The next level. Three words which almost define being a West Ham supporter but before opening a discussion on them it’s the words themselves that need definition.
David Gold claimed at one time that it meant challenging for a top four or top six spot but that’s not an analysis I can easily accept even after a summer when the club spent more money in the transfer market than ever before. As a Hammer from way back, I have become used to what we have been in the past – a yo-yo club that has spent far too much of it’s time sliding between the top two divisions.
Relegation fears have continued even until the past two or three seasons and whilst Manuel Pellegrini’s arrival gave great hope, the idea that we would suddenly vault into the big time is simply not on. Down the years, like so many of us, I have lived with the constant fear of relegation which is a debilitating experience and if we can bring those awful years to an end that’s the next level for me.
After the horrible performance recently against Everton, they – for me – represent what the next level is all about for West Ham. The Toffees have now gone nearly 100 years with just one relegation and for the most part have spent that time in and around the top 10 and flirting with Europe. It’s one of the great unsung achievements of the game and for me represents where the Hammers need to be – a club free of relegation fears.
The top four is a closed shop but the top six is achievable. However, to remain a comfortable top level club. never having to look over our shoulder which has been a big part of my Hammers experience, would be perfect for now. Leicester City showed that even the impossible is possible and we came close to that back in ‘86 but the top four really does look a closed shop, by and large, in the 21st century.
I don’t believe looking for an end to relegation fears is a modest ambition. For me it represents a challenging next level. It’s felt pretty good to be safe this year despite some horrendous results. Of course I want to win the title. Of course I want to compete in the Champions League, and like us all I want only the best for this great old club.
But when discussing these matters a little realism is required and the end of relegation fears is for me the next big step forward.