Meet David Gold the West Ham fan in a pub or a restaurant and he’ll tell you we’ll finish in an Europa League place next season before securing a Champions League slot after we move into the Olympic Stadium.
But meet David Gold the businessman and West Ham joint-chairman and you’ll get more of a realistic assessment of the club’s current situation and where we will be by the time we leave Upton Park. Speaking exclusively to from his office near Croydon, Mr Gold said he has been delighted with how the men in claret and blue have fared in the club’s first season back in the Premier League. “It’s been a fantastic season,” he said. “
Asked about what his expectations were, he continued: “After getting promoted via the play offs, the euphoria settles and you say right where do we go from here? You are already a few weeks behind the other promoted clubs and are still years behind other established clubs in the Premier League so you have to plan for the worst and hope for the best. You immediately plan for the possibility of relegation.
“Now that’s not being negative, that’s being realistic and we put a plan in place that was realistic and being candid with you, we budgeted for 15th place. “So I’ve been delighted with what we’ve achieved this season. I know fans want to hear optimism as oppose to realism but I think I owe it to them to be realistic as a fan. I also have a duty to them to be realistic and plan.”
Mr Gold admits the standout games for him this season were beating Chelsea at home as well as drawing against both Manchester clubs. “It was performances like these that help you realise we are very capable of beating the big teams,” Mr Gold continued. “We also had amazing performances against Everton and Tottenham and lost. “It’s at these games you see the potential of the group of the players you have. Matt Jarvis is a very talented wide player who can beat anything and can play for England. Can he score six or seven goals a season for us? Yes I think he can but at the moment he has been a terrific supplier
“Then you look at Andy Carroll who has been excellent and then the qualities of the homegrown players like Jack Collison and Mark Noble, who will go through a brick wall for you. “You’ve then got players like George McCartney and Joey O’Brien who never let you down. But at the start of the season, you don’t know if these players are going to get you relegated, finish 15th or secure mid-table.
“So to finish mid-table in this first season back must be considered a success. “Some fans will question if finishing mid-table is a success and my reply is it is in our first season back in the Premier League. Why? Because I’m being realistic. “If I wasn’t the chairman, I’d be in the pub with the other guys saying mid-table is not good enough and that we should be going for the Europa League because we are optimistic and we have our dreams and we want success for our heroes but at the same time, somebody has to be guiding the ship and being realistic.”
Tweaking and improving the strength of the squad will be the club’s aims building up to the new season. Mr Gold continued: “But we can’t suddenly think we can go out and spend incredible amounts of money and challenge for Europe. We need to be realistic and remember the club was £110m in debt when we came here. “We should’ve got relegated that first season and it was a miracle we didn’t but sadly, we made mistakes and we couldn’t sustain our Premier League status and we got relegated.
“It felt like it had to happen so that the phoenix could rise from the ashes and at this moment of time, this is the best moment of the football club since we’ve been here. Not just on the field but around the training ground and right the way through the football club, there’s a comfortable feeling of optimism.”
It was confirmed at last weekend that Sam Allardyce has signed a new contract to stay on as manager of West Ham and Mr Gold had nothing but praise for the former Bolton, Blackburn and Newcastle boss. “It is always important to have a good relationship between the chairman and the manager and of course, our situation is unusual because there are two chairmen,” Mr Gold continued. “You are asking a bit more from the manager in our situation because it’s like having two wives but we have proper respect for each other which is the key.”
He added: “We are two years into our relationship with Sam and I don’t recall any issues and that is unusual but it’s also very good.” Our conversation moves onto the Olympic Stadium and Mr Gold tells he believes 80 per cent of fans are in favour of the move. He continued: “It was great to finally be confirmed as the tenants because it’s been a lengthy business caused by a number of factors which we are all very aware of but we battled on and we won.
“I think the announcement by the LLDC (London Legacy Development Corporation) was the start of a new chapter for West Ham United. But we have still got lots of work to do as has the LLDC through no fault of its own. “It’s also not the fault of Boris or the government – it’s the people who put together the original deal. “Seb Coe said the stadium will be for athletics and he got the Olympics on the basis of that and I wouldn’t disagree with that.
“What I would disagree with is they then went on and built a stadium that was clearly not fit for purpose. “You cannot have a stadium just for athletics. It doesn’t work anywhere in the world. They are pulling them down or being left to rot. “People simply do not go to watch hop, skip and jump. They do not find it very interesting. “I’m not being demeaning to athletics because it plays a big part in young people’s lives and it’s great to watch the Olympics every four years for two weeks but you cannot build a stadium purely for athletics.
“The stadium should’ve been built so that it could be converted to a stadium for football, rugby, cricket, or baseball – all sports that millions of people around the world watch. I’m irritated because if this had been done, we could be in that stadium now. The minute the Olympics were over, West Ham, Spurs or Leyton Orient – whoever won the bid – should have walked straight into that stadium.”
As for the naming of the new stadium, it will inevitably be up for grabs to the highest bidder. “We are currently calling it the new stadium at the Queen Elizabeth Park but the naming rights to the stadium will be sold by the LLDC and we will get a share of that income,” Mr Gold said.
“There are some clubs that say they will never change the name of their stadium. But in my opinion any football club that doesn’t have a wealthy owner like Chelsea which says it turns down £5m a year in naming rights for their stadium, will eventually get relegated because ultimately everybody with a decent sized stadium will be selling the naming rights. “If we refused naming rights, we will get relegated because our competitors, like Hull, WBA, Sunderland, Newcastle, have or will sell the naming rights.
“Of course I want everything but in my life I have learnt that you can’t have everything and you have to compromise and have got to decide what is the priority and our priority is to bring success to this football club. “That’s what we get up for every morning. We want to bring success and our fans demand success.
“They do also demand that we charge £140 for our season tickets like they do in Germany and they demand we pay Andy Carroll what he wants but the two things don’t equate. “You can’t have £140 season tickets and pay Andy Carroll what he wants otherwise you will go bust.” Asked if the increase in capacity to 54,000 will be a tough ask when moving into the new stadium, Mr Gold replied: “We don’t think it will be much of an ask at all.
“If you look at the statistics, even clubs who aren’t filling their stadium say at 20,000 but move to a 30,000, see an increase in their average gate from 20,000 to 25,000. That’s just by moving. “Our situation is also very different to other clubs because first of all we have a wider fan base than most clubs. We go out miles and miles, all of Essex is our territory. Although I promise you our fans come in from far and wide.
“Whenever I go into a restaurant, someone always comes up and says they are a West Ham fan. I never got that at Birmingham. “In all the time I was there, not once did anyone in a restaurant in the south come up to me and say I’m a Birmingham fan.
“So what I’m trying to say is that Birmingham fans are from Birmingham but West Ham fans come from a much wider area and that’s why we don’t think it will be a tough ask.” Looking ahead to next season, Mr Gold believes West Ham will not suffer the same fate as QPR did this season. “I do not believe in second season syndrome,” he said. “What I do believe is some teams over perform in the first season because of the adrenaline.
“Look at Blackpool at few seasons ago. They went off to an amazing flyer and looked like they were going to challenge for Europe but then they collapsed. “It’s players playing above themselves who are compensating their skill with work rate and you see it time and time again. “The toughest season is undoubtedly the first and you do see clubs that come up and make big changes to their squads in order to compete and that’s always a poor thing.
“You don’t want to change your team radically but what you want is a settled squad that you tweak and improve every season while keeping your good players. “I don’t fear this second season syndrome one bit. In fact, I’m thrilled the first season is behind us and we can look forward to embarking on the next season with a stronger squad.
He continued: “There is no doubt we will push our budget up for next season. This year it was set at the club finishing 15th. What would we set it to for next season? Probably for us to finish 12th but that’s only a budget. “What do I hope is achievable? Certainly breaking into the top 10 and it wouldn’t be unreasonable for us to sneak into the Europa League places although I must confess, and this is not a feeling shared with David Sullivan, I fear of the dangers of the Europa League on a fledging Premiership club.
“I say fledging because we don’t have a huge squad and part of the reason we don’t have a huge squad is because we have a huge debt. “Once we get rid of the huge debt, we can then spend the money that we are currently paying in interest and repayments on increasing the size of the squad and then you can challenge in the Europa League.”
Mr Gold admits the club “ideally” needs to be a Premier League side between now and moving into the new stadium. But he added: “I want us to be a Premier League football club for the rest of my life and there is no reason why we can’t be. No reason whatsoever. We are not Wigan, Blackburn or Bolton, we are West Ham. “Nobody has a divine right to play in this league but what we do have is our fans. “Our fans are Premier League fans and what I mean by that is in our passion, attitude and volume.
“Our aim is to become a club that can drive a stake in the ground which says we are a Premiership club that will not be relegated. “Manchester City and Chelsea can do it because they have rich owners. “Arsenal can also do that because they have a fan base, a business model and a financial structure which allows them to drive that stake in the ground and we need to press on to catch up with these teams and stop being in the bottom half of the table. Every club which regularly finishes in the bottom of the table has a chance of being relegated so you’ve got to get up into that top half and stay there year after year to get stronger and increase durability.
“You do that first of all by moving stadiums – we can’t do it by staying at Upton Park. “You would not build your stadium at Upton Park today if there was a green field there and somebody offered it to us. Why? Because all new stadiums are close to motorways and have good transport links and that’s what we’ve got at Stratford.” Mr Gold also responded to those fans who have been “bombarding” him with requests for the East Stand to be developed.
He continued: “The economics of any development there are disastrous. If you take a stand and rebuild it to give yourself another 5,000 fans, the cost is prohibitive. “It just does not work, plus everyone is against you. The police are against you, the roadways team are against you, the transport people are against you, the council is against you. Why? Because it doesn’t work. The area can’t handle the extra people.
“In the early days we looked at it because I didn’t want to leave Upton Park because all my memories are there. “I can remember West Ham beating the mighty Blackpool with Stanley Matthews at Upton Park. But what I soon realised when I worried about my memories was that I can take them anywhere. “In the beginning it was a huge hurdle to overcome but it’s one I’ve personally overcome. I also believe there is memorabilia we can all take from Upton Park which will ensure our memories will remain forever.”
Another issue which West Ham fans have been calling for action on is safe standing at the new stadium. Asked about his view on safe standing, Mr Gold replied: “I’m in favour in the principle of safe standing. “I believe the Taylor report saved British football which was in terrible decline at the time and what the report did by recommending all-seater stadiums helped to bring an end to the violence. “But I also believe times and technology have changed.
“We now don’t have the violence we once had and already what exists is unsafe standing. “At Upton Park, we currently have unsafe standing that is illegal and anti-social. “It’s time to give something back to the fans. The fans who want to stand should be given an area to stand.
“That way everybody who buys a ticket for that area knows they are going to stand. Not that you’ve brought a ticket for a seat only to find out you have to stand because the guy in front of you stands which is the situation we have at the moment.” He continued: “Safe standing in football stadiums will happen. I promise you it will happen. “Initially it won’t happen when we move to the new stadium because I’m of the view the move will be before any decision is made but it could come shortly after.”
He added: “I’d be stunned if we don’t have some form of safe standing experiment soon. “I think in five years we will see safe standing at football stadiums because let’s face it, it’s not very expensive to install and it’s safe, very safe, in fact it’s twice or three times safer than what we have at the moment.”