Without hesitation or reluctance, I lay my cards straight on the table before us. I write as a lifetime West Ham United fan and season ticket holder, and for the best part of three seasons, I witnessed Sam Allardyce in action at first hand, positioned perfectly some eight rows behind the team bench at Upton Park.
I witnessed his team selections, his in-play actions and reactions, his moods, his anger, and towards the end of his reign, his inactivity and tactical impotence.
In the beginning all was well. Allardyce was, in hindsight, and in all probability the right man for the time. West Ham, true to history, had found themselves hopelessly stuck in the gluepot that was the Championship.
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Fall in and there was often no escape, or certainly no early escape, as a succession of big-name clubs had fallen deeper and deeper into the struggling trap and failed to surface for literally decades or longer.
With the Olympic Stadium move on the relative horizon, a loyal and vociferous 35,000 following filling the stadium week in week out demanding positive action, and worried boardroom members pacing the hallowed halls of The Boleyn, the scene was set for the Dudley Gumchewer to arrive on horseback and save the day.
Surely West Ham, a spiritual home of free flowing, ball playing football sides (I didn't say it was successful; and this is where the "West Ham way" is so misunderstood and its values corrupted and twisted), was no place for the gruff, bluff Allardyce, a man famed for his route one Bolton exploits where the overworked head of lone striker Kevin Davies caused so many problems for defences, and, in due fairness to Allardyce, resulted in more than a fair share of decent results.
Newcastle United had tasted his style and spat it out with almost indecent haste. West Ham were next to the table to declare his offerings as either corner-café snack or stately home banquet. The claret and blue hordes were aghast with the appointment; surely a joke, as thousands across east London and Essex sprinted to their respective kitchens to locate the calendar and check for an April 1st dateline. My god, the unthinkable had happened, we had put a barbarian in charge of the famed and productive Academy.
Credit must be given where due. Allardyce produced the goods when it mattered and after a fraught season, a battered, bruised and ultimately thankful West Ham were plucked from potential long-term Championship obscurity, courtesy of a late winner against a plucky and unlucky Blackpool side.
Lucky, flukey, undeserved; none of the rhetoric mattered. We were there, back in the big time, back with the rich kids. Sam Allardyce had done what he was employed to do and boy were we grateful.
First important job done, and full praise due. Back in the big time and consolidation was next on the agenda. Lets all be honest. Remaining in the division by fair means or foul, or going straight back down playing like Barcelona was simply not a choice. Stay up under any circumstances was the boardroom mantra, and stay up we did. I witnessed one of the worst ever seasons in terms of style and performance level, but another season of Premiership football had been earned, and surely it would simply be churlish and ungrateful to moan; but I did. A lot.
The enjoyment never arrived
Season 2014/15 was here. Sam could now up the ante, bring in some flair, some panache, some...some enjoyment for gods sake. It never materialised. The play was sterile, the tactics functional, the entertainment value negligible.
Yes, the first half of the season started so well with a high league placing, despite some average performances. However, true to form, once the wheels came off at the beginning of the current year - nothing new to us old Hammers fans it must be said - it was a head on car crash in slow motion all the way. Relegation was avoided, only because the season ended when it did. We were the team in spectacular and unstoppable freefall. We were lucky.
Appalling football at times
Sam had again kept us in the Premier League, this time by default. The football was at times appalling. I watched toward the end of his tenure as he slumped lower and lower in his comfy pitch side armchair.
Some games he never so much as stirred. Bereft of ideas, of energy, of interest, even of life. Here was a spent man who did as much as he could have done with what he had at his disposal, but the time was right for a parting of the ways, and he knew what was coming. The board erred by dragging the sorry saga out; Captain Allardyce was standing on board the holed and sinking HMS Hammers whilst the icy water lapped his boots. Captain Bilic was waiting in the wings.
Unlucky Sunderland fans...
Sunderland will have employed a larger than life character who would rather shop his grannie than admit any failings. Don't expect anything other than direct, functional, defence based football because it wont happen.
He may keep you afloat guys, but your barnacle-clad ship will never drift with the yachts or super liners. Mid-table obscurity, probably a pipe dream at the moment to all you Mackems out there, is all very well unless it is for eternity.
At best Sam will give you that drab, lifeless security, occasionally daring to look up at 12th place with a wishful sigh. At worst, he will flirt with the basement boys playing a brand of soccer forever linked with baggy shorts, toe-punts and cloth caps that will have you flirting with the idea of supporting the black and white side of the north-east. I will watch developments with great interest.
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