Wednesday, September 30, 2020
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West Ham- Fortune's Always Hiding

I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles (via Wikipedia)A question that's done the rounds of late concerns what exactly is going on at West Ham? While they have for the most part played fairly well during their recent run of defeats, they have proved to be consistent in their inconsistency- a baffling turn of events which perhaps shares inconvenient timing with protests against the way Davids Gold & Sullivan are running the club.

 

 

A third David, Moyes, has also had his part to play after being persuaded to return to the London Stadium having been unceremoniously dumped at the end of his first spell with the Hammers, in favour of Manuel Pellegrini. All three will no doubt be hoping they can lure fortune out from its hiding place as the upshot of their reunion. But just why has it deserted them? And what can be done to remedy it? Moyes himself is no doubt seen as a safe pair of hands to keep them in the Premier League, just as Sam Allardyce was before him, steadying the ship after the abject failure of the Avram Grant years- perhaps it’s fear of falling back through the Championship trap door that is behind the recent mini- collapse.

 

Or is it the weight of history? Since West Ham supplied the means of English football's greatest triumph in 1966 there has been a lot of debate about the West Ham Way- the very soul & ethos of the club. General consensus seems to suggest that it has fallen by the wayside under the current ownership, Allardyce also having been routinely criticised for neglecting it through his tactical decisions & the style of play he implemented.

 

In an article for The Sportsman, Sean Cole makes the double-edged point that Big Sam “enjoyed moderate success as West Ham United manager, but the means by which he achieved it were widely criticised. He returned the club to the Premier League at the first attempt, albeit via the play-offs, and led them to three consecutive mid-table finishes. Unfortunately, many felt that the club’s identity was compromised in the process.”

 

A lot of the debate centred on the perception that it didn't sit right with those who were paying to watch football which was seen as “direct, physical and lacking in finesse”, & so against the grain of the tradition those on the terraces at Upton Park regularly harked back to. A case of “the glory days are dead, long live the glory days”, as cynics may note! But given the state of the side that fell so far under Grant, most would argue that his successor exceeded his brief & in so doing got the club back on the road to where most thought they should be...

 

The academy, for so long the birthplace of local legends according to the club & as such a key part of that tradition, has no doubt seen diminishing returns even since Allardyce was given the claret & boot- perhaps the first on any list of worries mentally compiled every other Saturday in Stratford? Ever since Ron Greenwood's time in charge, the spine of the team has been local lads- Bobby Moore, Martin Peters & Geoff Hurst brought through thanks to the forward thinking of predecessor Ted Fenton in pushing for the Academy of Football to be more than just modern day shorthand.

 

After taking over from Charlie Paynter his youth-driven ethos would pay off with three FA Youth Cup final appearances in three years between 1956-59. His forward thinking extending even to the lives of his players off the field, as he encouraged them to take coaching badges as something to fall back on, that presence being retained at least off the pitch to this day in his stead.

 

And indeed another steeped in that lineage had a part to play- Tony Carr the man who brought through the likes of Joe Cole, Frank Lampard & Rio Ferdinand, not that he would give himself the credit he perhaps deserved. He observed in a Telegraph interview from 2004 that the local area had proved fertile in discovering the sort of players the club would want to bring through.

  

Look at the Hammers team-sheet now & only skipper Mark Noble sticks out as a local discovery having come through the ranks & risen to the level of the big boys, youngsters Jeremy Ngakia & Ben Johnson on the fringes next closest to meeting that criteria. To some that most likely equates to having the heart ripped out of the side having been weaned on home-grown luminaries...

 

There is a sense also that promises have been broken following the move from Upton Park to the London Stadium, a frequent stick used to beat the owners. As Cole also notes, “Playing at a much bigger ground with some high-profile signings on show was supposed to transform West Ham into contenders. They were going to play on the front foot and compete for European qualification.”

 

That the money invested by Gold & Sullivan into the team since the appointment of Pellegrini hasn't yielded that, seems a mystery to the naysayers. This, though, seemingly goes beyond mere cash. Violation of the bond between club & fans is also a recurring theme going by coverage of the protests against the men holding the purse strings.

 

Following the 3-1 home win over Southampton, BBC Sport reported how a more peaceful approach to such matters appeared to pay dividends. No corner flags harmed & no tirades aimed at those seated among the gods as it were- scenes that did play out at home to Burnley two years ago thanks to two pitch invaders.

 

And fittingly then it was left to someone who knew the club inside out to make the most incisive comment years after leaving for Chelsea & surviving a barrage of similar bile- Frank Lampard saying "I understand the fans' feelings. They've moved to a new stadium and wanted to fight for Europe but the club has gone backwards and the fans are asking questions. The net spend is not enough.”

 

It would seem those he was aiming his comments at listened to his plea that a demonstration mid game shouldn't have been the way. They aimed instead for the meeting room, which proved insufficient. Andy Byrne of Hammers United said simply "The club have offered to meet us on their terms. We won't meet on their terms. Our stance right from the very beginning is that we wanted to meet the club. We had one meeting with the supporter liaison officer.

 

The mixed messages we got after that meeting and the club's refusal to meet us afterwards with a Football Supporters' Association representative present and outside the Official Supporters' Board has led us to believe Gold, Brady and Sullivan cannot be talked around and cannot be worked with."

 

A damning indictment indeed, the bubbles on ice & work to be done on all fronts before they can take true pride of place in the skies over East London once more...

 

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