As the lockdown in the UK passes 100 days it seems fitting to reflect on the weeks leading up to March 23, what was evolving then, what has happened since and what we might expect in the not too distant future.
March 2020, the ‘GSB out’ protests led by Hammers United were receiving widespread positive coverage and gathering real momentum. Membership at Hammers United was growing daily and our committee were working on all fronts to improve things for West Ham supporters.
The stance of our members was clear and the message was beginning to spread far and wide across the football community: “GSB OUT”.
We held three successful, high profile, protests with the third of those supported by 8,500 marching against the current board.
More protests were on the horizon including another mass protest planned for the home fixture against Burnley, where we hoped (and expected) to get around 12,000.
Then the pandemic arrived on our doorstep. The coronavirus crisis forced Hammers United and the population as a whole to re-evaluate, to take stock, to adjust, to prioritise and to adapt to a new way of life.
There were more important things going on: people were sadly passing away, our health service was battling on all fronts, loved ones were separated and livelihoods were no more. “GSB out”, all of a sudden, wasn’t as important.
Publicly, the committee decided it was imperative that we took our foot off the proverbial pedal. With suffering sweeping the UK and the World people need to focus on family, not on a supporter’s group or a protest.
However, we continued to work quietly, studiously and relentlessly as a committee in the background. To have demanded a public audience for matters ‘West Ham related’ would have been disrespectful.
As the virus, hopefully, begins to die out we, as a society, now have to deal with the aftermath. I know that some of you have lost loved ones and to you we send our deepest condolences.
Many more of us, myself included, are now having to deal with the economic fall-out, with many of us losing our jobs or our livelihoods.
Nevertheless, Hammers United are now being urged by many members to once more pick up the baton of protest against what is the most unpopular board in the history of our great club.
Let us remember Hammers United is not a protest group. We are, firstly and foremostly a supporters group, formed to improve things for all West Ham supporters.
It really is a most terrible situation that see’s our members feeling they have been left with no option but to protest, with so much of our time and energy, that could be used in such a better more constructive way under different circumstances to improve things for West Ham supporters, being spent in a fight against the board.
So, we find ourselves as a supporter’s group in protest. One could of course hope that having had this time to reflect, those who are responsible for the current plight the club is in and ultimately whose decisions have driven it’s fanbase into this position of protest, would reach out in an effort to heal the rift.
But history teaches us that hope is not a strategy, and as such, we would like to assure all our members that those protests will return, and when they do, they will be bigger, louder and even more far-reaching than they were before.
In the meantime, we continue to explore ways of achieving meaningful dialogue with the Football Club, working closely with the Football Supporters Association, exploring their suggestions of engagement models in an effort to create something that will serve todays West Ham supporter, our future and that of the generations of fans that are to follow us, as well as protecting our heritage.
The supporters ARE West Ham
It’s also important to note that boards at football clubs, as is the way in most businesses, tend to come and go (particularly after they fail to deliver). We’ve had our ups and downs with the Hills, Cearns, Pratts, the Icelandics and Browns over the years, but as they all came and went, along with many of our great players, the one constant is us, the fans.
Never before in football has the value of a fan been more evident than in this current climate and, as much as we all miss the beautiful game, football and its modern day financiers are missing us a hell of a lot more.
Gold Sullivan and Brady are NOT West Ham, any more than their predecessors.
You and me, we the supporters, we are West Ham. We always have been, and we always will be.
That is why my fellow hammers it is absolutely imperative that to improve things at our club in the long term, a meaningful fan representation body is created by the fans and for the fans and exists long after GSB are gone.
At this point it is right to stress that we are accountable to our members and any meetings with the club, any developments on supporter engagement and any changes we propose to the long-term structure of fan representation would have to be sanctioned by our members. The Committee works on your behalf; 13,206 of you as I write.
You have trusted us to represent you all and it’s your history we are protecting and it’s your collective experience that must be leveraged when it comes down to redefining fan engagement and supporter experience.
If we can get the format right, we can have genuine and sincere fan representation and we can do away with anything that might be considered ‘box-ticking’ or ‘token’ in nature.
Our current owners have chosen not to engage with us and accept our help, triggering a truly terrible chain of events that leave us where we are today.
We must ensure that our offer to help them, and those that will invariably come after them to understand the West Ham United way, its traditions, its heritage, its very soul and, above all else, its supporters.
What is happening now
In the immediate future, as the clouds begin to part after the storm, we continue to act as your supporters’ group.
We continue to look at everyday issues that affect our members, often brought about by the condescending attitude or incompetence of our Board.
The two most recent issues giving cause for concern to our members are Season Ticket and match ticket refunds and the club badge.
The process for the first is, to say the least, ponderous with West Ham doing their utmost to discourage supporters taking cash refunds. The communication over refunds, as so often seems to be the case, left a lot to be desired.
In tune with that theme, the promised consultation over the club badge ahead of the 125 year anniversary was not quite what was promised.
Supporters, many of whom remain angry about the addition of the word ‘London’ to our badge were not given the opportunity to comment on a permanent evolution of the badge as they were told they would be.
In light of these recent failed promises, continued poor communication with fans and lack of consideration for fans it is perhaps poignant to remind ourselves of the Board’s own failed 10 point pledge to the fans and in particular pledge 10:
‘Listen to Supporters.’
‘Arguably most important of all is our commitment to listen to what you have to say. We know we are just the custodians of the club. You who follow us every week, whether near or far, are the true owners. Whether talking to you online or in print, or face to face at fan forums, we will be open transparent & available.’
And then, you might ask, “what of pledge 2 ?”:
‘Sign new players’
‘We will strengthen in the right areas to ensure an exciting and balanced squad that is well placed to cope with the rigours of a Premier League season.’
Last summer West Ham had a net spend of around 25 million. We let four senior strikers go and we signed one.
We left ourselves with one proven full back, one past his best, one injury prone and not yet proven and two youngsters.
We replaced an experienced goalkeeper with two cheap options.
It is hardly surprising we are struggling. I do not believe we will go down this season, but what about next year?
Where is the strategy that drives decisions at our club?
We have no infrastructure, our scouting network and training facilities lag far behind our rivals and arguably behind clubs considered to be ‘smaller’ than us.
Financially, we trail behind most in the Premier League, West Ham certainly cannot compete with the ‘big 6’.
You can add to that Wolves and Leicester, who we have now fallen behind and who will continue to invest.
Brighton, Everton and Sheffield United have more financial muscle than us. Newcastle, it seems, will be taken over by a ‘filthy’ rich consortium.
If they stay up it seems both Bournemouth and Villa may well have more funds available.
So that would probably leave us playing for 13th place, whilst we never bother in the cups.
Of course, over the years our team has often been poor, although GSB did promise better when they took us from our home to the London Stadium.
But, what we always had was our traditions, our heritage, our fantastic supporters. The camaraderie, the day out, the West Ham family. It doesn’t have a name but as one of us you will understand. We had ‘something’ very, very special.
This was always constant and I never dreamed it would change, but tragically it is being eroded by GSB. Many long-term fans just don’t want to go any more. Cue a return to the list of promises and a reflection on pledge 7:
‘Make it enjoyable to come and watch’
‘We want to bring the fun back. It is a serious business but we know you all work hard all week and want to kick back at the weekend and enjoy yourselves. We want you to be excited on a matchday, and not just about the style of football. We are looking at ways to improve our pre match and halftime entertainment.’
Thousands of long-term fans have walked away. Many simply don’t care anymore. Some say West Ham United is dead.
We have certainly lost our way, and perhaps our very soul, and that makes one begin to wonder, ‘what is the point of West Ham anymore?’.
The point was always the fans themselves and that ‘something’ very, very special that West Ham had. That is why GSB have to go and go before that ‘something’ disappears altogether.
Over the last 12 months the attitude of the Press has changed towards GSB and Hammers United believe our efforts (and the efforts of our membership) have contributed to this. It seems they have been rumbled.
Only a few days ago Jason Cundy heavily criticised them on Talksport, insisting that Gold and Sullivan were the ones who had got the club into such a mess. Claret and Hugh described his comments as ‘cheap and tacky’.
Interestingly, almost as a micro-barometer of where we stand, this led to 12 comments on Claret and Hugh. One, to be honest, I didn’t understand. The other 11 all supported Jason Cundy’s view. These are comments on, what is generally perceived as being, a ‘pro board’ forum.
Join us, give yourself a voice
So, we push on in what appears to be a strong position. Surely as strong as when the protests left off, GSB have done nothing to change that, and possibly stronger. Many members have asked us to think about getting the protests up and running again, with some keen to act before the end of the season.
There are obvious difficulties to overcome in the present climate but we will, as always, give serious thought and discuss any requests from our members. We are not going away, and will redouble our protest efforts when the time is right.
If you are not a member please consider joining. If you are a member, then please tell your West Ham friends about us, spread the word, sign people up, especially those you know who have walked away.
We will win this fight and we will get our West Ham back, but we need all the help we can get.
Long Live West Ham.
Paul Colborne (Chairman)