At the full time whistle on the final day of the season, there was an element of sadness around London Stadium despite the comfortable victory over Sam Allardyce’s Everton.
An emotional and upset James Collins was there, in the middle of the pitch, looking around the stadium and bowing to the fans. He knew it was over, we knew it was over. Despite his Instagram messages that seemed to suggest there was light at the end of the tunnel, you could just tell we were saying farewell to one of the last bastions of the West Ham we all know and love.
West Ham is changing, it has been on a journey of change and upheaval ever since David Gold and David Sullivan swooped in and claimed they were mad to have even bought the club in the fi rst place. It hasn’t been the same since and some would argue West Ham United is no longer what it was, that it’s a new club operating under the same name and desperately trying to cling on to its once great values.
Yet, with the departure of James Collins and the way in which it was dealt with, those very values appear to be the latest important part of our great club to have faded and died in recent years. That’s because among all the rebranding, the public misdemeanours, the stadium move and the ongoing circus act, James Collins was one of the last symbols of the old West Ham we had left to adore. Collins represented the pride, the passion and the commitment West Ham was once famed for.
I guess it’s somewhat symbolic, then, that the way in which he was told about his departure was a symbol of what West Ham is now famed for – incompetency, embarrassment and lacking in integrity. Eleven years, 214 appearances, nine goals, and countless great memories.
All of that gone and forgotten about by those who claim to be West Ham fans, sitting at the very top of the club and calling the shots. All gone and forgotten in an email. Yes, an email. James Collins has been a colossus for West Ham during his two spells, a man that bought in to the West Ham Way very quickly after his arrival in 2005 and again in 2012, and soon became a fan favourite as a result.
He was never the greatest player in any squad he’s been a part of but he’s always been there, giving his absolute best at all times, no excuses. And that’s why we, as West Ham fans, grew to love him so. We grew to love his commitment, his passion and his pride. Probably more so in recent years because we don’t have a lot of that left at West Ham anymore.
Fans of other clubs will scoff at Collins’ nickname, Ginger Pele, but that’s only because they cannot appreciate having such a connection with a player of their own club. Collins was never the most gifted player with the ball at his feet, but that’s the irony of his nickname. We appreciated what he was and wasn’t good at and gave him a nickname that will stick with him and us forever.
It’s very difficult to win the hearts of us Hammers fans, and it’s even more difficult to earn the right to your own nickname, but James Collins did that. It’s a sign of the man and the player that he was capable of carving himself in to West Ham history without even being considered one of the best to have worn the famous claret and blue. I do understand the reasons behind the decision not to hand Collins a new contract, by the way.
I would’ve handed him one more year myself, just to give him the season-long send off a player like him deserves. But to just keep him in the dark for so long and then tell him via an email that he won’t be getting a new deal is a disgusting way to treat a player who has given the majority of his career to the club. A player who has given his blood, sweat and tears to the club for 14 long years, through the good times and the bad.
Regardless of what the board do from this moment onwards, it is a moment like this that’ll forever be a black mark on their record. Even if they do eventually take us forward and we win a bit of silverware, their treatment of our Ginge will always leave a sour taste in the mouth. It’s a sick way to treat a club legend. The worst thing about it all is that while we knew we were saying our goodbyes after the Everton game, Ginge will not get the celebratory send-off he so deserves.
Mark Noble deservedly got his testimonial and Ginge deserves his just as much. A testimonial would give both the fans and Ginge the opportunity to really say goodbye, to say thank you and, of course, to celebrate the wonderful man and the outstanding service he has given this football club. So if you’re reading this, Mr Sullivan, because I know you do read this great fanzine, give both parties the testimonial we all want.
Give us the chance to say goodbye to one of the last bastions of West Ham United. Because once Mark Noble eventually goes, West Ham United will never be the same again.