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End of an Era: West Ham’s Upton Park Exit



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If the 2-0 win away at Arsenal was the stuff of dreams for the 3,000 West Ham fans at the Emirates on the Premier League’s opening weekend, then the travelling Hammers who witnessed their 3-0 win against Liverpool would have been in delirium.

Yet many West Ham fans, especially those of an older generation, are waiting for that first home win of the season. A home win against Leicester or Bournemouth may not have been special in any other season, but this is no ordinary campaign.

For 111 years, West Ham have called the Boleyn Ground, often called Upton Park after the area where the stadium is located, their home. From great-grandfathers to great grandchildren, generations of Hammers have walked, drove and caught the bus or tube to join the masses walking along Green Street on a matchday.

Queens Market that lies adjacent to the stadium has been there since Victorian times, but it’s not the hustle and bustle of the market that is the most recognisable noise in that part of London; it’s the echo of the clubs’ famous anthem, ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’.

But the song that has been sung at West Ham games for nigh on one hundred years, gaining as strong a connection with West Ham as You’ll Never Walk Alone has with Liverpool, won’t echo onto the East London streets around the Upton Park underground station for much longer.

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The clubs owners, David Gold and David Sullivan, were keen to take advantage of the Olympic Stadium, that did not have a full time resident following the games in 2012. From August 2016, West Ham will be exactly that.

Going from a stadium capable of holding 35,000 supporters to one that would be able to house 60,000 makes financial sense; yet in a romantic sense, West Ham could lose a lot.

The close proximity of the fans to the pitch at Upton Park can make it an intimidating place for away teams to play there, but also one with a great atmosphere that can make the stadium reverberate.

To go from a ground where home supporters can literally scream down the necks of opposing players to one that separates fan from footballer with a huge running track could have a real negative effect on that ambience; just see how the Emirates struggles to keep the noise in.

The hardcore support can sometimes be a negative; those same fans who can be the proverbial ‘12th man’ can also be a millstone around the necks of their own players when times are tough, as the fans expectations hang heavy.

The biggest expectation is often talked about as playing football in ‘the West Ham way’. Much the same way that Ajax and Barcelona have deep-seated traditions of playing attractive football, so does West Ham.

A nickname that comes from the glory days of the 1960s, in particular when three West Ham academy graduates helped England win the World Cup in 1966, it can often mean that success by playing less attractive football still can mean unpopularity.

Despite leading the club from relegation back to the Premier League, Sam Allardyce was given particular short shrift from the club’s fans; Slaven Bilic’s appointment, one that seen a crowd favourite as a player return to the club in the dugout, was far more popular.

But perhaps the move to the Olympic Stadium, although great for the balance books (especially as the club only have to pay £15m towards the renovation costs), shows the battle football is going through in this modern age.

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In the grand scheme of things, one hundred years is not a long amount of time in context; yet in organised football, that is almost its whole existence.

You have fans on one side, who understand that clubs have gone from being important to the local community, to being big players on the global stage, not just in football but in business itself.

But then you have the other side of the coin: the generations who see the club not just as a hobby but as an extended family, with a stadium with an enormous emotional pull.

Perhaps West Ham, and the Boleyn Ground, are the biggest example of that. Even in the global market of the Premier League, football lovers from all over will make a pilgrimage to the deepest part of East London to see West Ham, where tradition never seems to be lost.

As a fan who has visited Upton Park as an away supporter, it can be a real grim experience. Exposed to the elements and paying through the nose for tickets, the long tube ride to the Boleyn could be seen as a trip back in time to the darkest times of football fandom.

But when you hear the sound of 30,000 fans all singing about their dreams fading and dying, the hairs stand on the back of your neck. It all makes sense, it all brings back what being a supporter who travels rain or shine to watch their team is all about.

Upton Park may not be the most glamorous stadium in the world, but through the eyes of a football traditionalist may well be a long-lost paradise, the long train journey from the heart of London almost adding to the romance of it all.

It will be a sad day for the West Ham faithful to say goodbye to the Boleyn, but it would be sadder if what makes the club special to those same supporters was lost with the move; even for someone who does not bleed claret and blue, that would be far worse than paying four quid to eat a soggy pie in the pouring rain.

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FA Cup

Rochdale 2-2 Tottenham – Lucas Moura shines despite disappointing day for Spurs

Jake Jackman




Tottenham are going to have to rely on a replay for the second successive round as they conceded a dramatic late equaliser to Rochdale. It was a reminder of the magic that the FA Cup still possesses and it will provide a useful cash injection for the League One club. Spurs opted to make several changes and rest key players, but they selected a team that should have progressed on the day.

Ian Henderson scored in the first-half to give Dale a first-half lead and it was deserved. Keith Hill’s team played good football and went toe-to-toe against their more illustrious opposition.

Lucas Moura and Harry Kane scored to put Tottenham into a 2-1 lead, but that wasn’t the end of the goal-scoring as Steve Davies scored to take the tie to a replay. Here are three talking points from Spotland:

Lucas Moura’s performance showed why Tottenham signed him

It was a signing that came out of left-field, as Tottenham prefer to do their transfer business in the summer. However, this opportunity was too good to turn down as they were given the chance to sign a proven Brazilian international. He had fallen on tough times at PSG and rarely featured this season, but he proved why the club signed him on Sunday.

The Brazilian wasn’t afraid of the fight and was up for the test offered by League One opposition. Every time he got on the ball, it looked like he could make something happen, as shown by his seven dribbles completed.

He had a touch of class that allowed him to stand out from the rest of the players on the pitch and if he can consistently perform at that level, he will turn out to be a great signing.

His movement was superb, as he regularly found pockets of space to exploit. Interestingly, he won five aerial duels and that shows that he has quickly adjusted to English football. It was Lucas that scored the equaliser mid-way through the second half with a confident finish. He will have played himself into Mauricio Pochettino’s plans for the coming weeks.

Rochdale impressed on their day in the spotlight

They were written off before a ball was kicked as they were facing one of the best teams in the country. Rochdale are currently rock-bottom of League One and 11 points from safety, albeit with four matches in hand. They laid a new pitch ahead of this match and the players adapted to it well, showing that they can play good football.

Callum Camps and Andrew Cannon impressed in the centre of the park, while their two wily experienced strikers got the goals. Ian Henderson was a tireless worker in the final third and put the Tottenham defenders under pressure.

He snatched at a couple of chances in the first-half, but he remained cool when another chance came his way and scored the opening goal.

It will be a tough ask for them to go to Wembley, but they can go there with no fear as they have nothing to lose. The tie will give them an injection of money that the club needs, especially if they are to suffer relegation this season.

Toby Alderweireld looks a long way from his best

The Tottenham defence didn’t look as assured as they usually do and both of their centre-backs struggled at times during the match.

Alderweireld was left out of the trip to Juventus and there were some supporters that questioned that decision. However, he looked short of match fitness against Rochdale and was arguably at fault for the late equaliser.

The Belgian international looked rusty and his decision making was not great. He picked up a yellow card for a rash tackle and that is one example of that. Juan Foyth played alongside Alderweireld and his inexperience showed when Rochdale did attack.

For Alderweireld, he wants to be back in the first-team and that is eventually where he will be, but he isn’t at the level required to be starting right now. Tottenham are fighting on multiple fronts and they can’t afford to have any players that aren’t at 100%. He is returning from a serious injury and he will need time to get back to his best.

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Roberto Firmino: His performances will shape the end to Liverpool’s season

Martyn Cooke



On Sunday afternoon at St Mary’s Stadium the returning Virgil Van Dijk took centre stage and assumed the role of pantomime villain for the day.

However, whilst much of the pre-game build up was centred on the former Southampton defender, who was making his first return to the club since signing for Liverpool in January, the post-match conversations were focused on the brilliance of the Dutchman’s attacking teammate.

Roberto Firmino is one of the most under-rated players in the Premier League and his performance last weekend reaffirmed that he is one of the most effective forward players in the top-flight of English football.

The Brazilian has rarely been the centre of attention since arriving at Anfield in the summer of 2015 for £29 million and the media have often overlooked his significant contributions on the pitch.

Roberto Firmino

At Liverpool he has been forced to be content playing in the shadow of Philippe Coutinho, prior to his move to Barcelona, and Mohamed Salah, who has been a revelation since joining the club in the summer.

But Firmino is now emerging as one of the most creative, innovative and exciting forwards in the Premier League and he is undoubtedly one of the most improved players of the season.

The 26-year-old is both a creator and a goal scorer, as Southampton discovered to their cost at the weekend, when he opened the scoring with a neat finish within the opening six minutes before providing the assist for Salah’s goal with an ingenious flick.

The goal was his 20th of the campaign, which was shortly followed by his 21st of the season against Porto in the Reds’ midweek Champions League fixture, and he is now only nine short of becoming the Premier League’s all-time highest Brazilian goal scorer.

Firmino is a unique mixture of technical brilliance, creativity, innovation and an intelligence that makes him unpredictable, difficult to mark and a constant threat, regardless of where he pops up on the pitch.

However, whilst his Brazilian flair may catch the eye it is his willingness to pressurise opponents and work hard off the ball that is genuinely impressive.

He is certainly a favourite of Jurgen Klopp, who admires his hard running, work rate and pressing that often sets the tone for the rest of the team.

The 26-year-old has still gone somewhat unnoticed this campaign despite his consistency and performances on the pitch and the fact that he has missed only one league game all season.

But that is set to change.

Firmino’s performances and form have proven that there is still a bright future at Anfield despite the departure of Coutinho in January.

Deployed as an unconventional number nine, the Brazilian is the centre of a dynamic attacking forward line that sees him flanked by Salah on one side and Sadio Mane on the other.

The trio possess the pace, intelligence and creativity to threaten any team in Europe, as demonstrated by the mid-week five-goal demolition of Porto in the Champions League, and central to their effectiveness is the link up play of Firmino.

Still only 26, the Brazilian is about to reach the peak of his prowess and his continued development under Klopp poses the exciting question of how much better the forward might become in the forthcoming two or three years.

He certainly possesses all of the characteristics to become a legend at the club, should he choose to remain at Anfield long term, and he now has the opportunity to step out of Coutinho’s shadow and enjoy the limelight for himself.

Liverpool supporters will be hoping that Firmino can maintain his current run of form over the coming months and his performances will shape the club’s season.

His creativity and knack for scoring goals will be an invaluable commodity as Klopp goes in search of a top four place and potential silverware.

Firmino my have been underrated in the past, but he is now taking centre stage as the focal point of Liverpool’s attack.

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Huddersfield Town

Huddersfield Town 0-2 Manchester United: Three talking points from the John Smith’s Stadium

Rob Meech brings us three talking points from the John Smith’s Stadium as Manchester United overcame Huddersfield Town in their FA Cup 5th Round contest.

Rob Meech



Photo: Reuters

A brace from sharpshooter Romelu Lukaku fired Manchester United into the quarter-finals of the FA Cup at the expense of Huddersfield Town.

Lukaku opened his account in the third minute before netting his second of the evening shortly after the second-half resumption.

Victory was not as straightforward as the scoreline suggested. However, as the Terriers produced a spirited display after the early setback.

There was also controversy involving the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system.

Juan Mata saw an effort ruled out for offside after a review, but confusion abounded about whether it had been the correct decision.

Here are three talking points from an eventful encounter, as United set up a last-eight tie with Brighton & Hove Albion…

Lukaku’s goals are a fillip for Jose Mourinho

The Belgian has come in for criticism from some quarters for his goal return since last summer’s big-money transfer from Everton.

While he may not have reached the levels of Harry Kane or Mohamed Salah, Lukaku has now scored 21 times in all competitions for United this season.

That tally was boosted by his double against Huddersfield, which showed off his best attributes.

Lukaku was too strong and clever for Huddersfield’s defence as he latched on to Mata’s through ball for the first, before putting the finishing touch to an Alexis Sanchez pass for his second.

The former Chelsea man’s performance will be the biggest plus for United boss Jose Mourinho, who is relying on him to spearhead the attack for the remainder of the campaign.

Lukaku is a confidence player, so this was a timely boost ahead of a crucial run of fixtures both domestically and in Europe.

VAR under the microscope yet again

The introduction of technology to any sport usually results in teething problems.

It is fair to say VAR has experienced more than its fair share in football this season.

Employed in some FA and League Cup matches, controversy has never been far away. This was again the case at Huddersfield.

Mata appeared to have doubled United’s lead just before half-time, but referee Kevin Friend waited for confirmation from VAR that he had been onside.

After about a minute, Friend disallowed the goal when it was judged that Mata had been fractionally offside as the ball was played.

Contention emerged when viewers saw the incident on TV, where the guidelines were clearly not straight.

In fact, they were embarrassingly wonky.

Further replays suggested – with parallel lines correctly in place – that Mata’s knee had indeed been offside, but it was a very close call and certainly not an obvious mistake by the referee’s assistant.

These technical hitches will need to be ironed out before VAR is brought in universally.

Huddersfield can be positive despite FA Cup exit

With their Premier League status hanging in the balance, it would have been understandable if Huddersfield manager David Wagner had seen this fixture as an unwanted distraction.

But there was absolutely no suggestion that they were trying not to win the match, or prepared to exit the competition without a fight.

The Terriers, who famously beat United at home in the Premier League last October, carried on from where they left off last weekend in the impressive 4-1 victory over Bournemouth.

Conceding so early to United had not been in the script, but the hosts regrouped quickly and caused their opponents plenty of problems.

Ultimately, the difference between the two sides was the quality of finishing.

Whereas the visitors scored with their only two shots on target, Huddersfield wasted numerous openings as they slipped to defeat.

Nevertheless, attention can be turned back to their bid for survival, without their confidence dented.

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