, dinked it up and poked a shot underneath the keepers legs. Genius!

At this point the goal expanded within the team and the game-scenario like some kind of psychic orchid/fungal formation flowering and branching conceptually and materially across the pitch and through the minds of the players and the crowd. Suddenly the West Ham team were a thing of beauty. The Birmingham stewards seemed to get nervous, telling people to sit down. What the fuck was their problem? Don’t they understand aesthetics?

West Ham are in fact famous for their notorious football hooligans, known as the ICF (or Inter City Firm because they traveled first class on Intercity trains). They were stars of a documentary in the mid-1980’s called “Hooligan.” Footage from this documentary was used by the artist Mark Leckey in his film “Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore” (1999) which documented the regular fashion transformations of football terrace casuals in the 1980s and ‘90s—partly as a way to confuse police surveillance cameras, from Fiorucci to Scott and Lyle etc, and partly as a fashion thing. The film is also “a dream-like video of crowds at various dance clubs, covering a period of thirty years” charting “a time of innocence, irresponsibility and hedonism inspired by the love of music and dance.” I think I remember reading Leckey describing this as the most significant aesthetic movement of the 20th century—which I wouldn’t argue with.

The ICF are also the focus of the made-for-TV film “The Firm” starring Gary Oldman (it was the film that made his reputation and meant he could go off to America) and more recently (and bizarrely) the film “Green Street,” or “Hooligan,” or “Green Street Hooligans,” or “The Yank” (depending on where it was released). Tagline: Stand Your Ground And Fight. The film weirdly stars the actor who played Frodo Baggins, as a “…wrongfully expelled Harvard undergrad who moves to London, where he is introduced to the violent underworld of soccer hooliganism.” I remember reading the director of this film, Lex Alexander, who used to be a world champion karate/kick boxer, claims she finds hooligans “sexually exciting.” At the end of the film, Frodo Baggins says the main character who got killed in a street fight had taught him that, “Sometimes you have to stand and fight, but at other times you have to know when to run away.”

The main players in the ICF are all now stars in their own right, for instance Bill Gardner and Cass Pennant. Both have written books. Cass Pennant, in fact, is a one man publishing empire. “Congratulations – You Have Just Met the ICF,” includes an interesting account of the famous West Ham versus Manchester United battle on a cross channel ferry.

Birmingham City also has hooligans known as “The Zulu Warriors.” The only thing I know about them is that they were responsible for the UK banning of the punk/Oi! band The Cockney Rejects. The Cockney Rejects were known as a West Ham band, and while playing a gig in Birmingham, a gang of skinheads connected to the Zulus turned up, started doing Nazi salutes and violence ensued and a UK ban followed. For ‘the Rejects’ this effectively ended their career. This was a pity because the Rejects produced a number of minor classic records including “Flares and Slippers,” “Bad Man,” and “I’m Not a Fool.” Their most famous record was “Cockney Rip-off” (which wasn’t as good as the others mentioned). They also recorded football-related records such as “Bubbles” (a West Ham song) and “War on the Terraces” (also listen to “I am not a Fool” here:

While we’re on the subject of Nazi salutes, former West Ham United playmaker Paolo Di Canio, has been suspended for one match and fined 10,000 euros after giving a fascist salute last weekend. The 37-year-old, former-maverick genius (and winner of World Fair Play Award in 2003) gave the straight-arm fascist style salute a la Adolf Hitler upon being substituted during last weekend’s home game against rivals Juventus. It is claimed that he was gesturing to a rightwing Lazio gang – the Ultras. Paulo claims:

“I will always salute that way because it gives me a sense of belonging to my people.” He continued: “I saluted my people with what for me is a sign of belonging to a group that holds true values, values of civility against the standardisation that this society imposes upon us. I’m proud to be able to count on such people and I will continue to salute them in this way.” He also claimed it “had nothing to do with any political ideologies.”

Di Canio’s gesture caused particular outrage amongst Jewish groups in Italy. The president of the Italian Maccabi Federation, Vittorio Pavoncello, called on Lazio and Italian soccer authorities to take action. Di Canio however brushed their protests aside, claiming his suspension was unjust: “If we are in the hand of the Jewish community, it’s the end. If action is taken because one community is up in arms it could be dangerous.” He was supported by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi who jumped to Di Canio’s defence the following Wednesday, insisting the striker is not a fascist and simply misunderstood.

“Di Canio is an exhibitionist. His salute didn’t have any significance. He’s a good lad,” said Berlusconi.

However, current West Ham reserve keeper and former teammate Shaka Hislop was not so impressed. He claimed: “We got on very well. He got on well with my wife and my kids and to see him making the headlines for his actions disappoints me greatly because of what those gestures mean and the wider effect of it.”

In his autobiography, Di Canio claims Mussolini is “misunderstood.”

Ten minutes after the goal, just before half-time we were in dreamland as we took the lead through Marlon Harewood. The ball was played down the by line and Matty Etherington ran onto it. It looked as though it might have gone out of play when Matty crossed it, but play continued. Benayoun stuck out a leg and it bobbled into the path of Harewood who smashed it into the back of the net to make it 2-1. So half-time and it was the West Ham fans who were the happy ones. All that enthusiasm from Birmingham supporters had oddly disappeared and they were now all very quiet.

Marlon played brilliantly in the second half especially once Zamora went off—running for everything, battling away, winning corners, free kicks and throw ins. A real striker’s performance. With about 15 minutes to go, Roy Carroll seemed to get injured when he walked into the goal post and then fell over. It was a very strange thing for a keeper to do, but it does confirm my suspicions that this guy is quite injury prone and we will be seeing a bit more of Shaka this season. Since their goal, Birmingham had done little to test our goal. The best chance they had was when David Dunn received the ball and hit a nice half volley at goal, only for it to hit the post and go wide.

Noble came off for Dailly at this point. Dailly would hopefully help us out in the air from corners. This didn’t seem to be working when Matthew Upson found the ball at his feet from a corner that was not cleared (where have we seen that before!), but his powerful shot from a few yards out went way over the bar when it should have been hitting the back of the net. Emile Heskey had a shot that was well saved by Carroll. This was another chance that came about from a failed clearance. We really must work on clearing the ball. The West Ham fans were the ones making the noise still in this horrible little ground with its horrible set of funny voiced supporters. With two of the three minutes of added time played, Heskey put the ball into the back of the net with his hand. He was rightfully booked. The final whistle went; relief, joy and all round happiness went around every West Ham fan.