‘West Ham will be dragged kicking and screaming into the new regime’

The West Ham United Supporters’ Trust hopes that 2024 will see the club required to engage more

General view at the West Ham United v Manchester City EPL match, at the London Stadium, London, UK on 16th September, 2023.

A new year means renewing our resolution at the West Ham United Supporters’ Trust. We will double our resolve to push the club on behalf of the entire fanbase and the local community near the ground and in our traditional east end home.

This year should be at an exciting time. The government is to implement nearly all the findings of its own Fan-led Review and, in December, appointed the interim chief operating officer of the shadow regulator for men’s elite football in England – known as IREF. Martyn Henderson joins the shadow regulator from the Sports Ground Safety Authority, where he was responsible, among other things, for introducing licensed safe standing – something WHUST has been campaigning for at West Ham.

Under the new regulator, clubs will be licensed and, crucially, one of the conditions of that licence will be that they have an approved system of consulting with fans over key issues. The trust will have a named role in that consultation process. This will be a huge step forward at West Ham, which has been one of the worst clubs in English football for engaging with fans. At one point, only West Ham and Hull had no formal consultation with their fans. The club reluctantly set up its Independent Supporters’ Committee and then set out to ensure it didn’t consult properly.

West Ham is currently ‘consulting’ with fan groups over the formation of a Premier League-designed replacement called a Fan Advisory Board (FAB). That will in no way meet the standards expected by the new regulator. And West Ham won’t even take its own FAB seriously.

West Ham will also have a new Supporter Liaison Officer as recent incumbent Jake Heath is leaving to join Spurs. As he is a Spurs fan himself, this is probably his dream job. And at Spurs they do at least talk to their fans’ trust. Whoever his replacement is at the London Stadium will have a tough job. Supporter liaison isn’t in the club’s vocabulary. Ignoring Hammers fans is a directive from the top.

Even when all other clubs had started to tone down the rhetoric, David Sullivan was one of the loudest to complain that football did not need a regulator. He looked increasingly isolated as cross-party MPs supported the need for tough regulation. West Ham under Sullivan and Karren Brady will need to be dragged kicking and screaming into the new regime. We know that. It’s not going to be easy.

There’s no timescale yet for the legislation required to establish the regulator. It’s possible that the Bill will be introduced by the end of March. Royal Assent might be by the end of 2024. IREF might formally start in 2025. But all of that is speculation.

What we know is that the government has a Bill in its current programme after it was announced in the King’s Speech. There has also been a public commitment to IREF from Sir Keir Starmer, the leader of the Labour Party, as well as support from the Lib Dems, so even if an election gets in the way, regulation will happen.

WHUST has a former civil servant on its board who is part of the team within the Football Supporters’ Association working on getting the legislation through in the form football fans want. It won’t solve all our problems with the current owners, but it will give us more strength. West Ham is happy to split fans into niche groups and work with them on specific projects. But WHUST represents all fans and the wider community around the club in east London.

We’re concerned about security searches, stewarding, policing, transport, the stop/go boards, the price of drinks and ticketing – prices, the exchange, club cash and the club’s seeming determination to reduce the number of season ticket holders to fill more seats with tourists who pay higher prices. The problem with the club is not so much that it says no to WHUST suggestions or offers of help. We almost wouldn’t mind if it did.

Most of the time messages go unanswered, either for long periods – making the reply too late – or forever. With your help, the West Ham United Supporters’ Trust will continue to stand up for our diverse fanbase that deserves better from our club. Consider joining, if you haven’t already, and getting a friend to join.

If you have time to volunteer, please let us know. You can also donate via paypal or bank transfer. Half the WHUST board is up for election each year, which means we will have an election coming up for five board positions. Only two of the current directors are standing again.

If you have skills to bring to the board, please do consider standing. We can tell you more about what is involved if you get in touch. West Ham fans deserve better. Together we can make that happen in 2024.

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