Overly long writings about West Ham United FC. This is the kind of thing you might like, if you like this kind of thing.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

West Ham 0 - 3 Burnley (And Other Ramblings)

"I long to feel, some beauty in my heart 
As I go searching, right to the start"
- Doves, "Kingdom of Rust"

I often wonder about these articles. What value do they serve, really, beyond allowing me to engage in something I like to do? They have become unrelentingly grim, with gloom painted over them like miserable graffiti and the gallows humour that I promised myself I would always try to thread through them is as long gone as Dimitri Payet.

I have no idea if Karren Brady is aware of The H List, but if she is I strongly suspect that she thinks it's just someone pissing into the tent, and I suppose from her perspective that might be true. Which led me to thinking about what I would do now if I were her. "Resign" is certainly an option there, but I have worked long enough in the City of London to know that people don't generally leave million pound a year jobs for silly little reasons like not being good at them.

Another day, another disaster

Which got me to thinking about my own career and what I would bring to West Ham as a Director. "Not much" is the answer there, but once upon a time I did have a role whereby I helped manage a team of a couple of hundred people. It was as challenging as you might expect, with my responsibility specifically covering personnel issues. I suspect that this was primarily to keep me away from doing any technical work, but in that role I learned a lot about people. And specifically I learned one very valuable life lesson; namely that you don't get to tell others how they feel. 

I lost count of the amount of times I heard junior staff tell their superiors something along the lines of "You make me feel undervalued when you only ever focus on my failings" and then hear a reply that began with the phrase "No, that's not true". See how that goes? You're wrong, you don't feel like that, have another go. 

And I have returned to this again and again this weekend. On some very deep, subterreanean level I do actually feel sympathy for Brady and the Board - they are trying to make a group of people happy who have a completely disparate set of desires. As my fellow Hammers blogger Alex V astutely pointed out, how on earth do you placate a fanbase who want a more modern approach to running the club while simultaneously demanding a return to traditional values? How do you reconcile people like me who think they waste money constantly, with those who sing "where's the money gone?"

But you know what? That's the gig. And it's absolutely the gig when you turn a football club upside down in pursuit of a dream that you sold and then didn't deliver on. Thus, for two years both our elected and unelected representatives have been telling Brady these problems and been repeatedly told that they were wrong. 

You're wrong, you don't feel like that, have another go. 

And this is why they fail. 

They fail because they seem incapable of dealing with us on a basic human level. I appreciate that lots of fans like the London Stadium and are far more concerned with the bloody awful team, but there are also lots of us who feel misled and lied to about the whole thing. And still we hear in the accounts about this wonderful, world class arena that we play in and all I can think about is Alan Partridge pointing out that there was over a thousand miles of very pleasurable cruising before the Titanic hit that iceberg.

They're scum, Karren, sub human scum.

All admissions of failure seem to be couched somehow in terms of the failure of others. Problems with the stadium begin with the landlord, issues with the team seem to swing between the likes of Jose Fonte and Robert Snodgrass, before eventually landing on the head of Slaven Bilic, and if all of that doesn't land then there is always bad luck. The accounts speak of an "unprecedented injury crisis" which is a statement you could only make if you had literally never seen West Ham play before.

Even now, the fans are somehow to blame for the team losing 3-0 to Burnley, and not the fact that this squad was assembled by randomly throwing darts at a 2012 Panini sticker album. 

Karren, I know you don't want my advice, but I shall offer it up anyway because I know no other way to help my club. Treat us like human beings. Hear what we have to say, but also listen to it. Approach discussions with fans with the baseline that the stadium move has not delivered what an awful lot of us wanted. Instead of telling them why they're wrong, let them tell you why you're wrong, and then see if that spirit of cooperation can carry you any further than getting a few flags waving around the edge of the pitch before the match. I actually thought that was a nice touch and inspired an interesting discussion about our history with my daughter, but that's scant consolation when Joe Hart is scrabbling around like a fish on a chessboard, and the temporary scaffolding is bending and warping with the weight of angry protesters.

And when you do all of that, and reach the inevitable conclusion that the rest of us got to some time ago - namely that the stadium simply cannot be fit for purpose as a football ground, because it wasn't designed to be - then you need to march up to David Sullivan and tell him that you're going to publicly admit as much and demand that he therefore better find a way to improve the team post haste.

I get that your entire brand is built around infallibility but none of this is going to disappear like you hope it will. West Ham is the Not OK Corral, and you need to acknowledge your own part in that, if you want to have any hope of moving us forward. As it is, I have never felt so disconnected from my club.

After all, you don't get to tell me how I feel. 


"There's a place where time is dead, and all things stand still
And always will"
- The Handsome Family, "If The World Should End In Fire"

But let us start at the beginning, before the mercury rose and the citadel was stormed. I went to this game in search of faith. A glimpse of a renewed faith in the game I have spent so much time with, and in those people that I have watched it with. Truthfully, it felt like a blessed relief to be going to a match, and not wondering about marches, fans being attacked by their brethren or what new bombshell was going to be dropped in our collective laps. Even then, we must not forget that there are those of our regimental stripe who couldn't attend this game for fear of their own safety, for shame.

But the sun was out and it truly felt like I hadn't watched West Ham play with the sun on my face for years. And for an hour, whisper it, I thought we were the better team. The side still looked disjointed and hastily thrown together - because they are - but there were things to commend here. We went at Burnley with all the vim and vigour that was missing last week, and duly caused them some problems. Marko Arnautovic, Manuel Lanzini and Joao Mario all had chances, but couldn't quite get the perfect look. Such is the nature of Burnley. They are defensive magicians. They are also the most cynical time wasters in the division. Their players spent the entire game feigning head injuries in an attempt to slow the game down and I'd love to say I'd never seen anything like it except they did the exact same thing last year.

Yet for all our flimsy superiority, you always got the sense that - much like a night time stroll in Romford - there was trouble waiting around the corner. Burnley haven't got to their lofty heights by accident. Their success has been built upon a seemingly unsustainable combination of forcing their opponents to miss good chances, and taking their own lesser ones. And falling over a lot. They have almost broken the Expected Goals model, and serve as a salutary reminder that while people like me would reduce the sport to an algorithm, the game itself still remains as gloriously unpredictable as an errant firework. 

West Ham - building character since 1895

And so Dyche introduced Chris Wood after an hour and watched as the Kiwi was immediately involved in two goals within five minutes. The first was offside apparently, but should have been defended better either way. It unfolded like a slow motion replay as Angelo Ogbonna dallied where Wood was purposeful and picked out Ashley Barnes, who took a brief break from throwing himself to the floor to power the ball past Joe Hart's famously vulnerable left hand. The problem with weaknesses is that people will keep exploiting them until you prove they no longer exist. And this one still exists.

There was still time to dream of a renaissance, but by now the gates of Hell had swung open. At one down, against the league's best game killers, we were deep in the mire even before the pitch invasions began. Moyes responded to Dyche outwitting him with a typically late and ineffective substitution. On came Javier Hernandez, and still the visitors kept running straight through the middle of our Papier-mâché midfield. Where have you gone Pedro Obiang? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you. 

Hart soon fumbled a long range effort and a third went in. I threw my eyes upwards in search of that long departed sun, or maybe the ghostly silhouette of Alan Pardew being projected on to the night sky as our owners turned on their own version of the Bat signal. Now I think about it, that might constitute gallows humour if it wasn't for the fact that the useless bastards might actually bloody do it.


"Oh baby, oh baby
Then it fell apart"
- Moby, "Extreme Ways"

But what of the real story? I wrote a short piece for The Guardian in which I was constrained by a word limit. Some picked me up for only saying that "I cannot condone the violence" so let me say here that I condemn it completely. How could anybody not? The fighting in the seats behind the dugouts was so bad that kids had to be ferried forward to the Burnley benches for shelter. These were, I believe, the £5k a year seats where West Ham fans fought each other over I don't even know what. Hope truly does lie in the proles.

Elsewhere, there were four separate pitch incursions which all ended with some form of physical altercation either with players or in the stands after the invaders had returned. The first guy came on holding an A4 poster. This is like holding up a postage stamp to Neil Armstrong while he walked on the moon - it could have said "Wenger Out" for all I know. Having done all of Cheikhou Kouyate's running all day, Mark Noble then appointed himself Chief Steward as well and roughed the guy up. Some think he was wrong, but what I saw was a frustrated man who knew that once pitch invasions start, the team rarely comes back. And true enough we kept conceding goals as various miscreants made their way on, each showing a surprising amount of stamina to make it all the way to the middle.

I don't blame the fans, but anyone who was there can't deny that as soon as the atmosphere turned, the team simply wanted to get out of Dodge. And for those who remember the Bond Scheme protests of the early Nineties, you'll know what I mean when I say that a decent team can rarely coexist with a poisonous atmosphere. Try as we might, that toxicity drips out on to the pitch - or is carried there atop a corner flag - and infects the players. We must remember that they will be gone after all of this, mercenaries caught in the middle of a blood feud. Instead it is us who will remain, silently watching us lose to Barnsley in the Thunderdome and wondering if relegation was truly a price worth paying to vent our frustrations.

But I am getting ahead of myself, because relegation will assuredly not be the fault of the fans, even if some in the media would wish to say it was. Those who protested had every right to do so. I can't understand the desire to go on the pitch, although I surely recognised the homage to the famous Everton invasion against the Bond Scheme. Once again we were shaking hands with the past, and invisible bridge between eras, with the only constant being that the club is still run by spivs and charlatans.

Shaking hands with the past. It's shit here, they both said

But the real spirit of the protest lay in those those who gathered in front of the Director's Box and confronted the architects of this demise. In reality, the situation was horrible, even if I believe that this was entirely caused by a Board who have insisted on chipping away at the foundations of our club and are now finding that the debris is falling squarely on their own heads.

I will say that I hate that Sullivan's children had to face that. Even if they might be too prominent for their tender years, it is indeed worth remembering that they are just kids who didn't deserve to have objects thrown at them and to hear their father abused. They are fans too, remember. Similarly, David Gold was there with his daughters and grandchildren and reportedly left in tears. None of us should be happy about that, nor can we condone those who threw objects. To do so is to cede the moral high ground. There is no need for it. We are on the side of the angels.

But before you think I've changed my mind, let me say once more that this was brought upon themselves. I have previously described the relationship between the fans and the owners as being like a pressure cooker, and the thing with those is that you need a way to release that pressure before it explodes. West Ham fans have got no traction with the club over our complaints, which ultimately culminated in the threat of a protest march. Only then, with that ludicrously sharp Sword of Damocles hanging over their head, did the board deem our points worthy of an audience. Two years and ten thousand marchers to get some flags around the pitch. It's like Agamemnon sacking Troy for a loaf of bread.

But by organising the cancellation of the march, the club skilfully moved the protest into the stadium, for where else could it go? And now the genie is out of the bottle, he won't be returning. The fans might not know exactly what it is they want, but they can say with certainty that it is not this. And yet, I am not among those who subscribe to the view that relegation might not be a bad thing. It will set the club back years, and destroy our finances. If you're annoyed at the interest payments to the owners now, wait until we're in the Championship and can't borrow against our TV money, meaning we have to get it from Sullivan instead.

I know, deep down, that the only way to affect the regime change that we desperately need is to continue these protests. To tell them how we feel and have the world hear our side of the story. But I fear that the Catch-22 here is that doing so will be terminal to our hopes of staying up.

The team are bereft of ideas and confidence and that brief flirtation with solidity under Moyes has long since departed. In the last week, our goal difference has taken an even bigger battering than David Sullivan's ego. The protest is entirely necessary for us, because without it we will never get the better team we need to avoid being in these relegation scraps all the time, but it is distracting for the players and may contribute to sending us down. Pick the bones out of that, Yossarian.

We need three wins from somewhere and you'd say that if they aren't taken from Southampton, Stoke and Everton then we won't be long for this world. In effect, I'm asking an unruly mob to strike a balance between protest and lung bursting support. I think I might be being a touch optimistic.


"I am now a central part of your mind's landscape, 
Whether you care or do not"
- Morrissey, "The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get"

But this is where we are now. Without those protests on Saturday, would the full wattage of the media currently be shining with such force on our corner of the footballing world? Probably not. We have seen Miguel Delaney, Jacob Steinberg, Sam Wallace, Ken Early and John Dillon scratch the surface of our situation and find interesting stuff beneath their fingernails. With protests planned before the Southampton game, the best option open to the club now would probably be to allow them to proceed in the hope that supporters can exorcise their revolutionary spirit in the morning and concentrate on the match in the afternoon.

Which brings me back to the owners. I have wavered on their continuing stewardship because I fear the path taken by Coventry, Blackpool, Blackburn, Aston Villa and so many other former contemporaries. I have previously written that a bad manager can set a club back years, while bad owners can hamstring you for a generation. But the moment these guys chose not to intervene when they knew their own supporters were being threatened was the moment I wanted them gone. I'll take my chances in the lawless bandit country that is football ownership, if it means that we can go to games without worrying about our own safety.

But leaving that aside for the moment, for such a departure is not imminent, the crucial thing for them to decide now is whether they are in this as fans or businessmen. They currently flit between the two, alienating everyone as they go. I have no objection to owners who lend the club money at high interest rates, but then they don't get to turn around and claim that they are exempt from fan protest because they are "custodians" and not owners, and they damn well ought to be competent enough on an individual level to know exactly what role they are performing for the club. As it is, Sullivan denied being Director of Football in December, sandwiched in between two sets of accounts that explicitly identified him as performing that role. That is not indicative of good corporate governance.

They did well to get that in

And how grimly I laughed as Sullivan bemoaned the failure of the minimum wage stewards to put themselves between him and an angry mob, considering that he couldn't have cared less when they did the exact thing same last season but it was our kids who were bearing the brunt of it all. I say again - they fail because there is no human face to the club, and apparently not even a scintilla of empathy around that boardroom table. I found it telling that Sir Trevor Brooking stayed in his seat and faced down the mob on Saturday, while others disappeared to the safety of the hospitality suites. A rare glimpse of dignity amidst the turmoil.

I hope we don't go down, because the repercussions of that go far beyond the boardroom and the playing staff. The wider club is diminished and the clock is once agin reset to "rebuilding", a mindset that has felt like our default for nearly two decades now. We operate in the face of a permanent storm front. We are reducing to being a walking "hold my beer" meme. These people have inflicted great damage upon the name of our club.

Forget those media critics who helicopter in for a quick look around the Director's Box and then leave, baffled at the level of anger among fans. I follow the Danny Baker code over people like Jim White and Jason Burt - ask yourself when the last time was that they ever paid to go to a game and if it wasn't any time recently then you can discount their opinion. Proper journalists are examining our club and finding what we have long known to be true; that there is a deep malaise afflicting the soul of West Ham. And whether we like it or not, it's very possible that the spark that reignited the fire in our belly was the sight of those fans confronting our owners. It may be jagged and edgy and hard and rough but in many ways, that is West Ham.

I don't know where we go from here, but I do know that there is no going back.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Swansea 4 - 1 West Ham (And Other Ramblings)

"Sometimes I fantasise, when the streets are cold and lonely 
And the cars they burn below me"
- The Stone Roses, "Made of Stone"

I've spent the last two days in my loft. Shuffling boxes to my garden shed in preparation for a loft conversion, morosely staring into the gloom and pondering a great many things. Predominant amongst them is a question that boomerangs around my consciousness. What, I ask aloud, has happened to my club?

Early entry for that new club crest

I ponder my youth and the first time my dad took me to a game at Upton Park in 1986. Ipswich under the lights. An electric dreamland. We went behind and I nearly started crying. We came back to win and I think I did start crying. We were going to win the league and my football supporting life was going to be spent in the Elysian fields, watching a style of play from another world. You can keep your archangels, for I have seen Alan Devonshire. I pitied my school friends who supported Arsenal. What did they know of life or love? I had seen Valhalla and it was claret and blue. Plus Geoff Pike was there, oddly.

My cousin was with me that night, and now we sit next to each other each week with our own children. A gift passed through the ages from generation to generation, repeated everywhere through the stadium. I often think the gift that football gives us is not the game itself, but the time we get to spend with our loved ones. Our children's experiences don't yet match ours, but they have the great gift of youthful optimism to tide them over. They think their day will come and who am I to deny them such a dream.

I urge you to find your own similar place of quiet repose. If, like me, you had the stuffing knocked out of you this weekend, then it will help you. At a time when our club seems so devoid of an identity and so bereft of hope, I found it helpful to look inward. For you it might be Trevor Brooking or Pop Robson or perhaps Bobby Moore if you're truly lucky. Those names are echoes in the wind to someone of my age. I settled instead on Ian Bishop, Trevor Sinclair and Scott Parker - each of them a marker on my emotional journey supporting West Ham.

All of this, you might think, is a bit melodramatic for a 4-1 loss at Swansea, especially considering that this result was literally not even the worst 4-1 defeat we have suffered at the hands of Swansea in the last three seasons.

But that's not the cause of my malaise. I'm down here in the gutter because I feel like I lost something this weekend. I can take your 4-1 defeat and raise you a 6-0 FA Cup slaughter at Old Trafford, a 3-0 disaster at Notts County that sparked the first sit down anti Board protest, or even a 9-0 aggregate League Cup semi final defeat to Manchester City where I think I saw a football team declare for the first time ever. We all knew the drill when we signed up - if you wanted to win every week, go somewhere else. But this was something different. Something much deeper.


"See the lonely boy, out on the weekend, trying to make it pay
Can't relate to joy, he tries to speak, and can't begin to say"
Neil Young, "Out on the Weekend"

So even as Winston Reid threw himself at a Swansea attack like a walrus falling off a glacier and knocked himself unconscious, and the home side swept into a two nil lead before our makeshift backline had even woken up, nobody was really batting an eyelid. It turns out that David Moyes has achieved the exact same results as Slaven Bilic in their last eighteen matches in charge. Plus ca change, perhaps.

I think that's probably a bit unfair as Moyes has had tougher fixtures, and didn't get the benefit of that soft looking start that Bilic wasted, but it's undeniable that any gains are being measured in inches and not in miles. I think we look better organised, fitter and more structured under the Scot, but here we are, deep in a relegation battle with a squad that isn't remotely fit for the task. Like I said, now might be a good time to close your eyes and think of Metz.

After the Reid injury, Moyes probably should have found a way to get Antonio on to the pitch given our very obvious lack of pace, but instead brought on Sam Byram and shifted Zabaleta infield, and somehow now we were playing five defenders and the only one who was a natural central half isn't old enough to drink on the end of season beano to Vegas. West Ham, baby - next level. 

I used to be quite enamoured of Swansea, as I felt that they were at least a side with a distinctive pattern of play that made them entertaining for neutrals. Now, rather like us, they are in that indistinguishable pot of lower half teams who look alright when they win and very Mrs Brown's Boys when they lose. Here, they battered us by pressing with energy and drive and taking their chances, which mostly arose as a result of comedic West Ham defending. They are in the ascendancy while we are hurtling down like a lead lined corpse in a river.

After a rousing half time team talk from Moyes, the team emerged as if in that upside down dream sequence from Inception, and immediately conceded a third when Adrian palmed a corner directly into Javier Hernandez's face, and watched as it dropped perfectly for Andy King to score against us. That was King's fifth goal in seven games against us. Imagine Andy King being your nemesis. Close your eyes. Payet. Old Trafford. Breathe.

That half time team talk

After that, everyone went to sleep and Cheik Kouyate fouled Andre Ayew to concede a penalty, before Antonio popped up with a late consolation. Prior to this, Marko Arnautovic should have opened our account when put through by Manuel Lanzini but took far too long and eventually dithered for so long that even Theresa May started mocking him. I wonder if Jordan Hugill should be introduced? What of £39 million pound man and European Champion, Joao Mario? And then I wonder if the passengers on the Titanic thought umbrellas would save them.

And thus the team wandered off, humiliated and having repaid absolutely nothing of the efforts shown by the travelling fans to make the trip through the springtime snow. I think we'll escape relegation because I think Moyes has the nous to navigate his way through the icebergs, but then again I once thought Paul Jewell would make a good West Ham manager. You can't trust me.

As you left Wales, I hope some of you were able to gaze fondly towards Cardiff and dream a little dream of Bobby Zamora in the hazy sunlight of a Play Off final. You deserved it.


"Outside, I'm masquerading
Inside, my hope is fading"
- Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, "Tracks of My Tears"

But as I sit here now, writing and rewriting this piece, I can't shake the nagging feeling that is eating away at me. What happened on the pitch on Saturday was shambolic, but it was just football.

What happened off the pitch disturbed me far more.

Most of you will be aware that a variety of fans groups had banded together under the moniker of West Ham Groups United with a view to engaging the club on a variety of points. The lead focus of this was the Real West Ham Fans (RWHF), an organisation put together at staggeringly short notice just before Christmas, with a large Facebook following and an ability to organise numbers in a way that I don't recall seeing before at West Ham. The lead men were former ICF faces, but were at pains to distance themselves from that era.

Other groups joined them - KUMB, WHUISA, Hammers Chat among them - and before long they had an audience with Karren Brady. I thought the demands that were made of the club were curiously low level, but accepted that a stratagem of starting slowly and building was more likely to succeed than simply demanding the owners sell up.

Before long, that wasn't moving swiftly enough and RWHF announced a march. Again, I thought that was strange as it seemed to be an over the top response, but again indicative of the pressure cooker atmosphere among fans, as the team stumbled along with a typically enormous injury list and an even more typically useless January transfer window.

So, with me being in the very small minority who didn't fancy a march, huge numbers were mobilised for a protest on 10th March. Whatever I might have thought of the tactics I couldn't argue with the effectiveness of it all. Kids, women, disabled fans and all comers were welcome. I might not have been flying the plane, but it didn't mean I wasn't keen on the destination.

And then, talks proceeded and suddenly, RWHF cancelled the march. Leaving aside what impact that might have on future attempts to galvanise West Ham fans into public action, it left a gaping hole. Fans wanted to march, and the concessions seemingly drawn from Karren Brady didn't seem to amount to much more than asking the landlord we routinely sue to uphold his agreement with us for a few favours. It was, in short, baffling.

Now, I wasn't in the meetings and have only read the same notes as all of you. Who knows what really happened but one point to note is that the Club will be making a contribution to the fund for cancer patient, Isla Caton, a cause dear to the West Ham heart and something that surely transcends club badges and retractable seating and half time beer queues. Before you quibble about that, and the ethical element of the club making that offer is highly fucking questionable, it's probably worth asking how easy it would be to look her family in the eye and tell them you turned down that money.

But that doesn't excuse what happened next.

Fans still wanted to march, and as the group with the best links to the council, Football Supporters Federation and the Police, WHUISA stepped into the breach. The feeling was that the march would still happen, with the RWHF group stepping aside to pursue their apparent links to the Board, and others putting forth their objections on the streets.

And then, on Saturday night the RWHF Facebook page went fully hallucinogenic. It was announced that the group was now under the control of the ICF, and that anybody marching would be met with violence. Suddenly, the march was apparently under the control of Antifa activists and would now be political in nature, and would thus be forcibly stopped from entering Stratford. This was news to the thousands of West Ham fans still planning to march, but in this instance the lie was twice around the world before the truth even knew there was a race to be run.

Leaving aside for a moment the concept of Antifa being used in a pejorative sense, the entire episode was odd because it amounted to the organisers of a march threatening anyone who then wanted to go on it. Eventually, today, it was cancelled on the grounds of safety. Go find your happy place. Brooking. Wembley. A white Admiral kit.

More sinisterly, the chair of WHUISA, a guy called Mark Walker, was being described as a political activist with links to Sadiq Khan. The evidence for this seems to have amounted to Walker once working for the Labour Party and having the temerity to vote for Khan in the Mayoral election.

Unable to process any of what was happening, and finding myself distressed like the liberal snowflake I am by the sight of West Ham fans being threatened by West Ham fans, I decided to ask around. First up I messaged Walker and asked about the notion that he was a lefty activist. He explained that after the meetings with Brady he had taken her public comments and fact checked them with the landlord. I'm pretty sure that sounds like the kind of thing an Independent Supporters Association is supposed to do. When you're in a negotiation you don't take the word of the other party at face value. You robustly check it. Other people have told me that Brady isn't especially happy that WHUISA have been doing this. Good.

I also asked Walker how he was. He replied that he had been physically threatened and wasn't sleeping. An away season ticket holder, he doesn't think he'll ever attend another game. Just process that for a moment.

I understand the allure of the RWHF group and I can see the progress they have made. But this is reprehensible. I can't in good conscience support it and I don't know how anyone else can. If our fan representatives are just going to threaten us when public opinion moves in a different direction to their own then I struggle to see how that is representation. I was told I could take my daughters on that march, and then suddenly we were at risk if we were marching with WHUISA. Well, I would have been under their banner, and that is terrifying. And suddenly that thought boomerangs back again, and no FA Cup win over Everton or three goal Wembley comeback at Spurs can shake it from my mind. What has happened to my club?

When you next make that little list of West Ham heroes, you should probably add Mark Walker to it.


"Shake your fist at him, tell him it's alright
Say it's alright"
- The Flying Burrito Brothers, "Down in the Churchyard"

As a kid, one of the single most thrilling sporting events I can remember watching was the World Athletics 4x400m relay in Tokyo.

Watch this. You will stand a little taller in your shoes (if you're British).

But what was especially thrilling to the twelve year old me, was that the hero of the British team - Kriss Akabussi - was a West Ham fan. And there it was. That indelible connection. An invisible rope between us. That feeling that if ever we were to meet I would be able to look at him and he at me and we would have a shared bond that only a few could understand. And in the end, isn't that what football is supposed to give you? An entrance to an exclusive club that only the privileged few get to see? When I say Oldham, Valentines Day - you all know what that means. It's a link forged without us even knowing.

I think of the friends that West Ham and this blog have made for me. The Princeton graduate, the soldiers, the writers, the taxi drivers, the comedians, the accountants, the ones who have jobs with consultant in them that I don't really understand. And above it all. Claret and blue. West Ham.

I've never met Mark Walker and yet when I hear about a West Ham fan being threatened by others it runs completely contrary to all of that. It doesn't just break a code, it smashes it. I was never in thrall to the ICF as a kid because I was too young for it, but I understand why others are. There is a mythology to that time, and when there seems to be so little of our club left, I get why people look backwards. Hell, I suggested it myself at the top of this article.

But this can't happen. Marches can't be cancelled because of threats of violence. I once climbed a huge hill in the Marlborough Sounds in New Zealand and got to the top to find the only other human being within a five mile radius was a West Ham fan from Manor Park. I don't want to have to wonder if he is with "us" or "them". I just want to nod and say "Joey Beauchamp, eh?" and leave it at that.

I doubt that the Tory commentator Iain Dale and I will ever agree on anything politically but I respect his love for the club, respect his opinions and would be proud to stand next to him at a game. His politics don't matter to me, and I doubt mine do to him, when we're both stood at the ground wondering exactly how Liverpool managed to score from our corner.

I want West Ham to be the most inclusive club in the country. I want to see more women in the ground, more ethnic minorities to better reflect our natural catchment area, I want to be the most welcoming place for those in the LGBT community and above all a safe place to watch football for anyone. And I don't give a shit if that makes me that liberal snowflake again.

As someone who supported the move I've done a lot of soul searching over the last couple of months and I can't help but feel that I failed West Ham by not doing a better job of interrogating the specifics of the new stadium. Not that my opinion carries any weight but more in the sense that each of us should now be asking ourselves that question. I still believe that moving could and should have been the springboard to a new era but it is becoming increasingly clear that moving under these owners and to this stadium has damaged the club, possibly irrevocably.

As I look down at the club crest on my shirt I keep returning to a single thought - "I didn't do enough". It's not a great feeling to say out loud that you have failed, but there is no doubt that I have. I certainly failed to heed those who didn't want to move. I believed them to be dinosaurs unable to see obvious progress when it stared them in the face. To you, I apologise.

I believed the hype, believed that modernity and progress were more important than tradition, and could not possibly be mismanaged, and for that we have paid the highest possible price. While West Ham is run as it currently is, the soulless husk of a football club that is currently traipsing around the country will be our weekly reminder of that solipsism. I can't speak for any of you, but I should have done better by this football club I have loved my entire life.

And that is the great danger of all this. Something changed for me on Saturday. I'm not sure I will ever view my club in the same way again. The owners might be delighted that the march is off, and the divide and conquer approach has worked, but there is a cost to all of these things. While they remain, I will view West Ham like a lost love. After all, this isn't the club I fell for all those years ago.

I'm devastated tonight.

Julian Dicks. Forest away. The free kick into the top corner. Pandemonium.

What the hell has happened to my club?


Oh yeah, and if you agree with any of that, then you too should join WHUISA today. Sometimes it's not enough to just nod your head and murmur agreement. They need your numbers so that they can keep holding the club to account. Help them.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Liverpool 4 - 1 West Ham (And Other Ramblings)

"You say you lost your faith, but that's not where it's at
You had no faith to lose, and you know it"
- Bob Dylan, "Positively 4th Street"

I never admire our away support more than on days like these. On a morning when you can create clouds with your own breath and the cold can descend upon you like a blanket, it takes a certain type of person to make the trip to a fixture like this. It isn't so much that we we ended up losing this game 4-1, but that it always felt like we would lose 4-1. Not everyone can march so readily North knowing that cannon shot and thunder and Mo Salah are lying in wait. 

Even though we knew this was coming, it still stings when it happens, mind you. There is always hope until there isn't, after all. But the Premier League is becoming less competitive with each passing transfer window and each UEFA subsidy to the bigger teams. And so it is our lot to travel to places such as Anfield and play a team assembled at vast cost by cherry picking the best players from Southampton, Hoffenheim, Southampton, Bayer Leverkusen, Hull and, well, Southampton and wonder just what exactly is the point of all this. Maybe we have always been cannon fodder, but I don't remember everyone being quite so readily understanding about it. 

We haven't got Salah, or Money Money. 

It's a curious time to be a fan of a Premier League minnow. The top six are so far away now that it isn't terribly realistic to expect very much when playing them. We've lost 4-0 at Old Trafford, 4-1 here, 2-1 at the Etihad and drawn 1-1 with Spurs. We've spent roughly 80% of those games defending, earned a single point, and apart from the second half at Old Trafford - when we seemed unaware that the season had actually started - overall I think we've done alright. It's not that I don't want us to be more competitive but these are shoulder shrug games. You take what you can get, hope it doesn't get too embarrassing and then focus on next week. For fans of smaller clubs, trips to places like Liverpool are just about reaffirming our place in the established order. Four goals. Four goalscorers who cost a hundred million quid between them. Four hours drive there. For shame. 

Whether we should actually be considered as a minnow is perhaps a different question and one I'm not sure I have the energy to revisit today. Gross mismanagement and too many Sunday nights writing this blog will do that to a man. 

But to those who go and watch games like this, I salute you. It's easy to write these fixtures off as one sided and predetermined when you don't go to watch them, but when you're there in the ground it can be chastening. Of course, when you win 3-0 it can be exhilarating too, but we all know that was a beautiful aberration. At a time when we all seem very focused on what exactly constitutes a "real" West Ham fan, I think those who undertake trips such as these deserve to be foremost in our thoughts. 


"Cause you give it all away, you give it all away now
Don't let it come apart, don't want to see you come apart"
- Doves, "Caught By The River"

I believe that when watching a Premier League football team, if you ever arrive late for a game, you should never have to turn to a fellow fan and ask the fatal question - "Jesus Christ, is that Willie Nelson playing centre back for us?". And yet, these days, you never know at West Ham. We started this game with a back three of Aaron Cresswell, James Collins and Angelo Ogbonna and flanked them with nominal wing backs Pablo Zabaleta and Patrice Evra. That's a back line with an average age of thirty two, a Boer War veteran, one guy with rickets and three country music stars who think electric guitars are a bit fancy. 

And which one of you was supposed to be marking Mane?

The cumulative effect of our nonsensical transfer policy was laid bare here as we faced up to one of the fittest, fastest teams around with an octogenarian defence and simply dared them to run past us. And they did. Zabaleta was up against Andrew Robertson, and the Scot had the time of his life gallivanting around like a West Brom player at a Spanish taxi cab rank. On the other side, Evra fared little better and seemed to be suffering from the same disease that afflicted Zabaleta when he first arrived whereby he thought he was still playing for a Manchester side. So up he pushed, and sure enough we frequently lost the ball and the hosts exploited the gaps in behind him. I am seriously wondering if having wing backs with a combined age of sixty nine is a great idea, guys. 

In fairness, it wasn't just the defence where we struggled. Of the entire line up only Joao Mario and Manuel Lanzini were under 28 and one of them isn't even our player. I have despaired of this transfer policy for long enough that I hope you will forgive me a brief moment of schadenfreude when I say to David Sullivan - I fucking told you this was going to happen

And so the slowest team around played the quickest and it went pretty much as you might expect. While it's easy to be critical of West Ham, it's only reasonable to acknowledge that Liverpool are an electric side. Between Jurgen Klopp and their enormous budget, they have weapons that we simply cannot cope with, and have destroyed far better sides than us. Going forward they attack with quicksilver precision, and Salah could have scored as early as the second minute. Then we were saved by the woodwork, as the game settle into a pattern of Liverpool swarming all over us, while we tried to break with pace on the counterattack but failed to do so because breaking with pace is hard when half of your team were teenagers during Suez. 

For all that, we were not without threats of our own. Having Marko Arnautovic up front allows us the luxury of having a top six player in a bottom half team, and that is something that most of our relegation rivals cannot say. The Austrian was on his own here as Javier Hernandez was dropped for Lanzini, and had a frustrating afternoon getting annoyed that his team mates weren't a bit better. Which is saying something when you think he played with Ryan Shawcross for all that time at Stoke.

At 0-0, Arnautovic latched on to a rare decent through ball and brilliantly conjured a chip on to the crossbar from just outside the box. Loris Karius did well to tip it on to the woodwork and with that probably went our best chance of getting something from the game. Even with all of Arnautovic, Mario and Lanzini on the pitch, we struggled to keep possession and without a truly dominant central midfielder who can carry the ball and get us forward, it is bordering on impossible to ever create very much in these sort of games.

Perhaps the most disappointing thing was the way we defended, as our calling card under Moyes has been to set up with a well drilled defensive line and rely on the general excellence of our defenders to repel teams. The problem with that is it relies on us having some sort of parity further up the pitch and with Antonio on the bench and Lanzini looking every inch like he'd just returned from injury, we didn't have the necessary class to keep the ball in advanced positions.

And so it was that even though I thought we were fairly competitive in the first half, it was that special brand of competitiveness that requires you to be a fan of that particular side and be squinting very hard indeed. Football fans see positives everywhere because we are conditioned to do so. Thus, when Antonio arrived and scored immediately with a fine angled finish we all briefly began to construct a theoretical scenario in which a comeback was plausible. I thought that if ever Hernandez was going to come on, it was then, when that shaky Liverpool backline was rocking, but Moyes is glacial in his decision making and the moment passed, Mane scored the fourth, and by the time he brought him on it kind of looked like a punishment.

In the same vein, I took some positives from Zabaleta's continued Herculean efforts and conveniently ignored the way Robertson was breezing past him with alarming frequency. I similarly lauded a couple of fine Adrian saves and glossed over the remote controlled malfunction that saw him somehow being twenty yards from his goal when Roberto Firmino scored the Liverpool third. You can apparently buy drugs very easily on Merseyside, after all.

This went about as well as it looks like it would

So while we are reduced to clutching at the thinnest of straws, it's true that Liverpool were simply a great deal better than us. And while there is no doubt that we have every right to demand our team puts up a better show than this, it's also undeniable that under David Sullivan's stewardship we have gone backwards at breakneck speed. We simply aren't equipped to compete with these teams, and these kinds of results are inevitable until there is a massive overhaul of this squad by someone who knows that they are doing.

Once more, to those fans who travelled up - I salute your inexhaustible optimism.


"A picture is worth a thousand words"
- The Temptations, "Paradise"

The Temptations are not wrong. A pretty big game, is Swansea.


"They don't, they don't speak for us"
- Radiohead, "No Surprises"

Bet Bobby would have been delighted to have been associated with this

In some regards the off field antics were more interesting than the game, as both fans attempted to out-dickhead each other. Liverpool fans got in early by booing 74 year old Hammers debutant Patrice Evra, who is great to have around the place because of his terrific social media antics. He can no longer run, but we care not for such prosaic notions and with young Jose Fonte having left for the Orient, he represented a great opportunity to somehow increase the average age of our squad outside of the transfer window. 

Anyway, Evra was roundly booed all day. Home fans maintained this was because he is a former Manchester United player, except that they also kept singing Luis Suarez songs at him, meaning that they were linking the booing to the time Suarez was found guilty of racially abusing Evra and banned for eight games. So just to reiterate - they booed him for being racially abused. Wonderful humour though. 

Not to be outdone, some of our fans responded by holding up the banner above. In an era when it has become a badge of honour to tell the world how little you are offended by anything because you aren't a snowflake, I suppose that I run the risk of outing myself as hypersensitive here, but I need to say something - this banner is moronic and reprehensible. It is so stupid I had to double check that it wasn't a parody before writing this. It doesn't speak for me or any sensible West Ham fan, and the main thing it has done is set the cause of the fans march back before it's even begun. You all thought you were starting in Stratford, but instead you'll be going from Chelmsford. Bravo.

Not that I need to explain this, surely, but comparing people to Hitler is generally a pretty bad idea. Hitler is in the conversation for the worst human being who ever lived. He killed people in their millions, and there will have been people in that crowd who lost loved ones to German bombs in World War II. I am sure that the people who came up with it thought it was a pithy line but it's just crass and almost criminally stupid. Wasting a few million quid on Robert Snodgrass and Matt Jarvis isn't equivalent to waging a war, changing the club badge doesn't equate to eugenics and a failed stadium move isn't the same as systematically exterminating millions of innocent people because they are Jewish.

Don't message me with any justifications for this bullshit, or tell me it's banter or tell me it's not a comparison with Hitler because not only is it a literal direct comparison with Hitler, but it is somehow an unfavourable one. 

I am so sick of the fucking morons on our lunatic fringe who follow this club and are so much more vocal than the average punter, meaning that we literally have to say things to other fans like "Yeah, most of our supporters are great if you can just ignore the Hitler banner". 

Here is a tip for those going on the march. Your cause is just - the Board have done things for which they deserve to be held to account, and they deserve to have to face that examination in the full light of the public glare. That publicity helps the cause because external pressures can be brought to bear on the owners and a supportive media and wider football community will help affect change. Win the PR battle, and you have a head start on winning the war. 

But here's the thing - if you march singing songs about Karren Brady, or carry flags personally abusing the Sullivan family or even do something as unthinkably brainless as carry a banner comparing our Jewish chairman to Adolf Fucking Hitler, then you cede every piece of moral high ground that you might have. We are once more reduced to a rabble of hooligans and thugs who aren't worth listening to, and have nothing reasonable to say. I beg you not to take that route. Stick to the facts. The team is shit and the stadium isn't what was promised. That's plenty enough to be getting on with. 


"Well she wrote me a letter
Said she couldn't live without me no more"
- The Box Tops, "The Letter"

And then just as I was about to hit "Publish", Karren Brady sent a letter to the various fans groups that she met recently, ahead of the proposed march before the Burnley game. I've commented a couple of times on this before, and explained that while I understand the reasons for the march, I'm concerned that without any tangible goals or demands, it runs the risk of being a protest about nothing.

The genesis of all this was a meeting where representatives of Real West Ham Fans, KUMB, Hammers Chat, WHUISA and other groups that I can't name as I haven't seen minutes, sat down with Karren Brady and discussed a wide range of topics. The letter covers these in detail and I think it's fair to say that the club are at least taking the fan dissatisfaction seriously now, which is to the great credit of all the fan groups involved. Don't underestimate the inroads they have made through a coherent start and impressive organisation.

There is definite movement on certain demands made by fans to make the ground more like home and also a pledge to better improve communication with supporters. All of that is fine by me and a welcome move towards a more collaborative approach rather then the ludicrously adversarial tone that has been adopted in the past. There is actually quite a lot here, even if it is two years too late.

But there is a wider point too. Why did it take the threat of thousands of fans marching to get movement on something so trivial as putting up a banner honouring Billy Bonds? If it takes that type of effort to get you to engage with fans properly then I would humbly suggest that someone somewhere in the organisation needs to go on a crash course in people. You don't get to call us customers when it suits you and then totally ignore the concept of customer service. It is bananas that the club have allowed things to degenerate this far before acting.

And yet, for all the words and waffle in that letter, it is not going to be anywhere near enough to placate fans. I have a certain, limited sympathy with the Board in the sense that the fans aren't totally united and thus the disparate demands make it impossible to please everyone. There are a lot of people who are very upset that the club badge was changed, for example, while I think it's just about the dumbest possible hill to die on. I accept that my view is no more or less valid than anyone else's, and that's why I joined WHUISA and voted for people to represent me. But therein lies the problem.

Apart from Payet?

The People's Front of Judea/Judean People's Front approach means that lots of issues are getting floated by lots of different groups and it results in a letter like this, which is like a freewheeling trip through a list of minor annoyances, and summarily fails to address the two main problems that underpin everything - namely, that the team are crap, everybody knows that turning that around will be a significant undertaking, and the stadium is not up to scratch.

Now, I should also say that the letter constitutes the club's version of the action points. This doesn't mean that there weren't other things raised in the meeting, but simply that the club don't want to engage on those points. Indeed, I know for a fact that Brady was directly asked to discontinue her column in The Sun and refused, even though it was detrimental to the club during the transfer window. File that one away folks - it tells us something.

My buddy @LeBigHouse has suggested that what the fans really need is a cut throat, razor sharp shithouse of a trade unionist to lead this fight, and I'm inclined to agree. Not because the people involved aren't representing their groups well, but because we need to narrow all this down to a laser focus.

Fan questions should focus on the two areas I highlighted above: You promised us a stadium that was fit for football and you haven't delivered - what are you going to do about it? You also promised us that the stadium would allow us to generate more funds and improve the team. Why are you still allowing the owner to have a crack at this as a hobby, rather than employing qualified professionals to do the job?

That's it. That should be the agenda. Everything else is nice and I've suggested some of them myself but they are ancillary to the current situation. Small incremental gains are fine when you've exhausted the big ticket ideas, but the club haven't come remotely close to that. The Board should have watched that game on Saturday and felt a burning shame for every single minute of it. Barring one glorious accident of a season in 2015/16 when the league was upside down, they have done nothing but mire West Ham in mediocrity while spending vast sums to trail behind smaller clubs. A good team would paper over these cracks, but the bad one we've had for eighteen months is widening them.

The sole nod to this in the letter is the line "My Chairmen have also asked me to reaffirm their commitment to the restructuring of our recruitment policy as David Sullivan outlined recently...". That's it. David is going to appoint a Director of Football in the summer, at which point it will be too late to do any actual planning for the transfer window because real clubs are doing all of that now. Wonderful.

I'm not disagreeing with anything much in Brady's letter but it's all obfuscation because that's all she's allowed us. Her comments on the stadium essentially say little more than "We promise to look at this", which is a coded version of saying "I'll ask the landlord, but they're skint and we ain't paying anything so, ho hum...". Reading all of that, the temptation is to say that the reality here is that while we are tenants of the stadium, the thing that we really want - to be closer to the pitch - is not actually in their power to give us.

And this, I think, is the heart of the problem. We want to be on the touchline again, in a ground that feels like home, in the electric swirl of a pulsating football match, watching a team that is good enough to justify the move. And for all the lip service that the club may pay to those cries, it's not really in their gift to be able to do anything much about any of it. The stadium isn't ours, and the people who make the decisions about the team seem immune to any form of blame. So on we march, and up go the banners, and out come the hearses, and all the while it turns out that letting in four goals against teams like Liverpool is now the status quo. What a mess. 

Sunday, February 18, 2018

A March to the Music of Failure

"There's something happening here, what it is ain't exactly clear"
- Buffalo Springfield, "For What It's Worth"

My apologies. Once upon a time this used to be a place you could come for match reports and to shake your head at an xG map and the odd Simpsons quote and that was your lot. But what I have realised over time is that if the article isn't up within forty eight hours of the game, nobody really reads them. And lately there have been a few things preventing me from writing about West Ham in a timely fashion, which means I write less about the games and instead deliver these more polemical pieces about the wider goings on at the club.

Those dark times when we had loans at usurious rates and the team was terrible and wait a minute

In my defence, this time I've been bedridden for the best part of a week with labrynthitis and trying out that Dean Martin quote about not being drunk if you can lie down without holding on. It sounds funny when Dino says it, but when you're supposed to be at work in an hour, hardly drink and you can't stop the world spinning it sounds a bit trite, let me tell you.

So anyway, Saturday came and went and was, in it's own way, brilliant.

I wouldn't say the performance was a classic, but perhaps that's the point. The thing I really like about Moyes is that we feel more like a proper team with him at the helm. So what if Watford were coming off a fantastic 4-1 win over Chelsea, and so what if we have loads of injuries and so what if it's the kind of day where the wind whips up the canals around the stadium like a razor blade - we're West Ham, and here's our well organised defence. All the best.

And so it proved, as Watford turned out to be quite depleted themselves and never really looked like they would threaten us after Javier Hernandez found himself an inch at the back post and headed home a Michail Antonio cross. The Mexican had already had a similar looking first incorrectly ruled out for offside, and Marko Arnautovic had missed a chance so good that it should have come wrapped in a bow. But while it stayed 1-0 there was always a risk, as Watford dominated possession without creating all that much, and we continued to be dangerous without quite having the necessary cutting edge ourselves to fashion a second.

So it was entirely apposite that we would eventually do so via a godawful corner that Aaron Cresswell overhit to Antonio, who in turn fell over, leaving Cresswell to smash the loose ball across goal, only for Orestis Karnezis to spill it straight back to him, and the ball to then ricochet back off Cresswell to Arnautovic to score a very nicely taken second just after squirting the keeper in the face with his plastic flower. Sometimes it is indeed better to be lucky than good.

But for all that, we were well worth our win, and after everything shook out we are five points off the relegation places and six points off seventh. This season doesn't really make all that much sense.


"It's only been a year, but it feels like a lifetime here
How's it been for you?"
- The Vaccines, "A Lack of Understanding"

What was perhaps the strangest thing about this game was that it was probably the first time that you could point at the awful summer transfer window and see some sense in it. Apart from the ludicrous Joe Hart signing, this is what we were promised when all that experience came through the door, waving at all the wages and transfer monies going out the other way.

Repayment instalment no:7

Pablo Zabaleta was exemplary, nary allowing the dangerous Richarlison a kick and displaying the near psychopathic levels of desire that have characterised his best performances. He remains too inconsistent for my liking, and better teams have tried and succeeded to expose him positionally, but on days like today you can see the short term merit of his signing.

Ahead of him Hernandez and Arnautovic were dovetailing nicely and, crucially, were now running the necessary miles to justify their places in the team relative to the reverse fixture at Vicarage Road. The latter, especially, was splendid and with each passing week you can see his chest puff out a little further and his standing grow with the fans. It isn't so much what he does, but it's almost more the promise of what he might do. One first half run took him past four Watford defenders in a single move and probably cemented him the Hammer of the Year trophy with that one shake of the hips. It should be Angelo Ogbonna, of course, but let's not fall out before I've even said anything remotely controversial.

There were lots of other positives; the way Cresswell and Ogbonna have shored up a leaky back four, the confidence that spreads out from Adrian like water through the roots of a tree and the manner of Mark Noble's resurgence and the way he has grabbed his threadbare team and dragged them through this most challenging of times. I have no time for the concept of the Captain in a football team, but in the last month Noble has changed my mind a little.

Also welcome was the return of Antonio who continues to combine the qualities of a thoroughbred racehorse with those of a buffalo falling down a ravine. Here, he was deployed at left wing back in a return to the darkest days of the Slaven Bilic regime but he did alright except for when he was asked to defend, and then it was like watching one of those home videos of someone painting their roof by perching a ladder on a cement mixer and attaching their paintbrush to the end of a shotgun. For all that, the brilliance of his deployment on the left was the way it matched him directly against Daryl Janmaat who also defends like a man who has never before contemplated the notion in his life.

And there you have it. This was perhaps the perfect example of what Sullivan apparently envisioned when he sat down with Bilic and decided to buy as many old, slow players as they could get their hands on. And so 34 year old James Collins kept Troy Deeney under wraps, 33 year old Zabaleta ran himself into the ground, 28 year old Arnautovic was the difference and 29 year old Hernandez is scoring goals and thus justifying his place. We were supposed to get at least of season of this short term usefulness before they all became dead weight on the wage bill and perhaps it's pretty telling that it took a different manager to Bilic to make this mess of a squad look coherent.


"And I would rather be anywhere else
Than here today"
Elvis Costello, "Oliver's Army"

But if you are a West Ham fan of a certain vintage you will recognise that familiar feeling of impending doom. The uncomfortable sense that what is happening on the pitch is quickly becoming a mere supporting turn to the drama about to unfold around the club.

In my last piece I wrote about the Real West Ham Fans group and their proposed march on the day of the Burnley game. I expressed concerns, but not with a great deal of depth, and as a result I think some supporters think that I am against the march. Therefore, if you will excuse the indulgence I thought I would expand upon my thoughts here. Before I get to that, however, I should also direct you to an interview that David Sullivan carried out with the official site. It is suitably powderpuff with no meaningful questions asked, but I've pasted a couple of the money quotes here:

"You can only sign the players the manager wants and the manager must sign his own players" - Well okay then - thanks for Payet and Lanzini, Slav!

"I'm going to delegate the whole thing to a huge analysis and scouting system with a new Head of Recruitment. We'll have a massive video analysis department, increase the scouting department, every player will be looked at five or six times, we won't be signing a player when the manager's never even seen him play. The manager's going to go and watch him play and we hope we'll spend our money better"

Now if you're anything like me you read that and immediately thought "Well, what the hell was happening before?". Perhaps the most alarming piece of this is that Sullivan is still propagating this idea that the manager must have final say on all new players, and seemingly forgetting that he has parted way with four managers in his eight years here, and that when the new one arrives they all want to buy new players. Sullivan is essentially putting forward a Director of Football role that is so watered down that nobody of any repute would want it. There is no mention of reshaping the culture of the club, or a top down reorganisation of the playing structure and Academy. Instead it is all just vague murmurings that suggest he still doesn't understand the problems.

Managers, however, will be queuing up for the job as they will be racking up millions of air miles flying all over the globe looking at the hundreds of players we're considering signing. Doing that and preparing a Premier League side each week should be a piece of cake.

I shouldn't grumble too much, I suppose, as this is at least a public admission that he is part of the problem, but I'm afraid I can't get that excited. Many wiser men than me have said of this chairman that you have to judge him by what he does and not what he says, and I'm afraid that applies again here.

One last point on this before I digress further still. You could make an argument that the problem hasn't completely been about identifying good players in the last few years - it's been about signing them. The club at least floated the names of William Carvalho, Leander Dendoncker, Keita Balde, Carlos Bacca and Alexandre Lacazette but failed with their bids because the financial side wasn't up to scratch.

A new Head of Recruitment will have no impact whatsoever if he is still given an insufficient budget by Sullivan. The reality is that however far Sullivan thinks he is backing away from the process, it won't be far enough. We need him to recuse himself from the day to day running of the club and leave it to the professionals. Until that happens, this is all just window dressing.


Which leaves the march.

Sometimes I think that as West Ham fans we have got too cosy with failure. We are too forgiving and too accepting of falling short, generally sucking it up with a phlegmatic nod to our mums and dads and granddads and telling ourselves that it has always been this way. The more glorious, the more we embrace it. The FA Cup in 2006, finishing third in 1985/86 and even the doomed Champions League hunt of 2015/16 - just to name the most recent examples. In each case we celebrate these things but know we could have grasped higher and gone further if we'd got luckier or been slightly better prepared.

But what we have experienced in the last eighteen months doesn't fit into that narrative. Losing 4-1 at home to Swansea when you have fourth place in your grasp isn't the same as being told that you're moving to a world class stadium and arriving to find that fans in the first row have to courier the ball back to the pitch when it goes out of play.

We have been failed, and that is the sound to which our fans are marching. It's a march to the music of failure.

Personally, I would build up to a march because this is a long game now, and a march is a blunt force instrument that doesn't seem all that well suited to achieving the disparate aims that exist within the fanbase. Some want the board gone, some want them to step back, some want us to find a new stadium and some want a new badge. And that is the problem - I don't know what the march is for. I want to back it, but I'm not marching for a new badge because that's mad.

I've been discussing this with some other supporters and their thinking is that it doesn't matter whether the march has coordinated aims but instead it's there as a show of strength and a statement that enough is enough. Something has to change and here are twenty thousand people in support of that position. And fair enough - God knows I've spent long enough outlining why I agree.

But here's the thing - a march of twenty thousand people is an incredible endeavour. It's a seriously impressive piece of organisation, and not least because there is money behind it too, pledged by the people involved. But you can't waste that firepower by setting off with no aim in mind. If you march for lots of things, I think you march for nothing. Sullivan and Gold will draw the curtains and ignore it. And while the eyes of the world will be on the march I'm not sure it's going to really take hold in the public consciousness when the protest song is:

"What do we want - quite a lot of stuff really and some of it is quite contradictory
When do we want it - NOW!"

I'm not trying to undermine or belittle anyone marching - genuinely - but when this appears in the media it's not going to make sense to anyone outside West Ham, and while we might not think that matters it's actually pretty important. Each of Sullivan, Gold and Brady are desperate for public approval. An incoherent message hurts us and strengthens them.

Personally I would have built up to a march. A red card protest, a black balloon protest, some well placed newspaper think pieces about those accounts when they come out, a turning the back moment from our away following - suddenly these things are in every match report and instead of the West Ham board, they are the "embattled" West Ham board, the "under fire" West Ham board, the "besieged" West Ham board. At that point it's not whether change will come, it's what change will come.

But that's gone now and the march is the way forward and I support everyone on it, I truly do. My own view is that regime change is a very risky proposition because, incredibly, there are owners out there who make Sullivan and Gold look like Sheik Mansour, but I accept that the vast majority disagree with me. And if that's the case - then make that the aim of the march and let the cards fall where they may. Their handling of the stadium move alone means they deserve every bit of opprobrium that comes their way.

And whatever anyone thinks of the march, it can't be denied that these owners have failed us and we do deserve better. West Ham deserves better. We might have been allowed glorious failure to be baked into the DNA of the club but it doesn't always have to be that way. We can and will achieve more than these owners have allowed us.


"She'll carry it on through it all"
The Stone Roses, "Waterfall"

But amidst all this gloom, I should also say that I see light. I was given a small reminder of that before this game, as my ten year old and I were running along the various impenetrable waterways that protect the London Stadium as though designed by the architect of a medieval castle. We were delayed by TfL, as usual, and the rain was pouring in sideways and reddening our faces as the familiar pre match music was creeping like mist over the stadium roof.  Then "Bubbles" came on as we jogged up to security, and in that moment my daughter turned to me and started singing along, hands in the air and a big grin on her face. Not for her any worries about the lack of pace in our defence, or the rates of interest that we pay on our loans, or the badge that adorns the front of her Cheikhou Kouyate shirt, but a simple expression of joy at the fact that the next two hours were loaded with possibility.

And of course, that's how it should be. The fight that we are in as fans is just as transient as those who own our club. West Ham will prevail because it always does, and because our club exists not in balance sheets or Premier League money tables or even the London Stadium. It lives instead in the side streets and school playgrounds, and hospital wards and pub saloon bars and on bedroom walls and in the arms of ten year old girls who hear "Bubbles" and immediately start singing it, even in the teeth of a howling gale. 

And that is what our fans are marching for.

The acknowledgement that our club exists for reasons other than to make money for people who don't have the ability to take the club forward, but are instead content to leave us in a state of failing inertia in order to pad the growth of their investment. And while I might not completely agree with the tactics of those fans, I absolutely understand and empathise with their frustration. To dismiss it as the actions of hotheads is to fail to understand the tinderbox atmosphere that exists between us and the owners. These latest noises from Sullivan and Gold are therefore too little too late. They ignored us for too long and at their peril, and we will take our club back because we will outlast them. For that reason I don't object to the leaders of the Real West Ham Fans group meeting with the Board before the march. That was the whole purpose of the group in the first place, I thought.

But the wider concern I have is what exactly it is that some people seem to think they will be getting back. Which of the fifteen versions of the club badge is the acceptable one? If wishes were plastic seats we still won't be able to raise the ashes of the Chicken Run from the Upton Park dirt. Pray as we might, but Geoff Hurst isn't going to lead the line at Liverpool.

West Ham fans have to start looking forward and asking for things that are actually achievable and meaningful. Off the top of my head:

- The immediate installation of a fully qualified Director of Football, who is given complete control of the playing affairs of the club. The current chairmen will step down from whatever day to day involvement they have in the football side of the club.

- Elected supporter representatives on the board to hold the club to account.

- Those loans fixed at commercial rates and no higher.

- Regular dialogue with supporter groups to address the myriad problems with the stadium and an end to this fiction that everything is ok while the roof is literally leaking over our heads. Everything at present is reactionary and coated in the gleam of self denial.

- If fans believe that the club has lost touch with it's past then it really isn't that difficult to fix. Celebrate better the achievements of our past: Pick selected matches to specifically cherish and promote any of the following:  the first three black players in a top flight English side - Clyde Best, Clive Charles and Ade Coker; the 1975 European Cup Winners Cup Runners Up; Ron Greenwood; Vic Watson; Steve Potts; the West Ham Academy - whatever, really. In some ways it doesn't matter what you remember, so long as you're remembering.

There is a difference between endlessly looking backwards in the hope of recreating a mythical past that didn't even exist then and standing on the shoulders of giants to move the club forward. I'm not advocating a weekly nostalgia session to distract ourselves from what's in front of us, but more an effort to make our rented accommodation at least seem a little more like home. It really wouldn't be that tricky to get giant banners of Watson, Lampard Sr, Bonds and Greenwood in the four corners of the ground would it?

So you might agree with all that or none of it, but the point I'm trying to make is that an effort to make the London Stadium seem like home, and pulling our history closer to our fans shouldn't be that difficult. In fact, none of this stuff really feels that difficult if you've truly got the interests of the club at the centre of your agenda.

And as for the march, I hope it yields some positive results. And as always, perhaps the best advice comes from Diamond Joe Quimby: