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.....


  1. Very well said, and all the people that I associate with through West Ham would agree. Three of us that I know of, will not be renewing our season tickets, and I'm reading and hearing the same all over. Yes we need to be a Premiership outfit when we move because we'll have rent to pay for a start. But part of the plan was to increase the fan base. Allerdyce can do part one, but has the opposite effect on part two. Our chairmen need to recognise this and deal with it, now! Otherwise, on day one at the Olympic Stadium, we'll have a full house of supporters, just there to have a nose. Most likely, more than half of those will hate the venue, many more will realise the entertainment still ain't up to spending their hard earned. The die hards? Well they're a different breed of course, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if some of them called it a day too.

  2. Anonymous11:20 AM

    Agree with all this. There is an alternative to just surviving with dire football and accepting it

    Shearer and co were embarrasing in MOTD Suggesting fans were not realistic wanting some good football.

  3. Absolutely fair comments and I sympathise with how you feel.

    It has been a torturous season for the fans and at times the football has been almost unbearable to watch. To see the ball hoofed up from around the half way line time and time again lacks not only any imagination but also quality and that for me has been the real missing ingredient.

    We desperately lack a couple of attacking midfield players who can run at defences and play the killer through ball, we also lack a forward who can respond to this style of play, and there you have a major problem in that West Ham do not have a plan B.

    Plan A only work when the wide men gan manouvre the ball into a good area and whip in a dangerous cross, even that has been a problem so in effect plan A has also failed to deliver.

    Whether Allardyce stays or goes at the end of the season the squad has to be improved and a few players whose contracts have ended have to leave.

  4. Let's face it, the club is substantially in debt and without G&S and the money they've put in wouldn't be viable. The obvious plan is that the move to the OS stadium, with it's capacity and location, will give greater revenue and the possibility (but not certainty) to improve the club by being able to buy and pay better players. But that means not getting relegated again or it all goes tits up. And Allardyce is as good a guarantee of that as you'll get other than Pulis (who dans forced out at Stoke). Then we might attract another manager and a different style of play and people might be happier, but as a supporter for 60 years this season, I won't bank on it.

  5. Anonymous1:05 PM

    Hull and Swansea and below us. I don't want to be like them. Thanks

  6. Good piece, I agree entirely. For me the whole 'West Ham way' debate on the booing after the Hull game misses one vital point - if we are going to play ugly Sam style, then at least we should be good at it by now, and we're not. I'd love to see us playing fast pass and move running football, but if we don't have the players for that, and our game is to be based on strength and crosses in to the big man - then why aren't we mounting waves of attacks and putting defences under pressure? We're creating so very little.

    Too often we are chipping floated balls in for defences to head away, or high angled balls at AC from halfway. I'd love to see Jarvis and Downing hitting the dead ball line and cutting crosses back in for Andy to run onto. But all our attacks, when they do come, seem so slow and ponderous teams can easily get into formation to knock them away.

    It worries me that players don't want to come to West Ham. I remember us linked with Bony for a long time, think how we would look with him up front.

    It worries me that we are linked with the likes of Cattermole and Bardsley, hard working pros though they might be. That speaks volumes about the scope of our ambition.

    We seem doomed to be forever in a relegation scrap, struggling points while never really looking convincing. And it will all be justified by Sam and the board if we scrape enough points together to just about survive.Is it really that unrealistic to want a bit more than that?

  7. Going by this season, i don't feel so safe for next season, a year old and slower Nolan, he ain't much cop now, who's to say Carroll wont get injured again and weve paint improved much with him back in the side if a tool, so are we hoping to fluke another month by getting 4 wins? I don't know but i do know is i cant guarantee safety with Sam and anyone who believes otherwise is fooling themselfs

  8. Anonymous7:43 PM

    Took you three years to work this out? I chucked it in as soon as he arrived. I've saved myself a shed load of cash and three years of futile hope that things would get better. They won't. They never were going to get better until he goes. You are a fan and so am I. I do away games when I can instead of spending 3 years moaning. Away games are a laugh whatever happens. You are also a customer so if you don't like the product let them know in the best way possible. Jack it in. But be prepared for the next fan to take your seat in the stands, who is ready to be mugged off because they haven't got the foresight to realise what they're signing up for. I am livid about what has happened to my club but I won't play along. They will not exploit my 40+ years of supporting this team.

  9. Deehammer10:22 PM

    I have been supporting the Hammers since I was a teenager. I am 67 years old. I have seen good and bad and really bad football at the Boleyn Ground in that time, but I have never booed my team. Even Ron Greenwood and John Lyall played scrappy to win points and at one time the fans were calling for their heads to roll! What would have happened to the Club if that had happened? No FA Cups in 64, 75 and 80 and no ECWC in 65. Also no World Cup in 66 possibly! They looked forward but some fans didn't agree with what they were doing at the time!

    What the morons in our midst,did on a day when we were showing our feelings on the loss of Dylan Tombides, is in my eyes embarrassing and disrespectful!
    How do you think his grieving family must have felt?
    Whatever the result or the way the game was played was irrelevant! They could have waited till a more appropriate time!

  10. Anonymous3:33 PM

    The only reason that May Dad and I will be renewing is that after 34 years of going together it's just what we do (he had his for 20 years before I was old enough to join him at 4).

    This is an excellent article and i agree with it wholeheartedly. one point that you have however missed is that if we lose against Spurs on the 3rd of May, we'l have equalled the most home defeats (10) in a single season in our entire history. The last time this happened was under John Lyall who was promptly sacked and he's arguably the clubs best ever manager.

  11. Anonymous5:21 PM

    Wonderful account of the garbage offered to us in the name of entertainment last year.
    I think it's fair to say that we were always careful what we wished for, and wished for something better - thankfully, we got our wish.
    Also interesting that the day I read this, Leicester lead the Premier League by 5 points with 13 games remaining. I, like you, never saw the moneyed "elite" being broken in quite such a remarkable way, but it the dream lives on for them, and I'm sure all us Hammers wish them the best, especially with "totenheim" being their closest pursuers.