Apart from "Rock star dies", one of the most defining phrases of 2016 must surely be "Populist movement".
ANGRY … West Ham fans rejecting the new commercialisation of the club
Donald Trump, Brexit and to a lesser extent Jeremy Corbyn’s Momentum would all have seemed unlikely at best only a couple of years ago yet have characterised the past 12 months. With that in mind it seemed appropriate to discuss a current YouTube clip that has attracted something of a populist following.
My initial impression was of a well presented and professionally edited video, however, the content has led me to believe a good Fisking might be in order.
The clip begins with presumably a father and young daughter singing the Payet song together. So far, so good – supporting West Ham does run down through generations.
Cut to a clip of England’s World Cup win 50 years ago and a portentous Ray Winstone-like voiceover announcing:
"Dear Board of Directors, let me tell you what it means to be a West Ham fan, it’s about East London, Bobby Moore, and playing good football the right way".
Well, um, cheers for appointing yourself the arbiter of what it is to support my club. Even if there would appear to be a distinct lack of self-awareness, I’m sure you’ve thoroughly researched the following message.
Except you clearly haven’t.
It’s obvious to anybody who’s read Jeff Powell’s biography of Moore that by the time he finally left the club in 1974 the England captain loathed his manager Ron Greenwood and believed that from 1965 onwards his time at Upton Park had been a waste of the best years of his career.
If any fan could convince me what playing “good football, the right way” means other than beating teams I’d love to hear it. By any player or manager’s definition good football means “results” and it’s notable our best football has been enjoyed during relatively successful spells on the pitch. As the ill-punctuated sign erected by Alan Pardew in the Boleyn Ground home changing room pronounced: “Winning its what we are here for”. Oh, hang on a minute…
Oh bugger – when I celebrated FA Cup wins in '75 and '80 I’d got it all wrong? My despair at Cardiff in 2004 and reciprocal joy at Wembley eight years later were inverted? If only the players, managers and coaches had known they could have dispensed with peripherals like hard work, tactics, fitness and formations as we descended into the semi-professional murk Ray-Lite declares our culture insists we inhabit. Likewise, as we fans tramped out of the London Stadium having been rinsed by neighbours Arsenal I should have been cheering our heritage? Odd, because actually I felt pretty miserable. I may be wrong – but it appeared others shared my dismay too.
"In fact failure is part of our identity – it’s even in our song."
I must admit I’d never considered a song might define a football club. Am I naïve in failing to appreciate Tottenham spend their off-pitch time marching up and down a parade ground? Everton and Watford fans all want to join the Police while Southampton spend their waking time working towards beatification? Liverpool fans only saunter about in groups of two or more and Man City fans will all but die preventing any mortal from suffering the existential crisis of a loveless existence? Perhaps, just perhaps, we might as a club deign to rise above the lyrics of an arbitrarily chosen chant?
"In fact, being a fan transcends triumph and disaster, it’s about something much deeper than that"
Oo goodie – we’re getting to the nub of things now…
"We’re West Ham til we die – and that’ll never change – right?!"
In terms of a big build up leading to anticlimactic finish it’s not far off the Spice Girls banging on and on and on and on about what they really, really, REALLY want before letting us know it’s to, er, “ziggazig ahh”.
We then enjoy some clips detailing the club winning the right to the Olympic Stadium including those East South London heroes Del Boy and Rodders and Karren Brady asserts:
"That’s our ambition: A world class stadium with a world class team."
Poor Karren eh? Married to a footballer and been in football administration nearly 30 years yet she still doesn’t understand how the West Ham culture “definitely isn’t about winning”.
Back to Ray:
"But how’s the deal turning out? We want to move with the times – but at what cost?”
Well, band-for-band Season Tickets are cheaper and the club will garner greater revenue – but do carry on…
"It doesn’t feel like our football club any more – not because we’ve changed address but because you’ve turned it into a retail brand … you’re turning fans into consumers."
Seriously Ray, have you been banged up the last 20-odd years? Done a 30-stretch for that tickle down Tilbury way, remission for good behaviour? Some view the corporatisation of football as beginning with the Premier League and Sky money in 1992, others the publication of Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch the same year, yet more England’s road to the Euro semi-finals four years later.
Wake up and smell the (West Ham branded) coffee – you’re running a bit late for kick-off here bruv. It’s not exactly something that’s emerged with the advent of the current Board or the move to the new ground.
"But while we fans are loyal to our graves, consumers are fickle. When your dynamic new product turns out to be crap then these new consumers will switch brands."
Undoubtedly the only insight of the entire piece – and a good point well made. In their desire/panic to sell season tickets the Board rejected existing West Ham members and embarked on a poorly thought out “Plus Two” plan that placed hordes of new fans above those with a history of support, and in many cases Season Ticket holders too. That new audience will by definition be volatile.
"So how you gonna sell 60,000?"
I rather think you’ve already answered your own question there bud.
"But there is hope. To be a world class club you need to step up and be a world class board."
Wait up – you said it isn’t about winning, and derided Brady for her “world class” ideals – make your mind up!
"West Ham isn’t just a brand selling a product, West Ham is about the things you can’t buy."
Well, that excludes cups, trophies and titles – just ask Blackburn, Chelsea and Man City, so we’re back to the “not winning stuff” meme again. Honestly, you’re twisting my blood more than an on-form Chris Waddle tormenting David Burrows.
"Identity, togetherness … love. Put the football first, listen to the fans."
Eh? The board listened to the fans when they said they didn’t want any more of Sam Allardyce – and excuse me – but at least he took the club in an upward trajectory. A mission that Slaven Bilic, after a good final season at the old ground appears to be tearing to the ground.
Do you really want Twitter polls deciding whether we should buy El Hadji-Diouf or Joey Barton? Because here’s a thing – Ebbsfleet attempted just such a scheme, and guess what, it ended with relegation and a frustrated official wearily exclaiming: “Perhaps the idea of being part of a takeover and making decisions was more exciting than the reality.” Who knew football fans don’t know as much as they think they do?
I actually believe the board, and particularly Mr Sullivan, spend far too much time worrying about what fans think and not nearly enough on building a club fit to challenge the top clubs. Don’t believe me? Compare us with Southampton, a team promoted with us, also with a reputation for running a good academy and a loyal fanbase. As much as I hate to say it they are streets ahead of us in terms of an overarching framework for club success.
"Only when you embrace all this will we be West Ham … United."
Embrace all what? A contradictory message about winning and losing that demands little more than “listening” to fans. Well, I’ve listened to you Ray, and largely you make no sense at all.
"Sincerely, a lifelong fan."
Hang on! You’re now claiming to be one fan, rather than speaking for all of us? Well, I’m just one fan too – and I reckon you’re speaking a load of old nonsense – so my vote cancels out yours…