Big Sam the best? I’d rather we focus on these other managers

Allardyce wasn’t anywhere near our best manager over the last 20 years

A West Ham season ticket holder recently ranked every Hammers manager since 2000 on Twitter, and I was enraged after reading just one entry.

Why? Because sitting there, bold as brass at No 1, this fool or wind up merchant – I can’t decide which – had put Big Sam Allardyce.

You remember him, the one who cupped his ear to the Upton Park faithful after his team had limped over the line to narrowly beat 10-man Hull City 2-1 at home.

Those money-paying fans had the audacity to boo the ‘Great Sam Allardyce’. How dare they want more from their team.

Granted the win did move us to a heady height of 11th in the Premier League but it was a grim watch.

Just like so many of Allardyce’s games before and after that night were.

In the aftermath, Big Sam – who had previously two-footed the idea of a ‘West Ham way’ said: ‘I’ve never had a problem with fans cheering or booing. It is part of the game, part of what you have to accept.

‘People who pay money are allowed to express their opinion whether you think it is right or wrong. My fear was how much it affected the players, not how much it affected me.

‘I thought I would take the stick, I would take the pressure off them by cupping my ear. I thought it was unfair.

‘At that time it was about winning, it didn’t matter how we won as long as we won – and we did win.’

Sam never really felt like a good fit in east London. Certainly not in the Premier League.

And having spoken to one of his right-hand men Wally Downes on our We Are West Ham podcast earlier this month, it turns out one of Allardyce’s closest allies agreed.

Downes was assistant manager under Avram Grant and then first team coach under Allardyce and he told the podcast: ‘Fans were never having Sam. That was the top and bottom of it. For whatever reason, they might not have liked him from before.

‘He’s not everyone’s cup of tea but I thought when he got promoted he would have been better off leaving then.

‘Once it started going wrong, fans were going to turn. I know it’s difficult to do that as a manager and the owners wouldn’t have wanted him to. But the way it went was always the way it was going to go.

“He’d won it at Wembley, he’d done the job, we were going up and it wasn’t going to be as easy in the Premier League.

‘I couldn’t see it ending well. It was always going to be tough once we came back up because we weren’t going to play football like West Ham are playing now.

‘But Sam’s got a very high opinion of himself and obviously thought he was going to battle through but it came to pass he couldn’t.

‘Sam plays very pragmatic – long ball and defensive. But the smart move to avoid any conflict for him might have been to leave then and go to a club with fans who would have appreciated him more.’

Allardyce was in charge from June 2011 to May 2015.

He won promotion via the play-offs in season one. And then finished 10th, 13th and 12th in the Prem before he was let go at the end of 2014-15.

Complaints about his style of football never really went away. Certainly not from me.

But during his first season in charge, Allardyce labelled fans delusional.

It was PR suicide and the gruff northerner surely knew that.

Shortly after the run of five draws towards the end of the Championship season that scuppered West Ham’s automatic promotion hopes, Allardyce said: ‘There has never been a “West Ham way” shown to me, not by anybody that’s worked with West Ham.

‘I’ve spoken to them all and none of them can tell me or define what the West Ham way is. So it is a bit of a delusion.’

Allardyce’s cock-sure, aloof and patronising “I know better than all of you” manner used to irritate me in the extreme.

But he never seemed to give a stuff what fans thought which always led me to wonder: “Why are you working here?!”

However, having doubled down on his battle with Hammers fans long after he’d left – it turns out Allardyce was bothered.

Five months after leaving, he fumed: ‘The fans are brainwashed into thinking historically the club had a particular style of play which was akin to Barcelona, which is potty.

‘I once called the supporters deluded and I stand by that. I don’t know who invented the West Ham way phrase, but it’s a millstone around the club’s neck.’

Downes – who clearly still respects his former boss – revealed the short-lived ex-England manager was affected by criticism from the terraces by the time he left.

Downes said: ‘It did bother him. But at that stage, his heckles were up and it was an obstinate thing.

‘He was doing alright with the owners but the owners got worn down and it was a situation where everyone was saying “this isn’t working”.

‘The only way it was working was on the pitch. But he didn’t help himself by questioning the “West Ham way”. Whatever ‘way’ it was it wasn’t doing very well and he possibly had a point but the way he put it was crude towards the fans.

‘What he needed to say was “come on, be more realistic”. We all hark back to great days and we remember things that slowly get better through rose tinted glasses.

‘From a professional point of view, coming in and having no allegiance to the club, what he was trying to say was “the assumption it’s all wonderful football with Trevor Brooking and Geoff Hurst is lovely but we’ve got to produce good football. And good football is winning football”.

‘But the expectation at West Ham is there – there is no denying it. And if you want to alienate the fans, that’s the way to do it.’

Downes said he loved his time in east London and looks back on it fondly.

But at one point when playing devil’s advocate for Allardyce’s stance, he said: ‘There is no “way” at any football club, you play the best short pass, you play the best long pass, you make the right decisions at the right time.’

However, as we have seen, whether that statement is true or not, it is not a view that should be aired when you’re West Ham manager.

As I’ve said before in these pages, give me an Alan Pardew or a Slaven Bilic over an Allardyce or a Grant any day of the week. 

Managers whose playing and emotional style aligned almost perfectly with the desires of the tens of thousands of people who pay their money to watch the team they love every week.

As a result, my best to worst ranking of our West Ham managers since 2000 is Pardew, Harry Redknapp, Bilic, Alan Curbishley, David Moyes, Manuel Pellegrini, Gianfranco Zola, Allardyce, Avram Grant.

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