Fan group revolution has put pressure on West Ham to start engaging

The West Ham United Supporters’ Trust and others are all working together for the first time

If the measure of intelligence is the ability to change, then the representation of West Ham fans is getting cleverer by the minute. Hammers fan groups have been dogged by rivalry, bitterness and infighting. The club has benefited from being able to divide and rule. But there’s been a revolution in recent months.

Many of the faces have changed within the club’s Independent Supporters’ Committee (ISC). Scores that needed to be settled have been put aside. Chips have been removed from shoulders. West Ham fan groups are, for the first time, all working together.

The first change, nearly a year ago, was that Hammers United (HU) appointed Andy Payne as its representative dealing with the club and fellow supporter groups. Andy is a video game entrepreneur, chair of British Esports and has an OBE. He brings a wealth of experience and negotiating skills to proceedings. 

The bondholders decided they didn’t want a representative of their own anymore – each would back whichever fan group they felt best represented them. Their representative had been a prominent figure and sometime chair of the ISC. The West Ham United Supporters’ Trust (WHUST) founding chair resigned due to personal reasons and the trust asked board member Kevin Hind to be the WHUST liaison. Kev has experience as a local councillor and a publishing background brings an eye for detail.

With these new people on board all the representatives agreed to bury the hatchet. WHUST proposed HU’s Andy Payne as chair of the ISC. Minutes of past meetings that had languished in filing cabinets were dusted off, agreed and published. And the focus turned to the future. A unified response from fan bodies to the club’s proposed Fan Advisory Board (FAB) has stumped the club. 

WHUST has published the standards it believes fan engagement should achieve, so made clear it felt the FAB proposals were unacceptable. The ISC rallied around and responded with detailed changes to the documentation from all groups. Promised responses by the club have subsequently missed repeated deadlines. West Ham has one of the worst records for fan engagement. David Sullivan is flatly opposed to fans having any involvement. But this time he has a united fanbase battling him.

There’s more to be done, insists ISC chair Andy Payne: ‘The progress and unity we now have feels to be a positive factor. Ultimately, we will be judged by our actions and outcomes rather than by our words.’ Andy continues: ‘The heaviest piece of work we have undertaken is negotiating the terms of the Fan Engagement Standard (FES) and the related FAB. It’s a directive laid down by the Premier League to ensure all clubs engage in a meaningful and progressive way. 

‘We have spent months on the detail to ensure that it is fit for purpose and puts West Ham fans at the heart of West Ham United Football Club. Without fans, football is nothing. And no, we are not customers. Most of us are born into this and most of us have no choice, so West Ham United is our club and any owners must be, by design, custodians of our football club. They have the moral responsibility to act in that way.’

Andy is adamant the ISC will better communicate with fans in the future, keeping fans informed faster. And it will listen. ‘Unless and until we ask the questions of the club that the fans want and expect of us, and then report back the answers we get, we are simply not doing the job we are supposed to be doing,’ he says.

WHUST’s Kevin Hind adds: ‘Fan groups are working together and fighting for the best interests of supporters.’ The worm has turned.

ISC members:

*Away Season Ticket Holders rep. A club-organised position elected (if more than one candidate) from those with legacy away season tickets (no longer available to new fans).

*Claret Members’ rep. A club-organised position elected from Claret Members, though only one candidate stood so no election was required.

*Disabled Supporters Association (DSA). Formed in 2023 the DSA grew out of the club’s Disabled Supporters’ Board, which was formed in 2012. The DSA aims to build a community of disabled Hammers fans.

*Hammers United (HU). Formed in March 2019, after Paul Colbourn, HU’s chair, ran on the pitch during the 2018 Burnley defeat and stuck the corner flag in the centre of the pitch, resulting in him being banned by the club. HU was part of the GSB Out campaign and organised protests at the London Stadium.

*Inclusive Irons. An Asian supporters group launched in 2020. It works with the club on its diversity and inclusion policies and aims to eliminate barriers to match-day attendance and increase support for West Ham within local communities.

*Pride of Irons (PoI). The club’s LGBT group, formed in 2015, helps with a restorative justice programme, where homophobic abusers get to meet gay fans to understand the offence they have caused. PoI uses the club bus on local Pride marches and helps run the rainbow laces events.

*West Ham United Supporters Club. Official supporters club founded in 1947 originally with its own clubhouse and bar, but currently without premises.

*West Ham United Supporters’ Trust (WHUST) grew out of the West Ham United Independent Supporters Association, which was founded as a pragmatic, professional and less confrontational fan body for all fans. It applied to become a trust in 2021 and has just completed its second year of operation and board elections.

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