They say time is the greatest healer of them all. So how come I still don’t feel any better about leaving the Boleyn Ground? By a remarkable coincidence, when we play Manchester United on May 10 it will be two years to the day since that final, epic encounter against the Mancs at Upton Park.
It would be the easiest thing in the world to fi ll this column with all of the issues we have had to face in that time, but what’s the point? You know the problems as well as I do. To be fair to the owners, they did promise we would get to see a world-class team in our ‘world-class stadium’ – and against Manchester City last month we did. Only the world-class team was wearing light blue.
For many supporters, that game was a tipping point. If you haven’t read it already, search online for the brilliant HeadHammerShark blog as he has written an open letter to the club.
After the Man City game, he wrote: ‘We’ve never once scored four goals in a game at our new ground, and yet Manchester City have done it three times. Once upon a time you could judge a team’s title credentials by how they fared at Upton Park, but under your watch we now get to see how they would play in testimonials. I honestly thought Kevin de Bruyne was going to fall asleep.’
It’s a long and heartfelt piece that captures the sense of intense frustration at not just the results over the past two years, but at the way the club is run. The supporters I feel most sympathy for are the ones who believed the promises that justified the move to Stratford.
Old cynics such as myself who opposed leaving Upton Park from the outset were mentally steeled for the disappointment when it came. We even had the dubious pleasure of being able to rub our chins sagely and say to anyone who would listen: ‘I told you so.’
It has been far more painful for those fans – especially younger ones – who really thought going to the next level meant we’d end the season contemplating the Champions League rather than the Championship.
We’ve been haunted by the threat of relegation for too long. We were all able to breathe a huge sigh of relief after the win at Leicester, but there’s no denying it has been another disappointing season. As a club we have to find a way to make things better – both on and off the field.
Resolving the on-field problems will depend largely on how much the owners are prepared to spend in the summer. The team needs strengthening in several key areas.
Good judgment exercised by a manager who can actually tell a donkey from a thoroughbred and a sizeable transfer budget – let’s say £100m – would go a long way to fixing things. If only the other issues were as easy to resolve.
Thankfully, the tensions that boiled over during the Burnley game have eased slightly – but the owners would be foolish to believe that loyal supporters who were willing to march in protest at the way the club is run have suddenly become happy Hammers.
The root causes of this simmering discontent need to be tackled quickly – no one wants another season like the one we’ve just endured. But before the owners can address our frustrations they need to fully understand them.
Like many people who own football clubs, Messrs Sullivan and Gold try to portray themselves as fans just like us. But, unlike the rest of us, they get to park their Rollers in the club car park rather than having to endure the miserable trudge through a concrete wasteland.
They also aren’t made to wait in the pouring rain for a shambolic security check, or find themselves staring into the dead eyes of a hostile steward with a stop-go board as they try to escape the unremitting awfulness of the Olympic Park.
And they don’t pay up to 900 quid to sit in seats so far from the pitch that one shrewd judge once described the view as being similar to watching your kid play Subbuteo while you look down from the loft.
So, unless they want to come and sit among us (and Karren Brady did once refuse my invitation to join me in Row 73 for an entire match) the owners need to let one of us Few and far between: There haven’t been enough moments like this since West Ham moved to Stratford 31 into the boardroom if they really want to know how the fans see things.
Don’t look so shocked! A supporter- director is not such a crazy idea. Sunderland, facing economic meltdown following consecutive relegations, have just agreed to allow a fan into the boardroom to help clear up the mess.
And Charlton had a supporter on the board for several years – an exercise that was considered a major success by everyone involved until new owners scrapped the post.
Let’s not kid ourselves – a fan on the board at West Ham isn’t going to solve all our problems at a stroke. But a supporter- director would give us a voice and help to shape our future. By being more in touch with fellow supporters a fan-director can bring an alternative perspective to discussions about how the club is run.
For the owners there is the dual benefit of hearing down-to-earth advice that would help them avoid unpopular decisions while at the same time getting constructive ideas about what would go down well with the fans.
It would be a tough job – this is about representing other fans, not pursuing a personal agenda. And there is a fine line to be walked about what a director should be concentrating on.
In the words of one Charlton supporter who was involved in their fan-on-the-board venture: ‘You are not there to moan about the fact the chips are always cold.’
As I say, having one of our own in the boardroom isn’t a miracle cure. But it would be a huge step towards healing the rift that has opened up between owners and supporters. Until that happens, it’s impossible to see how the club can move forward.
We’re West Ham supporters: we don’t expect to win the League. We don’t even expect to win every home fixture. But going to a game should be something we all look forward to, rather than be thought of as an ordeal to be endured.
And win, lose or draw, we should be able to look back on the day with a real sense of pride in our fantastic club. Just like we once did at Upton Park.
Brian Williams is the author of Home From Home – A West Ham Supporter’s Struggle to Reach The Next Level. He also wrote the bestseller, Nearly Reach The Sky.