Filed: Tuesday, 21st March 2017
By: Rio Barlow
This hasn't been an easy season.
I'd go as far to say it is quite possibly the worst I've encountered in my 34 years of attending games. Not for the performances on the pitch though. As difficult as it's been, we've endured far, far worse. There's a far more worrying core to this being so grim.
One of the factors that drew me to football and West Ham in particular was the sense of belonging, the feeling of unity between the support. It was like being in a second family. You could with friends, alone, but you were part of a bigger entity. Friendships outside your social circle formed, mere nods of acknowledgement made you feel at ease. The Boleyn Ground and its surrounding areas were though not aesthetically pleasing, gave you a sense of comfort that was akin to being in your grandparents living room.
With the enforced demise of the our former home, never was a sense of unity needed more. This was a true test of the spirit of West Ham. We've failed that test. We've failed it badly.
In essence everything should have been set up perfectly. The hardcore support we've always had, augmented with the plus 2's. A rag, tag and bobtail group of lapsed fans, offspring of the Boleyn's incumbents and fresh support previously unable to attend for one reason or another. But all invited by the hardcore? So why has it failed? Why has the supposed process of merely bringing friends and family caused so much angst that it's spilt over into violence at times? Why then are fingers being pointed at day trippers, when by and large the majority of the support is supposedly so intertwined?
We know the migration process was flawed and has destroyed some of the long standing bonds formed at the old ground. We know the new stadium itself is far from ideal. But that is what in the past would have drawn us together, made us stronger. Instead it's sought to drive us further apart. The hangover from leaving E13 is one that is lingering long and heavy. With no resolution in sight and nobody seemingly willing to act to bridge the divide. Until we have a united support, then making our new home a fortress, a place where opponents, rather than us fear to tread is a long, way away.
This leads me to to the second reason I've hated this season. I'm afraid to say that social media is sounding the death knell of football. Gone are the days of going to games, casually discussing the nuances of the match with friends after.
Now every individual action is played out, error by error, moment of genius by moment of genius, kick after kick live on Twitter, Facebook etc. by and large by those not in attendance. Those unable to see the bigger picture. Those who have little to say, but now big voices. These voices are rapidly draining the life out of the game.
It's not to say those who don't attend the games are not capable of offering constructive insight and comment. But those with worthwhile opinion are lost within swathes of mindless, knee jerk reactionists. Those who's in game mood-swings would put the most hardened psychiatric experts to the sword.
It makes for difficult reading at the best of times. But having easy access to vent frustrations directly at players is a step too far. In an era when most bemoan the lack of characters in the modern game, the detachment between the players and support, it's ironic that when players do offer a key point of contact, it's backfired massively. And it's not solely pre-pubescent teenagers who offer the kind of insightful disdain which would cause most to roll their eyes. It's created a snowball effect to the stage far too many grown men (and women. I won't discriminate) who should know better, feel free to chip in with views that have no place in the public domain.
Some of the abuse directed at players is embarrassing. It's often said that if you earn £50,000+ a week, then you can shout what you like. But behind the wealth isn't always the mental strength to go with it. No fan knows the effect disparaging remarks can have. No fan really knows the circumstances behind all dips in form. These men are human beings just like the rest of us. They hurt when loved ones are ill. They all have issues, as do we. Just because they're athletes, and well paid ones at that, doesn't make them immune from the same things that affect our mental well-being.
With statistics claiming one in six people suffer from some sort of mental illness, most notably depression or anxiety, then it's highly likely that four or five of our current squad will have or be experiencing this. Could social media abuse fuel this further?
Money can buy a lot of things, but it can't rewire a brain. Some high profile athletes, Andy Flintoff, Jonathon Trott, Paul Gascoigne, Frank Bruno, Gary Speed to name but a few have all suffered. And they were by and large not subjected to the mass hysteria of social media and it's instant ability to be the instant recipient of public trolling.
With this in mind, do the supporters who insist of jumping on every error made in games, on every unpopular comment made in interviews really thinking taking to the Internet really is a way of making players perform better?
Last weeks haranguing of our skipper Mark Noble was a major point in case, this is a man who has spent his whole career at the club he supported as a boy. A man with over 300 appearances at the club he represents and feels for as much as we all do. A man who openly described what we mutually love, as i did at the top of this article as not a football club, but a family. The whole move has hit him hard, just as it has us.
Yet one outspoken moment last week saw a reaction on Twitter that left me shameful of some of our support. Is this really the band of brothers I grew up with? Is it the same core of like minded kindred spirits who made me feel part of something special.
In a season that I always felt would be both emotional and tricky, I didn't expect those closest to me to leave me most hurt.
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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