Saturday marked the 25th anniversary of the death of England’s World Cup-winning captain Bobby Moore. The reverence with which Moore is held at West Ham United is such that the now retro claret and blue shirt with his iconic white number six on the reverse remains one of the club shop’s best-selling items.
But in truth, Moore has not missed much at his former club since his untimely passing. If anything, his continuing legacy remains the only thing worth celebrating at West Ham these days.
Which is a problem. The West Ham fans are entrenched in the past thanks to greats like Martin Peters, Geoff Hurst and Moore. The whole ‘we won the World Cup’ rhetoric is as sleep-inducing to the rest of us as a David Moyes post-match interview. But it’s all the club has.
That said, the West Ham fans had their future thrust firmly upon them by owners desperate to capitalise on an Olympic Stadium that threatened to undermine the British Olympic Committee’s promise to create a legacy after the 2012 London games.
As part of West Ham’s agreement to take over the stadium, the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) swallowed the costs on a range of things including goalposts, corner flags, cleaners and turnstile operators. The cost for heating and lighting is also covered by the stadium managers as is policing and stewarding.
The absence of a marquee sponsor for the ground means that West Ham United continue to ply their trade in a bowl called ‘The London stadium’, which after Saturday’s ugly scenes in a 3-0 defeat to Burnley is a huge slur on the rest of London.
The London stadium was always a hot potato but now it comes with a filling that is pure poison. Those second-half away goals were punctuated by multiple pitch invasions, chants of “sack the board” and two owners departing the scene after being encouraged by staff to leave the stadium early for their own safety.
Former West Ham player Frank Lampard said that invading the pitch was “not the answer” and he’s right. But while fans that enter the field during the game will do nothing to enhance the chances of the team winning, it would certainly have left David Gold and David Sullivan, the club’s co-owners, in absolutely no doubt as to the level of toxic animosity the fans hold for them.
Mark Noble made his feelings towards the first pitch invader abundantly clear, wrestling his assailant to the ground before unleashing a verbal volley in the direction of a security guard that raised his hands in response as if to indicate his mum had told him that he was too unwell to go in today anyway.
The defender James Collins escorted another invader off the pitch. But with a shocking absence of stewarding or policing, the culprit simply ran back up the steps from whence he’d come and retook his seat.
The next break in play came after a fan left his seat and jumped over a barrier before removing a corner flag and running 50 yards to the middle of the pitch where he attempted to stab the flag in to the centre spot in an apparent symbolic gesture which seemed to suggest that whoever the club’s owners are the club will always belong to the people.
Whatever the intended message, it was surely this incident that raised the biggest concern for West Ham United and indeed the Premier League. Where was the policing? Where were the stewards? How can so many fans invade a football pitch without being challenged by a member of security either before, during or after their cameos?
And if one really wants to scratch the surface then it might be argued that the deal struck between the LLDC and West Ham United regarding policing and stewarding has endangered the very people that the British Olympic Committee sold to the world as its legacy.
West Ham has always been an uncomfortable place to play. But not for the away team. Every time I write an article pointing out the failings at the club I am abused by hundreds of West Ham fans on Twitter. It’s the English mentality; we know all about our problems but only we are allowed to point them out.
I once saw and heard a fan directly behind me shout the ‘N-word’ at Carlton Cole when I was an unused substitute in a Premier League game. The steward that was sitting on a stool two rows in front of the perpetrator was unmoved. Or deaf.
I’m afraid that the West Ham fans have an expectancy that is out of touch with the reality of where they are as a football club. It is nothing new. The West Ham paradox has always been that if the fans turned their negative energy around then opposition teams would fear playing them that little bit more. Instead what we see is an easy touch when the team is under pressure from the crowd, and a fanbase that away clubs can use as an ally.
Ten years ago I witnessed a large group of West Ham fans abuse their own players as they left the car park shortly after we had drawn 1-1 at the Boleyn Ground. Angry fathers holding the hands of their impressionable sons. They swore and hit the windows of the cars as they left one by one.
And maybe some of the children holding their fathers’ hands that day were present on Saturday and responsible for the fact that Burnley had to open up their dugout to a new generation of young Hammers fans that were forced to seek refuge from the disgraceful scenes around them.
Maybe one day the cycle will end but what will it take and how long will West Ham United Football Club have to live with the shame?