'United For Change' speech

Here follows a transcript of the speech given by KUMB.com Editor Graeme Howlett to those attending Hammers United's anti-board protest at the Olympic Park on Saturday, 18 January 2020...

"Firstly may I congratulate the team at Hammers United for arranging this incredible demonstration of fan power and also those of you have have followed their passionate plea to allow it to pass peacefully. It does you all great credit.

It is my great privilege to be a part of it today and to be able to stand here and address you all, my fellow Hammers - some old - some even older! - and some new.

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And how wonderful it is to see so many people attend - people still full of passion for this club, at a time when many of us could've been forgiven for thinking the fight had left us - a time when we were told we were but a shadow of the collective force we used to be.

How wrong they were.

A "turnout of around 200", I think 'Moose' from TalkSport predicted - how little he knows about a fan base he purports to be a part of.

So why are we here today? We're here because we harbour great concerns at the way this club is being run.

Maybe you're concerned by David Sullivan's behaviour towards other clubs in the transfer market, or Karren Brady's tabloid newspaper column. Perhaps you're annoyed that other clubs refuse to deal with West Ham because of this, or because the club restricts itself in the transfer market by only using favoured agents.

You might still be upset because the club tried to renege on a promised 20 per cent discount to season ticket holders a few years back. Or because Karren Brady once referred to the East End as "a hotbed of racism". Or because she took a £1m bonus for moving us to Stratford.

Maybe the fact that The Boleyn Ground was sold for £38m, then sold on 24 hours later by another agency for an additional £20m rankles you. Or it could be that its replacement, this place in front of me, is simply not fit for purpose in its current state.

You might be annoyed that, in the last decade, the club has never had an effective Director of Football - or than the board appears to routinely undermine its managers and sanction the signing of players whose better days are behind them rather than install an effective, forward-thinking transfer policy.

You might have read this week that West Ham United FC is the 18th richest club in the world and wonder why we've only finished higher than 10th once in the last ten years - and that being while we were still based in Upton Park. Or, that ten years later, here we are still fighting relegation battles.

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Perhaps you're frustrated that the promises made before coming here - namely that the seats would be close to the pitch, or that we'd see "world class players" in a "world class stadium" - turned out to be fanciful and bore no resemblance to the evidence before our eyes.

Whatever your specific reasons, we're all bound by one common cause - and that is a desire for change.

It has been an interesting week, my friends. In recent days all three key members of the board have appeared in the media to tell us how we've never had it so good, although David Sullivan did at least admit "we could do better", while Karren Brady told Sky "we're trying very hard". Well isn't that a relief?

Meanwhile David Gold told us his promises weren't real promises - and lamented the loss of the urinals at Upton Park...

This media onslaught, directed through certain favoured sources, and designed to dilute today's protest, continued unabated today.

Speaking via her tabloid column this morning West Ham's vice-chair Karren Brady claimed that: "We are now in a position where our long-term future is secure". Yet the club stands on the precipice of financial disaster, which is what awaits West Ham - a club that relies on vast TV broadcasting revenue - should we fall through the Premier League trap door in May.

She spoke of how, "The move to the London Stadium has given us a platform and an opportunity to invest more in the team" - whereas the additional funds generated since leaving Upton Park are insufficient to fund the standard transfer fee and wages of one single typical first team player each season.

She stated that, "We have learned a great deal" - yet continues to treat supporters like fools and bans longstanding fans, like my good friend Paul Colborne, for life. And hundreds more loyal, lifelong supporters like him. People who have claret and blue blood coursing through their veins.

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She then referred to Arnold Hills, the man who created Thames Ironworks, the company that gave birth to this wonderful institution of ours.

She stated that Arnold told his players: "Never despair of winning and never give up doing your very best to the last minute of the match", to which Karren added: "It is a message that continues to drive us all as we strive to bring our supporters the success they deserve".

So allow me to quite Arnold Hills too. When, on 29th June, 1895, Hills announced in the Thames Ironworks Gazette that he intended to establish a football club, the story ran with a headline that read: "The importance of co-operation between workers and management".

Yet any such cooperation has virtually ceased to exist. The only construct by which we, the wider fan base can communicate with the owners is via the much-derided Official Supporters Board - a spineless, ineffective organisation designed to satisfy Premier League rules and regulations but one with no clout whatsoever.

Meanwhile attempts to create open, constructive dialogue with the board by independent groups are routinely shunned. The club sends its Supporter Liaison Officer to do the board's dirty work - when they can be bothered to send anyone at all. They ban writers like me, who refuse to toe the line, from media events at the club and from attending press conferences.

Mssrs Gold and Sullivan, and Ms Brady, let me tell you this. Without supporters a club is nothing. We ARE the club. WE carry the hopes and dreams of ours and previous generations. WE deserve better. And we WILL be heard.

And woe betide anyone - whether that be Karren Brady, David Sullivan, David Gold or anyone else - who chooses to forget that.

Come on you Irons!"

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