Pre-season friendlies have been somewhat of an annoyance for me in the years I have been supporting West Ham. Many look to them as a preview of what’s in store for next season, but others, like myself, see them as a way of getting match fitness and used to playing different opposition again.
I believe you could host a pre-season friendly on a training ground or behind closed doors as they have no real importance at all. However, with the rise of social networking websites such as Facebook and, more so, Twitter come more heated debates between fans over fears for next season.
I feel the main problem for fans who take friendlies seriously, is that they do not realise how different they are to a normal league game. There are no points up for grabs, which means the managers and players have the freedom to do what they like.
The manager will try out different formations as we have seen with Stephen Henderson and Jussi Jääskeläinen who have taken it in turns in goal each half of a game. The manager can also try out the younger players with no pressure or nerves on their shoulders.
For the players it will be simply getting back match fitness after a well-earned holiday, I can assure you none of the players will go out 100 per cent because they don’t want to get injured before the season.
To further emphasise the importance (or none importance) to the players and staff I will use an example. I went to the annual home friendly we usually have against a foreign team just before last season, that time it was Real Zaragoza who were our opponents, I turned up to see what our newly revived side under Allardyce would look like, I didn’t even get to see what Allardyce himself looked like! That was because Wally Downes took on the role of manager whilst Big Sam was sat in DG and DS’s box!
Due to these factors you won’t see us winning games as you would expect us to win against sides like Oxford. This causes frustration among some supporters who then take to Twitter to take out their frustration with tweets such as ‘we can’t even beat a non-league side how are we going to stay up #pathetic.’ It almost makes me laugh (Man City lost to Oldham but no-one suspects they will have a bad season) but at the same time question our own support.
It makes me wonder if any of these fans belonged to the infamous ‘boo boys’, who rose to prominence nearing the end of the season. I believe the reason for the more attention during the pre-season falls down to a couple of factors: one is the lack of football during the summer, no doubt West Ham come under one of the best fan bases in the country and many non-Hammers would agree, so to finally get some sort of football action again
would excite most fans and make many eager to look out for the scores.
Then to see a defeat could possibly make them feel like it’s a normal league defeat. Another factor is the scale of bigger clubs such as Man Utd or Arsenal going all around the world (particularly Asia) to play friendlies and extend their fan base worldwide.
It sounds strange at first that they would affect our fans but when you look and see some of these games are appearing on the television would make pre-season on the whole seem a lot bigger.
Games such as Arsenal v Man City at the Birds Nest stadium or Chelsea v PSG will make headlines as they could both make the back page were they competitive matches, so for us to lose to a team like Oxford would make some West Ham fans feel somewhat angry and worried that we can’t beat opposition lower than us in league rankings.
But then we only have to look back two years ago under the regime of Avram Grant to see how friendlies are complete rubbish. Undefeated in many games pre-season, we finished bottom of the table and losing to Wigan to seal our fate says it all.
I think the sudden rise in popularity of Twitter has brought the attention of friendlies to me a lot more than it used to. Before I would have look on the Sky Sports website and see what the result was. Now with Twitter and I can find out instantly from dozens of fans reacting to a 0-0 draw or something like that.
Now I can tell who ‘had a shocker’ or ‘who we should play next season’ as opposed to a simple score line from a neutral website. I just hope the fans will be able to turn all of this ‘passion’ for friendlies into real energy when we host Aston Villa on the first game of the season.