Are we West Ham anymore?

A debate regarding the changing state of West Ham United's fanbase has been raging on the KUMB Forum in recent days. Here, one of the Forum's leading figures has his say...

The decline has been steady for around 14 or 15 years now, with only one brief wonderful final season at the Boleyn Ground generating any sort of real togetherness within the club - players, supporters and owners.

It was also, in my opinion, the last time the broader media looked upon our club in a generous light. Not only have many supporters cut the ties that bind us, but we lost the housewife's favourite tag large sections of the press used to give us.

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In truth the decline can be traced back to when the club's debts started to spiral out of control during the Terry Brown era - he sold, for him at the perfect moment, luckily finding a few dodgy Icelandics to take the club off of his hands, leaving behind most of the debt associated with building the new West stand and the liabilities of the two Argentinians.

The first of those should of course have been taken care of with the funds from the sale of Rio Ferdinand, but good old 'Arry couldn't help himself and he blew the lot on a load of has beens and never weres. Brown could argue that it was the mishandling of the Tevez affair that did the damage - thank you Scott Duxbury - but the brutal truth is if you don't sign the players, you don't get the court case from the vultures.

Hilariously in the middle of all of that, we got relegated with a group of players who went on to win about a million caps for England. I still laugh about that some nights when I'm having a beer on the patio ( alright, eight paving slabs in the back garden).

From there, a starting point of around ?50million of debt, the parcel was passed to the Icelandics, who whilst well-intentioned were, essentially, playing with other people's money and once it ran out, they were done for.

In the meantime the club had committed itself to numerous contractual liabilities it could no longer fund, and another fire sale of players commenced. All the time the cost of supporting West Ham United went up, season after season, with many traditional working class supporters simply priced out of attending.

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That social cleansing, the gentrification of the support continued year after year meaning that by the time GSB rocked up with the club by now in ?110million of debt and announcing on day one they would look at the Olympic Stadium, there was barely a murmur of dissent.

They took that as a green light to move the club - the nice, middle-class support we had by then were sold the benefits of a queue free - stop laughing - Stratford station and talk of the next level. Champions league in seven years, wasn't it ? I don't know about you, but I'm getting more excited by the day with only a few years to go until we're there.

Same old West Ham taking the piss; just as the rest of the country leaves Europe, we're going in to it.

That lack of opposition to the club's relocation was the first big clue our support had changed and the very nature of the club with it. The old guard, or rather what was left of it, had, genuinely gotten old, the fight gone, with many simply rationalising that with promises of a debt-free future the long term health of the club would at least be secure. Their children would at least have a club to support.

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That's the thing about working class people, they pay their way and aren't greedy, they'll sacrifice their today for their children's tomorrow.

Sadly though, somehow, the club, despite the old ground being sold in what increasingly looks like a shady deal, remains in debt, not to the banks who charge reasonable rates of interest but to an owner who charges higher rates than the bank.

Long term supporters could by now see the charade and scam for what it was and, having sampled the delights of the new ground and world-class signings like - and I promise you I'm not making this up, I'm going to have to look the fella's name up he was so unremarkable - Harvad Nordveit - decided that enough was enough and more long term supporters walked away. Something like 10,000 former season ticket holders have packed in since moving grounds.

Now, the club would argue they have never sold as many season tickets, which, whilst true, does not take in to account to whom they have been sold. I'd hazard a guess many have been sold as kids tickets, not for kids who live in Newham, but who live in Essex meaning the long-term supporter base will forever be further detached from the club. Tourists don't only come from China.

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Still, a few diehards clung on, either unable to abandon a lifetime commitment or perhaps simply with nothing better to do. Along they went, paying their money and watching frankly terrible football in a terrible stadium, culminating in the events of last season that finally saw the last of the support turn on itself.

The final nail in the coffin, mate against mate, the last of the real camaraderie disintegrating to the point we now have loyal supporters who want to attend unable to do so, others who could attend but can't be bothered and others who are actually attending who wish they weren't.

An awful and sad state of affairs, with a famous football club brought to its knees by poor decision-making from top to bottom over nearly two decades and one in which we all know a single relegation will finally finish this great club off once and for all. Win a trophy? These days we're too busy just trying to stay alive, but would many of us truly mourn our passing these days?

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