Few people who saw the haunted look on Alan Pardew’s rain-soaked face as the hapless Hammers crashed 4-0 to Bolton in his final game as manager are likely to forget it in a hurry. Rarely has a man looked more out of his depth.
Overseeing that particular rout at the Reebok, of course, was our very own Fat Sam, while Pardew is now in charge of this weekend’s opponents. Such is life on the managerial merry-go-round. And while it could be argued that Allardyce has enjoyed more success since their sodden paths crossed in 2006, it is Pardew who now enjoys the greater job security. An eight-year contract at Newcastle, signed at the beginning of this season, has seen to that.
All clubs talk about the need for stability. Not many actually practise what they preach, but Newcastle are clearly prepared to give their manager the chance to build a team over a longer term than most of Pardew’s rivals could ever dream of. It’s a brave decision. Stability was a commodity in short supply at West Ham when Pardew took the reins in 2003. After going more than 100 years with just eight managers, they were starting to come and go like the No 58 bus in Green Street by the time he got the job. And the way his appointment was handled gave the watching world every reason to believe that integrity was also becoming thin on the ground at Upton Park.
Let’s be clear about this. We poached Pardew from Reading. It was as simple – and shabby – as that. And any West Ham fans who want to look at this through claret and blue spectacles and argue that all’s fair in love, war and football should just take a moment to ponder how angry you would be if a wealthier club destabilised us in the way we undermined our Division One rivals at the time.
The man at the centre of all this emerged with no credit, either. I can imagine the reception that would be meted out to a returning manager who walked away from Upton Park in the way Pardew left Berkshire. It would make a Paul Ince’s homecoming look like a family wedding. The thinking was that he knew the second tier like the back of his hand, and would get us out at the first attempt. That train of thought was derailed by Crystal Palace in a play-off final, condemning us to another year of lower league football after our 42-point relegation.
Still, whatever you think about Pardew’s ethics, his time in charge of West Ham can never be described as dull. His first full season at the helm did bring promotion, albeit through another nailbiting play-off campaign that followed an even more nerve-racking battle for league places that saw us scrape into sixth.
Life back in the top flight was a lot more fun than many of us had dared hope. The opening stages of the first game of the 2005-06 season seemed to confirm the fears of those of us who believed we were in for months of the same sort of misery we had witnessed under Glenn Roeder. We are 1-0 down at home to Blackburn Rovers after just 18 minutes – but storm back to win 3-1. And the joy doesn’t end there. The first six games bring four wins and a draw, leaving us a fabulous fourth in the table. Sorry Pards, it seems I may have misjudged you.
We then hit a rocky patch but, hey, that’s understandable. And things pick up again in the new year, when we go on a seven-game winning streak – our best sequence of results for more than 20 years. Two of those victories come in the FA Cup, a competition dear to the hearts of all West Ham fans, and when Pardew is named Manager of the Month in February we all nod sagely and tell one another it couldn’t have gone to a better bloke.
We like his high-energy style of football, and we love the cup run. Pardew was even prepared to field weakened teams in league fixtures preceding the cup games which meant, for example, we had to endure former manager Harry Redknapp crowning his first game back at Upton Park with a 4-2 win for his Portsmouth side, but then two days later that is forgotten as we beat Manchester City to get to the semi-finals. Curiously, in the run-up to Cardiff, we lost to both Bolton and Middlesbrough in the league, but then beat them in the cup a few days later. Pardew’s priorities weren’t lost on the supporters.
Simply reaching the cup final ensured we began the following season with the long overdue return of European football to the Boleyn. What a shambles that turned out to be. The Uefa Cup first-leg tie against Palermo at Upton Park was probably the most chaotic match I have ever attended. Season ticket holders couldn’t get their usual seats, but some tried to sit in them anyway.
And thousands of Italian fans got into all parts of the ground – many of them congregating in areas for which they didn’t have tickets and feigning an ignorance of the English language when asked to vacate the seats they shouldn’t have been in. Strangely, the group who had taken the ones we had paid for failed to understand the well-spoken steward who asked them nicely to move – but got the message when my wife rediscovered her East End roots and invited them to sling their hook using some Cockney terminology that I’m guessing they didn’t learn in the schools of Sicily.
Pardew himself wasn’t averse to a little confrontation, either. In fact, the bright spot of what was turning out to be a very disappointing season was his touchline dust-up with Arsene Wenger after we beat the Arsenal 1-0 at Upton Park and the Frenchman temporarily forgot about the entente cordial. That was the month before the man who had taken us to our first cup final in 26 years got the bullet from West Ham’s new Icelandic owners. All this, and the transfer deal that brought us Carlos Tevez, Javier Mascherano, and more trouble than you could ever hope to pack up in an old kit bag. As I say, life was rarely boring in the Pardew era.
Things are a little more conventional under Allardyce. He is on the point of signing a new contract and his reappointment will be another step on the way to that much sought-after stability. However, although he’s still some time to go before he gets his bus pass – like the bus that goes past his office, he’s 58 – it’s hard to see him wanting to occupy the Upton Park hot seat for many more years. The interesting question is: who will succeed him?
Many West Ham supporters would dearly love that man to be Alan Pardew’s new neighbour in the northeast, Paolo Di Canio. I very much hope they never get their wish. It would be disastrous for so many reasons. He was a wonderful player for our club – one of the best we’ve ever had. And there’s no doubting his love of West Ham; he’s even got the tattoo to prove it. The trouble is, he’s got other tattoos as well, and they are a good deal less savoury. His back alone is a tribute to fascism, featuring a symbolic imperial eagle and a portrait of Italian wartime leader Benito Mussolini, complete with military helmet.
Mussolini, Adolph Hitler’s closest ally and architect of one of the most repulsive ideologies mankind has dreamt up, liked to be known as Il Duce – “The Leader”. If the picture on Di Canio’s back wasn’t enough, his arm carries a tattoo that says Dux, the Latin translation of Duce. In his time at West Ham, from 1999 to 2003, Di Canio wisely kept his political thoughts to himself. Neither did he celebrate any of the 48 goals he scored in 118 appearances by hailing the crowd with a straight-armed fascist salute. But he did just that when he returned to Lazio – the Rome-based club he supported as a boy and notorious for its links to extreme right-wing politics. And he did it more than once
Di Canio is adamant that he’s not a rascist, which rather suggests he doesn’t fully understand what fascism is all about. A political movement that is based on the idea that the people of one nation are inherently superior to those of other countries and continents is inherently rascist – and it doesn’t become any more palatable when the believers of this nonsense try to implement their way of thinking with extreme violence.
To appoint a man who has aligned himself so closely to fascism as club manager would do untold damage to the credibility that is being gradually restored at Upton Park since the Pardew era. Politics has no place in football, say Di Canio’s supporters. I disagree – politics and money go hand in hand, and there’s a lot of money in Premiership football. But even if they were right, there are some things that are just wrong.
I should probably be more disapproving than I am of the fact that West Ham’s owners made most of their money from pornography, which is not exactly one of humanity’s most noble endeavours. But you reach a certain stage in your life when you realise you can’t be outraged about everything and while I accept that a significant proportion of the population is offended by porn, I personally don’t lose a lot of sleep over the fact some people are prepared to strip off their kit for the amusement of others. I do, however, still have it in me to stand up and protest against those who wish to subjugate me and mine.
The East End has a proud tradition of resisting fascists. The Battle of Cable Street prevented Oswald Mosely and his blackshirts marching through our streets. And the people of the area withstood the worst Hitler and his airforce could throw at them as the bombs rained down during the blitz. They even coined a phrase to encapsulate their defiance – “We can take it.” So, sorry Paolo, much as we loved you as a player you can forget about ever being manager of West Ham United. That we can’t take.