In their first 90 years in existence West Ham were the dictionary definition of a stable club, employing just five managers. In the last 15 years, the period of history covered in this book, the club got through ten. The fact that the same period also covers the legally dubious signing of Carlos Tevez, the purchase and then firesale by a group of Icelandic bankers and, most controversially, the club’s move from Upton Park to the London Olympic Stadium means that Robert Banks’s attempts to cover all of this in any depth in just over 400 pages would always be a bit of a stretch.
Banks has history with West Ham and his first book, An Irrational Hatred Of Luton, delicately weaved his personal life with the fortunes of the Hammers in the 1970s and 1980s. However his attempts to do the same here only intermittently hit the target. It’s not as if Banks is short of content, but the decision to structure the book on a season-by-season basis feels unbalanced and equates run-of-the-mill seasons (of which there were many) with some of the bigger, club-changing issues with which West Ham continue to grapple.
This is especially the case at the start of the book where Banks gets into a habit of listing the new signings at the start of the season and then going through results almost one at a time. He does find his stride later on and chapters covering the end of Upton Park and the fractured move to Stratford feel like they are more from the heart. His reprinting and then continual reference to the ten-point plan revealed by new owners David Gold and David Sullivan when they took over the club in 2010 also make interesting reading given what has happened since.
As someone who has had a profile among West Ham fans for a number of years, Banks’s thoughts around social media and how conversations between supporters have become poisonous are also interesting to read. As with his first book, he provides updates on his personal life as the seasons progress and the most interesting and heart-warming parts of the book are the pages where he talks about going to games with his elderly father and how the bond between father and son is strengthened by sharing joint experiences.
The decision to take a season-by-season approach to the book does pay off in one respect as the list of new signings each summer throws up names even the most hardy of West Ham fans will have forgotten – Diego Tristán’s 14-game spell in 2008 was certainly one that had slipped my mind.
Like many West Ham fans, Banks remains worried about the club’s future at their current stadium and under the current ownership but his love for the team continues to shine through. What the next 15 years will look like remains a concern to us all.