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The gulf that will never go away

Filed: Thursday, 27th March 2014
By: Paul Walker

Well, here we are again, right back at the beginning with the same unbridgeable divide with our manager seemingly as wide, if not wider, than ever.

Now before I start, I have never booed my side in well over 50 years of supporting the Irons. I have seen some garbage masquerading in a West Ham shirt over those years but I have never believed that booing players wearing our colours helps much.

I wish fans wouldn’t do it, but I do understand the frustrations that generate such displays of annoyance.

And I also feel that when a manager turns on the fans anywhere, as Big Sam did on Wednesday night, then they are usually dead in the water with only one outcome.

The end product of the night is that the uproar only served to underline that West Ham fans and their manager do no see eye to eye on how the game should be played. It has always been that way.

Many of us over three years have understood the facts of life about football in this division. Winning is all, staying up all that matters and you have to cut your cloth accordingly. As our captain Kevin Nolan says, Sam is an expert at staying up and (eventually) building teams.

But there is a strong contingent of our fans who hate his style, hate the fixed, unbending system and will never be won over by Sam’s lectures about reality. That has never changed, never will and the gulf between us and the manager is widening.

I also sense that there was something of a significant change in atmosphere at the Boleyn in the wake of the awful display that saw a patched-up Manchester United side look like world beaters just a few days before their front line troops were utterly destroyed by Manchester City.

Various blogs and fanzine writers seemed to have got wind of an attitude of frustration from the hierarchy. Unattributed ’source’ quotes talked of a need for a change of direction. And I noticed today that David Gold’s Twitter reaction to fans wanting Allardyce out, spoke of sticking together, getting safe from the drop, backing the team and going to the Olympic Stadium debt free.

No mention of support for the manager. It may have been a slip of the tweet from our co-chairman, but it may also be significant.

And then we have Sam’s belligerent defiance, almost sneering, which smacked of an attitude of not caring what people thought or said any more. You sense that the manager, too, may have noted that same change from above. He has seen Michael Laudrup and Malky Mackay already linked with his job in the last 24 hours.

Let’s face it. If he goes he knows there’s a pay-off. He is a very, very rich man with cash in property and high-risk but profitable speculation. Losing his job is not something he fears like you and I. And he would go with his CV enhanced by his time at the Boleyn.

He has won promotion back to the Premier League at the first time of asking, he has helped ease the financial pressures that threatened to take us under and he has, now barring a miracle, kept us in the top flight for two seasons. That is a tremendous achievement for any manager and he would get another job tomorrow.

So maybe that ear-cupping reaction at the end of the win over Hull City was just another of his clever manipulations of the media. It was done for their eyes, just under the press box, and for the cameras. It shifted the post-match talk away from the performance and onto Sam himself, so he could do his ’nobody likes me,’ little boy act we have seen so often. Poor me, all this abuse and I am such a great success as a manager here, seemed to be the general theme.

He is a sort of Nigel Farage of football, all bombastic opinion, black and white verdicts with no grey areas and an ’ I tell it like it is’ attitude.

Now he is right that crowd abuse does affect players and makes them frightened to even touch the ball. Mark Noble, trotted out on the club’s official website the morning after the game, talked sensibly of how players react in such circumstances, how he would like to get the ball down and play, and how important it is for everyone to stick together.

And I accept his words, no doubt re-written for him by the media department, were sincere. He is one of our own so he deserves to be listened to.

But I do resent Sam’s view that the fans--and that I assume includes me--decided to stop supporting the team. The booing only came at the end, there was plenty of frustration during the game, but no real outcry.

Ill-advised: Allardyce responds to his critics at the end of Wednesday evening's game

I travel a long way to support my team, I am nothing special in that respect. Now, even midweek, it is possible to get from Manchester to Euston and back in a day--thanks to a very helpful new late, late Virgin train. I do not do that, and my fellow fans no doubt feel the same from wherever they come from, not to support the team and to boo them instead.

This has been a dreadful season, with plenty of unfulfilled expectation after Andy Carroll’s signing. Sam has blamed injuries, but it is more than that. Too many players have been below par for long spells and what we have been watching has been poor for months and months now, and very predictable.

Even the run of four wins in February did not produce much genuine entertainment. In all those games we were clearly second best when it came to possession, and against ten-man Hull it was the same. They had more chances and greater possession and passing figures.

No wonder the fans got annoyed. I accept it is not easy to play against ten men and we have won twice with ten men this term against Cardiff and Swansea and we stopped Hull doing the same to us.

But eventually the patience of fans runs out. They want to be entertained and that is not happening. Liverpool have taken a lot of money from us for Carroll,. Stewart Downing as well as getting Joe Cole’s wages off their budget. And Brendan Rodgers had a lot of financial problems himself to contend with at Anfield, but his team are stunning.

Can anybody see a time when Sam would field a team with Joe Allen, Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling in the same side? No, neither can I.

But our fans long to see our team play with that sort of flair. Southampton can manage it, Stoke--under Mark Hughes--have changed their style, Everton are worth watching while Manchester City can be a real joy to watch these days. Ravel Morrison has got flair, so I recall.

I am not suggesting we can compete with the talent of some of these clubs, that costs vast amounts of money. But while the rest of football is attempting to embrace a more open, attacking passing style, Sam seems deliberately determined to be just the opposite. Belligerently so, and that is what annoys the fans most.

He constantly abused the theory there is a West Ham way, and having seen the sides of the '60s and '70s play pretty football and lose, I tend to understand his view. Sometimes we can live a myth from the past that the vast majority of our fans these days never witnessed, but just hear about as if it was some divine gospel from on high.

Sam calls it ‘pass and lose’ which is cutting and once again is too black and white, no grey. But I do recall enjoying the football back then. Sam‘s sides do not lift the collective spirit.

So here we are. Divided from our manager once again, but maybe four points from being safe. He will say he has almost done his job. Fulham, Cardiff and now Sunderland all have to make up nine points (plus one for the goal difference) to catch us with a maximum of nine games (in Sunderland’s case) or eight, left to play.

I am not sure any of those three are capable of winning three games each from their final games, and even that would not be enough to overtake us unless there is a goal difference calamity of biblical proportions.

So, I am sure Sam is saying, privately at least, that he has completed his task, so what is anyone moaning about. He is a realist and only concerned about points, not how they are attained. He pointed out that people will look at the league table on Thursday morning and not care about the performance, only the win.

For a moment, maybe, he is right. But as one of my sons pointed out, the test comes if season ticket sales drop or slow down in the summer. Our fans love our club, but you are beginning to hear some of them talk of falling out of love with what they are watching. I am sure our owners are very, very aware of that developing attitude.

Frankly, I will be amazed now if Sam is still here next season.

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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