West Ham United: loud, proud and … wrong

We're not the North Bank, we're not the South Bank... Pic: Terry Land

We're not the North Bank, we're not the South Bank... Pic: Terry Land

An ex-colleague for whom I have the highest regard is a strongly active member of the Labour Party and I read her Tweets with great interest. Not so much for details of her personal life – as amusing as they often are – but for the clinical precision with which she will dissect the latest idiocy coming from either Parliamentary or grassroots members. I empathise with her undoubted frustration at believing in a cause so strongly yet being hampered at every turn by disunity, arrogance or stupidity. As trite as it may appear her travails as a political animal mirror mine as a football follower. You see, the truth is I often struggle not to despise people who would no doubt call themselves fellow West Ham supporters.

According to a longitudinal study by the Sir Norman Chester Centre for Football Research at the University of Leicester West Ham season ticket holders are some of the wealthiest around (probably a function of the smallish ground and high demand which has led to relatively expensive ticket prices) yet at the same time among the poorest educated with a low proportion having attended tertiary education compared to other clubs.

As many other fans observe, Hammers are a bit “chavvy” – or to put it another way, working class-made-good. Living as I do in Suffolk the obvious comparison to make is with Ipswich whose supporters tend to be polite, respectful and a lot less raucous. Few self-respecting Irons would be seen dead wearing facepaint or many other symbols of the Sky corporate definition of what it is to follow “footy” even if replica shirts now abound. Town fans are much more volatile in their support – full of bravado when they win the same people disappear upon defeat. Most of all I don’t notice any shared sense of what it is to be a Tractor Boy.

To be West Ham is to be loud, proud and obnoxious. It’s no coincidence one of the most enduring chants over the years has been, “Same old West Ham, taking the piss” Throughout the 70s and 80s the feared ICF (Inter City Firm) came to define the support. Although a mate of mine who ran with them denies any tactical command, “We weren’t organised, we just set our clocks early” there is little doubt the proud boast “30 years undefeated” has some substance.

Contemporary football hooliganism has been all but eradicated but that legacy survives. Unfortunately with a median age over 50 it’s clear the same season ticket holders are still attending with a lost generation of 25-40 year-olds having missed out. Equally regrettably the previous aggression and sense of pride has been turned inwards into a sulky blanket disapproval of easy targets, principally the players and coaching staff. Meaningful protest has been forgotten as fans starved of considered media comment fail to make any connection between events on and off the pitch.

I strongly maintain the best thing about supporting a team, my team, are the people I meet and interact with – they’re the reason I keep going. But when it comes to doing the right thing for the club West Ham supporters seem to invariably choose the wrong option.

Former manager Harry Redknapp was adored by fans despite tactical illiteracy and a hold over then Chairman Terence Brown that allowed him to purchase and sell players not in the best interests of the club but for the betterment of  his own bank balance. Admittedly protests were held against Brown – not least during several stormy AGMs. Far more damaging to the club however, were the subsequent Icelandic owners who all but propelled the club into liquidation but were saved any serious disquiet by canny PR. There’s a current revisionist platform that hails Alan Pardew’s reign as manager – particularly as under his stewardship Newcastle are having a good season – but the truth is he was disliked for most of his time at the club too despite taking us to our first domestic final in 25 years.

Although from the same background as the club’s support current co-Chairmen David Sullivan and David Gold are treated with at best mistrust and worst outright hostility despite being the first owners in the club’s 117 year history to put significant sums of their own money into the club (unfortunately the Icelanders investment turned out to be underwritten by Monopoly money). Current manager Sam Allardyce has the best win record of any manager but appears to be engaging an all-out PR war with his own support.

So it is with unease I view current plans among fan groups to demand a ballot on any proposed move from the Boleyn Ground to the Olympic Stadium in a mirror of the current fashion for TV viewers to ” have their say” in regard to reality shows. Leaving aside arguments over why non-shareholders might believe themselves worthy of representation only the most blinkered could possibly argue against a move on financial grounds. Club revenue will rise and ticket prices drop – hence Orient Chairman Barry Hearn’s antipathy to the move. Players would be more attracted to join the club and the sponsorship profile would rise. For spectators journey times to and from games would be slashed and pre and post-match comfort much improved from the dingy and derelict pubs surrounding Upton Park. Most importantly the increased capacity would enable the club to welcome back the lost fans I speak of.

Objections to the move are ostensibly based on the potential distance from stands to pitch with fans fearful of a diminution of atmosphere. Frankly this is hogwash, the current ground bears no relation to the dark, hostile and intimidating arena I first watched a game from in 1969. I’d suggest the real legitimation – and I’d have a lot more sympathy with this view – is the quite natural fear of change.

Sadly boys and girls, I believe our time is gone and a new generation of support is long overdue. If the club are to maintain traditions perhaps it’s time to ditch ours.

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About Terry Land

West Ham supporter, freelance journalist, photographer, gardener and in possession of pink/green political values. Wedded to the idea health and happiness are best enhanced by the consumption of industrial quantities of curry and chocolate...

Posted on April 7, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.

  1. AMoCS has surrendered. I won’t fly the white flag. I’d sooner sit on my own in a vast stand of emptiness rather than pretend to be a newbie, shoulder-to-shoulder with loud young morons who would generate income for the club whilst alienating those of us who support
    West
    Ham for the correct reasons rather than change the way I support my team to contease with the very reasons for my support in the first place. Fact.

  2. gordon slater

    If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.

    Tancredi Falconeri

  3. Gank: I definitely get all that. But in this time of talk about “legacy” isn’t it time we shared ours? We’ve had the club for the best part of 30 years now – time to hand it over with strict instructions for use…

  4. So, Terry, you are saying it’s time to hand our club over to a new generation, even though they will not have any say in its future? This ‘blog’ just goes to show how far away fans are from their team and the game now and how you will roll over, not everything has to change mind. As for the stadium move, I am for it but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like a say or in fact, feel like I deserve a say.

  5. I’m not sure why anybody would want a “say” in the club – and especially when, as I’ve commented, their views are so often “wrong”, even if various protest groups have at times nailed it. Why on earth would anybody think they “deserve a say”? If I’d pumped over £100million of my own cash into the club as Sullivan and Gold have, I wouldn’t for a minute expected to be railroaded by a bunch of oiks metaphorically marching on Upton Park with flaming torches in their mitts and mufflers around their necks.

  6. Nobody is forced into putting money into our club, or indeed any club. I, unlike you it seems don’t believe our fans are all idiots. However this would make you an idiot as well so many I should make a concession? Drag yourself away from your mirror long enough and you might realise that West Ham fans actually have the best intentions for their club and, you know what, they might well be right……..

  7. Where did I say fans are “idiots”? Where?

    I think too, I’ve given some reasonable evidence of fans being wrong.

    And as Oscar Wilde said, “It is always with the best intentions that the worst work is done…”

  8. How this geezer can claim to be in touch with the views of West Ham fans is an utter joke…By the way he talks he probably left his kit at home for fear of getting kicked up in the air as a schoolboy,sat in his his bedroom learning the guitar and had discussions on who had the best firm in london with his skinny leftwing mates who between them saw the odd right hander being slung from opposite ends of football grounds.As a Chelsea fan from east London,i can say with confidence that through my associations and friendships with West Ham fans and firms,that these sort of political fans would be better off over the Orient with the oddball trainspotting types that fill their stands.
    p.s quoting Oscar Wilde when it comes to giving views on a working mans sport,is the action of a complete and utter c***!

  9. Thank you for contributing to my blog Mark. It’s a real pity you wish only to deal in preconceptions, not the issues raised, and especially as they couldn’t be more wrong.

    • If fans don’t have the right to a say over the future of the club then really what would be the point to it all? With the commerciality and lack of local identity in modern football it’s difficult enough as it is to make a case for being a supporter. Take away the right to a say in the future of the club and there is nothing left, I might just as well go down my local supermarket and cheer on the checkout staff.

  10. That’s an extremely good point Jim – and one I’ve long mused over. Perhaps worth an entire blog some time in the future.

    As regards to “having a say” I’m not convinced even if I do believe in representation in football. Call it the difference between an X Factor type poll and a seat on the board…

    • When I use the term ‘a say’ I am certainly not advocating some kind of ‘press your red button now’ type scenario. Rather that we protect what I like to think we have now. Which is a vocal and active fanbase who want the best for the club whilst also trying to give consideration to its traditions. A consensus opinion is obviously impossible but supporters should be widely canvassed on all matts that are likely to have a big impact on the future running of the club. They can even call it market research if they must.

  11. Olympic stadium=death of west ham!!

  12. Much of this is spot on Terry. Its time to move on, the old West Ham family has changed and it’s time to change or die.

  13. I think it is typical of the majority of football fans “not” to want change. After all, those who follow their team go because they like what they have now and if something drastic changes they fear they won’t recognise what they once had and along with the fear that “it won’t be the same anymore” that is a good enough reason to be against any major changes. That isn’t just West Ham fans but most fans throughout the country.

    I also think that most fans believe they have an entitlement to some sort of say. If it wasn’t for those fans attending and buying merchandise the club couldn’t function and even our current owners realise that. Whether it has any sway with them is another matter! I believe they are just giving the fans what they want (a so called “say”) but won’t actually bother taking what they say in to account if they feel they are doing the right thing for the club. After all, with the exception of the bond scheme protests, what effect have any other protest or fans group had on the board in the past……..NONE!

    Having said all that, looking at other clubs and their changes, we do need to do something drastic to enable us to keep up. It isn’t going to be easy for attending fans but if we stay as we are it will be the beginning of the end as far as West Ham are concerned as a “semi” big club.

    We do need to move on and it isn’t going to be an easy ride for anyone and I say to those fans who don’t want change to sit back and go with the flow and allow the board to do what they feel is necessary to take us in to the future.

  14. I agree with almost everything you say in this blog. I have a love hate relationship with the club, the fans and indeed the area from which I and my family originate (them Canning Town and myself Barking). I got out, as I now know my cousin did also, because of the oppressive black/white opinions of so many and where getting an education was seen by so many as making you some form of class traitor. So many were, and still are blind to positive progress (not for its own sake type) which these days surprises me considering their individual success against the odds in many cases. Unfortunately that seems to only strengthen their prejudices against change with no sense of the irony that it was vital for their own success. They have little or no sense of self awareness it seems and simply identify with some locked in East End identity that shuts out their own experience and the changes that need to made at our club to move on.

    Sadly as has been the case throughout history in east London the other side of the coin is that so many do take their success, move out and then totally reject their heritage as an embarrassment and end up becoming Tottenham, Arsenal or even worse Mancs supporters. This probably explains the high average age of our fans as the latter proportion is and will continues to grow as the former insular fanbase, ages and declines as fans movement away from our natural east end base grows.

    As for the specifics of the move I have never forgiven the fans for declining a move to Stratford many years ago which was clearly needed even then and surely obvious to anyone being objective now would have been a positive move and to pander to ‘plastic’ democracy to thwart it yet again (as long as the deal agreed is a good one) will I believe be a vote for unending decline. The owners are investing millions to stand still which will simply be untenable if we don’t move and their offspring baulk at their inheritance being washed down the drain. No one will be racing to buy their shares while we stagnate at the Boleyn that’s for sure.

    This is effectively last chance saloon so lets not throw away such an opportunity again, instead lets focus on actually making it work to our best advantage.

    • Thank you so much for your thoughtful and considered reply. Although West Ham have one of the highest median ages most other clubs are high too – just not as high as ours. The reason for this is thought to be the price increases following the second Taylor Report and a move to all-seater stadia which priced a generation out of the game.

      Inverted snobbery is never pleasant – but people need something to hold onto in times of trouble and it’s always easier to look backwards rather than into the future – especially when the promise of a better life is so bleak. Compare and contrast to the post-war boom when the working class belief was education is a good thing – and a route forward.

      • Strangely enough I got out of Barking as a 22 year old to get an education at art school having delayed it because I knew what the reaction would be. The reaction then (circa 1979) was that I was a skiver trying to avoid work as if I was some class traitor. Very sad and all these years later I am only getting back in touch with my wider family most of whom have now moved out to Essex of course even my aunt has moved from Arragon road to Barking but she is 89. Which is part of the problem once that immediate link has been broken all these ‘new’ fans no matter the links through family are up for grabs. Clearly obvious that for the club to retain relevance let alone move forward we need to do the painful but inevitable thing and change which is why i have always, since the first proposal with then only paper potential, a move to Stratford though not at any cost of course. I have few links back in Barking which I now find a sad place but the link to West ham is still very strong and in many ways its the last real link I have as i am sure it is for many others who live in North London and elsewhere too. But the old ways that I grew up with as great as they were back then are not the way ahead now and people really must recognise that or I believe lose the very club we love. We don’t agree on everything but I can always appreciate someone who gets it and too many Irons fans don’t unfortunately as you know from BS.

  15. fatbald&fifty

    Terry you should apply for a job on talksport, to use the word “despice” about people you know little or nothing about shows an arrogance on your part and show, as you describe a complete lack of education on your part and you end up no doubt describing yourself in your rambling “blog”.

    Maybe living in Suffolk you miss the point of what being a West Ham fan and travelling to away games in the days of the “ICF” was all about. In fact it shows a complete lack of knowledge on your part to understand this. Coming from HX we would travel together in large numbers though not necessarily friends but we would drink together and look out for each other as we were West Ham. And this was the same for most people, not all, from other surrounding areas but we would all come together as West Ham. And that is what made us different. And it really was “Same old West Ham….”

    So before self proclaiming and trying to get noticed by highlighting your “blogs” via other websites, try and learn some humility then people make take you seriously.

    No doubt you will try and be condescending and quote Ghandi back at me but you really haven’t got a clue, not your fault, but probably best you blog about Ipswich in future and maybe a line in face painting rather than pawning over Labour activists 🙂

  16. FB&F:

    You make many assumptions about me, most of them wrong. Firstly, I didn’t say I despised anyone – but struggle not to. Growing up in Basildon I have received a full education both formal and on the street and attended many away games in the 70s and 80s. While having no hoolie pedigree I would be greeted by many of the boys even now. I absolutely get your point about “looking out for each other” and was more than grateful on a number of occasions. I despise facepainting, never wear colours and am probably closer to you in attitude than you think.

    The girl I mentioned is one of the most lovely people I know – but not really lech material.

  17. Sorry to come in so late, Terry, but I only saw the post on ITBS yesterday.

    We’ve discussed before how West Ham fans are just too cynical. The way the kids want to support is organised – ultras groups, singing sections and all that – but most of the older generation would look down upon that. The way to become a genuine stakeholder in the club would be to create an organised supporter’s club or a supporter’s trust but they tried it and it died a death through complete apathy. People want a say but don’t want to stand up and truly be counted. They’ll shout shit from the stands but not put their name to anything. It’ll never change and it’s slowly killing the club.

    The Olympic Stadium could genuinely give the club back to the fans. Cheaper tickets, larger family area, engaging the local community. The club’s doing what they can, the fans need to play their part rather than snipe at the only owners we’ve ever had who didn’t use the club like a cash machine.

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