Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Wham Bam Thank You Zam

So yes, I'm safely back from Lisbon (of which, more later in the week) and the motorway journey from Heathrow back to Telford was less arduous than usual, thanks to listening to the radio commentary of my beloved West Ham United beating Preston North End 1-0 in the Championship Play-Off Final at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, to book themselves a berth in the Premiership after a two-year absence. It's not been an easy season, but we took our chances at the business end, and with youngsters like centre-backs Elliot Ward and Anton Ferdinand plus midfielder Mark Noble forcing their way into the first team, things are starting to look promising again. Congratulations are especially due to under-fire gaffer Alan Pardew and the much-maligned goalscorer Bobby Zamora who have emerged triumphant from a traumatic term by delivering when it mattered most.

As the dust settles after the game and Hammers fans slowly start to sober up, I still maintain that the difference between winning or losing this play-off final in financial terms (estimated by some to be £35m) is too enormous for one game, but I'm relieved as fuck that we've put behind us the misery of last year's defeat to Palace, and avoided another fire-sale of our better players into the bargain. I also know that many people have been irritated by West Ham fans' claims that the Hammers are 'a big club' who are 'back where we belong'. The debate as to what constitutes a 'big club' has livened up many a dull pub afternoon, but considering that, by my reckoning, the Hammers have spent something like 32 out of the last 40 seasons in the top division I think the supporters have a fair point in claiming a return to some sort of normalcy. Furthermore, our stadium, fanbase and location provides the infrastructure that should indeed give supporters the reasonable expectation of having a semi-permanent place in at least the lower half of the Top 20.

We're already favourites for relegation next season, of course, and the record of play-off winners in the Premiership isn't particularly promising to say the least. This is good news for us, as the Hammers tend to do better when they're written off. There's a decent nucleus of young players at Upton Park and if Pardew spends his £15m wisely to blend in some experience and class, we've got a better chance than most of bucking the trend. If we can get our home form off to a good start and the fans get behind Pardew, I reckon there's a real prospect of us prospering next year at the expense of clubs like Portsmouth, Fulham and West Bromwich Albion.

But whatever happens, I fully intend to enjoy the summer looking forward to a challenging campaign and some juicy local derbies. Talking of which, thanks to Arseblogger for his congratulations on West Ham's promotion, let's hope his Gooners decide to punish Ashley Cole by sending him on a season's loan to Upton Park because bringing in a left-back under the age of 36 will surely be one of Pardew's priorities!