As the inquest begins in East London following West Ham’s 5-0 thumping at Newcastle United, the question on many unhappy Hammers’ lips will be just how were the Toon able to brush the Iron away so easily? Was it Fabricio Coloccini’s dogged defending? Kevin Nolan’s midfield mastery? Leon Best’s hat-trick heroics? Well, actually, no. It seems West Ham lost because Avram Grant turned up without a scarf.
The relegation threatened, but, up until that point resurgent East Londoners went into game unbeaten in four and off the back of a fine New Year’s Day victory over fellow strugglers Wolves, a turnaround in form, that before Wednesday’s mauling had seen them climb out of the drop zone to 16th place. A commendable effort from the players you would think, except the cause of this upturn in fortunes had in fact been put down, perhaps a bit unfairly on the efforts of Parker and co, to the West Ham boss’s wearing of a £10 scarf from the Upton Park club shop.
Grant was given the claret and blue scarf by Hammers kit man Bob Oteng, shortly before November’s League Cup quarter-final against Manchester United, which West Ham won 4-0. Clearly not realising its power, Grant discarded the garment for the Iron’s next three games – defeats to Sunderland and Manchester City and a draw against Blackburn Rovers, which left them rooted firmly to the bottom of the table and Grant reportedly being given three games to secure a win and save his job. His career in the balance, Avram gave in to superstition and reinstated the scarf for the trip across London to relegation rivals Fulham. East London duly triumphed over West, with Carlton Cole being gifted two goals by the benevolent Cottagers backline as United romped to a much-needed 3-1 victory. If there was an element of luck surrounding Cole’s brace, the good fortune was sustained as over the next two games, Grant, still wearing the scarf, saw first Everton and then Wolves score own goals in his side’s favour as West Ham took four points from six to clamber their way up the Premier League table. By now, the scarf had attained a cult status similar to that of Roberto Mancini’s blue and white number at Manchester City and when the Hammers boss turned up on the St James’ Park touchline without it, it drew widespread comment from fans, journalists and commentators, with some correctly predicting doom for the Iron in the absence of their lucky charm.
Grant has experienced similar fascination with his choice of attire before. As manager of Maccabi Tel Aviv in his native Israel, he once led the Yellows on a lengthy unbeaten run, which led to him developing a rather unhygienic matchday tradition: “I
Grant’s scarf is not the first lucky charm to boost a Premier League side fighting the drop. Back in 2006, as Manchester City battled to retain their top flight status, then-manager Stuart Pearce’s seven-year-old daughter Chelsea gave him her toy horse ‘Beany’ to take to the dugout with him. He reluctantly agreed, deciding it was not worth trying to explain to her just why he should not and, sure enough, City won their next game. Beany subsequently remained on the touchline as they went on a small unbeaten run, before defeat finally gave hard man Pearce an excuse to remove the toy from his technical area. City fans continued to chant Beany’s name for a number of games afterwards and their team did indeed just stay up. A good sign for Grant then? Not really, Pearce was sacked at the end of the season.
Whether or not Grant recalls the iconic knitwear for this weekend’s FA Cup third round tie against Barnsley remains to be seen, but with West Ham back at the bottom of the league and their boss under renewed pressure, it’s quite possible that the next time Avram Grant forgets his scarf, he may well end up being told to get his coat.
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