Tuesday, 19th June 2018
The darkest day
Filed: Sunday, 11th March 2018
Author: Peter Morris

When an opposition goal can turn a stadium atmosphere, almost like a flick of a switch, from reasonable positivity to universal venom, then you know that something must be deeply wrong in the state of West Ham United Football Club.

Of course, we old hands saw many tempestuous times at the old stadium. The hooligan days of the seventies - who can ever forget the battle of the South Bank in 1975? - and the Bond Scheme protests of 1992 were both on a scale of intensity far in excess of the aborted marches and the handful of pitch intruders that we have just witnessed.

But, in my opinion, the mood yesterday was on a scale of intensity that makes what we are witnessing seem far more fundamental, perhaps even existential, as far as our grand old club is concerned.

For whereas the Bond Scheme protesters were bold, confident and ultimately convinced of their eventual success, today we are frantically looking for solutions to a problem that is almost too big to comprehend.

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The corner flag bearers of 1992 and 2018 respectively almost epitomise the differing size of the tasks. In 1992, the man with the corner flag strode imperiously out of the Chicken Run, grabbed the flag and serenely marched to the centre spot to plant his symbol of defiance. He even stopped for a quick bit of jaunty banter with Mark Ward (then of Everton) before returning to his appreciative acolytes.

His 2018 imitator was a sorrier figure in every regard. He didn't even seem to have a firm grip on his implement and his footing was hardly self-assured. Unfortunately, he then struggled to find the centre spot, thus rounding off a miserable performance. Though to be fair, he did have a lot further to walk than his predecessor of 1992...

To me, the symbolism of the two corner flaggers is palpable: In 1992, we were confident, we were united, and we knew what we were fighting for and loved what we knew ((c) Oliver Cromwell). We were not going to be priced out of our birthright, which was so much more to us back then than just a football team - West Ham United represented the East End of London at its very best, it had been forged by our own family members among others through the tumultuous twentieth century, and it was not going to be taken away from us by people (the Cearns family) who had clearly forgotten their own historic responsibilities.

But in 2018, those old certainties seem very remote, and our ability as fans to take control of the current situation, in the way that the Class of 1992 (WHU version) did back then, has to be in doubt.

For what we had then has been cruelly taken away from us by the current regime, who certainly know how to operate in accordance with Oscar Wilde's adage about "knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing."

By this, I do not necessarily mean the Boleyn Ground. As a structure, it had been changed out of all recognition since my first visit in 1968, when the East Stand was almost completed. In 1990, when the club, in a fit of unprecedented democracy, asked fans what they thought about a range of issues in a survey, I was one of the 10% who responded positively to the question "should we move to a new stadium?"

But what we lost when we abandoned our ancestral home in the way that we did in 2016 was not bricks and mortar, but our very independence.

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For a move to our own purpose-built football stadium could have seen West Ham United thrive and prosper; the move to a stadium which looks like the Lego creation of a blind four year old would well lead to our extinction.

Is that harsh, perhaps hysterical? Well, who knows the future, but I really fear for it.

The current regime took a huge gamble when agreeing to move the club to the Olympic Stadium in its current form. They believed that attendance increases, plus the allure of the new stadium, would inevitably lead to top players flocking to the club, an upturn in performance leading to Champions League qualification, and that we would all live happily ever after.

Unfortunately, like all fairy stories, this one was not for the real world. More seats sold has seen hardly any increase in sales income, because so many of those seats are being sold on the cheap; top players tend to join the top clubs, and do not move to inferior ones on the promise of future glories - or wages. And in any case, the almost complete lack of investment by the owners ensures that we will never be in the market at the top end.

And then there's the stadium. As you may have gathered, I was always opposed to the move there, but like most other fans, I decided to put my best face on and try to love it - or at least get used to it. Yesterday's atmosphere finally indicated to me that, like grieving relatives emerging from the immediate pain of loss , West Ham fans have finally accepted what has been done to their club, and have been reduced to a state of abject despair:

"We want to go home, we want to go home, this place is a s******e, we want to go home!"

"You've destroyed our f*****g club!"

And perhaps the most poignant of all:

"We're not West Ham anymore!"

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So, what is to be done? Well here I begin to flounder. To me, there are only two long-term solutions, but they are both, well ... long-term. And, of course, they are both predicated on the speedy departure from the scene of the 3 Marx Brothers (well, 2 brothers and a sister, none of whom ever seems to want to take the part of Harpo ....)

They also require new owners with real money, and who are prepared to spend it.

Firstly, the new owners could renegotiate the Olympic Stadium deal with the explicit objective of doing what Tottenham said they wanted to do - knock down the monstrosity and build a football stadium on the site.

Or secondly, they could build our own football stadium some in West Ham country (Havering?) and tell Seb Coe and the politicians what they can do with their "legacy".

Sadly, in the meantime, we could be facing Championship football next season - and I wouldn't bank on a quick return to the top flight anytime soon thereafter. Those wide-open spaces on the pitch, combined with the even wider-open spaces in the stands, will seem most appealing to the average journeyman opponent of that league.

Finally, a couple of words about our current regime. Has any club ever conducted itself with less class and even less success during a transfer window, as they did during the most recent window? The ridiculous non-bids for players who wouldn't join us in a million years, and who play for clubs who weren't going to sell them anyway, was embarrassing enough, and was finally topped off with the claimed bid of 25m for Joe Allen on the last day.

Does Sullivan really have such a low opinion of the intelligence of the fans that he thinks that stunt would be seem as credible? Stoke had already said repeatedly that he wasn't going for any price, Allen said he didn't want to leave, and yet Sullivan still spouts this nonsense! I am only surprised that he hasn't claimed he put in a 100m bid for Lionel Messi on the same day!

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Joao Mario is a decent technical type of player, but as he showed yesterday, he isn't going to be pulling up any trees in the foreseeable future. And as for Jordan Hugill - can anyone explain why we bought him, unless as preparation for life in the Championship? We needed serious investment in the squad in January to ward off the prospect of relegation, and instead .... we turned a profit.

Lastly, am I the only one who found yesterday's attempt on the part of the regime to wrap itself in the Shroud of Bobby just a bit too much? I will yield to no-one in my reverence for the Great Man, but he has been dead for twenty five years now, and shoddy stunts like yesterday's are actually an insult to his memory.

Anyone who was at the Wolves game in 1993 who saw Geoff and Martin carrying the No. 6 floral arrangement to the middle of the pitch, or the minutes' silence accompanied by Ken Wolstenholme's commentary on Bobby receiving the Cup Winners Cup, will never forget it: The raw emotion of it all can still almost bring me to tears all these years on.

Yesterday's pastiche (the flowers looked positively dead from where I sit - but then again, I am in the Upper Tier) bordered on necrophilia. Quite why Bov, Stag and the Moore family allow themselves to be cynically manipulated in this way by a rotten regime is among many of our current mysteries.

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