The Terence Bates Column
Madness and embarrasment, two thoughts and feelings that sum up my view of the start to the season. I have held back on trying to be scathing and critical, but I cannot hold back anymore after recent experiences. Yes this is a rant, I want to apologise in advance but feel this needs to be broadcast.
An old Madness song from many moons back… one chorus goes…
No commitment, you’re an embarrassment,
Yes, an embarrassment, a living endorsement,
The intention that you have booked,
Was an intention that was overlooked.
Actually whittle that down to the one word…
For me this embarrassment stretches way beyond the dire performances on the pitch and the nine goals conceded in the two games against Arsenal and Manchester United. Any long-suffering West Ham fan has seen this all before and it helps shape our gallows-terraces humour. I certainly have lived through this before and can put up with this to a point. But embarrassment for me encapsulates other aspects of this new season and all its lost promise and golden shine.
Two years ago I secured early seats in Club London, the cost for two seats? A cool £4k per year and a £1k sign on fee. I breathed deep and thought stuff it, I am going to treat myself in what was going to be a new exciting golden era. There was a vision of a supporters lounge where one could get decent food and hey free drinks at half time. I could treat business clients to a great football experience as the Sales Exec and slick brochure informed me.
I will at this point concur, I am a snob when it comes to food and wine (I work in the hospitality industry and set myself high standards), and the only enjoyment I have ever got from food served at football grounds was to mock and poke humour at its taste, quality and presentation. So decent food and drinks is important to me, especially when I am paying a whopping 4k a year to watch a game of footie.
So season kicks off and there I am sitting in a great location one metre away from the players, I can literally touch Andy Carroll on the shoulder where one could whisper in his ear ‘Get out there son and shove it up em’.
Ultimately the large sum of money I paid out is to see good football in a safe enjoyable environment and also with the private supporters lounge surely have some decent food, wine and beer to consume with or without friends, family or business associates. Tick…Tick… Tick… all boxes, surely?
For ten years 1980-1990, I all but stopped going to see live football because of the troubles on the terraces. When Hillsborough and Heysel unfolded I literally vomited. The journey of football fans had reached a point of putting your very life at risk. Dark days. I don’t like some subscribe to the rose tinted view of the good old days in decrepid dangerous stadiums and an environment where your personal safety was in doubt because of hostile rival supporters. I found it It embarrassing to explain myself to those elsewhere in the world that whilst you liked football you were not a signed-up member of the ICF who kicked other fans heads in and smashed up stadiums. Embarrassing to think that some of my fellow fans were simply arseholes. But that was then, wasn’t it?
So here we are in the post-hooligan era where some of those involved with the ICF are either writing their memoirs and books, running their businesses or property portfolios or sitting in the … corporate boxes. Yes, this is what I learnt on Friday evening before the Arsenal game, from ironically a well connected Arsenal fan.
Ok I can live with that, redemption/change of times/a phase of life etc.. etc. Life goes on, whatever.
So, the new season unfolds. On the pitch a disaster. Off the pitch fans are fighting other fans and fighting amongst themselves, oh jolly it’s an… Embarrassment.
Ok we can argue for perspective and the media cranking it up as they always do. But when you sit behind Andy Carrol and the rest of the players/coaches/medical team and even the manager and you then see their eyes looking up with hands/fingers pointing to fans in the stands who are fighting …. well it’s an… Embarrassment.
And maybe, if you want to try and understand why things are so rubbish on the pitch, perhaps the distraction of fans being rubbish in the stands might just affect morale in the dressing room.
But I am ok, aren’t I? I am in Club London a section of the ground aimed at supporters who don’t mind paying that bit extra for a cozy lounge and hospitality, business people and professionals, nothing wrong with that we are fans too.
So the first games arrive and the stadium looks impressive and yes the pitch is further away than the Boleyn, but I have great seats and I can engage in banter with the players on the subs benches. Cool, my 16-year-old son is well impressed as would surely be any business friends I decide to take to a game.
So here we are having stuttered and fought our way some three plus months later. The club and whomever have finally figured we must segregate fans and here is a novel idea… why don’t we get the police on board? We will also issue life-long bans to anyone causing trouble.
Back to food and the VIP Club London Lounge. I said early on I am a food/beer/wine snob and I make no apology for this because I am paying 4k a year. I do not expect to be served up Walkers Crisps/Minstrels/Fanta/Rubbish Heineken beer in plastic bottles and even more rubbish headache inducing wine in plastic glasses… all of this is another… embarrassment.
Where is the effort? Where is the consideration that hey we care about the local community? Why not get your beer from ELB (East London Brewery)? They brew fantastic beer two miles away or Crate brewery who are even closer? Why not Dalston Cola or Kennedy pies? Why not support Kent or Essex wines who are now producing decent quality wines? These are small and relatively local businesses, sustainability is huge kudos for any business to embrace, where is the effort to move forward in this department?
What else isn’t impressive is the body search and frisk as I enter Club London. I make my thoughts known to the security guard and he shrugs his shoulders,’ Just doing my job mate’. I tell him I have been following this club for 52 years and have never had to suffer the intrusiveness of being frisked. Imagine taking a business client to a game and serving him a pack of Minstrels, a Fanta and subjecting him to a body search by a burly doorman? (Yeah! Yeah! I’ll say it for you…. some might enjoy that ).
Well for the Burnley game I am doing exactly that as I am treating an esteemed Professor friend to a trip to our bright new stadium. I am having to forewarn him of what to expect.
This is an F***ing embarrassment.
But still I can find solace in the fact that despite the body search, despite Minstrels/Fanta and rubbish beer/wine, despite our team at times playing like the Royal Oak’s second string side, I am still safe because any aggro in the stadium is confined elsewhere…. Phew.
But then…. Arsenal’s second goal goes in and two colourful West Ham fans next to me turn on the guy in front, who about my age (a couple of years short of 60) happens to cheer when Arsenal score. Oh, so it all kicks off and it’s well yeah you guessed it, it’s an… EMBARRASSMENT!
The guy in front is with his son who happens to be a West Ham Fan…. Hey guess what numbskulls?… Some dads and sons/mums/daughters support different teams.
Ok perhaps the Gooners fan should have kept his gob shut, not because it’s wrong to be excited, but because some football fans sink to such a base level, that when it comes to watching their team lose, you just don’t know what can unfold.
The two West Ham late-twenties fans to the side of me go mental and cry to the stewards to get this 60 year old quite harmless looking guy removed from the stadium, which is what they do. He tries to explain to everyone that his teenage son is supporting West Ham and he is cheering Arsenal in some kind of naïve, unreasonable (sic) and ironic belief that this should be acceptable.
Witnessing this is my 16-year-old son, who shakes his head in…. Embarrassment. It truly is.
So to the midweek Burnley game. I am taking a friend of mine who is an author, a political and history professor and whom teaches at a London University. He lives and commutes from Porto Portugal. We share a passion for both football and Jazz. He has a great professional pedigree having interviewed and met many world leaders including ‘West Ham fan’ Barack Obama. He is also well connected in the football world having known and befriended the late ex West Ham player and esteemed coach Malcom Allison who had a stint and strong connections in the Portuguese football world.
My friend the professor has never been to the Olympic stadium and is really looking forward to the experience…
Ho hum fingers crossed.