‘That is the last ever shambles GSB window for West Ham fans to endure’.
So said ‘The Secret Agent’ aka @itk_secretagent in October last year such was his confidence that a takeover of West Ham was imminent.
And yet come January we found ourselves in another transfer window with Gold, Sullivan and Brady still having occupancy of the boardroom.
It all begged a number of questions: What happened to our would-be suitors?
Was there really any interest or was it, as some suspected, a ploy from the powers that be to dampen the “board out” campaign?
And where, one may wonder, is the secret agent now?
To start to answer these, let’s take it back to the beginning, to last season when there was lots of heat directed towards the board.
In February there were mass protests, 900 attended one before the Everton game, black balloons were released during our visit to Liverpool and then, led by Hammers United, a march was orchestrated involving around 3,000 that culminated outside the ground before we played Southampton.
#GSBOUT was often trending on social media and the press where running stories that articulated the fans desire for a change of ownership.
The crux of our grievances are well known, but for context, worth rehashing.
Upon our move to the Olympic Park, supporters were told it would enable the club to compete at a higher level.
Leaving Upton Park was a bitter pill to swallow, but many accepted it as a necessity for us to move to the much fabled ‘next level’, to be able to push for European football and mix it with the big boys.
And whilst we broke our record transfer fee for most of the years since our move, there is little evidence to suggest that the move has got us any closer to sitting at the top table.
In February of 2020, we couldn’t have felt further away. Entrenched in our second relegation battle in four years, we had just reappointed David Moyes – a man out of work since his previous stint with us and clearly the cheaper option as opposed to say Carlo Ancelotti who had joined Everton only a few weeks earlier – to save us for a second time.
News had leaked that the club’s scouting system was near non-existent and the club’s training ground didn’t compare favourably against even League One clubs.
All this on top of the board’s inability to not publicly embarrass the club with newspaper articles, interviews and attempts to wheel and deal in the transfer market.
Then, just as the protests reached a peak, so too did Covid cases and the league ground to a halt.
When Project Restart enabled games to return, fans did not and whilst this meant there was no platform for fans to voice their unhappiness publicly, it did not mean an end to it.
Cries of poverty from the board as a result of lost revenue – whilst other clubs spent vast amounts – did little to appease.
The handling of season ticket sales didn’t help either, with many (rightly or wrongly) seeing it as the board asking for fans, many of whom had been hit hard financially during the pandemic, to help fill the club’s coffers without any guarantee of actually seeing any football this season.
Selling Grady Dianganna further fuelled the fires, not just because the move was meant to negate the need to sell promising players, but also because it once again pointed to a lack of long term vision or strategy that is seen at bigger clubs.
It all led fans to the same conclusion. The board lacked the capabilities, financially or otherwise, to take the club forward. They needed to go.
And then, as we entered September, Spencer Owen (West Ham fan, Hashtag United owner and YouTube phenomena) hosted a man known only as The Secret Agent on his YouTube channel.
The Secret Agent claimed: ‘I will be amazed if West Ham United is not under new ownership by the end of this year’.
He went on to say: ‘By the end of this year there’ll be new owners sitting in the boardroom at West Ham United, I think 100%.
‘You know I rarely ever chuck in 100%. But Sullivan and Gold want to sell the club and that’s the way it’s going. There’s been offers that haven’t quite met (the club’s valuation), various international consortiums, even heads of state have bid on the club.
‘A few that have been not successful with other Premier League clubs have also been sniffing around.’
He finished by saying: ‘There’s a strong desire to sell and the desire is for this to be wrapped up this year so they can walk away and let someone else take over West Ham United, so that’s going to be pushed through over the next few months.’
This, understandably, got fans talking. Some were excited, some refused to be drawn into false hope.
Many waited until ExWHUEmployee had spoken on the subject to choose a side of the fence.
And speak Ex did, claiming, that whilst there was indeed interest in the club, no bids had been made (in any formal capacity) and that he believed Sullivan would not be willing to sell until 2023, when certain clauses in the lease for the London Stadium had expired.
The next few weeks saw a bit of indirect back and forth between the two sources. The Secret agent tweeted an American flag next to the #WHUFC and claimed: ‘All of you who doubted me are going to look very silly soon. Let’s just say, what happens in Vegas…also happens in east London’.
He then returned to Spencer to give more information, stating that there were two Chinese parties interested, and an American bid imminent.
He also stated that an ex player was trying to help negotiations and would take a seat on the new board, whilst reiterating his belief that the club would have new owners ‘this year’.
He also said that news would break in the mainstream media soon.
And break it did, with many media outlets running stories that an American consortium had made bids of £350m and £400m.
Rumours swirled that Albert Tripp, already a shareholder, was fronting the deal, having requested a full breakdown of the club’s finances previously.
Ex, for his part, insisted that whilst there was firm interest and that prices may have been discussed and emails exchanged, these did not quantify any official sort of bid.
Fans began to wonder whether this was all a cry for attention from the Secret Agent or a ruse to distract supporters from venting their frustrations at the board.
It certainly provided an excuse for not spending, with some believing the Secret Agent’s claim that the lack of transfer activity in the summer was to ‘reduce the running costs for higher valuation’.
And then came the final tweet, on October 16th, doubling down and claiming that the owners had agreed to sell the club and that we would not have to endure another GSB window.
So where does the truth lie?
The fact that the story was reported in the press suggests there was some merit to the murmurs, although we all know now that when ‘sources’ are quoted it is often jargonism for ‘someone on Twitter’, so maybe the Secret Agent’s prediction that the story would break was merely a self fulfilling prophecy.
It’s possible that it was simply Spencer and his self confessed friend attempting to gain followers – but Spencer has nearly two million subscribers and this was hardly likely to massively increase his numbers.
Given that Ex stated that there had been an exchange of emails, it may be simply that the Secret Agent got carried away and believed this was going to be a formality from that point on.
That he was simply eager to give the beleaguered Hammers faithful a ‘light at the end of the tunnel’.
Whatever the possible permutations, one thing is crystal clear – we begin as we started this story, with Gold, Sullivan and Brady still with control of the club.
We are now staring at another transfer window in the Summer with people in charge who lack the capabilities to fulfill their lofty promises. To that end, the Secret Agent sold us another false dawn.