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

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The West Ham Way (Or, why I decided not to renew)

There is no apology that is less needed than the one that goes "Sorry I haven't blogged for a while". So I won't make it.

This season has been one of the worst I have ever endured as a West Ham fan. And I'm 35, so I speak with a wealth of experience of terrible seasons. It has been tedious, dull, repetitive and hopelessly uninspiring. Highlights have included been outplayed by such footballing luminaries as Stoke and Crystal Palace, losing 5-0 in the FA Cup to a team managed by Billy Davies, and an accidental run to the League Cup semi finals where we showed so much backbone and attacking ambition that we managed to hold Man City to an aggregate 0-9 score. Because double figures would have been embarrassing.

Since March 1, when West Ham were beaten at Everton by a late Romelu Lukaku goal, it has been almost unbearable to watch us play. Things reached a nadir when the team were booed off the pitch after a tortuous and undeserved 2-1 home victory over Hull City, and with just three games remaining it is entirely possible that we will finish the season with six straight defeats, staying up only by virtue of the appalling teams around us.

Fans are divided over the issue of Sam Allardyce. Many, myself included, have been prepared to hold their nose and accept his pragmatic style of play in return for the promise of security that it brings. In that respect he has been a godsend for the owners David Sullivan and David Gold, who have mortgaged so much on the club being in the Premiership at the point where we move to the Olympic Stadium.

Allardyce started in the Championship with the wreckage of Avram Grant's ineptitude and smuggled the team up through the Play Offs. The first season back in the top flight was a relative success, with fans happy enough just to survive and bloody a few noses on the way. This season, however, has been lost in a blizzard of injuries and a mystifying transfer policy that saw us playing without a striker for the best part of two months after Andy Carroll was injured, Modibo Maiga was proven to be hopeless, and Carlton Cole was released and then re-signed in typically West Ham fashion.

But things are different now. There is an increasingly vocal minority who have lost faith with Allardyce. There has been no visible progression in the style of play and perhaps most alarmingly, a worryingly inability to get the best out of Andy Carroll despite structuring the entire team around him.

The backdrop to the unrest has been the thorny issue of "The West Ham Way". Decried by Allardyce and most media pundits as a figment of the imagination and dismissed as the delusional ravings of a fanbase who have romanticised too much of their past and forgotten the reality of their existence. The most commonly repeated phrase through the whole debate has been - "Be careful what you wish for". In short - fear prevails.

We, as West Ham fans, are being patted on the head by the media and told that we need to accept the current horrible reality or we will go the same way as those other teams who got ideas above their station. Remember Bolton? Remember Newcastle? Remember Blackburn? Be careful what you wish for.

Never was this more apparent than on last nights Match of the Day when the "West Ham Way" was once again declared as being simply losing and Allardyce was at least transcending that. I thought that was typically lazy punditry so I did a little research. Here are the Premier League records of West Ham managers since 2006:

Curbishley W23 D13 L26 (Win% - 37%) {Points per game - 1.32}
Zola          W20 D13 L32 (Win% - 30%) {Points per game - 1.12}
Grant        W7   D12 L18 (Win% - 18%) {Points per game - 0.89}
Allardyce   W22 D17 L34 (Win% - 30%  {Points per game - 1.13}

So, Sam Allardyce is delivering the same results as Gianfranco Zola.

I'll just let that settle in for a moment.

There is another side to this, of course. West Ham's transfer policy has been haphazardly schizophrenic for years now and the squad he inherited was uniformly awful. The club is still partly owned by Icelandic creditors and for all the good work of the owners in reducing the debt, we still can't afford any missteps in the transfer market. This years summer budget was substantially less than, say, Southampton and once it was all spent on Carroll and Stewart Downing it was utterly predictable that both would then miss the start of the season with injury.

But this is West Ham. We always have loads of injuries. Generally we have a good team and a weak squad and the latter is almost always exposed due to injuries. Every manager we have ever had has had to deal with this and it engenders little sympathy from me.

This is getting a little long

I should cut to the chase, in the absence of a decent editor.

I don't think Allardyce plays as bad a style as many others think, but he also doesn't play as attractive a style as he thinks. There are others who could achieve the same limited results as him and do it without boring us all senseless.

As it stands, I have decided not to renew my season ticket for next season. And neither will my Dad or Sister, and I have shelved plans to buy season tickets for my three kids.

Such is the structure of modern football that West Ham, who are in the top 10 of English clubs in terms of Premiership longevity, attendance, turnover, wage bill and ticket prices have almost zero chance of winning anything. The game is so utterly rigged in favour of the big teams that a club such as ours has nothing to aim for except the odd cup run. Our acceptable range of league position is 8 - 17. Where we finish really doesn't make all that much difference to anything except for prize money, which never results in lower ticket prices and therefore I don't care about.

All we have, therefore, is the way we play and the entertainment it provides. And the Allardyce style of play is boring. Defensive solidity is nice, but it's also boring. When I think back on the games I have watched this season, my overwhelming recollection is of how utterly tedious the games have been.

I could perhaps live with that if we were knocking on the door of the top 6, but we're not. We are mired in mid table looking at the likes of Swansea, Southampton, Hull and Stoke and wishing we were them.

It's no longer fun to watch West Ham, and I can't continue to be fed this line that it's Allardyce or bust. This isn't the only way, it's just the only way he knows, and the owners are too scared of not being in the Premiership to make a change. That's fine, and their prerogative, but I am not sure sure how many fans are going to stick around to watch it.....