Tuesday, 10 April 2012

The West Ham Way

What does it take to make a West Ham fan happy? This is a question that has been asked repeatedly in recent weeks with growing discontent among the Irons faithful regarding the present regime of manager Sam Allardyce.Allardyce was not many fans’ first choice to take over as manager when the club parted company with Avram Grant following relegation last season. The major issue was that Allardyce has a reputation for playing the long-ball game, kicking it high and long, then relying on physical strength to outdo the opposition. This, as was pointed out at the time, is not the West Ham way.The feeling over last summer was that the fans were prepared to put up with the “Allardyce way,” just so long as it got the club back into the Premier League at the first attempt. He then may be worth keeping in the top flight if things go well, but hit a bad patch and he’d be out.This script has to a large extent continued to be played out. There has been much in the media about fan discontent with Allardyce over the style of play, with reports of chants of “We’re West Ham United, we play on the floor” at the recent away match at Peterborough. Allardyce’s take on the “West Ham way” is that it is nonsense and if there was such a thing it landed them in the Championship. The manager has a point. He has also been unfairly pilloried over the long game, given that in many games the ball has been kept very much on the floor. The problem has been the failure of the strikers at the club to score goals. Allardyce has been extremely patient with his underperforming front men. It can even be argued that he has bent over backwards to placate the fans, for example not signing El-Hadji Diouf, an old favourite from his Bolton days, due to his particularly bad relationship with the fans. Diouf could well have scored the goals that would now have West Ham in the play-off places.The concept of the “West Ham way” goes back to the days of managers Ron Greenwood and John Lyall. Greenwood was a master tactician, building on the brilliant football of the 1950s Hungarians — one-touch football, played on the ground. Greenwood also had the players, with World Cup winners Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst forming the backbone of the team, to put his plans into action. The myth that West Ham won the 1966 World Cup is one that no supporter over the age of 40 is slow to reproduce at the drop of a hat. The name of the game, though was entertainment — win, lose or draw you always saw a good game at Upton Park.This approach meant that several West Ham sides of the 1960s and ’70s spent more time fighting relegation than challenging for the championship. Few West Ham fans question why a team with three World Cup winners spent quite so much time fighting relegation. But entertainment was the key.The West Ham way took a severe blow with the disgraceful sacking of John Lyall as manager back in 1988, following relegation. He was replaced by Lou Macari, whose short reign has eerie similarities to that of Allardyce today. A man known for results and the long ball game, Macari came in, made several good signings but failed to ever win over the fans. He was out by Christmas, replaced by West Ham favourite Billy Bonds. Then came Harry Redknapp, who assembled a group of players almost to rival the “World Cup winners” — Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, Michael Carrick, Glen Johnson, Joe Cole and Jermain Defoe. But the nature of football had changed, winning was all, so these players moved on to bigger clubs.Another disgraceful action followed in 2000 with the sacking of Redknapp. Since then a series of managers have followed, none lasting long and some like Alan Pardew and Gianfranco Zola most definitely playing the West Ham way.The problem at West Ham is a certain detachment from reality. The World Cup winners myth helps foster a view among many fans that the club is on a par with the likes of Tottenham and Arsenal. The reality, no doubt shared by the present owners, is that the club is more akin to a Stoke or Blackburn. The club needs to get to grips with this state of dysfunctionality. The present situation sees a manager who needs the fans support to get promotion. Otherwise it will be another season in the Championship playing Doncaster and Peterborough rather than Manchester United and Chelsea. Results must be the name of the game now.Then who knows? Maybe the club can reach a happy compromise next year, blending both the West Ham and Allardyce ways

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