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Shooting the messenger is missing the point

Filed: Friday, 7th October 2016
By: Paul Walker

Iím tempted to suggest that the one thing we should not be doing at present is shooting the messengerÖparticularly if Simone Zaza is pulling the trigger, because heíd miss!

Yes, itís Brady-bashing time, an easy target for disgruntled West Ham fans and there are times I can fully understand that feeling. Our beloved Karren is so often the one front of house acting like the wicked witch of Highbury.

Now I am loath to even start to defend her, such is the poisonous attitude to the Baroness of Knightsbridge. And I always feel that millionaires and billionaires are fair game anyway.

But as the Ďculturegateí saga rumbles on, it seems to me she has been horribly, maybe intentionally, misquoted so that West Ham can be given itís daily kicking.

You might not like what she stands for in the modern game. I hate her politics and frankly the way we have all been bullied into a new era, forced marched to Stratford and a shiny new world of steel and glass..and popcorn.

But surely we all knew what was coming. We all grudgingly knew the way the owners wanted to take the club, with this ground move, into a brave new world of corporate entertainment. It was not exactly a shock.

You can take a view whether you want to be part of it. But you cannot say you were not warned. In some ways, its our Brexit. Many folk, about 52 per cent, voted for change and a new idea of how the country should be run. They even believed some lies on a bus about the NHS.

Now we have got there, we all want to know exactly what it will look like in the future. And the same goes for West Ham, we may have been taken in by a few porkies even if we saw the reasoning for the move and went with it. Now we are not too happy with what it looks like and want a few more answers.

But what exactly did we expect from a lady who was employed to re-brand, beef -up, and re-launch our club at a totally new level of commercial activity? It doesnít matter whether you or I flinch at being called customers or that the whole money making machine that football now is leaves us depressed.

The lady was just doing her job. She was brought in by G&S to revamp our administration from top to bottom. She was brought in to clinch the Olympic Stadium deal. She was brought in to make sure the corporate hospitality side of our business was dragged into the 21st century.

She was told to make sure the boxes were full, the restaurants, clubs and suites were bursting at the seems, that plenty of posh bums were placed on posh, padded seats. She wasnít asked to make morale judgements about costs or the history of West Ham and how it is maintained and nurtured.

She was told to get on with it and put our club on a modern financial footing, no longer the ĎcircusĎ as Mark Noble so rightly described the recent past.

And it has been a success in her, and the boardís terms. We have 52,000 season ticket holders, another 50,000 on the waiting list and plenty of new, nouveau riche fans with their children who are not bothered about how far their seats are from the pitch or whether the great unwashed in the BML want to stand up or not.

To get to where we want to be, we had to attract new fans. Different fans, people who didnít want or were not able to get into the Boleyn. Because, sadly in modern terms, thatís the only way this club will ever expand and make money.

Now sometimes she can be irritatingly arrogant, dismissive, impersonal and even disinterested in a side of the game that makes no money, and does not appeal to the middle classes who now want their football gentrified and not presented to them with the smell of burnt onions, strange green liquor and urine lapping round your shoes in the loos.

She was sent out by the Davids to clean up our act. Make it more appealing and attract a lot more money. Whether you like it or not, and you are entitled to an opinion, that is the only way we will compete and survive in the real world.

I know folk who have been going to non-league games, to cling onto the atmosphere and the old ways. Me too, my local side are in the top three of the National League and I can stand where I want, have a beer and a laugh.

If you want to be like Millwall, Orient, Charlton or the rest of the lower division clubs who have been cut adrift by the corporate culture, OK, go for it. And belief me I can understand the desire to run a mile from the glossy new image. But donít blame Lady K.

I must admit to being concerned about her a couple of years ago when she did one of those fawning TV programmes with Piers Morgan into her life story. Two Gunners together. She talked about her fight to champion women in football, she talked about the Olympic Stadium and her project.

But she did not mention West Ham by name at any time. I felt then that she could be embarking on her project anywhere, with any club, that it was us did not really matter too much more than great objectives in the future.

She is, though, always wide open to ridicule. She gives a speech at a event at Stamford Bridge aimed at promoting and explaining the growing corporate image of football. So when she talks about us not having a culture in that field, she is blatantly talking about corporate and commercial planning and not the proud East End legacy of our club.

So she gets stitched up by a Guardian writer who tweets her speech as she is making it. When the word culture comes up he implies that she may be talking about corporate stuff. He knew full well what she was talking about. But lets not throw water on a fire before it has caught light. From then on itís all guns blazing and Brady finds herself being pilloried for the assumption that she is slagging off our history.

What she has done is put into sharp contrast the two sides in this debate about footballís future. Those that want to have their entertainment in a close-knit, fervent, brutally-honest stadium. Itís what we have been brought up on and what we love.

But the other side, sadly, says that you must make big money, have big stadiums and full houses to get anywhere and you must rinse the customer for as much as is possible and more to make any form of success a reality. That is the new way, the only way really, and it hurts to see it. John Dillon (a big West Ham fan) in the Evening Standard this week, expressed these views of the culture clash much better than I have.

If we had won a few more games, produced more of the verve and excitement of last season, I doubt we would be having these intense conversations. But we have been frogmarched into the future very, very quickly and thereís a lot of travel sickness about.

And, to be fair, we have been deceived a lot about our new home. I had my doubts when we were not able to go into the stadium to view our seats when we were invited to talk to the now infamous reservation centre lot. And we were not even allowed to take a snapshot of the computer image either. There was something to hide, and we now know it was the exact distances we all are from the action.

The relentless desire to sell tickets at all costs to make the thing work, a tunnel vision intent to grind any opposition into the dust, has created this sea of resentment. And the incompetence of our new owners has just made things worse.

This week I have read 11 pages of minutes from the fansí meeting with the club over the whole sorry saga. And Lady K chaired that meeting. It was very, very detailed, all the complaints I have heard got a hearing.

Funnily enough, the worries I raised earlier this week about the Chelsea game, policing levels and the sale of beer bottles inside the stadium and in full view of the pitch, have been addressed. From now on all booze will be decanted into plastic mugs, just like at the Boleyn. Why does it take the nonsense of bottle throwing at the Middlesbrough game to get the owners and caterers to act like responsible grown-ups?

The extent of that meeting and the response of Lady K suggested the club are taking the problems seriously, many minds seem to have been concentrated. They want those extra 3,000 seats. We will see, itĎs about time.

The bottom line now is that there is no turning back, no Boleyn to reclaim mainly because we donít own it any more. There is nothing we can do about where we are now. Apart from fight for a fair deal for fans.

There is a strong clamour for a genuine supporters action group to engage with the club and the ground owners, not to just have people losing their season tickets on the say-so of a steward. Thatís a kangaroo court and unthinkable in a modern society, everyone has the right of appeal. I hope the club get their heads around this one because many, many folk are unhappy with the way our real fans are being treated.

But we must look forward. |There is no point in petitions, singing about going home is just that, a sad song with no real objective. Lady K did not insult our culture, now we have to decide whether we are West Ham or not. Make your minds up for one reason. We are the culture of our club, wherever we play.

Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.

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