West Ham United – Going long and backwards under Big Sam

by Mark Beegan

When football people talk about the great institutions of the British game, then the name of West Ham United deserves to be up there.  This is a club that is rooted in its community. You only have the walk around the East End and talk to the people to see the pride that West Ham fans take in their club.  They will tell you with a straight face that West Ham United won the World Cup for England.

When you take away the partisan and tribal nature of these fans comments, there is actually an element of truth about the claim. Geoff Hurst, a West Ham player, fired the hat trick that downed the Germans. Bobby Moore, of West Ham United, lifted the cup as captain of the victorious England team. Martin Peters a classy left side, who also scored in the final, was a integral part of Ramsey’s team. The club has also provided England with Trevor Brooking, a wonderful technical player, who sadly has not been able to bring the vision from his playing days to his job of technical director.

The production line didn’t stop in the eighties, however, Joe Cole, Michael Carrick, Rio Ferdinand and Frank Lampard came through in the 1990’s. Jack Collison, James Tomkins and Mark Noble have kept up the tradition recently.

They were all brought up the West Ham way, to cherish the ball, to express themselves and to bring joy to the punters who are parting with their hard earned cash to watch the match. All of these players Cole, Carrick, Lampard and Ferdinand have reached the top of the club game and representing England numerous times, all were schooled at West Ham. When you walk down the tunnel at the Boleyn ground, you cannot miss the sign, West Ham United- The Academy of Football.

It is for these reasons that it is just so wrong that Sam Allardyce is in the seat once occupied by Ron Greenwood and Billy Bonds. Allardyce was hired to get West Ham promoted and he did, just about. West Ham with a budget larger than not only every side in the division but also Athletic Bilbao and Newcastle United, scraped promotion through the playoffs after beating Blackpool in a game where they were out classed and out passed.

To be fair to Sam, he has always played this brand of kick and rush, so West Ham knew exactly what they were getting when they hired the Englishman. His Bolton side, brutally effective at times, were consistently awful to watch.

His brand of football, didn’t matter to Bolton fans, they have not the same culture of passing progressive football that West Ham have. He got a free pass because Bolton fans A)did not care and B) it led to success beyond the wildest dreams of your average Bolton fan. West Ham fans expect more, they expect stylish attacking football. It is for this reason and this reason alone that West Ham fans have not taken to Allardyce.

His spell at Newcastle showed that a big football club with a love for attacking football was only willing to tolerate his industrial style of football for so long. Can you imagine where Newcastle United would be if Sam Allardyce was the manager? Well it is safe to assume that neither Hatem Ben Arfa nor Yohan Cabaye would be wooing the Geordie nation as they currently are. They would not get into any side Sam manages.

The win on the opening day of the season showed that against a poor rigid Aston Villa side, that Sam will not encourage and urge his players to go out on the front foot to try and win the game. The game against Swansea, however, showed the flaw in Allardyce’s philosophy of playing the percentages and hoping to knick it on a set piece. West Ham constantly gave the ball away against Swansea who had the good sense to pass and pass and then pass some more until the opportunities for goals came.

What did Sam do? Did he go on tell his centre backs to move the ball quickly to midfield so they could in turn feed Matt Jarvis or Carlton Cole to feet? Did he tell them to have the courage to match Swansea pass for pass? No, on the rare occasion when West Ham actually had possession, Allardyce watched as his players punt ball after ball at Carlton Cole who either fell over or failed to control and hey presto Swansea had the ball.

It was clear from the numerous times they tried this both against Aston Villa and Swansea that this is Big Sam’s blue print for Premier League survival.

The Fulham game last weekend showed that this pattern is rigidly drummed into the players, with footballers such as Noble now reduced to playing quick long diagonals to the Andy Carroll in the hope of a knockdown to the on rushing Kevin Nolan.

The Fulham game illustrated that this tactic can be brutally effective when a team is unable to stand up to the aerial bombardment but the Fulham also showed that they are poor enough in possession to give their opponents plenty of the ball and numerous good chances.

While the season is only three games old, it is frankly depressing to see a club with West Ham’s tradition attempt to stay up this way. West Ham should have thanked Sam for promotion and then promptly sacked him. If they had moved for a Roberto Martinez or Ian Holloway type manager then West Ham would have tried to survive playing a style that is embedded in the soul of the football club.

Indeed clubs such as Wigan, Swansea and Norwich have proved that survival by style is possible. These clubs are nowhere near as iconic as the hammers yet have sustained themselves in the Premier League in a manner that Ron Greenwood and others would be proud of.

Wigan and Swansea have done football a great service by showing that strengths such as physical strength, tactical rigidity and set piece bombardment are not necessary to stay up in the top division. They have shown us that there is another way forward.

There is no doubting that Big Sam’s long ball tactics will be effective against disorganised and poorly set up teams when West Ham are at home but it is hard to see them having enough of the ball away from home to gain a foothold in these tricky away games. Sadly, it maybe their away record which is the difference between staying up and going down

The style of football one likes is purely a personal thing, you may be happy with your team lumping it, I on the other hand am not.  Should results, however, like the one against Swansea continue then it is hard to see a crowd as educated as West Ham’s tolerating Sam for too long.

The argument that Allardyce is ugly but effective will be blown out of the water this season. The two Davids may just have a decision to make come November/December time. I wonder what that Harry Redknapp chap is doing at the moment.

Author Info

Mark Beegan

Mark Beegan

Mark is a graduate of UCD. Mark is a freelance journalist with a love of attacking football and tiki taka. Weekly contributor to Back Page Football. Writes mostly on European, South American and Irish Football.

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39 Responses

  1. Ben says:

    Wow, worst piece of lazy journalism for a long time.

    You’ve just jumped on the anti-sam bandwagon and made no real effort to research the subject you’re writing on.

    Do you think if he was really that predictable and poor as a manager, only playing ‘kick and rush’, then would he be millionaire premier league manager? He is obviously doing something right, isn’t he?

    Redknapp said on MOTD on Saturday that he told his side to hit diagonal balls to Crouch, yet he is labelled long ball?

    Playing to your teams strengths is good management, did you see West Ham against Fulham? Tactical balls into Carroll (tactical as they are floated in, so if the defender wins the header, it’s harder for him to head it back 50yards) supplemented by pass and move on occasions. Fantastic.

    West Ham have not been this organised and hard to beat for years, credit to Sam where it’s due.

    I’m not saying he’s the best manager, he’s just nowhere near as bad as the press like to make out.

    He’s never been relegated, even Harry has.

    I’m not here to beat you with a stick, and I don’t know your history with football, but, and I don’t want to sound like a big time Charlie, but I have played professional football and shake my head every time I read an article like this, as current & ex footballers, and some fans, can see beyond the media stereo type.

    I’m a West Ham fan, I don’t want to see him leave.

    Give a dog a bad name and all that!

  2. Ka says:

    Lazy writing, for sure. Watch the Fulham game. West Ham had the ball on the floor more than in the air.

  3. Tim Tim says:

    A bit of research reveals that Mark Beegan, the lazy journalist the put together this drivel is a LFC fan – sour grapes methinks from a supporter of a team that has had it’s worse start in 50 years.

  4. James says:

    Completely agree with Ben. Big Sam’s ‘long-ball’ game is such a false stereotype stimulated by those in the media. Can’t fault your effort Mark, your article is very well written. It’s just that I don’t agree that Big Sam is taking us backwards.

    1. Stuart says:

      Exactly James
      Look at where we were when Sam took over, and look at where we are now….
      Seems to me like we’ve been moving in the right direction for pretty much all of his time at the helm, so to suggest he has taken us backwards, and in the title, says all you need to know about this article

  5. William says:

    @Johntan 11.49 football is a contact game and do you really enjoying watching the tika taka boys of Barcelona rolling around on the floor the second they get a tap? I know I don’t. It’s a man’s game for christsakes.

  6. Dave says:

    No doubts the author had decided to write this drivel long before Allardyce had even been in the job too long.

    One of the laziest, sloppiest, disrespectful pieces I have seen in a long time.

    … and that is going some.

  7. Gary says:

    I went horseracing last week. Standing by the winners enclosure the victorious horse was led in and had its saddle removed.

    As it did, from its steaming, sweaty backside came the biggest flatulant gas explsoion I have ever heard. I couldn’t put it into words.

    I am just commenting here to congratulate you because you just have in the above artcile.

    Total and utter ill-informed tripe. West Ham played plenty of football against Fulham, and tried to do so against Swansea, who did not even look like scoring until West ham gave them two goals.

    After that they were chasing the game.

    Villa parked the bus leaving Darren bent with just three touches on the ball the whole game.

    Fulham were passed off the park, as well as the threat from carroll and company.

    If you are using articles like this to help find yourself employment, I feel you really need to actually research your subject, rather than rehash old stereotypes.

    I am a West ham fan, and although I can’t say I was overly enamoured when Allardyce joined, I can honestly say i have been very pleasantly suprised.

    We have played better passing football than we did under Zola, Grant and even Curbishley.

  8. Marc says:

    What absolute drivel!

    I don’t know which West Ham / Fulham game you watched, but from where I was sat, that was the beautiful game and it’s prettiest. Pass, move, skills, pace, technique. The whole lot.

    Yes, there were times, when a diagonal to AC was pumped and/or floated up to the big man, but if you had a 6’4 striker (Who by the way, happens to be regarded as 1 of the best target men in the Premiership – possibly the world) and just signed as you’re “marquee” signing, why the hell wouldn’t you look to play to him??

    Lazy writing, lazy writer, pointless SA bashing that is certainly not coming from a West ham fan. Us fans, while we may not like everything he does, certainly respect Big Sam for (With the massive help of the Dave’s) sorting out a team that was going nowhere fast.

    If West Ham vs Fulham was us playing hoofball, I’ll take 35 more games of that please!!!

  9. Simon says:

    You are an idiot who clearly does not watch football or use their brain. Lazy inaccurate rubbish. You insult Bolton fans and are disrespectful to a successful manager. I guess you don’t watch live games except on TV. You need to try writing about something you know a little bit about. Also, what is this rag that actually published this?? Pathetic .

  10. Stevieray says:

    I can only assume the writer of this article did not bother to watch the Fulham game. He just jumped on board the juggernaut of lazy journalists who repeat the same old tired and false mantra which will please everyone except West Ham supporters and fans of the game that is football who can watch a game and treat it on it’s merit
    It has little resemblance to the truth.

    He will be a very successful journalist as the truth is hardly the realm of the majority of many journalists these days.

    Never let the truth get in the way of a good story is a notion which he has very much bought into.

  11. RexHammer says:

    This is lazy, generic journalism at its best. As many people have commented before, you have opted to jump on the anti-sam bandwagon and copy what your journalist brothers are saying.

    When Big Sam come to the club, it was in complete turmoil both on and off the field. The managers had completely lost the changing room and we collected so much dross along the way.

    Big Sam came in, got rid of all the dross and won the dressing room back, also the players look a lot fitter than before. We also have a proper captain in Kevin Nolan. Yes, he can go missing for large sections of the match, but he is our top goalscorer and is 10 times the captain that Matthew Upson ever was -not that you would know as you most probably thought it was Scott Parker like all your other buddies.

    Before writing another article bad-mouthing our club, why not have a look on West Ham forums/blogs and see what the FANS are saying, rather than taking the lazy route.

  12. Chris Snelling says:

    This, an article first published Septamber last year, is being rehashed now? Why? Lazy journalism to start with and even lazier publishing. Obviously not enough crap going on in the transfer window……oh and yes….what is that Redknap chap doing at the moment?

  13. Tom Burford says:

    I haven’t read so much dross for a long time.

    How on earth is this club going backwards? We have tried to play this so called “West Ham Way” for over a decade now with no success. And don’t forget that we were relegated with the Joe Coles, Michael Carricks and Jermain Defoes in 2003 adopting this supposed beutiful style of football. Under Zola and Grant we tried to play this attacking style and constantly let in more than we scored.

    Big Sam has introduced tactical prowess where previous managers this decade have failed. Everybody sings Pardews praises, but lets not forget we actually finished 6th the season we went up not 3rd. Last season we also broke a club record for away wins.

    When we go in front I am now confident we can win a game, a feeling I haven’t had for a long time.

    And with the backing of our chairman and looking to upsize to the Olympic stadium. This is a club going forwards, not backwards.

    Football is a changing game and for teams like west ham, their interest needs to be winning football matches. With the squad we have we’ve over achieved this season, in my opinion. Win matches, stay in the league, it’s that simple.

    When people talk about the flair players of the past, despite their rightfull place in West Ham folklore, there was a lot less pressure to win games, trying their best was enough and even losing was softened if they team played well. Because of the money in the game now teams can’t afford to be relegated, hence the reason we have to play winning tactical football. The have been a lot of games when Sam has been in charge where we have stolen the points when we haven’t been the better side, and would have gone home with nothing in previous years.

    I think back to games like QPR away this year where we won the game due to being solid at the back and seein the game out. Everyone knows how many winning positions we threw away under Zola an Grant, because as managers they were tactically inept.

    Lay off Big Sam, he was the best possible appointment for us last year. And he is going to lay the foundations for West Ham to be a massive club in the future.

    Come on you Irons

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