Have you ever watched a more bizarre football match than Arsenal’s trip to Upton Park on Saturday evening? Not only did Wayne Bridge put in a very strong audition for a role as one of the ‘Chuckle Brothers’, but Avram Grant found himself giving his third stoical salute to home fans of clubs he has managed, waving goodbye in a manner that suggests he will not return but without any concrete proof to back his assertion up.
It was taken as read that the Israeli former Portsmouth manager was heading for the exit door in the hours before his Hammers side were comprehensively beaten by an ever-improving Arsenal at Upton Park. Rumours spread like wildfire in the run up to kick-off that former Aston Villa and Leicester City man, Martin O’Neill was in line to take up the reins at the end of the clash in Greater London.
48 hours on from the Grant funeral procession, however, and there appears no definite confirmation of a time of death – the manager seems, against all odds, to be living on, much to the bewilderment of the football community.
West Ham legend Julian Dicks has come out this week to publicly state what so many fans, not just those following the London club, have been thinking; what on earth are the board at West Ham playing at?
With remaining in the Premier League an absolute necessity for every single club in the top flight this season, were Grant to be relieved of his duties, the move would be accepted as a harsh but necessary step for a side that cannot afford relegation. However, the manner in which the Grant issue has been dealt with is another chapter of the soap opera that has become West Ham’s progress over the last five years.
The Hammers have had their fair share of controversy and turmoil in recent years. After a solid return to the top flight in 2005-06, the acquisition of Argentines Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascharano, ushered in a new era of English football, and ultimately one that very nearly cost West Ham their Premier League status. After a hastily arranged Premier League tribunal controversially chose not to dock points from the club over the illegal deals struck for both Tevez and Mascharano, the Hammers survived the drop only on the final day of the season.
The frustration directed at the West Ham board room is not new. Past chairmen have often felt the brunt of the fans’ anger. Terence Brown was on the end of a number of protests from Hammers fans, and whilst Eggert Magnusson brought much welcome funds to the table, helping stave off relegation in 2007, his non-communication with the Upton Park faithful and dwindling fortune alienated him from support.
It was thus with some confidence that West Ham fans will have looked upon last year’s takeover by former Birmingham City duo, Davids Gold and Sullivan, with a sense of optimism. I remember listening to Sullivan on the radio during the early weeks of the season as he outlined sensible aims for the Hammers over the next 18 months. Whilst his new side were short on quality across the squad, there was an acceptance that short-term survival would be the only way to secure growth over a longer period of time.
His assertions have been in contrast to the ultimatum atmosphere that has hung over the Upton Park this season. Whilst demands to improve the side’s fortunes have been met by the increasingly bemused Grant, a sense of chaos has engulfed proceedings, leading former skipper, Dicks, to brand the club a “laughing stock.”
The defender’s frustrations are understandable. West Ham fans have been through the ringer over recent years, and have found consistency impossible to come across. Surely they, more than anyone, deserve to know what is going on?
With two thirds of the transfer window already elapsed, the logic of sacking Grant at this stage would appear virtually non-existent. Would a newly appointed O’Neill be afforded significant funds to strengthen his charges, or would his brief be to simply jump up and down on the touchline in the hope his energy keeps the Hammers from falling?
There will be fans out there that will feel that West Ham are feeling the full force of karma. Many Sheffield United fans feel that it was they, not the Hammers, that deserved to remain in the Premier League at the end of the 2006-07 season, when an almost certain relegation inducing point deduction was not imposed on Alan Curbishley’s men.
What the saga has proven, however it ends for O’Neill and Grant, is that the West Ham board have shown an alarming lack of regard for the fans. After the years of turmoil the club has endured, the supporters must be hoping that this is not a sign of things to come, whichever division they begin next season in.