By Daniel Margrain
I’m sure that I speak for the vast majority of West Ham fans when I say that the start of each season is met with an air of extreme trepidation. The feeling of anxiety in anticipating what is to come in the opening six weeks or so of any campaign is exacerbated if our first game of the season happens to be a home fixture.
From a personal point of view, I can barely get through the hours leading up to the opening Saturday afternoon kick off without exhibiting a combination of cold sweats, nausea and nervous fidgeting. I can only compare the experience to my school days during the hours leading up to the time when my exam results would drop from the letterbox on to the hallway floor.
You know you have to face the proverbial music at some point but don’t want the potential disappointment that comes with it. You tell yourself you want to know the results of your exams but paradoxically, at the same time, you fear the dreaded fail, rather like sitting through a horror movie with your hands “covering” your eyes. Similarly, I dread putting on Final Score, particularly during the opening day of the season and particularly if the game is at home.
The agony is prolonged due to the fact that our home result is invariably the last Premier League one to be read out, just as it was the case that Ardleigh was one of the last streets on our posties Basildon round. Non-football fans are simply unable to comprehend the suffering we football fans have to endure on a Saturday afternoon. Every season has been the same for me since I can remember and the 2015-16 season was no different.
As our pre-season Europe campaign under our new charismatic manager turned out to be nothing less than an unmitigated disaster, expectations for a good premier league start were low. After confounding the football world with our amazing opening league victory against Arsenal away, confidence was high for the next few games.
But West Ham being West Ham, we lost the next two at home on the bounce to less than glamorous opposition before turning it around with three subsequent victories, two of which were nothing less than stunning against Liverpool and Manchester City respectively.
With 12 points in the bag after our opening six games, I felt as though I was, to a degree, in a position to be able to relax. Of course West Ham fans never totally relax. As all life-long Hammers supporters will know, expectations for a successful season are typically medium to non-existent.
If in this current campaign, the Hammers were to finish in a top eight position and have a good cup run I’ll be relatively happy. Despite our recent hiccups in the league, not least in part due to our mounting injury list, I believe our squad is strong enough to secure a top half finish.
With our move away from our spiritual home at the Boleyn into the Olympic Stadium at Stratford in east London from next season, it’s important that we finish high up in the table in order to attract new players to the club while keeping hold of our best.
With a manager and former player (who appears to be finally attuned to the entertainment ethos of the club that the fans demand) pretty much cemented into place for the foreseeable future, things are as solid as they can be for a club of our size and the relatively limited resources we have at our disposal.
As far as the fans are concerned, off the park shenanigans are, at least on the surface, good as well given that those who run the club plan to substantially reduce season ticket prices in an an attempt to fill the new stadiums 54,000 capacity – a model that other clubs have apparently been encouraged to adopt.
But as I will hopefully be able to argue persuasively in the remainder of the article, this is a double edged sword. Here’s the problem: West Ham United are paying just £15million towards the £272 million cost of converting the Olympic Stadium despite the fact that, should the club still be a Premier League outfit next year (which seems highly likely), it will – under the terms of a new TV deal – be entitled to a payout of at least £99 million.
Small business people, many of whom run their businesses on extremely tight margins, might be scratching their heads as to how it can be that the elite within football, such as multi-millionaire Lady Brady who brokered the deal, are seemingly immune to the kind of market forces that the former are compelled to adhere to?
As far as the super-rich with contacts to the top echelons of political power are concerned – whether they be premier league chairmen or City bankers – it would appear that the kind of business risks the rest of us are prone to, is not applicable to them.
In this regard, it is difficult how one could possibly argue that the Premier League is no different in principle to what happens within the much maligned banking “racket”. Perhaps I’m missing something here and readers will be able to point out to me where I’ve got it wrong.
I’m not one of these obstinate traditionalists who is intent on stifling change. On the contrary, I embrace it. I’m excited as the next man about the move to our shiny new stadium. However, what I’m less than enamoured by is the morally and financially expedient, needless to say potentially corrupt price tag that comes with it.
The reality, however one looks at the situation, is that we, the tax paying fans and non-fans alike, will be subsidizing what essentially is a risk-free big business speculative enterprise on behalf of the super rich. It’s true that in season one ticket prices will be cheaper than our London rivals, but it’s fanciful to suggest that during subsequent seasons ticket prices will remain similarly low.
I have no detailed insight into the medium to long term business plan model that the club has in place, but it would surely be churlish to deny the directors at the club have not been eyeing up something along the lines of the Arsenal model.
Lady Brady and the rest of the high flyers within the club set up are in line to make a financial killing not just from us, the everyday football fan, but also from the wider tax paying public. The various pronouncements made in the media, particularly by David Gold regarding his supposed love for West Ham United Football club, are in part clearly intended at staving off any criticisms of the club over a stadium deal that has been less than transparent.
In my view, what often tends to get overlooked in the rush for on the field success, is the realization that the David Gold’s of this world are multimillionaire, and in some cases, billionaire businessmen and women who are first and foremost motivated by profit. If they happen to be in the position of being able to grab a big slice of these profits by creaming off great swaths of our tax revenues in the process, then all the better for them.
This is not an anti-business stance I’m taking here but an anti-corruption stance – albeit a form of legalized corruption. It’s not good for the reputation of West Ham United Football Club and its fans that we will be perceived as having unfair financial leverage over other similarly sized clubs, predicated on a system of legalized corruption.
I’m not arguing here that these kinds of underhand non-transparent deals and unethical business practices are unique to West Ham United, it’s just that I’m uncomfortable with the idea of us engendering success both on and off the field in a way that is symptomatic of the malaise that seems to have become an accepted, and some might argue, intrinsic aspect of socioeconomic and political life in our country.
That the kinds of informal corruption and unethical business practices described seem to have become a normalizing feature of not only professional football and other sports, but in public life more broadly, is not something West Ham fans, or indeed any other fans, should readily embrace without serious critique.