This is the fifth time I have contemplated a post relegation season since I can consciously remember supporting West Ham (1965). There’s a pattern. If we discount the first time (1978) when the difference in quality and earnings between the two flights was not quite the chasm it came to be. It goes something like this.
We fans are devastated, of course, but then as the prospect of winning more games than we lose looms with the publication of the fixture lists, a certain optimism begins to creep back. It is usually not clear which players we will retain and which we will lose. We keep some we did not expect to and lose some that we did.
The first clutch of games bring slightly disappointing results; we are still perhaps winning more often that we are losing but it is suddenly not as straightforward; our rivals simply refuse to roll over and die; worse they fight like dogs- suddenly we are an ersatz Manchester United but ultimately we lack the resilience and killer instinct of the real thing. On only one occasion have we bounced straight back. (1993).
For the rest there’s been ructions on and off the park, a sacking, a new manager and a few judicious signings coupled with the emergence of the odd home grown talent and up we go to repeat the whole sorry process of under achievement again.
One of our problems in the Premier League/ top flight is that in common with most clubs our owners and managers have never been very good at creating stability or a cogent long term plan and then sticking to it- at least as far as I can discern. The big plan- if there ever was one under Terry Brown and the Cearns before that - has been confused or mealy- mouthed.
The club has never been good at understanding its true status- in denial when times are thin and lacking the balls and wit to capitalise when we had a shot (1986 and perhaps 1998/9 ?) Thus we settle for looking backwards and snuggle under the comfort blanket called the ‘West Ham Way’.
Not that discerning one’s true status is easy. One of the unrelenting pressures in football is the chronic short termism; as the saying goes you are never more than a fortnight way from a crisis on the pitch. In any given sequence of say five results, the press and we as fan,s demand to extract meaning from a series of statistics that, as much as anything else can be down to dumb luck.
In the course of 38 games dumb luck can be factor too but less of one when it comes to the final reckoning. In half a season we ought to be able to tell the difference between a team that’s playing well but unlucky and one that’s poor but occasionally lucky. This was Gollivan’s biggest blunder last season. They believed they were dealing with the former and three good results shortly after Avram’s reprieve seemed to show them in a clever light.
Extracting meaning from a given string of performances in the Championship is even harder than in the Premier League; it is a more balanced competition and a longer one; it is not uncommon for a team heading for relegation at the end of December to battle its way to the play–offs come May; and vice a versa. While the best teams always prevail in the Premier League; the most able to cope with the rigours of that league do not always get promoted from the Championship.
Past experience suggests this season is likely to be a grind. My advice is ; do not be quite as quick to jump on bandwagons of joy or despair. As it happens my expectations are greater than at any time in our second tier history. We have appointed a manager with the best win to lose ratio of any we have employed previously, has experience of every level of professional football in this country, a personal profile that’s a match for any big time player and has no time for slackers. It could be the start of something beautiful!
(Submitted by Kev in Manchester)