Tomorrow afternoon West Ham are away to Newcastle. West Ham’s manager, Sam Allardyce, was sacked by Newcastle in 2008, after a rather unhappy period in charge. Newcastle’s manager, Alan Pardew, was sacked by West Ham in 2006 after quite a successful period in charge. But things went wrong behind the scenes. I think there were some personal reasons, but there were footballing reasons too.
Around 2006-7 was the brief period when we Hammer’s fans thought we might be getting a benefactor who would buy the players to take us to the top. Unfortunately he was an Icelandic biscuit magnate who was wiped out in the collapse of the Icelandic economy in 2008. Classic West Ham – no oil-rich sheikh or oligarch for us! Instead the club was brought to its knees after all the reckless commitments it made – notably the hiring of the two Argentinians, Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano, through some “third party” arrangements, which turned out to be against the rules. And paying gargantuan salaries to all sorts of players, including the ex Newcastle badboy Kieron Dyer, who hardly ever played because of injury.
Pardew took West Ham to the FA Cup final in 2006, where we were very unlucky to lose to Liverpool on penalties. Things looked promising. But on the football side, the hiring of Tevez and Mascherano seemed to be his undoing. Both were established internationals, high quality players. Tevez struggled to score at first, but always gave 100% and the fans loved him. Especially when he discovered his shooting boots and help save us from relegation. By then Pardew had gone and Alan Curbishley was manager. Mascherano, though, just couldn’t get in the team. One of the world’s finest holding midfield players kept out of the West Ham team by no less a player than… Hayden Mullins. “Who he?” I hear you cry. Exactly. What was Pardew’s problem? I don’t know, but I suspect the players were imposed on him and he didn’t like the loss of control. Mascherano was the casualty.
Of course Mascherano went on to play with distinction for Liverpool before moving to Barcelona. Yes, Barcelona. Good enough for Barca, but not the happy Hammers. Bizarrely, he is now playing centre back for Barca, presumably on the basis that he is one of the shortest players in the team!
So Sunday is the battle of the exes, but not just on the managerial side. Our centre forward is Andy Carroll. Ex Newcastle. A true Geordie favourite, sold to Liverpool for a crazy £35m, moderately successful in his first season, but not deemed suitable for the style of play under new manager Brendan Rodgers. So now he is on loan at the Hammers, where his heading ability and muscular bustle is perfect for Big Sam’s direct style of play. And I must say it’s exciting to have him at Upton Park, even though he hasn’t actually scored yet.
And Newcastle’s in-form striker? The Senegalese, Demba Ba. Ex West Ham. He shone in our relegated side of two years ago. Scored a few, excited the fans. Moved on when we went down. Fair play: he was too good for the Championship.
And we musn’t forget the Hammer’s captain, wily goalscoring midfielder, Kevin Nolan. Naturally, bought from Newcastle! In fact he is a Big Sam man: played under him at Bolton as well as Newcastle.
I feel West Ham and Newcastle have a fair bit in common, despite the Geordie/Cockney antagonism. Both sides have a tradition of good football, but with a soft centre, which has prevented them winning very much. Both have passionate, loyal fans, with, perhaps, unrealistic expectations. Both have been hideously mismanaged at board level in the not too-distant-past, but both now seem to be stabilising under regimes which were seriously questioned initially.
I like to see Newcastle doing well, and I’m pleased to see Alan Pardew succeeding at a pretty big club. It took him a while to recover from the West Ham experience. But he has Newcastle playing some very good possession-based football, with a strong French influence in the team. If the team continue to thrive, he’ll probably be a candidate for the England job, when Roy Hodgson gets the chop (after our next failure).
But tomorrow, my good wishes are suspended! The Guardian tells me that West Ham haven’t won in Geordieland since 1998, so it’s about time we did. How about 2-1 with Carroll and Nolan for the Irons and Ba for the Magpies?
The immutable law of the exes.