When David Gold and David Sullivan purchased West Ham United in January 2010 it was made immediately clear that they weren’t just intent on saving the club from impending financial meltdown; they wanted to give the club a new opportunity to grow, a fresh and promising start under far more capable owners.
West Ham had previously endured years of mediocrity and, at times, uncertainty. The glory years of the 60s and 70s were just a distant memory as they went in to most seasons simply accepting that staying in the top-flight would be a success, the addition of a decent cup run merely acting as a bonus.
The club had seemingly entered something of a mediocre existence, content with simply being average enough to survive with the country’s elite without being overly worried about suffering serious decline.
But that all seemed to change in 2006 when Terry Brown, who had already been criticised heavily from a large percentage of the fanbase for financial and staff mismanagement, sold the club for £85m to an Icelandic consortium.
What happened next was almost catastrophic for West Ham as the Icelandic financial crisis between 2008 and 2012 subsequently threatened the club’s very existence.
So while Terry Brown had overseen the sale of many of the club’s exciting young players in a way of making money, the very people he sold the club to were now overseeing something that had far greater consequences than just the mass sale of talented wonderkids.
So Gold and Sullivan’s arrival was met with relief from large portions of the West Ham fanbase who had simply had enough of seeing their club being run like a circus. That may be a cliche that’s overused in modern day football but it’s one that absolutely sums up the Icelandics’ reign before them.
While the club threw £80,000k-a-week wages at the likes of Kieren Dyer and spent club record fees on unknown players such as Savio Nsereko, it failed to make that money back through success on the pitch. Hence why David Sullivan admitted in his first press conference that “it makes no commercial sense to buy this club.”
He and Gold had decided to go against their business sense and buy the club as fans, to save the club from inevitable financial ruin. They had decided they were to be the ringleaders from that moment onwards, with the sole focus of closing the circus down for good.
Fast forward seven-and-a-half years, though, and that circus appears to still be up and running.
One relegation, a hugely controversial move to a state-funded athletics stadium, the sale of a historic football stadium, a rebranded crest, very public transfer chatter and, of course, a teenage son hell-bent on revealing all of the club’s inside goings on via social media are just a handful of what West Ham fans have had to put up with under the Gold and Sullivan era so far.
That’s not to say they haven’t necessarily been successful – on the face of it they have – but to any neutral it will have made for entertaining viewing.
Last year West Ham made that controversial move from the Boleyn Ground, their spiritual home for 122 years, to the iconic Olympic Stadium in Stratford.
Billed as the platform for the club to reach the proverbial next level, it still had fans torn as to whether it was what they truly wanted and the rest of the country outraged at the extremely generous deal the club had negotiated as its new tenants.
West Ham’s final season at the Boleyn Ground was a real success as new manager Slaven Bilic came to within four points of guiding the club to it’s first ever top four finish in the Premier League era, a club record points tally and, perhaps most famously, a dramatic 3-2 victory over Manchester United at the final ever game at the Boleyn Ground.
On that very night emotions were high throughout east London. The club’s most successful season since the days of Harry Redknapp in the mid-to-late 1990s had ended with optimism and while fans spent their last moments in Upton Park savouring it’s sights, smells and memories, a new and exciting era was expectedly on the horizon.
That was backed up by club captain, and fellow West Ham fan, Mark Noble, who addressed the fans one last time in their place of worship.
He said all the right things as presenter Ben Shephard probed his emotions with the skill and expertise only an experienced TV presenter will do.
Phrases like “this is a family, it ain’t a football club” and “that is the best atmosphere I’ve ever played in my life by far” were received with applause and acknowledgement, but there is one thing Noble did say that night that will have haunted West Ham fans over the 18 months since…
The midfielder’s praise for Gold and Sullivan that night now looks a little premature, though at the time most fans will have agreed with him.
Since then, though, West Ham’s journey to the next level has not been plain sailing, nor has it been managed particularly well by the club’s owners.
The very public pursuit of Lyon’s Alexandre Lacazette, Marseille’s Michy Batshuayi and AC Milan’s Carlos Bacca two summers ago were intended to be the club’s way of showing the world that they meant business. A new 60,000 capacity stadium and a top four challenge the previous season had only served to grow the club’s ambition, yet all it did was show the rest of the world how not to conduct transfer business.
A second consecutive Europe League exit in the qualifiers to Romanian side FC Astra Giurgiu and just one win from their opening seven Premier League games in 16/17 backed that up. Suddenly, West Ham’s circus was getting more attention than it wanted. Demand for tickets will have been high had the sight of Bilic’s side getting thrashed at London Stadium by the likes of Watford and Southampton been nothing more than painful to watch.
This summer it was much of the same, with David Sullivan seemingly undermining manager Slaven Bilic, publically claiming he did not want to sign highly rated players Renato Sanches and Grzegorz Krychowiak, who ended up signing for Swansea and West Brom respectively.
The stadium move, the very thing the club had sold to the supporters as the beginning of a new and exciting era for the club, had also become a laughing stock. Fans fighting each other, fans fighting stewards and all of it being posted on social media had only added to the neutral’s entertainment.
The club had become the subject of nationwide ridicule almost overnight and it could have all been avoided had West Ham’s board spent a little more time planning it down to the finest details instead of constantly telling the world that Charlie Austin had no knees or that they were prepared to spend £30m on a striker live on national radio. All of that, though, is another article for another day.
Gold and Sullivan wanted to be West Ham’s ringmasters and over the last 18 months they’ve done it with perfection. The players have been the comedic performers, Slaven Bilic the sad looking Elephant that gets walked around the circus on a lead while everyone points and laughs, the fans the ones paying way too much money to watch something that can only be described as rubbish and unentertaining.
However, It would be unfair to dismiss the fact that many of the club’s serious issues over the last 18 months are now a thing of the past. The teething problems that come with migrating to a new stadium have now calmed down and West Ham’s win over Tottenham towards the end of last not only showed the rest of the country that they’re capable of winning at London Stadium but the fans are also beginning to embrace their new home.
But Mark Noble’s comments 18 months ago and the aftermath that followed them will forever serve as a reminder to West Ham fans that, while there may be life after the Boleyn Ground, the circus will always be open.
It’s just moved two miles down the road to Stratford.