There's always a certain trepidation when you open the West Ham calendar on Christmas morning. You skip through the twelve months in personal hope and expectation, wondering what the year has in store for you and, at club level, contemplating if any of the players and staff pictured will still be there when you consign the calendar to the bin the following December.
I'm pretty sure if you'd told me then, as I tucked into my mince pies, that thirty five days or so later, when I turned the calendar onto February, the pictured action shot of Craig Bellamy would leave me looking at a player who was no longer wearing the claret and blue, my heart would have sunk and spoiled the whole day.
It's easy to forget how perilous West Ham's position looked before Boxing Day. Situated just above the relegation zone more because Manchester City's form was even worse than ours and with the Red Tops proclaiming the whole squad will be sold to prevent financial meltdown, it all looked grim.
Little more than a month later, things have turned around to an almost unbelievable level. Perhaps the more optimistic among us expected some wins and a favourable FA Cup situation if the draw was kind but things are much, much better than that. I can say with some certainty that I didn't expect West Ham to lose at the Emirates last week and, for what it's worth, I don't think they will lose to Manchester United on Sunday either. Right or wrong, the fact I'm thinking like that owes much to the transformation bought about by Gianfranco Zola, Steve Clarke, Gianluca Nani and - so surprising I still need to sit down to say it - Chief Executive Scott Duxbury.
Duxbury's claims in the latter half of 2008 that West Ham did not have to sell to survive, fell on deaf ears for the most part. The simple fact is that Scott Duxbury had lied before and it was thought he was lying again. But the CEO went even further, after claiming - and later proving - that if any sales were made it would be to the benefit of the club and monies earned would be handed back to the management team to improve the squad, Duxbury started talking the kind of talk West Ham fans have wanted to hear for years. An end to the policy of selling good youngsters; determination not to sell our best players to local rivals who are in a similar position to us in Premiership terms; even talk of a 'Football Project' that the club have created to move the whole business forward. It all sounds good.
Now I'm normally pretty loath to get involved in projects, feasibility studies or contingency plans - it's usually business talk for 'waffle' - but, even so, the idea of a long term strategy that involves the club at all levels is surely worth looking at. If it causes the club to speak to each player, ensure them of their worth to the club and starting talking improved terms if the players are worth it - and I happen to think, Green, Parker and Upson are - then that's got to be good. It seems the club's approach has worked too. The key players all seem to want to stay and that has improved the team ethic and attitude. Everyone looks like they want to play and give their all and I'd even have to concede that Bellamy looked happy before he left. OK I realise that argument could prove counter-productive if I use the aforementioned player as a point of reference, but it seems a better option than the arguments we had in place when Carlos Tevez arrived and, if nothing else, you'd have to concede that whatever policy that was, it never worked!
If someone doesn't want to toe the line then at least the sale can be made on West Ham's terms at a price agreeable to the club. In that sense, the Bellamy / Man City deal was excellent business. As it stands, I'd have to say I wish the club had a 'Football Project' ten years ago.
What's perhaps more surprising is that the positivity of what West Ham has achieved in the last month has turned back on itself. The papers that so long had predicted our demise are now being very upbeat about life at West Ham United. The favourable reviews are returning and even the spectre of the Sheffield United saga is being rewritten - perhaps West Ham supporter Martin Samuel's defection to the Daily Mail has something to do with it, I don't know - but I've noticed some are now accusing Sheffield of duplicity themselves and its noticeable that the Blades aggressive media talk has all but disappeared. Knowing how business works, it does seem odd that little of the £15m+ from the Bellamy sale went into the coffers - I genuinely wouldn't have blamed BG if a good three-quarters or so had - and I'm wondering if the Board don't know a little more about what Sheffield can expect to get than they are letting on.
Regardless of the Tevezgate saga though, somebody mentioned in the press last week that West Ham - who used to be everyone's favourite second-team - were winning a media charm offensive behind the smiling face of our little Italian manager. Now, while I don't want to see a return to those days (I think the reason everyone liked us was because we obligingly rolled over when their first team played us!) I would like to see us at least competing in the Good Guy League as we used to do when Greenwood and Lyall were around.
The closure of the transfer window last week more than bought an end to this season’s sales. It proved that, for once, our club hadn’t lied to us and that things we were promised had come to fruition. I can’t tell you how much of a warm glow that provides on a cold day.
I'm not naive enough to think this is the end of along hard road - I've been supporting West Ham too long to believe that - but, in Churchillian terms, it may be the beginning of a new road. Don't whisper this too loudly - the snow's still thick on the ground and Dr. Marten's are still needed - but I'm thinking the winter of discontent might turn into springtime of hope.