Ever since I started going to West Ham regularly in 1983 I’ve been doing this weird thing every season where I compare the current season’s results against the previous year in order to try and map out progress or otherwise.
I list out all the fixtures, replacing relegated teams with the newly-promoted sides. If we lost a fixture last season, but win it this season, that’s +3 points to the total. If we won a fixture last season but lose it this season that is -3 – you get the picture.
I also compile a list of double wins, double losses and aggregate scores over the home and away fixtures. Yes, I know I am sad.
More recently, to compound my misery, I collate stats on the number of points won from losing positions and the number lost from winning positions.
When I started contributing to the podcast Stop! Hammertime in 2010 I met Benji Lanyado. He has an Uncle Jeff who does almost exactly the same thing. So it’s not just me that’s a bit sad.
But even though I thought I had invented it, I am happy for this to be called the Uncle Jeff Formula.
It’s lost a little of its validity over recent years given the number of seismic changes that happen over the club in the space of a year.
For example, last season I was comparing results under David Moyes against results under Pellegrini. The year before it was the other way around. It gets very confusing.
Suffice to say every season I start with optimism and this gradually drains away once I realise that we are struggling to match last season’s results.
The reason for the optimism is usually based on a good set of results towards the end of the previous season.
This does not allow for the fact, of course, that relegated teams can and do get replaced by stronger teams (I am sure Leeds will finish mid-table) and does not allow for the fact that other clubs tend to invest a lot more heavily in their squad than we do. Not necessarily financially, but in quality.
This year there is reason for optimism though. But that optimism only stretches as far as mid-table due to the likelihood that West Brom and Fulham will struggle, Brighton have been walking on thin ice for a while, and Sheffield United cannot possibly maintain last season’s form.
It is sad that the first question I have to ask myself, five years after moving to a “world class stadium for world class football” is: ‘Are there three teams worse than us?’
The Uncle Jeff formula will be interesting after the opening seven games, as we lost all seven of the corresponding matches last season.
If there is no improvement then we will be on zero points going into November. It’s a sobering thought.
But looking at the opening fixtures, I think we should have enough to beat Newcastle on the opening day. After that I’m struggling to see where the points are coming from – we have to hope that our away fixtures at Arsenal, Leicester and Tottenham are all in empty stadia as we seem to have benefitted from this.
November gives us three winnable-looking games but it we have been taking a battering up to that point, morale could be on the floor which makes the pressure higher.
It’s not so easy to say: ‘That looks a winnable game’ the Uncle Jeff formula says that last season we only took four points from those three games.
December looks a lot more comforting, we took 13 points from the equivalent fixtures last season – and do my eyes deceive me but a Boxing Day fixture at home?
How has that happened? Surely, at last, a chance to put the Brighton bogeyman to bed.
I used to look out for fixtures like Manchester United at home, and to see who we had at Easter and on the final day, but to be honest if 2020 has taught me one thing, it’s not to plan too far ahead.
For the record, our points tally for 2019-20 was 13 down on 2018-19. We were nine points worse off at home and four points worse off away.
We had four double wins against Chelsea, Watford, Norwich and Southampton but a massive eight double defeats against Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham, Liverpool, Wolves, Leicester, Palace and Burnley.
Our best aggregate score was 6-0 over Norwich but we also achieved 6-2 aggregates over Bournemouth and Watford and 4-1 over Southampton.
Now comes the hard bit. At home we lost 12 points from winning positions – Arsenal, Sheffield United, Palace, Brighton and Everton and gained only four from losing positions in matches against Chelsea and Aston Villa. (Interestingly both under Moyes)
Away from home we lost 10 points from winning positions, four of those coming in matches under Moyes at Manchester United and Newcastle. We gained only one point from a losing position away from home, in the 2-2 draw at Bournemouth.
So you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to see where we have to improve. Resilience is the key.
The stats suggest we have more of a chance of holding on to a lead under Moyes. Let’s make Uncle Jeff proud in 2020-21.