- ANGRY … West Ham fans rejecting the new commercialisation of the club
Apart from “Rock star dies”, one of the most defining phrases of 2016 must surely be “Populist movement”. Donald Trump, Brexit and to a lesser extent Jeremy Corbyn’s Momentum would all have seemed unlikely at best only a couple of years ago yet have characterised the past 12 months. With that in mind it seemed appropriate to discuss a current YouTube clip that has attracted something of a populist following.
My initial impression was of a well presented and professionally edited video, however, the content has led me to believe a good Fisking might be in order.
The clip begins with presumably a father and young daughter singing the Payet song together. So far, so good – supporting West Ham does run down through generations.
Cut to a clip of England’s World Cup win 50 years ago and a portentous Ray Winstone-like voiceover announcing:
“Dear Board of Directors, let me tell you what it means to be a West Ham fan, it’s about East London, Bobby Moore, and playing good football the right way”.
Well, um, cheers for appointing yourself the arbiter of what it is to support my club. Even if there would appear to be a distinct lack of self-awareness, I’m sure you’ve thoroughly researched the following message.
Except you clearly haven’t:
It’s obvious to anybody who’s read Jeff Powell’s biography of Moore that by the time he finally left the club in 1974 the England captain loathed his manager Ron Greenwood and believed that from 1965 onwards his time at Upton Park had been a waste of the best years of his career.
If any fan could convince me what playing “good football, the right way” means other than beating teams I’d love to hear it. By any player or manager’s definition good football means “results” and it’s notable our best football has been enjoyed during relatively successful spells on the pitch. As the ill-punctuated sign erected by Alan Pardew in the Boleyn Ground home changing room pronounced: “Winning its what we are here for”. Oh, hang on a minute…
“But it definitely isn’t about winning”
Oh bugger – when I celebrated FA Cup wins in 75 and 80 I’d got it all wrong? My despair at Cardiff in 2004 and reciprocal joy at Wembley eight years later were inverted? If only the players, managers and coaches had known they could have dispensed with peripherals like hard work, tactics, fitness and formations as we descended into the semi-professional murk Ray-Lite declares our culture insists we inhabit. Likewise, as we fans tramped out of the London Stadium having been rinsed by neighbours Arsenal I should have been cheering our heritage? Odd, because actually I felt pretty miserable. I may be wrong – but it appeared others shared my dismay too.
“In fact failure is part of our identity – it’s even in our song.”
I must admit I’d never considered a song might define a football club. Am I naïve in failing to appreciate Tottenham spend their off-pitch time marching up and down a parade ground? Everton and Watford fans all want to join the Police while Southampton spend their waking time working towards beatification? Liverpool fans only saunter about in groups of two or more and Man City fans will all but die preventing any mortal from suffering the existential crisis of a loveless existence? Perhaps, just perhaps, we might as a club deign to rise above the lyrics of an arbitrarily chosen chant?
“In fact, being a fan transcends triumph and disaster, it’s about something much deeper than that”
Oo goodie – we’re getting to the nub of things now…
“We’re West Ham til we die – and that’ll never change – right?!”
In terms of a big build up leading to anticlimactic finish it’s not far off the Spice Girls banging on and on and on and on about what they really, really, REALLY want before letting us know it’s to, er, “ziggazig ahh”.
We then enjoy some clips detailing the club winning the right to the Olympic Stadium including those
East South London heroes Del Boy and Rodders and Karren Brady asserts:
“That’s our ambition: A world class stadium with a world class team.”
Poor Karren eh? Married to a footballer and been in football administration nearly 30 years yet she still doesn’t understand how the West Ham culture “definitely isn’t about winning”.
Back to Ray:
“But how’s the deal turning out? We want to move with the times – but at what cost?”
Well, band-for-band Season Tickets are cheaper and the club will garner greater revenue – but do carry on…
“It doesn’t feel like our football club any more – not because we’ve changed address but because you’ve turned it into a retail brand … you’re turning fans into consumers.”
Seriously Ray, have you been banged up the last 20-odd years? Done a 30-stretch for that tickle down Tilbury way, remission for good behaviour? Some view the corporatisation of football as beginning with the Premier League and Sky money in 1992, others the publication of Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch the same year, yet more England’s road to the Euro semi-finals four years later.
Wake up and smell the (West Ham branded) coffee – you’re running a bit late for kick-off here bruv. It’s not exactly something that’s emerged with the advent of the current Board or the move to the new ground.
“But while we fans are loyal to our graves, consumers are fickle. When your dynamic new product turns out to be crap then these new consumers will switch brands.”
Undoubtedly the only insight of the entire piece – and a good point well made. In their desire/panic to sell season tickets the Board rejected existing West Ham members and embarked on a poorly thought out “Plus Two” plan that placed hordes of new fans above those with a history of support, and in many cases Season Ticket holders too. That new audience will by definition be volatile.
“So how you gonna sell 60,000?”
I rather think you’ve already answered your own question there bud.
“But there is hope. To be a world class club you need to step up and be a world class board.”
Wait up – you said it isn’t about winning, and derided Brady for her “world class” ideals – make your mind up!
“West Ham isn’t just a brand selling a product, West Ham is about the things you can’t buy”
Well, that excludes cups, trophies and titles – just ask Blackburn, Chelsea and Man City, so we’re back to the “not winning stuff” meme again. Honestly, you’re twisting my blood more than an on-form Chris Waddle tormenting David Burrows.
“Identity, togetherness … love. Put the football first, listen to the fans.”
Eh? The board listened to the fans when they said they didn’t want any more of Sam Allardyce – and excuse me – but at least he took the club in an upward trajectory. A mission that Slaven Bilic, after a good final season at the old ground appears to be tearing to the ground.
Do you really want Twitter polls deciding whether we should buy El Hadji-Diouf or Joey Barton? Because here’s a thing – Ebbsfleet attempted just such a scheme, and guess what, it ended with relegation and a frustrated official wearily exclaiming: “Perhaps the idea of being part of a takeover and making decisions was more exciting than the reality.” Who knew football fans don’t know as much as they think they do?
I actually believe the board, and particularly Mr Sullivan, spend far too much time worrying about what fans think and not nearly enough on building a club fit to challenge the top clubs. Don’t believe me? Compare us with Southampton, a team promoted with us, also with a reputation for running a good academy and a loyal fanbase. As much as I hate to say it they are streets ahead of us in terms of an overarching framework for club success.
“Only when you embrace all this will we be West Ham … United.
Embrace all what? A contradictory message about winning and losing that demands little more than “listening” to fans. Well, I’ve listened to you Ray, and largely you make no sense at all.
“Sincerely, a lifelong fan.”
Hang on! You’re now claiming to be one fan, rather than speaking for all of us? Well, I’m just one fan too – and I reckon you’re speaking a load of old nonsense – so my vote cancels out yours…
Along with the rest of the staff on The Sun’s editorial floor I was bent over a TV screen waiting for IOC President Jacques Rogge to announce who would be holding the 2012 Olympics. It was Wednesday the sixth of July, 2005 – and as I recall, overcast but warm. “The International Olympic Committee has the honour of announcing”, he said. “That the Games of the 30th Olympiad in 2012 are awarded to the city of … LONDON!”
The British delegates in Singapore leapt up and down in jubilation. Kelly Holmes beat her fists on the table in celebration. At Wapping the tension broke just the same. Well, almost.
Due to the vagaries of the networking system at News International the TVs at the far end of the floor were wired to a receiver a second or two ahead of our technologically challenged loop that covered Online and Features. We heard the cheers from the Sport and News desks before Rogge had finished the word, “city”. No matter it meant a mountain of work for me for the rest of the afternoon (albeit I’d already prepared for much of it) this was London in 2005 and everything was perfect.
My career at The Sun was really beginning to take off as I was given increasing responsibility by my editor. Love was blossoming and I had not long returned from a great holiday on the beautiful island of Sveti Stefan in Montenegro with Jane. Tony Blair was in power and despite my instinctive distrust of the man the housing market was roaring. We all had cash in our pockets and even though his chancellor had declared an end to boom and bust it seemed like boom all the way.
Until, of course everything really did go boom.
And no, I wouldn’t be so callous as to be referring to the events of the very next morning when a tube train I’d been travelling on an hour or so earlier was blasted in two by a religious fanatic from a Leeds chip shop. (Eight people died including the bomber).
Four years later we lived in a post-credit crunch world. I was made redundant and used an amount of my pay-off on psychotherapy to try and understand why. Of course the truth, as Oscar Wilde didn’t say, was simple – as much as I had emotionally engaged with working for a newspaper I loathed they treated me as all corporations do, with complete disregard.
Blair had long since let me down, News International let me down – and the closer we came to the Olympics the more my initial optimism seemed unfounded. And not just because as a West Ham supporter the legacy of the stadium was wrapped in the labyrinthine complexities of finance, law and Tottenham Hotspur.
At least there was still Jane, now paying back my faith in her by proving to me to me just how kindness can be a strength, a notion I’d fought against all my life. Her recognition of the Olympics is important living as she does in east London just three or so miles and three stops on the Central Line from Stratford.
The borough of Newham where the stadium is being built is the third poorest in the country with children growing with a 27 per cent rate of “severe poverty”. Yet the average price of a house in the borough is over £220,000. Jane lives in the relatively affluent Redbridge and works for a legal costs consultants yet cannot afford to buy a ticket to watch the Olympics. Nor can many of the locals despite them all paying for the event via their increased council tax.
The promised “legacy” from the Olympic Village, earmarked to be used as social housing seems to shrink by the day. Just how many of those homes, now owned by the Qatari Royal family do we think will actually serve the community and not scores of incoming businessmen eager to work closer to the financial centre of London?
At least there’s the “regeneration” provided by Westfield – a huge shopping complex to the east of the stadium. Jane and I visited a couple of Sundays ago and I must say we were as delighted as ever by the great food on offer at Busaba Eathai. But something strange was afoot, we left the restaurant to have a browse of the shops – admittedly never my favourite leisure activity – but could barely walk around the concourses for the sheer volume of shoppers.
Only they weren’t shoppers, they were spectators – if we wanted to avoid the crowds it was easy – just walk into a shop, they were invariably close to empty as nobody had any spending cash. So there it is, the Olympics, an event the people closest to it cannot partake in, live in or shop in despite all the lofty claims of “legacy”. All we can do is watch from afar via our TV screens as the tournament plays out to a grateful world.
Actually, I don’t think I’ll bother…