Nigel Kahn’s Column
Well I know why I came here today,
I got the feeling that something ain’t right,
I’m so scared in case the Club starts to fail
And I’m wondering how the fans will repair,
WHUISA to the left of me,
Hammers United to the right,
Here we are, stuck with the OSB
Yes we’re stuck in the middle with you,
And I’m wondering what it is I should do,
It’s so hard to know who just to trust
And the fanbase is all over the place,
WHUISA to the left of me,
Hammers United to the right,
Here we are, Stuck with the OSB
When the Daves turned up in Jan 2010 there was general relief at their buying the club rather than the other mobs who had missed out. The fans looked as them as fellow fans and there wasn’t any real protest against them – one of the reasons may have been that, at the time, there weren’t any organised supporters’ group.
When the move to the OS was mooted and I looked into it, I couldn’t understand why nobody was really questioning “was this right?”. The Bond Scheme had been successfully defeated by fan action, led it seems by the plethora (long word for me but I believe it fits) of fanzines at the time (two of them being OLAS and On The Terraces) which had rallied the fans against it. There was even a club meeting with the editors of the fanzines as they were so worried about the ability they had to influence the fan base.
Jump forward to 2010 and the lack of fan organisation led me to start trying to get the fans to take notice all was not right with the owners’ claims. I didn’t have a clue what to do, wasn’t internet savvy, didn’t use chat forums or West Ham websites. All I knew was to stand outside the gates and shout. That lack of knowing what to do was evident to me but with no organised supporters’ group out there for me to approach, meant it was always doomed to failure. I knew all the time that no matter what, the club would end up in Stratford.
However, because of that failure I met some great people and it was acknowledged that we needed to organise something that would last, and so my WHUISA (West Ham United Independent Supporters Association) dream was born. My hopes were that WHUISA would be the fans’ conduit to the Club to hold them to account but also to engage with them to make fans’ lives better. If we had no engagement then nothing would be achieved.
The first attempt to get WHUISA started was in 2013/14. A meeting was held one night in the Supporters Club, attended by around 40 fans. The framework was laid out, registration made with the Football Supporters’ Federation, rules drawn up and even website domains bought (one of which I personally purchased myself). That incarnation though failed to take off due to one of WHUISA’s driving forces being severely ill (life threatening is not an understatement) which meant WHUISA was put on the back burner.
In 2016 on KUMB, a meeting was announced of a group of people wanting to get together to start a fans trust or independent supporters’ association. I made contact with them and attended the meeting where I handed them the already-formed WHUISA on a plate. They took it and ran with it, with me also joining the committee. It wasn’t easy but I thought at last we had got this off the ground.
It’s no secret now that I have left the WHUISA committee not once, but twice. The reasons are simple, I didn’t like the direction it was being taken on both occasions. My first resignation led to the chairman standing down, which was what I hoped would happen and we could have a change of direction. The new chairman, though, paid a heavy price and was unfairly targeted by the Real West Ham Fan Group (RWHFG) as the ‘red under the bed’ or ‘spy in our camp’. His crime was to fact check with people he knew in the Mayor’s office, what Karren Brady was saying to the fan group who, let’s face it, a fair-sized portion of the fan base distrust and don’t believe. As a result, WHUISA was tainted by a large portion of the fan base who believed what they heard and now didn’t trust WHUISA to represent them.
Come the next election I stood again for the Committee and it seems I won more votes than any other candidate, although the election results have never been officially produced so it’s an unverified claim. I knew the chairman fairly well and was pleased to be working with him to (1) continue building the support after great work by the previous incumbent in growing the membership, and (2) try to show the ‘looney left’ tag was false.
On both points I, hand on heart, think WHUISA has failed.
For me, the refusal to join the club’s Official Supporters’ Board was a mistake as that led to no dialogue with the club other than talking to the SLO which actually any individual fan can do. If WHUISA is truly there to represent fans then sometimes you have to hold your nose and do it on their terms. I sat on the SAB for 5 years and no one can ever say I was a club stooge for it. I used that position to tell the club why I thought their plans were wrong and that is what WHUISA could have done. On the second point, their fascination for foodbanks just played to the left wing tag and it actually had me believing it, so I was left with really no option but to walk away.
I’m proud at the attempt I and others made in trying to get WHUISA launched but to me, it’s almost like I’m Frankenstein and WHUISA is the monster I created and it’s not behaving how I always hoped it would.
The demise of the RWHFG movement left a vacuum – you can’t deny that they, for a short period, had the fan base united with an aim. Once that was lost, I felt it was a missed opportunity that won’t come round again. Yet now we have in Plaistow, on the Saturday morning of the Leicester game, the first meeting of Hammers United – a group formed recently to fill the void left after the RWHFG demise. I have joined their Facebook group so I could see what they were about and what/how they wanted to achieve it. I also wanted to see who was organising it – were they people who could bring us together as one?
There is one man who is a member who could be that figurehead, Paul, aka Bubbles, or most may know him as the flag man at Burnley. The man who walked onto the pitch with the corner flag, re-enacting the Bond Scheme protest of 1993, and planting it in the middle of the pitch. His reward for such action was a life ban from the London Stadium and possibly a 3-year ban from all football stadiums (which I believe is handed to all pitch invaders). I read his posts on the FB group and watch his videos and you can see the passion he has for the club – he also wants to get the fans a better deal, something I’m sure we can all agree on, but yet I’m still not sure about the group and what it can achieve.
The Club say they will only use the OSB to meet with fans, so Hammers United would need to look to get involved to sit at the table. Some of the admins on their Facebook group have links to recent fan groups that supported the march (and then not the march) and, although the admins were not the organisers, I still find myself cautious with Hammers United especially considering the damage that was done to the fan base in March last year over decisions, threats and consequent fallouts. They have cracked down on any posts criticising other fan groups which is good to see and they maintain they want to unite our fans again, so I will watch with hope that they manage to achieve what they say. I agree with much of what they stand for, but then again, so did the ex-Chairman of WHUISA who was hung out to dry, vilified and now ultimately serving his own self-imposed ban as the threats made to him and his family shamed our club.
The Hammers United meeting starts at 11.30 at Plaistow Community Centre, Queens Road West, E13 0PE. I may go for the beginning of the meeting before heading off early to meet my friends from across the pond so if you’re interested in what they’re about, see for yourself.
For now though, as the re-worked song by Steelers Wheel that starts my article, we’re stuck with the OSB as fan representation. I won’t knock them though as it’s not easy being disliked just for being on it, they all give up their own time to try to help the fans’ life improve. The problem is, can they really change the Club with the way they engage and treat their fans?
Only time will tell.