At the start of the Premier League season, not many people, even the most optimistic Town fan would have predicted that after three games, Huddersfield Town would be sitting 3rd in the table on seven points and West Ham would be sitting joint bottom on zero points.
Both clubs appear to be a complete antithesis of each other when discussing issues such as, amongst others; fan-base unity, the connection between the players and the fans and communication between the club hierarchies and their respective fan bases.
In this article I will examine just where it is going right or wrong and where I see the trajectories of both clubs, albeit at such an early stage.
Where Town are riding high on a wave of euphoric unity and solidarity amongst the fantasise bar a few on Down At The Mac that would have a moan if we won the FA Cup, West Ham fans appear increasingly divided.
Even during relegation seasons, West Ham fans were either united in their disdain for unsuccessful managers like Avram Grant in 2010/2011 or supportive in backing caretaker boss and club legend Sir Trevor Brooking during their eventual relegation in the 2002/2003 season.
This season however, the looming spectre of the Olympic Stadium has damaged their once impressive home form and is a world away from the intimidating and boiling-pot atmosphere of Upton Park. This has caused conflict to emerge between fans.
Poor performances on the field have been the major catalyst for division. From the fans I have spoken to, more and more are reluctantly coming to the consensus that something must change at managerial level if results continue on this downward spiral.
The teething problems that sprung up during the early months of last season that culminated in fights between fellow supporters in the stands has created an air of hostility and trepidation that must be quashed if West Ham are to not only survive but thrive again in the Premier League.
In contrast, the atmosphere at the John Smith’s Stadium has never been better since its construction as the previously named McAlpine Stadium in 1994.
The continuation and progression of the newly named ‘Cowshed Loyal’ along with the magic of Premier League matches has created a carnival atmosphere on match-day that I have never experienced before, even in my short 19 years of supporting Town.
If West Ham are to emerge from this dip in form, the fan base must try and unite once more, as difficult as that may be.
The Olympic Stadium may be a betrayal of everything West Ham stood for to some, but this will not turn back time. It is well possible that the stadium can be a cauldron once more for visiting teams but the fans must generate this atmosphere if they are to succeed.
It is hard not to feel sympathy for Slaven Bilic during this period.
Most recognise that a defeat to Town on Monday night would probably signal the end of his tenure at West Ham United.
This seems a world away from the jubilation and optimism that greeted Bilic’s first season in charge. The prodigal son returned to approval from the West Ham faithful and a season of exciting, free-flowing football, fantastic victories and a group of players that not only brought quality but also a desire and a want to bleed for the claret and blue shirts they were wearing.
This, coupled with the romanticism that came with the last ever season at Upton Park provoked hopes of a top six finish the following season and an upgrade recruitment wise on the players they currently had in the squad, believing that the lure of London as well as the stadium could bring in a calibre of player previously not seen at West Ham.
If West Ham are to cut their losses with Bilic, they would be well-placed to attract Newcastle manager Rafael Benitez with the promise of January funds and transfer control. But how much control he would actually have with another board that are reluctant to relinquish it remains to be seen.
Town on the other hand, appear to have a manager that will be coveted by most teams in the Premier League and abroad if there is even a hint that he is unsettled at the club (which is very unlikely).
Wagner’s tactical genius, man-management skills, recruitment strategy, passion, enthusiasm and charisma has completely transformed this little club from West Yorkshire.
The German has brought a brand of football and identity that has packed out the stadium every week and put Huddersfield back on the footballing map.
When the time comes for Wagner to go onto bigger and better things (I predict Liverpool then the German national team), we must identify a suitable replacement with similar traits or philosophy to fit the newly formed ‘Huddersfield Way’.
This is the section which for West Ham fans has probably caused the most strife both on the pitch and off the pitch.
Joint Chairman David Sullivan and David Gold have been involved in a series of gaffes and public blunders that have tarnished their relationship between them and the fans.
The first (some would argue the biggest one) was the move to the Olympic Stadium itself. Re-purposing an athletics stadium as a football ground was met with immediate scepticism by some sections of the West Ham fan base but most withheld their judgement until the logistics of the stadium was finalised.
Would seats be brought forward to close the gap between the pitch and the stands and retracted for other sporting events? CEO Karren Brady promised that West Ham would take priority over any athletics events yet here we are in mid-September already three games in with the club yet to play its first home game of the season. Another broken promise was also over the distance from the pitch to the stands with the result for a lot of West Ham fans being a much larger and well-built version of Brighton & Hove Albion’s old ground, the Withdean Stadium. For clarity, this was another athletics conversion.
Other blunders include David Gold’s tweet that “I think we all have to expect that it is extremely unlikely that a teenager will break into a PL team full of seasoned international. DG”. Given West Ham’s youth policy success, this was at best ill-advised and at worst, an insult to their history of producing some of England’s finest players.
The likes of Rio Ferdinand, Joe Cole, Jermain Defoe, Frank Lampard, Michael Carrick to name a few were produced through West Ham’s academy and such an open admittance that this policy of promoting youth was not likely to continue angered many West Ham supporters who like many, yearn for one of their own to make the grade once more.
There is also the matter of ‘Carvalho-gate’. After an alleged deadline-day move for holding midfielder William Carvalho from Sporting Lisbon fell through, many West Ham fans were suitably disappointed that the Portuguese destroyer was not purchased.
What transpired following this was even stranger.
Sporting Lisbon director Nuno Saraiva first angrily refuted David Sullivan’s claim that Carvalho had been offered to them on deadline day, branding him a “liar” and a “parasite” in a angrily worded Facebook post. Sullivan responded by labelling his claims “nonsense” and claiming he would be taking legal action as well as providing proof that a bid had been made to Sporting for the player. The proof was an email outlining a bid for the player that was well below Sporting’s £35m valuation anyway.
Then in waded Sporting President Bruno de Carvalho who called the West Ham owners the “Dildo brothers”, perhaps in a thinly veiled reference to the way they made their fortune from the soft-porn industry and the comments subsequently broke the internet.
This equally tragic and hilarious chain of events has soured the reputation of the club both in the UK and abroad and further damaged the relationship between the board and the fans. That such conflict was conducted so openly rubs salt in the wounds of their beleaguered attempts to sign players so late in the transfer window.
Sullivan and Gold then angered fans further by publishing a statement on the club website stating that they had offered forward Renato Sanches of Bayern Munich and midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak from Paris Saint-Germain but Bilic had turned them down. Sanches and Krychowiak were transferred to Swansea and West Bromich Albion in respective loan deals. To chuck Bilic under the proverbial bus like this is incredibly disconcerting not to mention petty. Clearly they felt that doing this would deflect the fans ire for a underwhelming transfer window away from them and onto the manager. Purely as a PR move it’s below the belt and portrays a broken relationship between board and manager. Bilic subsequently denied this conversation took place, muddying the waters further.
David Sullivan should also be mindful to advise his son Jack to stop posting transfer news on his social media account. Whilst it may be seen by him to be giving fans an insight into the inner workings of the club, if transfer deals fall through, it reflects badly on them and would cause undoubted frustration. Much like most of the Republican Party would like to ban their President from going on Twitter; the same caution should be extended in this situation. Conducting business behind closed doors until transfers are completed is a logical strategy to implement and one that Town have done to great effect for a number of years.
The role of Chief Executive Karren Brady should also not be underestimated.
She has also created conflict of her own between herself and the fans. Her role as Conservative Party Peer is in itself seen by some fans as an affront to the working-class roots that make up West Ham’s fan-base.
This is exacerbated further by the story that emerged in January last year that the club had given £12,500 to the Conservative Party as a charitable donation, with Brady and Gold both attending the Tory Party’s annual black and white ball a month later. This not only raises serious ethical questions over the decision-making process to award West Ham custody of the Olympic Stadium but is an insult to the hard-working fans who do not wish to see their club become a de facto donor for a governing party.
Austerity politics directly affects many West Ham fans and for them to see their club donate its own money to their cause must have been seen as a massive betrayal.
If they desire change, West Ham fans should campaign for it and the Huddersfield model should be looked at as an example to follow. The club is owned by local businessman Dean Hoyle who actively canvasses supporters’ opinions and is highly visible, taking regular Q & As with fans for substantial sessions.
The Supporters Liaison Officer, Nathan Hosker as well as Commercial Director Sean Jarvis are conduits between the club and the supporters and they are constantly feeding back concerns, praise and ideas to the club to take forward.
Active on social media and on match day, this strong relationship ensures a strong bond between club and fan and strengthens the emotional connection fans have to the club as well. The message the fans receive is that they will be listened to.
Two seasons ago, it could have been said that the relationship between West Ham’s players and their supporters was one of the strongest in the league.
Flying high and full of confidence, the good results strengthened the relationship between player and fan immeasurably. However, the ugly transfer of Dimitri Payet back to his former club Marseille in France certainly put a dampener on this feel-good factor.
The protracted saga as well as Payet’s decision to go on strike to force a move transformed his once beloved chant into a profanity ridden send-off instead.
Whilst there is still a strong relationship between West Ham’s players and their fans, the Payet affair certainly left a bitter taste in the mouth for all concerned.
Mark Noble the Club Captain is still a much beloved figure but even he is starting to show erratic form and faces questions from the fans over his long-term future at the club.
Contrast this with Town and the relationship between the players and the fans has never been stronger.
All players regularly take extended periods to sign autographs for young fans, take pictures and engage in community outreach projects including the Town Foundation Breakfast Clubs and visiting cancer wards in Huddersfield hospitals.
In Town’s recent history, we have certainly shared West Ham fans frustrations with players leaving the club in search of supposed ‘bigger and better things’. Prime cuplrits being Jacob Butterfield, Adam Clayton, Oliver Norwood and Jordan Rhodes all leaving the club.
Now, the situation has changed immeasurably with a powerful and emotional bond between the squad and fans and the players express how much they love the club in interviews and on social media on a regular basis.
To conclude, whilst it is still very early days, the timing of the game on Monday provides a stark portrayal of the fortunes of both clubs. Whilst West Ham could still have the last laugh come May, Town seem to be doing everything right both on and off the pitch whilst West Ham appear to be struggling to form a united front to tackle the dangers ahead.