The HamburgHammer Column
When I was a wee boy my family used to spend most of our summers in Denmark. My parents loved it there, it was easy to get to from Hamburg, reasonably priced (important for a young couple) and my folks also fell in love with the people there.
So much so that I ended up with Danish godparents, was given a Danish first name (same as my brother five years earlier) and basically grew up in Denmark. If my parents’ accounts of those days are accurate, my first footprints as a toddler were left on Viking soil.
It’s a beautiful little country, with friendly and laid back people who have a great sense of humour, a lot of warmth and who are also immensely proud of their history and heritage.
West Ham are like Denmark now, unfortunately not in terms of the positive connotations I just mentioned, but solely as in the famous Shakespeare quote from Hamlet:
“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”
When I came home on Friday evening, ready to watch the game against Brighton, I was in a reasonably good mood as I had just briefly been at the Concordia training ground, meeting our new signing, a young French striker from Lens who does even speak some English and who will hopefully help to turn Concordia’s season around.
So I settled down in my armchair at home in good spirits, screwdriver at the ready, feeling confident that this was it, this would be the game where the team finally found their collective fourth and fifth gear, the lads would play like we all know they can and send Brighton back to the beach with zero points and tail firmly between their legs.
Or should that be wings clipped as they are called The Seagulls after all ?
At the end of the game we found ourselves in that now almost too familiar state of disbelief, shock and utter despair. I know that as a club we have suffered embarrassing defeats galore throughout our history. Painful cup exits against teams we weren’t even sure where exactly in Britain they were from. Thrashings against the big boys. Getting beaten 3:4 by Wimbledon at the Boleyn after racing into a 3:0 lead after 27 minutes. The lot. As fans we’ve always come back for more because it was our club, it was in our blood, in our DNA, instilled into us either by birth or twist of fate, rarely by choice.
This feels different now somehow. There is so much wrong at the club that it is hard to simply file that under yet another bumpy ride or just another phase. Of course it is a phase insofar as Bilic will be replaced in the very near rather than the distant future. Already we are hearing that Bilic’s job is safe until a replacement has been lined up, with numerous hats thrown into the ring: Pellegrini, Mancini, Wagner, Benitez, Moyes, Dyche, take your pick.
Temporary relief a new gaffer may bring, it may fix some temporary issues with training regimes, application and motivation of the players, organisation at the back, body language, ability and willingness to press the opposition and actually run for the majority of the 90 minutes on the pitch rather than just jogging along or strolling under the Stratford sky.
Granted, more effort and positive attitude from the team is what most fans would be quite happy with and even I agree at this point that Bilic looks completely lost, unable to make the players work and play hard – or even get the basics right.
Whatever Bilic may want from them, he ain’t getting it. So, as much as it pains me to say it because I love Bilic as a human being, in terms of being West Ham’s manager he has run his course now I’m afraid.
I hate sounding like a broken record, but it begins and ends with the people at the very top, running our club, making the decisions, be that about managers, signing players or stadium related issues. Hang on, when I say “our” club, is that actually true anymore what with us being addressed as mere customers ? In discussions with fellow fans and posters on here I was told a while ago “West Ham basically died when the final whistle sounded in that final Boleyn game against Manchester United”.
I am not entirely sure that statement is true and if it’s really just the stadium although it still seems to be a massive factor. We play in a giant bugger of a bowl, for rent.
We keep being told it’s a world class stadium fit and meant for world class players, preferably those playing in claret and blue. At the moment it’s hard to see any evidence of either. The board have decided to use the club as an investment vehicle, with the stadium move being key to pushing the ultimate club value and price up once they will have decided to sell up eventually. We don’t know when exactly that is going to happen, but happen it will.
You cannot achieve the world class players in a world class stadium scenario if as owners you are merely prepared to spend the bare minimum, hoping against hope you will stay up every time to keep your seat on the Premier League money train. It is a very risky gamble this. It seems to be almost impossible to improve the matchday experience when you are at the mercy of the LLDC agreeing to any changes made to the stadium, even if it is about a seemingly simple matter such as putting a claret surface over the running track, to get a bit of contrast in relation to the green of the pitch.
Let’s assume we get a new manager. What happens next ? Will the board suddenly start spending a decent amount of money on players ? Will they give the new manager a 40 million signing like Carvalho after denying Bilic that courtesy ? I doubt it will be a miraculous turnaround with a new manager, any new manager. Because the way the board run the club determines to a large degree where the ceiling for our club is. We deserve to be exactly where we are and they all need to shoulder the blame for this, not just Bilic. Also and especially Sullivan, Gold and Brady. They have fallen short, they have promised much and provided little.
Let us now anticipate the moment in time they do sell the club to new owners, be that in two years, five or ten. What will be left of West Ham as a club at that point ? Of the proverbial life and soul of the club ? It’s the universal truth that the fans are the most permanent feature of any football club, they have a bond to their club for life, going through several owners, managers, players, even stadiums in their lifetimes. Change in football is also a permanent feature, but don’t underestimate the undercurrent of heritage and history. You ignore the latter at your own peril.
Once the old guard are gone, will those who happily munch popcorn and take selfies at the London Stadium today still watch West Ham five or ten years from now ?
It’s natural that some of the old guard were not willing to join the migration when the club were moving to the new stadium. There will be even more people who are going to reevaluate the status of the relationship they have with West Ham. So will I, even though I am not sure at this junction what my decision is going to be. Hiring a new manager will not fix this deeper rooted issue for me. Some of us will try to attend away games only in future. Others will stop going altogether, but may continue to watch on the telly or internet streams. And a small group may even pack it in for good.
I ain’t stopping going just yet – before the Brighton game I actually arranged my next trip and I won’t cancel it just because we lost in embarrassing fashion to Brighton.
I shall be taking in the pre-Christmas derbies against Chelsea and Arsenal in person. I will arrive in London on Friday, December 8th, returning to Hamburg on Thursday, December 14th.
It’s highly likely Bilic will no longer be in charge at that point. But there are still things to look forward to, even when you wouldn’t realistically expect a massive points haul from those two fixtures to be frank. I have joined the West Ham Supporters Club now, so I will be able to try out that new location, Stour Space, near the stadium, for pre- and post-match drinks and festivities (yeah, right!). I also can’t wait to go and watch some football in Dagenham again as the West Ham Under 23s will face their Tottenham counterparts at the Chigwell Construction Stadium on Monday night. From a sporting perspective, as a contest under the lights this may well turn out to be the highlight of my upcoming trip.
I’ll be as happy as a kitten waking up on a fully loaded milk float at the break of dawn when meeting up again with some of my friends from this blog, each and everyone of whom is more West Ham than the entire current board together.
Spurs in the cup next at Wembley. They are likely to play a weakened side. Not sure this gives an advantage to us. But this is West Ham. It wouldn’t surprise me to see us beat them on the night. Saying that, it wouldn’t surprise me to see our first team getting mullered 6:0 by their U18s either at this point. COYI!
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PS: The Concordia update for those interested – a bit of a mixed bag. Cordi 2 won their game comfortably, 9:0 against the Out-of-Towners from Gülzow.
The boys are still very much on track for promotion after that result.
Then the first team earned themselves some much needed respect with a very decent 2:2 draw against one of the top sides in the league, Teutonia.
It was still unlucky as they conceded the equaliser in the shape of a wonder goal into the top corner from 25 yards out with the last kick of the game, after Cordi had played more than half an hour with a man advantage.
It was cold, it was raining stair-rods all game and 110 diehard spectators were braving the elements. The win would have been most welcome.
Cordi remain stuck in second gear and midtable.