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.

West Ham 1-2 Leicester

Pellegrini cut a forlorn figure

We believe he’ll attract new talent to the London Stadium as well as improving the current squad. Above all he is a winner … and we believe his experience, quality and proven record of taking teams forward quickly will ensure that he is successful here.

David Sullivan on Manuel Pellegrini

FOR one glorious moment we were witness to the dream as the largely disappointing Felipe Anderson broke free of his shackles both mental and positional and surged forward, running at the Leicester defence before playing a neat one-two with Ryan Fredericks and crossing low for Pablo Fornals to sweep home. A marvellous goal in construction and execution to give us a glimpse of what Pelle-ball was supposed to be.

Pablo Fornals celebrates his excellent strike

Unfortunately, the allegory doesn’t finish there – for the rest of the game West Ham looked, as so often under coach Manuel Pellegrini, devoid of coherence, tactically naïve, lightweight in midfield and a shitshow in defence. Nothing exemplified the manager’s reign more starkly than the comedic defensive efforts of centre back Issa Diop in the build-up to the killer second goal – the Frenchman couldn’t even foul an opponent properly. On the odd occasion Pellegrini entered his technical area the Chilean cut a lonely figure as his oversized white trainers rather cruelly cast him as the head clown at the West Ham circus.

The boss’s much vaunted “big team mentality” presumably never included contingencies such as Arthur Masuaku whose defending is at best, “up and down” and whose wayward header led directly to Leicester’s first goal. Neither could it possibly involve the all-round play of Carlos Sanchez, surely one of the worst players to ever pull on the claret and blue (and yes, we’ve seen Bill Green in the flesh).

More generally, Pellegrini never appeared to work on set pieces at either end to make up for deficiencies and personnel and is reputed to have never studied opponents never mind watched them. He decried the contemporary need for analytics preferring instead his own eyes.  

Most of all, his attacking players never produced enough chances to compensate for their lack of contribution in defence. The team needed an energetic box-to-box player to play alongside the sitting Declan Rice but more often than not had the 32-year-old legs of Mark Noble instead. Up top the manager paid big money for the excellent Sebastien Haller but starved him of chances and expected him to peel off defenders and find space like Sergio Aguero – a player with a completely different style.

Misery for West Ham as Leicester celebrate

There were notable improvements in performance against Leicester – for the first home game in four the Hammers managed to concede fewer than three goals – but that statistic needs to be set against the nine changes the opponents made with manager Brendan Rodgers confident even his reserve side would win.

Not even the return of Lukasz Fabianski and a penalty save following an uncharacteristic blunder off his line could stop the opposition. The feeling was always the opposition had a bit in the tank. Nothing emphasises the difference in relative squad strength more than Foxes defensive midfielder Nampalys Mendy. In only his second appearance of the season he looked at least as good any midfielder West Ham have played since the arrival of the current owners. .

Thus it was no surprise to anybody, not least we suspect, the manager himself, when the club website announced Pellegrini had been sacked with Vice Chair Karren Brady (she seems to be employed solely for such occasions) applying the coup de grâce. Pelle-ball had collided with reality in much the same way Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s awful election campaign. Perhaps Pellegrini also thinks he “won the argument”? It doesn’t matter, he can retire to his home in Santiago, Chile, safe from any financial worry. Who knows, he may even have an allotment?

Defending: The indefensible

ON Monday night West Ham lost 3-1 to Arsenal despite a half-time lead, as the Hammers conceded three times in just 10 minutes. Such was the nature of both the goals and the home side’s response to taking the lead they bear some closer analysis. Although the intent is to highlight inadequacies in game management and shape rather than performances, obvious individual errors will be addressed.

As pointed out in our match report the Hammers were a goal up against a side without a win in nine games. Under such circumstances the orthodoxy would be to tuck in, compress space and not allow the visitors possession or space. As our first pic shows, this could not have been further from the reality.

The Gunners had teased West Ham by playing the ball out from keeper to full backs and the home side enthusiastically leapt into the trap by attempting to press the yellow defence – something they don’t regularly commit to and have little experience of. Attempting any sort of press with a deep defensive line is football suicide. Consequently the Hammers midfield shape is awful with Mark Noble (who really should know better) jumping forward before handing over marking to Pablo Fornals – a job the youngster barely engages with.

Declan Rice has also been caught too far forward and trails his runner (the goalscorer Gabriel Martinelli). Robert Snodgrass is making every effort to cover his flank as the ball is played past him – but on the nearside, in what will become a recurring theme, Felipe Anderson is ambling towards his own goal with little purpose.

Rice never catches Martinelli who is in five yards of space and finishes crisply as three defenders concern themselves with striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang instead.

At this point it is worth talking about the role of wingers in manager Manuel Pellegrini’s system. They seem integral to his game – but it is unclear what, if any, function they provide. West Ham don’t cross the ball, the wide-men never tuck-in to help midfield and offer little support for their full-backs. Neither do they get ahead of a lone striker or run at opponents, making their role almost invisible. Anderson for example, has scored just one goal this year.

For the second goal Arsenal again played out from the back. Snodgrass is stranded up front while Rice and Noble remain compact in the middle. Nonetheless, there isn’t a claret and blue shirt within 10 yards of either an opponent or the ball.

One simple angled ball and the Hammers midfield is dissected. Angelo Ogbonna has inexplicably dropped off a back four that are otherwise in good shape. At the bottom of the picture £72millon signing Nicolas Pepe is moving into an attacking position without any attention from either Anderson or left-back Arthur Masuaku.

Just look at the space between Anderson and Masuaku as the ball is played into Aubameyang. All the left-back’s focus is on the striker before the latter turns and plays a simple ball out to the right.

Masuaku finally appreciates the danger, panics and rushes towards Pepe. Possibly unaware the player is left-footed, he shows him onto that side and the player finishes with a sumptuous curler unimpeded by any effort to block the shot or properly close him down. By now such is Anderson’s lack of commitment to defending he is barely in the shot.

For the third and final goal West Ham again attempt a reluctant press. Anderson chases for about 10 yards before giving up and stopping before reluctantly breaking into an amble. Again Arsenal play through an almost non-existent midfield with ease.

At this point is worth noting Ogbonna has again broken the line – possibly as a result of having no midfield cover in front of him. Masuaku is chasing back from an advanced position there was no point being in. The space between Ogbonna and fellow centre-back Fabian Balbuena is huge – and ultimately leads to the goal.

Aubemeyang is able to collect a diagonal ball and back heel it to an unencumbered Pepe who has advanced from the bottom of the picture.

The Ivorian has all the time in the world to cross to his team-mate who, bisecting the home centre-backs volleys home.

It is rumoured boss Pellegrini never watches opponents, preferring instead to “impose” his system on allcomers. Two words sum up this ethos; lazy and arrogant. The shape of his midfield is awful – no team can give the amount of space to opponents West Ham do and not expect to come off worse. The left flank is permanently a goal waiting to happen. Quite what happens in training is a mystery – players don’t appear to have much idea of what their individual roles are and little trust in colleagues to carry them out.

With the Chilean’s job under threat and regardless of whether you believe the current Board to be capable of appointing a competent successor (this blog believes otherwise) this shambles cannot be allowed to go on.

Just like my dreams Part I

“Without leaps of imagination, or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning”

Gloria Steinem
This is not what we were promised

AMID all the places in the contemporary West Ham cybersphere for polls, forums and opportunities to “have your say” there is a dearth of space for an encompassing vision of what fans really want our football club to look like. As good as polls are at determining on a day to day basis whether this or that player is a favourite, the answers are only ever going to be granular.

This, then, is a vision of the club we aspire to under the unlikely conceit Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos feels making all that money while also pissing off Donald Trump has left a hole in his life that can only be filled by ploughing millions into an underperforming Premier League football club.

As well as establishing a basis for argument over what a football club should be and do the hope is such an examination can build a better framework within which to answer, “Who would you like to sign for us, x or y player?”

The stadium:

THE current arena isn’t fit for purpose. It was not designed as a football ground and it shows. Seats are too far from the pitch. The shallow rake of the stands means there is little atmosphere, the gap between stands worsens the problem and the scaffolding is an embarrassment. Worse, the migration from Upton Park was handled with all the dexterity and wit of a Duke being interviewed by Emily Maitlis.

Realistically the choice is between rebuild, replace or build a new stadium. A rebuild seems unfeasible as there is so little of the ground worth its name as a football stadium. There is no opportunity to dig down – and going upwards would only exacerbate current problems. Replacement on the same site would be expensive, messy, and would possibly, as with Spurs, involve a period at another ground.

With all respect to those that would quite legitimately cry “Not again” the best choice would be to start afresh with the Amazon Stadium sited elsewhere on the Queen Elizabeth Park. The current owners would be more than happy to get out of the current lease which is costing them around £10million a year. A decent deal could also be made buying some adjacent land as without a football club in situ the park would atrophy.

Seating priority would not be given, as with the recent migration to those having the most money or a mate who wants a ticket but to length of service as a season ticket holder. Obvious to everybody you might think, except for Karren Brady, who if she performed as badly as a contestant on The Apprentice as she does in real life would be booted off on the second week.

The prime concern for the stadium alongside givens such as sightlines, comfort and safety would be atmosphere. To that end the arena would have a steep rake all around and upper tiers that sit above rather than behind the space below giving a theatre feel. Individuals would feel more as though they are part of the action rather than spectators.

Behind one goal would be a single stand “Kop” designated a singing section that would be the cheapest area of the ground. The aim would be something akin to “die Gelbe Wand” (the Yellow Wall) of Borussia Dortmund. (Compare with the current ludicrous idea that the Billy Bonds Stand – with some of the most expensive seats in the ground – would possess the atmosphere).

The Yellow Wall

Controversially perhaps, the ground would have a capacity of just 45-50 thousand. The estimates are we currently attract around 42 thousand – the increased capacity has a lot more to do with David Sullivan’s ego than any practical concern. Much above 50 thousand attendees and atmosphere dissipates, a full ground is always livelier than a sparse stadium whatever the size.

All lower tier seats would be convertible to safe standing and there would be a designated Family Enclosure as well as disabled seating, a sensory room and so on. Corporate areas would consist of lounges with access to seats outside. No boxes. Food available within would be of pub standard rather having pretensions to haute cuisine in order to prevent inflated charges. Food and drink would be available behind the stands as is usual and be comparable in cost to pub prices. Fixed seats and tables would be available. Hopefully, fans would be drawn in earlier, preventing last minute waits to be searched, and profits would raise given fewer supporters would be drinking away from the ground.

Fan representation:

INDEPENDENT supporter groups would be encouraged and have regular dialogue with the Supporter Liaison Officer. Meetings with Board members would be regular, as would input into policing and stewarding committees. The hated OSB would be immediately disbanded. As appealing as it sounds a supporter on the Board would be unnecessary so long as the former protocol was adhered to. The Davids, Gold and Sullivan, profess to be fans and both are useless. The concern would be a Board place up for grabs would lead to infighting and invite those more concerned with thoughts of grandeur than representing the club’s support.

Kit:

PLAYING and training wear would be designed by top brands, realistically that means Nike or adidas. Home kit would consist of claret shirts with sky sleeves, white socks and shorts. Away strips would rotate on a tri-yearly basis between sky, navy and white. There is a place for gold within these kits – but teal, ecru, violet and so forth have no place in a West Ham strip and are an abomination.

Part II to follow. On-pitch matters...

Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares

Titles close

Scene: On the 276 bus to Stratford

Gordon Ramsey: I’m off to the east End of London, famous for gangsters, murderers and jellied eels. Today’s subject is “Club Jambon D’Ouest Uni”, a restaurant in West Ham’s ground where the owners are in a pickle. Since moving premises three years ago in an effort to grow the brand, customers are unhappy and many have left yet the standard on offer has dropped. Profits are down after a number of expensive ingredients turned out to be not worth the money.

GR: I’m due to meet owner David Sullivan.

Scene: On the centre spot at the London Stadium. GR and David Sullivan talk. Gordon holds his chin

GR: Hi David, what’s going wrong?
David Sullivan: I don’t know Gordon, I work my socks off – but everybody else keeps letting me down. I appoint all the chefs – but it can’t be my fault because I’m the man with the money.

Scene: In the restaurant. Gordon orders some food and casts his eye around. To camera:

GR: Wow! This is the oddest place I’ve seen. Décor soulless, no atmosphere. The seats are miles from the kitchen and somebody appears to have spilled red wine all over the new carpet. The tables have popcorn on them as a starter, the scaffolding decoration looks out of place and why are there no cups? Fuck me!

The food arrives and Gordon picks it about a bit before sending it back.

GR: My God! This is terrible. I need the toilet, excuse me.

Retching noises come from within.

Scene: In the kitchen. Chef Manuel Pellegrini stands in front of the microwave looking guilty

GR: Hi! Gordon Ramsay. You are the head chef?
Manuel pellegrini: Si.
GR: Do you think that was sufficient quality to get your customers to return?
MP: Si. We have a big kitchen mentality here.
GR: No pride, no passion, no preparation – you’re living on another fucking planet mate!
MP: I worked at the top restaurants in Madrid and Manchester, please don’t be rude.
GR: Rude?! Fuck off! Your Lasagne Al Fornals was underprepared – almost raw, the Cress was limp and the Wilshere Jack cheese just fell apart every time I tried to get it on my fork. The Pâté de Foie (Snod)gras with Scotch was ok but the only dish with any promise was the Rice.

GR: Mate, I was looking forward to a vintage Chilean red but all I’ve seen so far is cheap fizzy water.
MP: We are not in a good moment, I need another wingman.
GR: Fuck off! The only reason you’re here is to make a quick buck before you retire! You don’t care.

Scene: In the boardroom. Ramsay eyes the prawn sandwiches nervously. David Sullivan, David Gold and Karren Brady look unrealistically confident.

DS: How was the food?
GR: Seriously? It was fucking awful! The French beefcake was all alone on the plate with nothing else – I was expecting some Gravy Diangana but the kitchen tell me they’ve will have to go to Birmingham to get any.
GR: As for the Spanish guaca-goalie, it was bright green and rancid – I expected something Fab but it absolutely stank the place out.

A bad smell – the guaca-goalie

GR: And your Brazilian dish couldn’t have been worse if somebody had boiled a sandal – a complete fucking Felipé flop!
GR: All your food is Fancy Dan – you need some meat and potatoes – good honest stuff that does a job.
Ramsay turns to Gold
GR: What about you Mr Gold, what do you do?
David Gold: I was born in Green St.
GR: What!?
DG: Yes, it’s true. And I used to play for the boys and now I drive a Rolls Royce and wear a blazer.
GR: Are you fucking serious?
DG: Oh deadly serious, Mr Ramsay, do you want to see my garden?
GR: Fucking hell, I’ve never met anybody so deluded in all my life!

Ramsay gives up on Gold – especially as he thinks he may need the toilet – and introduces himself to Brady.
GR: Hi, Lady Brady, pleased to meet you. What is your role in the process?
Karren Brady: I’m all about raising the profile of the place…
GB: Raising the profile? How?
KB: With my weekly piece in the paper and regular appearances on The Apprentice.
GR: Yeah, but what do you do for the customers?
KR: I’m the Vice Chair – and let me tell you, a good restaurant doesn’t need customers to be successful. No, I run a club called the Objectionable Supine Bootlickers, the OSB for short – and they tell me everything I want to hear. Sometimes we even offer them a few crumbs from the top table.
GR: So who gets feedback from the diners?
DS (interrupting): Oh, we don’t talk to them, why would anybody do that?
GR: Fuck me ragged, this place is a total shitshow and you lot are fucking amateurs. I can’t help you.

GR: I’m off!

Closing credits

Burnley 3-0 West Ham

Happy families

THE facts are stark – in their last six league games West Ham have won none, drawn two and lost four. Worse, this is not a “bad spell” as manager Manuel Pellegrini claims but a relatively easy run that contained none of the so-called ‘big six’ clubs. Our next four fixtures are against Tottenham, Chelsea, Wolves and Arsenal.

All the chatter is of the manager facing the sack. At present it seems very unlikely – the Board decision to appoint a head coach on such high wages means we are stuck with him, especially as sacking him would mean paying off all his staff as well. Plus, the question remains over who would fill a vacancy – the club are not the attractive proposition many fans would like to think.

The arrogance we spoke of after the Newcastle game needs to stop. The coaching staff need to sit down and realistically think about how to win games. If that means a pragmatic approach to replace the manager’s idealism then so be it.

Of the six goals conceded in the last two games four resulted from set pieces. The issue must be addressed. Pellegrini needs to be disabused of his insistence “nothing will change” on the training ground. Properly executed set pieces are claimed to produce 15-20 goals a season in attack. At the other end of the pitch conceding in this manner will only put more pressure on a misfiring front four to produce.

Despite an attacking trio of midfielders who barely defend and don’t press (there was a good piece about this in The Athletic this week) the team are not producing chances for striker Sebastien Haller. The Frenchman must wonder what he has done coming to a club as dysfunctional as West Ham. Imagine how good he could be if somebody like, oh I dunno, Marko Arnautovic was playing behind him?

At the moment Haller is still working hard but at the risk of repeating ourselves midfielders, especially coming from wide, need to at once get the ball in front of him in the box and come in from the opposite post to get beyond him. Continuing as at present to play stupid little passes into his feet in the hope he will produce something on his own is futile.

Good sides often have a settled back four. Pellegrini must pick his men and stick with them. Of the games mentioned only against Palace did the manager leave his back four unchanged. The present requirement is for players least likely to make mistakes, which means Fredericks, Diop, Ogbonna and Cresswell should start.

Eyes down for a full house

Some problems are insurmountable; there is nothing the manager can do about injuries to the unfortunate Manuel Lanzini or more worryingly Mark Noble, one of only three players along with Rice who can play defensive midfield, even if this further exposes the insanity of not replacing Pedro Obiang during the summer. It’s as though Michel Roux jr suddenly declared: “There’s no butter in the fridge and we haven’t time to go to Tesco, let’s just make our pastry without. Nobody’ll notice”.

Likewise the goalkeeping issue seems irreconcilable. We can only rue Mario Husillos’ decision to bring in Roberto Jimenez as cheap cover for Lukasz Fabianski, a decision that seems more expensive with every week the Pole takes to recover from a hip injury. Fabianski was worth 12 goals to the Hammers last season – it feels like his replacement chucks one in every game.

As everybody’s Gran used to say: “Buy cheap, buy twice”: If a point in the Premier League is said to be worth £1million, the £40,000 or so saved on wages is costing the club around a hundred times as much. Michel Roux jr again: “This butter is way too expensive, lets get some Netto own brand marge instead. What could possibly go wrong?”

Arguments are raging both on social media and among individual supporters over where the blame lies for our current predicament. Some apportion blame to the manager, others the players, still more the Director of Football. We say this: The Chairman is in charge. It was his decision to appoint a manager who matches his arrogance. Pellegrini in turn, appointed a DoF who chose the players he wanted to buy. The squad are struggling under the vague tactical instructions of a hands-off manager who believes “big team mentality” is the essence of his footballing philosophy. Therefore, it seems obvious to look to the top for responsibility.

David Sullivan, this is your omnishambles. Fucking own it!

Standing up for supporters

OH West Ham We Love You are very pleased to have come to an arrangement with Knees Up Mother Brown to publish our blogs.

As a group who value independent thought we feel the need for websites such as KUMB becomes all the greater with each attack on freedom of speech by the club.

Editor Graeme Howlett leads a group of writers who consistently provide good quality, thoughtful material for their readers and we are honoured to join them.

In a similar vein we will support all the good work achieved by Independent Supporters’ Associations such as WHUISA and Hammers United and urge the club to establish a dialogue with them as required by UEFA, Premier League and government regulations.

The practice of the club of relying on “friendly” sites to spread often contradictory and incoherent messages does nothing for supporters, especially when the board refuse to listen to any voice other than their own.