‘I remember it so vividly, like it was yesterday,’ David Gold replies when I remind him that next month marks 10 years since he and David Sullivan took over West Ham. The anniversary date is January 19 and back in 2010 the joint owners set out early objectives of addressing the imbalance of our squad, and tackling the “crazy wages” some players were earning.
Then came the pledge, by David Sullivan I might add, of taking West Ham into the Champions League with their ‘seven-year plan’, which would involve spending ‘lots of money’ and also moving West Ham from Upton Park to the Olympic Stadium. Sullivan also, you may recall, pledged his support for our then manager Gianfranco Zola by telling the media: ‘We appointed four managers and parted company with two at Birmingham in 16 years. We believe in our managers and give them the time and support they need.’
Move forward 10 years, and I’m sat across David Gold in his office at Ann Summer’s HQ on the outskirts of Croydon reminding him of the promises made. I pointed out while they only had four managers during their 16 years at Birmingham, they’ve had six in 10 years at West Ham.
My first question for Mr Gold: If he could travel back in time today and give some words of advice to the 2010 David Gold, what would he say? ‘The first thing I’d say is: “Are you sure?” Not in a million years would I have touched West Ham had it not been for the fact I was a West Ham fan
s from birth,’ he answered.
‘It came so soon after we left Birmingham as well. The plan was for us to take a year off and visit other clubs before deciding our next move. I’d gone to Charlton, Brighton, I had conversations with Simon Jordan at Palace, and also the then chairman of Southampton. At the time, they were all basket cases and then West Ham became an option and that was the worst out of the lot. But the worst was to come when, having done the deal, every cupboard we opened, another skeleton fell out.
‘Slowly but surely we got to the bottom of things, we cleared out a lot of the deadwood and Karren Brady was relentless in getting us back on our feet – but then we got relegated, which set us back.’
As for the comments about Champions League football by 2017, Mr Gold added: ‘What we should’ve said was that in seven years we were hoping to be knocking on the door instead of saying we will be in the Champions League places. ‘I’ve certainly learnt a lot from the things that we’ve said but you’ve got to understand we said things like that with the very best of intentions based on the knowledge that we had at the time that we could make it happen.’
So what’s been the best thing to have happened during Mr Gold’s 10 years at the helm at West Ham? ‘The move to the Olympic Stadium – without a shadow of a doubt,’ he replies promptly. ‘Despite the anger from some fans, I will never alter my stance on this. I knew back in 2010 that this football club had more chance of competing with our rivals, particularly our rivals in London – Arsenal, Chelsea and Spurs – by moving to the Olympic Stadium.
‘We were miles behind them in terms of stadia but now I think we’ve shown glimpses of having a platform to springboard to seriously challenge our London rivals, thanks to our fantastic fanbase. Is the stadium perfect? No, it’s not. Why? Because the people building the Olympic Stadium had a firm belief that football would never be played there and that it must always remain an athletics stadium.
‘From where we sit, there’s like 20 yards that the stadium could have been brought forward had the hop, skip and jump been placed on the other side. How many people really watch hop, skip and jump? Seriously? This left us with a legacy of that gap from the first row of seats to the pitch on that side.
‘But that aside, we’ve got to come to the realisation – and I think many, many fans have – that this is our stadium, this is our future, and this is our opportunity. We are certainly not burdened with a billion pound debt either. What I hope we can do in the future is negotiate to ensure the stadium is only used for football and perhaps sports like baseball and American football but not athletics. We’ve got to be realistic, from a financial point of view, that it doesn’t make sense to continue having athletics at this stadium.’
What would Mr Gold have done differently in the past decade? ‘I wish I’d kept my mouth shut more. I regret saying that the seats would be “this” close to the pitch and then that didn’t happen. ‘It didn’t happen because of the roof. We’ve got the largest free-supporting roof structure in Europe but to get it over another 30 rows of seats would have cost untold millions and they just couldn’t do it.
‘We understood this and we had to adjust our expectations accordingly and that meant we were going to be further away from the pitch on the west side. But we will be able to bring the seats in at the goal ends, that’s going to happen and remember we are still only in our fourth season at our new home.
‘Every month, you walk into the stadium and there’s another thing done. If someone hadn’t visited the stadium for a season or maybe a couple of years, they would see a big change to how it once was.’
Moving onto the six managers the club has employed during his time as co-owner, I ask Mr Gold for a summary of his memories of dealing with each of them. ‘It’s difficult to summarise each manager when I could write a story on each of them,’ Mr Gold replies. ‘Zola was great but his assistant, Steve Clarke, I couldn’t work with him. He wasn’t a good fit for West Ham. The relationship between him and us wasn’t sustainable but I liked Zola very much. He was a proper footballing person.
‘But we decided to let him go because we needed to change it to avoid being relegated the next season and I promise you, if you were in the interview with Avram Grant, you would have employed him. His enthusiasm, his charm, his footballing knowledge, his connections, everything about him was perfect during our interviews with him and at that time we thought he was the best man for the job.
‘But it didn’t work. Sometimes you get these things, sometimes you do your due diligence and sometimes you get them wrong and you’re surprised but OK, we moved on. After being relegated to the Championship, we brought in Allardyce because we thought he was the best man to get us out of that division.
‘He should have got us out easier mind! Looking back it’s fantastic from a fan point of view. We went to Wembley, and it was so exciting but it wasn’t for us. It was nail-biting and frightening after they equalised because you’re thinking we’re the favourites but we are going to get beat here and remain in the Championship and then we got that goal.
‘I still watch that winning goal from time to time. I’ve got big pictures printed of our celebrations and it was hugely exciting. But let’s not forget that we shouldn’t have been in the playoffs. With the players that we had we should have won that league by five points and we didn’t.
‘Although Sam did his job and he will tell everyone for the rest of his life that he got West Ham out of the Championship and back into the Premier League, he did do it the hard way. We then gave him the instruction; “Keep us up Sam” and he did.’
Moving onto Slaven Bilic and Mr Gold smiles as he remembers the Croat’s first season in charge – our final at the Boleyn. ‘A lot of things went our way that season. Being the last season at Upton Park, I really wanted us to win our last match and we did – what an evening to remember that was.
‘We ended up finishing seventh – our highest position for many, many years. We had a superstar in Payet and we were playing wonderful football. Yes if VAR had been about that season, we could have won at Old Trafford and got to the FA Cup semi final but I don’t think anyone could have asked for more unless they were being greedy.
‘That season was absolutely amazing and it sent us off to a new adventure – an adventure that no other club in England has done by moving into the Olympic Stadium. But then things went wrong for Bilic when we lost Payet. I remember him being drained by his efforts to try and keep him.
‘Bilic did everything he could to keep Payet. He pleaded, he offered new contracts, bonuses, all kinds of things but he couldn’t win because all Payet had in his mind was getting back to his wife and his children.’
Moyes arrived at London Stadium after the club parted ways with Bilic and Mr Gold believes the former Everton boss could have enjoyed a longer spell as manager had he managed at a different time. ‘Moyes was the perfect manager for that moment in time. I liked him and I had high regard for him. He took over a damaged ship and had so little time – half a season, made one purchase, which was a complete failure, but he was very easy to work with.
‘His mandate was to keep us up which he did. But by this time, we’d arrived at the moment where we had built up some reserves and we had an aspiration and a desire to push the club forward. In order to achieve this we felt we needed a world class manager and we just felt it was the Pellegrini magic that was needed at our football club. Certainly, I believe, at a different time in our history, David Moyes could have been West Ham manager for many years.’
Our conversation took place before our disastrous October and November fixtures but I suspect Mr Gold still currently holds Manuel Pellegrini in the same regard today as he did when we spoke. ‘The arrival of Pellegrini gave us confidence in spending our money. He approved the players, he made the final call and I’ve always admired his quiet, authoritative way that he goes about his work. His reputation was a powerful factor when appointing him – how could you not support him with what he has managed to achieve?’
While Mr Gold believes West Ham are closing the gap on the likes of Arsenal, Spurs and Chelsea, he has tipped Liverpool and Manchester City to dominate the titles in England for years to come. ‘There is a huge gulf between the top two and the rest of the league. Manchester United are no longer guaranteed that they are going to be in the Champions League – those days for them are over. Manchester City will be there for a long time – just like Barcelona and Real Madrid have been in Spain. These are super wealthy football clubs. Liverpool are blessed with having a top quality manager who has been there, done that and he has arguably the best forward line in the world.’
As the opening of the January transfer window rapidly approaches, Mr Gold doesn’t believe West Ham will be investing in too many new recruits. ‘It’s an emergency period. That was the whole idea behind it but for many years, it became a period where a few clubs spent big to try and stay up. Now, if they were to announce we’d no longer have it, I don’t think it would bother most clubs. Most clubs do all their big business at the beginning of the season and use January to recruit an area or position in an emergency. Having said that, you could find there will be more activity this January than in previous years. If Manchester United, for example, find themselves mid-table, could they go out and spend £200m on players?’