Life in the firing line

Few Premiership chairmen are facing more questions than West Ham's Terence Brown, as Darron Kirkby explains

The only thing that West Ham fans can agree on at pre­sent is that the club is in crisis. Without a home win in the league this season – a run of 12 games including defeats by West Brom and Birmingham – and with only an FA Cup victory since October 22, becoming the first side in Premiership history to be bottom at Christmas and avoid relegation is looking an increasingly tall order.

But divining the origin of the crisis is causing much heated debate around the Boleyn Ground. In one cor­ner are those who blame chairman Ter­ence Brown, while in another are those who hold Glenn Roeder responsible. There are even some who take the un­usual (but entirely justified) view that the players themselves are accountable. Most of us blame all three.

During the rather half-hearted dem­onstrations in December, red cards were handed out citing Terence Brown as wanted for the “metaphorical rape and pillage of West Ham”. Among his al­leged “crimes” are that he has never invested a single penny of his own money into the club and is one of the Prem­iership’s highest-paid chairmen, receiving a salary of £444,000 last year.

Other accusations that have been regularly levelled at the Hammers chairman include sanctioning wages of more than £20,000 a week for Titi Camara and appointing a manager who won only 57 of the 190 games he was in charge for during spells at Gillingham and Watford.

Brown has also angered fans by set­ting ticket prices at a similar level to clubs with a more affluent fan base, such as Tottenham and Chelsea, and making a huge fuss when a handful of idiots booed Michael Carrick earlier this sea­son, claiming that Joe Cole and Jermain Defoe were receiving sim­ilar treatment and that he wouldn’t be surprised if they asked for a transfer.

While West Ham fans appreciate that it is imperative the club does not over­stretch itself, lest we end up like Brad­ford, Derby or Sheffield Wednesday should we get relegated, it is difficult not to conclude that we are being sold short – “Where’s the money gone?” rings out around the Boleyn Ground more often than “I’m forever blowing bubbles” these days.

The club has sold five players for more than the most expensive one we have ever bought and over the past six years are the only Premiership club to have made a profit in the transfer market. Over that period we received £29 million for Rio Ferdinand and Frank Lampard – two homegrown players who cost nothing. Yet while other clubs are speculating to accumulate, we appear to be saving the money for the proverbial rainy day.

Yes we have built (three-quarters of) an impressive stadium and are paying what Brown claims is the sixth-highest wage bill in football (despite having one if not the smallest squads in the top flight). But it is claimed the club has borrowed to finance this and still has debts of more than £30 million. So what has happened to the transfer surplus?

When Brown appointed Roeder in the summer of 2001, there was a lot of disgruntlement. It seemed a typical West Ham decision to take the easiest – and cheapest – option. And although the players regularly come out with their public backing for Roeder, the lack of passion they have shown this season has, at times, been embarrassing. It has been questioned whether somebody who has achieved so little as a manager can have the respect of the players. And Paolo di Canio’s tirade at his manager when he was about to be substituted at White Hart Lane in September, as well as the farcical sight of the same player limping around the pitch hardly touching the ball for almost an hour after sustaining an early injury in the home match against Southampton – suggesting that Roeder was scared to take him off – beg the question as to who is the real guv’nor.

There has also been a lot of criticism of Roeder’s substitutions and tactics. He has been unlucky with injuries, but going to Blackburn with only one striker – a centre-half – raised more than a few eyebrows.

And so to the players. Well, we’ve got three who went to the World Cup with England, two of the best youngsters in the country in Carrick and Defoe, and the prodigious talents of Di Canio and Kanouté, who virtually every manager in the country would love in their side. If we do go down, the stampede to snap up our assets will resemble the first day of the Harrods sale.

The general consensus is that only Carrick has played even reasonably well on a regular basis this season – most of the rest have been awful. Is this due to Roeder’s inability to motivate them or the fact that they know that if West Ham are relegated most of them will be snapped up by one of the big clubs? Whatever, they are playing as though they only meet in the tunnel before each match.

Whoever is to blame, there is a worrying air of des­pondency hanging around Upton Park, as though relegation is inevitable. Hammers fans know there are at least three worse teams in the Premiership. But are there three teams playing worse?

From WSC 192 February 2003. What was happening this month