Hammers plight has eerie echoes
On the 11th May 2003 football dealt me the ultimate pain the game can hand a supporter. Relegation.
Bright eyed and full of confidence that my beloved West Ham United would get the victory (I was young and naive) I was about to get my first compelling experience of an away day with a trip to St. Andrews that the Hammers needed to win to have a hope of staying in the Premier League.
Alas, a late comeback from Birmingham quashed any hopes of top flight football at Upton Park the following season with Geoff Horsfield (who?) and Stern John scoring in the 80th and 82nd minute respectively. The match ended 2-2, Paulo Di Canio signing off his West Ham stint with a 89th minute equaliser long after Les Ferdinand's 66th minute header opened the scoring.
Either way West Ham would have gone down that day, their future was in the hands of Middlesbrough who had to take points off Bolton Wanderers for the Hammers to have a hope.
As the memories of that afternoon come back, the mind quickly draws parallels between the West Ham that was relegated in 2003 and the one that is teetering above the relegation zone on goal difference.
It's staggering that at the start of this season West Ham, in many eyes, were seen as a team that could break into the Europa League places. Few had them pegged as a team that would get embroiled in a relegation fight.
The same was said of the 2002/03 team, after a 7th place finish in the 2001/02 season, earning David James, Trevor Sinclair and Joe Cole a call up to the World Cup in Japan and South Korea.
Those players, along with Glen Johnson, Micheal Carrick and Jermain Defoe would go on to make 269 appearances for England, 2,650 Premier League appearances, scoring 300 goals combined. Johnson, Carrick and Cole would go on to win premier leagues for Chelsea and Manchester United - you know, when they were good.
Those three and David James would also go on to win FA Cups, Carrick won a Champions League and Freddie Kanoute, who departed West Ham for Spurs, was a focal point of attack in a Sevilla team that dominated the Europa League competition, lifting two Coupe UEFAs and Copa Del Reys after leaving Shite Hart Lane.
Compare that to the stars of the current West Ham side who's best players, arguably, are a 21 year old with a handful of England caps and Felipe Anderson (27), an olympic gold medalist and Copa Libertadores winner who amassed 25 goals in Serie A and six goals, four assists from 19 Europa League.
Adding to that talent is Angelo Ogbonna with a handful of champions league appearances and a Serie A title, Sebatien Haller (26), a German Cup winner whose record as a striker includes 41 goals in the Eredivisie, 24 goals in the Bundesliga and 5 goals from 10 Europa League appearances. If that was not enough, Andriy Yarmolenko has won everything in Ukraine (or 'the Ukraine', I can't remember which is right) at least twice, contributed 12 goals and 11 assists from 42 Europa League appearances and 5 goals, 6 assists in 30 Champions League matches.
The obvious difference between the two squads is experience. The 2002/03 side was dominated by academy prospects, had little international experience and only Paulo Di Canio and Nigel Winterburn had seen a season through to win a league title. Today West Ham have players who have not only tasted European football but have been part of teams that have gone on to achieve their ultimate goal of adding to their respective trophy cabinets.
"Too good to go down"
But as pressure mounts on the hammers this season, more and more articles compare the current squad with sides that have scrapped at the bottom of the table and suffered the drop.
Those articles that rankle in particular include Freddie Kanoute's description that "it was almost impossible for that West Ham team to get relegated" talking about the 2002/03 side with FourFourTwo and Scott Minto saying that the same side was "too good to go down" in an interview with The Athletic.
Both pieces are worth a read but the overall trend is that the West Ham United that started the 2002/03 season fell well short of expectations. In the first half of the season the Hammers only managed three wins after an encouraging performance against Arsenal, and needed a string of good performances that resulted in 18 points from nine matches to take the relegation fight to the last day of the season.
In contrast, this year, the Hammers were able to take five wins from the first half of the season, the majority of which coming in early performances against Norwich, Watford and the prized scalp of Manchester United; even if they aren't the side they were 10 years ago. Nevertheless, West Ham have failed to perform consistently this year, in particular letting leads against Brighton, Bournemouth, Crystal Palace and Sheffield United turn into draws and defeats.
Now, like in 2003, they need to take wins from their last seven matches that include fixtures against difficult opposition in the form of Burnley, Newcastle, Chelsea and the aforementioned, now rubbish, Manchester United.