For now, being middle men will do

Posted by Peter Thorne

Leon Neal/AFP/Getty ImagesMaintaining Premier League status is crucial to West Ham - and chairman David Gold, right - as the club prepares for their move to London's Olympic Stadium in three years.

The ubiquitous and glamorous Lady Blagg knows little about football, yet she has had to put up with a lot of West Ham-related horror stories over the years, but through thin and thin and the occasional binge season, she has always maintained the theory that "West Ham are either in mid-table or fighting relegation".

Of course, passionate supporters of their respective clubs will know full well that -- like families -- it may be OK for a member of that family to criticise and point the finger, but if anyone from outside attempts to do it, the family member will immediately jump to the defence and argue the opposite, no matter how appropriate and well-intentioned the original criticism.

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Now despite a marriage certificate, the fact is Lady B is from the North-East of England and grew up far away from the sunny environs of the docks of the East End; she certainly has no part in the folklore of the area and has little knowledge of the Cockney idiom. So you can see that it is, with great difficulty and bristling with indignation, I have to concede that her observation has a good deal of merit.

A quick look at any of the Premier League tables -- indeed the old First Division format, too -- will reveal that the Hammers are often battling to stay up, going down unceremoniously, being promoted in blaze of glory or shuffling round in mid-table. There's been precious little else since the 1980s.

The problem with West Ham has always been that the perception of the club from the outside differs little from that of the inside. When the main club page at ESPN FC -- not written by me, incidentally -- says the Hammers are "arguably the most important club never to win the English league" and that "the most important day in West Ham's history came when they were not even playing" there is little to do but swallow something jagged and smile through gritted teeth.

Opposing supporters, asked what most aggravates about the Upton Park outfit, usually bemoan the fact that Hammers’ fans go on about "winning the World Cup in '66", pretty much missing the point that, in the minds of many, that is exactly what the name West Ham is always associated with. That is likely to continue until either England win another World Cup -- not holding my breath there! -- or West Ham give them something else to think about, and that is never likely to come from the comfort of halfway up the division.

So, with the start of another season a few days away and being as it seems any other result is unlikely, can we expect another mid-table season or are we looking at a fight against relegation? The answer may surprise because, pretty much unlike any other team in the Premiership, West Ham are in the middle of a project; one that should see them in a larger stadium and with a profile they haven't had since the glory days of the mid-60s, and part of the demands of that project insist that the Hammers stay exactly where they are. In short, another mid-season malaise will suit us very well, thank you.

Now don’t get me wrong here. A drive into Europe through a higher league placing or, better still, a cup win somewhere, would be extremely welcome and long overdue, but then I'd expect the fans of most clubs to say that. But with the owners being very generous with the cheque book despite a still eye-watering bank balance, and Sam Allardyce's ability to get the best from a squad through shrewd tactical nous and playing to a side's strengths, there is a very strong likelihood that West Ham could start to fit nicely into those top places that exist in the "league within a league" and a cup run wouldn’t be a major shock either.

Truth is though, although a day out at Wembley would be welcomed, the lure of the secondary European league is pretty minimal and I’m not sure the added expectations of the owner’s or fans -- let alone the added pressure on the treatment room and Bank Manager -- are something that will be needed next season when the requirements will be pretty much the same as they are this.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves; for this season and a couple after, this is a side that needs to be the very model of the word 'consolidation'.

The arrival of Stewart Downing will certainly add to the strength of the squad and give the Hammers a few more options than they had last season, while the outlay can barely be considered a risk for a player still on the verges of the England squad and surely hearing the siren call of the samba rhythms of Brazil next June. In fact, this could well be a very shrewd bit of business.

Nobody is pretending supporters aren't expecting a good double-figure haul of goals from Andy Carroll, but it’s looking less likely that the Hammers may struggle without him if, as it inevitably seems, he is prone to spells out with injury. Elsewhere, the introduction of Razvan Rat and Adrian can only increase competition for places.

Meanwhile, there’s good -- though traditionally not surprising -- news from the youth ranks where several of the Under-18 squad are starting to look very good indeed. In short, West Ham United are looking uncharacteristically healthy.

Any type of relegation involvement would surely be a major surprise and there is a real opportunity to kick-on and gain a couple of rungs on last season’s 10th place. Really though, everyone knows the significant moves are likely to follow in the seasons after the move to Stratford, and all anyone wants right now is for the club not to follow the usual route of shooting itself in the foot nor having ideas above their currently limited station.

So, if the capricious Gods of football want to smile on us for a season then bring it on. But, if, on the other hand -- and the wife may scoff -- the Hammers finish somewhere round about the middle of the table, then you won’t hear any complaints from this blog.


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