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Interview with an away fan: West Ham

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This week I am joined by Paul Nixon, from the West Ham blog Claret and Blue in my blood.

You lost the first game of the season against Cardiff, did this come as a shock to you considering you are big favourites to go back up?

For many fans, losing to Cardiff wasn’t a shock; I was nervous about the game, Cardiff having been perennial promotion candidates for several seasons. That and the Hammers having a new manager, new players, and being in a new division, it would be fair to say most fans were wary of the first game no matter who it was: we are West Ham – capricious by nature! But there was certainly an air of expectation that this could be the start of something.

Since the defeat you have picked up two wins, do you think the team has finally settled and can pick up more wins?

I’ve been a Hammers fan since I was a tot, so I’ve learned with West Ham never to take anything for granted, and our win over Watford on Tuesday was only our first back to back away with since December 2007, so I’d be reluctant to say we’ve settled, but I does look like the team has found some chemistry with each other and Big Sam. There will be more wins, but fans have to be realistic and understand there are some big names in this division and West Ham have a penchant for banana skins…

So far you have kept your big players, when many expected them to go. Will the likes of Scott Parker stay or do you expect them to leave in the next few weeks?

It’s not news to say the owners are looking to sell Scotty, but they have been true to their word and seem to be holding out for their valuation of 7 million or so for him. I’d be surprised if Scotty stayed, given the looming deadline and teams like Arsenal, the Spuds (as Hammers fans affectionately like to call Tottenham), and now QPR showing interest. Scott Parker is a class act, and few if any West Ham fans begrudge him his desire to move back into the Premier League to keep his England aspirations alive. Any team would be lucky to have him – he’s a hard worker and a great professional. I expect Tony Fernandez (rumoured new owner at the Super Hoops and West Ham fan) at QPR to up his offer; Wenger too needs a battling midfielder who can win tackles and balls; and despite the Spud’s assertions that he’s too much money, you can never trust what comes out of Harry Redknapp’s lips! I believe Robert Green is negotiating a new contract with West Ham which suits most fans, and Carlton Cole has publicly stated on many occasions that he wants and expects to remain a West Ham player this season, having rejected a move to Stoke.

I was surprised to see Big Sam sacked from Blackburn. What did you think when the club first appointed him and can he take you back to the Premiership?

I’m afraid I fell into the same trap that the majority of West Ham, and, indeed, football fans have allowed the media to spring for them: I didn’t want "Long Ball Sam" to come to my club and kill the on-the-deck pretty football that West Ham is renowned for – although we haven’t seen much of that up until this season! Big Sam has been put into a box by the media – tarred by the brush of hundreds of reporters and pundits as a proponent of defensive minded, physical and ugly football that gets results but little else. While it’s early days, Over the past three games, most West Ham fans have been re-educated and have seen that Sam is a flexible coach who can tune the team to play exciting on- the-deck passing football as well as getting defensive when they need to. And while it’s early days, it’s not too far to say that he’s the best manager I’ve seen at West Ham in a long a time, certainly better than Grant, Zola, and Curbishley.

In my opinion Avram Grant was a terrible choice after Zola, basically because of his lack of motivation skills and his record at struggling clubs. What is your opinion on Avram was it all his fault?

Initially I liked the appointment, but I was one of the very few. West Ham fans though are generous and will, once the initial furor of an appointment is over, get behind the manager. Avram came from Portsmouth, and it was easy to overlook any failings at that great club and put their relegation down to their financial problems at the time. Prior to that he’d taken over at Chelsea and come a penalty kick away from winning the Champions League. I thought we were onto a good thing. However, with hindsight, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Avram is a nice bloke, but he’s no man-manager. It’s obvious now that the strong characters at Chelsea carried Grant to that final, and that the lack of strong characters and experience at West Ham last season was the reason the club were relegated (Parker, Green, Noble being the exceptions). Grant would be a great director of football, but as a man-manager, motivator, coach and tactician he was atrocious at West Ham – especially when you consider the team he had (Green, Parker, Cole, Hitzlsperger, Demba Ba, Upson, Keane, Bridge… etc.). But was it all his fault? No. The owners couldn’t keep their very public criticisms of players private; the media have never forgiven West Ham for Tevezgate; the previous Icelandic owners had left the club in a ruinous position; West Ham had too many loan players and contracts with get-out clauses come relegation, and we had too few on-field leaders. Grant was just another broken cog in a dysfunctional machine.

Kevin Nolan is probably the capture of the window in the Championship. What have you seen from him so far and is he the right man to captain the club?

Yes, Nolan is the right man to captain the club, regardless of whether Parker goes or stays. It may come as a surprise to most Leeds fans, but Scott Parker was not the captain of West Ham last season, or the season before; in fact, apart from having to wear the arm band when our illustrious captain was injured or removed because of appalling displays, Scott was just another out-field player. The media can be forgiven for thinking his on-field lead-by-example battling play meant he was our captain, but, Matty Upson was in fact the captain since Zola’s appointment a few seasons ago. Upson, by contrast, led by mute omission. That is, he wore the armband but never showed the slightest sign of fire, brimstone, motivation, support for younger players, inspiring selflessness or any other trait that a good captain should have. Nolan, by contrast appears, so far, to be a larger-than-life character who inspires the players not only by his on-field tenacity and never-say die-attitude, but his constant encouragement and support publically of West Ham’s aspirations and fellow player qualities. He’s worth the money just for his character, and he’s not a bad player either! West Ham fans have warmed to him instantly.

George McCartney was terrible for us, Ken Bates slated him in the press and most fans feared when any opposition attacks came down his side. From our point of view good luck with him he is crap, but have you been impressed so far?

McCartney, or "Linda" as he affectionately known by some Hammers fans, is a funny one. He was a West Ham player under Pardew and Curbishley. It took a while, but he became a fabulous battling left back with pacey and lung-bursting runs up the left side. He made many a goal for the club, and many West Ham fans remember this. Then, one day, he whined that his wife missed the north east and left for Sunderland. Since then, he has never replicated the form he showed at West Ham. Many fans are glad to see him back; I’m not so sure. He had his problems under Bruce at the Black Cats, and at Leeds, as you say, he was awful. He has been brought in as cover for Herita Ilunga, who himself has only just rediscovered his form after two years of absolute diabolical displays and absences from the 25 man squad last season. Whether McCartney improves his attitude under Big Sam, rediscovers his form, and forces his way into the side is yet to be seen, but right now, he’s playing for the senior reserves in order to regain fitness which he has let slide. Never a good sign in a professional.

Obviously the minimum is promotion from your boys. But it seems to be like those upstairs at the club are been a little ignorant towards the division, claiming clubs can loan their players until you get promoted. In my opinion the division is the best it has ever been, do you agree the chairmen at your club need to be realistic or are you that certain you are off up?

Our chairmen. What can you say that hasn’t been said yet? While this season, I think due to Big Sam and fan criticism, they have managed to muzzle themselves somewhat, last season they were a liability. I think from a business standpoint you have to "big your club up": and they are certainly doing that this season after telling the world last season that West Ham were skint and it would be "catastrophic for the club if they were relegated"…So it’s nice to hear the confidence from them, and they have invested and shown their support for Big Sam; however, I agree, the Championship this year is full of big name and historic clubs all with the same agenda as the Hammers: Forest, Derby, Leicester, Southampton, Ipswich, Portsmouth, Birmingham, Boro etc… not to mention Cardiff, Brighton, Reading, Blackpool, Coventry…have I mentioned half the league yet? So to expect automatic promotion would be disrespectful of the talent that is out there. In reality, it may be a playoff place and another season before the club make it. But by and large though, most fans, including myself, have the belief that given our squad, manager and money, that the club has the potential to make at least a playoff place.

Are you happy about the move to the Olympic stadium?

I am, but many fans are not. The positives are the increased capacity and the fabulous public transportation infrastructure that would make traveling to the venue too easy. Compare that to Upton Park which is a nightmare to get to from anywhere and, more often than not, the local lines are closed or undergoing repair. In order to make the next leap to perhaps a top 8 side, a club has to have at least a 50,000 seat venue, or a Daddy Warbucks like Abromovich, and, presently, West Ham have neither. However, it’s a compromise. The track and the distance from the pitch mean that many West Ham fans will miss the intimate atmosphere of the Boleyn ground, and fear it will be "atmosphereless"… This is a still a very divisive issue, and many fans would be more than pleased to see the Spuds get the venue.

We all know you have some quality players at Upton Park, but who will be a danger to Leeds on Sunday?

Apart from the obvious (Nolan and Parker) there are a few more creative players this season. Matty Taylor’s free kicks and corners are devastating; Jack Collison is a pacey and skillful midfielder who loves to whip a good ball in, and right back Joey O’Brien has shown a turn of pace which can cause all sorts of problems down the right side. One player we haven’t started yet, but is full of goals is Gold Cup winning player Pablo Barrera. He scored two goals for the reserves yesterday and could be included in the match day squad this weekend. Sadly for us, Tomkins got injured against Watford and won’t appear.

If you could have any Leeds player who would it be?

You know who I’m going to say! Max Gradel. Leeds fan favourite last season for a reason. He has goals in him too; he would offer another dimension to Picquionne, Cole and Carew who are all centre forward types. But I doubt we’ll land him.

Prediction for the match?

Up until the Hull match, most felt Leeds had been underperforming. Traditionally they have been a bogey team for West Ham, and I watched them last season against Arsenal and they looked fabulous, so I’m surprised at the slow start. But every team that plays West Ham this year are going to raise their game in order to put us in our box or knock us down a peg or two, and I expect Leeds to come to Upton Park fully motivated to us over like Cardiff did. That said, the Hammers are really starting to gel under Sam, and I expect a hard fought match. I’m going for the diplomatic 1-1 tie and Leeds to continue to find their form.

Big thanks to Paul for the interview.

Follow me on Leedstheoffside or Ciaran on Twitter and on Facebook.