Expectation and hope are there in equal measure for ALL fans ahead of the beginning of each and every season, with some hopes being more realistic than others, but all least fans can dream of what might have be, instead of remembering what might have been.
At the beginning of last season if you had offered anyone associated with West Ham in ANY capacity a sixth place finish they would have snapped your hand off, however ultimately missing out of a Champions League place by a meagre two points and inferior goal difference still left many thinking about what might have been. This reality being borne home by the fact that tonight is Champions League night on TV, Hammers fans will have to wait until Thursday to see their team.
Nevertheless, qualifying for a group stage place in the 'poor man's' competition the Europa League Cup was still an astonishing achievement, ask supporters of London rivals Tottenham how it feels to be in the even poorer man's cup, the aptly named Conference Cup.
If it is bad for that North London club's fans who will at least be able to follow their team in Europe, spare a thought for those 'poor souls' over at the Emirates. For many many years their fans gloated over their lesser London rivals, and despite their slow fall from grace still felt it their right to feature in 'each and every' Champions League competition.
Of course Arsenal will be able to concentrate on their league travails without the 'distraction' of European competition, Hammers on the other hand are going into unknown territory with a 'waffer' thin squad and might end up only playing the six extra games that are a prerequisite of the Group stage.
If viewed most optimistically, West Ham would only have to play an additional three games after the group stage to bein the final, which has the 'carrott of all time' awaiting the winners, proper Champions League qualification. Realistically Hammers don't have a hope in hell of finishing in the top four of the Barclays Premier League this time round, even a top six finish will be virtually impossible to achieve, therefore the only two viable competitions to pursue out of the four are the Europa League and the FA Cup.
The Littlewood's Cup or Moose Cup or whatever it is called nowadays, is about as relevant as the old Intertoto or Johnsons Paint Trophy Cups, there is of course the kudos of winning a cup and fans having a day out at Wembley and it is a trophy West Ham have never won in any of it's guises, but it's not worth the effort, particularly as the scheduled fixture is an away visit to Manchester United three days after the League game at the London Dome.
Both the FA Cup and the Europa League offer the club a vaguely realistic chance of being in Europe again next season, forget the League and the Moose Cup. So long as the club can finish mid table and tries to do well in both the Europa and FA Cups, fans will have no reason to complain, in fact they should really enjoy and embrace the European experience even if it does only last six games!
As a young man, the memory of Dinamo Tiblisi arriving at the Boleyn and blowing the `irons out of the water' should gave scarred this writer, it didn't, it only made him wish to see his team compete again at such a level, it's been a long long time a coming! -m Ed