The Claret & Blue Sea of change

Author: . Published: at 8:45pm

Written by Michael Hughes

“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” – Winston Churchill

The only way to grow is through change. Winston Churchill was near perfect. In the past thousand years or so, no one has been the target of so much hero worship as good old Winston. It’s no wonder he is held in such high regard. He continually accepted the opportunity to change, thereby making himself better.

Now, I’m not for one minute comparing Winston Churchill to West Ham United! Accepting change can be difficult and changing your routine is even harder, particularly when you have been doing something for the majority of your life. Most people like routine in their life and if that means a pre match ritual of a crowded District line, cod & chips and five pints in the Boleyn, then who am I to question your choice?

There are the anti London Stadium brigade amongst us who will tell you moving stadiums hasn’t been great, but let’s not underestimate there are supporters who were and are understanding for the need to change if as a club we are to develop and move forward. Moving away from such an iconic stadium as Upton Park was always going to be fraught with difficulties.  Top flight football has evolved so quickly and whilst Upton Park has been a massive part of the lives of so many families, as much as it was a wrench to leave the right decision you feel was made.

The experience of the London Stadium is very different to Upton Park but, and this is very relevant, there are fans, younger ones with families, who find the facilities at the London Stadium are so much better. Do I accept that change is for the long term gain of West Ham United FC? Yes I do. Do I hope that in ten years time when my two boys, who will have no doubt by then discarded their old man to go to games with their own mates, experience cup finals like I was fortunate enough to have done and enjoy those wonderful European nights? Yes I do.

They are the new generation of West Ham supporters. Granted, like most boys their ages they were given no choice when it came to nailing their colours to the mask supporting a team, just as I wasn’t when I was growing up by my own father. They will remember with fondness Upton Park however for them and for all of us now, the London Stadium is the future. 99 years to be precise! Gradually, even for the oldies and sceptics amongst us it is starting to feel like home. Even performances on the pitch have improved. With six games remaining this season we have lost four times in thirteen games and whilst challenges such as the two Manchester clubs are on the horizon an unbeaten run to the end of the season and we could safely say on the pitch at least things are looking up.

Like it or not, West Ham United is in the process of change. In an ideal word the majority of supporters would have wanted the club to stay at Upton Park. I am one of them. But I am a relist as well. Change is important. Change helps companies keep up with advances in technology and changes in the marketplace, so they’ll remain relevant.  Any business in today’s fast-moving environment, – football clubs are no different- that is looking for the pace of change to slow is likely to be sorely disappointed. In fact, businesses should embrace change. Change is important for any organization because, without change, businesses would likely lose their competitive edge and fail to meet the needs of what most hope to be a growing base of loyal customers.

As I write this article it is thirty eight years since we last won a trophy. Twelve years and counting, since we were in the final of a major cup competition. There have been subsequent relegations to contend with, owners who polarize opinion and push us to the edge with their failed promises, however that process of change, as embryonic and as raw as it still is, has taken place.

David Gold and David Sullivan took ownership of the club in 2010 and supporters were told inherited £100 million of debt. They made a promise to stabilise the club, which even the most anti board supporters would have to reluctantly admit, have delivered on their promise. It is impossible to argue Sullivan Gold and Brady did not negotiate a great deal.

Given the economic circumstances that the club found itself in some may say the decision to partner with Newham Council to jointly own the stadium on the basis that the Olympic stadium and West Ham United are in Newham, was also a very clever and astute decision by the board. Others would disagree and say we should have stayed where we were. There was sincerity from both parties and the hope that legacies for the stadium in employment, young people and community would be delivered and was at the forefront of their partnership.

Eighteen months on and supporters are still debating whether the move was right and for many they are still to be convinced or shown the wisdom of West Ham’s momentous relocation. The bond though, remains for every West Ham supporter and that is the love of the club. That passion is engrained into the very fabric of our lives and for many it wouldn’t matter if we played our home games at Hackney Marshes or Timbuktu, we would still support the club.

As supporters we have that choice to accept changes are occurring – strategic changes, tactical changes, leadership changes. These changes have had and are going to continue having an impact and effects on us. It could be argued to have helped minimize those impacts and effects, from having unintended negative outcomes, it was necessary to have “change management” methodologies in place with skilled resources delivering and executing on those methodologies, principles and processes. This would have helped to minimize possible negative outcomes and increase positive results. Change itself is a process – managing it, leading it, achieving it is also a process and one that should not be viewed and managed with a one size fits all approach. Something I think the club have been guilty of at times. It can be argued that certain approaches and actions should have been customized to fit the supporter’s needs. Skilfully executing various principles of change are a necessity to success.

We all want West Ham to be successful, don’t we? Isn’t that why the club took on the London Stadium project?  To be innovative, to reinvigorate, to become even better – to increase performances on the pitch.

The bottom line is we got a stadium costing more than £600 million for what £15 million, and a small amount in annual rent? Modern transport links and better stadium facilities are obvious areas of improvement, and whilst not everything will be perfect, I still maintain the move was right for the club, yet the underlying view remains a negative one from many supporters. Many are still getting used to their new surroundings but it seems a lot of the goodwill from before the club moved in has gone as fans feel it has not lived up to the expectations or promises that were made.

It can be argued football clubs don’t change their DNA. That comes from the terraces, the fans and the long-serving staff. Lots of supporters are caught up in the past and constantly refer to what things used to be like. Like it or not, and it’s your choice remember, we have got a fantastic stadium and the need now is to create history in the new surroundings.

There is an awful lot to criticise about Sullivan and Gold’s tenure but in their defence they have put the wheels in process for West Ham to be challenging the so called bigger clubs. Whether they can see through this process is open to debate and for many supporters the need for change of ownership is still prevalent.

Since the English Premier League was formed in 1992, football finances have boomed. However, it is still the case that buying a football club is unlikely to yield much of a return. Despite the significant TV and other commercial revenues, football clubs in England’s top flight still struggle to break even. Ironic, given the goal of setting up the Premier League was to stabilise club finances! Overall, operating profits for the 20 Premier League teams were just 4% of revenues, and when the net costs of player trading are added, there are large overall net losses. These figures belie the fact that most of England’s largest football clubs are run by successful businessmen who make plenty of money in other walks of life.

English clubs are supposedly in high demand from foreign investors, with the majority of Premier League teams currently owned by foreigners.

But let’s not kid ourselves Sullivan & Gold are here for the long term. If you believe their explanation that owning West Ham has nothing to do with money and like other owners, all be it they are few and far between now days, they are simply fans of the club they own and  have strong ties to the local community, you have to in many ways begrudgingly applaud that stance. While in the business world, the head can rule the heart, it can be the opposite when it comes to football.

Imagine if the owners were to sell the club to a foreign owner without a sentimental attachment to the club, could they do a better job?  Unless you can find a Roman Abramovich, who has written off more than £1bn he ploughed into Chelsea since acquiring it in 2003 or a Sheikh Mansour, who has invested close to £1bn in Manchester City since 2008 you potentially run the risk of not only losing your identity as a club, but with catastrophic consequences once they have had enough and they up and leave. I cite Sunderland and Aston Villa as prime examples.

Most of the serious money flowing into football recently has come from the Middle East. The Qatar Investment Authority, the country’s sovereign wealth fund, bought the French Ligue 1 side Paris St Germain in 2011 and has gone about transforming them in the same way Sheikh Mansour has Manchester City.  Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Bahrain are all small but rich Gulf States with global ambitions. Football is seen as an important way of expanding their brands, but of course they are also in competition with each other. Is West Ham United an attractive option to a potential Middle Eastern Investor? Recent accounts about to be released by the club, we are led to believe will make for a change, good reading, and on the face of it, there is little reason why football clubs cannot be profitable. In England, Premier League clubs are proverbial cash cows with three strong sources of revenue – TV money, commercial activities and gate receipts. Therefore, growing revenues could increase the value of a club just like any other business. If Sullivan & Gold did want to sell you could argue now is the time to do so with the value of the club increasing significantly with the increased revenue streams it has since moving to the London Stadium.

I’m not saying Sullivan & Gold are perfect, far from it. The ideal football club owner clearly needs very deep pockets, has to be almost mercurial like, and certainly not faint-hearted and until someone like an Abramovich or a Sheikh Mansour do come along Sullivan & Gold are the ‘safe’ option.

It wasn’t that long ago that the club were being hailed for a productive transfer summer which landed Hernandez, Arnautovic, Zabaletta and Joe Hart. Eight months on, a change of manager and the spectre of relegation still lingering, the root cause of the endlessly poisonous mood surrounding the owners it seems is at the core of the anger and resentment seething once again among many supporters. No matter how hard the fans have tried to adapt to the new surroundings, setbacks and disappointments on the field have meant David Moyes having to play catch up and the anger of broken promises magnifies amongst supporters who were offered in exchange for the wrench of leaving Upton Park.

The abandonment of tradition explains why the mood has turned so fiercely and suddenly against the owners. For many it is exacerbated by the high-speed turnover of opinion and belief promoted by Sullivan where the optimism at the start of the season is ancient history as yet another disappointing transfer window comes and goes. The ill-feeling towards the board transpires because many fans believe they have too much to say in public and much of it, they feel, undermines the managers and players. What it has done is make supporters wary and suspicious of the board’s motives.

You can’t deny there is an increasingly acrimonious mood among many West Ham supporters. At the Brighton game a few weeks ago it was there for everyone to see, supporters holding up banners saying; “Formed by the working class. Ruined by the rich. Sold a dream built on lies. Brady, Sullivan, Gold and Co, Enough is Enough. Time To go.”

Those sentiments could be echoed at many clubs where the fans feel marooned by the changing nature of modern football, but we don’t care about other clubs as supporters. In many ways West Ham supporters are not defined by their team, nor player loyalty but by the fact we reserved our greatest football loyalty for the hallowed grounds, our stadium that we graced for so long.

Cast your mind back to May 10th 2016. Upton Park, one of the grandest stages in all of English football, and one which had been home for a century and more closed those famous iron gates for a final time. It was befitting in many ways Manchester United were the visitors to play the final ever competitive home match at Upton Park. For those fortunate enough to be there and I’m sure for many thousands watching at home it was one of the most emotionally charged occasions London’s East End has ever witnessed. And so began the process of moving to the London Stadium, which to this day polarizes opinion amongst us all.

Everyone loves Mark Noble, local boy, West Ham born and bred. Noble signed a new five-year contract in early 2015 and he was emphatic in his praise for the move to the London Stadium. “I’ve seen it at every stage of it going up and it looks fantastic. Every time I go there it looks more and more like a football stadium. It’s going to be a fantastic place to play at.”

Change is inevitable. All throughout our lives we are bound to change. ​If we didn’t where would that leave us?

If you think this article was in any way supporting and defending the board, let me stop you now. This article has no hidden meaning or hidden agenda. This is simply my own take on why we have to get used to the concept of change. At West Ham United It’s happening and it’s about time we not only get used to it but that we start accepting it for what it is at face value.

When things are good and great we wish we could freeze time. May 10th 2016 to be precise. We desire more than anything to pause in that moment. It is so great and almost perfect that we don’t want to miss out on it. We don’t welcome change. We push it out and try to ignore the whole idea it. We don’t have the mindset that there could quite possibly be something better around the corner.

Change doesn’t always directly correlate with negativity or destruction. Change just means that things will be different; they will not stay the same. As a club we have to change. Without change we wouldn’t be anywhere near where we are today.

When things go wrong on the pitch and we suffer another defeat, we of course want them to be different. Life prepares us for change.

There are so many incredible opportunities and chances for the club to grow at the London Stadium if we accept change. It wouldn’t hurt to step out of our comfort zone every once in a while, open up our eyes just a tad more and the world might show us something we never thought possible with West Ham United challenging for the Premier League and competing in the Champions League every season!

As Winston would say” The only way to grow is through change.”  As supporters we have that choice to accept the opportunity to change.




Leave a comment

  • Stunaldo
    21st February 2018 at 12:49 pm

    A fantastically well written piece, absolutely hits the nail on tbe head

  • Jeremy
    21st February 2018 at 6:40 pm

    An elaborate explanation with a few key points.
    I endorse it,only trouble is there’s an awful lot of supporters that don’t understand the facts.

  • paul colborne
    26th February 2018 at 4:40 pm

    Ex you are on record as saying you will judge the Board by the Summer transfer window.I think we should be spendin something like 60 million a year on players.We made a 9 million profit this year so I am expecting something like 129 million to be made available in the Summer.Do you agree?/

    • ExWHUEmployee
      26th February 2018 at 8:05 pm

      I think £80m is probably my expectations this window