Battle lines drawn as Hammers eye future

Posted by Peter Thorne

Sam AllardyceGettyImagesSam Allardyce still faces fan opposition at West Ham despite meeting all requirements asked of him

As Martin O'Neill discovered to his cost at the weekend, the Premier League is an unforgiving mistress and despite the feelings of fans, internet warriors and the more imaginative sections of the official press, Sam Allardyce has constantly tried not be lured by its siren call.

With unfounded conjecture growing that David Gold and David Sullivan were looking for another manager when Allardyce's contract expires in the summer, and the leading unofficial websites openly discussing the strong - but entirely unfounded - rumour that Harry Redknapp is on the verge of a return to his old club, Sam decided last week was the time to make an official statement about his intentions confirming - as if it wasn't the most likely explanation anyway - that he was refusing to get involved in contract negotiations until West Ham were mathematically safe from relegation.

As a rebuff to those constantly clamouring that his style of management isn't something that West Ham should be entertaining, it was a pretty clever assertion and a rather nifty side-step wrapped up as a straightforward statement of Sam's intentions. Really, what would we fans all have thought if Allardyce was trying to beat out a new deal in the boardroom as his team struggled to gain points? After all, as the events at Reading and Sunderland have revealed; it's never too late to enter the Sack Race. If nothing else, Sam Allardyce has shown himself to be a man who prefers to conduct his business in the right way.

In fairness though, I guess some of the fans frustration can be understood. It's in the nature of supporters to be quixotic, wary and swift to show their displeasure - it's what being a football fan is all about, isn't it? Recent developments have meant that many fans are alarmed at what they see as a complete dismantling of the things they hold dear with certain factions impatient to see what happens from here on in.

When Allardyce was appointed his first task was to get the club back in the Premier League; it became a struggle at times but that was achieved, at his first attempt, with a stirring play-off victory at Wembley in May of last year. Sam's second task was to ensure the Hammers didn't go straight back down and, barring a few points, that now seems almost certain. The remit now would seem to be to build on that success - ensure there is no 'second season syndrome' developing - and look to build on growing the club in time for the move to the Olympic Stadium. The question many are asking is, will the future remit allow for the signing of players that will allow Allardyce the opportunity to play a more expansive and entertaining style of football? And, perhaps more importantly, is that ever Sam's intentions or within his capability?

As a long-standing supporter of the move to the OS and - despite initial concerns - Sam Allardyce and the triumvirate of Gold, Sullivan and Brady, it may seem that a quick review of my recent blogs on ESPN that all is rosy in the West Ham garden, but that isn't what the concensus is everywhere. After the match against WBA, I bought an unofficial fanzine from outside the Boleyn Ground and there was a barely a page inside that wasn't full of bile and invective against Allardyce, his style of play, the board and their intentions of moving the club to the Olympic Stadium and, what some see at least, to be Gold and Sullivan's failure to listen to what the fans want.

The editorial in the fanzine spoke plainly of 'open family warfare' with older fans lining up against younger fans in disputes over the decsion to uproot the club from Upton Park and move it to Stratford. It would be easy for me to be dismissive of claims that generations aren't apparently speaking to each other in some homes, but even a bit of poetic licence shouldn't disguise the fact that, for many, Sam Allardyce, the owners, board and Stratford are causing a lot of heartache.

These internal disputes are surely going to be providing a lot of 'blog-fare' over the coming months - probably years - but the immediate concern should be to just ensure the Hammers gain the few points neccessary to make certain of Premier League football next season and then discuss what funding is available for the future, and if the signing of the likes of players like Andy Carroll - and more about that later! - are likely in the short term.

I'm concerned about the type of intenal strife that almost tore the club apart at the time of the ill-fated Bond Scheme at the end of the 1980's/beginning of the '90's. Battle lines may be being drawn but it's important to remember that, for a time at least, the problems besetting the likes of the Royals and the Black Cats are a step or two away from what West Ham are currently experiencing. All Hammer's fans have worn the t-shirt on that one, and the immediate concern is to make sure it doesn't come around again too soon!

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