Oh to be a Hammer. Life at the London club – west Newham’s official favourite – has never been an easy ride. Indeed, the club’s iconic anthem, made international by the Greenstreet film, is one of blowing bubbles: watching them rise (to about mid-table) and then burst. But even for the oldest supporters (the rustiest irons in east London), this year’s events are proving difficult to stomach.
It started in the summer of 2016. A strong season had seen Dmitri Payet help West Ham to a seventh-place finish, as those pretty bubbles rose. Their star man supposedly tied to the club, and former Croatian boss Slaven Bilic looking good after his first year in charge, the sense of optimism returned to Upton Park for the last time. Then, giddily high on the ecstasy of seventh-place, West Ham said goodbye to their iconic ground and bundled into the London Stadium, former home of the 2012 Olympic Games.
You might argue that Hammers fans should’ve seen it coming. Bubbles, after all, inexorably venture too high, get whisked away by the wind and are destroyed.
“Another wasted sunday in that abysmal place”
But alas. The stadium flopped. Its 60-000 capacity expanse vanished the famous Upton Park atmosphere into the ether. Payet – having demanded a wage increase to £125,000 the February before – flopped too, then sulked until Marseille begrudgingly bought him back. The Hammers found themselves in a relegation battle once again. And my boss wasn’t having any of it. A seasoned pessimist admittedly, he’d come into work fuming at having “wasted another Saturday in that abysmal place”. I only wonder how he’s doing now…
Two months into the new campaign and, despite West Ham making a hearty mid-table recovery, they find themselves in the same position again. Eighteenth place – just in the red. After a four-one drubbing at home (should Hammers fans wish to call it that) to Liverpool a fortnight ago, Bilic was out too.
Now, brace yourselves, because this is where it gets even better. The club’s lifeline, its new manager, its salvation, the mystic come to awaken the dead, the magician arrived to blow the bubbles, is none other than David Moyes. Sir David, as he’s known in Sunderland. The one man who’s proven himself fully capable of sinking a club out of the Premier League.
“This scotsman has a growing appetite for disaster”
This Scotsman has a growing appetite for disaster. Since leaving Everton to take the Man United reins out of Fergie’s retiring clench, Moyes floundered in the limelight of the big time. In fact, that limelight shone so vividly it seemed to bleach every ounce of ginger out of the man’s ripe Scottish head of hair. The cracks opened up both on the field and, following his sacking and an underwhelming stint at Real Socidedad, across his stress-strained forehead. Then Moyes wrought havoc on Sunderland, doing his job with all the hand-rubbing glee of a Lewes resident setting fire to effigies of political figures on bonfire night. They left the Premier League with 24 points and a healthy TV-rights pay-out, so generous it sees them sitting at the bottom of the Championship.
I feel for West Ham’s PR guys right now. The announcement of Moyes’s arrival was met with angry reactions galore on Facebook, but the social media #squad are thick-skinned. Scrolling down the Hammers’ feed was like stepping into a David Moyes shrine. I can’t say it was a comfortable experience. There’s talk of a fresh start, a resurgence into the bygone Everton era. There are fanboy posters of Moyes conducting training sessions, and a particularly heart-stirring candid of ‘Psycho’ Stuart Pearce.
But interviews with the weary Scot see him struggling to muster a hint of enthusiasm at being under managerial scrutiny. He bleats out his version of the ‘new man on the block song’ unconvincingly: “’I’m sure we can get the right results… If you don’t run, you don’t play.” Six months of unemployment spent flicking through a thesaurus. Try as he might, it doesn’t counter the impression that he’s already missing the freedom of redundancy.
“the residue of recent relegation hasn’t quite left him”
To credit Moyes, he’s giving his comeback a shot. Unfortunately for him and West Ham, his tone is cautious at best. “This is what I do. I want to be good at it,” was a personal favourite at mine, showing the residue of recent relegation still hasn’t quite left him. And there are a good too many hopefully’s embedded – in pretty much anything Moyes says – for his statement of intent to be considered convincing.
Maybe this is just the tentative phase. The shy first date, after a long time out the game. Perhaps the social media larks get it spot on: Moyes leads the Hammers to a steady climb up the table, the London Stadium booms, Diafra Sakho becomes the fantasy football wildcard of the season.
But it could so easily go the other way. True to form, Moyes casts a forlorn, increasingly dejected figure on the touchline, as West Ham’s strongest squad since the early noughties stays in the shapeless state it is at present. Moyes realises that old habits die hard, a six-month ‘quick-fix’ is a potential career breaker and that Gold and Sullivan are the stingy sadists behind his demise. My boss sells his season ticket.
In reality, it’ll be a disappointing middle between the two. Moyes will keep West Ham up – just – after a resurgent performance against Watford gives way to bitter mediocrity. The survival will instil hope in Hammers fans at the prospect of blowing bubbles in 2018-19.