EXCLUSIVE: Sam Allardyce – there have been times when we've played like Swansea
22:00 GMT, 29 March 2012
Sitting comfortably: Sam Allardyce faces down his critics
Lee Clayton interviews the West Ham manager as the promotion dogfight reaches a critical stage, with his team taking on Reading at home on Saturday…
'We need a win, this is killing me,’ Sam Allardyce says in a telephone call. It’s 10.17 on the morning of a fixture at Peterborough this week. He’s in his hotel, sounding relaxed and in control. It is 23 days since West Ham last won a football match.
Half-time: Peterborough 0 West Ham 0.
‘Paolo Di Canio,’ sing the large West Ham following at London Road, after just 17 minutes. It’s followed by: ‘We’re West Ham United, we play on the floor.’
He’s a confident man, Big Sam. There is a clause in his two-year contract that determines he can leave for the England job and he was 25-1 on the day Fabio Capello departed. He also has tickets to take his 11-year-old grandson to Amir Khan’s world light-welterweight title fight in Las Vegas on May 19, the same day as the play-off final. Allardyce expects to be in Vegas.
The style of football, a lack of goals, a dip in form… it’s all getting a bit bumpy. It was meant to be a romp through the division and big attendances bring big expectations. There were 6,000 away fans at Peterborough, for a midweek game.
At London Road, West Ham win 2-0 to move within a point of the top two. Still, it’s not good enough for some. Allardyce calls his critics ‘deluded’.
One supporter writes on Twitter: ‘Witnessing the animosity, the writing is on the wall for Big Sam.’
Another: ‘He has mocked the West Ham Way. A little more respect for the club would have served him better.’
Crunch time: If West Ham beat Reading, Allardyce's side will be back in the automatic promotion places
Personally, I find his touchline swagger compelling and enjoy his disdain for West Ham’s past failings. What is the West Ham Way No automatic promotion since 1981. No trophy since 1980. David Sullivan and his partner David Gold are propping up West Ham with their personal fortune. They have gambled on Allardyce and they like what they see.
Sullivan says: ‘The fans have always sung for Paolo. One day, they might get him. In five years’ time, perhaps. We like him, but only after Sam wins promotion, takes West Ham into Europe and then leaves for the England job.
‘Myself and David Gold stand 100 per cent behind the manager. It’s hard to play in the Championship. Teams shut you down, there is no time to play. This happened at Peterborough, but in the second half we played magnificent football. Now it’s on to Reading.’
The win at Peterborough is a first in six games, but it’s a result that means positives can now be accentuated; West Ham haven’t lost since January 31 and are 11 unbeaten. They have equalled the club record for away wins in a season, previously achieved in 1923 and 1958 (both promotion years).
Beat Reading at home and they are back in the top two. Di Canio, who excited many, but not all, as a player at Upton Park, can stay in Swindon for a bit longer. The subject seems a good place at which to start.
How does it feel when you are standing out in the technical area and the Di Canio chants start
SAM ALLARDYCE: ‘I accept that we haven’t delivered recently. You have to take it on the chin. In adversity, when we were down to 10 men, the supporters were, wow . . . magnificent. And the players responded: three times we went down to 10 men and we won seven points.
‘Against Watford, we had 11 men, we were drawing and one guy ran down with five minutes to go and said, “F*** off back up north, you ****”. I’m from Dudley in the Midlands. It’s not the north! I’m proud of coming from Dudley. It’s where Duncan Edwards came from.’
First win in six: The smiles return at Peterborough
There has been a lot of criticism.
SA: ‘Yes, but when we won at Peterborough, the supporters were singing my name. Thousands of them went up there, took over the place. It was uplifting for the players and we gave them a performance, a win. That’s what they want.’
West Ham fans are demanding…
SA: ‘I don’t mind that. I’m not stupid. I have been a manager for 20 years and I came here knowing what the fans expect. I know about the history of the club. I know where they want to be, but I also know how few times they have been there. It excites me that I am the man trying to take them there. I want them to go home happy. If we are not delivering, they will criticise. Fair enough.’
But the fans want to be…
SA: ‘…excited. I know. That’s what we have to do. We are here to create, inspire, to fulfil people’s dreams. That’s what I am about. I am a creative person. My mind doesn’t think about boring logistics. I want to do something different. Footballers respond to atmosphere. Atmosphere comes from bums on seats. Bums on seats create expectation. We have to deal with that. People are impatient, everyone is. I had a 10-year contract at Bolton, a blank piece of paper with little or no expectation.’
But West Ham…
SA: ‘There isn’t the same time here. I am trying to turn around a relegated club quickly. We have equalled a record, of away wins, but it’s the wrong one! You want to break records for home games, but opponents have made life difficult. We are a scalp in this division, teams come to stop us. If we can overcome that, we will get promoted. It may happen, it may not. But it has been exciting and, in a short space of time, I have started to enjoy where I work.’
Enjoyment: Allardyce's short stint at Upton Park has not been short of incident
You seem confident
SA: ‘I have the evidence. I know if we have played well, I know if we have been better than the opposition. You will ask me about the style of play now. People usually do. I’ve had it all my career.
‘The negativity came in at Bolton. It was a shock. I don’t blame the media or the fans. It was the other managers, they were embarrassed. We were walking in someone else’s garden and they didn’t want us there.
‘We would beat Arsenal, Liverpool. Bolton shouldn’t be around the top six, they said. I didn’t want managers telling TV how well we had played after beating us 3-0 and talking bull**** before coming into my office. Arsene Wenger didn’t like playing us — and he didn’t come into my office! I wanted them to go and moan because I’d just beaten them. Unfortunately, the legacy…’
What is the legacy
SA: ‘Look, it took 24 seconds at my first West Ham press conference for someone to ask me about the style of play.’
On the battle for promotion
'I have tickets for Amir Khan’s next fight. It’s the same date as the play-off final. I expect to be in Las Vegas that day'
What did you say
SA: ‘I asked, “What style do you want” I’d done my homework. I don’t want conflict. I can’t fight it. I can’t stop it. I just get on with it. I can tell you what I think the West Ham Way is… win and they’re happy. You can’t get more entertainment than the Peterborough game: for 30 minutes they were really into us and then it was deplete, punish and then totally destroy your opposition.’
What is the style
SA: ‘I change the style depending on who we are playing, the players we have available. I look for a winning style.’
Everyone is talking about Swansea in the Premier League. Could you play like that
SA: ‘We have played like Swansea. At Watford (4-0), at Nottingham Forest (4-1), Portsmouth at home (4-3), the second half at Peterborough.’
Earlier in the season, the Brighton fans shouted ‘hoof’ throughout the game because of the long balls.
SA: ‘We didn’t hoof it. We sat in and played on the break, won 1-0, did them tactically. So when Gus Poyet criticises us, he’s done well. Fabulous. Let’s see him in 20 years.’
Winner: Kevin Nolan slots home to give west Ham the three points against Brighton
But Rickie Lambert has 24 League goals. The top scorer at West Ham is Kevin Nolan with 10.
SA: ‘There are two things that make a difference: clean sheets and a goalscorer. We have kept clean sheets.’
What about the other end Carlton Cole has scored once in 2012.
SA: ‘That’s been the problem. Not enough goals. They’ve all dried up, all the forwards. Kevin Nolan’s goal at Burnley — he is a midfield goalscorer of the highest level — was brilliant. He’s not a creative midfielder, his talent comes alive in the opposition penalty area. Ten goals. That’s been critical to us. If we had a 15-goal striker, we would be up and away. We have to put it right, but I don’t think it will stop us.’
On his brand of football
At Peterborough the other night, it was deplete, punish and then totally destroy the opposition. I look for a winning style
James Tomkins has had a very good season.
SA: ‘Mark Noble has done very well too. James reminds me of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling at Manchester United. He has their quality. He has played at the back and in midfield for me. He can play in the Premier League. Can he play for England He has to answer that with his performances.’
Where are you at now
SA: ‘Loving the challenge of taking West Ham to where it needs to be, as quickly as possible. We have good owners, the fanbase and that has an appeal, doesn’t it I want that promotion. I’m hungry for it. After the high of taking Bolton into Europe, my career hasn’t gone where I wanted it to. Newcastle was the right club at the wrong time, then came the damage of the sack. It was damage to the progress of my career. I want to talk about damage to a manager, actually.
‘Lee Clark is a great young manager, only three defeats in 55 games and then sacked by Huddersfield! It will take him time to recover from that. He won’t get linked with the better jobs until he puts that right and becomes fashionable again. I know how that feels, the bruising. It hurts us all. You can come back, though. Look at Alan Pardew. And I’m here.’
Strong season: Mark Noble has impressed for West Ham in midfield
Will West Ham go up
SA: ‘I know what I think. These are high stakes. We are where everyone expects us to be so nobody praises us. Southampton, Reading, Brighton… they get the praise. West Ham On the BBC, on Sky — Steve Claridge and Don Goodman — I’ll be seeing them. It’s all negatives, which feeds back to the supporters.
‘Style of play Do you think I am here wanting to play long ball I am not daft. I’ve been a manager for 20 years. I’m not here thinking (stands up, puts on an accent), “Hit it, lump it up”. I want us to win matches. Let’s start with the Reading game and then see where we go. I’d like to make that Amir fight. He’s a good lad, worked with my sports science team at Bolton and I don’t want to let down my grandson.’