Happy new year everyone and welcome to 2022! As is the annual tradition, we think about new beginnings and leave behind the past year – out with the old, in with the new.
But from a football perspective, do we really want to wave goodbye to 2021 too soon? Wouldn’t we rather cling to the joys of the past year on and off the pitch?
In the past calendar year, West Ham gained 73 points, won 22 games and scored 73 goals in the Premier League. All three of those stats are club records from our years in the top tier, which is impressive and wonderful.
So many elements have come together to make this all happen and to bring us so much enjoyment as Hammers fans.
It’s not an exaggeration to say we couldn’t have achieved anything like these levels of success so quickly without David Moyes.
Everything that’s about to be discussed is down to Moyes. He’s taken a team that looked lost and turned into exactly that; a team.
He also achieved a couple of huge milestones in his career in 2021. It’s no mean feat to reach 1,000 competitive games as a manager, a landmark Moyes reached last year. This time also marked 600 games at the head of a Premier League team.
The team spirit he has developed in this squad has been the biggest transformation at the club and so much of the success on the field seems to stem from having a group of players who have really benefited from spending time together and getting along.
This has been a tough year or two for footballers. With very little time for rest and recovery, it’s been even more important for players to get along off the field in order to be encouraged by each other on it.
Moyes mentioned this a few times throughout the year. Towards the end of last season, he told the official website how his side had dealt with the adversity of playing (and not playing) during a global pandemic: ‘Around the training ground, it’s fun. The players are having a lot of fun as well and we want that, because we’re all in a difficult period and it’s not easy to have that much fun nowadays.’
This was encapsulated in May when Mark Noble celebrated his 34th birthday. Jesse Lingard was the spearhead of the operation that saw the captain covered in egg and flour as a birthday prank.
It’s not everyone’s cup of tea to watch a team messing around in the changing room, but it was so much more than an Instagram moment. The smiles, the cheers and Noble’s dancing all indicate the positive effects of performing well on the pitch and playing for each other.
Seeing as Lingard has come up in conversation now, it only seems right to mention the signings of 2021.
Jesse had a huge impact on this club’s calendar year. Signing on loan in the January transfer window, he netted nine times in 16 appearances and assisted four times, which is an incredibly sharp impact on the season that saw West Ham secure proper European football.
Moyes knew Jesse would fit into his plans for the squad and give us the electric edge.
He also realised that Felipe Anderson did not have a place in his strategy, so let him go – a highlight for many Hammers fans last year.
Moyes also made some defensive improvements to the squad last year with Craig Dawson and Kurt Zouma being added to the mix.
Whilst the manager and his staff had already made substantial improvements to the quality and tactics of our back line, these two signings were monumental in strengthening the defence, allowing the midfield more freedom and the strikers the confidence to get on with their jobs.
At the end of the 2020/21 season, we secured sixth place and Europa League football for this season.
We’ve flirted with the competition a couple of times in recent history, but this time we’d qualified for the proper tournament through merit, and wow, what a feeling!
I don’t know if anyone remembers playing Brighton at the Amex back in May but we went 1-0 down (standard against the Seagulls!) in the 84th minute.
It felt like a huge moment in the season. A loss was potentially damaging to our top six challenge and results elsewhere kept letting us down.
So for Benrahma to score his first goal in claret and blue in the 87th minute felt…I’m just trying to think of a better word for ‘huge’…oh yes, massive!
I reacted to that draw against our bogey team more excitedly than many games last year, such was the importance of the points in making sure we didn’t miss out on the European dream we’d held all season.
Since qualifying for the Europa League in style, we’ve gone on to dominate the group stage and go through to the round of 16 with ease.
It’s been such a joy to watch West Ham fans enjoy those hallowed away days in the continent, even from the comfort of my sofa.
Back at home, there have also been some memorable Premier League and domestic cup highlights, which have surely stemmed from the confidence Europa League qualification and performances have given the squad.
How about the Manchester double in the League Cup? Knocking Manchester United out in September was West Ham’s first win at Old Trafford since 2007 and it felt so good, it was a real statement.
Dumping Man City out of the same competition a month later on penalties just showed how determined the players are as a group. Keeping the score at 0-0 with a committed performance was a mighty boost, but to go through to a quarter-final with a faultless penalty shootout was the cherry on top.
Keeping up our challenge for another top six finish in the first half of this season has also been remarkable to watch. Even the most optimistic Hammers fans couldn’t have predicted we could have back-to-back successful seasons and a good cup run to boot.
Within a couple of weeks of the result against Man City, we only went and beat Liverpool in the league, didn’t we? And a month later, we continued the celebrations by beating Chelsea by the same 3-2 scoreline.
The win against Liverpool in particular was exhilarating to watch, it was a real ‘I wish I was there’ moment.
I don’t think many of us will forget Jarrod Bowen’s tenacious run and Pablo Fornals’ grin as he put West Ham 2-1 up.
The atmosphere in the London Stadium that evening has to be one of the best since we moved to our new home, something else that came together nicely last year.
It doesn’t go unnoticed, of course, that 2021 was also a difficult year for players and fans. Whilst it’s a blessing to celebrate the positives, we can’t forget that football hasn’t recovered from the effects of Covid 19.
Whilst I so often argue that football isn’t about fans anymore, we realised during 2020 that fans make games and enhance performances, and clubs were reminded that they need us.
It was August before fans were back in stadiums again meaning that West Ham’s glorious moments through the end of the 2020/21 season were missed by live crowds, something we’ll always be sad about.
Still now, into the beginning of 2022, there are vulnerable fans who will not attend matches in fear of their health and there’s always time to spare a thought for those people.
I sincerely hope that we soon live in a time where football can be enjoyed in the flesh by many more people, regardless of results on the field.
The return of fans started in Euro 2020, played in 2021, and we saw what it meant to pundits, players and supporters.
Come to think of it, Euro 2020 had to be another highlight of the year for West Ham fans. It seems a long time since we had an extensive list of international players at their peak.
Whether it was England, Czech Republic or Ukraine, we could proudly watch on and fly their respective flags, and it certainly distracted us from other current affairs for a while.
As the year closed out, Covid took its toll on further games in the league with multiple postponements, so we’re now holding our breaths to see the next steps of footballing bodies.
This uncertainty has been coupled with a wobbly November/December period for the Hammers. Spanning 10 games across competitions in five weeks, West Ham lost six and drew two.
But what’s been nice about that is the overall feeling amongst fans is that this was a blip and we can recover.
I guess between trying not to take football for granted any more and having confidence in the club, we feel like the positive vibes are here to stay.
Last year I repeatedly said that this is the best time of my life for supporting West Ham. It seems a little flippant of a comment sometimes, but there have been so many moments of joy and very few negatives that it feels that way for me.
The actual game of football is about results but the act of supporting a club is so much more – the atmosphere at the club, loving the players, enjoying performances even if the results don’t go to plan.
The year of 2021 has put all of that into a pot, stirred it and poured out a delightful adventure, one that we hope continues into 2022 and beyond.