Wednesday, 26th June 2019
We are all West Ham, aren’t we?
Filed: Tuesday, 11th June 2019
Author: Paul Walker
OK, we have lift off. At last some green shoots of unity amongst the fans’ groups outside the club’s Official Supporters Board.
It’s not an amalgamation, there is no need for that. But to see the newly-formed Hammers United and the West Ham United Independent Supporters’ Association joining forces to send a letter to West Ham’s board asking for dialogue, is a massive step forward.
It’s taken a bit of time and plenty of negotiation but, deep down, we are all West Ham and that message seems to have prevailed.
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But I doubt anybody expects the club to roll over and wave the white flag. They have their OSB and they have made it very, very clear to WHUISA and now Hammers United, that the lady is not for turning.
You sense there was quite a bit of negotiating between the two groups, and HU did look to get a bit impatient by suggesting they would send the letter on their own on Monday regardless. But WHUISA came on board at the weekend.
It was quite a telling moment for those that have lived through the last year or so of, frankly, turmoil, amongst large sections of our fan base outside the OSB. Unity has been needed, past disputes put aside if not forgotten, and a new, fresh approach emerged.
The letter, drafted by KUMB member Doc H Ball was so obviously sound that both groups seized on it as a foundation for the final letter, which was dispatched to club at the beginning of this week. It also showed that there are plenty of folk outside these two groups willing to aid the cause.
You only have to scan through the KUMB Forum on the subject to see the amount of support there is for a collective, independent, approach, plus some offers of greater involvement.
How West Ham react will be interesting. But don’t hold your breath, it is not in their make-up to change tack now with their own OSB up and running.
Interesting was the claim that the club are not embracing UEFA and Premier League regulations, as well as the Government’s department of culture, who have their own guidelines on fan involvement.
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The joint letter insisted that if these regulations were not adhered to in 14 days, a formal letter of complaint would be issued to the authorities.
Do I expect the club to take much notice? Probably not. It would be naive to suggest that they have not considered the various regulations in setting up the OSB, and believe they are compliant.
This is not going to be an easy fight. But numbers do matter. Those that cried out for boots on the ground, so to speak, are right. The club’s attitude seems to be ’why should we talk to you, when you only have 3,000 members?’
Now these two groups could probably pull together 8,000 members, impressive with HU only being a couple of months old. All this, of course, has taken place with the backdrop of WHUISA’s own internal problems. Chairman Lew Ozarow, has quit. A couple of his committee, I believe, have gone too.
Vice chair John Ratomski has been acting chairman in the wake of Ozarow’s departure. But KUMB understands that Ratomski does not want the job full time again. He was chairman himself last year, through some troubled times, and does not want to take over now. He will hold the fort until a new chair is elected.
That means there is the need for an EGM, probably next month, to elect a new chair and also add to the committee. It seems pretty obvious that there is likely to have been some considerable debate on the way forward and who would lead in the future. It will be interesting to see how than all pans out in the future.
But for now it is clear that the leadership of both HU and WHUISA are on the same page. They will both continue with their own agendas, but future liaison will be obvious and needed.
Th summer could be an interesting few months for fans’ groups. The next meeting of the OSB is due, I believe, shortly. And how that evolves will be equally interesting.
Current OSB Chair David Baker
The main criticism of the OSB is that it lacks democracy. Now leading figures inside the group, including chair David Baker, have spoken on social media and elsewhere for the need to introduce some form of democratic voting system in the future. That could well, it seems, be on the agenda of the next OSB meeting.
Just how much control the club will concede however is open to debate. There are many who struggle to understand why the club are so unmoved by suggestions of more open dialogue with large swathes of their fans, and not wanting any involvement of groups outside the OSB.
I have a view, maybe wrong, but it seems clear the club are now very wary of engaging with groups in the way they did 15 months or so ago in the damaging ‘marching’ period.
They had dialogue with somewhat ageing members of the ICF. Now inside the West Ham bubble, few turn a hair. Water under the bridge, history. And they hardly hid their involvement, two members doing interviews on the subject with KUMB that were relentlessly plundered for quotes by national papers.
So when headlines in the national media started to emerge like “why are West Ham negotiating with hooligans?”, the club’s mood changed. They realised they were exposed to greater scrutiny. And it did not sit well.
In effect, they ran for the hills, abandoned the old SAB, formed the OSB, and made sure those headlines could not appear again. I sense it will take a lot now for Karren Brady and the board to relax their approach.
But maybe the way to a better relationship with the fan base is to do just that. The OSB is here, maybe with a modified election process, but engaging with independent groups would go a long way to pulling our fan base together. We are all West Ham, surely.