Criticism from fans was harsh despite questionable results
29 May ~ No sooner had the final whistle blown on the final day of the season at St James’ Park, than a statement was released by West Ham United announcing that manager Sam Allardyce’s contract would not be renewed. In his post-match interviews Allardyce was on message, eager to explain that it was “the right time to leave”. It was as though each party could not wait to be rid of the other.
An impartial observer could be forgiven for questioning why a relationship that resulted in promotion from the Championship at the first time of asking and three subsequent mid-table Premier League finishes needed to end so soon. In the aftermath of the shambles that was Avram Grant’s one-year reign at Upton Park, Allardyce was exactly the man to clear up the mess and, as he is keen to point out, brought much-needed stability at a time when the club risked stagnating in the wilderness of the Championship, a fate that has befallen so many clubs once considered permanent top-flight residents.
Once back in the Premier League, where historically a relegation battle has never been far away, he kept the team comfortably safe and became the first manager since Harry Redknapp to oversee three consecutive top-tier campaigns. So what was the problem? One myth that has been perpetuated by various television and radio pundits throughout Allardyce’s tenure is that West Ham fans are deluded by the notion of “the West Ham way”. In reality, this term is only ever used by those same pundits. West Ham fans are rightly proud of their heritage but “the West Ham way” is simply not a phrase that features in their parlance, no matter how much Robbie Savage will convince you otherwise.
What is true is that West Ham supporters, like all supporters paying exorbitant ticket prices, expect to be entertained. In a world where financial inequality precludes clubs of West Ham’s status from competing for Champions League places, let alone the title, supporters look for something to fill the void of major silverware, whether that’s through exciting, expansive football or a cup run.
Why has Allardyce left now? Because after four years – a relatively long stay by modern standards – it became evident that he aspired to nothing more than reaching 40 points. Eight cup campaigns produced just one promising run, and even then it culminated in a 9-0 aggregate defeat.
As for exciting football, it just never happened. In a recent home match against Stoke City, the team laboured to a 35 per cent share of possession. This was one of Allardyce’s final 17 matches, which saw the team win just twice and only once manage to score more than a solitary goal. Even in terms of results Allardyce is found a little wanting. This season’s points tally of 47 was his Premier League best with West Ham. Of the seven managers that have managed West Ham during the 20-team Premier League era, only Grant has not bettered this.
For all Allardyce’s shortcomings, the abuse he received from some sections of the fans was unnecessarily toxic. No, he did not always set the team up as we would have liked, but there was nothing about what he did that was malicious. As everyone, Allardyce included, acknowledges, now is the time to say goodbye. Rather than rushing to erase the memory of the past four years, both parties would do well to reflect on a mutually beneficial relationship. Neil Fairchild