The battle for West Ham’s heart and soul


KahnNigel Kahn was born and raised  on the Barking Road and has been a  fan for nearly  40 years. He writes for Over Land and Sea and is a some-time pain in the neck to the club. He loves the area’s history and wouldn’t have wanted the OS  had it come gold-plated and free.

www.mywhufc.net ,@mywhufc on twitter or Row C, seat 6, Sir Trevor Brooking upper. 

“The crowds at West Ham haven’t been rewarded by results but keep turning up because of the good football they see. Other clubs will suffer from the old bugbear that results count more than anything. This has been the ruination of English football.”

This was legendary manager Ron Greenwood’s statement that probably best encapsulates what many call “The west Ham Way” – the mythical mantra that I myself was brought up to believe in.
As a kid growing up I was taken to West Ham by my uncle and whilst I didn’t expect to win every week, what was impotant was how we went about the game – how we played …that mattered just as much.

He wrote: “Our aim was to create rather than destroy, that was my philosophy and I brought up my players to believe in it. We tended to open up the game while the majority of clubs tried to close it down”.

It was a style that continued after Ron had left because his replacement had worked with him for years, first as a player and then as a coach, the great John Lyall.

Even though we were relegated in 1978  Lyall didn’t scrap the style but continued and added to it.  He had an upfront big man in David Cross – thus mixing up the style; passing when needed but an outlet in Cross that could be hit early.

Cross unlike Andy Carroll, was always partnered, with Pop Robson at first, then Stuart Pearson and finally Paul Goddard, all  perfect foils for the big fella, feeding and playing off him. Continuity was the name of the game, and its no coincidence, ‘that then two manager period’ was the most successful in our history

Greenwood into Lyall, the style was the same!  Robson, Pearson Goddard? None of them were the physical bruising striker that Cross was, so the continuity flowed.

Trophies were won, finals were reached, and a generation so inspired that if you look at the Boleyn match day crowd now, you will see a very large percentage- maybe a majority – are  children of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s.  They come back, still believing that what happened back then could happen today.

But Can it?

Is it possible in this Premier League era  to play without a care in the result?  Just the hope that you will win more than you lose, that sufficient points will be gathered to avoid relegation and with that the loss of income the possible destruction of the club.

It seems there is a battle going on at West Ham, one for the heart and soul of the club. Should we go back to what is perceived its traditional way of playing?

That involves a more expansive way of playing than currently employed, but one that may not, with the current squad in mind, collect the points that they have achieved this season.

Or should the Status quo be maintained? Pragmatic in its outlook but seemingly a sure fire way of staying in the ‘money laden paradise’ that is the Premier League.’

For quite a few this battle bubbled to the surface against Hull at home last Wednesday night. The  boos that rung out after the victory were not aimed at the players but at the manager and his pragmatic  style.

Yet Big Sam can point to the fact that he is doing what has been required of him, Promotion first, then stability. When hired I doubt if style of play was top of the list, if on the list at all?

The owners, old school West Ham fans, can only sit and support him. Whatever  feel privately, the debt needs reducing if the club is to finally move forward, and the only way to do that is by remaining in the top division.

Relegation has already dented their original business plan and I don’t think they can afford another. I argued once that Sam was a business decision not a football one. He is great for West Ham as a business because he will keep the team in the Premier League (which brings in the riches that pays the bills).

Yet his brand of football is not always easy watching for the fans, and that is what really counts to many, the football that is being played on the pitch.

Fans though when faced with the sterile performances, that I have to admit brought six wins out of the last nine games, have a right to air their grievances in the way they see fit.

Booing a victory is unheard of, yet it shows that while Sam may have mocked it and ignored it, the ‘West Ham way’ is alive and kicking in the hearts and minds of fans.

The problem is we can all argue what is the best way forward for the club, the man with that job will go about it in his own way, and that is result driven business.

The club owners have my head as far as the business model is concerned – the serious problem for me is that Sam Allardyce’s football doesn’t have my heart!

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Hugh Southon is a lifelong Iron and the founding editor of ClaretandHugh. He is a national newspaper journalist of many years experience and was Bobby Moore's 'ghost' writer during the great man's lifetime. He describes ClaretandHugh as "the Hammers daily newspaper!"

Follow on Twitter @hughsouthon


  • dhautzig says:

    A terrific piece. I expected an all out attack on Sam when I started reading it, but you present the dilemma really, really well. Kind of mad to be honest. I wish I had written it myself!

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