Last on Match of the Day again? Having to turn four pages in from the back of the paper for a West Ham story?
Nothing Hammers related on most national news websites? Sound familiar? Well not last month. Initially sparked by criticism on Sky Sports’ Sunday Supplement programme, David Gold, David Sullivan and Karren Brady ensured the good, the bad and the ugly of British sports journalism shone their spotlights on the Irons in scathing fashion.
The journalist panel’s crimes? Well the Guardian’s Jonathan Liew used the word ‘shambles’ before the Telegraph’s Matt Law referenced a ‘hands in the till’ culture during a pretty damning conversation about the plight of the club and in particular those whose decisions have got West Ham in this mess. In response, an indignant legal letter was issued to Sky on behalf of the club demanding apologies and retractions.
Now as a stand-alone reaction, this may seem petty from the owners. But to give some additional context, the letter marked the very first legal letter Sunday Supplement – or its predecessor Hold the Back Page – had ever received in more than 20 years of broadcasting. Not a good look. Anyway, the resulting clarification read out by Geoff Shreeves at the beginning of the following Sunday’s programme only served to emphasise the cringey, tasteless and desperate nature of the whole affair.
Shreeves could barely hold back laughter as he read from an autocue and clarified some of the points made while softly lit images of Sebastien Haller were shown to viewers at home. The target message: ‘Here’s a £45million striker we bought so stop saying we don’t spend money.’
How it was received: ‘Oh yeah, there’s the £45m striker you bought who has been turned into a shell of the player he was for his old club because of the environment (the one created by the board) he is being expected to perform in at West Ham.’ A PR nightmare to anyone with two eyes in their head but you sense – having made a company like Sky issue even the most Mickey Mouse of apologies – the powers that be at the London Stadium would have considered it a victory.
West Ham’s PR team is made up of decent honest professionals as well. Good people who would surely have warned their bosses against the action against Sky. But alas. Now of course the mainstream media kicked back after the affront. A development – again – surprising to no one with a basic understanding of professional football dynamics.
The Sun’s chief sports writer Dave Kidd used the phrases ‘clown car ride’ and ‘soulless gaff’ before questioning whether wasting vast sums of money on players without due diligence was something to shout about. Oliver Holt – chief sports writer at the Mail on Sunday – issued a viciously sarcastic apology of his own asking forgiveness from GSB for ever having suggested a team 17th in the Premier League were in a relegation scrap.
It was the sort of apology I would offer to teachers at school and immediately get detention for. The Daily Mail’s Martin Samuel had his say as well calling the football ‘rotten’ and reminded everyone the board have ‘lavished a fortune to make West Ham as bad as they are’.
Even the Guardian weighed in with prominent Hammers fan and journalist Jacob Steinberg echoing his colleagues’ sentiments. Just the latest chapter in the saga that with each page becomes far less funny and far more upsetting.
Since the fallout, there have been two main lines mooted back towards unhappy fans. Particularly those protesting and being vocal in their displeasure at the current state of affairs. Steve Lomas and Sam Allardyce gave interviews to The Sun and TalkSPORT respectively with the old classic: ‘Be careful what you wish for’.
And Tony Gale – among others – trotted out: ‘Fans need to support the team because negativity hurts the players.’ Well I call bull on both sentiments.
Firstly, never be careful what you wish for. For yourself, for your friends, for your family and certainly not for your football club. You’d never advise a friend or a loved one to be careful what they wished for if they were in a job they hated or an unhealthy relationship.
You’d encourage them to wish for more. To wish for better for themselves. And if you left a bad job or a toxic relationship and the next one was no better, you’d tell them to wish for better again and again and again until they found the thing they wanted.
Be careful what you wish for sounds an awful lot like accepting your fate to me and West Ham fans should never do such a thing. Especially when our fate looks like it does right now. So for those of you wishing for more or for better for West Ham. Be anything but careful with what you wish for.
And as for supporting the team, from what I have seen so far, in whatever fashion fans are making their feelings known, not a single one of them is doing it because they want the team to be worse. From where I’m sitting, the current unrest comes precisely because of how much people care for West Ham United not because they want the club to die.