There was a time when I had a soft spot for Sunderland – based entirely on the 1973 Cup final when the Wearsiders produced one of the great upsets of all time by turning over the seemingly invincible Leeds United at Wembley despite being in the second division at the time. Everyone loves the romance of an underdog coming out on top. What’s more, I truly despised that Leeds side under Don Revie.
And the fact that, with the illicit help of my elder brother, I had invested my week’s earnings from a paper round on Sunderland at 8/1 at our local Ladbrokes was the icing on a highly calorifi c cake that Mr Kipling would have been proud of. Yet now I would be delighted to see the Mak’ems relegated – and if later this month we can hammer a nail into their coffi n by sticking eight past them as we once did at Upton Park it would make it all the sweeter. So why the change of heart? Simple: Sam Allardyce.
I know it’s petty. But I suspect I’m not alone in wishing to see that smug ‘I’ve-never-been-relegated’ grin wiped from his self-satisfi ed, gum-chewing face. I’ll admit Allardyce isn’t the worst gaff er we’ve ever had. When you’ve been managed by the likes of Glenn Roeder, Gianfranco Zola and Avram, Big Sam doesn’t even get on the podium, let alone win the gold medal.
But I think he’s the one who showed the most contempt towards us, the supporters. And it is for that, rather than his record, he will be remembered by many. So, what did he achieve in his four years at the Boleyn Ground? From 2011 to 2015 Allardyce was in charge for a total of 181 games, of which he won 69, lost 67 and drew 45. Roeder, Zola and Uncle Fester, on the other hand, all lost more than they won. Respect the point, my friends.
The play-off final was undoubtedly the highlight for me. It had been a long time since I had last witnessed West Ham triumph at Wembley, but, in truth, we should never have had to rely on the play-off s in the first place. Th at team – on paper at least – was good enough to have gone up automatically. On returning to the Premier League, any supporter’s initial ambitions have to be modest these days.
No team is ever going to repeat Nottingham Forest’s remarkable achievement of winning the league the year aft er securing promotion. Security and stability are the watchwords, and no one can deny Allardyce provided those. It was the season aft er that when the supporters’ frustration really began to boil over, culminating for many of us in the anger that was directed at the manager aft er the home BRIAN WILLIAMS @BrainWill26 Outspoken: Sam had plenty to say in his book game against Hull. That, I hardly need remind you, was when the team was booed off the pitch despite winning.
Winning that match we effectively banished any lingering fears of relegation. But when you find yourself 1-0 up and playing against 10 men at home, supporters can be forgiven for expecting something better than what we got that night. It was shocking, and the reception that Allardyce got at the end really shouldn’t have surprised him quite the way it did. And he most certainly should not have cupped his ear in our direction when we expressed our dissatisfaction
‘I did it because I was hearing booing and I couldn’t quite believe it,’ he said afterwards. ‘I’ve never been to a place where I won and got booed. I started at 16, got into the first team at 18 and I’m 59 and I have never been in a place where we have won and got booed.’ Well, you have now. In his final season in charge all was forgiven as we surged into the top four. Then the second half of the season turned to custard and it was clear to all that Big Sam’s reign was coming to an end.
To be fair, there were notable moments during his time in charge. I will always be grateful for the win against Chelsea that ended a 10-year barren spell against the team I detest more than any other. And who could forget the day he metamorphosed into Sam Allardici, opted to go without a recognised striker and – with the considerable help of Ravel Morrison – walloped Spurs 3-0 at their place.
But the good times just seem to make the bad ones worse – because they demonstrated what we were capable of if only Allardyce had been able to throw aside his natural caution and buy into what the club is all about. Much was said about the ‘West Ham way’ when Allardyce was in charge. There are those who will tell you it doesn’t exist – not least Allardyce himself.
In his first season as manager he dismissed the idea after he took a considerable amount of stick from 6,000 supporters who had made the trip to Peterborough and were not amused by what they saw in the first half. ‘We’re West Ham United – we play on the floor,’ he was reminded, and he didn’t take this constructive criticism at all well.
He responded by saying: ‘There has never been a West Ham way shown to me. I’ve spoken to a lot of people at the club and no one can tell me what it is.’ Apparently, those of us who believe there is such a thing are ‘deluded’. How will history judge Allardyce? There is no denying he handed on the club to his successor in better shape than he found it, and anyone in the directors’ box is going to consider that a job well done.
Many of us in the stands, however, will view things differently. Too cautious, too arrogant and too much gum. So let’s hope it’s back to the Championship for you Sam – that should give you something to chew on.