Thursday, 19 February 2015

Sam Allardyce – The Psychological Problems of Success

I do hope that Sam Allardyce does not get a new contract at West Ham.  To many fans this might appear to be a harsh judgement on a man who got us promoted to the Premier League and kept us there.  I also expect him to keep us in the top eight until the end of the season.  In normal circumstances, a manager with these achievements, would expect to receive a new contract. After all, one of Sam’s proud boasts is that he has never left a club in a lower position than when he took over. Blackpool (1994-1996), Notts County (1997-1999), Bolton Wanderers (1999-2007), Newcastle United (2007-2008) and Blackburn Rovers (2008-2010). It is statistics like this that unite the football pundits in criticising West Ham fans for not wanting his contract to be renewed.

However, over the last two seasons Sam has shown that he has a fatal flaw and I believe with another manager we can obtain even better results than we have had over the last three years. Sam’s problems are located in the success he has had in the past. It is a common problem with many managers. Sam problem goes back to his time at Bolton, the place where he had his greatest success. The person who was his commander on the pitch and in the dressing-room was a young man by the name of Kevin Nolan. He was appointed captain of the club at the age of 24.

Bolton achieved great success under Sam -  sixth in 2004–05, eighth in 2005-06. However, he claimed that he knew he would never win anything important at Bolton and in May 2007 he moved to Newcastle United. Although a much bigger club than Bolton, Sam struggled at the club and with fan protests about poor results and a low standard of football he lost his job in January 2008.

He was not out of work for long and he had soon signed a contract with Blackburn Rovers. The club finished 15th that season. This was improved to 10th in the 2009-2010 season. He was sacked the following season with the club in 13th position.

Although all these clubs marginally finished higher in the league than when he joined them, only at Bolton was he really successful. It is this success at Bolton that dominates his thinking. It was no real surprise when one of his first signings for West Ham was Kevin Nolan. It is true that Nolan did a reasonable job for Bolton when he was in his early twenties. However, it was never good enough to get him into the England squad (he did appear in two under 21 games). He was also 29 years of age and his recent form had suggested that he was well past his best.

 It was not a real problem when we were in the championship but he was clearly not good enough for the Premier League.  Despite this, Nolan always plays except for when he is injured. This is usually when we play at our best. Nolan was out of the side in the early months of the season with an injured shoulder. Sam made a revealing comment on television when Chris Kamara complimented him on this good run of form. Sam replied that it had given him a problem of how he was going to get Kevin Nolan back in the team when he was fit. Of course, Sam found a way, and it was at the detriment of the team. It is no coincidence that Stewart Downing always plays better when Nolan is not in the team.  He likes the freedom to roam into those areas that are normally occupied by Nolan and therefore tends to stay wide too much where he is less effective.

Sam often claims that he is a keen user of stats. However, he seems to have a blind spot when it comes to Nolan. The reason for this is that he is making these decisions for psychological and not performance reasons. Nolan is Sam’s man in the dressing-room. As long as this is the case, he is confident that he will not lose the support of his team.

Captains are important to managers. There is a very interesting story that concerns Arsène Wenger when he joined Arsenal in 1996. The team did not approve of his training methods and his strange views on diet. A delegation of players went to see him to complain. He had a rebellion on his hands. He solved the problem by persuading the strongest character in the dressing-room, Tony Adams, that he was employing the right methods. It was Adams who was able to convince the rest of the team to accept Wenger’s new ideas.

It is no coincidence that since Tony Adams left the club, Arsenal have gone into decline. It often has been said that his side lacks strong characters such as Adams. That is surely true, but maybe that is because Wenger does not want strong characters in the team. The problem with dominant personalities is that they sometimes challenge the authority of the manager. Only the really great managers are confident to have those types of characters in his team.

Kevin Nolan gives Sam Allardyce security.  He does not have the intellectual confidence to leave him out of the team. That is why we need a new manager who is more flexible in his thinking. It is claimed that David Moyes is favourite for the job. I would prefer Tony Pulis, who last week gave Sam a lesson on how to set up a team. However, I suspect both will be unavailable. I would give the job to Sean Dyche who has done a fantastic job with Burney. Only two players in the team, Danny Ings and Kieran Trippier, would get into any other Premier League team. Yet, they are still in with a chance of avoiding relegation. I have heard him interviewed several times and I suspect he is going to the very top. Hopefully, he does it with West Ham and not some other team. 

Monday, 4 August 2014

West Ham United and the First World War

Great Britain declared war on Germany on 4th August, 1914. Cricket and rugby competitions stopped almost immediately after the outbreak of the First World War. However, the Football League continued with the 1914-15 season. Most football players were professionals and were tied to clubs through one-year renewable contracts. Players could only join the armed forces if the clubs agreed to cancel their contracts.

On 7th August, 1914, Lord Kitchener , the war minister, immediately began a recruiting campaign by calling for men aged between 19 and 30 to join the British Army. At first this was very successful with an average of 33,000 men joining every day. Three weeks later Kitchener raised the recruiting age to 35 and by the middle of September over 500,000 men had volunteered their services.

On 6th September 1914, Arthur Conan Doyle, appealed for footballers to join the armed forces: "There was a time for all things in the world. There was a time for games, there was a time for business, and there was a time for domestic life. There was a time for everything, but there is only time for one thing now, and that thing is war. If the cricketer had a straight eye let him look along the barrel of a rifle. If a footballer had strength of limb let them serve and march in the field of battle." Some newspapers suggested that those who did not join up were "contributing to a German victory.

Frederick Charrington, the son of the wealthy brewer who had established the Tower Hamlets Mission, attacked the West Ham United players for being effeminate and cowardly for getting paid for playing football while others were fighting on the Western Front. The famous amateur footballer and cricketer, Charles B. Fry, called for the abolition of football, demanding that all professional contracts be annulled and that no one below forty years of age be allowed to attend matches.

West Ham had high hopes that they could win the Southern League for the first time and refused to cancel the contracts of their professional players. In Syd Puddefoot they had the country's most promising young goalscorer. West Ham won six of their first 12 games. Puddefoot got nine goals during this period. George Hilsdon and Richard Leafe were also in good form and got 7 between them. Once again West Ham were challenging for the Southern League title.

In October 1914, the Secretary of State, Lord Kitchener, issued a call for volunteers to both replace those killed in the early battles of the First World War. At the beginning of the war the army had strict specifications about who could become soldiers. Men joining the army had to be at least 5ft 6in tall and a chest measurement of 35 inches. However, these specifications were changed in order to get more men to join the armed forces.

The Bishop of Chelmsford paid a visit in Bethnal Green where he gave a sermon on the need for professional footballers to join the armed services. The Stratford Express reported on 2nd December 1914: " The Bishop, in an address on Duty, spoke of the magnificent response that had been made to the call to duty from the King. All must play their part. They must not let their brothers go to the front and themselves remain indifferent. He felt that the cry against professional football at the present time was right. He could not understand men who had any feeling, any respect for their country, men in the prime of life, taking large salaries at a time like this for kicking a ball about. It seemed to him something incongruous and unworthy".

Under considerable pressure from the government, the Football Association eventually backed down and called for football clubs to release professional footballers who were not married, to join the armed forces. The FA also agreed to work closely with the War Office to encourage football clubs to organize recruiting drives at matches.

The Athletic News responded angrily: "The whole agitation is nothing less than an attempt by the ruling classes to stop the recreation on one day in the week of the masses ... What do they care for the poor man's sport? The poor are giving their lives for this country in thousands. In many cases they have nothing else... These should, according to a small clique of virulent snobs, be deprived of the one distraction that they have had for over thirty years."

Three members of the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee visited Upton Park during half-time to call for volunteers. Joe Webster, the West Ham United goalkeeper, was one of those who joined the Football Battalion as a result of this appeal. Jack Tresadern joined the Royal Garrison Artillery. An intelligent man, he quickly reached the rank of lieutenant.

West Ham United supporters also formed their own Pals Battalion. The 13th (Service) Battalion (West Ham Pals) were part of the Essex Regiment. On 5th March 1915 the East Ham Echo reported that Henry Dyer, the Mayor of West Ham, held a concert on behalf of the West Ham Battalion: "During the evening the Mayor briefly addressed the men. He remarked that it was the first time he had the opportunity of speaking to the Battalion as a whole. He was proud of them and when they had gone away a close watch upon their movements would be kept."

In his book War Hammers: The Story of West Ham United During the First World War, Brian Belton argues that the battle cry of the West Ham Pals was "Up the Irons." They saw action at the Somme, Ypres, Vimy Ridge and Cambrai. The war took a terrible toll on these men. Over the next three years the battalion suffered casualties of 37,404 killed, wounded and missing.

Not all the West Ham players joined the armed forces. According to Brian Belton: "Syd Puddefoot, worked long, exhausting and often dangerous shifts in munitions factories." Five former West Ham United players were killed in action during the war: Fred Griffiths, Arthur Stallard, William Jones, Frank Cannon and William Kennedy. West Ham's star forward, George Hilsdon, had to endure a mustard gas attack at Arras in 1917. This badly damaged his lungs and although he played briefly for Chatham Town after the war it brought an end to his professional football career. Fred Harrison was also badly gassed on the Western Front and never played football again.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Monday, 27 January 2014

Sam Allardyce is the sixth highest paid manager in the Premier League.

According to a report published by Sporting Intelligence Sam Allardyce is the sixth highest paid manager in the Premier League. His £2.95m a year is behind Jose Mourinho (£8.37m), Arsene Wenger £6.89m, David Moyes (£4.92m), Manuel Pellegrini (£3.47m) and Brendan Rodgers (£3.25m). 

Allardyce, who is on the same money as Roy Hodgson, the England manager, is the 13th highest paid manager in Europe and receives more than Roberto Mancini (Galatasaray, £2.92m), Rafa Benitez (Napoli, £2.92m),  Claudio Ranieri, (Monaco, £2.5m), Laurent Blanc (PSG, £2.5m), Antonio Conte (Juventus, £2.5m), Cesare Prandelli (Italy, £2.5m), Massimiliano Allegri (Milan, £2.34m),  Felipe Scolari (Brazil, £2.3m), Harry Redknapp (QPR, £2.09m), Joachim Low (Germany, £2.09m), Walter Mazzarri (Inter Milan, £2m) and Vecente del Bosque (Spain, £1.96m).

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

The origins of the conflict between West Ham Millwall

I have recently been researching the origins of the conflict between West Ham United and Millwall.  It has to be remembered that Millwall was established in 1885, ten years before Thames Ironworks and fifteen years before West Ham United.

Millwall were in fact champions of the Southern League when Thames Ironworks was established. Therefore the first game between the two clubs took place on 14th December, 1895. That day Thames Ironworks played a game against Millwall Reserves and lost 6-0. A return match was arranged on 25th April, 1896. This time the result was 1-1.

Thames Ironworks won the Southern League Division 2 in the 1898-99. That meant that in the 1899-1900 season they were playing in the same league as Millwall. The first game took place on 23rd December 1899. Up until then Thames Ironworks had home gates of between 1,000 (Chatham) and 3,000 (Bristol City). However, for this game they had an attendance of 12,000. John Powles, the author of Iron in the Blood (2005), does not report any crowd trouble in the game. Millwall won the game 2-0.

That year Thames Ironworks also played Millwall in the FA Cup. This time 13,000 people saw Millwall win the game 2-1. It might be this game that caused the conflict between the two clubs. Tom Bradshaw scored the Hammers goal. It was the last game he played dying on 25th December 1899. Officially the 26 year old Bradshaw died of tuberculosis. However, friends claimed that he had been complaining of terrible pains when he headed the ball. This he blamed on a game he had played several years previously when a member of the Liverpool team.  Did he receive a blow to the head while playing against Millwall? Bradshaw was a popular player and if the fans thought this was the case might have caused considerable anger towards Millwall.

Interestingly, Bradshaw’s death also increased hostility towards Spurs. In 1899, Francis Payne, the club secretary, was given the task of finding good players for Thames Iron Works to prepare them for the first season in the top division of the Southern League. His record signing of £1000 was Bradshaw from Spurs.  Hammers’ fans were convinced that Spurs would have known he was suffering from tuberculosis when they sold him. Bradshaw only played four games for Thames Ironworks before that fateful game against Millwall.

The third game against Millwall was even more important. Thames Ironworks was second from bottom of the league when they played Millwall on 28th April 1900. In front of 8,000 people the Hammers won 1-0. This stopped them from being automatically relegated and had to play a “Test Match” against Fulham. The Hammers stayed in the league by winning 5-1.

The following season Thames Ironworks changed its name to West Ham United. For the next 14 years the West Ham v Millwall was the most important game of the season, attracting nearly double the attendance of any other game. More importantly, West Ham obtained dominance over Millwall during this period. In 1919 West Ham joined the Second Division of the Football League. In the 1922-23 season West Ham was promoted to the First Division and was beaten by Bolton in the 1923 Cup Final.

After this, West Ham was rarely in the same division as Millwall.  Although we did beat them 4-1 in the FA Cup on 15th February, 1930. The next time we played them was in the 1932-33 season after we had been relegated to the Second Division. On 17th September 1932 we beat them 3-0 (two of the goals were scored by the great Vic Watson). The relative size of the two clubs is reflected in the fact that 30,000 attended that game, but the return match at Millwall only had a crowd of 5,000.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Martin Glover, head of recruitment at West Ham

Martin Glover is head of recruitment at West Ham. Together with Sam Allardyce he drew up a list of ten men they wanted in the summer. This included Michu who eventually ended up Swansea. Allardyce blames Glover for not saying: "You must sign this player." They eventually decided on targeting six playerss. The only one on the list that West Ham signed was Mohamed Diame.

Allardyce has signed Winston Paulista on loan. He has been playing in Brazil and Allardyce rarely buys players without Premier League experience.

It is rather disturbing to hear that West Ham are not willing to offer Carlton Cole a new deal at the moment. His contract comes to an end in the summer. Allardyce is clearly taking advantage of Cole's comments that he really wants to stay at the club.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

West Ham Biographies

It is true most West Ham biographies are very dull. This is definitely true of footballers who are still playing. However, there are some really good ones by West Ham players. This includes Bobby Moore's "Bobby Moore: The Life and Times of a Sporting Hero" (1997), based on his interviews with his great friend, Jeff Powell. See for example, his views on Ron Greenwood and Malcolm Allison.
Here is a passage about Moore playing his first game for the Hammers. It is a game I still remember with great affection.

Malcolm had been battling for months to recover from tuberculosis. I'd even seen him the day he got the news of his illness. I was a groundstaff boy and I'd gone to Upton Park to collect my wages. I saw Malcolm standing on his own on the balcony at the back of the stand. Tears in his eyes. Big Mal actually crying. He'd been coaching me and coaching me and coaching me but I still didn't feel I knew him well enough to go up and ask what was wrong.
When I came out of the office I looked up again and Noel Cantwell was standing with his arm round Malcolm. He'd just been told he'd got T.B.

It wasn't like Malcolm to give up. By the start of that 1958 season we were battling away together in the reserves, Malcolm proving he could still play, me proving I might be able to play one day.

West Ham had just come up. They went to Portsmouth and won. They beat Wolves at home in their second game. After three or four matches they were top of the First Division, due to play Manchester United on the Monday night, and they had run out of left halves. Billy Lansdowne, Andy Nelson, all of them were unfit. It's got to be me or Malcolm.

I'd been a professional for two and a half months and Malcolm had taught me everything I knew. For all the money in the world I wanted to play. For all the money in the world I wanted Malcolm to play because he'd worked like a bastard for this one game in the First Division.
It would have meant the world to him. Just one more game, just one minute in that game. I knew that on the day Malcolm with all his experience would probably do a better job than me. But maybe I'm one for the future.

It somehow had to be that when I walked into the dressing room and found out I was playing, Malcolm was the first person I saw. I was embarrassed to look at him. He said "Well done. I hope you do well." I knew he meant it but I knew how he felt. For a moment I wanted to push the shirt at him and say "Go on, Malcolm. It's yours. Have your game. I can't stop you. Go on, Malcolm. My time will come."

But he walked out and I thought maybe my time wouldn't come again. Maybe this would be my only chance. I thought: you've got to be lucky to get the chance, and when the chance comes you've got to be good enough to take it.

I went out and played the way Malcolm had always told me to play. Afterwards I looked for him back in the dressing room. Couldn't find him.

Malcolm Allison, Colours of my Life (1975) is another great book. As Allison once said, I think of myself as more of a teacher than a coach. This is supported by Moore and the rest of those who played under him. However, as John Bond once said, the problem with Malcolm is that he was good at coaching others but a disaster managing himself.

Footballers are rarely great writers and the best books are like the one by Jeff Powell, based on interviews. A good interviewer can make most people articulate. Therefore, I highly recommend Brian Belton’s Days of Iron (1999).

I agree that Charles Korr's, West Ham United: The Making of a Football Club (1986) is the most intelligent book written about West Ham. After all, it was Korr's Ph.D.

If you like biographies shorter than book length I suggest you visit: