People are strange when you’re a stranger, faces look ugly when you’re alone. Women seem wicked when you’re unwanted, streets are uneven when you’re down. – The Doors
There is a kind of virtual insanity that is spreading throughout the West Ham United fanbase and it is growing in intensity as each day passes. The alienation that many fans are feeling has been fuelled by comments and actions from the club owners over a period of time. Many acknowledging that most comments have been misplaced and there have been too many errors to mention, where no apology has been forthcoming either.
However, we are reaching a point whereby the masses are getting so frustrated that all sense of reason seems to have left on the last train with a one way ticket to idiocy. The online Brigati Rossi would take it too far with vitriolic commentary thus leading to infighting and rapid condemnation of anyone who even mutters a slightly alternative opinion or whom does not share the same.
Whether you sit on this side of the fence or the other side, or indeed remain confused and indifferent in the middle ground, there are some truths that cannot be ignored. However, there are many misunderstandings, rumours, speculations and assumptions that have been used as ammunition to further the cause of either side.
Many would agree that when the current owners took over the club a few years ago, there were huge problems that needed to be addressed and fixed, which they achieved. They steadied the ship, both in footballing terms and financial, but there has been a growing disconnect with the fanbase and a financial haze that only begs closer scrutiny.
All owners of football clubs will have a certain financial commitment and reasonable expectation that they would like to see a return on their investment. Few of them would be considered life long fans of that club but rather see it as a folly or shrewd business move. Regardless of motives, they possess the financial clout to take control of a club and hopefully push it forward on solid ground. The question now being asked with increasing ferocity is: Why hasn’t more money been invested in players after the fans were led to believe that a move to the London Stadium would take us to the next level, with a world class stadium and world class footballers? That simply has not been delivered!
There are many reasons to be angry with the current board members and the shouts for “Board Out!” are getting louder and louder. But the question remains who and what are the fans shouting at and will it achieve anything? Can we specifically identify where we have been misled and let down? Do they possess, and are they demonstrating, the level of ambition that was understood to be the catalyst for the stadium move?
Many fans would wish for a change of ownership and they would want it to take immediate effect but there is no mechanism to force the owners and board members to leave the club. We do not have a say whether they stay or leave. However, the fanbase can affect change by influencing public and media opinion.
There is a saying that ‘there is no such thing as bad PR.’ However, in modern business terms that could not be further from the truth. Whilst Gold and Sullivan may drop periodic clangers and Brady may be riddled with PR blunders, as a whole, the business model cannot withstand repeated bad press, especially when the main stream media start to listen to the disgruntled and disenfranchised fans and begin to sympathise too.
Whether our football supporters are considered transient customers or loyal followers behind the scenes is largely irrelevant. However, what is fundamental to any club or any business is the value that is placed upon those ‘customers’ and crucially how the relationship between the business and customer is protected and nurtured over a period of time. We can all agree that there has been a growing failing in this regard on many levels.
If I were to step outside of my West Ham United bubble and just look at our club, I would have to make to division between the owners and the structure of the club & the manager and squad performances. Although they are closely linked one could argue that for the last couple of years the individual players have underperformed, we have been stricken by injuries and we have failed to find any confidence and cohesion in our game play.
The team has been dysfunctional but so has the management of the club and the continued errors in planning, communication and ‘customer relations’ have contributed to the overall malaise that has descended over us.
Before we all join in vitriolic harmony to force the board out and force all fans to think the same, we need to consider what monsters lie in wait. Are there any potential buyers out there right now who could buy our club for upwards of £650million and would they really want to? Many would give the board a stay of execution until the summer to judge them on a final transfer window and choice of manager…will they eventually show that commitment and ambition to take us forward? I think not. However, I respect anyone who might have that opinion, but the summer is the last deadline surely?
However, regardless of what we may want right now, the fact remains that any new potential owner will not be able to come in until the end of the season as they will want to see if the club can avoid relegation first. If relegation is a certainty then the club will almost become unsellable and the stadium will be nowhere near capacity either, so the financial model the club currently thrives upon will be obliterated: the club will be in serious financial trouble with little capital assets and the owners may need to see a greater return on their investment before settling for any losses.
There are many wrongs that can simply be corrected without the need for the board to be ousted by our protestations. The reconnection with the fans, the improved communication and the clarification of financial positions would be welcomed. The improved ambition in the transfer markets and the issues surrounding the fan experience at the London Stadium? These are relatively simple solutions but it depends whether the club have the willpower to affect change and repair some of the bridges that have been scorched along the way.
The lynchpin to this whole saga is whether the board will actually rectify many of the problems and will they make haste to do so. Karren Brady has come out on social media recently clarifying some points regarding the finances, stadium and fixtures but I would much rather it was made through a club statement on the website or from a video with the board addressing the fans directly. Although David Sullivan released a video like this over the weekend, it did not go far enough to provide suitable satisfaction and did not appear to be an independent inquisition as we would have hoped.
I stand with many who do not believe that the current owners can and will rectify the issues being disputed. I also agree that it is time for change and time for owners who have greater ambition and can take this club forward onto the ‘next level’ that was promised. However I err on the side of caution before we allow any sale to anyone of dubious character and intent. Remember when our owners left Birmingham City and what became of them afterwards?
There has to be a well planned and considerate exit strategy. Any new potential owners need to address any of the outstanding issues and make concerted efforts to reconnect with the fanbase and forge greater ties that last the test of time. In the meantime it is incumbent on the existing owners to act professionally, respect the views of the fanbase so that we are all unified and fix many of the burning issues with rapid effect. They can still do great things whilst still in power but it would take a stark contrast in behaviour and a U-Turn on perceived policy, many would doubt was ever possible.
We may be friends, we may be acquaintances, indeed we may be internet strangers… but we all share a passion for this club. Our individual views should be respected and our protestations should be considered and balanced. We can be unified and together we can achieve the ultimate goal which is to improve the stadium and fan experience, improve the investment in players and improve club and fan relations. People may be strange when we are all strangers but a stranger is a friend I have yet to meet, certainly amongst the fans but possibly this is too much to ask for the club owners. We shall see.