‘It isn’t football without the fans’ – was the well worn phrase of 2020 – uttered by every colour-clad supporter hopelessly sitting behind an electric screen on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon cheering on their losing side.
Yelling at the television they believed that if they were just able to be at the stadium, their 12th man presence would bring about a win, that they could be the Greek Chorus entering the drama on the pitch with their heart and voice to affect the players internally and bring about a win, but is this so?
West Ham fans pride themselves for being amongst the best supporters in English football; after all we boast the third highest attendance in the Premier League – seventh in Europe – and that’s for a team whose only silverware in the last 40 years since the FA Cup was the Betway Cup raised by Adrian.
We were known to have a fortress in the Boleyn, and many ex players have said how great the Claret and Blue army was. But are we really that effective?
How often have we slated incoming players for not producing to our dreams and highlight reel ambitions?
Would Felipe Anderson have found more confidence if not facing loud boos at every misstep?
Would Pelligrini’s possession squad have been able to produce more results if they hadn’t feared the terror of disappointed jeers?
Pre-covid, you could hear supporters yelling epithets at players who were doing poorly with an inter-fan battle ensuing over the effects of positive and negative reinforcement.
Some believe that yelling at a player will motivate them to play better, others believe that it will lower their confidence.
This led into an even greater debate that negative reinforcement was generational – Alvin Martin has said something to the effect of: ‘If you didn’t do something proper, fans would let you know about it, and you’d quickly change it’, with other people believing that the new Millennial gen players are soft and can only be managed by fans and coaching staff with positive reinforcement and one-on-one motivational talks – but where is the evidence?
Mark White at FourFourTwo shared the stat that West Ham had a higher win rate at 33% without fans at the London Stadium, and that West Ham ‘are thought to have a hostile home atmosphere towards their own team’.
At first glance the win rate and relegation escape since Project Restart coupled with the league position would show the same.
At the time of writing, West Ham are fifth on the table, three points behind Liverpool (who are 22% down since absence of fans), and the team seems well composed with the lads enjoying their football and their unity.
Watching them interact and play there seems a weight lifted off their shoulders and they’re playing freely.
The board have been known to misstep and also state the same things about the fans being responsible for the teams’ negative performances, but that’s an easy deflection from their own mismanagement.
No West Ham player or manager would be caught saying they prefer to play without the fans, though we can remember Pelligrini’s press pleadings and Noble’s beseeching letter asking fans to support their team, especially in low times of seasons past.
Has our distaste for the board, the London stadium, and our burst bubbles infiltrated into the psyche of the players?
I consider myself fair minded and of a more optimistic opinion – that the negativity we read on social media doesn’t reflect the atmosphere of fans at the stadium.
That our good run of fortune is due to proper man-management from Moyes; that the addition of hardworking players who graft, and a system that supports them, as well as a lean purposeful squad have all bolstered the ability of the team to play confidently.
There has also been more time to gel with the players – Pelligrini saw a hodge-podge team of patchwork talent thrown together from different leagues, teams, and backgrounds, forced into a non-functioning formation in a relatively short time, that he couldn’t see his way out of.
While I do believe West Ham fans need to look at themselves in the mirror more often than not – myself included – to see if we really are offering support to the team, I think there are many factors to show why West Ham is performing well, and that West Ham fans are indeed loyal and inspiring.
However, the superstitious side of me, which equates success with conditions at the moment won’t mind if fans hold off from being at the stadium for a little while longer.