English Football

Was big Sam fairly treated?

AllardyceWest Ham United’s badly-timed announcement that Sam Allardyce’s contract would not be renewed, just three minutes after the Hammers had been beaten by Newcastle United, reminded us that the world of football management can be harsh. A distinct lack of respect for a manager who had taken West Ham back to the Premier and kept them there.

Whether you like Allardyce’s style or not, you cannot deny the man gives his all. His departure, regardless of any behind-the-scenes personality issues, deserved better than a footnote as the final day results were coming in.

With his craggy features, no-nonsense style and appearance of grumpy middle-aged uncle in a car coat, Allardyce is no black-suited “mafia boss” manager reeking of cologne and hair product. You won’t see Sam washing his suede shoes in the dugout or writing comments in a black notepad.

West Ham’s record under Allardyce was probably not quite what the Brady-Gold-Sullivan axis was looking for. Doubtless they have a graph in the boardroom that plots the course they wanted the club to take. Three seasons of mid-table and below didn’t set the world on fire, but whenever have West Ham achieved better than that in the top flight?

If you look at the statistics, you will see that West Ham’s historic performance is far from upper quartile. Only five times – 1927, 1959, 1973, 1986 and 1999 – have they finished in the top six, and in the Premier years, their average position is below 11th place. Prior to Allardyce, their average position was 14th. Allardyce’s win rate as manager of West Ham – 37.6% – was better than the top flight records of Grant, Roeder, Macari, Greenwood (even with the triumvirate of Moore, Hurst and Peters) and the Premier record of Alan Curbishley. So did he do so bad?

There have been comments that Allardyce didn’t appreciate “the West Ham way”, but that’s nonsense. In the past, West Ham supporters may have consoled themselves with their apparent lack of success by believing their style of play made Upton Park the place to be.

Having spent many hours watching West Ham in the 1970s, mostly in the post-MHP period, I can vouch for the fact that, yes, West Ham fans appreciate good footballers (Brooking, Devonshire, Curbishley etc), but no more than the White Hart Lane or Stamford Bridge crowds. Furthermore, while cultured football was supposedly the lingua franca at the Boleyn down the years, West Ham’s folk heroes have also included players like Julian Dicks, Billy Bonds and Alvin Martin, hardly sensual caressers of the old pig’s bladder. If Vinnie Jones had played for West Ham, they would have loved him – clenched fists, bloody shirts and badge-kissing all the way.

So the legendary “tea cups in the café” academy is a relic of the past. Football fans demand success, how they get there is irrelevant. If Allardyce had won prizes at West Ham, they wouldn’t care how they played. You could argue that the so-called “academy” ethos has been a comfort blanket for West Ham to hide behind. You sense that it will not prevail for too long.

Why? West Ham are moving to the Olympic Stadium in 2016-17. A new beginning, a new home for a club that has been hampered by its location to some degree. Upton Park is a classic ground of its time, but that time has passed. It’s hemmed-in, claustrophobic, badly-appointed and transport links are surprisingly limited given it is in London. Stratford is now far better served – just five minutes from St. Pancras International –  and the relocation can open up a whole new clientbase, to quote the type of people who are probably advising the club right now.

The Olympic Stadium can transform West Ham from a “knees-up mother Brown” club to a European club, where (at a push), the soundtrack could just become that awful Champions League hymn instead of “I’m forever blowing bubbles”. It might sound a little ambitious, but with 50,000 in the stadium, West Ham could become England’s Schalke.

So if West Ham aspire to become the sort of “European club” that Chelsea and Arsenal have become, and Tottenham should have achieved by now, they need a manager to match. Allardyce is, and it’s not meant to be a criticism,  a journeyman manager, just take a look at his CV: West Brom, Blackpool, Blackburn, Newcastle, Bolton and Notts County. It may be that the “new” West Ham will be looking for a manager that has in-depth knowledge of Dortmund and Milan rather than Derby and Middlesbrough.

West Ham’s board is already gearing-up to snare new fans with their ambitious pricing structure for the new arena, something which should be applauded. They may have just laid the seeds to land a coach that represents a shiny new era at the Olympic Stadium. It may have been “mutual”, but they could have handled it better, though…

West Ham will have a taste of Europe in 2015-16 after qualifying for the Europa League due to the club’s fair play record. Let’s hope they embrace it rather than begrudge Thursday night football.

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