So here it is, the promised land, the Premier League, the English top flight, back where West Ham belong. But hang on, haven’t we been here before? A quick rewind to 2005 when the Hammers were last promoted following a play- off final victory and Alan Pardew’s side ended up finishing in ninth place and reaching the FA Cup final – a game which remains a sore memory for many West Ham supporters the world over.
However, this pre-season, Hammers fans are being more realistic about their team’s chances in the Premier League this time around. There’s no denying that manager Sam Allardyce has had his fair share of critics from the West Ham faithful, and even now, despite promotion via the play-offs and a wonderful day out at Wembley, the former Bolton boss still has doubters.
I admit, when Allardyce came to the club, his reputation preceded him and many of us warmed up our neck muscles, preparing for to watch long ball after long ball played from one end of the pitch to the other. Despite this, I was pleasantly surprised as the former Newcastle manager stamped his own style on West Ham. Yes, there were times when the defence looked for a long ball when nothing else was on, or to relieve pressure, but there were also times when the Hammers played some lovely passing football, keeping the ball on the oor and outplaying teams.
Allardyce’s critics are often those who have not watched one of his teams week-in, week-out, and it is easy to judge before you have seen how the 57-year-old uses his tactical nous, often to great effect. However, back to this season and what looks like being the start of a period of transformation for the club.
Over the close-season, West Ham have managed to recruit some experienced Premier League players, like Jussi Jaaskelainen, Mohammed Diame, George McCartney and James Collins, while also bringing in exciting striker Modibo Maiga and French powerhouse Alou Diarra. These recruits are a sign that Allardyce is looking for stability at the club – something that hasn’t been evident in some time.
Admittedly, the summer has also been frustrating for Hammers fans at time, seeing their club linked with the likes of Andy Carroll, Carlos Tevez, Eljero Elia and Milos Krasic only for nothing to materialise. But I feel that it says something for the ambition of the club that those calibre of players are linked with a move to Upton Park.
We have to remember that last season we were playing Championship football, and now, the club is being linked with top-class international footballers, something that a considerable number of Premier League clubs could only dream of. What is clear is that in David Sullivan and David Gold, West Ham has two owners that want to see the club develop and go places.
Not content with making money from the club, Mr Gold and Mr Sullivan see West Ham as an investment they want to see grow, and the fact that all summer signings have been funded by the owners themselves, says a lot about how they feel for the club. Make no mistake, it is great for the club to have sensible and attainable ambitions, but this season is all about consolidation and making sure that come May 2013, West Ham are still a Premier League team. And I believe that Allardyce is the right man for the job.
Experienced, a real tactician and student of the game, if anyone can prepare the Hammers for a demanding season, then Big Sam can do it. Last season may have been a physically demanding one, with 46 games and the team having to often play Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday, but the Premier League is a whole new kettle of fish.
The pace will the faster, the games while not as frequent will be just as physically and more mentally demanding, but I believe that the Hammers will survive. The fans have to accept that we may not win as many games as we did last season, but that is a sacrifice I believe most supporters will make, in order to see their team playing on the pitches at stadia such as Old Trafford, the Etihad Stadium and the Emirates. The Hammers are back in the big time, and this time, we hope it’s for keeps.