"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
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"
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.