It is the curse of a modern Premiership life that football clubs will attract fans of all persuasions, opinions and commitment. I’ve never bought into the notion of you can only be a proper fan if you attend every match…home or away, because we all have different circumstances to deal with…whether work, family, geography or financial.
I’d wager a fan can be just as passionate about their club but never have the opportunity to get to any games. That fervour is born out of an instant connection, an identity shared and an imprinting that is as innate as a chick’s love for a mother hen.
However, the writing was on the wall at the dawn of the Premier League and the influx of television money whereby football matches became a go-to destination for any transient supporter. Technology has allowed fans to keep in real time touch with their club’s ambitions, performances and tactical nuances. Social media has given anyone the platform to offer their opinions…whether talking sense or displaying vitriolic tendencies…regardless if anyone welcomes their choice words or indeed is even interested.
I realised that the times were changing whilst sitting in the West Stand many moons ago. For some reason, that cold midweek night game has permanently logged into my memory bank and no matter what fate besets us…the beginning of the end would be traced back to that night.
At the time, we were still one of the few London clubs that had a loyal but limited size fanbase. We rarely had maximum season ticket occupancy which enabled many occasional supporters to have the opportunity to get to a game without the season-long financial commitment. The likes of Spurs, Arsenal & Chelsea had started to gain ground and pull away from us…and their attendances were littered with the loyal and the cash-rich interlopers. However, West Ham had been spared this indignity…until that fateful night where a few seats away from me sat twenty or so Japanese fan tourists…Nikons primed, excited and in awe of their strange surroundings.
Now, just to be clear…I have absolutely no problem with anyone coming to watch our games. Regardless if they’re from Japan, Brazil, Walton-on-the-Naze or the moon…if you’re a fan of our club then you’re welcome…as little or as often as you can make it. However, I do wonder how many of the fans are actual fans of West Ham and not just fans of football…or indeed fans of new experiences.
I get the impression, especially since moving to the London Stadium, that whilst the attendances have increased and the season ticket numbers remain at an all-time high, these numbers may be overinflated due to the Olympic experience affect and an extra twenty thousand opportunities to see Premiership football. Indeed, there have been numerous reports of fans of other teams regularly attending West Ham home games…even being so bold as to wear their Liverpool, Man City & Man United shirts. Outrageous!
I wonder how many season tickets would be sold if we got demoted to the second tier…indeed, how many day trippers would continue to show the enthusiasm to get to as many games as they are able…I think not that many!
The financial model that the club has invested in is predicated on a stadium occupancy of over 90%. Although our running costs are considerably lower than that other teams because of our ‘interesting’ rental agreement…we still require that cash flow to keep the wheels turning. In fact, we need that cash flow to deliver on promises made to the fanbase…and whilst the club has made languid attempts thus far…it needs to do more.
I openly declare that I am not the finest exponent of social media graces…in fact, it would be fair to say that I’m just plain rubbish at it! I’m never quite sure who is talking my language or whom I should be blindly following. I often feel like a gentleman troll…offering an interjection to voice my balanced concerns but rarely finding an ear that gives me the time of day.
I cannot fathom the degree of polarity that separates opinion, nor can I understand the unruly and harshness of individual commentary. I tend to speak my mind but always mindful that whatever I would venture to Tweet I would also be so bold to voice in person. That being said, I would not deny anyone the right to have their say, it is up to me whether I choose to listen and agree with another’s mutterings.
However, I do wonder if the open media platform has promoted unbridled reaction and unreasoned debate amongst all fans. We can have a win and there will be legions of supporters who will rejoice in splendour…as much as when we lose they will wallow in pity, defeat and dissension. There are many who would only know the here and now and have no basis to make comparisons to the performances of years gone by. There are also those who have cemented views in the past and today’s pretenders will never match up, no matter what joys come our way.
Football is a catalyst for debate and fuels opinion from all quarters. It matters not whether we agree with adolescent analysts or pompous punditry. What matters is that we are engaged with the issues that plague our club and we remain enthused about better days and in solidarity when the walls tumble in.
We may be quick to determine the validity of a transfer target after watching a YouTube clip, we may wish to dispose of a player who has failed to shine…we may shout at the top of our lungs to urge a purge of those at the top…but we must show balance in our arguments for nothing is completely so regardless of whether we are adamant it is.
We live in very interesting times, where fans are able to display how knowledgeable they can be, where we can all have a voice, where we can all be YouTubers & Vloggers. We can watch most games from anywhere in the world with the power of the wonderweb and streaming services. We can have a transglobal debate and game reviews from interested fans, we can have fans of fans…feeding on any opinion and wishing they were at games in the flesh.
With every passing generation, the baton is primed to be handed onto the next runner. The next generation have taken hold and run with it. There continue to be purists, loyalists and protagonists but we cannot ignore the emergence of the football trolls and tourists..whether accidental or not.