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

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.


  1. So many of us believed the hype and are now not only disappointed but ashamed. You captured that perfectly.

  2. Im Proud to say Mark Walker is a friend, the abuse directed at him sickened me to the point where i felt i no longer wanted to be part of WHU while the board that caused this remained there.
    Great article, i applaud you sir

  3. Great piece, a perfect summation.
    I too am feeling it might be a time for a break from West Ham and it is breaking my heart.

  4. Good piece, mate. Turn the sadness to focussed fury and fix things as best we can, or at least die trying. What else can we do?

  5. Anonymous11:39 AM

    "Leaving aside for a moment the concept of Antifa being used in a pejorative sense"
    How else would one describe antifa communist filth?

  6. Anonymous12:15 PM

    Antifa are NOT connected to WHUISA, KUMB or Hammers Chat etc, nor the peaceful march we wanted. Moot point therefore. Brady should not be allowed to work with the bullying, nasty thugs that are the RWHFAG.

  7. Anonymous12:23 PM

    Excellent stuff. I'll wipe the tear from my eye and ponder.

  8. Anonymous12:36 PM

    Encapsulated my thoughts entirely. Saturday will be my last visit to the OS until the board are gone. Hope it's soon...

  9. Anonymous12:49 PM

    I too am at a crossroads. No longer is it a question of whether to march is (was) valid, but the vitriol shown over the weekend has shaken me to my claret & blue roots. It has always been West Ham against the rest - even when rival fans gather together under the England banner- but when Hammers turn against Hammers, I question the motives. I fully understand Hammers stalwart Bill Gardner walking away - something I currently can't do, but I am contemplating it even after 54 years of watching them & not missing a game for the past 17 years. I hope it gets better - starting on Saturday against Burnley.

  10. Aitch2Oh12:49 PM

    Thanks HHS – another splendidly written piece. If only all West Ham blogs, messageboards, Facebook pages etc. were similarly eloquent (and grammatically correct)!
    I agree that what is happening to the club off the field is far more worrying than inept displays by the team away at Swansea – goodness how many of those have we seen. The sad fact is that modern football (and the Premier League in particular) has moved on in a way that has distorted the game. I don’t know if you read The Guardian (I suspect you might) but there is a letter in today’s online edition suggesting that no matches be played in the Premier League next season but each team be asked to put in a financial bid – the highest bid being awarded the title and the three lowest bidders being relegated. It does feel like that, doesn’t it?
    On this week’s Flintoff, Savage and the Ping Pong Guy podcast they discussed whether football should be about results or entertainment for the fans. They were highlighting how often the only way to win matches against top sides was to ‘park the bus’ – except West Ham of course, who park the bus to try and keep the goal difference down to three or four. They questioned whether fans of teams in the Championship had a better match experience. There’s a part of me that feels I’d enjoy – and have enjoyed - football more in the Championship.
    The London Stadium is part of the ‘modern’ game. I feel the move was inevitable – the surrounding infrastructure at the Boleyn being unable to sustain any sizeable increase in attendance – and I’m pleased that the stadium built for the Olympics is being used regularly. Though I would agree the move could have been handled better and there are undoubtedly problems. Those looking back to the glory days of the Boleyn and pining for times past remind me of those Brexiteers who want to return some glorious past when Britain ruled the world. One of the things about being old (like wot I am) is that you remember not everything was that glorious in the past. I’m not denying that there are problems with the stadium. We were certainly led astray over the retractable seating and the wonderful travel connections aren’t always that great – though that is mostly the walk from Stratford to the ground, and whilst ticket prices are reasonable, allocation, particularly for away matches, could be better.

  11. Aitch20h12:51 PM

    Part 2
    Football is having a hard time coming to terms with today’s world. Your paragraph about wanting West Ham to be an inclusive club struck a chord. Dear old Bill’s comment to a returning ChesterRd on ITBS ‘Any chance of a cuppa?’ isn’t funny or annoying anymore – just out of touch and rather ridiculous. I was reminded of an away match at Coventry – goodness how long ago was that – when I was delighted to see four Asian young men walking up the ground ahead of us wearing West Ham scarves. We were sat close to the home fans during the match and, sadly, I was barged aside at one point by a West Ham fan who wanted to deliver a barrage of disgusting racist taunts to the home crowd, so vehemently his spittle was landing my way! I stopped going to White Hart Lane as I didn’t want to be associated with, or listen to, some of the chanting from our fans – and it’s a bloody long walk to the Tube.
    Having even more trouble in coming to terms with the modern game are our hapless owners. I’m not absolving David Gold of any culpability but, to be fair, he is living his dream of owning the club he has always supported and he does support his local non-league team as well. Sadly he has put his trust in David Sullivan and Karren Brady. It’s Sullivan’s conceit, vanity, sheer foolishness, to imagine that he has the skills or knowledge to deal with any on field matters that leads to shambolic performances. All coupled with crass Twitterings and Brady’s comments and newspaper column which quite clearly has scuppered various deals. It’s time they shut up or sold up.
    I’m not giving up on West Ham yet. I’m proud of my 4 digit client reference. I cling to the fact that two of our footballing heroes, Bobby Moore and Trevor Brooking, were/are true gentleman, like most of the fellow fans I meet.
    I’m slightly ashamed to say that my happy place includes Repka’s thighs but proud to say I joined WHUISA some time ago and wish them continued success in representing fan’s views.

  12. Anonymous12:55 PM

    That, sir, is one of the best articles you have ever put out there. Hat doffed

  13. Anonymous2:05 PM

    Terrific piece that. I feel and share your pain Sir.

  14. Anonymous4:49 PM

    Antifa = anti fascists. Who the fuck is rooting FOR the fascists!? Why!?

    1. exploder986:20 PM

      Antifa is the latest word attached to violent militant leftist groups. They are, as it says on the tin, anti-fascists but some condemn them because they believe non-violence doesn't work.

      It's much the same as the Anti-Nazi League. However, like Sadiq Khan, mentioning a connection to Antifa is like a red rag to the far right.

      How scarily correct my throwaway comment about the lunatic fringe was.

    2. Anonymous1:07 PM

      Antifa are the violent street mob who have a history of terrorising the locals with violence into submitting to a communist political agenda.

      They are against natives having a voice, and have a long history throughout the world of using political violence to further their agenda.

      2 world wars came out of it, sadly the communists won which is why most modern fans are neo-liberal faggots now.

    3. Anonymous11:10 AM

      You are a little bit ... misguided. "The communists won" - what strange little imaginary world are you living in? Probably still dismayed that it wasn't the Nazis.

      Yeah sure, the rest of the world are 'neo-liberal faggots' ... though not sure you understand the neo-liberal phrase but you just see the confusing 'liberal' bit in it.

      I do pity West Ham fans here.

  15. Clearly one of the more emotional pieces you've written, and written well it is too. But I cannot agree.

    For me, you don't owe anyone any apology. You haven't let West Ham down anymore than anyone else pro-move. You were not alone in believing the sales pitch about the blue sky future (believe me) and I think Sullivan will be moist round the baggy bits with joy to read that one of his biggest dissidents has fallen into a state of self-blame for what is essentially all HIS fucking fault.

    The entire topic and result of the fan groups and march disgusts and sixkens me to the point I won't even discuss it anymore. You've put it as well as anyone possibly could above. For the record, I wish for that West Ham too. And also for the record, I'm no liberal /lefty/snowflake/all of the above.

    I find solace in wise words of Hack (remember him?) He always points out that good times will come again, that the shit can't last forever, and you have to rely on your fellow Hammers to keep your chin up sometimes or you go fucking potty. Especially once you quit drinking.

    It's killing everyone who cares right now, all this. That's why it's not killing our fucking board.

    Chin up fella. Our time will come again.

    Smiley winkey face.

    (Oh, and if you are reading this Sullivan SELL UP AND FUCK OFF YOU CUNT.)

  16. There is no justification for the actions of any thugs claiming to act on my behalf: West Ham is/was a family club and should remain so ; on a personal level nether will some Neanderthal put me off of supporting my own views, Neither Scargill nor Thatcher could change my views earlier and no bloody thus of any persuasion will make me
    change my views, Incidentally it would be nice to see the board tell the truth occasionally too.

  17. Anonymous6:23 PM

    Antifa, violent enemies of free speech. Hidden beneath masks in a uniform of black just like real fascists have always worn. Yes Antifa is a pejorative.
    Having said that, I also have no time for ageing football thugs who also go around threatening violence to those with a different opinion.
    Swallow and Antifa; sides of the same coin.

  18. Anonymous10:32 PM

    BLAKEY>>>>>>>First time I've felt the real need to comment. This is a superb piece of writing that any true West Ham fan would be proud to identify with

  19. Anonymous10:45 PM

    Hammered those nails home.

    Well written and bang on.

  20. Highams Park Hammer2:55 PM

    Brilliant post.

    Stick with it mate- we need people like you

  21. DJWhit1:13 AM

    HHS your article is a thing of joy - and sorrow. (Sorrow and joy for me.) I've revisited it in quiet despair following Saturday's Burnley melodrama. I too was at the Ipswich game in 86 but by then I already had 20 years' of sorrow and joy on the clock. Ironically, something died in me that night to, resulting from the look on Mark Ward's face as he picked himself up in front of me on the North Bank, having dived to earn the match winning penalty that helped to relegate Ipswich. All I could think amid the delirium around me was "is this what we have to do to win?" Many who read this will laugh at my foolishness and fair enough but for me, that moment tainted an otherwise wonderful season's journey home and away. As for our present circumstance I fear the worst. I've long felt we would go down (not at all the end of the world in a stadium fit for purpose). The Championship is a tough, competitive and entertaining league and in our present rudderless state I can see us sliding down again to L1. I didn't want the Brady bunch in 2010 and I don't want a change of ownership now. I just want the present owners to recognise and acknowledge their mistakes and shortcomings and begin to run the club properly. In the meantime, HHH, please keep writing and help me retain my sanity.