Former West Ham defender Chris Powell has told Blowing Bubbles that hitting the ground running when the Irons start their new chapter at the Olympic Stadium will be key to their chances of replicating the success of last season. Powell, who was part of Alan Pardew’s team promoted back to the Premier League in 2004-05, said he had been amazed by what manager Slaven Bilic had achieved in his first season in charge of the team – and he hoped it would be a sign of even better things to come in the future. ‘With the exception of what Leicester did, I think what West Ham did is the story of last season,’ said Powell. ‘Right from the start, they were absolutely exceptional – putting a 16 –year-old (Reece Oxford) in against Arsenal in the opening game and winning it was an incredible statement of intent.
‘Of course it could have gone horribly wrong, but managers are judged by their decisions and their judgement calls, and in that case, Bilic got it absolutely spot on, and never looked back. ‘It wasn’t just a one-off, either – it set the tone for what was to come. Look at how many people really excelled last season. The performances of the likes of Dimitri Payet and Manuel Lanzini were stunning, so you hope that they can keep it going at the new place.’ Despite only spending one season in claret and blue, Powell – as at seemingly every other club where he played – remains hugely popular with the West Ham fans, and was delighted to have one last chance to say goodbye to the Boleyn when he played in Mark Noble’s testimonial.
He said the atmosphere that day reminded him of why he had enjoyed his time at the club so much, and how important it was that the spirit was not left behind after the move to Stratford. ‘Whether you were here for just one season, like me, or for years, Upton Park was a very special place for anyone who played for West Ham, so it was a real privilege to be invited back to play in that match,’ explained the former England defender, who famously earned his first international call-up from then-coach Sven-Goran Eriksson at the age of 31.
‘Oddly my favourite memory and the greatest atmosphere I ever knew here wasn’t under the lights, and it wasn’t even a win – it was the playoff semi-final first leg 2-2 draw with Ipswich, after which we went up there and beat them in the second leg 2-0 to set up the final against Preston. ‘The atmosphere in that game was absolutely off the scale, so if the club can transfer even half of that feeling to the new place – and something tells me they will – it’ll be an amazing experience. Match that up with a strong start and it could be an absolutely thrilling season.’ BBM