‘The Arsenal hammering was the worst game of my life so far’

But what I know from years of dissecting West Ham is things can always get worse!

Vladimir Coufal (WHU) at the Brentford v West Ham United EPL match, at The G-Tech Stadium, Brentford, London, UK on 4th November, 2023.

I’ve never written a post-mortem report before. I don’t normally write about murder, slaughter or death. I’ve written countless articles on football, covering frustrations, hopes and dreams, the highs (a European trophy) and lows (relegations), but in reflecting on the recent 6-0 defeat against Arsenal, I realise I’m compiling a death record. 

I’ve been alive for 37 years and a season ticket holder for 17 of them. That was the worst game of my life. That’s statistically true; the BBC reported that it was West Ham’s worst home defeat in 61 years. 

We opened the game with confidence and looked composed against an Arsenal side who we had already beaten twice this season. This lasted until the 32nd minute of the game, when Saliba headed home from a Declan Rice corner. Now, going 1-0 down didn’t need to be a death sentence, but we had other ideas. Once we were opened up, we were opened wide up.

Our structure and shape completely collapsed as Arsenal scored another three goals before the halftime whistle just 15 minutes later. It went from bad to worse after the break, with Arsenal putting another two past the hapless Hammers, and our former teen idol, Declan Rice, thunderbolted the final nail into our flimsy coffin with a tremendous strike to seal the result.

There was a lot to talk about this complete dismantling of West Ham United, and everyone had an opinion – most of which themed around piling in on our misery. Much was made of fans leaving at halftime, proving just how unaware sports journalists were that West Ham fans are allowed to move freely about the island during the halftime.

That’s not to say, however, that everyone stayed until the final whistle. Most did not. The ground retained some fullness until the sixth goal, but seeing former West Ham Academy star and club captain turned Arsenal turncoat Declan Rice score a screamer was too painful for large portions of the Hammers faithful. 

Out of consideration for his time at West Ham, and the complete devastation and destruction in front of him, Rice didn’t celebrate the goal while on the pitch, but the hurt still ran deep – and fans began to file out of the stadium in great numbers. Pundit Chris Sutton claimed that fans leaving before the final whistle were not ‘true fans’, which ignited a nationwide debate and mostly provided another platform for the world to criticise West Ham United.

If you give up on the team, it’s demotivating for the players (who are paid thousands to be there, mind). But listen, it’s a football stadium, not an open air prison. If you’re not enjoying yourself, if the game is not a good use of your time on this earth, you are allowed to leave. If it does not spark joy, you do not need to keep it.

Leaving is also one of the few ways fans can respectfully and visually make their feelings known. When you’ve paid for a season ticket, you’ve given the club your money whether you’re there or not. 

You can’t suddenly withhold funds when we’re crap in February – it doesn’t work that way and doesn’t impact the club. But leaving an empty seat is a way to vote with your feet, and a way to provide the club and the board with a visual expression of frustration in a non-violent way.

Even David Moyes, who perpetually holds West Ham fans in contempt, defended the fans’ right to not witness this crap, saying he understands why fans left at half-time. I stayed until the final whistle, but wish I hadn’t. This experience did not spark joy with me. It sparked depression. 

I’d like to say I stayed because of an innate loyalty, but I honestly believe I was too stunned to move. It was, in every way, the worst game of my life. Afterall, there’s no question Arsenal are coming to life. 

Their domestic form is magnificent, defeating Liverpool 3-1, putting five past a flagging Burnley, and thumping Newcastle 4-1. Eighteen goals in four games is remarkable, but it’s clear that the opponents who came out the worst here are West Ham. 

We were sliced apart and completely dissected; there was no opportunity for West Ham to come back into that game and we offered no resistance whatsoever to their assault. Our fortunes have become a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom. We have gotten it wrong lately, actively weakening our squad in the January transfer window, and, at the time of writing, we’ve not even won a single game in 2024. 

We are completely ineffective without Paqueta, and we are not playing enough good football to keep him or Kudos at the club past this season. This won’t have only been the worst game most fans have ever witnessed; this will have been the worst game of most of our players’ careers. 

We are relying heavily on our earlier results this season to avoid the relegation zone, but it’s hard to see where the next win – or even draw – will come from. After all, it’s only the worst game of my life… so far, and what I know from years of dissecting West Ham is: things can always get worse.

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