With the tenth anniversary of Sullivan and Gold’s ownership of the club approaching I thought it was the right time to consider my thoughts on their tenure.
Fair to say I am not a huge fan, but I like to think my reasoning is somewhat more objective than some of the name-calling that gets thrown around on social media and in the stands on occasions.
Firstly, look at the context of their arrival at the club. It is often said that they “saved” us. I say that is nonsense. It is true we were in a mess, an even bigger mess than we are in now, following the conclusion of the Tevez affair and the collapse of the Icelandic Banks.
Both of these incidents had put us in deep trouble due to the incompetence, in my opinion, of previous owners. West Ham was previous chairman Gudmundsson’s only viable asset but it seemed that the sale of the club would not even match what he had paid for it, let alone the £300m plus that he owed in personal debts.
The club’s new asset management owners at that time, CB Holdings indicated that they would continue to allow the club to run as normal, but a sale would be sought within three years.
So there was no immediate hurry to sell. Tony Fernandez, Intermarket and an Italian consortium had all show an interest but firm bids did not materialise. “Sugo” appeared to win a race with no finish line, almost by default.
I thought it might be interesting to look back at the ten-point pledge made by Sugo at the start of their first full season in charge, and see what, if anything has been achieved.
1. Appoint the right manager
Fair to say this has been a mixed bag – the appointment of Avram Grant was nothing short of a disaster. Allardyce a necessary evil, Bilic an inspired choice, Moyes hinted at desperation. With Pellegrini, they seemed to finally get it spot on but with the manager needs to come investment.
2. Sign new players
In terms of playing staff it’s fair to say spending has increased and we have generally signed a better quality of player than the McCarthys, Midos and Illans that arrived in their first window. But it’s not just about numbers. You can spend a lot of money on players that turn out to be average. In terms of recruitment how have we closed the gap on the top six, if at all? I’ll leave that to you to answer.
3. More investment in the Academy
The academy continues to produce talented players but with the exception maybe of Declan Rice (admittedly a once in a generation Academy player) and maybe Grady Diangana, how many have been given a decent chance at first team level? There is little point developing these players if you simply farm them out to League One clubs.
4. Continue to clear the debt
Greater minds than mine have discussed this point – and failed to find a path through the smoke and mirrors of football finances. My guess is the debt is at least manageable as long as we remain a Premier League club.
5. Freeze season ticket prices for renewals
Season tickets have remained good value (as long as you don’t count actual match results) but then they have had the luxury of almost doubling the capacity of the stadium in their tenure.
6. Build the status and image of the club
This is probably the point where I feel they have failed hardest. We used to be everyone’s second club. Now everyone hates us. The perception is that we have piggy-backed into a publicly-funded stadium in order to compete in the Premier League. Within the club, the perception is that they have sold our history and our soul to try and achieve that. They have created disharmony and I have never seen West Ham fans so divided. The cancelled march in 2018 did nothing to enhance our image. This could all have been avoided. See point 10.
7. Make it enjoyable to come and watch
Ah. Actually this is probably the point where they have failed hardest.
8. Get closer to the community
I do believe the club does excellent work in this area, but then, they always did.
9. Go for the Olympic Stadium
Whole books have been written on the subject. There is no point crying over spilt milk. We have to make the best of it. But there can be no doubt that moving stadium was part of the plan from day one, and I feel that it would not have mattered if there had been a properly organised fan protest over this throughout the six years it took for the plan to become a reality, they would not have listened. Every man and his dog from then London Mayor Ken Livingstone, Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell, down to the average West Ham fan, said this could not be allowed to happen, yet somehow it did. A lot of promises were made about the next level. The words “World Class” were used too frequently. We wait.
10. Listen to supporters
Ah. Scrub points six and seven THIS is the area they have failed most spectacularly. In 2010 they said: ‘Arguably the most important of all is our commitment to listen to what you have to say. We know we are just the custodians of this club. You who follow us every week, whether near or far, are the true owners. Whether talking to you online or in print, or face to face at fan forums, we will be open, transparent and available.’
What we have ended up with is a communication line only with a supporters board made up of fans selected by the club. Several independent groups have offered their services but been rejected.
It hasn’t helped of course that there has been a lot of in-fighting among those groups. But at least those groups have elected representatives.
The OSB does some really good work but Is no reason why the representatives in each area should not be directly elected by the fans.
Overall conclusion? Gold and Sullivan probably no worse than any other owners in terms of spending, player and manager recruitment.
But they took us away from our spiritual home. When you do something like that it changes the make-up of the club irreversibly.
If you make a fundamental change you need to get results quickly to keep people on side. You need to show that progress is being made with tangible improvements in league positions, quarterfinals, semi-finals, finals. Europe.
That’s not happening. It shows no sign of happening. The longer we wallow around, failing to gain ground on the top six, the harder it will become to attract the managers and players that see us as something other than an opportunity to make a few quid.
We can’t go back to the Boleyn. But now we seem to be stuck between the devil and the deep blue, with no tangible assets other than a group of players who cannot seem to be bothered. If these owners are not prepared to spend the necessary cash to reach that next level then as soon as they are permitted to, they need to find some who are.