Hammers knocking on Europe’s door

Most Premier League fans will be focusing on the Manchester City-Liverpool match this week but Hazrin Yeob Men Shah is not among them.

The “accidental” West Ham supporter is not too concerned with the race for the Premier League title as all he is hoping for is a place in Europe.

The Hammers are placed fifth after playing 22 matches and have the chance to leapfrog Liverpool if they beat Fulham on Sunday (1.30am).

“I’m hoping we qualify for Europe. We are on a good run and are now fifth in the standings,” said the photojournalist.

“The Hammers are known for consistently being inconsistent but we seem to have stopped that trend this season.

“This is the ‘new’ West Ham and we should try to get into Europe.”

West Ham does have European pedigree.

In 1965, a year after winning the English FA Cup, it became the second English club to win a European title by lifting the Cup Winners’ Cup after beating 1860 Munich 2-0 in the final.

Another London club, Tottenham Hotspur, won the same trophy two years earlier.

West Ham followed up its victory in Europe by going on another superb run the following season but was knocked out in the semifinals. In 1976, it once again reached the final but lost 4-2 to Anderlecht.

It would be another 23 years before the Hammers lifted another European trophy – the much-maligned Intertoto Cup – which earned the winners a place in the UEFA Cup.

It, however, has found the going tough in recent times. The last two times the London club qualified for Europe – 2016 and 2017 – it failed to reach the group stages of the Europa League.

Despite the club’s lack of success, Hazrin has stuck by West Ham, even though he only started supporting them by chance in the 1980s.

“One of my uncles (Hanarbek Ibrahim) returned from the United Kingdom where he was studying.

“As gifts, he bought several Premier League team jerseys. As luck would have it, I was given a West Ham kit,” said Hazrin, who is attached to United States-based Icon Sportswire.

“That’s how I started supporting them … and no, no one else in my family supports the Hammers!”

Hazrin revealed one of his former bosses who visited Malaysia from London a few years back, was shocked to find a West Ham supporter here.

“None of our colleagues in England believe such a fan existed.

“They thought Malaysians only follow Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal,” said Hazrin, whose biggest regret was not getting a ticket to watch his team play at its old stadium – Upton Park – in 1997.

“I was in London for a holiday and wanted to watch them but could not get a single ticket for the three opening home matches of that season against Tottenham, Wimbledon and Newcastle.

“I do not know why, but since then, I have never visited London, even though I have been to Europe several times.”

Hazrin said his all-time favourite West Ham player is John Hartson with Mark Noble his preferred choice among the current squad.

“But Italian maverick Paolo Di Canio will always have a special place in all West Ham fans’ hearts.”

Asked his prediction for the Premier League season, Hazrin replied: “The top three will be one of Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool. That leaves fourth place wide open for West Ham!”

Separately, Manchester City will look to pile on more misery on defending champion Liverpool when it visits Merseyside on Sunday (12.30am).

City is leading the pack on 47 points from 21 matches, three ahead of neighbour Manchester United which has played a game more.

Leicester is next with 42 points, followed by Liverpool (40) and West Ham (38). All three have played 22 matches.

Liverpool, which had previously not lost a home game for nearly four years, suffered unexpected losses at Anfield to Burnley and Brighton in its last two home outings.

City will look to make it three defeats on the bounce.

FIXTURES (Malaysian time)

Aston Villa vs Arsenal (8.30pm)
Burnley vs Brighton (11pm)
Newcastle vs Southampton (11pm)

Fulham vs West Ham (1.30am)
Manchester United vs Everton (4am)
Tottenham vs West Brom (8pm)
Wolves vs Leicester (10pm)

Liverpool vs Manchester City (12.30am)
Sheffield United vs Chelsea (3.15am)

Leeds vs Crystal Palace (4am)

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