Euro Go Go Go!
So that was a bit of fun to liven up a Monday lunchtime and live on the UEFA website too. A European draw and for once (and for the first time in bloody ages) there was my team involved too. Right in there with such European legends as Skonto FC from Latvia and Luxembourg giants FC Differdange 03 was West Ham and boy did it make me proud.
Okay, maybe there weren’t a huge amount of European legends but we’ll be amongst them soon enough. Have faith Hammers fans, even we can’t slip up against our first qualifying round opponents, and come on Birkirkara of Malta or the Armenian outfit FC Ulisses, well they’re just another pre-season friendly before we get really going with this European lark. (It’s at this stage I really should take note of how bad our pre-season friendly form often is, but I’m on a tidal wave of optimism here and reality is playing only a bit part in this scenario)
And despite the fact that I’ll be working over both legs against FC Lusitans and that the chances of me getting a ticket for the trip to Andorra are about as remote as the country itself, I’ve even taken the luxury of checking out what to do if I was part of the travelling support. Lonely Planet recommends; Shopping, apparently Andorra has one shop for every 40 inhabitants. There’s also a trip to the National Motor Museum and it’s collection of 80 cars or the Caldea Spa Complex, the largest of it’s kind in Europe. To be honest though, I’d be happy to settle for the Cervesería l’Albadia, described as a place for serious beer drinkers which could be that it has the atmosphere of a library with a bunch of rather stern faced men sitting around contemplating the meaning of life, but I doubt it.
But I’m not going to Andorra, not by choice. To be fair when I sorted out my diary I wasn’t even thinking about a European adventure but it seemed that Big Sam had it planned all along. Cunning too, no need to concentrate on the league or a decent cup run, but if you don’t put in a tackle and shake hands with the ref at the end of the match we can sneak in through the ‘fair play’ back door. A genius plan that makes me wonder why the club parted company with him? Yes, I remember now, because after Christmas the team coach driver stood more chance of getting three points on his drivers licence for speeding after back after a league match than West Ham did for winning it. It did make me chuckle to read so many articles at the end of the season about how ‘West Ham fans should be careful what they wish for!’ As if we’d all asked Santa for just three wins in the 21 league matches after Christmas Day. Yeah we all wished for that and I’m really sorry Sam, but you were always a top bloke on the odd occasion we met, but that sort of form can’t be justified, not ever.
Of course in traditional West Ham way, the path to Sam’s successor wasn’t exactly smooth and whilst I got the feeling that Slaven wasn’t the first choice, I really believe that in the end he could be just want we wanted. As a fan on the terraces who was more than just a bit gutted that he left us after such a relatively brief stay back in the 90’s, I’m chuffed to see him back and wish him all the best **
Which brings me back to our European campaign, which although it has shortened the summer break and added a month to the season, could be just what the new boss needs to help him generated some momentum after what was such a dreadful run at the end, sorry, middle and end of the last campaign.
We have meaningful, competitive, pre-season matches to help the squad get sharp. We have the prospect of bigger European matches to come to get excited about, players have a chance to perform eventually on a higher European stage, that given our long time absence from European football, should be seen as a bonus by our club, not a hindrance.
And the fact remains that in our last season at The Boleyn, we could have a few European nights to savour and I’ll drink to that thank you. If we get past the Andorran runners up from last year I’ll definitely be there for the home leg of the second round and my sons will be sat with me. This isn’t like Chelsea and Arsenal or Manchester United. We don’t see European football very often so we should celebrate whilst we can. I’m not being pessimistic when I say that we’re only a bad away leg in Armenia away from an early exit, I’m just being a West Ham fan. It’s not that our glass is half empty whilst others are half full, it’s just we’re a tad more realistically negative than most!
But I’ve got a sneaky feeling that this could be the start of something good. I might be alone in saying this but Big Sam did a lot for our club and it’s a shame that such a good man had to part in less than successful circumstances.
But in Slaven we have an experienced European manager who has the funds, the backing and the belief to take us to a higher level. So bring it on, the adventure starts early, but at least it’s starting right?
** Unless of course he plays with a lone striker and bypasses the midfield in favour of a series of aimless and badly delivered long balls. I’ve seen more than enough of those for the time being thank you.