Less than five minutes into our recent defeat to Brentford and the away fans are already singing about our support and atmosphere. We were at that point, and up until going a goal behind, well on top, moving the ball quickly and showing genuine intent.
We had hit the post, seen a Dawson header fly wide and generally played with a zest and zeal that had been absent for a good few games, if not the season as a whole. And yet the fan base, the passionate support, once so synonymous with West Ham, sat dormant.
It wasn’t long ago that our supporters bulked at suggestions from the likes of Perry Groves and Jamie Redknapp that the team had benefited from having no fans during the lockdown season. The premise being that during the 2020-21 season, the team flourished when fans were absent, that the turn around from relegation fighters the season before to a top six finish and qualification for Europa League football, was due in no small part to the fact that we weren’t there.
As Groves put it ‘no atmosphere is better than a toxic one’. And it would be hard to argue that things aren’t turning a tad toxic at present. This is in stark contrast to last season. Whether there was a subconscious effort by 60,000 to ram Groves words back down his throat or it was simply a case of fans being happy to be allowed back in, the supporters roared the team on.
The Europa League games especially showed what we as a fanbase could be like and what we could mean to the team. The London Stadium rocked and finally felt like ours. Sure those of us who are season ticket holders or regular attendees have no doubt had our pre-game rituals for a while now, but it takes matches and “momentsâ€ to connect you to a place.
The Seville game, the excitement outside the ground, it was palpable, you could feel it, you could cut it with a knife. It was nights like this that convinced the likes of Paqueta (who felt the fall force as a visiting Lyon player) and Scamacca that they wanted to play for us.
Not us the club, but us – the fans. They weren’t quite “Last Night at The Boleynâ€ but they were comparable. Those special nights are what give us memories and make a house feel like home. And it finally, finally, felt like we were home.
But there can be no doubt that things have taken a step backwards, both on the pitch and in the stands. The Brentford game was a huge indicator of this. Our league position is perilous but the inconvenience of a winter World Cup meant that it had been nearly seven weeks since we’d had a home game.
It was an opportunity to show that absence had made the heart grow fonder. To arrive with hope that the mini-break would be enough to help us rediscover some form and fluidity. And yet despite a spirited start on the pitch – the soullessness of the bowl had returned.
It seems a perfect storm is once again brewing. Yet unlike the unrest that led to events against Burnley in 2018 – it seems it is the team and manager that are at the eye of the storm. Heightened expectations, following back to back seasons of European qualification and a huge summer spend, have been met with abject disappointment.
A perceived lack of fight from the players and stubborn insistence on resistance from the manager have left fans feeling they have frustratingly little to cheer about. What it all means is that with 20 minutes to go against Brentford, with the team 2-0 down and the players needing a vocal push, all that could be heard was “…there’s no one here, will sing on our ownâ€ booming from the away end.
Those that did stay, did so largely to boo the players and manager on the final whistle. The natives are once again getting restless. But mitigating circumstances aside, the players need us now.
It is a New Year, we should all show new resolve and back them. Yes, it is a two way street and we want to see them fight, but the least we can do is urge them on when they do. Let’s make sure that Groves and co. don’t have the last laugh and if things don’t improve, no one can say we didn’t do our part.