Having just watched the latest Hammer horror show at Southampton on Sky, I’m feeling depressed again. And for this I completely blame Sam Allardyce and the board who appointed him. I’ve made never made any secret of my dismay at his appointment and nothing that has happened at West Ham since that dismal day – including promotion from the Championship – has given me any reason to revise my opinion.
We were an embarrassment at Southampton, as we have been once too often in recent years. I imagine Ron Greenwood and John Lyall spinning in their graves at the archaic, clueless dross served up under Allardyce. Modern football might be a results-driven business – a handy phrase all route one practitioners trot out to conveniently excuse their ‘tactics’ – but is it not also supposed to be about entertainment?
I understand that people attend football matches for a variety of reasons: to meet up with family and/or friends; for the craic; to let off steam; and to feel part of a group, or a combination of all of those reasons. They don’t go just to watch the football.
But I can’t believe anybody pays to watch West Ham these days because they seriously expect value for money entertainment. They have become bloody awful to watch.
I’m not questioning Sam Allardyce’s integrity as a person. From talking to people who are employed by the club, it’s obvious he is a very decent bloke who cares about those who work for him and around him. One employee who has worked under the last seven managers reckons he is the nicest of the lot, so we know he is popular and likeable around the club. He donates his fee for his weekly Evening Standard column to charity.
What I don’t like at all, however, is his approach to football matches, his crude modus operandi, one which he has cultivated since he first coined his long-ball reputation at Bolton. It’s a reputation he would no doubt dearly love to shed, it clearly rankles with him that sections of the media still stereotype him in this way. But the negative way he sets his team up to play, especially away from home, does nothing to discredit his critics. This leopard looks incapable of ever changing his spots.
West Ham supporters excused this crass bish-bosh approach while pursuing promotion two seasons ago and Allardyce felt indicated in the end because, despite being outplayed for long periods by Blackpool in the play-off final, he achieved what he was asked to deliver by his employers. We were not in the same class, football wise, as Southampton or Reading and, significantly, failed to beat either of our more cultured promotion rivals but it was still a case of job done. For many, the end justified the means.
I went to only one home game that season – a 1-0 shocker against Peterborough – but I was appalled by what I saw and vowed never to go again while Allardyce is in charge. I had neck ache by the end of the 90 minutes; it was so alien to the ‘West Ham Way’ I and thousands of others have been brought up on through the years. OK, so I don’t expect the limited players Allardyce had at his disposal to turn it on a la Brooking and Devonshire. But it would be nice to at least get the ball down and pass it occasionally. Yet I was horrified to see that the back four and keeper were clearly under instructions not to build play from the back but to try and ‘hit’ Carlton Cole with a long ball, which invariably either went sailing over his head to their keeper, or it was headed on to . . . er, no-one.
BS received more plaudits last season by steering West Ham to 10th place on our return to the Premier League, but so what? Let’s be honest, if a couple of results had gone against us at the end of the season, we could easily have been dragged into the relegation dogfight. The final league position masked many deficiencies and fooled his disciples into believing we were a better side than we really were. Tenth place flattered Allardyce.
Now I expect many of you will quickly retort: ‘Ah, but it doesn’t matter how we play as long as we stay in the top flight’. But to me and many others who no longer attend games, it DOES matter. We care very much HOW we play. In the same way a long list of former managers – Fenton, Greenwood, Lyall, Bonds, Redknapp, Roeder, Brooking, Pardew and Zola – cared, too.
Sure, apart from three FA Cups and the European Cup Winners’ Cup, we never won much playing attractive football. We never won the league championship. No matter. If I’d wanted to be a glory-hunter obsessed with winning trophies, I would have supported Manchester United, Liverpool or Arsenal as a kid. We took pride in having Moore, Hurst and Peters in our side and were universally respected for playing open, attacking and entertaining football. Even when we were shit we could still play a bit.
Many fans today, mainly those who weren’t lucky enough to see the greats I did in claret a and blue, seem to think that a sustained period spent in the Premier League cannot be achieved by playing ‘fancy football’ but other teams clearly manage it OK. And I’m not talking about the ‘big’ clubs with huge resources (or debts) to finance their Champions League dreams. Fulham, who probably have no more financial resources than us and certainly not as many fans, aren’t a team that hoof the ball forward but they rarely flirt with relegation. And look how far Swansea have come, right through the divisions, playing consistently attractive football under three different managers in Martinez, Rodgers and now Laudrup.
I admire what the Swansea board has done by sticking to their principles and making the right appointments to ensure the club’s football philosophy is not compromised. They have decided how they want to play the game and pick men who share their ideology. Their faith has been rewarded, too. It’s also the Barcelona way and that’s just how it should be. The egomaniac Mourinho made it known he was desperate for the Barca job before Pep Guardiola got it a few years ago but the Barca board, much as they admired his achievements, didn’t want to appoint a man who they believed could damage their credibility and image.
How I’d love Martinez or Laudrup, proper football people, to manage West Ham and restore the footballing ethos we took for granted for so long. I may be a lone voice in the wilderness, but I’d rather we finished 17th playing decent football than 10th by hoofing long, aimless balls in the general direction of a lone striker and playing without any guile or creativity.
Which brings me to Andy Carroll. It’s not his fault that he cost £17.5m to sign from Liverpool but it was ours for paying such an outrageous fee for a player who, let’s face it, has had only one half of a good season in the Premier League – for Newcastle before Dalglish lost his marbles and blew an eye-watering, management career-ending £35m on him. Carroll scored 11 goals in 19 PL games for the Magpies but a meagre six in 44 for the Reds.
We knew he was injury-prone from his loan spell with us last season (7 goals in 24 games) but Allardyce, backed by the board, still lavished virtually all of his summer transfer budget on Carroll . . . and then compounded the problem by wasting the last £5m of it on the non-scoring, one-footed, overrated Downing. His paltry three goals in 65 appearances for Liverpool says it all.
I think they saw us coming. TWICE!
We’ve not tossed away so much money on a winger since we bought, er, our last one – Jarvis, from relegated Wolves, for an even more lamentable £9m. Maiga? Paulista? Chamakh? It has to be said, our judgement in the transfer market has been woeful under Allardyce. Whether they were bought or just cheap loan deals, you have to wonder who actually watches these players before we sign them or, indeed, if we do watch them. Do we have a chief scout and any semblance of a scouting network at all?
The injuries that have delayed Carroll’s start to this season provide Allardyce with a ready-made excuse for the team’s current shortcomings but we now find ourselves in a situation that was wholly avoidable and, sadly, predictable. Why spend so much of the transfer budget on one very expensive, injury-prone player and then waste what was left of it on a winger, when Stevie Wonder could see that we needed another quality striker?
Maybe I’m doing our scouts a grave injustice. Perhaps they have spoken to a number of potential new signings but have been met with a polite ‘no thanks’. It can’t be much fun being a lone striker having to chase long balls pumped airborne for 90 minutes. Of course, they also know that when Carroll does eventually return, they will almost certainly find themselves benched because the one-dimensional Allardyce knows only one way to play.
Now we have evidently left ourselves with no other option but to go cap in hand to a player the manager deemed unworthy of the shirt just a few months ago. Is Carlton Cole really our only option? Cringeworthy, isn’t it?
Let’s ponder those Carroll figures for a moment, though. Apart from an outlandish transfer fee of £17.5m, he is reportedly on a weekly wage of £100k. Not taking into account any other goal bonus or whatever else his agent managed to extract from West Ham which we don’t know about, Carroll will ultimately cost us £48.7m over the full term of his six-year contract.
Which is complete and utter madness.
This, for a player who was on the open market as available for weeks between the end of last season and his permanent move to Upton Park, in which time not one other club showed even the slightest interest in paying Liverpool’s ridiculous asking price. That’s why, reluctantly it seems, he had to give up waiting for any other takers and stay with us. But the question remains: with no other Premier League club in for him, why on earth did we not drive a harder bargain with Liverpool? The prospect of having to pay a £100k-per-week player in the Championship – and don’t tell me it couldn’t possibly happen – a year or two or three from now doesn’t bear thinking about given the club’s current level of debt and with the move to the OS on the horizon.
I’ve no doubt I’ll again be accused of being negative but, to me, this is the reality of how things are under Allardyce. Am I alone in these thoughts? I’ll stand by them anyway and predict a season-long struggle to avoid relegation.
After 45 years of watching the Hammers, I think I’ve earned the right to be critical.
I need to cheer myself up. Now where’s that Boys of 86 DVD . . .
Note from Iain: I am delighted to welcome Tony to the site. Many of you will know him from West Ham programmes and issues of Hammers News in the past, and he now edits the very excellent Ex Magazine, which concentrates on celebrating the history of the club. He produces 4 issues a year, and it really is a must read if you’re at all interested in the history of the club. Their website is HERE. I’d really encourage everyone to take out a subscription.