All season we’ve been ruing the ‘what might have beens’ from our home matches. The last minute defeats to Cardiff and Ipswich. The utterly disappointing draws with Crystal Palace, Doncaster, Watford and Bristol City. The refusal to punish teams that dare to even think of playing football at Upton Park. It just simply hasn’t been good enough, has it?
But how much has our home form been purely down to tactics and a lack of effort from the players? I’d say very little.
Why? Because away from home they’re winning games. That win against Peterborough equaled the club record of most away wins in a single season (11). That tells me it can’t just be the tactics. Bar a few exceptions, Allardyce has stuck with similar kinds of tactics both on our own patch and on our travels. So where is the problem? Recent home matches have left a sour taste in many a Hammers supporter’s mouth. Endless moans, groans, boos and angry chants have echoed around the ground. It’s not everyone, of course, and it’s only a minority of fans that think it’s productive to boo and criticise every wrong move the team makes. But it seems to have turned Upton Park and the West Ham faithful into the Championship’s laughing stock. Twitter is flooded with comments from fans of teams in the division laughing at our recent dip in form, our so-called arrogance and the fact they’re no longer scared about visiting Fortess Upton Park.
How did we let it come to this? Teams and fans used to dread visiting Upton Park. It wasn’t just a fear of losing that had them trembling, it was the atmosphere the home fans created that helped carry West Ham over the line at home. Remember Ipswich in the play-offs? That’s the sort of atmosphere we should be creating at every home match, regardless of the importance of the game.
This is something that we haven’t been getting recently. In fact, it’s something we haven’t had at Upton Park for a few seasons now. The odd must-win game might create a bit of a buzz and some urgency (or desperation), but we haven’t experienced anything close to that night against Ipswich for years. Why? There are several factors that people would argue are behind Upton Park’s transformation from Fortress to Straw House. That, I suspect, is worth a whole new article.
The most alarming thing for me, though, is the fact we’ve gone from being everyone’s second favourite team, to being despised amongst several groups of fans in the space of a whole season. That, I believe, is not helped by the press or by the fact not many people like Sam Allardyce. Mirror journalist John Cross labelled us as arrogant and suggested we all had a sense of entitlement that we would walk the Championship live on TalkSport two weeks ago. His comments angered me and would have angered many other Hammers. The only reason why he made those comments were because of the reputation we have given ourselves for booing our own players at half-time and moaning if we’ve not scored after 15-20 minutes.
This sort of thing shouldn’t be happening and it’s damaging our reputation as one of the best sets of fans in the country and it’s ruining the club’s reputation of being a difficult place for clubs to visit. Carlton Cole tweeted his pleas for the fans to get behind the team at home and to help the players push on and get three points. He was then pelted with abuse (some racial) about how much he doesn’t try hard enough and that he’s rubbish. Despite what you or I may think of him, is that the correct way to speak to a player of your own football club who has opened his heart out to thousands of fans and explained that he knows he’s having a bad time but wants to put it right? Exactly. Things need to change.
I wasn’t at the Reading game, so I can’t comment on the atmosphere at what will probably go down as the worst result of our season. However, I’ll have a stab in the dark at there being boos sounding out the Reading celebrations at the half-time whistle. The season is turning into yet another ‘Great Escape’ finish. Yet this time it will be to escape from the dreaded play-offs into an automatic promotion spot. We’ve got three games left at Upton Park this season. Three games to put things right. Three games to ensure we’ve done our part in making sure we get promoted. We shouldn’t have to rely on another night under the lights in the play-offs to create a hostile atmosphere.
So, if you’re going on Monday, play your part in the final push for promotion. Help prove to the league, to the country and, most importantly, to ourselves that Fortress Upton Park is still alive and kicking. Help strike fear back into our visitors. Help us get back to the Premier League where we belong. Play your part and the team will play theirs.
Keep the faith. Irons!
Agree? Disagree? Let me know on Twitter @jj2388.