The Brian Williams Column
With the hunt now on for a new manager, and the fresh dawn that will bring, it is easy to forget that we are nearing the end of an era. This time next year the gates of Upton Park will have been locked for the final time and the bulldozers will be on their way. There will be no going back.
They say you don’t miss what you’ve got ’til it’s gone, but it’s not going to be as simple as that next season. For all of us who have a lifetime of loyal support invested in Upton Park the final game of next season is going to be one of the most emotional days of our lives. That’s not to say other matches won’t be poignant too, though.
In its way, each game is going to be a final game. It will be the last time we play Chelsea at Upton Park; the last time we play Man Utd; the last time we play Tottenham. With each game the recollections of past battles will come flooding back. For me that means Geoff Hurst v Chopper Harris; Bobby Moore v George Best & Co; Martin Peters and Jimmy Greaves playing for the “wrong” sides. When we entertain Newcastle I’ll allow myself the luxury of a journey back in time to 1986 and big Alvin’s hat-trick. Arsenal will give me the chance to privately salute Sir Trevor; Man City means Dean Ashton; Everton equates to Stuart Slater. And just about everybody will make me think of my personal king of Upton Park, William Arthur Bonds.
My advice is to soak up the atmosphere at every game; cherish the memories of our final season at the Boleyn Ground and lock them away somewhere very safe indeed. You never know when you might need them.
What are the memories you will take from this season, I wonder? Whether they are good or bad will much depend on whether you’re a glass half-full or half-empty kinda person. The early part of the season was terrific, of course – not just the results, but the brand of free-flowing attacking football that we were serving up under Sam Allardyce. There wasn’t a hoof to be seen as we dispatched Liverpool, Man City, Newcastle, Swansea and Leicester at Upton Park before Christmas. For the traveling supporters there were even a couple of away wins as well.
Yes, we had our tongues in our collective cheek as we warned Barcelona that we were coming for them. But it was fun, nevertheless.
You don’t need me to tell you the second half of the season was nowhere near as enjoyable. A toxic cocktail of injuries, loss of confidence and hurtful late goals saw the party turn into a hangover as we won just three league games. And a desperately disappointing exit from the FA Cup after we’d all started to believe this might just be our year to go back to Wembley induced nausea to go with the headache.
Would we have taken a comfortable mid-table position with no hint of relegation if we’d been offered it at the beginning of the season? It’s my bet most of us would. Also, whatever you think of Allardyce, there is no gainsaying that the standard of football was the best we have seen for several years. Even in some of the games we didn’t win, the quality was undeniable. We were exceptional against Man U, and excellent in the second half against Chelsea, for example.
However, the time has clearly come for a parting of the ways. The vital spark has gone from the team and, ultimately, the manager has to carry the can for that. As the season petered out we looked, as a side, to be too old, too slow, and too cautious. (There are those who would describe me in similar terms, but you don’t pay large lumps of money to watch me perform every week.)
There was a time I would have been desperate for a former West Ham favourite such as Slaven Bilic to take over. I’m not fussed these days – I just want someone who understands the club’s ethos and puts more emphasis on scoring goals than preventing them. I might even have a couple of bob on Michael Laudrup getting the job. I just hope the appointment is made sooner rather than later.
Alongside the question of who will be the manager comes the close season speculation about which players might be going and who may be joining. Somebody, somewhere, will doubtless put forward the suggestion we are about to sign Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Pele and Daniel Bentley (although I can’t see Bentley coming to Upton Park now Southend have secured promotion to League 1).
I like to kid myself that I will ignore the transfer gossip – telling myself I’m far too savvy to be taken in by all that stuff. But, try as I might, I won’t be able to resist the temptation to have a peek from time to time (Note to Miss Liddy: please note your spelling lesson did not go to waste.) I will endeavor not to believe every word of it, though. (Note to self: try not to let it ruin your summer when it transpires any rumour linking Carlos Tevez with a return to Upton Park is wide of the mark.)
Ah well, that’s the penultimate season done and dusted. I’m going to prepare for the next one – the final one at our beloved Boleyn Ground – by watching a bit of cricket and sparking up the barbecue when the weather allows. I hope you all have a brilliant summer, and I look forward to resuming our regular Tuesday get-togethers in August. As the man once said: COME ON YOU IRONS!
IAIN WRITES: If you’re wondering what to read on the beach this summer, why not try Brian’s book Nearly Reach The Sky – A Farewell to Upton Park? If it’s not in your local bookshop, you can order it online from publishers Biteback or Amazon.