RIP the OSB

Karren Brady – the brains behind the OSB

FANS group Hammers United’s decision to reject a club offer to talk with the Official Supporters’ Board but instead insist on communicating with the Chairmen and Vice Chair has neatly highlighted how ineffectual the OSB are and marks the beginning of the end for the unasked-for and unwelcome group. Cut out of negotiation, the group can now be considered otiose. A piece on the official West Ham website highlighting their “achievements” served only to emphasise how rattled the club are.

Formed in the wake of the protests during the Burnley game nearly two years ago, the stated OSB remit was to improve “matchday experience”, a brief they have spectacularly failed to deliver. Instead they were formed in typically insular fashion as a Karren Brady brainchild to provide a nod towards fan engagement while creating a barrier between supporters and board. On this point it’s interesting to observe how desperate members of the West Ham hierarchy are to resist challenge. Brady’s function is as a buffer to protect Chair David Sullivan, while Tara Warren and the OSB shield Brady. Halfwit head of media relations Ben Campbell protects all of them. Everybody “on-message”, no free-thinking allowed.

As members are appointed not elected, the OSB cannot claim to be independent and don’t serve as such. Minutes of meetings are not made by officers but the club and are seldom released in timely fashion. On surface viewing they appear sketchy accounts of what we assume are lengthy events. Sub-committee minutes are rarely released at all. I have had no contact from my OSB rep and beyond an email address on the club website they make little attempt to reach out to fans. Their Twitter feed does little beyond promoting club initiatives and competitions and hasn’t posted in over three months.

As a measure of their transparency, this is the only picture of the OSB we could find

Their concerns don’t extend beyond the minutiae of sales inside the stadium, are all commercially based and take no account of “cultural” issues regarding fan experience. In common with the club they exclusively treat supporters as customers. They are happy to take credit for other people’s achievements, claiming to be responsible for free sanitary products when everybody knows it was down to a long campaign by Esther Jones Russell a particularly egregious example.

Having so far been highly critical of the OSB it is only fair to herald their achievements. The propensity with which high profile members get away tickets for games within the M25 and south-east region is quite remarkable.

OSB Chair David Baker has long claimed the club want a “strong” Independent Supporters Association and has frequently expressed a desire for a group similar to Liverpool’s Spirit of Shankly to represent fans. Few of Baker’s pronouncements merit serious consideration and such is the case in this instance – if his words meant anything the OSB would resign en masse to enable Hammers United to step into the breach. It is very clear the group are an obstacle to, not a conduit for, supporter recognition.

As they slide towards insignificance the club and Brady have a choice between a coup de grace or lingering death. Either way the loss of the OSB will not be mourned.

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