Roy Of The Rovers’ cohorts will have to wait, I’m afraid. Far more interesting stuff is emanating from the Boleyn Ground, where West Ham’s season has gone from rumours of something like a fairy-tale future to complete, unmitigated disaster in the space of less than two months. And that’s without even taking into account the panic signing of Prince Harry, who is rumoured to be starting on Saturday against Blackburn.
It was, of course, less than six months ago that West Ham pushed Liverpool all the way in the best FA Cup final in over fifty years. Their future seemed bright, with a squad packed full of exciting young players, but after winning just one match, their form has collapsed. It’s easy to assume that the signings of Mascherano and Tevez were the root of the problems. West Ham had, at that time, a settled squad, and were expected to finish in the top eight this season.
Initially, the signings looked like the transfer deals of the year – two of the world’s best players on a free transfer. What could possibly go wrong? These signings were (and I was as guilty as anyone else on this particular subject) not really scrutinized as closely as they should have been. A young, predominantly British squad, not one of the better paid squads in the Premiership, was suddenly infiltrated by two massively paid interlopers, who were doing a damn good impression of men that didn’t even want to be in East London. A couple of days later, with the details of West Ham’s contractual obligations laid bare and rumours now circulating that a take-over bid was imminent, Dean Ashton, their brightest young star of all, broke his ankle horribly whilst training for England. The momentum that had carried them up the table and to the Millennium Stadium had been lost. Within a couple of weeks, they had been dumped out of the UEFA Cup by Palermo, who showed up gaping gaps in their organisation. They’re now propped up in the League only by the so-far dismal Charlton Athletic, whose win over Bolton in the League Cup last night demonstrated how capable they are of improvement.
With this being West Ham, the story wouldn’t be complete without a dash of humiliation, and this turned up on Tuesday night at Saltergate against Chesterfield in the League Cup. I have to admit a certain liking for Chesterfield. In 1997, as some of you may remember, they were 3-1 up against Middlesbrough in the FA Cup Semi-final when they had a perfectly good goal disallowed, allowing Middlesbrough to score twice and eventually win the replay. They have a propensity to do this sort of thing every once in a while. For West Ham, it was an eighth defeat in a row, and the axe is now hanging over Alan Pardew’s head by the thinnest of wires. He must be wondering what the hell has happened. In May, he was a hero, and was being talked about as potentially the next-but-one England coach. Now, he finds himself in one of of those ridiculous situations that football managers periodically find themselves in – a “must win” match against Blackburn Rovers on Saturday. He has, at least, the advantage of having been here before – he was rumoured to be one match from the sack before the 2005 Play-Off final – but does anybody at The Boleyn Ground seriously believe that ratcheting up the pressure on him like this does their team any favours whatsoever? West Ham are in the position that everybody expected them to be in this time last year. What Pardew has done for them is give them expectations that, in all honesty, out-strip the reality of their position. It says a lot of what he managed with them last season.
A couple of weeks ago, I offered a back-handed congratulations to the chairmen of the twenty Premiership clubs by managing to not panic and fire their managers after a couple of bad results. Eight defeats in a row has been disastrous for West Ham, but if the board of directors, players and supporters, who have done little more this season than turn their team into something half-way between a circus and a soap opera, think that they can turn everything around by sacking the one man that, more than anyone else, has acted with dignity and honesty in his dealings, then they’re even more stupid than the likes of you and I take them for.
So I guess we can expect Alan Curbishley to be appointed within a couple of weeks. Leeds might have still further cause to rue their decision to appoint Dennis Wise. A very good manager indeed could be coming onto the market very soon.