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Does Sam Allardyce still have the fans backing?

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Big SamI’ve supported West Ham since the early 60s, and I don’t recall a manager ever having split fans opinion as much as Sam Allardyce. For the older followers amongst us, there is no doubt that halcyon days of the modern club, in management terms, revolved around the stately, yet progressive and forward thinking Ron Greenwood and his willing and equally talented protégée John Lyall.

Two much loved and respected managers who were instrumental in moulding West Ham into a ball playing team that, whilst pleasing to the eye and much loved by the football purists amongst us were sadly short of the necessary “all-round” assets that winning teams require.

We all remember with trepidation the fixtures that took us north of Watford, to those northern bastions where West Ham simply never returned with full points; playing away at Liverpool, Manchester United and generally most other top flight sides was quite simply a lost cause, and it seemed nothing would ever change the status-quo.

Of course the best ever all round team we had, The Boys of 85/6 managed to combine the almost legendary Hammers flair and skill with a dose of bite and strength. No more “softy southerner” taunts as we travelled all over gathering points like we had never done in the top flight, and It seemed the magic blend had at long last been achieved…but this is West Ham United remember, and true to history, the blossoming was oh so brief and hope once again receded. A third place was followed three years later by relegation. You couldn’t make it up could you!

So, after what seemed a lifetime with but a handful of managers, the floodgates opened after John Lyall’s poorly handled sacking, and managers came and went – Lou Macari, Billy Bonds, Harry Redknapp, Glenn Roeder, Alan Pardew, Alan Curbishley, Gianfranco Zola and Avram Grant…the awful, inept, bemused  Grant that for me represented the managerial low point at my beloved club.

Yes we had flashes of quality, some trophies from our yo-yo days between leagues, but did anyone really take the club by the scruff of its neck if we are being honest and objective? Love him or hate him Harry Redknapp was the man who led us to a 5th slot in 1999, but a ludicrous amount of inept transfer dealings resulted in the boot. Great work there Brown; the club seem to be going places, but hey, lets get rid of Harry and bring in Glenn Roeder…the rest is history, as the following season relegation took place before our disbelieving eyes.

So the stats show that after King Billy Bonds, the manager with the next best win ratio (yes I’m aware it includes matches outside of the Premier League) is Sam Allardyce. I can remember the announcement that Big Sam, that Northern football anti-hero was being given the Hammers job…an Atom bomb dropped on the Boleyn ground would have caused less commotion. What??? The gruff bloke who managed Bolton Wanderers, lasted 30 seconds at Newcastle United, and was given the boot from Blackburn Rovers, was now to manage The Academy…unthinkable, unspeakable, a joke SURELY?

So lets take a dispassionate, objective look at our current boss. He is a no-nonsense man manager who seems to be getting the best out of young Ravel Morrision (due credit also to Lee Clark at Birmingham City).

Big on team spirit and a never-say-die attitude, he has instilled a steel and determination that past sides have clearly lacked. He favours fitness, strength and power above skill and technique, and that in itself goes against the very soul and ethos of West Ham United, and is a major cause of unrest and unease to those fans who sigh wistfully as they recall past Iron legends like Bobby Moore, Trevor Brooking, Alan Devonshire, Paolo Di Canio and a younger Joey Cole, all skill and poise, oozing class, and, surely, born to wear the claret & blue.

To see current and recent Hammers teams described as “tough, no nonsense”, “direct and forceful” and “powerful” is almost a shock to the system, yet sure enough Allardyce has built a team based on height, power and aerial dominance, the like of which we haven’t seen at The Boleyn. The team is almost designed for set play dominance, at both ends and big Andy Carroll’s lengthy absence has had a major affect on the teams plans and tactics, with two redundant wingers at present and a team that runs out to perform with no recognised striker. Many blame Sam for poor foresight and for sticking his free range firmly in one basket, and it’s hard to look back and think otherwise.

So, no Carroll leading the line and powering home crosses from Stewart Downing and Matt Jarvis; lets move quickly and efficiently across to Plan B….Plan B Sam…anywhere to be seen…No? And yet looking at the way we dismantled Spurs by playing football entirely on the floor, and how in the first half against Norwich City the ball hardly left the grass, it must be said that perhaps this side is capable of a Plan B style, it’s just that Sam Allardyce doesn’t feel comfortable playing that way.

Is he so used to playing  a long, direct style that bought him great success at little Bolton, (even in European competition don’t forget) that any other system would almost be seen as inefficient and fanciful ?

I actually think that he is more than capable of setting up a ball playing side. He has coached and managed for many years, with a modicum of success with a relatively small club like Bolton, he knows what the game is all about, and I think when all is said and done, he simply prefers a direct power game where the midfield are primarily there to ball win, close down, and fill the box waiting for knock downs and tit-bits. Why play ten risky short passes when one good ball to a big target man is all it takes? Pretty on the eye? I don’t think he really cares. He is all about statistical efficiency and results, and for us Hammers fans we simply are not used to that.

I think the majority of fans are still with Sam Allardyce, but for how much longer I really don’t know. Putting up with route one football is perhaps palatable when results are generally positive, and there is a half-decent league table position to show for it. However, when the football appears directionless (4-6-0), results are poor and even attack minded play is but a distant memory, then the spotlight will be focused firmly on the manager, questions will be asked, and I think supporters will be genuinely and reasonably entitled to say “Do you know what…on balance I’d rather lose playing a more open passing game than lose without a half-decent shot on goal….”

On a personal note, I like the stability that he has brought to the club at a time when we seriously need steadying. He has done exactly what he was expected to do, get us promoted first time, then stabilise us (mid table finish last season – perfect!) But that’s all in the past Sam. The doubters and the haters couldn’t really say too much because you kept your side of the bargain in return for tacit approval. Now the gloves are off and you will live or die by your managerial decisions from hereon in.

The clock is ticking…

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Plaistow born Spencer is a lifelong Hammer and having spent half-a century plus, enduring this lifelong obsession, along with every other West Ham supporter, knows exactly what it takes and what it means to wrap that Claret & Blue scarf round your neck every other Saturday and head off for the Boleyn !

A Chartered Surveyor by profession, Spencer, now 58, has played, coached and managed at semi-pro level within Essex for a number of clubs, and, simply unable to give up playing, currently turns out for the Iron Maiden Over 35’s side when he is not watching the Hammers, playing guitar in his Classic Rock covers band Gunrunner, or more probably, injured yet again!

4 comments
  • Jordan Marsden says:

    Cracking read. Couldn’t agree more! Have faith in Sam

  • Legends says:

    good article. agree with most.
    the interesting thing i’ve been reminded of from reading this are the appalling selection of managers since redknapp left.
    Our owners are really pretty awful at selecting the right man for the job.
    Roeder – strange and totally uninspiring decision
    Curbishley – boring and senseless
    Zola – great guy and project but always a chelsea man. the writing was on the wall the wall from the first day he was hired.
    Grant – useless. outrageous decision to hire him!
    i think all in all the owners have a lot to answer for those failures.
    Big Sam is holding on. i hope he makes it through but if he doesnt (it’s a “results game” after all) we should bring in someone with a West Ham heart and soul. Bring back Bonds, or Bilic, or Redknapp, or Devonshire, or Keen… who knows…

  • dreamer says:

    Bilic.

  • RonBoy29 says:

    What a breath 0f fresh air and so constructive. It certainly speaks for me and I go back to a first game in 1935. We all want to win games but what a difference if we can do it playing on the ground with good passing skills as of yore. Is it possible that in playing the long ball game our boys could lose the habit of dribbling and passing to unmarked team mates? As the saying goes – if you dont use it you lose it! We do have skilful players as well as good defenders so we have the mix Sam why not give plan B a go!

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