Ahead of our first home game of the season at St James’ Park, amazingly on a Saturday with a 3pm KO, we caught up with David Blackmore, the editor of the really good West Ham fanzine, Blowing Bubbles. In our chin-wag, we discovered David was a resident of our fair and noble city a few years ago and his experience of the sunlit uplands of Tyneside has given him something of an affection for all things NE1. Sounds like a canny lad.
Anyway, we sat him down in a dark cell, shone an angle-poised lamp in his dish and managed to get through a conversation without talking about the ICF, Petrol bombs and all that stuff that has been done to bloody death.
Eyes down for a full house.
David Blackmore, Blowing Bubbles: The signing of former Toon star Andy Carroll for £15m was one welcomed by many West Ham fans. But because the signing of Carroll came so early in the close season and the fact it was a club record transfer fee, there was a lot of speculation amongst fans that we would continue to spend vast amounts to bolster our squad but following my last conversation with David Gold at the end of last season, I knew that wasn’t going to be the case. Still Sam has managed to bring in Romanian international Razvan Rat from Shakhtar Donetsk, goalkeeper Adrian from Real Betis and Danny Whitehead from Stockport all for free and Stewart Downing from Liverpool for an undisclosed fee which is believed to be in the region of £5m. The capture of Downing and Rat are the stand out signings for me. Rat has performed well in pre-season and Downing impressed on his debut against Cardiff at the weekend. I was, however, a bit disappointed to see Carlton Cole leave the club at the end of last season. The club’s failure to agree a new deal with Carlton might come back to haunt us as we desperately need a quality striker to lead the line when Carroll is injured or suspended. It may well be that Carlton wasn’t happy to play second fiddle to Carroll but if he was, it seems daft to have let him go without securing a replacement bench warmer.
TF: You have Sullivan, Gold and Brady running West Ham these days. What do West Ham fans think of them?
David Blackmore, Blowing Bubbles: I like them. After our previous owners, they have steadied the ship, invested their own money and Sullivan and Gold are West Ham fans. I know they are ultimately businessmen and will want a return on their investment but things have looked a bit rosier since their arrival and I hope things work out for us and them. I also really like the fact Mr Gold replies to so many tweets.
TF: How do Hammers fans rate Carroll?
David Blackmore, Blowing Bubbles: Andy Carroll has been brilliant for us. When he is playing well, it lifts the whole team and the crowd and creates so many chances for other players. I was really pleased to see that he had (finally) signed and I just hope he wasn’t just playing well last season because he was on loan! He played up top by himself a lot last season but at times I felt like he was worth three players. Man City really seemed to struggle playing against him last season and I hope he can stay fit and push on this season. There was a lot of talk that Carroll’s arrival last season meant we were truly a “long ball” team but I think we played fewer long balls last season than when we had Cole up front. With Carroll in our side, we actually played less “long balls” than Real Madrid and only a few more than Barcelona last season. I agree we have probably played more direct balls but I think we can agree that a direct 20-year ball is far more affective and productive than a 30-yard hoof behind the opposition’s left back?
TF: Kevin Nolan was a very popular lad and captain at Newcastle whilst Allardyce was loathed. What’s the score at West Ham?
David Blackmore, Blowing Bubbles: I think at first the vast majority of fans didn’t like Nolan and I often overheard fans talking amongst themselves about what he actually brings to the team with many questioning his work-rate and effort but it didn’t take long for Nolan to prove his worth to the team and he was a key player in our push for promotion a couple of seasons ago. This season there aren’t as many critics of Nolan in the stands and I think people are starting to get why he was such a hit at Bolton and Newcastle and what a special player he is. He is a match winner and always seems to be in the right place and the right time to score valuable goals. I’ve not sat down and working out how many points we notched up thanks to a goal by Nolan but I think we’d all be shocked if we did the math.
As for Allardyce, I find the whole situation with the fans rather odd. He wasn’t a popular choice when Gold and Sullivan first appointed him but he got us back into the Premier League at the first time of asking and steered us to one of our best finishes in the top flight for a number of years. Had he been another manager, such as Di Canio, and achieved the same level of success, the Hammers faithful would be singing his name all the time but now entering his third season in the hot seat “Sam Allardyce’s claret and blue army” has yet to echo around Upton Park. What will it take before you hear it sung? I don’t think it ever will – even if we win the FA cup!
TF: What is West Ham looking to achieve this season?
David Blackmore, Blowing Bubbles: I think our position at the end of last season’s campaign flattered us a little bit. We played very well at times but rode our luck at other times to secure narrow wins or draws. Having said that, I am hoping we can get off to a similar start as we did last season and aim to break into the top 10 again. I wouldn’t be too disappointed if we finished as low as 15th so long as we had a good cup run. If we get knocked out of both cups like we did last season, I don’t see any reason why we can’t push into the top 10 again. The aim for the club at the moment from David Gold’s point of view is to ensure we maintain our Premier League status until we move into the Olympic Stadium so as long as we achieve this while adding to the depth and quality of the squad, I think many West Ham fans will be happy.
TF: Tell us about the Blowing Bubbles fanzine and the fanzine scene around West Ham.
David Blackmore, Blowing Bubbles: Blowing Bubbles launched last season as a multi-platform publication and last season we averaged 2,000 readers. Our main focus is our digital issue which can be read on mobile, tablet or computer for FREE the Friday before every home game. We also print hard copies which arrive the day before home games and our subscription levels went up by 500% for this season which blew me away and showed there is still a need for hard copies. The other West Ham fanzine is OLAS which has been going for 25+ years and is still very popular amongst West Ham fans. The editor, Gary Firmager, is a top bloke but he did tell me when we launched that we would be lucky to survive seven issues(!). I think it is great that West Ham has two fanzines plus a host of fantastic websites such as KUMB and Moore Than Just a Club which really help give a platform to supporters.
TF: Of course, we’ve got your ex-manager, Alan Pardew at United, can you tell us about his time at West Ham and where you think it went pear-shaped for him?
David Blackmore, Blowing Bubbles: Personally I never minded Pardew because I thought we played some good football and had a good side but it’s tricky to say what the general consensus is amongst West Ham fans. I’d say during the Zola/Grant days many fans looked back longingly at the days when we had Pardew as gaffer and probably the same could have been said last year when Newcastle were storming up the table and playing some brilliant football. The only issue I had/have with Pardew is his ego and arrogance but that’s not always a bad trait for a manager.
TF: We’ve been linked with your lad Tompkins – what’s he like and do you think there is a chance of him leaving West Ham?
David Blackmore, Blowing Bubbles: Not if you spell his name like that! James Tomkins is a quality defender and one that I believe will become a West Ham and England centre back soon. He forged a brilliant partnership with Winston Reid during our promotion push a couple of seasons ago but was relegated to the bench when we resigned James Collins last season. I believe James will stay with us because he is West Ham born and bred. He loves the club and I think he knows he is loved by West Ham fans who are all hoping the boy from Basildon becomes a West Ham hero.
TF: Tell us about West Ham’s London rivalries.
David Blackmore, Blowing Bubbles: We have got strong rivalries with quite a few clubs. Most of these are with other London clubs, especially with Millwall, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea. The rivalry between us and Spurs has been fuelled over recent years by players such as Michael Carrick, Jermain Defoe and Scott Parker leaving us to join them. Our strongest and oldest rivalry is with Millwall. We both originally formed around the works sides Thames Ironworks and Millwall Ironworks shipbuilding companies. They were rivals for the same contracts and the players lived in the same locality. Since then the rivalry has involved considerable violence – remember our League Cup clash in 2009?!
TF: What’s your favourite memory of a visit to St James’ Park?
David Blackmore, Blowing Bubbles: Being still a relatively young man, I admit I haven’t gone to watch West Ham at St James’ Park for 30+ years but I have been to almost every encounter since 2007. My favourite memory was our 2-2 draw in January 2009. We were struggling leading up to that game to pick up many points with big players on big salaries not performing as they should. It was frightfully cold that day but we put in a really good performance and I felt we were unlucky not to have come away with three points. It was also Carroll’s first Premier League goal – he is still to score for us!
TF: And the one you’d most like to forget?
David Blackmore, Blowing Bubbles: It has to be out visit in January 2011 when Leon Best hit a hat-trick on his first Premier League start and we lost 5-0. Nolan also scored and I can remember thinking then: “He always scores against us. He seems to always be in the right place at the right time”. It was a painful away day. We were woeful and fully deserved our spanking.
TF: Tell us what you think of Newcastle – the club, the team, the city and the support.
David Blackmore, Blowing Bubbles: I have always had a soft spot for Newcastle as I spent five glorious months there in 2007 on a training course above the Chronicle and Journal offices. I absolutely love the city and feel like it’s a home from home. I always make the trek from London back up to the North East whenever we play Newcastle or Sunderland just so that I can re-visit some of my favourite evening venues! Having spent so much time living in Newcastle, it did give me a good insight into the support for Newcastle United and I have to admit I was blown away by it. In London you not only have people supporting one of the many London clubs but you also have people supporting the likes of Liverpool and Man Utd. With it being the capital and drawing people from across the country, I often see meet many people who have moved from say Newcastle and obviously still support them. But in Newcastle, I can’t remember meeting anyone who grew up in the area who didn’t support Newcastle United. Not only was I impressed with the dedication, passion and amount of support there is for the team but on match days the city really comes to life and there is such a brilliant buzz. If Newcastle win, you can also guarantee a brilliant night out in town (as long as you aren’t supporting the opposition!) As for the team, I think Pardew is building a very strong starting XI but I think investment needs to be made in the squad as a whole if you are going to repeat last year’s heroics and regularly challenge for Europe. I managed to catch a few games last season and was very impressed. The ball is moved around so quickly, tying defenders up in knots and some of the goals scored were incredible – Chelsea away springs to mind! I don’t believe you will be challenging for a Champions League place this season and think you will struggle to secure a Europa League place but that it certainly isn’t out of your reach with the players you have.
TF: How do you think we’ll do this season?
David Blackmore, Blowing Bubbles: If you manage to pick up a few long-term injuries between now and Christmas, I think mid-table beckons for you.
TF: Prediction for Saturday?
David Blackmore, Blowing Bubbles: I believe we have the confidence, determination and talent to put up a good fight. I can see there being a few goals and believe a score draw would be a great result for us. I will, therefore, go for an 1-1 draw.
Many thanks to David for his time!