For the past year, I’ve been privileged to witness first-hand the trials and tribulations of running a Ladies football team.
The main problems always boil down to finance. To put on a match costs hundreds of pounds, even the hire of the pitch and the officials amounts to much more than can be acquired through the turnstile. But this looks like that could all change now with West Ham taking over the Ladies side. A few weeks ago the Ladies were rattling down the M4 to Cardiff in a 17-seater charabanc which looked like a converted ice cream van. But, following the takeover, they were transported to Cheltenham in an air conditioned coach.
Not only that, they had an overnight stay at a local hotel so that they could be rested and prepared for their afternoon cup clash with Cheltenham Town Ladies. In addition to this, the well-publicised odd size shirts bearing names of ex-players long gone are well and truly in the bin. West Ham United Ladies, after 25 years of gently tapping on the window, have finally been welcomed into the West Ham United family home.
The takeover wheels were set in motion when father and son chairmen John and Stephen were experiencing second season syndrome following their baptism of fire first season. Maybe it wasn’t what they had signed up for, or maybe they had just had enough of the headache of running a football club.
Frustrated with what they perceived was a lack of support from the ‘main’ club, Hunt Jnr took his beef to the BBC who deemed the ‘sexist card’ played newsworthy. The news report highlighted that the girls were being forced to do their running on the ‘mean streets’ of Chadwell Heath. But in reality it was one of their favourite parts of training instigated by James Marrs to improve their fitness and stamina.
The claims and counter claims, the accusations and denials which ensued are well-documented, but I suppose only those privy to the inner sanctum will ever really know what the reason for the Club’s change of heart was. Two days after the news broke, the West Ham Ladies had an away evening fixture against C&K Basildon. The anticipated media frenzy never happened. No news hounds, no BBC outside broadcast vans, and no main club representatives – just a lady photographer and myself.
There was a chap with a cap and a notepad who could have been a club representative or spy from another team but he kept himself to himself and then disappeared. Stephen Hunt confided in me that this was to be his swan song as chairman and had no idea how West Ham United would take over the reins of the club.
Along with his father he was to be the first casualty of the takeover would there be more? As part of the media team, I mused whether I would also be replaced by someone who could take better photos then me, which isn’t difficult, or by maybe someone who had a better grasp of English grammar and knew how to use football clichés in match reports. Back to the match, which the Hammers won, the soon-to-be ex-chairmen had their last hurrah, photo bombed the team photograph, and everybody went home happy with a certain amount of uncertainty.
I wondered how manager James Marrs would fit in the new regime with his ‘closed shop’ mentality. He had worked hard to implement his own philosophies and ethics within the squad, driving them hard in training and expecting 100 per cent commitment. Those who didn’t conform either walked or were jettisoned. Personally I thought he was doing a good job. The players looked fitter, they were playing as a team and from the dugout, he kicked every ball, and marshalled his players relentlessly.
On the down side, he frowned on social media and ‘encouraged’ players not to use it, which was a bit frustrating. I had been an advocate for the Ladies for a year and had tried to raise their profile to create interest in the matches. My hit and miss efforts no longer seemed to be required and I was fully aware that I should know my place and keep a distance from the team.
Parents were also barred from watching training to keep distractions to a minimum. His protective arm around the players was maybe a little over protective. I struggled to see how someone displaying megalomaniac tendencies was going to fit into a corporate environment. Maybe James Marrs had the same doubts and resigned his position before we had the chance to find out. More turmoil.
Marrs had brought in players that had been loyal to him in the past and there was a strong possibility that they could leave with him creating more disruption The first fixture under the official West Ham United banner was the home cup tie against Crystal Palace Ladies. I was surprised that there wasn’t any signage outside the ground or en route to the ground advertising the match.
The Ship Lane ground has a lot of passing traffic with links to the A13 and M25 and the Lakeside Shopping Centre, a temporary banner would have helped to improve the crowd. The average attendance for a home West Ham Ladies match is between 20 and 40, including away supporters, and that’s being generous. Maybe this information hadn’t filtered through to the club because they provided eight stewards to look after the safety of the fans, that’s about one for every three supporters. That’s the same as having 18,000 stewards at the London Stadium, but I’m sure these are just teething problems, or maybe there’s the option of moving the games to their Rush Green training ground complex.
West Ham had sent down their own photographer to capture the action and take profile shots of the players which was good to see. It gave the occasion a more professional feel even if it meant that he would render my own grainy offerings redundant, for that match anyway.
The new management team of Greg De Carnys and Josh attended but left the team duties to Colin Bennett, the Ladies Reserve team coach. He was the fourth manager in as many months to take charge of the Ladies and unfortunately he didn’t fare any better than his predecessors losing 4-0. And so to Cheltenham and the job of resurrecting the fortunes of West Ham Ladies and putting them on the map began in earnest.
There was a real feel good atmosphere about the squad. Manager Greg De Carnys has a friendly and approachable disposition and was willing to listen to supporters views and ideas, even mine, in order gain as much knowledge as possible that would be beneficial to his new charges.
He touched on the fact that they need to make Ship Lane feel more like a home ground, maybe some claret and blue branding. A last minute win in the Autumn sunshine was a great way for De Carnys to begin his reign and for the West Ham Ladies. The future looks bright.