This is one of those open letters. How tedious of me. I’ve become one of “those” people. I know, I know – I should be better than this. But then again, so should our team after eight years of your ownership. Neither of us have much to shout about.
Perhaps I’m naive but I still believe that you are a genuine supporter, albeit one with a remarkably high tolerance for the team you support being abysmal. I suspect it must be galling for you to sit with the officials of clubs like Burnley and Brighton and have to offer up polite chit chat while the team you have assembled at such great cost gets destroyed in front of you.
You’re not a quitter, you say. You’re not walking away from a job half done. Fair enough, I suppose, although I think you might be pushing the limits of the word “half” there. It’s the standard rhetoric of people in jobs that are beyond them, but which remunerate them handsomely. And rest assured, I think we are all aware that the several million pounds of interest that the club pays you each year probably helps to pass the time on those long drives back down the M1 after yet another Northern shellacking. I happen to think that people who refuse to quit when they aren’t up to the task are selfish.
People mocked Kevin Keegan mercilessly but by resigning as England manager in 2001 he helped England to reach a World Cup, by admitting he wasn’t up to it. I find that infinitely more courageous and honourable than sticking around despite all the evidence being that you don’t possess the ability to do your job.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. For our story begins some time ago. 2010, to be precise, and West Ham was a club on the precipice. We were, according to the BBC, ‘in 16th, in a season plagued by injuries and off field distractions’. Seems a little outlandish, I know, but that’s what they said. You described the situation thusly: ‘We have a short term goal to stay in the Premier League, and in the long term we’d like to be challenging for the top four and the Champions League…. the club has such an unbalanced squad. We will be honest with the fans about the books and the crazy wages the Icelandic owners paid out that has brought the club to its knees.”
I won’t lie, David, that last one is my favourite. You finished up by saying: ‘We’re taking on a huge task at a club with enormous problems. It will take time for us to turn it around.’ Remember what we were saying about a job half done? Time travellers from 2010 might wonder if you’ve even started at all. I should also add that there was also some stuff about how you always supported your managers, right before you fired Gianfranco Zola and replaced him with Avram Grant.
For a bet, possibly. Anyway, we’re six managers in now so I always figured that one was probably a joke. I wonder if you ever sit at home, looking at those life-size waxwork butlers of yours and wonder whether you are in some mythical Greek hell? I know I do
In the same way that Tantalus is forever doomed to stand in a pool of water that recedes whenever he bends down to try and drink it, you seem destined to sit in the bottom half of the Premier League and watch poorer, smaller, but smarter, clubs breeze past you. It puzzles you, I’m sure, that fans aren’t more grateful to you for saving us. I suppose that can be put down to the fact that a lot of fans don’t really think you did.
They saw a very wealthy individual swooping in and picking up a distressed asset that was always likely to produce a return with even a modicum of investment. Harsh, I suppose, but there you go. There can be no denying that the clubs finances look an awful lot healthier now than they did in 2010, but of course this is largely due to the explosion in television rights.
While Karren Brady might like to brag about turning around a failing business, most of us are a bit nonplussed by all that. The single best decision you made was to employ Sam Allardyce, at obscene expense, to ensure the club was back in the Premier League when the gravy train rolled into town. And if ever there was a man unlikely to miss a gravy train… I have no doubt that you were perplexed as to why exactly a home defeat to Manchester City would inspire all the angst among supporters that there was.
But I’m not sure it was this particular defeat that’s really the point here. It’s the fact that every single one of us knew it was coming. Since moving to the London Stadium we have played the current ‘Big Six’ on 14 occasions. We have won three, drawn twice, and lost nine. In those games we have scored 10 goals and conceded 34.
It’s not just that we’re terrible, it’s that we’re reliably terrible. Whether you accept it or not, the fact that we don’t even remotely compete in games against one third of the division is a pretty good reason for the widespread apathy that is surging through your core support like poison through a bloodstream. But I’m sure, you’re sitting there fed up at having your efforts ripped to shreds. What of Dimitri Payet? What about that season of finishing seventh? And you’d be right.
That was a great season. You should have bought a decent striker in January, of course, but instead did it on the cheap and missed out on a Champions League spot that was begging to be taken. I often wonder about that, and I’m sure you do too. Some better refereeing and Charlie Austin instead of Emmanuel Emenike and who knows where we would all be right now. Barring that one marvellous season when the Premier League went crazy, big teams fell and little teams rose and Leicester won the league, we have been unrelentingly boring to support.
I can describe it in no other way. West Ham on the pitch are generally one of the most tedious sides in the land. All of our impact is on the back pages, as we lurch from crisis to crisis, amusing the world as we go. We are irrelevant on the pitch and shambolic off it, and there is nobody to be blamed for that other than you.
I resent being asked to give you my season ticket money before the end of the season because I feel like I will just be endorsing you to go out and waste it once more. Let me ask you a question, David, if I may. Is there any challenge in your role? By which I mean, does anyone ever tell you that what you’re doing is wrong? If not, perhaps you ought to ask yourself why. Challenge is a good thing, David. People disagreeing with you is healthy, because it introduces some rigour to your decision making process.
Getting people into positions of seniority who have a backbone and some vision is a really healthy thing for a company to do. You keep telling us that the manager must have the final say on transfers despite employing six in eight years. Any player signing on anything longer than a two year deal is likely to outlast the manager he signs for. Can you not see that this is a nonsense?
You need some help. You’ve done your best, no doubt, but there is so much more intellectual horsepower in those clubs it’s not even a fair fight. They have long term business plans that allow them to think further ahead than the next transfer window, and they don’t lurch alarmingly from one crisis to another. I know fans are a nightmare. How can you appease people who scream that they want a high-energy pressing game and then scream even louder for Hernandez to be on the pitch?
What hope do you have of reasoning with people who insist on playing 4-4-2 without acknowledging that we don’t actually have anyone who can play wide in midfield? Where do you go with supporters who criticised Moyes for not instilling a sense of organisation and professionalism into his team and then side with professional waster Andy Carroll because he didn’t walk straight back into the team after being out for months?
What is up with people who plaster pictures of themselves in the San Siro all over their social media accounts and then tell you they’re giving up their season tickets because they’re sick of the number of tourists in the stadium? But that’s the point, really – fans are emotional and illogical and moody, but the simple thing we all want is success. Produce a better team and we will fall in line. You need to stop taking shortcuts and start working to some semblance of a plan.
What’s important now is your long term plan. How do you want to play? What type of team are you trying to build? What profile of player are you targeting and how do you plan to attract them? The problem is that you and I both know that no such template exists. Instead, everything is geared to short term survival and kicking problems down the road until you eventually sell the club and can leave them for the next guy to resolve.
And there’s the rub. When you took us from Upton Park you ripped the soul out of the club. But crucially you didn’t replace it with anything. I would suggest that the only thing that could really have worked is to have replaced it with a brain. A razor sharp, young, progressive, cutting-edge managerial set up that could have bridged the gap between us and the elite.
I can’t tell you how often I daydream of West Ham Red Bull, David, because it would be no further removed from the West Ham of my youth than your version, and a damn sight more successful. If your plan is to just hang on to the club until the restrictive covenants are lifted and then sell for the biggest profit possible, then you need to be aware of what that will mean for your legacy. And perhaps you won’t care, and perhaps your sons won’t care, but you’ll be forever known as the guy who destroyed West Ham.