Filed: Monday, 12th January 2004
By: Peter Caton
In the 12 years to 1986 West Ham won two cups, were runners up in two others, and finished 3rd in the league. In the 17 years since, barring that great night in Metz, they have won nothing.
One could write a book discussing the reasons for this, but I’d suggest that the following seven decisions were instrumental in our decline from a reasonably successful top division team, to our current position as a mediocre Nationwide side.
1. Failure to strengthen the team after finishing 3rd in 1986
We had a great team, who were it not for fixture congestion caused by our inadequate pitch, could well have won the league. We had however been extremely lucky with injuries (Goddard excepted), and had no strength in depth. If we had strengthened the squad, rather than allowing Cottee & McAvenie to leave, West Ham could have been a top team for many years. A lost opportunity that may never be seen again (although the sale of our young talent over the last three years ranks pretty close).
2. Sacking of John Lyall
Controversial I know, but the Lyall years were the most successful in West Ham’s history. He has been followed by a succession of managers, none of whom have won anything. Although Lyall was sacked after relegation, we had the basis of a good team, who had played some great football, reaching the quarter finals of both cups, and finishing the season strongly. He should have been given another year.
3. The Bond Scheme
The Boards cynical attempt to exploit the loyalty of our supporters by making us fork out up to £1000 simply for the right to buy a seat, resulted in a season of conflict and low morale, which ultimately lead to our relegation. The income from the few who bought Bonds barely covered the direct costs of the scheme, but the loss in revenue from alienated supporters, many who never returned, has been huge. It’s no coincidence that our crowds the season after the Bond Scheme were the lowest ever. The Board completely misread the situation, and the lack of trust it caused has never been repaired.
4. Sale of Rio Ferdinand
Selling Rio to the first real offer told everyone that West Ham had no ambition to be a top club. The departure of other star players became inevitable. Furthermore, we lost a class defender who could bring the ball forward, something none of his successors have been able to do. Rio didn’t ask to leave, and we should have built a team around him. The sale of Rio was the start of the club’s recent decline.
5. Squandering of Rio money
Redknapp wasted much of the Rio money on rejects and dodgy foreigners on long and expensive contracts. We should have paid the £8 - £10 million Villa wanted for Southgate, and brought him in a proven quality defender with just one salary to pay. Harry’s legacy to the club was a motley selection of third raters, who’s effect on the wage bill was a millstone round Roeder’s neck.
6. Failure to either support or sack Roeder
The Board allowed the situation to drift last season. Roeder should either have been sacked in December, or given the funds to buy a couple of decent defenders. Fulham & Leeds got out of trouble when they changed their managers. Bolton & Birmingham brought in new players. West Ham did nothing. A new manager nearly always brings an upturn in form (Pardew excepted!), and even just one extra win would have seen us safe. A few years ago we found the money for Hartson & Kitson to keep us up, and if there really was none last season, there should have been a share issue (as Spurs currently).
7. Sale of Joe Cole
We had just about accepted the sales of Johnson, Sinclair & Kanoute, and releasing of 9 players, some who could have done a good job in division one (Di Canio, Winterburn, Moncur, Schemmel?), but the sale of Cole was the last straw. It took away our last remaining creative player, and turned us from favourites to also ran's. Cole was a fighter, and with his presence we would have won the division. Had he left at the end of his contract we would still have got a fee from a tribunal, and the revenue from promotion would have dwarfed his bargain transfer fee.
So these, in my view, are the seven main reasons for our current plight.
I would add to that the generally unprofessional management of the club. For example, we have had a succession of good players who fell out with managers, and ended up leaving the club, mostly at a financial loss. Stuart Robson, McAvennie, Hartson, Berkovic, Di Canio, for example. Had these players been played and kept, they would all have strengthened the team.
Indeed, had Roeder not finally given up on Di Canio, and played him instead of the non-trying Kanoute at Bolton, we may well have got the point that would have kept us in the Premiership. A good manager is able to work with ‘difficult’ staff.
Other examples of unprofessionalism include:
- the fiasco over Manny Omoyinmi costing us a League Cup semi final, when a cup win, followed by Europe could have kept our star players here
- the ridiculous ticket prices the year after the Bond Scheme, which had to be cut mid season as so many supporters had been alienated and stayed away
- the crap pitch and non functioning under soil heating, which caused so many postponements, and hampered our championship bid in 1985
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