I find it interesting to read fans views which say that the current performance of the team is the worst ever, this manager is the worst ever, we have the worst board ever, and the stadium is the sole reason for our current position. Even fans who have been supporting the club for many years claim to hold some of these views. I beg to differ.
Despite our exit from the three cup competitions in which we took part, which is certainly not satisfactory, we still sit in 13th place in the Premier League at the turn of the year, roughly midway through the season. On the other hand we are just one win away from being in the top half of the table, but seven points clear of the relegation places. In our last ten seasons in the top tier our position on January 1 each season was as follows:
2015-16 (8), 2014-15 (6), 2013-14 (19), 2012-13 (12), 2010-11 (19), 2009-10 (17), 2008-09 (10), 2007-08 (9), 2006-07 (18), 2005-06 (10). Average of the last 10 = 13th!
So Slaven Bilic is the worst manager ever? There are some short memories I believe. Where shall I start? Who remembers Macari, Roeder, Grant, Allardyce, Pardew, Zola? Even John Lyall, who is revered by many, and who took us to our best ever league position when we finished third in 1985-86, took us down twice.
This is the worst board ever? Really? Yes they need to learn to keep their mouths shut at times. I’d love to play cards with them – I reckon they reveal their hand too easily. But who remembers Brown (the Bond scheme debacle), or the Icelandics (who almost bankrupted us)? Yes there were some poor signings in the summer, and they must take their share of the blame for that, but was it all their doing? How much say does the manager have?
Some write that the stadium is to blame; if only we could go back to Upton Park they say. Look back at the statistics. Was the Boleyn Ground really a fortress? No it wasn’t. The board and many others believe it was the only chance of trying to move to the next level. It hasn’t happened, yet, but it might. But there is no going back now. We can’t continue to harp on about it, and hide behind it for some poor performances. Yes, sure, there are a few tourists; that will happen, there will always be a handful, but we haven’t got 20,000 people sitting down eating popcorn, or asking who the players are. In my opinion such a lot is out of proportion to reality.
Another theory I’ve heard bandied about is the size of the pitch. Well the pitch at the London Stadium is 105 metres x 68 metres, exactly meeting the standard that the Premier League want all clubs to have. More than half of them do. If the stadium doesn’t allow it then a smaller pitch is permissible. Upton Park was one of those examples. The pitch there was 68 metres wide too, but was just over 4 metres shorter in length than the London Stadium. Does size matter? Do the extra two metres in each half of the field really make a difference? When we played so well against Chelsea, did we reduce the pitch size?
In reality I believe there are a number of reasons for a season that, to date, is just an average one in the history of our football club. The summer transfer dealings didn’t improve the team as many hoped they would. The board haven’t succeeded in attracting the right players for us to move upwards. The manager doesn’t appear to have a clear strategy with the players at his disposal. The players have not performed as they did last season for whatever reason. We have had, not for the first time, more than our fair share of injuries to key players. We are in transition stadium-wise. Many other clubs found it hard at first, but they adapted and became used to new surroundings.
But let’s get it all into perspective. It is not the worst season ever. It is certainly not the best either. It is just another average season in the history of West Ham United Football Club. Our average finishing league position in the last fifty years in the top flight is around 12th to 13th. We are on course for another average finish. Of course the fans want better. I’m sure the board, the manager, and the players want better. I want better. This is my 59th season of supporting the club. But as so many people eventually find out, that well-worn phrase, be careful what you wish for.
It may be that the season gets worse from here. If so, changes will have to be made. If it gets better then we (or at least some of us) will be happy for the time being. But whichever direction it does head in, we may not be the best, and we may not be the worst. We are West Ham. Usually, somewhere in the middle of the top tier. But that’s what supporting the club is all about. Perhaps it is the sheer unpredictability that we love. We never know what to expect from one season to another, from one game to another, and even from the first half to the second half of a game. Some will disagree but that’s how I see it!