The turbulent winds roll through the valley floor carrying away the thunderous sounds of united drums and the once brothers on the field of conflict with onlookers’ roar have disappeared behind a veil of unattainable wealth, they have lost the common touch and are sinking with hidden ambition.
The modern fan is not foolhardy enough to believe that their Premier League football club always shares their same identity, collective goals and tribulations. However to sever the ties with club roots, community spirit and to alienate a large portion of the support is tantamount to heresy and footballing treason.
Such acts might be overlooked, ignored or accepted by some fans in the name of corporate evolution, in reaching for the heavens or simply in the name of progress. Mainstream media may condone such actions with apathetic approval and sympathising with club owners rather than a disenfranchised set of supporters because they have failed to grasp the complexity of woes and the savagery as projects steamrolled on.
West Ham United, like most clubs in the land, have a deep rooted connection with the community that surrounded it. It was as much part of the local atmosphere as the locals were part of it; a quintessential traditional family club. But that tradition has been broken and tossed aside like unloved litter.
Supporters come from far and wide, not only limited from within the community. Some are weekly patrons, others are seldom visitors but all share a bond forged with their club. That bond is never broken, that association cannot be diluted and it cannot be eroded by the passage of time and those who would act to rule with impunity.
Football fans support their respective teams for various reasons, some love affairs are born out of club success, some out of family ties and for some it is simply a round peg in a round hole, it just fit (mine was the latter!). I have always thought that any person from anywhere in the world can support any team. However, it takes a true fan to support your team during the dark days, during relegation and when the bailiffs are near rather than far.
I have never claimed to be West Ham’s Number One fan, nor should anyone else, but I feel passionately about a club that I have supported since a boy and, in truth, before I can fully remember the catalyst for doing so. I share that passion with legions of fan, from the past, in the present and when tomorrow comes. So it pains me to think that whilst the rest of the insane footballing world believes our club is absolutely fabulous, the reality behind the smokescreen is anything but harmonious.
You might think me conspiratorial, starved of realism and beset by paranoia, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you” – Joseph Heller. But I am not alone in my huge concerns for how our club is being run, how our affairs are being managed and how the supporters are being treated.
I thought that I was the luddite who would not part the curtains to embrace the future, that I had got my wellies firmly stuck in the mud and would budge for no man but then I listened to the rumbles from shuffling feet, internet whispers and the hum from a questioning crowd and I realised that I did not stand alone; I was not an island of opinion for indeed there was a chorus of voices, chanting with the same dissension.
The transplant from The Boleyn Ground to the London Stadium has been heralded by some as an unmitigated disaster and many of the issues remain with solutions being fished for in dark treacle. It would be fair to say that the fanbase was evenly split about the proposed move to the new stadium. However, since taking up residence, even many of the pro lobby have questioned the authenticity of the deal and are still waiting on promises made.
Fans can feel left stranded in a Siberian blizzard at times with the Czar ruling the roost, feasting upon the wealth and leaving the peasants to feed on scraps. Individual voices are largely ignored and criticisms are deflected. Nothing changes and the transient guardians get plump off of souls of the grumbling crowd.
However, there are those who would draw a line in the sand and claim enough is enough. A call for a united front, a cry for freedom from lofty oppressors and a shout for supporters’ solidarity. This is a call for choral voices to join in harmony and being driven to crescendo by the founders of The Real West Ham Fans’ Action Group.
Their cause is simple: to hold the West Ham United ownership accountable for promises made to the fanbase prior to the move and to address the failings the fans have been subjected to since. Their message is as powerful as it is passionate and it calls for like-minded supporters, regardless of past histories or associations. It matters not from where you hail or how you speak, it is your passion for this club and its traditions you would seek to cement. We are all West Ham fans and we all have a voice and we all have something to say… So let’s say it loud!
Founders Andy Swallow, Micky Morgan and others launched the campaign in November last year after a growing concern for how club matters were being handled and the growing discord between the owners and fans. Employing both social media campaigns and physical meetings with like-minded folk, they started to gather a groundswell of similar opinion with over 15,000 people from Facebook & Twitter now joining in to support the cause.
Whilst there were early dissenters and cautious tongues who thought the group were simply hooligans on a final hurrah, this could not have been further from the truth. There were early calls by certain sections of the fanbase to have physical protests in and around the stadium, a ‘black balloon’ launch and a show of force to demonstrate their force of will. However, the group were swift to dismiss this course of action in favour of dialogue with the club’s representatives and to further win the hearts and minds amongst a split fanbase. This was not to say that peaceful protest would not be on the agenda in the future, however, proper channels would be explored first and foremost to achieve the desired results.
The group drew up an action plan and met with the club to present their views and seek action on their demands. Some of which have been met (barely) and some the group are yet to see any movement on. In fact, the club apparently stated that all points had been addressed or resolved, or that many of the points should be raised with the council instead. All of which is hugely unacceptable to the group and to the supporting fanbase too.
The initial points being:
1. The Stadium is not fit for purpose, as was promised by the owners. Greater efforts to convert the stadium to a proper football stadium and to square off the seating around the pitch.
2. The heritage & traditions of the club to be maintained at the stadium and a West Ham identity at the stadium and in the surrounding area.
3. More attention to detail for disabled and elderly fans.
4. Cheaper ticket pricing for families and children to develop the next fan generation.
5. Improved stewarding all around the ground and with each section of the ground too.
6. Greater transparency for the reasons to move from Upton Park and financial records associated with it.
7. Greater transparency of the financial status of the club – its debts and spending.
8. Consideration for better travel for fans to away games such as trains to charter and also there must be a greater incentive to take up full away ticket allocation.
9. The memorial garden to be maintained regularly and properly and a greater visibility of statues and memorials in and around the London Stadium.
10. The Hammer and Castle badge has to be recognised with immediate effect on match programmes, in future branding & in the stadium. The ‘London’ branding to be removed from the badge and a redesign commissioned.
11. The owners to be more professional on social media and to prevent the Sullivan children from speaking on the club’s behalf.
12. The 15 minute half-time interval must be managed better. The food & drink kiosks must operate more efficiently as it is currently impossible to get to the toilets, get a drink and be back for the restart of the second half.
The group has continued to engage with West Ham fans from all quarters and has continued to gather support from other fan groups too. It continues to entertain dialogue with the club and is steadfast that these points cannot and must not be ignored. They want resolution on the issues raised and they want a justice for all those now disengaged with the club, to bring back traditions and welcome back retired supporters who have left the new home behind.
There are more meetings imminent and whilst the group believe there is much yet to be resolved and further issues to raise, the club owners would believe there is little left to do or that can be done now. Is this washing hands in dirty water really an appropriate answer or indeed acceptable for professional business people to be doing? I think not and nor do I imagine most of the concerned fans do either.
As Andy & Micky et al. continue on their quest for fan justice and contemplate their strategy going forward, I wonder if those within the ivory towers look down upon us and in turn upon themselves in shame. Will they take great strides forward to correct the wrongs and rebuild bridges back to the club roots?
All the members of The Real West Ham Fans’ Action Group should be commended for their passion and purpose and let us hope that their dialogue reaps benefits. However, the challenge is far from fulfilled and dreams have yet to fade and die. There requires a growth in movement still to achieve a critical mass which commands attention and which demands turnarounds and recants.
This is a call for unity and a shout for solidarity. Lend them your ears and show your support on Facebook, Twitter or in person. This Ides of March, debts will be paid, along with a peaceful insurrection. A revolution is coming!