West Ham in turmoil as relegation fears mount, fans revolt
West Ham fans were sold a dream in 2016, urged to believe that leaving their atmospheric Upton Park home of 112 years to move to the Olympic Stadium would transform the team’s chances of becoming the best in England.
“The stark truth,” West Ham vice chairman Karren Brady wrote in a newspaper column that year, “is that only once have we ever been close to becoming champions. That’s for the new ground, I hope.
“I feel no guilt about moving us from the Boleyn (Ground),” Brady said, “as I know this move is the right one if we are to achieve our dreams.”
For West Ham, the dream is turning into a nightmare.
Nearly two years later, demotion from the lucrative Premier League is a very real possibility — West Ham could be in the relegation zone on Saturday with a home loss to Southampton — and the club is ripping itself apart.
Fans are so incensed at the direction of the club that five of them invaded the field during the team’s last game, a pitiful 3-0 loss against Burnley. One reached the center circle, holding aloft a corner flag and leaving an indelible image for a worldwide audience.
Hundreds more supporters congregated beneath the area seating the club’s directors in an apparently coordinated plan of disruption, with some making throat-slitting gestures, while objects were thrown in the direction of officials.
It has gotten so bad that West Ham will erect a security barrier near the directors’ box for the game against Southampton in an effort to prevent a repeat of the crowd trouble. Extra police will be drafted in.
“I can understand the frustrations some of you are feeling,” West Ham captain Mark Noble wrote in an open letter on the club’s website this week. “This season has not gone how we’d all hoped it would, but I would ask you to channel your passion to get behind the team, help us get through the season with our Premier League status intact, and we can sit down and reassess things in the summer.”
By then, West Ham could be a second-tier club, its high-profile players — like Marko Arnautovic, Javier Hernandez and Manuel Lanzini — gone. They don’t have too many more, despite promises that the switch to the Olympic Stadium would be accompanied by marquee signings.
It’s no wonder fans are in despair. They have an underperforming team, a manager — in David Moyes — past his best, and a board that has broken its promises. The matchday experience is hardly something to look forward to, in a soulless 60,000-seat stadium where the fans are separated from the field by a running track.
Twenty West Ham supporters have been issued with lifetime bans since the Burnley game, where there were 150 separate incidents noted by the police, including 50 public-order offenses and 40 assaults. A further protest is planned this weekend, and another home loss — to an out-of-form team in the relegation zone — doesn’t bear thinking about.
West Ham has been warned that any repeat of the trouble will result in the team being forced to play matches behind closed doors.
Moyes needs to find a win from somewhere. In the last five games, West Ham has lost 3-0 to Burnley, 4-1 at Swansea, 4-1 at Liverpool and 3-1 at Brighton. The other result was a 2-0 home win over Watford, a rare clean sheet from a team that too often falls apart after going behind. Only Stoke (58) has conceded more than West Ham (57 in 30 games) this season.
With Andy Carroll injured — again — and Hernandez seemingly not trusted by Moyes, Arnautovic has been turned from a midfielder to a lone striker, with mixed results. Joe Hart returned in goal for the Burnley game in place of Adrian, and immediately made a mistake, so who knows who will be goalkeeper this weekend.
Southampton could hardly be a more obliging opponent, having won only once in the league since Nov. 26. It is the first league game in charge for Mark Hughes, who took over on March 14.
But the pressure is on West Ham considering it plays five of the top nine in its remaining seven games after this weekend.
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Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80