Filed: Saturday, 24th December 2016
"I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past" - Thomas Jefferson, 1816
I know what you're thinking - Thomas Jefferson probably wouldn't have been quite so certain about this if he'd ever had to queue for 35 minutes to get a £4 pie - and you're probably right.
Yet, why am I drawing a not entirely obvious line between a former US president and West Ham? Because there is a video doing the rounds that seems to be stirring up a lot of opinions currently, and I must confess that most of them are baffling me. It is described as an open video to the Board but doesn't actually ask them to do anything, hence much of my confusion.
Firstly, have a look at the clip in question. It is publicly available from YouTube so I don't imagine the authors will be upset with me linking to it here.
Now I should say that none of what I'm about to write is intended as personal criticism of the creators, or indeed anybody else who feels similarly to them. I recognise a lot of things from that video; I have sat singing the Payet song on the sofa with my daughters too, I uttered an inveterate "Oh for fucks sake" when Zaza took his famous shot at Old Trafford and somehow managed to get the ball to end up behind him, I simultaneously treasure and despise the memory of Cardiff 2006, and in my mind the football I watched in my childhood has been been lent a veneer of quality by the passing of time that was not there when the games actually took place, so I get the nostalgia.
Furthermore, we all support the team in different ways and have different things that symbolise our love for our Club. If the newly revamped badge is complete anathema to you, then I'm not about to tell you to get over it. Each very much to their own. There is no wrong or right, merely differing shades of grey. Or green, if you look at the large quantities of Costco felt running round the edge of the pitch.
But as I watched that video I found my brow increasingly furrowed as I watched and listened. And as the plaudits came rolling in from the various quarters of my particular echo chamber I found myself asking the same thing repeatedly - "Why?"
!"The past is a decaying memory and I do not have to relive it and empower it unless I choose to do so" - James Lee Burke, "The Tin Roof Blowdown"
I have watched the video several times now to ensure I understand it properly, and I have failed miserably as I'm pretty sure I don't understand it even remotely. It seems to be mythologising a past that never happened, or celebrating the worst parts of it.
For a start, it contains the following quotes:
"It's about...playing good football the right way, but it definitely isn't about winning"
Insert joke here - it'll be the first one ever associated with this show
Objectively I suppose this is true. Supporting West Ham hasn't very often been about winning. Watching us solely in the hope of supporting a winning team is like watching Mrs Brown's Boys and waiting for a joke to come along. But this also seems to suggest that winning is a bad thing. Like we are morally superior to other fans and that there is a purity to our support because we don't go along in the expectation of victory.
What a load of bollocks.
The years of ineptitude don't make us better fans - they make us stupid. We allowed the Cearns family and Terry Brown to feed us that line for years. "The West Ham Way" - a concept recently resurrected to very dubious purpose - was apparently all about entertainment above winning. And what a handy get out that was for the various boards of the time. Finish third, eulogise the team forever but sell the best players off immediately. Develop Rio Ferdinand and Frank Lampard? Sure, but we have to sell them to improve the ground, don't get upset though, and hey! Look at that goal Di Canio just scored.
Rinse, wash, repeat for my entire childhood. But West Ham fans are wedded to this. We are in love with a past that has constantly lacked competent leadership, ambition and success because we have become completely consumed with the idea that just being a fan is enough. Become a West Ham fan, it's a higher way of life - you get screwed over by the Premier League who are happy to take your money but do everything possible to prevent you from ever seeing your side win, and do so with the tacit support of successive boards who never had the ambition to look past that.
Sullivan, Gold and Brady seem to want to change this, and yet somehow that's a bad thing? I have no issue quibbling with their methods but criticising a board for wanting to win things is mental. And I hate to break it to you, but West Ham fans are no better or worse than any other. We love our team, and for us here, now, inside that bubble, it's a magical feeling but it's no different than it is for Manchester United fans inside theirs. We might want to believe that there is something intrinsically superior about our own support but there is not.
I have previously likened supporting Manchester United or Chelsea to going into a casino and cheering for the house, and I stand by that. The advantages those teams enjoy are so huge that I simply do not believe that there can be as much inherent satisfaction in them winning anything as there was for, say, Leicester. But that doesn't make their supporters somehow worse than us, and the sooner we get past that myth the sooner we can start demanding a bit more from our Club.
"Failure is part of our identity"
Is that true? Well, if it is then our identity is shit and the sooner we lose it the better. Why are we happy about failure? Until this season West Ham ticket prices were amongst the highest in the country, which tells me that in no way at all is acceptable for the Club to embrace failure.
I'm all for glory and playing with verve and brio but I also don't accept it as a basic tenet of our existence that Manchester United or Arsenal fans "deserve" success and we don't, just because their clubs are bigger. What bizarre crap is that? Can anyone truly say there is anything different at their very core between Manchester City and West Ham other than Emirati billions?
There's no need for this strange self flagellation - we pay good money to West Ham, to the Premier League, to Sky and everybody else in the game and our money is just as good as our neighbours. If we're not going to try and win, then what are we here for?
"The West Ham United Coffee Company"
Jesus Christ, who gives a shit? So the Club put a coffee shop in their store - like pretty much any other business of a comparable size in the Western world. Of all the things wrong with the new stadium and our new identity this is about 4 millionth on my list.
This is evil and must be stopped.
I don't even know what people want - a Starbucks? A Costa? No coffee? Why are these better options than the Club making a few quid out of refreshments? Again I am forced to hark back to my childhood memories of the Club selling memorabilia out of a Portakabin and never having enough money to keep any players, and wondering what exactly it is about our past that people are eulogising over?
"You're turning your fans into consumers"
I get it, I really do. For us, going to games is not the same thing as a trip to John Lewis, or renting a car from Hertz. It is a social experience with an emotional core that transcends pretty much any relationship that we will ever have with something that can't talk back to us.
But this again is hinting at something else - that we weren't consumers already. I hate to break it to you guys but that huge stand they're currently pulling down at Upton Park was called the Dr Martens Stand. The Club had already thrown their lot in with the great corporate takeover of the post Euro 1996 years, and we were already little more than consumers anyway.
I have also seen a lot of commentary suggesting that 'real' fans are unhappy about the presence of so many day tripping tourists in the stadium. These fans presumably representing the new consumers as opposed to the old supporters.
The problem with this world view is that I just don't see much evidence of it. Having been to pretty much every game this season, despite not being a season ticket holder myself, I haven't seen these huge numbers of tourists. Instead I've seen lots of West Ham fans who can't or don't want to go to every game but still consider themselves loyal supporters.
There are plenty of reasons why fans might not be able to go to games - maybe they can't afford it, maybe they have to work, maybe they're too sick, maybe they're serving in the Armed Forces somewhere or maybe they're in jail. We could only envy them during the second half of that Hull game.
The list is long and exhaustive and the reality is that I suspect the ground is full of our core 30k support and then a rotating 20k cast of other fans from that 50k waiting list who can't go all the time.
All of which is to say that I agree that we're being treated like consumers, but I don't really see how that's a new thing.
"West Ham is about things you can't buy....identity, togetherness, love"
OK, well this is an entirely subjective area so if that's what it means to the creators of this video then I'm not about to tell them they're wrong.
It means different things to all of us, and that's perfectly fine but the bit I'm confused about is the notion that the owners of the Club don't understand these things. It's always bemused me that there are those who constantly state that Gold and Sullivan are in this for the money only. Where is the evidence of this?
They haven't cashed in on our better players and refused to invest the money, they haven't as yet encouraged any external bidders for the Club and they have done little else but put their own money into the coffers so far. It's curious that fans who pay a £1,000 a year to the Club feel that this entitles them to all sorts of leeway in what they want back, but refuse to extend the same logic to the owners and their £80m. To my mind, their failure hasn't been a lack of investment in the team, it's been in not investing properly.
Think about it - if they truly want to dispose of their holdings then it would be in their interests to drive that price as high as possible. That means higher league finishes, a better squad and, yes, a better stadium. I'm not sure why anyone would think these were bad things to be aiming at.
"Put the football first, listen to the fans"
Yeah, I don't know what this means. Here are a load of slightly impenetrable complaints about off field issues but please just concentrate on the football? What? Or alternatively, start asking fans about footballing issues? Er, no thanks.
Is Karren Brady supposed to stop trying to generate income for the Club because David Sullivan and Slaven Bilic didn't sign a right back in the summer, and couldn't recognise that Jonathan Calleri had feet comprised solely of cement?
Brady is driving the Club forward because that's her job. It's not her fault that Sullivan doesn't have the self awareness to realise he is not actually very good at identifying players, and as a result is pissing off the supporters that she is charged with keeping happy. I don't think Karren Brady looked at Michail Antonio and thought that the best use of one of our premium attacking players was to play him at right back.
So, let's ask ourselves a question - would this video have been made if we were sitting fifth in the table? I can't really answer that, but I strongly suspect not. The points raised are so nebulous that I don't actually know what it is that the makers want from the board. In fairness they have expanded more here in conversation with KUMB, but I'm still not really much the wiser.
I'm sorry chaps, but this video doesn't speak for me. I appreciate the care and attention, I respect the devotion and I understand the frustrations that led to it's creation but it isn't asking anything tangible or meaningful of the Board. All it's done is stir up a lot of anti-Board feeling around nothing. I can't see how that is helpful.
And for those commenting all over the place online about this, I'm going to keep returning to these points as well - most of the current criticism of the Club could be solved by a five game winning streak, and 95% of the criticism of Karren Brady is rendered invalid by the misogynist bullshit that accompanies it. If you can't make your point with referring to her gender then you have no point worth making.
"Close the door on the past. You don't try to forget the mistakes, but you don't dwell on it. You don't let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space" - Johnny Cash
He seems sensible - let's take his advice
Now before anyone labels me as a stooge for the board or an apologist for the stadium fuck ups, let me say this; there is a metric tonne of stuff the Board could do to help themselves and try to reduce some of the current enmity that surrounds the place. In no particular order:
1. Appoint an experienced Director of Football to oversee all elements of the footballing side of the Club.
Ralf Rangnick - the man behind RB Leipzig's meteoric rise in Germany - would do nicely but here on planet Earth we might have to set our sights a little lower.
We desperately need to move away from the agent led recruitment of Sullivan, and put in place someone with an understanding of analytics and how to mix old and new school scouting. Let's stop signing players due to them having good YouTube highlight packages, basically. At the same time we could invest properly into the youth system and establish an Academy that delivers first team ready players to the manager, already accustomed to playing in the style of the first team.
Giving up this role to someone who actually knows what they're doing would also allow David Sullivan to return to the normal duties of a Premier League chairman such as producing films about the Krays.
2. Swallow the bitter taste of hubris and accept that parts of the stadium move have been a disaster.
Whilst chatting about this with fellow Hammers @LeBigHouse and @AMoCS we agreed that there is an incredible problem with the tone that the Club take over the Stadium move. They are increasingly resembling The Day Today's pool supervisor and his lament that people choose only to focus on the deaths that have occurred under his watch and nothing else.
The move has had lots of issues and if we were treated like grown ups and the Club just admitted this I think they might find that this single gesture of ordinary human behaviour might generate some actual bona fide goodwill. And boy do they need it, especially with Spurs building a stadium that their fans will actually want to go to, just up the road.
It's hard to know how much of the stadium fit out is the responsibility of the Club and how much is the stadium owners, but either way it's a little bit like a film set. It looks great but don't stare too long or you'll see that it's really just a good looking approximation of the real thing.
So, yes if you want us to be customers then you can't just ignore the concept of customer service. You can't really have one without the other. Like Palace and terrible managers.
Just try it Karren - "Hey guys, I'm really sorry about this but yeah, the concessions are a bit of a nightmare aren't they? It probably shouldn't take 30 minutes to get a pie. We'll sort that out. Give us some time".
You might be surprised what that gets you.
3. Take away young Jack's Twitter password.
It's embarrassing to the Club that he is a quasi official mouthpiece who is confirming major signings in one Tweet and then supporting Donald Trump as President in the next.
We've now reached a point where we have to wait for young Jack to finish double chemistry in the afternoon before we get confirmation that our new signing has passed his medical. Gosh, it's just like Real Madrid.
If that's not possible then how about reassigning him to do something useful. He could tweet about the West Ham Ladies team, who could really do with the publicity, or alternatively about the Club's various charitable endeavours to try and highlight the community work being done.
There is something glorious about the fact that the Clubs public response to this video has been for Jack to send them an email. After all, when we make a complaint who among us isn't delighted to have our concerns addressed by a teenager on work experience?
4. Get some proper dialogue with fans to address the day to day experience of being a supporter.
Bear in mind that this is a borderline impossible task as no one fan can accurately reflect the views of thousands. I'm pretty sure that the Supporters Advisory Board was supposed to do this, but I have no idea what they do so I suppose there is room for improvement in their communication if nothing else.
There is a thread here on KUMB that asks fans to contribute to a new ten point plan. There are some things there that I agree with and plenty that I don't, but it's a start and there are some tangible things that the Board can actually address. As an example, if it is truly this difficult for our disabled fans to get to games that is a really easy win.
5. Lose the running track
Best of luck with that. It would solve an enormous number of the problems though.
6. Sort out the Club's public image. It's horrendous.
You know what we need? A slick PR professional, who is a West Ham fan, understands the sensibilities of the ordinary fan and has the time on his hands to commit fully to the job.
You guys, I think I know the answer:
"Out of Europe in June? I know the fucking feeling lads..."
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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