As you’ll of course know, West Ham are leaving the Boleyn Ground this season, to set up home in the Olympic Stadium. Where a couple of years ago Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis-Hill and Usain Bolt and David Rudisha and Allyson Felix dazzled with their feats of athletic brilliance, next year will see Matt Jarvis and Mauro Zarate perform their own individual brand of sport.
There has been no little backlash about this move, not least from Leyton Orient who believe the Hammers are invading their turf, as well as many who query quite why the public are paying for the necessary alterations for football to be played at a stadium that the public largely paid for in the first place.
But, on balance, it’s probably better to have someone or something in the stadium, rather than it standing as a mossed-over neighbour to the Westfield shopping centre. Better for it to host some sport, and be filled with people rather than standing empty.
At least, that’s the plan for West Ham, anyway. Their average attendance last season was a bit over 34,000, so with some creative pricing and ticket schemes and so forth, they should still be able to draw some respectable crowds to Premier League games next season. That is, assuming they are in the Premier League.
There is but one aim for the Hammers this term, which is to stay in the top flight. If they get relegated to the Championship and have to welcome minnows like Rotherham, Huddersfield and Derby to the Olympic Stadium, rather than Arsenal, Chelsea and Bournemouth, then at best they’re going to look a bit silly, and at worst have a financial deficit bigger than the number of grot mags David Gold published years ago. Among which, long-time readers of Football365 might recall, featured a title called ‘Raider’, the contents of which we have absolutely no desire to discover.
Avoiding relegation is pretty important, then. Even more important than usual. Which makes the decision to bin Sam Allardyce and take something of a flyer on Slaven Bilic look even more curious. The style of play might not have been great, they probably wouldn’t have finished higher than 10th, he isn’t the most pleasant or self-effacing character around, but the one thing Allardyce would have guaranteed is a place in the top flight. He was a sure thing, a safety blanket, something to rely on. ?
As it is, they have gambled on Slaven Bilic, a former Hammers player who has never previously managed in this country, did well with Besiktas and Croatia but was sacked by Lokomotiv Moscow. He could be a great success with West Ham, but he could also be a honking failure; his recruitment most certainly represents a risk, particularly in replacing the sure thing that was Allardyce.
It would be like a salesman lining up a big deal, before leaving to write an expansive novel on the human condition and the nature of being a week before it closed. Or cooking a perfectly planned meal, but deciding at the last minute to throw in a fistful of cinnamon, just to see what happens. Or inviting someone back to your place but getting into a blazing row about alternative medicine before everyone goes home in tears.
Perhaps West Ham had tired of Allardyce and Allardyce had tired of West Ham, but the decision not to keep the big man in the dugout seems to be an emotional one, rather than logical. Something that we have seen in this nascent season.
West Ham were frankly a piping hot mess at the weekend against Bournemouth, scoring three goals against a newly-promoted side featuring five men who’d played for them in League One, and still contriving to lose. Angelo Ogbonna was hooked after 35 minutes. The usually reliable Aaron Cresswell played like a man who knew bailiffs were chasing him. Carl Jenkinson got himself sent off in comical fashion. Darren Randolph waved in his 16th goal in his last three games against Bournemouth. Kevin Nolan started up front. “They didn’t do that when I was in charge,” chuckled Allardyce from the Match of the Day couch, as he and Alan and Gary pored over the carcass of the game like a hillbilly poking roadkill with a stick.
They weren’t a huge amount much better in the previous encounter either, a 2-1 defeat to Leicester. That game, as did the Bournemouth clash, saw a red card for a West Ham player (Adrian), making it five dismissals in nine competitive matches since Bilic arrived, Diafra Sakho, James Collins and James Tomkins being the others. It seems reasonably clear that this West Ham team won’t be troubling the Fair Play League as they did last term.
Of course, we must remember that West Ham have injuries aplenty, an incomplete squad and we’re only a couple of weeks removed from the win over Arsenal and Reece Oxford being the new Duncan Edwards. There is time to fix it, and time for Bilic to settle and become the manager we saw with Croatia.
It’s one of those situations where you hope it works out, but it would be really funny if it didn’t. In this most important of seasons there are no guarantees Bilic will figure it out. You could hardly say the same about a team managed by Allardyce.