I ’ve been so lucky in my job over the years to be a familiar face and voice at Upton Park and Chadwell Heath, conducting sit-down interviews with players, filming matches, vox-popping fans and shooting features. I’ve witnessed several management eras, some good, some not so good, some rubbish. Different managers obviously bring different outlooks, contrasting vibes.
The ‘good old days’ under Redknapp were generally a media-freefor-all, journos wandering around the grounds, amiably chatting to this player and that player. It was a far more informal set up than it is today. This tradition continued under Roeder, and to a lesser extent the two Alans, Pardew and Curbishley.
Then the lean years began, across all football clubs the policy was shut-up-shop, maintain control, media train and squeeze the character out of the answer. Mustn’t give too much away. This was especially so during the Zola and Grant period. It was a time when suspicions were understandably high, foundations were weak and trust was a four-letter word.
The headlines weren’t pretty and it wasn’t a comfortable place for anyone, on or off the pitch, so interviews for Soccer Saturday were few and far between. Since Allardyce has arrived, I wouldn’t say we have been completely invited into open and welcoming arms but the training ground environment has massively improved and the protocol towards the media around the club has experienced somewhat of a volte face.
That’s down to Sam. He knows how important communication is. Not just for the broadcasters but for the fans. This season already, even before the good run, we’ve been given access to the gaffer and some big names on the team sheet and they’ve all got a story to tell.
What they all agree on, Song, Downing, Cress – well and Allardyce is that West Ham, from the training ground to the stadium itself is a great place to be right now. And you can really feel it. I’ve not experienced such a relaxed and happy atmosphere there for a long, long time.
Every player at every club talks about unity and spirit. But what strikes you at West Ham is that it’s not a tagline. It’s not a fixed or pre-conceived response. It’s real. It’s a good set of lads who are willing to work hard for the team and who genuinely like and respect each other and the manager. It certainly shows! Bringing in a catalogue of new players can some – times cause friction. Competition is higher and there are fewer places up for grabs.
Foreign players are required to adapt to a new country and a new league. Working friend – ships are necessary but they’re not always easily forged in pressurised environments and at extremely close quarters. Sam has worked hard on fostering this togetherness and has been fortunate that every single player, both old and new, has assimilated well and the transition, so far, has been seamless.