David Gold feels the club have been vindicated for replacing Sam Allardyce with Slaven Bilic following a great first season under the Croatian.
In a wide-ranging interview, the West Ham co-chairman said getting off to a good start was key for Bilic but his passion for the club and the West Ham way will help keep fans on side during any future winless periods. He has also set out his vision for West Ham for the next five years with the main target being regular European football and also stated the club will be debt free once the first ball is kicked at their new home this August.
‘I think we all knew that Slaven was very capable – indeed as some of the other applicants were [for the vacant manager position],’ he said. ‘We knew their CVs but the issue was whether or not we were going to be able to work with this man, and whether there was chemistry between us.
‘At most clubs, there is usually one man who deals with the manager but in our case it’s two chairmen and vice-chairman Karren Brady. Now all three of us ticked the box to say we could work with him. ‘The other box to be ticked, of course, was something nobody else could and that was him being an ex-player. Ex-players are always warmly received by the fan base but key to any success of a new manager, particularly in the early stages, is to get off to a good start. He did this.
‘West Ham fans also know we don’t have a divine right to win every game, but what they do have a divine right to expect is that their football team is going to give 100 per cent, and they’re going to see passion from their manager, and that’s what they’ve got.’ Premier League survival for the final season at Upton Park and the first season in the Olympic Stadium was made clear to Bilic on starting his reign at the club but he wasn’t given a target position, Gold confirmed.
‘I’m sitting here right now and I’m optimistic about the future,’ he continued. ‘Our expectation levels have risen because of how things have gone but also because we’ve got some quality players. ‘They didn’t know what Lanzini was going to be like and how he would fit in. They also didn’t know how Payet was going to settle in and become the player that he has been for us.
As for where he sees West Ham five years from now, Gold replied: ‘I see us being well established in the Olympic Stadium, and I see West Ham United flourishing and challenging Spurs and Arsenal in London.
‘It’s always very difficult to talk about comparing us to the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City who have wealth that is indescribable. ‘It’s very difficult to compete with them financially on a regular basis but that’s not to say we can’t compete with them on the football pitch and that’s what I’d look to see in the next five years.’ Gold also claimed it would be impossible for the club to move forward until it becomes debt free.
‘We expect it to become debt free when we move to the Olympic Stadium. Within in five years, I’d like to see us stay debt free and competing season after season in the top six,’ he added. ‘There is a correlation between fan base and position in the league, and we’ve under-performed for 50 years because we are higher up in the league of fan base than our position in the league over the last five decades has shown.
‘Therefore I’m optimistic now because our fan base has a new stadium to go to that will generate income and I believe the Olympic Stadium will enable us to raise more income to give us a better position in the league and I do feel we will be in the top six on a regular basis and one day we will get into that top four.’ As for the constant speculation that West Ham’s two chairman are planning on selling their shares in West Ham once the club has moved to its new home, Gold reiterated once more that it has ‘never been part’ of their plan.
‘At no time have we ever talked about selling the football club,’ he explained. ‘We’ve talked about having maybe another investor come in to help share the burden with us so that we can compete with Roman Abramovich and Man City but we have never ever talked about selling. ‘It’s our intention to pass on the shares in West Ham when we become too ancient to continue to our children who have the same passion as us.
The passion of my two daughters for our football club is not dissimilar to my own and sometimes I think their passion is greater so from that point of view if something happens to me, my daughters would step up to the plate.’ Looking back on the final few months of 2015 and matters off the pitch, the conversation turns to media frenzy around requests made by football supporters’ groups for an inquiry into West Ham’s Olympic Stadium move, which was rejected by the government.
‘Is it not true that great stories go on and on? This is a great story,’ he said as he described himself climbing onto the proverbial soapbox. ‘A lot of those articles were biased and there was the constant red herring of taxpayers’ money when in fact the opposite is true because if West Ham wasn’t involved in becoming the anchor tenants, the Olympic Stadium would become exactly the same as the vast majority of Olympic Stadiums around the world – a white elephant.
‘They go into decay, they rot and they cost taxpayers millions of pounds a year to keep them from becoming a hazard and that was exactly what was going to happen to the Olympic Stadium. ‘The last Labour government had planned to reduce the stadium from 80,000 seats to just 25,000 with no roof and only the ability to hold athletics there but we know this would not have been sustainable.
‘Yes we want our young people to participant in running and jumping and all forms of athletics. We want them fit and well but the bottom line is, apart from the Olympics, nobody is interested in watching athletics. ‘We’ve come along and become anchor tenant and arguably you can say we have saved this burden on the taxpayer. ‘The taxpayer would have had to pay £60m to reduce it from an 80,000 seater stadium to just 25,000. That was planned and budgeted for, and then it was going to cost £4m a year forever but along come West Ham and we’ve done a deal and that’s no longer going to be the case.
Asked about any ambition to expand the Olympic Stadium beyond 60,000 seats, Gold replied: ‘Our current plan is to get the 60,000 seater stadium full and vibrant but we’ll see in the future. The sight lines are world class and no seat is further away from the pitch than Wembley.’