Written by Dave Walker @S_D_C_C
Recently on the wonderful world of Twitter, I made the controversial and seemingly unforgivable decision to give my support to the owners of our football club. I got a lot of stick for this but I`m a big boy and one that isn`t afraid of voicing an opinion that represents a minority. One follower said that they would have more respect for me if I just wrote a column about my views, Ex jumped on the back of that tweet and asked me to do the same, so here it is.
If there is one thing I want you to take away from this article, it`s that I am not a “board lover”, I am a supporter of the board and there is a big difference between the two. You have to understand that I agree with 90% of the frustration showed towards them by the fans. The way they conduct themselves on a professional level is embarrassing at times and their decision making from a PR perspective can be baffling. Are they perfect? No and I`m sure they would be the first to tell you that but what gets overlooked time after time is just how much they have done for this football club and how much they continue to do for us. Anyone who thinks Gold and Sullivan don`t have a genuine love for West Ham and don’t want the best for the club is wrong.
I have met David Sullivan on several occasions and I believe these meetings have given me a chance to learn more about him as a man and a businessman. When you are in his company ALL he wants to talk about is West Ham and he does so with such excitement and overwhelming enthusiasm. These conversations have taken place in a house that is draped in West Ham memorabilia and fond memories from his time in charge. He survives on just three hours sleep with 90% of his waking hour being dedicated to the running of this Football club. Even after suffering a heart attack, he was pictured on the phone from his hospital bed talking to agents in relation to potential signings and take it from me, this wasn`t a staged PR stunt, it was genuine. Something else that is genuine about David is his ambition for West Ham.
When we were made available to buy after the Icelandic’s disastrous reign, it was between David Sullivan & Tony Fernandez, both of which are West Ham fans and in David’s words you had to be a West Ham fan to buy the club because financially we were in such a state that no one else would touch us! We cannot underappreciate the fact that during their tenure, the owners have taken us from the point of administration to the 13th most valuable club in world football. For this I will be eternally grateful, especially when you look at what happened to the likes of Wimbledon, Leeds and Portsmouth.
Now let`s cut to the chase for a minute. Did Gold & Sullivan decide to buy West Ham out of the kindness of their heart and spend the next however many years losing money fulfilling their ambitions? Of course not, they also spotted an opportunity to make money which is something they do very well and they have certainly maximised that opportunity since taking over because they are unquestionably wealthier now than they were before they owned the club. Why? Because like every owner of every other football club they are businessmen. Let me ask you a question, is it such a bad thing if whilst taking West Ham to “the next level” they are making money along the way? Every other chairmen does? Let`s not forget they are a business, not a charity. Clearly if they were making money and the club were going backwards then I would have a massive problem with that but I firmly believe this is not the case.
Whilst we`re on the subject of finances, one of the most common statements about the chairmen is that “They are only in this for the money”. What you have to remember is that the clubs value is massively determined on its success. For example, if we qualify for the Champions league then the club gets a load of cash and guess what, so do the Chairmen. At the same time if we get relegated then our value plummets in comparison and we lose money. Guess what, so do the chairmen. So they have to speculate to accumulate which is why to their credit, they consistently brake club records with transfer fees and wages. Look at Tottenham. They have a 100k p/w wage cap on their players, we don’t? If they were that obsessed with making and saving money why haven’t they enforced the same structure? Tottenham wouldn’t have signed a top player like Hernandez because his wages are close to £150k p/w but we did? Does that not show ambition to you? If they are so obsessed with making and saving money, why do we have the 2nd lowest ticket prices in the Premier league? They don’t have to charge those prices, they could easily get away with charging more. They promised the fans affordable football and they delivered against that promise.
Let`s talk about the latest shit storm in the form of the transfer window. Along with Slaven Bilic I hold the board responsible for the diabolical signings that were made last season. The word shocking doesn’t do it justice. However, having learned from the previous season the Manager and the owners mutually agreed that this year they would target quality over quantity and focus on more proven players at this level as opposed to taking more “gambles”. With this agreement in place, Slaven identified 4 targets. The board then signed all four of them which included Premier league winners, a world class striker and England’s first choice keeper. Then there was William Carvalho who (and you might not know this) was an afterthought from Slav, not a top target identified early on but an afterthought. We know what happened from there and what was going through Sullivan`s mind when he made that email public I will never know. Fans have called it embarrassing and I make them right. It was. People have also vented their anger at the amount that Sullivan bid for this “world class player” with comments like “That`s the price, just pay the f*****g money!”. Now unlike most people, I actually see this deal very differently. Whilst every man and his dog were screaming at DS to sign this player (a player who half the fans hadn`t even heard of before, myself included) I actually had a couple of concerns and maybe, just maybe DS was the same. 1. He is unproven in the premier league which contradicts this seasons transfer strategy and 2. If he really is that good, why doesn`t anyone else want him? Yes he`s a Portuguese international but so is Jose Fonte! Enner Valencia was a world beater for his Country when we signed him and look at how that worked out? So for DS to approach Sporting over a deal on Slavs request and potentially smash the clubs transfer record (again) for a player who now comes under the category of a “gamble” is a big ask. However, he did make an offer but it was one that, all things considered he was financially comfortable with and that offer was rejected.
People are understandably frustrated by the lack of spend in the transfer window but are people frustrated by the net spend or the fact that we haven`t increased the size of the squad? The obvious answer would be both wouldn`t it? but I don`t think that`s the case because spending £30m on WC would only increase our squad by one player? Does the squad suddenly become that much stronger with one signing? Yet I genuinely believe that if we would`ve signed WC I wouldn`t be writing this article now because our net spend would then be 45m and everyone would be happy! In fact, I also believe that if we were currently sitting on three points I wouldn’t be writing this article either! But then if my brother was a bird he would be my sister wouldn`t he!
Another obvious answer to my original question would be “Well let`s sign WC and two or three others then” now this opens up what I think is a very interesting question because we, like every other club are governed by FFP (Financial fair play) which limits our spend to a certain amount. I don’t know what our budget is but what I will say is that during our last meeting with Karren Brady I asked her where we sit in the Premier league table in terms of FFP allowance to which her response was “about halfway”. She then refused to disclose what the budget would be for this season which for all I knew could`ve been 100m. It clearly isn`t that though so lets use a more realistic example of £50m. Why is it that after selling the Boleyn Ground, being owned by a Billionaire and being ranked the 13th most valuable club in the world do we only sit 10th in the Premier League with a £50million pound budget whilst other clubs are spending that on one player? The fact that I`m asking this question is proof that I share a lot of the same frustrations you do and I will be asking this question at the next meeting with KB because I think it`s an important one. That doesn`t mean to say that a logical answer will not be provided though.
Another thing that I think people are over looking is that we might be currently sitting at £15m net spend but that doesn`t mean we can`t spend another 30m/40m in January? Hopefully, it will be a different manager that spends it too.
The most common message I see from fans though is that the board are “Liars”. The owners are full of lies, lies and more lies. I think this statement is centred around two things, the stadium and the transfers. I have an opinion on both.
In terms of the stadium, there is no denying that when we moved into the LS it was a shambles. Fans were still grieving over the Boleyn Ground when they were experiencing these issues and who were they blaming for this? The owners. Were they right to blame the owners? 100%. The transition into the new stadium was solely their responsibility and in hindsight they unquestionably failed on so many counts. We were a laughing stock and a playground for the toxic national press. The fans were understandably feeling like they had been sold down the river.
So what did the board do about that? Many chairmen from many different clubs would`ve taken the attitude of “That`s life”, “They will get over it” or “I don`t have to answer to them”. But DS addressed these concerns and insisted that one of many meetings should be created between Karren Brady and the top West Ham related social media accounts to discuss and more importantly resolve the most pressing issues that impact the fans match day experience. I couldn`t make the first meeting but by all accounts, it was very heated, very passionate and very productive. KB left the meeting with some notes and assured the guests that actions would be taken. Then there was the second meeting which I did attend and thought it was very relaxed, respectful and enjoyable. One of the reasons why this was the case is because KB summarised points from the previous meeting with respective confirmation that such points had been actioned. I think it`s fair to say that everyone in that room was satisfied and if they wasn`t then they certainly didn`t show it, Ex is my witness to that.
Is the Stadium perfect? No it`s not and my biggest problem is the distance between the fans and the pitch which will probably never change. Everything else I can live with. Especially as the main problems now seem to be resolved. On reflection, I think there were a lot of teething problems and that`s what they were, teething problems. There are still are number of fans that are unhappy with the new stadium, some of which still refuse to go and I respect that but fans from an older generation will tell you that people were unhappy when we left the Stratford memorial ground for Upton Park! No one likes change but we have to give that place time. Look at the win against Tottenham last season, the atmosphere was electric. You`re telling me you left the game that night thinking “This isn`t a football stadium”? If we do our bit as fans we can make that place a fortress, without a doubt. Again, is it perfect? No. But it is an iconic stadium that massively contributes towards a plan to take this club to “the next level”. I honestly believe that.
Many people are also convinced that the board lied to the fans on various aspects of the stadium before we moved there. What I will say is, would the chairmen deliberately lie to the fans before the move knowing full well that they would face the wrath of those fans when those lies became evident? I just don`t buy that, are they really THAT stupid? That`s for you to decide. My opinion is that they got carried away with excitement, tried too hard to sell the benefits of the move, handled the entire process poorly and in doing so failed to communicate the actual and eventual facts. For example, If I buy a new house that I`m excited about and the plans to build that house include a swimming poorl and a snooker room, then I`m going to tell my friends and family all about it to share my excitement. Then, two months later I get told that the swimming pool and snooker room hasn’t been granted planning permission so can`t be built. Well I wasn`t lying to my family about the swimming pool and the snooker room it’s just that unforeseen circumstances now mean that I can`t have these things and that is to a large degree what I believe happened with various aspects of the Stadium. The frustrating thing with that of course is that the board were wrong to make promises they couldn`t keep which ultimately failed to manage the fans expectations and portrayed them as liars. Again, they have to take responsibility for this but in my opinion they didn`t deliberately lie, they just didn`t get their facts straight which don`t get me wrong, isn`t good enough and no excuses can be made on their behalf for that
In relation to “lying” about transfers and managing those expectations, historically the board haven`t held themselves in the greatest light as every piece of business they potentially do always seems to be made public. However, I do have a theory on this. It`s common knowledge that every club goes to market during a window and through agents and direct approaches, carpet bomb potential targets and end up with 40/50 names, from which a club might sign two or three of them. The trouble with West Ham is that we are in quite a unique situation in that we probably have more ITKs than any other club, my good friend ExWHUEmployee sits at the top of that tree so what this means is that our transfer targets get more level of exposure than any other club. For example you won`t necessarily hear a signing for Huddersfield until it`s done but unlike West Ham they wont have an Ex equivalent breaking news on every transfer target they have. So of course if there is a player that the fans are hoping to sign but then it doesn’t happen then they are left disappointed or “lied to”. The board are not blameless here by the way, in the past they have revealed such targets themselves which was a big mistake but I`m sure you have noticed that in recent times they have stopped doing this so that have learned from this mistake.
So to summarise, the people that we have in charge of this football club are not perfect. They do let themselves down sometimes and the way they conduct themselves publicly can cause some embarrassment. However, they have also brought a lot of positives to West Ham and in my opinion continue to take this club in the right direction. Amidst the Twitter storm this week I was asked to name just 5 things they have done to benefit this football club. I`m not going to give you 5, I`m going to give you 8:
- They saved us from bankruptcy and turned us into the 13th most valuable club in the world
- They showed ambition and intent by moving to the London Stadium
- They invested in better training facilities
- They delivered on their promise of making football affordable for Families
- They stopped us from being a selling club
- They have secured long term contracts with our best players
- They consistently break the clubs transfer and wage records
- The squad now is 10x better than it was when they first took over.
Everything that I have said in this article is my genuine opinion. I am not an “arse kisser”, I am not being positive about the owners because of my “connections to the board”, I am not backing their corner because they “fund my business ventures” or any other ridiculous reason that I had thrown at me this week. I am my own person and anyone that knows me will tell you that I don’t get influenced by ANYONE. I have also been negative about the board in this column because I agree with a lot of what the fans are saying and share the very same frustrations! But ultimately, the point that I am making is, yes they have their faults, yes they have made mistakes and no doubt they will make more but we could do a hell of a lot worse than G&S, you only have to look at every other board we have had at West Ham to scare you into believing that! I feel they have the clubs best interests at heart and want to achieve great things with West Ham. For this reason, I am backing them for the short to mid-term future at least.
Finally, I want to say that I think the fans are pointing their anger in the wrong direction. Whilst the board haven`t helped themselves recently, as I have been telling you for nearly 12 months now it`s the manager that is the problem. Not the owners.
Thanks for reading x
(Sex, Drugs & Carlton Cole)