(Side Note: It would have been easy to use the title ‘West Sham’ after their performance on Saturday, but tabloid newspapers have spoiled that minor joy of a very poor pun many years ago now. All joking aside, this topic fascinated me and encouraged me to write my first post due to the actions of supporters in protest and the inevitable outrages that will follow)
The headlines about the game should have been about on-pitch matters, as they usually are. “A comfortable 3-0 win for Burnley as West Ham slide closer to the trap door” you’d have expected to see on BBC news on a normal Saturday if you were checking up on the scores after a day out at the football.
This wasn’t your average Saturday though. The headlines were still about on-pitch matters, but they weren’t for the actual game which took place. Instead, they were about the actions of West Ham’s supporters taking to the pitch in protest towards the club’s ownership and general running of club matters. For once, the game almost didn’t matter in the grand scheme.
As always, many of these headlines were written by the moralistic types (your Ian Abrahams if you will), who often then proceed to lecture us about the ‘fact’ these ‘ugly scenes’ would never happen in rugby, the gentleman’s game. The other common trope used is typically that the actions of these supporters are not those of the saintly ‘real’ supporter.
And yet, such moralistic outrage against these supporters who dared step upon the hallowed turf (the definitive football cliché) would be entirely misguided. Protest has never made a paying supporter any less ‘real’ than those who are willing to go through the motions and do nothing. Here is a club which has absolutely plummeted since their move to the London Olympic Stadium in Westfield. The optimism that surrounded the club in the 2016-17 pre-season having finished 7th the season before has simply vanished.
It has become a much-used term that West Ham supporters had been ‘sold down the river’ in being persuaded the move from Upton Park to a soulless bowl akin to a generic oval stadium in FIFA 2005 was a worthwhile venture. Yet to many on the outside-looking-in, the move proving to be a disaster has proven to be painfully obvious from the offset, ask any Coventry City fans if you want examples.
However, regardless of how certain the club’s impending plight seemed to many outside the club, it has become blindingly obvious to those within now. The club’s soul sold, a woeful team staring potential relegation in the face, and an ownership simply unfit for purpose. Only so much can supporters take being kicked without responding with the anger seen yesterday.
Perhaps it was fitting that the day started with a tribute to Bobby Moore, whom many saw as West Ham in human form, and ended with club captain Mark Noble throwing one of his own supporters to the turf.
Noble himself has become seen by many who follow football in England as the new face of the club. To many West Ham supporters, the most recent embodiment of East London pride and passion, grit and determination. For rival fans, he represents every single stereotype associated with the club (jellied eels, poppy fascism, obsession with brexit, claims of “We won the World Cup” etc.) and, particularly on Twitter, has became something of a comedy figure to many (for reference, see this Soccer AM interview).
How ironic it is then that Mr. West Ham himself was the man to take action against one of the supporters on the pitch. To me, it was another show of his representation of the club. Noble’s actions were symbolic of the club fighting back against the fans’ actions of the day whilst those at the top scurried away.
Whilst the supporters in legal terms shouldn’t have been on the pitch and remonstrating with the players, surely a man who overtly shows how much he cares about the club as much as those who support it do must be able to realise and understand just why this was taking place. It should be noted the stadium security, like much of the club’s running as of late, was absolutely farcical and these protestors would never have even made it on the pitch otherwise.
Despite the illegality, these supporters were willing to risk any punishment in the form of banning orders and media shaming all in the name of their just cause. Sometimes protest simply has to be illegal, and no media outrage will ever change that.
Hooliganism this was not. Such action is the last resort for many now. Waving banners has failed, and marching in the streets will only be ignored, or in the case of West Ham. Thus, like Blackpool in 2015 towards the Oystons and Leyton Orient (not to mention Coventry City) last season, pitch invasions are the only method these supporters have left in hope of those in charge and the national media hopefully taking notice whilst still watching their beloved club. West Ham are only the latest, and won’t be the last until the authorities learn to monitor owners better, a task I have no faith in them ever carrying out.
The only other methods left are to not attend, or split and create a Phoenix club à la FC United, AFC Wimbledon etc. For many, the first option will always be too hard to carry out, as the thought of no football at the weekend for most supporters is a dreadful thought, no matter how poor their team may be, that underlying love will always remain.
The second option, in my view at least, is an inevitability at some stage in the near future. It must happen soon if West Ham are to regain the soul they sold so cheaply without the receipt, as the club they currently follow is rapidly dying before their very eyes.
Unsurprisingly, the FA have taken a dim view on matters (something that generally isn’t much of a shock considering their long-standing disdain of supporters in general), and the perpetrators will almost-certainly be banned, but they have succeeded in Part One of their dream to oust their ownership in making their anger national news.
As the proverb goes, “There is no such thing as bad publicity”. If this action is what it takes for anybody to take notice of what is happening at West Ham currently, then so be it. The bubble has burst, nobody in the media or the FA can avoid their plight now.