Icelandic owners, the Tevez and Mascherano affair and hooliganism have each blighted West Ham fans’ last few seasons.
The 2009/10 season hasn’t exactly started brilliantly either. The club sit in 19th with five points from seven games, but 90minutesonline found Graeme Howlett, editor of Knees Up Mother Brown, in fairly optimistic mood.
How happy are you with the season so far?
I’ve seen better. Two wins – against newly-promoted Wolves and League One Millwall (aet) - are all we have to show for the first two months of the season. That is our worst start since 2002/03, the season we were last relegated.
The parallels with 2002/03 are striking: a major lack of investment in the first team squad; a manager coming off the back of a good season (for Zola read Roeder); fans at war with the board. Hopefully the outcome won’t mirror that dreadful year.
What are you expecting from this season?
A battle in the lower half of the table until Christmas, but I’m hoping for a third consecutive top ten finish come May.
What are your greatest fears for this season?
Although our start has been poor, relegation shouldn’t be an issue as long as we can keep the majority of our thinner-than-ever squad fit.
The biggest fear however would be that we go into next season with the creditors of former owner Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson, CB Holding, still in control of the club. That way lies only doom.
Is Gianfranco Zola a good enough manager to keep you in the Premiership?
Absolutely. In Zola’s defence most would struggle with the hand he’s been left to play with. Fortunately we have the considerably experienced Steve Clarke ably assisting.
What do you make of the hooliganism at the Carling Cup game against Millwall? Was it inevitable considering the history between the clubs and the fact that they so rarely play each other, having only been in the same league in eight seasons since 1945? Should it have been played behind closed doors?
Nobody comes out of this well, but the Police and the authorities (FA, FL) have to take some responsibility for that night’s problems. It was the Police who insisted on Millwall’s ticket allocation being halved, a decision that led to 500 ticketless Millwall “supporters” being outside the ground.
The Met eventually let them in for nothing simply to get them off the streets. The FA had no objections to this at the time and only feigned concern once the media demanded a response.
For some reason we had less than 400 Police officers on duty that night. The last time the clubs met five or six years ago there were around 1,000 officers on duty, and that was for a Sunday lunchtime rather than a Tuesday evening fixture. You have to wonder why those decisions were made and for whose benefit.
Despite the media outrage there were only 14 arrests made on the night of the game – the very same number as those arrested during the Birmingham-Aston Villa derby a fortnight later, and considerably less than the number arrested at the 2009 Glastonbury music festival earlier this summer.
So it was all blown out of proportion?
Despite all the talk of “hooliganism” and “riots” the only video evidence of disturbances on the night showed a group of West Ham fans being hemmed in by Police outside the Queens pub and a handful of exuberant fans celebrating on the pitch following Junior Stanislas’ 87th minute equaliser. As far as I know not one single punch was shared between opposing supporters inside the ground.
Yes, there were one or two scuffles with stewards, which were unpleasant to witness, and the fans involved were booed by the majority of supporters at the game.
But on the whole it was blown massively out of proportion. No surprise there really though, with such easy targets as West Ham and Millwall.
I should perhaps point out that I am in no way condoning the actions of anyone involved in violent scenes. However this really needs to be seen for what it was, not for what the media – who, I’m sure are quite happy to take money from those wishing to advertise films such as Green Street and Football Factory – made it out to be.
[Indeed, When Saturday Comes reported in its October 2009 issue that Sky Sports News transmitted an advert for The Firm, a remake of a 1980s film about West Ham hooligans, during their coverage of the events at the West Ham-Millwall game].
Do films that portray West Ham gangs, such as Green Street and Cass, only stoke the fires and egg on suggestible fans, or do they serve a purpose as historical documents and deter fans from getting involved in hooliganism?
If someone has a desire to crack skulls they’re likely to do so without requiring a prompt from shoddy and inaccurate films like Green Street. In the same way video games don’t really make kids go out and shoot each other.
History informs us that young men have always had a penchant for fighting, so I’m not sure films have much sway in that.
Who’s your best player and why?
England’s number one, Rob Green. The finest goalkeeper we’ve had at United since Phil Parkes in the early 1980s.
And which player would you gladly see the back of? And why?
No players as such, although poor old Nigel Quashie is unlikely to be missed by many.
However, we’ll be holding a party when CB Holding and Straumur-Burdaras Bank finally do the decent thing and sell the club to someone who gives a toss. They don’t want us, and we certainly don’t want them.
If you could sign one player from another team in the Premier League, who would it be and why?
Assuming it is an unlimited budget, and given our current lack of options in attack, probably Fernando Torres or our old boy Jermain [Defoe] who has been banging them in up the road at Spurs.
I’m sure many of our number would welcome the return of a certain Carlos Alberto Tevez, who, in case you weren’t aware kept us up single-handedly in 2006/07. Well, according to Lord Griffiths [lawyer and head of the independent inquiry into the Tevez transfer. He ordered West Ham to compensate Sheffield United with £20m over five seasons in the light of West Ham’s Premier League survival and Sheffield United’s relegation].
What’s West Ham’s best terrace chant?
Well Bubbles is obviously synonymous with the club, but the Sign On song which we have reserved for Liverpool since the days of Boys From The Black Stuff always raises a smile.
Sung to the tune of You’ll Never Walk Alone, it goes:
“Sign on, sign on, With a pen, in your hand, ‘Cos you’ll never get a job, You’ll never get a job.”
What half-time snacks do you recommend at Upton Park?
Anything you manage to smuggle in with you! The balti pies will leave you with third degree burns.
What are your best and worst memories of supporting West Ham?
Sitting on my father’s shoulders after we beat Fulham to win the Cup in 1975 is a special memory, but more recently the play-off win against Preston at Cardiff and the FA Cup Final where we were seconds away from lifting the Cup in 2006 [against Liverpool].
We’d probably be here all night talking about the worst, but being told that Tevez was solely responsible for Sheffield United not accruing enough points over the course of a 38-game season to avoid relegation in 2006/07 was pretty hard to take.
If you could change one thing at West Ham, what would it be?
Where are West Ham going to be in five years’ time?
Again we come back to who’s in charge. With CB Holding we’re in trouble long-term, make no bones about it. They have to go, and soon. With a David Gold [chairman of Birmingham City chairman], David Sullivan [chairman of Birmingham City plc, the club’s parent company] or equivalent then perhaps we can return to being regular challengers for a European slot. [David Sullivan has recently ruled himself out of buying West Ham when he sells his Birmingham City shares to Carson Yeung next week, saying he needs a break].