ISC under threat as largest member consider withdrawal

  • by Staff Writer
  • Monday, 26th September 2022

Two years ago the implementation of the Independent Supporters Committee was hailed as a major breakthrough in relations between the fanbase and West Ham United's board.

In the wake of highly-publicised and damaging anti-board protests conducted by West Ham's largest independent supporters group, Hammers United, the club - with the aid of the Football Supporters Association (FSA) - formed a fan consultation panel that promised to provide a channel of communication between the fanbase and the board, which had been stung by the well-supported protests of 2020.

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Dark days: prior to the formation of the ISC, anti-board protests took place in Stratford

An estimated 8,500 supporters joined the largest protest, which served as a visual reminder to 'GSB' - namely majority shareholders David Sullivan and David Gold plus vice chair Karren Brady - that they had failed to follow through on promises made to the fanbase ahead of the move from Upton Park to Stratford in 2016.

Prior to the protests, West Ham's board had attempted to implement platforms for supporter engagement that were claimed to be little more than box-ticking exercises, including the much-criticised Official Supporters Board (which itself replaced the equally impotent Supporter Advisory Board).

It was this organisation that was to be replaced by the ISC, an amalgamation of several supporter groups including by far and away the largest, Hammers United which boasted in excess of 17,000 members through to minority representative organisations including Any Old Irons - a group of over-60s fans and Pride of Irons, a body created to represent LGBT fans.

The involvement of the FSA lent considerable weight to the legitimacy of the group, which launched to great fanfare in January 2021 and consisted of members from eight associations - BAME (now known as Inclusive Irons), Bondholders, Disabled Supporters, Hammers United, Over 65s, Pride of Irons, WHUISA (now WHUST) and the West Ham United Supporters’ Club.

"We see engagement between football clubs and supporters as an essential part of day-to-day operations, something recognised by many progressive clubs across the pyramid," said a triumphant Ashley Brown of the FSA.

"Collaboration across supporter groups helps to build a united voice and at West Ham United we have seen groups work together over a number of months on the common goal of creating an ISC for the fans. With the club sharing the same goal, we’ve worked with all parties to help build an engagement model to last. We are committed to working closely with both the club and supporter representatives to ensure that is the case."

Karren Brady, West Ham United's Vice Chair who had been one of the targets of the protests stressed that she was "delighted", with the formation of the new board, adding: "We have been able to make this important step in our approach to supporter consultation, which has been developed and created independently by supporter groups working together with the club."

Yet even at that embryonic stage some fans expressed reservations, with many refusing to accept that the board would finally begin to take supporters' views into account when determining policy having previously treated groups such as the SAB and OSB with an apparent degree of disdain, according to the views of those commenting on social media.

Fast forward nearly two years and those fears would appear to have been partially realised with the ISC having collectively, on the face of it, failed to have any great impact on major decisions taken by the club.

Meanwhile the largest member of the group, Hammers United, are now threatening to go rogue having become frustrated by the lack of meaningful engagement with the club via the Committee since the creation of the organisation and the internal politics which have stifled progression.

Further, one of the key tenets of the ISC's creation was that any member group could call upon direct consultation with West Ham United's policy makers - something that Hammers United say has been effectively abandoned, in a statement published today.

And it would appear that the very existence of the ISC is now threatened, with Hammers United ready to pull the plug on their continued participation should the club follow through with the threat to remove that direct channel of communication.

The current ISC member groups; Claret Rep and AST holders having joined the eight founder members

"Hammers United agreed to join the ISC on the understanding that it would forgo its request for proportional representation in exchange for structured dialogue which meant that any supporter group could request a one-to-one meeting with the club and the club would be obliged to agree to such a request," read a statement issued on behalf of Hammers United.

"In recent days the club has made it clear to us that it no longer wishes to deal with Hammers United directly. We wrote to the club challenging them on this and we received an email from a member of staff telling us that we should adhere to a new 'communication process' which the club had drawn up.

"We are of the opinion that any agreement to such a 'communication process' would render the memorandum of understanding broken as it would effectively rule out structured dialogue, not to mention putting Hammers United in a position where there would be no way of effectively representing our members directly with the club.

"This would result in many West Ham supporters being negatively impacted."

Hammers United claim they have achieved success in recent months via direct contact with the club over issues regarding champions place stones, catering prices, seat relocations, mascots, ticketing, stadium bans and, most noticeably, season ticket cards; a petition requesting access to physical cards, to which the club eventually complied, drew thousands of signatures.

Yet having been informed such avenues of communication are now being closed, the group - whose membership has swollen to just shy of 20,000 - are being forced to consider whether to withdraw their support of the ISC altogether.

"Hammers United’s committee will be meeting next week to discuss this," said the group. "We will also be requesting an urgent meeting with the Football Supporters Association to see how they can best support us.

"The club simply has to engage and consult as per the memorandum of understanding or the ISC serves no purpose at all. We will report back as events unfold."

Were Hammers United to reluctantly end its two-year association with the ISC, such a scenario would not necessarily lead to the demise of the organisation which would still continue to represent seven of its eight founder members plus two more recent additions.

Yet with Hammers United's membership dwarfing the collective membership of all of other members several times over, should the club refuse to continue to engage with the group on previously agreed lines the ISC's legitimacy would be severely undermined.

Meanwhile, 'GSB' could also face the very real prospect of further protests at a time when the entire club appears to be more united than it has been since the current owners arrived at West Ham in 2010.

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