Anger, frustration, disappointment, surprise - I really didn't see this coming with the players they had at their disposal - and, yes, a bit of sorrow I guess; but the main emotions I've suffered since confirmation of West Ham's relegation to the Championship following the 3-2 defeat at Wigan, is the horrible sense of resignation and ennui - and that is what hurts more than anything.
You see, I'm used to the annual roller-coaster of supporting West Ham. The exhilaration of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, the joy of seeing young players come through the Academy and make their mark on the game before leaving for the promised land of Champions League football, exciting wins, dismal losses, bizarre decisions, crocked players, overpaid wasters, the way the unexpected becomes the expected - all these things are part of the pain and pleasure involved in supporting the Hammers. But this horrible season has even stripped me of the capacity to relish the low points. Frankly, I'm tired - so tired - of watching the people who run this club continually try to outdo themselves by shooting off their mouths while simultaneously shooting themselves in the foot.
Ever since Emmanuel Omoyinmi came on as a cup-tied substitute in the 1999 League Cup quarter-final, Upton Park has become synonymous with boardroom machinations, administrative errors, poor decisions, misguided statements, management in-fighting, staggering financial incompetence and sheer bad luck. I wouldn’t mind but it wasn’t as if the Boleyn was a watchword for unbridled success before ’99 either! But now, if there's a lame duck manager to hire, a dodgy agent to entice or a fat striker with an injury problem to sign then expect West Ham to be in with a shout. If we can hire them or buy them with money we don't have then so much the better.
I'll be honest I never felt the appointment of Avram Grant equalled that of the inexperienced Glenn Roeder in 2001 ("I'm not expecting another relegation battle" I said back in August!). Although he wasn't the man I wanted to see in charge, I thought the ex-Chelsea boss could do a job for us, but it became very apparent very quickly that this wasn't the case and Grant should have been shown the door last January. It was ironic that, despite intense media speculation, the end didn't come as expected after the appalling home defeat to Arsenal, as that match was possibly one of the lowest points in all my years of watching West Ham and I would have sacked the man for that game alone. But Gold and Sullivan decided - perhaps were forced - to hold onto Grant and the result has been a team shaped in his own image, one unable to express itself while lacking the fight and tactical nous needed in the very basics of the game.
Of course, the usual drill at this time is to make sure the finger doesn’t point at one man and there has been obvious castigation of some of the players with major criticism coming in for the misfiring Carlton Cole and the inept captain Matthew Upson, but that’s not something I’m going to join. The Roeder season proved what has always been evident and that is that in trying to play in ways dictated by a poor manager and his coaching staff, even good players become lost and, except for the very best, once that happens confidence suffers and things start to unravel.
Eventually in the doldrums, players give up and look for excuses and the chance to pass the buck. I use the word ‘players’ but could equally substitute ‘employees’ because I’ve seen this in countless offices and work places over the years and have long believed – much as I don’t want too – that football is no different. Bring in a new man and things can change very quickly. To those who try to shift the blame from Grant I ask one question: had O’Neill or Hodgson been put in charge of that squad back in January, would West Ham be facing Millwall and Ipswich next season? Don’t even bother to reply.
Now obviously the decision of who you want to run your company or club is a major one and needs to be taken with care but, in much the same way that it should be a basic tactical decision to close a player down to stop them getting in a shot, or move a left-footed player over to their right side to stop them getting in a cross, so should it be a basic at boardroom level to make sure you get the right man in and the wrong man out. We all make mistakes, of course, and no-one expects perfection but we do expect those tasked with the major decisions to be competent enough to make those decisions
For me, it’s the lack of basics and the attention to detail that let West Ham down time and time again. See how Manchester United can bring in a young, inexperienced player into their team and look how quickly they settle in. They already know what they have to do and what is expected of them and its why United are celebrating their 19th League title despite sometimes seemingly not having the best players in every position. OK perhaps ManU aren’t a great example – if every club could emulate Alex Ferguson then surely they would - but I’m not talking about winning the Premiership or even playing in the bloated, overrated Champions League – I’ve long since given up any idea of that. No, I’m just talking about playing entertaining football and winning more than seven or eight games a season. I think West Ham supporters have a God-given right to that.
Now I know that last statement will gall many. A lot of neutrals think that West Ham live above themselves, that we think ourselves better than we are and we live off the fact we won a European trophy and supplied three players and a captain to a World Cup win way before most people reading this were even born. Throw in the Olympic Stadium bid and you can see a lot of discussion boards are buzzing with that very thing right now. The disturbing issue for me is though; I’m starting to think some of these may have a point.
Certainly in recent history, we’ve paid way over the odds for supposedly top players we couldn’t afford and who had shown themselves either to be unfit, unsuitable, inept or way past their best. The club’s ability to spot a Dyer, Ljungberg or a McCarthy and put them on a salary more than you or I will see in a month of Sunday’s is surely second to none. Meanwhile, I’ve seen players like Bobby Zamora, Matthew Etherington, James Collins and Nigel Reo-Coker given little more than a regal wave as they are shipped off to the likes of Fulham, Stoke and Villa. Good luck to them at those clubs seems to be the consensus – we’re moving in another direction. Well, we’re sure right about that last bit…
And we’ll do the same again. It will be Carlton Cole next, so poor this season that he can surely only got to Colchester or Orient. Won’t we be surprised when he’s rescued by Tony Pullis or somebody and ends up getting 15 goals a season? Wouldn’t it be nice to just get the best from an established Premiership player for once?
So what are these basics that West Ham seem to miss out on? Well, here’s a novel idea. Let’s start the season with a squad of players who know exactly what their role is and what is expected of them. Let’s not experiment with the giddy idea of playing without full-backs ever again. In my opinion, just that one change last summer would have given us the five or six points we needed to stay up this season. (They say you learn from history but Glenn Roeder tried the same tactic in 2001).
Let’s also understand that – great though it is to pull off an away win at Old Trafford or surprise Liverpool at home – the bread and butter stuff needs to be sorted first. Most headers conceded in the top division, most leads conceded, most goals shipped in the first 15 minutes – all down to West Ham United this season. Key games against Blackpool, West Brom and Birmingham at home were all frittered away. I could go on, but what’s the point?
We’ll be back, of course, probably sooner rather than later too. The last 50 years suggest that West Ham don’t hang around in the lower tier for too long, in fact there’s even some evidence that suggests that – like 2004 and 05 – we can play pretty badly and still do quite well. But that’s not really the point. Whatever you think of the owners (my opinion is probably libellous) Messrs Gold and Sullivan have committed the club to a bright future in a landmark stadium. They haven’t shown themselves capable of breaking the mould so far, in fact they look to have adopted the same kamikaze strategy, but that has to change and the change needs to start right now.
No more half-baked managerial appointments, no more pussy-footing round when things aren’t working. We want decisive actions. I want a Manger to manage with a plan for the next five to ten years built around a nucleus of players that will not only take us up but also form the backbone of a squad to build on after. I don’t care if those players aren’t people I’d recognise if they knocked on my door – we keep running down that road and it leaves us nowhere. Just get in people who give 100%, can play a fair bit and who are prepared to do their utmost. Build the type of club that doesn’t need relegation to get rid of deadwood and people we can’t afford, and stop offering us the moon when we don’t need to go there.
Let’s do what Avram Grant couldn’t this season. Sort out the basics first and then build from there. Let the manager get the team to do the talking on the pitch and cut out the nonsense from off it – we know that the Directors paid a lot of money for West Ham United but their pointless statements are harmful and self-defeating and do nothing for the profile of the club and its fans.
For the horrible truth about this relegation is that the club deserves it. The players, the coaching staff, the owners and most certainly the manager have all made awful, awful decisions not only this season but over the past few years. One bunch of people who don’t deserve it though is the long-suffering fans. We have a right to better and it’s about time we had it.
Now, anyone got the train times to Coventry?
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