Guest Post

Can the West Ham fans ever be United?

Guest post by The Original Russ

I was disappointed last week when the march was finally called off. Not just because it felt as though by doing so the board had in some way won, but because I felt it was important for the fans to show that they could be united.

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Andy Swallow, Mickey Morgan and others had done a great job in pulling together such large numbers of fans when they started the Real Fans Action Group and announcing the march. Other supporters groups joined forces and within a very short space of time we had a huge, united body of fans ready to tell the board what they thought. It was the large numbers and threat of the march that brought the board to the table and to make concessions on what the fans wanted, small numbers or splinter groups would never have got to where these guys got to in so short a time. The board had to divide the fans to win the battle which ultimately they did. Now we are left with fragmented bits, no cohesion and a board that are free to do as they wish once again.

So what is the way, for surely the fans need a voice and need to be heard. The promises and concessions gained by The Real West Ham Fans Action Group and the groups that joined together with it was in my opinion a great start and I never expected that to happen. But it is only that, a great start. My own view is that all of the fan groups have to come together again, to unite under one banner to again show strength to the board and let them know we aren’t going to go away and we will be holding them to account on the promises they made. The fan groups fell out, threats and allegations were made towards specific leading figures of those groups, it all became a mess, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be united again. Whether that is under a new name created and agreed by the relevant groups or whether that is under the WHUISA banner, the leaders of these groups have to start talking and it has to happen.

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The reason I chose WHUISA as the united body is simply because it is a properly set up organisation with an elected committee, a stated constitution and is already affiliated to the FSF. Those things are important as it legitimises the organisation and can call on the FSF to help. In the minutes of the last meeting it was telling that Tara Warren said WHUISA `was hard to deal with and had no agenda`. That’s a bad starting point. In my opinion what needs to happen is for anyone on the committee of WHUISA that was involved with the meetings that were had with the board and has been tainted, fairly or unfairly by the allegations made during the fall out from the march to step down, a new head be appointed of WHUISA and then representatives from the other fan groups be invited to join the WHUISA committee. A clear agenda and aims need to be set and agreed by all and a plan formulated on how those aims with be achieved.

Its not going to be a 5 minute job and it will require dedicated West Ham supporters that want the best for the club and supporters. What we don’t need are personal agendas and egos. A new date needs to be set for a march, sometime early in the new season when the board can again see the strength of the united fans and also know that if they don’t fulfil their promises they will be held to account. This should be a peaceful march to show strength, not a protest march. With more time to plan even greater numbers could attend. Work with the media who seem to be very much `pro` the fans, get some support from celebrity West Ham fans, ex players, those that can raise the profile of the supporters group, give it a louder voice. The board aren’t going to sell the club anytime soon and if things carry on as they are, who in their right minds are going to want to buy a toxic club? Even if someone does buy it they are not going to knock it down and they aren’t going to build a new one. We have to be realistic, we cant go back to Upton Park, many will never forgive or forget what they have done but we have to move forward. We are at the OS and that won’t change. The fans need to unite, build bridges with the board and a make this club the one we want to support. Show how powerful we can be, show how formidable and intimidating we can be to the opposition, and not cause our team to self destruct.

Since the last meeting and the cancellation of the march the club have said they will only meet with the SAB – this is unacceptable. The SAB is a focus group of fans selected by the board, they do not represent the fans or their views. The club need to understand that this isn’t acceptable and that they have to engage on a regular basis with representatives from an independent supporters group. The fans must unite and once they have, the board must acknowledge them.

Talking Point

Evening Standard Column: Be Careful What You Wish For

This is an article I have written for the Comment pages of tonight’s London Evening Standard. I am fully aware my opinion on this is not universally shared, but it’s my honest view. Please be polite in the comments.

I’ve had a season ticket at West Ham for 25 years, but on Saturday I woke up and for the first time since Sam Allardyce’s reign, I decided I didn’t want to go to the game. In retrospect perhaps I had a premonition – not about the 3-0 defeat to Burnley, but the terrible scenes that happened in the second half where grown men lost their marbles.
They were scenes I found profoundly upsetting. Three days later I still ask how people who no doubt have perfectly normal day jobs can be so hate-filled as to want to hurl abuse (and worse) at the 82 and 68 year old joint chairmen, David Gold and David Sullivan.

‘Sack the Board’ is the usual chant of the more knuckle-headed element of any football club’s fan base. And what does that achieve? Does it make Mark Noble tackle harder or Joe Hart play like he was ever England’s Number One? No. On Saturday it achieved what it normally achieves. Sweet F.A.

Not that long ago West Ham came from 2-0 down to beat Everton 3-2. That was never on the cards on Saturday and it was entirely due to a few mindless idiots and thugs. There were some who no doubt wanted to recreate the so-called ‘glory days’ of the ICF, the notorious Inter City Firm, who ran amok in the late 1970s and 1980s. These men are now in their 50s and 60s but seem to fancy one last hurrah. Pathetic.

My heart still lies at the Boleyn Ground. My head tells me the Board made the right decision to move. Like many other fans I genuinely believe the London Stadium is a fabulous arena and we’re bloody lucky to have it. Yes, when the team plays badly, the atmosphere stinks. It is a myth that the atmosphere at Upton Park was rocking all the time. The sound of 57,000 fans cheering when we were beating Spurs and Chelsea last season rivalled even the greatest night games at Upton Park.

So why are there so many violent scenes at the London Stadium? We can blame the players, we can blame the stadium itself or we can blame the amateurish stewarding all we like, but in the end grown men have to take individual responsibility for their own actions. They should just grow the f*** up.

Yes, the club have made some poor decisions, but those who want Messers Sullivan to sell up should beware. Whatever their weaknesses, they care deeply about the club.
Does anyone seriously think that a new Chinese, Azerbaijani or Russian owner is going to give two figs about fans? Yes, they might deliver a short term boost, but that’s all it would be. Short term. Be very careful what you wish for.

Tony Hanna's Musings

Siege mentality or couldn't care less?

After last weekend I feel it is a blessing that we have a three week break until our next game. Hopefully it will be a period of time where at least the worst of the dust will settle. Normally I hate these International breaks but for once it couldn’t have come at a better time. I first started attending matches at West Ham over 50 years ago but Saturday was the first time I felt ashamed of what our club has become as I watched the scenes unfold. As I wrote in my article last week “I must admit to feeling as low as I ever have about supporting West Ham” – the feeling has sunk to an even deeper level in just a few days. Whilst I will never stop supporting the Hammers, I am really questioning my personal investment of time and energy in all things West Ham.

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If Lanzini had slotted home his one on one with the keeper I doubt those nasty scenes would have even eventuated. For the first hour of the match there was only one team that was going to win, and it wasn’t Burnley, although the more the game went on it had a draw written all over it. Hypothetically, Ashley Barnes could hit his shot twenty times and nineteen would miss the target. Unfortunately for us he struck gold this time. It has been a similar story for a couple of seasons. After riding our luck in the Payet season where things just seemed to go our way so many times, the past two seasons we have rarely got the rub of the green. On the positive side West Brom just about ensured their relegation with a 4-1 home loss to Leicester leaving just two instead of three remaining trap door relegation places. Losses for Southampton, Stoke and Palace ensured there is still a three point buffer between us and eighteenth so things could have been worse. The matter of relegation is still in our hands but we need to find a win somehow or we will start to need to rely on other clubs results as well as our own. I dread to think what might happen if we go a goal down to Southampton in our next match!

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The manager must take a slice of the blame for our current form. We have players that are not up to standard and haven’t been for while, yet nothing was done in the January transfer window. It might be a difficult window to operate in but the Championship will be an even more difficult place to operate from. Letting Fonte and Ayew go were good deals financially but poor squad wise. Adequate replacements should have been at least a prerequisite. Hart made two awful mistakes again and one led to a goal. Cresswell is so timid he shouldn’t be anywhere near a Premier League club. Collins has been a great servant and still gives his all, but again he is not PL standard. Noble is a great trier but seriously lacks pace. All West Ham fans know that Antonio is no right wing back yet Moyes thinks he will be better at left wing back! In my opinion many of our players are either already getting their agents to find them new clubs for next season or, at the very least, have already given up on this season. Four of our last eight matches are against top six sides and whilst we only venture outside of London once for the rest of the season I will be very surprised if we stay up. I can only imagine that Jordan Hugill has been bought in case we go down and what was Moyes thinking when bringing in Evra, especially on higher wages than some of our established players. What message does that send? Whilst he is prone to the odd bad mistake I really think we have missed Masuaku’s drive forward on the left. He will be available for selection against Southampton and Moyes simply must select him.

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David Moyes is taking advantage of the three week break and is taking the team away for a short warm weather break in Miami. This is an opportunity to install a siege mentality within the playing group. If he can do this we still have hope. If the players don’t care where they are playing next season it will be a worthless exercise. Back in my playing days I remember the bonding effect that a team getaway could have and I am sure if done in the right spirit the benefits when it is done at a professional level could be significant. Three weeks without a game will hopefully bring a freshness to the squad and be a time for a refocus.

Five of our remaining eight games are at home and tensions I am sure will get high at times. If the support in the ground becomes toxic Moyes must have the players prepared with an “us and them” siege mentality. In some ways even raise their game further when times become more trying. As I alluded to earlier though, I don’t think too many of them have the stomach for it. I hope they prove me wrong. Often our home support has come to the rescue in the past and raised the roof in times of need, but at the moment Moyes and the team can’t rely on that. Trevor Brooking said after the game that unhappy fans should stay away from the last five home matches. Unfortunately, I think that is unlikely and the ones that will stay away are the ones that have just had enough of the shenanigans.

The HamburgHammer Column

United till the summer - then the club requires change from top to bottom

I will try to moan and whinge as little as possible in my column today, but I won’t be putting my fingers in my ears, pretending everything is fine. It’s not.
Saturday was not a good advertisement for football in general and certainly not for West Ham in particular – and things always seem to look worse once the Hammers are involved.

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I don’t believe the players were in danger actually. But the pitch invasions were sad to see nonetheless, even though it was only a few individuals and not, God forbid, thousands of irate “supporters”. I don’t condone the scenes we saw, they made me sick and, believe it or not, the scenes kept running through my head at night and I was actually struggling to get to sleep. I don’t like what happened.

But what with the march getting cancelled and all those shenanigans I can understand WHY it all happened.

The pressure had been building up over months and it needed to find a way out.
I would have prefered it if all those protests had materialised away from the stadium, not impacting the game, but that unfortunately was not the case.

There were some fights all over the stadium and concourse apparently, children were getting scared and the board got itself an earful from an angry group of fans congregating right in front of the directors’ box.

Oh, we also lost another crucial game 0:3 by the way, shooting our goal difference in the foot even further by conceding eleven (!!!) goals in total in our last three games.

Things are really bad at your club when fans who are supposed to root for the same club are at each other’s throats.

But I shall try to find a bit of positivity (yeah, I know) and common sense here.
It’s still possible to fend off relegation. It’s still in our own hands (and feet), although looking at our recent run of results and performances that thought doesn’t exactly instill a lot of confidence. But there are still a number of other teams struggling for points below and around us and unless they suddenly start picking up more wins than us we might just do it.

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We do have a group of halfway decent players actually, we have seen games in the past where those players did wonderful things on the pitch, the trouble is that it hasn’t happened often enough this season and certainly not for the entire team at the same time. I was feeling sorry for Arnautovic on Saturday who was trying to find a way past four or five Burnley players with no claret and blue shirt in sight to help him out.

Arnautovic was another positive for me in the way he handled himself after the final whistle, coming to the fans in trying circumstances, talking to some kids, signing stuff and giving one of them a pair of football boots, if I saw that correctly. I have really taken to Arnautovic in recent weeks and he certainly is trying his best to make things right for us.

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I am not going to go into yet another lengthy rant about the board, you know my stance, it is shared by some and dismissed by others which is totally fine. I feel it’s necessary to give ourselves the best chance possible in the remaining home games to get some wins. For that to happen we can’t have any repeats of the Burnley fiasco in the stadium for the remainder of the season.

I have read quotes from Sir Trevor Brooking and players like Collins, suggesting that the angry fans should stay away from the remaining home games this season if they cannot keep their rage/grief under control. That’s a fair point.

To increase the chance of more goodwill from the crowd at our games even further though I’d also hope the board will decide to watch the games anywhere but not in open view from their accustomed seats in the directors box. We can pretend all we like there is no issue with them, but in real life there is. It’s also being acknowledged in the media now.

Plenty of fans are riled up by the board and it might help if they removed themselves from the firing line for the time being to let the players and manager do their job, getting maximum support and focus from the home crowd.

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Someone who might also help in our current predicament is Sir Trevor Brooking. Seeing him rooted to his seat in a deserted directors’ box, with a wry smile on his face, was both beautiful and sad to see.

A club legend who is undoubtedly suffering and struggling with the current state our club finds itself in. He could be filling a more official role at the club, as ambassador or spokesman or something like that and he would also be the kind of person to unite the new breed of fans and the more traditional set of supporters alike who used to cheer Sir Trev on from the Chicken Run when he was in his prime as a West Ham player.

For me that is one of the major things that hasn’t been properly addressed with the stadium move: Keeping the older fans on board while also catering for and welcoming new ones.

West Ham can only be successful if both sets feel reasonably happy and united there. I accept that the move to the new stadium was too good an opportunity to turn down really. Most owners would have gone for the move.

I accept that some steady and gradual change at the club is needed in tune with world football forever changing as well.

I am not a fan of the stadium, but I can bear watching whatever number of games I can travel over for. At the same time I empathise with those who say it is simply not for them and they can’t/won’t go there ever again. But it is what it is, we are there and we need to make it work somehow. And I am convinced there is still a small chance it can work.

But only if the club starts to take the bull by the horns before then addressing the elephant in the room.

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Our board may be around for another few years yet and I am under no illusions that fan blogs or social media accounts will make any modicum of difference in terms of their decision to sell or stay. But they need to stick to the role of being club owners, they don’t need to run the club. Most clubs have separate club chairmen, directors of football, PR and marketing staff, chief scouts, managers, assistant coaches etc.

They are experts and have experience from playing or at least working in a professional role at football clubs. I’d hazard a guess we’d be a lot better off if our board took a step back and hired professionals to run the club for them. They can still earn their interest payments and they also still get their money back plus some healthy profit whenever they sell. They need to realise they are standing in their own way by trying to take on too much day to day stuff at the club.

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Before writing this column I distracted myself on Sunday with watching some football where the football actually took center stage: Concordia’s U23s winning a men against boys kind of contest with a staggering 13:0 scoreline against SC Europa (not a reflection by the way about the state of the European Union…:-))
That was a pleasant two hours, watching my local team getting top spot in their division, heading for promotion to the next level while also having some banter with fellow fans without any chance of fists flying or being on the receiving end of a Glasgow kiss…

I then drove 40 miles to have a cuppa with my brother at his rehab place and I’m glad to report he is on the mend, despite still looking incredibly thin and weak which comes as no surprise after nearly four weeks in a hospital bed. Things are looking on the up for him and I intend to keep my promise of taking him to London, and hopefully it will be for a Premier League match rather than one in the Championship, but either way my bro wouldn’t bother, mind you, he even once watched Orient play Shrewsbury at Brisbane Road with me, so he’s no glory hunter either…

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It’s a bit of a break now until our next fixture comes around and I hope the warm weather trip to Miami will work in our favour, unlike them notorious ventures to Dubai.
Surely it gives everyone time for a breather and to get ready for the crucial back end of the season. I somehow hope our fans can put their disagreements and anger aside for the rest of the season now until we have secured our Premier League status for next season. No doubt there will be more protests and marches somewhere along the way and rightly so, fans have a right to protest.

But there is a time and place for everything. I reckon the board finally got the message that there is a lot of anger and they do need to act in the summer to get things fixed.
In the meantime let’s remember that this club is so much bigger than individual players, managers, owners and fans. It’s been there for generations and browsing through some old West Ham books yesterday I got a renewed sense of pride and of the role this club has played (and continues to play) for hundreds of thousands of fans in and around London and all over the rest of the world.

West Ham are more than a football club, it’s a family and a way of life. West Ham is changing, but it can still retain some of that East London rooted community spirit, wicked sense of humour and siege mentality. Never say die! COYI!!!

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Hammers Slump Continues As Supporters Anger Spills Out On To The Pitch

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