The Blind Hammer Column

Is a Director of football The Answer?

Blind Hammer looks at the director of Football Debate.

It looks certain now that West Ham will appoint a Director of football at the conclusion of this season. David Sullivan is reported as seeking to scale down his involvement. There is also a gap in recruitment following the departure of tony Henry. David Gold has also indicated that they are interested in appointing a Director of Football with previous PL experience. Speculation has already begun that former Arsenal director of football Dick Lawis is in prime position to take on this new role.

However there has long been a debate about the usefulness of a Director of Football. Ex-Hammer John Hartson immediately criticised West Ham’s apparent new strategy. He queried this on Twitter.
“Top managers won’t always work with a director of football. If your head is on the block then why would you want someone else bringing the players in? Never got it!”

Hartson’s tweet went to the heart of the Director of Football debate. Who should have the final say in transfers? The two longest standing managers in Premier League history, Wenger and Ferguson, would never have conceded power to effect key transfer decisions. On the face of it Hartson’s tweet has considerable force. Why don’t clubs simply leave transfer dealing to the Team manager? The Manager is, after all, the man who has to, in the end, pick the team. Such a structure gives clear lines of responsibility and accountability. The team Manager could assemble a recruitment team to support him in this strategy. Scouts as well as coaches can feed into player identification. The time consuming process of negotiating with Agents over contractual issues simply requires a Commercial Business Manager with a legal background rather than anybody in the Director of Football role. Negotiating contracts is an entirely separate skill to player identification.

So why would West Ham even consider restricting the hand of their Manager with player recruitment? The fact is that something has to change. As I reported some weeks ago West Ham have, in fact, been amongst the highest net investors outside of the traditional top six when looked at over 5 years. However they have equally been amongst the poorest performers in player resale value. They have a dreadful record in achieving any income when players depart the club. The stats point to a historic and long term problem with player recruitment. Putting it bluntly we recruit too many duds.

There is a valid argument that Team managers may have priorities for Transfer Recruitment which is not in the longer term interest of a club. Nowadays it seems rare for a Manager, even at a top club, to survive more than 2 to 3 years. It is not surprising then if a manager has his eyes firmly fixed on the next 6 months rather than the next 5 years. There is a risk that Recruitment can be skewed to short termism, rather than progressive squad development. Arguably the quantity rather than quality recruitment in Bilic’s second summer, where we ineffectually tried to prepare for a Europa League challenge fell into this mistake.

A way forward may be for a Director of Football to have this longer term perspective and responsibility for recruitment. In a more secure role the director of Football will not feel so pressured to take the short term fix but instead focus on a more extended term, directing investment in younger players with potential, possibly then harnessing greater rewards. This will imply a split recruitment strategy. A shorter term strategy focussed on immediate squad weaknesses would have to be led by the team manager. Logically a Director of Football may then be more focussed on the Academy development rather than the squad members pressing now for inclusion in the first 11. Such a split strategy does beg the question though, why should a person focussed on the Academy have such a Senior role within the club?

A Director of Football will come because what went before has not worked. There is little evidence, though, that such a role will be any immediate panacea for West Ham. In the end recruiting the right person with the right skill, who can assimilate and work positively with the existing team is probably more important than any formal Job description. Moyes has made the right noises to indicate he recognises the dangers of short term investment, even if it is his heads which is ultimately on the block. Gold insisted in his recent interview it was Moyes and not the Board who led the decision to not invest in poor value available in January.

Despite the noises about a director of Football the key role in any club will remain the team Manager. Everybody knows this, including the Media who point the spotlight that way. A Director of Football should be providing, at best then, the supporting infrastructure.

David Griffith

The Blind Hammer Column

Brooking Is Right – Stay Away If You Cannot Support

Blind Hammer supports Brooking’s call for the Board Haters to stay away.

This is what Trevor Brooking said after the disgraceful scenes on Saturday.

“….some of those decided if we went behind that was the time then to show their frustration. But the actual level of aggression was something I couldn’t believe a West Ham fan could get involved in.
“Some of the aggression was so strong – it did go back to the bad old days. I saw a few young families leaving because the youngsters were frightened. That’s not your genuine West Ham fan, and some of the aggression was really strong.”
“The stewards were quite young and really couldn’t deal with the aggression that they were faced with.”
“The fans, and the fans involved in that have to understand that and really shelve all those discussions and all those frustrations – just don’t come to the games at the moment until you try and allow the players to get the points to try and stay up and that is the biggest challenge in the next three weeks.
“There have been a lot of frustrations about spending money and a players coming in and all those sort of things as whether the stadium is the right place. The fact is we’re at the stadium and it’s nearly the end of the second season and yes there’s a debate on investment but now with five home matches remaining. It looked an advantage. But when you’ve just lost 3-0 and had people coming onto the pitch with a lot of people venting their frustrations towards the directors… that means the next five games at home look pretty bleak. There is no way that the team is going to be able to play and get the points to stay up under that sort of atmosphere – it’s impossible
“All I will say is that between now and the end of the season, anyone who has got that aggressive frustration to just don’t come to the five home games that are left because we need everyone, all the fans and the team all working together, to try and get sufficient results in the five home games – which we thought were going to be the strength – but yesterday became a massive weakness.”

I am amazed that, even now, some are trying to excuse the thugs and idiots who ruined the game. Brooking is entirely correct, there are no excuses. The response of so called supporters was astonishingly self-destructive. The truth is that West Ham were not playing a stinker. We should remember that for over half the game we were the better side. You do not have to take my word for it. Sean Syche admitted that his side were simply not in it until they scored. They were restricted to early time wasting. This was orchestrated by their goalkeeper Pope. His long punts were also their main tactic deployed to resist West Ham’s dominance. Lennon’s handball should have been punished with a penalty. West Ham’s performance was not perfect, we lacked a cutting edge, Mario and Lanzini in particular missed crucial chances, and Hernandez should probably have been introduced earlier.

Nevertheless it was Dyche who made an inspired substitution and it was Wood who scored a fine goal in a rare Burnley attack. This happens in football. Teams go behind but can recover. Time for our supporters to show their loyalty, their mettle and support? Not a bit of it.

The proclamation by the Board Haters that they could separate their vitriol in a way that would not negatively affect the team was always a fantasy. This animosity destroyed our season at the time of the Bond Scheme. It is destroying us now. The fact that we are now amongst favourites for relegation has everything to do with these self-consumed malcontents rather than anything to do with our squad or management. I get it that people are emotionally upset that Upton Park no longer exists. I absolutely deny that they, because they cannot come to terms with this, have the right to drag us into an angry abyss. If there is a cancer eating away and destroying our club it is these negative and arrogant self-obsessed. This hate filled minority were always going to allow their own sense of grievance to come first. We saw on Saturday how deep their support really is.

The self-consumed were simply waiting for the first hint of any adversity to abandon any pretence of support. They welcomed it as the earliest opportunity to launch the disgraceful scenes which shattered any chance that the team could recover. Lenin once famously described this kind of support as the support provided by the hangman’s noose.

My in stadium commentator could not even describe the game for the last 15 minutes. He had a duty to explain the situation from the health and safety perspective of blind and visually impaired supporters. He felt obliged to increase our awareness of the developing Stadium disorder. From his position he described women and frightened children around him crying in fear. There were many supporters of all genders and ages getting very panicky. He also described the reaction of Brooking, positioned adjacent to him, when these so called supporters, to my mind, idiots, launched their attack. He described Brooking profound embarrassment when these morons started chanting his name. Brooking was visibly appalled that they could ever feel he had anything in common with them.

It is difficult to express the depths of anger I personally feel about the people who are dragging our club down with their self-serving negativity. However I don’t have to. Brooking has summed up the situation perfectly.

David Griffith

The Blind Hammer Column

In Defence Of Respect

Blind Hammer calls for an end to yob culture.

Yet again I was more upset by the behaviour of some West Ham supporters rather than the grisly team performance last weekend. For the second time in recent weeks a self-appointed mob of supporters thought it was acceptable, even desirable to ambush and aggressively intimidate an 81 year old man, after he had tried to depart an away game in which the team he supported had disappointed. These are the bald facts. The fact that this81 year life long supporter is also Joint Chair of West Ham does not detract from this unpleasant truth. It is never acceptable that behaviour of this kind should be tolerated or condoned. I have my own constructive criticisms of Board decisions in relation to West Ham. In more general political philosophy I am diametrically opposed to them. However I would never dream of promoting these criticisms during this current climate of visceral hatred. This level of sheer vitriol is completely over the top.

What we are witnessing here is the worrying collapse of basic human decency and respect. The anonymous aggression of keyboard warriors who hurl their expletives driven complaints into the electronic void is fuelling something darker here. The literally irresponsible aggression, with no consequences for the people launching these social media onslaughts, has very unfortunate real world consequences for Gold in particular. The climate of abuse finds him surrounded and hounded by yobs who feel vindicated in their bullying. So far they have confined themselves to bullying and intimidation. I fear much worse if the situation continues to deteriorate.

For the people feeling most loathing towards gold and Sullivan this will, I realise, cut no ice. There are cohorts of people who will never forgive the move from the Boleyn and will probably till their dying day want to punish them for this. What I cannot, and never will support is the way this hatred leads to degeneration from rational debate into vile abuse. This starts with people, including contributors on this site making sneering and lazy name calling attacks rather than relying on any intelligent argument. This includes describing Gold and Sullivan variously as “Spivs”, “Barrow Boys” and making what are supposedly unflattering references to their being more at home in “Romford market”.

I am staggered that it is West Ham supporters making [personal attacks of this kind. West Ham are not Chelsea. They are not a club dominated by arrogant upper class ex-Public Schoolboys who think it is frightfully funny to sneer at people with working class backgrounds. These Chelsea types will snigger if somebody does not have the right BBC, Eton or Harrow accent. We should have no toleration for this Upper class superciliousness. I have no issue with people with upper class accents supporting West Ham but I will argue forever with the view that people with privileged backgrounds are worth any more than any of the rest of us just because of their privilege or accent.

West Ham is a club steeped in the working class traditions of the east End. Our working class roots should be a point not of shame but of pride. . We should certainly never collude with snorting upper class condescendtion towards those ““vulgar East End” types. . . What is wrong with Romford market anyway? What is wrong with having working class origins and then achieving success in life? Attacking Gold and Sullivan on the basis of their accents or allegedly working class origins is lazy unreasoned prejudice.

Surprisingly the people most vociferous in launching these personal attacks do not extend this character assassination to the potential alternative sources of investment they so desperately crave. Instead, seduced by the lure of alternative international billionaire wealth, all critical perspective melts away and disappears. Why anybody should think that a Russian Oligarch, or a Chinese Billionaire, or an Arab royal, all of whom will almost certainly built their wealth on the cruellest and vicious human rights abuses, should have any more of a genuine claim to West Ham identity and support is a mystery to me. Yet these critics are frantic to invite these people into our club at any cost. I do not share their enthusiasm. The sex industry money of Gold and Sullivan is, comparatively, far cleaner than the horrific accounts of abuse which underlies the international billionaire wealth that other clubs are so happy to sell their souls for.

So it starts with this lazy prejudiced and sneering name calling. It then degenerates into more vile social media abuse where they are condemned for being “c***its”, Bas***d” and other equally unsavoury epithets. It ends with people feeling vindicated in aggressively confronting an 81 year old man in his car or car park. They are objects for unreasoned abuse. Gold gets spleen vented at him for decisions over which he has no control, including the ludicrous Wigan carpark condemnation for his alleged failure to “pick” Sakho for the game.

This abuse has to stop. Despite what anybody says it weakens our club and brings us into disrepute. My own view is that all efforts this season should now focus on supporting the club from the trapdoor of relegation. We should debate rationally about the issues at the times when they can be resolved. I disagreed with January Transfer policy, especially selling Ayew to a relegation rival. Others may still want to futilely complain about leaving Upton Park. However there is absolutely no mileage in complaining about these issues now. Now in the face of adversity it is time for respect to re-emerge and create the United positivity that this club needs to survive. There is actually much in the working class traditions of the east End that we can be proud of. Solidarity and hard work are values that West Ham in particular will need in the weeks ahead. There was a time I was proud of the traditions of loyal West Ham support in the face of difficulty. I fervently hope that it is this finer tradition which wins out in the weeks ahead.

David Griffith

The Blind Hammer Column

Why I Am Just as “Real” A Hammer

Blind Hammer argues that supercilious arrogance has nothing to do with the West Ham way.

When you write a weekly column read by thousands, even if, hopefully, they are like-minded supporters, you need a thick skin. If I was faint hearted, I would simply stick to writing my column about blindness and guide Dogs. Actually even this can be controversial. Yet Football is far more emotional. Passions can run high. Mostly I accept people’ will have different and fervently felt opposing views. This is all part of the great expressive debate that is football and West Ham. People care, which is why Rupert Murdoch pays so much money.

Just occasionally though an example of such supreme supercilious arrogance emerges which penetrates even my normal sanguinity. Recently a self-professed “Real West Ham” action supporter magnanimously accepted I had the right to opinions about the Watford game, however I had no right to make comments about the Brighton game as unlike the “Real Supporters” I was not there.

This article is not about the protest March. I support the right of protest even though I personally feel the March aims are confused contradictory and ultimately futile. Still I don’t think they are any less of a West Ham fans for marching. Why then do so many consider themselves TO BE BETTER “real” West Ham supporters as opposed to people like me who are apparently lesser or even “fake”?

I detest the notion that there has to be a “hierarchy” of supporters and that only a “real” aristocracy have views that should have any merit. Nevertheless for the record what are my credentials to a “real” West Ham identity? Well actually it is pretty steeped. My Father predated West Ham and was around at our formation. He was born in 1891. He lived in walking distance not of Upton Park but the Memorial Ground and the Thames Ironworks. I did not get the chance to ask him but I often wondered if he missed the Athletics Track at the Memorial ground after moving to Upton Park.
After serving in the royal navy in the First World War my father lived as a passionate Hammer in the East End during the 20s and 30s. He served in the Fire Brigade in Shoreditch during the Second World War. My brother attended his first game with our Father in 1949 and my Sister stood with them on the North Bank for the first time in 1952.

I, born in 1956 did not attend my first game until 1968. By 1970 I was a season ticket holder in the East Stand. I was at the FA Cup triumph at Wembley in 1975 and for our League Cup draw in 1981. My biggest regret is that I could not afford the ridiculous tout price for a ticket in 1980 so missed the Brooking final. During the 80’s I went to home and away games before blindness robbed me from attending. Nowadays West ham provides fantastic accessible support, including a free commentary service and space for both my Guide dog and a sighted carer. I don’t attend away games as access may not compare.

However I have news for those who claim to be “real” West Ham supporters simply because they attend away games. Attending away games does not make you any better or more “real” than the rest of us. My brother attended away games for decades but nowadays only goes to home matches. Yet despite being in his late 70s he travels over 200 miles from Manchester to take up his season ticket. Actually like many he supported the move to the London Stadium. Howe dare people claim that they are any more of a “real” supporter than he is?

I dispute that you even need to attend home games to be a “genuine” supporter. Supporting West Ham is about family and inclusion not sneering and posing as an “”exclusive” elite. ” my sister, now also blind, despite going to games in the 1950s, has not attended Upton Park for over 50 years. Yet she listens to the radio commentaries and feels the pain of defeat, the anger and frustration of disappointment and the joy of victory as much as anybody else. I was in exactly the same position when my blindness stopped me attending. I was never less of a real supporter then, and she is not less of a supporter now.

My Mother, who never attended games would have thought you were stark raving crazy to describe her or any of her family as anything less than ”real West Ham Supporters”. We were defined as a West Ham family. West Ham have always been larger than the numbers who at any one time attend games, and rightly so. West Ham supporters can live thousands of miles away but feel just as much, experience joy and despair in equal measure alongside the rest of us. West ham is so much more than just the congregation of supporters lucky enough to see them in the flesh. Those who claim otherwise have horizons which are too narrow, insular and exclusionary. Ultimately such inward looking elitist thinking is self-defeating. It hinders the vibrancy and health of our club. It stops us turning outwards to appeal to wider communities. In fact rather than drawing inwards into an elitist clique we should want to grow the support of West Ham not just in London and Essex but even wider, and yes even globally into World markets. The arrogant self-possessed sit on their high East end horse and sneer at world markets but I have no difficulty in finding common cause with Hammers across the world, be they Australian Hammers, Norwegian hammers, Hamburg Hammers, Florida Hammers or Austrian Hammers. I would never dream to think I am somehow better or more genuine a supporter because I live in London. They are all welcome as far as I am concerned.

To be a West Ham supporter it is not compulsory to munch Pie and Mash or even jellied eels before a game. I won’t even scorn or look down on you if you indulge in the apparently heinous crime of enjoying Popcorn.

I welcome everybody who wants to share my pain into the West Ham family. This welcome is pretty much unconditional; it does not matter to me if you attend all games, some or none. If you declare as a West Ham supporter that is good enough for me. I don’t expect you to have to prove it. I don’t expect you to have to pass a club knowledge test. I don’t look down on “new” supporters just because they did not attend Upton Park. If you are prepared to stand behind the team, in good times and most crucially remain true in bad times that is good enough for me. We are a family inclusive club still. Come in and join the roller coaster drama that is supporting West Ham.

David Griffith

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Bilic ON West Ham

Blind Hammer reports on Bilic’s Radio Five Live remarks.

Slaven Bilic was the guest on Five Live’s Sportsweek this Sunday. He made some interesting comments on his time at West Ham.

ON Payet.
Payet was not difficult to manage generally. He was good in the dressing room and not difficult throughout the first season. He was OK for the start of the second season. Bilic did not believe that Payet’s desire to move was about money, as to be fair, the club had rewarded him. However he did want to move back to France. When he could not do this he became silent and withdrawn from the rest of the squad. The other players noticed this and this is when Bilic eventually had to come out in public to report what the issues were. The Manager has ultimate control but in the end you need your best players playing for you, creating or scoring goals. If this is not happening then it needs sorting out.

On his record at West Ham
The first season was incredible but he thought season 2 was very good as well. Season 2 was good because of the difficulties that they had to overcome. This was not only about the difficulty of adjusting to a new Stadium but the incredible amount of injuries and surgeries that depleted the squad throughout the season.

On Pressure
West Ham was not the most difficult and pressured job he has done. The most pressured and difficult job he did was managing Croatia for 6 years WHERE HE HAD TO COPE WITH THE EXPECTATIONS OF A WHOLE Nation.

On leaving West Ham.
Bilic did not have hard feelings about the sack. He said it was done in a “nice and polite” way. Karren Brady was the messenger but of course he knew it was likely to come. He said that he still felt he could have turned things around at West Ham.

Later in the interview however he appears to have more ambivalent feelings about this. He most surprisingly said that actually he should have left West Ham at the end of season 2. He said to be fair that he had been desperately tired, having worked nonstop in management for over 10 years. This need for rest was why he had not already returned to management. He said that he had already been contacted about his interest in alternative management jobs, including contact from Premier League as well as clubs abroad. He had turned them down because he still felt he was recuperating. Unless he received an incredible offer, he did not plan to return to Management until the summer.

On David Moyes.
Bilic felt that Moyes had done a great job since he had gone to West Ham. The big advantage Moyes has had over him was that he was able to come in and go “right back to basics”. This is always easier for a new Manager to do coming in from outside compared to a Manager who already has a history complicated by existing relationships established with players.

The full interview is available on BBC iPlayer.
David Griffith

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