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West Ham United
Posted by Billy Blagg on 05/16/2011

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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Posted by Hammerphil on 05/16/2011

I couldn't agree more - sums it all up very well!

Posted by Ben on 05/16/2011

Interesting read. I'm a Liverpool fan and hope you do get back up. The PL will be a poorer place without your fans (I remember them in the FA Cup final and they were fantastic!). As pissed off as I was yesterday (mostly with Howard Webb yet again, but thats another story!!), my next thoughts were that it is much harder to be a Hammers fan! The players who have slipped through your fingers before reaching their prime is astounding!
Anyway good luck with next season and hope you come home soon!

Posted by ap clarke on 05/16/2011

New Manager is Simple really, O'Neill will spend too much, Slavan will put Croatia first, and Alladyce and McClaren are not West Ham in style and passion. Who is, It has to be Paolo di Canio. Grant you (wrong word there!) he does not have lots of experience, but his blood is claret and blue. And paolo's number 2 would have to be Julian Dicks. Any player daring not to give 110% every game would know that they would be in for hard time. Does Alex Ferguson allow his players not to give 100%? No that is why there have been where they have been for the last 2 decades, and we have yo-yoed.

Posted by graham stanbridge on 05/16/2011

Excellent summation of the demise of the Hammers,the fallacy that we play the acadamey way seems to have the effect on players that tackling closing down etc is for lesser beings sadly just like man utd etc results are what count .Hopefully we appoint a manager that is solely and clearly backed to get results and fans can stop living in fantasy land that we ever played football that could consistently guarantee a premier league place

Posted by Ivan Jackson on 05/16/2011


I am long suffering WHU fan and your most recent blog sums up years of hurt I dont understand how we manage to consistantly make so may mistakes year after year. The next choice of manage is crutial as I am not so certain that we will have a quick return to EPL and could spend many years in the npower championship.

Thanks to Ben for his kind words about WHU and I understand his frustration about Mr Webb.

Much as though Paolo would be a fan fav not certain he would be the best choice, but Julian would definitely keep players honest.

See you all in Coventry

Posted by Kyle on 05/16/2011

Great column Blagg. After reading some of the rumors from the peanut gallery about the players' disgust with board which is quite believable given the Martin O'Neil and Grant situation, I have serious doubts about the current owners and Brady. Who in their right mind would work for such clowns?

The fans are the best bar none. Yesterday's away support of 4500 easily drowned out the rest of the stadium, and they did so all season long.

Posted by paddy on 05/16/2011

Well said Senor Blagg, I, and i'm sure many others, share your frustrations.. But completely on board with you, some serious change needs to happen in the interest of the club and fans (as rare as that seems to be in the football world today) not just bloody business opportunities. The way i see it, this could really be used as an opportunity for us, as you said to build a solid foundation, and get rid of a lot of the flotsam and jetsam that seems to perenially cling to the club. Try to hang on to the Sears', Stanislas', Spence's, Tomkin's, Hines', Noble's (fingers crossed as his name is on my only jersey) etc. We have a uniqueness about us in my (probably biased) opinion, in that have a strong base of homegrown talent, who with championship games under their belts can really cement places as premiership grade players, that if used properly could see us bounce back up with a vengance and really anchor ourselves there. I know i'm echoing you a bit, but i think it needs to be drummed!

Posted by Paul on 05/16/2011

Sheffield United fans would be euphoric save for the fact that they will be battling Charlton Athletic in the Nostalgia Derby. I hope for your sake, that it is merely a wake-up call such as the one Newcastle experienced when they went down.

Posted by Gerald from Singapore on 05/16/2011

Great post here Blagg to accurately sum up the harsh truth!

Sadly, I agree with you that the relegation is probably the shake-up we need to usher off the deadwood we have in our ranks and wake up the Messrs from their bad managerial decisions.

We need a strong Claret and Blue manager in charge. Chris Hughton is one of the favorites as he "can do the job on a shoestring budget". If I recall, that was exactly why Grant was brought in; because he "brought Portsmouth to the FA Cup final on a shoestring budget"! Bring on Julian Dicks, Di Canio and Allen, what have we to lose? Besides, they are fans favorites, so it will be enough to get the Hammers fans excited again after such a dismal season.

We need committed players, not big name players. Look at West Brom, Wolves and Fulham. They do not have many international big names but they are effective and get the job done. Bring on the youngsters and hopefully we can convince Parker to stay...

What will happen to your blog Blagg?

Blagg: Gerald - The Soccernet Directors came in to see me after the game and told me my services were no longer required. I am emptying out my desk and leaving by the back door.

Posted by Jobo9 on 05/16/2011

Any thoughts on Chris Hughton?

Blagg: I'm not sure why Houghton is being touted as much as he is. Bringing Newcastle back up is the extent of his experience.

Posted by Paul on 05/16/2011

Create a pseudonym...and apply to be correspondent for another team. Post a bunch of fluff in the first two paragraphs, and then write about the Hammers. You might start small, with a small mention of them enduring a season down a level, whilst pretending to boast about the chances of staying up for the new club. It could work, Billy. It could work.

Posted by CJ on 05/16/2011

Zola, anyone?

Blagg: Tease!

Posted by Bonzo on 05/16/2011

"Blagg: Gerald - The Soccernet Directors came in to see me after the game and told me my services were no longer required. I am emptying out my desk and leaving by the back door."

Billy, thanks for a great columm, always accurate, more commonsense and insight in your words than the sum total of the unholy trinity of the gruesome twosome and the Lernaean Hydra could ever muster.
Above all else a bloody good read.

Good luck in all that you do mate.
Best Wishes

Blagg; guys *punches shoulder in a not-Gay way*

Posted by Robinistanbul on 05/16/2011

Sorry to hear you are leaving Bill (unless it's a wind-up!) as I've enjoyed your blog. I heartily agree with your comments, and hope "the powers that be", i.e. the Davids, are reading this. Add to your list of The Ones Who Got Away some of the honest professionals such as Bullard or Ephraim, who had to make way for the likes of Boa, Dyer and Keane. That lot walked off with huge salaries, and who would have given more passion on the pitch?

Blagg: It's not a wind up Robin but appreciate your comments. The Championship doesn't have Correspondents so I'm taking time out to work on the second book. Don't wait up, will you?

Posted by Colin on 05/17/2011

fanastic summary: ie I agree with your opinions. Dont go; dont go; the soccernet directors probably dont have clue that our lads need a year to get back into the Premier League. Supporting West Ham is a burden for sins in a past life.

Posted by USA Dave on 05/17/2011

Well said, Mr. Blagg. I have thoughts on the next manager I wrote on a blog. I'd love your feedback.


Blagg: well, he'd be my choice but would he come now and work for those Clowns?

Posted by Lindsay on 05/17/2011

Bad news upon bad news, Billy. Your blog has been one of the few high spots of this dismal season. All the best with that second book and keep your pen sharpened for the 12-13 season when we are back where we belong in the EPL and you are back in the blogger's seat. Cheers from NZ, mate.

My primary hopes are for Martin O'Neill and that we can keep a couple of the better bigger names for next season; Julian Dicks to induce a bit of backbone in the players, yes, but perhaps not yet as manager. We'll be back soon, no fears.

Posted by Kyle on 05/17/2011

Where will I go for an advent calendar of xmas songs? Best of luck to you. I'll be emailing you when I make it over there. just as soon as I get a steady job, have money and a vacation, during the football season.

Blagg: Go to for the Advent calendar Kyle.

Posted by OhioToon on 05/18/2011

As a Newcastle fan, I understand your plight here. Hopefully for you the squad can be culled of the overpaid and underhearted much like happened to NUFC. The Championship was needed chemotherapy to get rid of alot of the cancer within the club. Running away with the title was also quite fun (yes I know its a little league title) that produced happiness and interest every week instead of gloom or foreboding. Having all the Championship teams gear up to play your team, selling out their stadiums only to get thrashed was fun to watch. Of course it helped that some top level players took responsibility and helped get the Toon back up like Colo, Jonas, Barton Enrique and the like. Also helped to have a local lad at striker that would sell for 35mil the next year. But instead of thinking of all the gloom, Go beat your rivals Millwall twice, run through the league and enjoy only 7 or 8 losses instead of wins. Go get Hughton. He would be a good fit for WHU

Posted by Darren Grant-Hall on 05/18/2011

Ah, it's like reading a Newcastle blog, i feel a certain kinship with West Ham after this! I hope you join us back in the premierleauge asap.

Posted by Ern on 05/18/2011

It's amazing how many times I see the name
Di Canio come up in blogs and people's postings.

One thing for sure, this is a man who would be a tough manager and who just loves this team.
Then again I am a Hammers fan, so I might not being thinking straight right now !

Posted by simo on 05/18/2011

in my book the rot begins at the very top. public statements from directors almost exclusively hurt football clubs.

its a great loss that you will no longer be writing on Soccernet. thanks for your informative, passionate and mostly realistic commentaries. it was a shame when 'on the road' went, it will be a shame now Blagg is gone.

Posted by GT on 05/18/2011

Still can't understand why Grant replaced Zola.

Posted by Imu on 05/18/2011

I am very sad that we will have no league game at West Ham. I always watched games that West Ham played not a because they played ver well just because i liked it and was hoping a suprise.

Hard Luck this year but hope we see you again stronger and exciting.

Posted by Man Alive! on 05/18/2011

Soccernet seem to think only Premier teams have fans! Oh well, Billy, I'm sure that someone else is wiser - see you in those blogs later! Bye-bye Soccernet!
I agree with you - the appointment of a clear-thinking manager who has a vision for the next 5-10 years is key. As is his passion for the club (not synonymous with it's owners!) and his ability to keep disciplined, passionate players and give the rest the boot!

Posted by Ryan on 05/18/2011

I think Avram Grant's season can be likened to Roy Hodgson's time at Liverpool. The former proved himself at Chelsea and Portsmouth, the latter at Fulham and West Brom, but they both struggled at these two clubs. It just happens that way sometimes. Not just in football. A manager doesn't always do well with his resources for any random reason. And here I think the problem in both cases was a group of players that wasn't passionate enough to succeed with managers who need passionate players. Look at Liverpool now with Dalglish. I wouldn't say he's a better manager than Hodgson. He's just what they need right now. I think the same is true for West Ham. With a team of Parkers (decent skill and tremendous passion) Grant could have had a Europa League spot. But with a team of Upsons (great ability and no enthusiasm) Grant didn't know what to do, and here's your result. Di Canio's probably not a great manager, but I have a feeling he'll have a Dalglish effect if hired.

Posted by Shep on 05/18/2011

As a very long suffering fan; started at the age of 7 after seeing the holy trinity (Moore; Peters; Hurst) capture the world cup, I too am truely disappointed at the total incompetence of the board; management; over paid pplayers. So sad to see players such as Lampard; Carrick; Ferdinand(x2) etc the list goes on plying their trade away from Upton Park.
We need to bounce back and we need to keep the core of players that we develop and have developed as these are the ones with the claret and blue blood.
Another reason for a return to the premiership is I really need a reason to stay up at 1am in Australia to watch the Hammers!!

Posted by Jon Hill on 05/19/2011

What a brilliant summing up of a team that have become a joke on and off the field, as a long suffering WHU fan I am fed up reading about the comedy that surrounds everything we do,lets get back to basic football and gag the board. I only want to read about our games on the field nothing else.

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Billy Blagg Born at an early age a mere defenders' spit from the Boleyn ground, Billy Blagg has seen every West Ham game from 1898 onwards. Blagg was mentioned by Kenneth Wolstenholme in 1966 as one of the people on the pitch during the famous Hammers win over West Germany that lifted the World Cup and he returned to the pitch again for the 1975 FA Cup Final but stayed on the terrace for 1980 FA Cup victory. Blagg, 26, now lives with his eighth wife and innumerable children in a small semi-detached with chintz curtains in Dagenham, Essex and still attends every Hammers match and training session.

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