Football’s outrages are rarely black and white

Afew years ago, I decided to write the third Secret Footballer book. It was meant to be the last of a trilogy that documented my career while shedding light on a game that, for the most part, is a closed shop to the people that worship it: The fans.

Football’s outrages are rarely black and white

I thought that it might be a good idea to take the fans on a tour of the Premier League clubs of the time. Regaling the reader with stories and anecdotes as I went. It was fun to write.

Until I got to West Ham.

What I ended up writing was to alienate me from West Ham fans. Which is no loss to me. “The club that keeps on giving to the detriment of itself.”

The Boleyn Ground was an easy place to play at. West Ham were, and arguably still are, the team that needs to be kept quiet for the first 15 minutes.

Thereafter, the West Ham fans will win the game for the opposition by abusing their own players into a state of panic. West Ham players would tell me after the game how hard it was to play in front of the fans.

The expectations of the fans and the reality are about as far apart as the midfield is from the back four, but in fairness the West Ham fans have had to contend with some questionable decisions from a string of owners. Poor signings, poor managerial appointments

and a litany of self-obsessed musings from the boardroom that do nothing to advance the club and even less to temper the fans’ frustrations.

In that respect, West Ham really is the gift that keeps on giving.

Last week Tony Henry, the club’s head of player recruitment, was sacked after he made remarks in an interview with the Mail proclaiming that West Ham didn’t want any more African players because they “cause mayhem”.

“It’s nothing racist at all”, said Henry, “It’s just sometimes they can have a bad attitude.”

That’s true. Sometimes African players do have a bad attitude. Sometimes English players do. Sometimes South American players.

A West Ham spokesman said: “West Ham have terminated the contract of director of player recruitment, Tony Henry, with immediate effect following his unacceptable comments that were widely reported in the press.”

West Ham’s problem is that when a club signs too many players of a particular nationality or continent, then they concede a certain level of power in the changing room.

They open themselves up to a threat against the status quo. To put it another way, I once played for a club that signed a large number of African/French players.

And guess what? They caused mayhem. When one of them was dropped from the team or fined for arriving late, they all took it personally, as one.

They fought their perceived persecution by refusing to play reserve matches, training half-heartedly and refusing to interact with other teammates in training or on club bonding days. They made it a misery for everybody.

“I’ve written about this many times in my books. It is no secret in football. Tony Henry is guilty of talking to outsiders about how this game of ours really works, but what he has told you can be as true as the fact that Andy Carrol is guaranteed to pick up another injury next season.

What would concern me more as a West Ham fan would be Karren Brady’s contribution to the club.

Brady is a successful businesswoman. She writes a newspaper column for The Sun and appears on television on something called, The Apprentice.

Last year, Brady used her column to tell a story that had no relevance to football as a sport other than the fact that it featured the vice chairman of another club going about its day-to-day business.

“A fellow Premier League director reports that last night he bumped into the Leicester chairman at London’s most expensive wine shop,” Brady wrote. “The Leicester owner told him they’d sacked Claudio Ranieri.

“He then casually settled his bill for wine and champagne. Since the sum was close to £500,000, I guess the compensation to his old manager is pocket change. At least the owner can drown his sorrows in style!”

I have read and read that anecdote and, as a writer and a former footballer, I have absolutely no idea where the upside lies in that tale, but I know where the downside is.

According to a source, West Ham’s attempts to sign Leicester forward Islam Slimani on transfer deadline day were scuppered, as Brady, the club’s vice-chairman, offended Leicester’s owners with comments about the club’s chairman, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabh, in the same column.

Brady had long ago apologised to Leicester for the comments, but clearly the bad blood has not been forgotten at the Walker’s Stadium.

Am I a hypocrite? I don’t know. Possibly. To be honest, today doesn’t feel like a day to write a clever, witty ‘look at me’ column in which I skilfully take apart somebody I don’t really know simply to justify my existence as a writer.

And maybe that is all TheSecret Footballer ever was and ever will be. A guy that writes about the game as it is and leaves the reader, the fans, to make up your own mind about whether or not you think it’s right or wrong.

Because rarely is anything in football cut and dry. It’s hardly ever about black and white and that, in my humble opinion, is as it should be.

Our man inside the game says West Ham is the club that keeps on giving.

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