Problems on the field, off the field and in the stands – these are dark times for West Ham – has their bubble burst and has the club lost its sense of community?
Fighting relegation, fans fury and players underperforming – Their most recent home game against Burnley brought protesting to new levels, however.
Club Co-owner, David Sullivan, was hit in the head by a coin amidst the discontent surrounding the club’s upheaval and decimation of its roots. Chants such as, ‘Sack the Board,’ and ‘You destroyed our club,’ were also voiced. The club appears to be in turmoil as they seek to avoid relegation from the Premier League.
“The board of West Ham United would like to offer our sincere apologies to the vast majority of our supporters who turned up to support their club – lots of them with young children – who sat and tried to continue to support their team.
“I also pledge to you that nothing – and I mean nothing – is more important to us now than ensuring that you are able to come and support the team safely in all future games.”
- Karen Brady
The behaviour of these fans certainly cannot be condoned, however do West Ham supporters have reason to feel aggrieved and is the running of their club becoming farcical and distant from the original blueprints.
How does that saying go? If something ain’t broke, don’t fix it! Have the club shown priority to financial gain over the unique sense of community? Ironically, before I begin, the club recently came out and said the club would’ve made similar profits (£43m) this year had they remained in the Boleyn Stadium…
Anyway… West Ham have always been a club immersed within the local community, where the majority within the area were a loyal fan. Matchday wasn’t just about turning up at the ground and cheering on the Irons; it was Pie and Mash with the family in the local cafe, followed by getting your weekly program from the same, familiar stand, cheering on the Hammers win or lose, and then into the nearby pub to rendezvous with your fellow fans and family and maybe a burger for the trip home.
Yet, moving to a new ground seemed to come the decimation of these familiarities, and although the club moved to a new home, no new home was offered to many of the local traders who based themselves on the likes of Green Street and relied on matchday business in order for regular income. David Gold told fans that he started trading on Green Street, yet little empathy has been shown to those who made Saturday afternoons so special for so many Hammers.
Many local fans have also stated there’s little left to suggest that the Boleyn Ground even existed – everything has been moved to the London Stadium in Stratford, changing the brand, the history, and the face of the club. Even the club badge has been re-designed.
“It’s difficult for everyone to move, we all have cherished memories of our old home but we have moved and there is no going back.
“In reality, when you move to a new house it is empty and without personality.
“Over time you make it a home, decorating it to your taste in your preferred colours, adding your pictures, photos and memories to make it warm and comfortable.
“We have been trying very hard to make our stadium home.”
- Karen Brady
More than most, however, there’s an unmistakable lack of any footballing aura. Being far from the pitch means the atmosphere rarely builds – it’s like being in a foreign football arena, not one in East London. Yes the club have had good moments in the past two seasons, but they have been few and far between.
What it boils down to, really, is that the London Stadium has no good footballing associations with it yet. The London Stadium holds no real memories or any real spirit. The most recent memory is that of a supporter coming on to the pitch to be wrestled by the Hammers captain and a fan to plant a corner flag in the centre circle – it’s become a bit of a circus.
Changing of the Badge
Most clubs can accept when a badge is altered slightly – it’s a sign of the teams and sometimes a fresh badge can inject energy into a side (forget Leeds United). Yet, the fact that ‘London’ was included in the Hammers’ badge appears to be a cry for commercialisation. Karren Brady even suggested a change of name to West Ham Olympic. Again, it’s a move that rips out the essence of the club and although in the modern day football has become business, that shouldn’t have an effect on the fans beloved club and it’s roots.
Continuing on football becoming increasingly business-like, player transfers is an area where negotiations and financial sums has become extremely corporate like. Spending on transfers and wages has doubled over past five years within West Ham, with a club-record £80m being spent on players in 2016-17… but what have they got to show for it? Very little.
Their record outlay increased by £12m, from £10m for Craig Bellamy to £22m for Marko Arnautovic.
The complaints don’t lie with the money spent (much of it can be attributed to the Hammers regaining their Premier League status) but it’s the way in which the business has been conducted that causes problems amongst the West Ham faithful. The club have appeared to make bids and force players and their clubs to feel unsettled, apparently leaking the news to many major UK press outlets in an attempt to push through deals…This is neither moral practice nor above board and it’s forced a number of clubs to refuse to do business with the Hammers in the future.
The West Ham board may have grabbed the opportunity to increase the club’s commercial value – now the 17th richest club in the world according to Forbes – and profitability through the move to the London Stadium but with it they appear to have ripped out much of the heart and soul of the football club, which has existed and will exist long after this set of owners have departed.
The question is, where does the club go from here…especially if they are relegated from the Premier League this season?
They could well face the same fate as Sunderland, who lie rock-bottom of the Championship, or, do they need to drop down a level and built the club up from the bottom once more?
This is going to be an interesting one to watch, but it could be a while, a long while, before West Ham are back to the club of old, and the fans are once again blowing bubbles happily.