Category Archives: Football

Open Letter to West Ham United

Mr D Gold & Mr D Sullivan
West Ham United Football Club
The Boleyn Ground
Green Street
Upton Park
London E13 9AZ

9th January 2014

Dear Sirs,

West Ham United Football Club
I am a proud West Ham supporter and have been for 47 years. Over the past three seasons I have become increasingly disillusioned with the direction in which you are taking our club. Along with many thousands of West Ham fans I am now dismayed, yet unsurprised, at the plight we find ourselves in.
We need a change and we need it fast. I think we can all agree on that. Yet having witnessed the hapless reigns, under your aegis, of Avram Grant – a proven football failure who led us to relegation – and Sam Allardyce – who looks determined to do the same – I have no confidence in your collective abilities to affect this.
Avram Grant’s management of the club was a farce. That alone was enough to make us a laughing stock, but your gauche attempt to appoint Martin O’Neill in December 2010 and the manner of Grant’s eventual departure, doubly compounded the situation.
O’Neill withdrew from discussions when he read about his impending appointment in the press before he had agreed a deal. Grant survived, but was summarily dismissed following the game at Wigan that confirmed our relegation. It was a match where defeat was plucked from the jaws of victory. Having been two up and cruising we capitulated and ended up losing 3-2. Yet that does not excuse what followed. That Grant was not even allowed to travel home on the team coach and was forced to make his own way back to London felt rather tawdry – certainly not the West Ham way. Indeed no less than Scott Parker, then club captain and a real credit to the shirt, expressed his disappointment at the shabby treatment of his former manager. He was sold shortly afterwards.
Two years on and things are, if anything, even worse. The ridicule that our beloved club was subjected to by the media following the 5-0 loss at the weekend to a decent Championship team (‘team’ being the key word) was dispiriting. Yes, we all heard the usual excuses and we all read your ‘open letter of support’ for the manager, but if the defeat in Nottingham was wounding, then last night in Manchester, gangrene set in.
Of course, losing a semi-final is not unprecedented for West Ham. But the manner of the defeat certainly was: an incompetent performance that reeked of indifference. So much so in fact that the 6-0 score line is not the worst part of the story. West Ham is a proud club, famous for its playing style and footballing philosophy, but it is becoming a travesty.
I feel that things simply have to change. There are tens of thousands of West Ham United fans who share this view. I understand that you are the legal owners of the football club and to that end, I would like to know how much you want from a fan consortium to purchase your shares for cash?
Our plan is simple: we will crowdfund the purchase of West Ham United and place in into the hands of thousands of genuine supporters for the good of both the club and the modern game.
I look forward to hearing from you,
Yours sincerely,

AG Payne

You can sign the petition here http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/david-gold-david-sullivan-name-your-price-to-sell-to-west-ham-fans

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#oneaday65 Breaking with tradition

At this time of year, or every two years to be precise, for the last 30 years I have readied myself for a major football tournament and if England are playing, I would be travelling to support them. This time I have decided to stay at home. Well actually I have decamped to north Majorca with some mates to watch a few of the games and try and drum up some personal enthusiasm for the European Championships 2012.

I wondered if it was my age? It’s not as I have already decided to go to Brazil in 2014 for the next World Cup. Is it the location? I must admit I have never been to Ukraine, which is normally a reason to travel, but no the location is neither here or there. To remember why I decided to give this tournament a miss and watch from afar, all I have to do is take myself back to Port Elizabeth and then Bloemfontein two years ago. One game saw the ‘Golden Generation’ totally misfire and manage a 0-0 with Tunisia and the other saw us get a wholesale beating at the hands of Germany who played us off the park. The FA’s reaction to 2010 was palpable and only when Fabio Capello decided that he too didn’t fancy a summer holiday in Eastern Europe with players who believe they are better than they really are, did he leave the job of manager.

We had the phoney war of Harry Redknapp, ‘will he, won’t he’ be the next England manager. In the end it was the venerable Sir Trevor who decided his old West Ham compadre was not the right sort and Roy Hodgson got the job. I didn’t expect a revolution at the FA, in many ways their hands are tied, but I wanted more youth in the team, players who are hungry. To some extent, we have some youth. The likes of Hart, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Young and Jones give cause for hope. For me ‘young’ Theo Walcott does nothing. We lost Frank Lampard and Gareth Barry to injury, which will be a blessing in my view and when Gary Cahill got his jaw broken last week, we shipped in Martin Kelly, who I have not seen much of, I must admit. So we have got some youth in for sure.

Sadly though, John Terry is still there, despite all of his largesse and hubris from four years back. No matter what you think of him, he brings controversy wherever he goes. It appears that no manager has been able to stand up to him, he always gets his own way. Even in Munich, when suspended for The Champions League final, he decided to change into a full kit, including shinpads, and get his hands on the cup. The gentleman that is Frank Lampard, stood aside and let his captain lead the celebrations. Whether John Terry is a racist or not is neither here or there in my book. The bottom line is he is divisive. He is a bully and there is no place for him in our national team. After holding his own personal press conference at the last World Cup, clearly undermining the manager and those in charge. I thought he would be shown the door, permanently.

Whilst we are on the subject of racism, let’s hope the supporters inside the stadiums of Poland and Ukraine don’t let their nations and UEFA down and start all their neo Nazi stuff. Surely these people know their history? At the last World Cup most of the participating teams took time out to visit Robben Island, the place where many including Nelson Mandela were imprisoned by a cruel, Apartheid, racist regime. Most, however, did not include the England team. They decided to play golf instead and at that point I thought stuff it, I will not support them again until attitudes change.

I was very encouraged to see that the England team have today visited Auschwitz. If ever there was a symbol of the evil of racism and totalitarian regimes, that is it. You never know, someone at the FA may have learned that our England players need to play their part and show that they have some humility and are prepared to do the right thing. You never know, I may even break my boycott and head East if they progress to the second stages!

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#oneaday 64 – Do they FA know FA?

Back in February I thought I called it. I really did. When Harry Redknapp walked free, I thought he would be the next England football manager. Don Fabio Capello did not fancy taking a beleagured England football team to the European Championships being held in Ukraine and Poland this summer and resigned and I thought Harry would be a shoe in. Dead cert. Banker. Ok, not a banker.

And I still thought he would be a odds on favourite on Saturday night when discussing the exact same issue with one of my Spurs mates. Then late last night (Sunday 29th April) the news broke on Twitter (as usual), that the FA were talking to Roy Hodgson and West Bromwich Albion had given their blessing. It turned out that Mr Hodgson’s contract with WBA runs out at the end of June and he is thus a free agent and therefore to a cash strapped Football Association, an affordable man.

I have to say I am very disappointed with this decision. I have never been that impressed with M Hodgson, but then as a West Ham supporter, I loved Redknapp, although many of my lot don’t. But the FA have decided to take the affordable option and the safe one. Harry is simply just too toxic for the FA. He has led a debateable career with many accusations of ‘bungs’ and they probably fear that some members of the press, may just want to dig up some more dirt on him.

Given Mr Hodgson has been all but confirmed by the FA and appears to be the only candidate interviewed, which is another mystifying decision, I will change my view, and give the man the support he deserves. He always seems to be a nice chap, polite and professional and seemingly well liked by his players at everywhere bar Liverpoool. He is also respected by the press and pundits alike. And that can be an advantage.

The FA have a very mixed record in this department, so we really should not be surprised. The job only went full time in 1946 with Walter Winterbottom who lasted until 1962. Then the great Sir Alf Ramsey who won the World Cup, but was not everyone’s cup of tea was the man with the best record. I can remember all the managers including Sir Alf. Sad but true.

After him we stumbled along – Joe Mercer came from Man City and lasted a year, Don Revie from Leeds who lasted a miserable 3 years.We didn’t even qualify for the World Cups in ’74 and ’78! Brian Clough, the people’s choice was ignored. Then came Ron Greenwood (who had been a success at West Ham) and he lasted 5 years with a relatively successful World Cup in 1982, we never lost a game, but went out on goal difference!  Brian Clough was ignored again. Then came Bobby Robson who got us to the  quarter final in Mexico ’86 ( the Hand of God one ) and the World Cup semi final in 1990 in Italy who wasn’t too bad. The FA then sent us all into the wilderness years by appointing Graham Taylor who was shockingly bad. Terry Venables did a couple of years culminating in Euro ’96 and another semi final penalty loss to Germany, and he was followed by Glenn Hoddle who started well, took us to a World Cup quarter final in France where we lost on penalties to Argentina this time. As England started to find some form, Glenn found God and lost the plot. Howard Wilkinson filled in for a while, whilst we all yawned and winced when we could be bothered, and then we got lumbered with Kevin Keegan who was always going to be disastrous. Peter Taylor took temporary control, made Beckham captain and prepared the way for Sven Goran Eriksson who started well and got us to 3 quarter finals at 3 championships – losing to Brazil, Portugal and Germany on penalties before handng over to his assistant Steve McClaren, he of the umbrella. Another disaster. When he got sacked Stuart Pearce stepped in whilst the FA found a replacement in Fabio Capello. And now we have Roy Hodgson.

As England managers go, this one is neither remarkable or inspiring. But I for one will wish him well and hope he can inspire some respect into our underperforming so called world class ‘superstars’. Let’s just hope he does not pick John Terry as captain though, that really would be the end.

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#oneaday 61: There is always a first time….

Today is a special day. Today, West Ham play Millwall and it is special to me because it is the first time I have not bothered to watch the Hammers play their traditional dockland rivals  at Upton Park in my lifetime. I forego the opportunity to visit the New Den, which like New Labour has faded somewhat in recent years, again for the first time when West Ham have played there (which includes visiting The Den) . In years gone by, it would have been a dot on the card for both games, and essential day out and one which would fill me with excitement and trepidation. Not anymore.

I have been pretty quiet about West Ham’s fortunes for sometime. I have seen them twice in the flesh this season , both one nil games. At home to Ipswich we lost 0-1 in a dreadful game and away to Brighton we won 0-1 on a cold dark night at the brand new Brighton stadium. We are currently top and playing a brand of football which will ‘get us out of the division ‘ according to Mr Allardyce who manages the club’s players nowadays. It’s a great division to play in as everyone can beat everyone else on any given match day. Literally anyone can get promoted to the promised land of the Premier League.

But my disinterest in all things West Ham has been building for a few years. Not least last season, when our new owners Messrs Sullivan and Gold ably assisted by Karren Brady appointed Avram Grant and the rest was history. Their bungled attempt to replace the hapless Israeli after three months with Martin O’Neill failed. This was exacerbated by Ms Brady’s briefing of the press that West Ham had got O’Neill over a fateful weekend in January. Martin O’Neill probably thought to himself ‘I really don’t fancy working with this lot’ and politely declined the opportunity. Look at him go now at Sunderland.

Aside from the football judgement, I have a problem with the owners of West Ham on another level. I was lucky enough to have dinner with some friends and Sir Geoff Hurstin October 2010 and we had a long chat about the club which is so dear to both of our hearts. He was simply brilliant and was with us for 5 hours. At the time we spoke about the ownership, leadership and future of the club and he agreed with me that the jury was very much out. But the one thing that did resonate was when he asked me to ask the club where they had put his World Cup medal he had sold to the club in 2001 (when they were owned by a different set of people). Apparently the medal had been on display in the West Ham museum, but rumour had it that the museum had been closed, due to the imminent move to the new stadium once the Olympics had finished.

Remember this was 2010 and the stadium move, if it actually happened, would be a full three years away so I really did not understand the closure. Sir Geoff and I wondered if the medal was safe, after all it was one of only eleven awarded and they way the current England team play, it is unlikely that there will be any new additions anytime soon.

Exactly where were these medals? I wrote to the owners of the club in October 2010 and then followed up in November. I gave them a break for Christmas, but then chased again in January 2011. I never ever got a written reply to my three letters. I am sure the owners were very busy and have bigger fish to fry, but you do wonder where is Sir Geoff’s medal and for that matter are Bobby Moore and Martin Peters’s 1966 World Cup winners medals also bought by the club some years back? They were supposed to be on display in the museum, but there is no mention of that on the official West Ham website. I wonder where they are and why they are not on show?

David Gold is a regular user of  Twitter and is always re-Tweeting complimentary comments from fans, however every time I ask him about the whereabouts of Sir Geoff’s medals, he stays silent. Maybe he just gets too many mentions to deal with?

I hope The Hammers win today, I really do, and for my mates who still go. I bet there will be some real anticipation. I remember  the old days fondly- when football meant something to all of us, friendship, rivalry, pride, joy and tons of disappointment. When money was not the be all and end all. It clearly means a lot to Sir Geoff Hurst and that does give me hope that our great game can be saved.

Interestingly, today sees our old ‘friends’ the Gooners organising a day of ‘protest’ by placing a black bin liner over each and every empty seat in their oil state sponsored stadium. Even Arsenal know the game is up. Loads of seats are just not taken up as the rich season ticket holders simply can’t be bothered to show up for all the games nowadays. Gone are the days when you could simply turn up and buy entrance to the ground on the day. That all went back in 1990 (the same year as the game above), post Hillsborough. Watch this space though. When the seats remain unoccupied more and more at the top level, clubs will have to act and encourage supporters to come back, by hook or by crook or lose the atmosphere that was so special up until recent times. Too much money in the hands of too few will never inspire passion I am afraid.

Good luck to all of you who still love the game, I for one will be praying that the tide turns and we get back to football being a game for the people at prices people can afford. I also look forward to West Ham putting the 1966 World Cup winners medals back on show.  Then I will return to Upton Park full time.

 

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#oneaday55: Progress through conversation

So FIFA backed down over the Poppy row? Not exactly what actually happened was a diplomatic agreement was made after some protest and subsequent discussion. FIFA’s rules are not actually broken and the FA supported by its chairman the Duke of Cambridge, got acknowledgement that their voice was heard. Poppies will be present on the black armbands that they England players will wear and Spain will also respect our position. Poppies will be everywhere else in the stadium and on the tracksuits and everyone is now calm and happy.

The FA have even agreed to give 500 tickets for the match to members of HM Forces and a further 1000 for the game against Sweden. Not wishing to be picky, but that really does not seem to be much. It’s a gesture.The FA and the players could make a sizeable donation to The Poppy Appeal, match fees and ticket income, or food , programme, sponsor receipts and there is still time to reconnect with the people by doing something radical. I fully appreciate the FA is all but skint, and yes future precedents could be set, but so would vital examples and those are what we need in these testing and troubled times. We all need to see beyond ‘the money’ and reset so many ‘games’ and this would be a fantastic step in the right direction. If one of the many lasting legacies of
the fallen from all wars is to ‘nudge’ those lucky enough to earn and live well  to think about the wider society they live in, then the spirit of togetherness can be rekindled and progress will be made.

It is also a lesson that we all have the right to protest if we feel that we are being wronged, individually and as a community. That protest should always be peaceful but it should be listened to. Our Prime Minister felt it right to protest to FIFA and I hope our Government will always listen to those who make their disaffection heard, all be it in a peaceful manner. Real progress can only ever be made through a proper conversation in my experience.

 

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#oneaday 54: A corner of some field that will forever be England?

When asked by a good friend last week  in the pub on Bonfire Night [a celebration of the execution of those involved in a Papist plot to assassinate the King of England some 400 years ago], about my views on
FIFA’s decision to ban the Poppy from the England football team’s shirts at this weekend’s friendly, at Wembley against Spain,  I said I felt it was probably the right decision. I based this on the simple logic that national kits should be free from any advertising commercial or otherwise, and free from all political symbols. That is not to say that I regard the Poppy as a political symbol or indeed advertising. It is a tradition in Britain and one which I am personally very proud of.

However, I have thought further on this issue and have come up with two ideas – one radical and one not so radical.

The national football team have, I believe, become toxic. The attitude of some players on and off the pitch has often not been a good example of sporting endeavour and gentlemanly behaviour. The Football Association have
become increasingly marginalised as a result of self induced incompetence and a vicious and sustained attack on the part of the Premier League in order to further increase the power of the latter within the game. Both team and Association have lost the respect of the fans and the nation in general, I would argue.

This island union made up of its component nations fought the evil of fascism in order to preserve its independence and freedom. That was the Second World War. Ironically the Poppy was introduced after the Great War (latterly known as the First World War) which was far from a struggle against the evil of fascism and far more about the nations of Europe fighting over territory as they had done for a thousand years previously. Colloquially, it was a fuck up of enormous proportions by the ruling elite of Europe, but  let’s not go there! The tradition of wearing a red Poppy to commemorate Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday is established and it is the democratic right of anyone to have the choice as top whether they wear one or not.

Back to football. If the FA had any gumption, it would offer each member of the England football team the choice as to whether they wanted to wear a Poppy or not, no matter what FIFA say. Indeed, in 1936 to the eternal shame of the FA the England football team were ordered to salute Mr Hitler with the now infamous right arm raised at 45 degrees towards the Nazi leader when England played a friendly against Germany in Berlin. At the time, this was considered polite but with 20/20 hindsight it was perhaps not
exactly right and proper. If the match had been played at Wembley, would the German FA have ordered the German team to wave politely at Mr Hitler issued ‘three cheers for a jolly good fellow’? I think not.

If the referee at Wembley refused to referee the match,  then provided the Spanish agreed to play the game, it could go ahead without match officials. This would be a significant and  seismic gesture and would directly challenge the authority of FIFA, an organisation that has consistently made its own rules up and pursued rampant commercial ideals ‘for the good of the game’. FIFA are self appointed and self regulated. They answer to no one and thus behave as a Totalitarian organisation. They are also headquartered in Switzerland, a nation that stayed neutral in all wars whilst acting as bankers to all regimes, including the Nazis. If the players and FA defied this rule, and if Spain stood shoulder to shoulder alongside them would send a message into the heart of FIFA that even Sepp Blatter could not ignore. All the paying fans in the stadium plus all those watching on TV and via the Internet would react in a positive way and it would be history in the making. We already know that the German FA have sent messages of support to the English FA such is their despair at the power of FIFA.

Alternatively and perhaps realistically, the FA have to ‘play the game’ and tread a diplomatic course. So they should continue to negotiate and lobby for the right to wear the Poppy. They should also diplomatically defy FIFA,  perhaps insist
FIFA officials wear poppies, and should appeal to the players to donate theirmatch fee to the Poppy Appeal and all the match ticket proceeds also. This would be a step in the process of repairing the faith and the connection between the
exponents and custodians of our national game with those who support it. New Wembley needs a hand in the tradition stakes, how better than to be the site of 21st century peaceful defiance in the face of a totalitarian regime, indeed it could be the corner of some [foreign] field that will forever be England.

Either way, we all need to stand up to FIFA. After all when Mr Blatter eventually slips his mortal coil, I am sure FIFA will order the wearing of black armbands as a mark of respect to him at every international match on or around that day.

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