James determined to fight to bitter end for Hammers

Click to follow
The Independent Online

It has been difficult to apply logic to West Ham United's plight this season. But that is just what the goalkeeper David James attempts to do as he prepares for the club's penultimate training session.

It has been difficult to apply logic to West Ham United's plight this season. But that is just what the goalkeeper David James attempts to do as he prepares for the club's penultimate training session.

Everyone is aware that a team which finished seventh last year, and which is studded with highly-regarded, and very highly-paid, internationals should not be in this mess.

Added to that is the knowledge that even if they beat Birmingham City, and finish on 44 points, having collected an astonishing 21 points from their final 11 games, it may not be enough to save their Premiership lives. "Just a couple of months ago we were being told by some that 37 points would do," James said ruefully. "It just goes to show."

It will be the highest ever total to go down with and the biggest ever gap between the team third from bottom and the other two relegated. "West Brom and Sunderland, with due respect, were gone a couple of months," he said.

The consequences appear to have, at last, brought a collective shudder throughout a proud old club that, for much of this season, has appeared in denial and may end up, as a consequence, being picked apart. Even so, there was a surprising element of horseplay around yesterday. Gallows humour? Maybe. But James, for one, was not joking.

"Mathematically, if not logically, our fate is still in our own hands," said the 33-year-old earnestly. True, but a glance at the league table shows that with a goal difference significantly inferior to Bolton Wanderers, West Ham will have to do more than triumph by their customary 1-0 of late to do that.

But, more logically, they simply have to win – and hope. "You can only do what you can do," said James. "Our intention is simply to beat Birmingham and hope that the other result goes in our favour." Indeed, their last three visits to St Andrew's have ended in victory, although Steve Bruce, a friend of the Bolton manager Sam Allardyce, has a team brimming with confidence.

James dismisses talk that Bolton's opponents, Middlesbrough, will be less competitive because they may qualify for Europe through the Fair Play League if they do not pick up any bookings. In their defence will be Gareth Southgate and Ugo Ehiogu, two former team-mates of James's from his time at Aston Villa. "I know Gareth and Ugo well enough," he said, maintaining that the Teessiders have plenty to play for.

"I know that the Premier League thing is worth £500,000 a position and I think Middlesbrough can go up four places if they win. If they get the Fair Play and go into Europe then I don't know what the finances are but I don't think they will be making £2m. I've no doubt they would want to finish in the top 10."

Logic again – as is the typically frank and open admission that West Ham have only themselves to blame. "Any team that goes down does so because they were not good enough over the course of the season," James said. Last month's narrow defeat against Bolton preys heavy on his mind. "It is the only game recently in which we simply have not played."

James's own displays have been impressive, following nervous error-strewn months which descended into farce at times – especially with altercations involving the defender Tomas Repka. Six clean sheets in the last nine games have seen the 6ft 5in goalkeeper recapture the form of last season when he was, statistically, the best in the Premiership. It has also come at a time when he has, six years after his international debut, and 12 days older than Alan Shearer, finally appeared to establish himself as the England No 1.

So, relegation and international honours? It has happened before at Upton Park when a certain Trevor Brooking, now the caretaker manager of course, was playing. Ron Greenwood – a former West Ham manager – was in charge of England. But things have changed. It may be that James will have to move – or will be forced to move. Brooking, who will definitely step aside, is well aware of what may happen. Players will have to go, even if the club wants to keep them. The wage bill alone dictates that, as does the involvement of agents. "Is there still loyalty in the game? If we get the worst result we might find out," Brooking said.

James naturally refuses to discuss the prospect, which could also lead to Joe Cole, Michael Carrick, Jermain Defoe and Glen Johnson leaving. "Until Sunday no-one knows anything really," he said. "It would be a waste of our thought processes to work out what can happen."

The power of positive thinking has played a major role in his career of late due to his work with a sports psychologist – "I have never been relegated and I don't intend to be now" – but, as with logic, it may not be enough.

Comments