There have been so many reasons why football in its current Covid-laced state – without fans – is a bit bland. There’s no real atmosphere – however much they pump in fake crowd noise – to aid a sterile game and augment a great one. There’s no roar, yell, or rally cry after a fourth corner in succession, or ironic ‘wuayyyyy’ after an opponent thumps a free-kick miles over the crossbar. Football has been back for a while but has been a shell of itself. For West Ham United, though, maybe this is a plus.
Perhaps having no fans at the moment – while not helping anything – isn’t that much of a detriment for the Hammers. Many remember when in Spring of 2018 West Ham endured a torturous afternoon at home to Burnley. A 3-0 defeat was mostly remembered for a couple of fans storming the pitch during the game in anger and discontent. It’s not the most ludicrous suggestion that if fans were in stadiums at this point, we might have witnessed another invasion of angst from the Hammers supporters, particularly after David Moyes’ side produced an incredibly limp display at home to Newcastle United.
Optimism Dissipating at West Ham Already
It may seem like an over-reaction. After all, the 2020/21 Premier League season is only a game old, but this isn’t about raging against a club after one game, it’s about raging against a club after a decade. Since Davids Gold and Sullivan took over the club more than ten years ago, the club has gone through six managers – not including Moyes having two spells. That might not seem like a lot of managerial turnover, especially in the modern era – Leeds United went through that number in two years under the ownership of Massimo Cellino.
But the problem is that those are very much managers with varying styles – if they even had a style. This reflects West Ham’s utter lack of planning, both in the managerial department and the area of player recruitment. On paper, signing Felipe Anderson, Pablo Fornals, Andriy Yarmolenko and Sebastien Haller in the past two seasons seem like smart decisions – these are good players in their own right. But jamming them together with no plan other than they’ve looked pretty good in their areas, and not having any strategy in terms of piecing them together, is the equivalent of throwing all the good ingredients into a pot without really thinking of the meal you plan to make. This is the kind of cooking West Ham have been playing with for over a decade. If you think this kind of plan needs relegation to be seen as really shambolic, the Irons were relegated in 2011, and that changed little.
Diangana and a Potential Mutiny
Yet, this wasn’t what seemingly pushed many over the edge. It wasn’t the years of mismanagement and incompetence from the board that had many truly discontent. Rather, it was the sale of Grady Diangana to West Bromwich Albion two weeks ago that seemed to do it, so much so that captain and loyal servant Mark Noble took to social media to air his concerns and was seemingly backed by Declan Rice, another bright prospect who reportedly might want out. It seems like a meagre thing to spark a mutiny, but if you’ve stayed amidst abuse for too long, sometimes it’s the seemingly little stuff that tips you over the edge.
So, what do you do to abate such growing concerns? What do you do when there’s a seeming volcano brewing under? You go ahead and put in a pitiful performance at home to a Newcastle side whose fans have also been battling a despicable owner for years. An opening day defeat for West Ham, and there’s a strong chance things might get worse. After that Newcastle game, the Hammers’ league schedule reads; Arsenal away in the second weekend, Wolverhampton Wanderers at home, Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur away, Manchester City at home, and Liverpool away.
Could Moyes be gone by November?
So, when they face Fulham in early November, they could easily be entering the eighth week of the season still searching for their first point. It’s the kind of fixture list that could do with fan encouragement, but not only are the fans not around, but they’re also far from happy. This is the kind of schedule that needs the players to pull together, but the players are also discontent from the looks of it.
West Ham might survive this. They may well find a win or two in this period – and a League Cup win over Charlton Athletic in midweek is probably helpful – or they could even lose all seven games and still find a way to pick up the pace, but that hardly matters anymore. This is about a club that’s managed to exhaust every ounce of optimism from its supporters over the years; about an ownership whose incompetence has turned a great club into first a laughing stock, then a pity case. And, perhaps, at last, the absence of fans represents the emptiness that has followed the club for a while.