Now some of my good friends and neighbours are devoted fans of West Ham United and I have no wish to compromise those friendships by sounding overtly critical of their beloved club. But yesterday things really did come to a pretty pass with the Hammers 5-0 defeat away at Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup third round. My focus is not so much on the result, which was a fair reflection of the respective abilities of the two teams, but more on the circumstances which have brought West Ham to this position.
And my suspicion is that there are basically two reasons for their seeming decline. The first is the ownership of the club, currently in the hands of the Davids - Sullivan and Gold - who made their considerable fortune from a pornographic empire and whilst they have thrown money at their boyhood club almost as if it were yet another plaything, there remains something of a feeling that those riches might just be a little `tainted.`
The second problem appears to be the manager, `Big` Sam Allardyce, who has raised a talent for blaming others for the team`s failures almost to an art form. In recent weeks, he has blamed the players, referees, the fixture list, injuries and illness - anything but taking responsibility himself for his team`s shortcomings. And it`s all done with an air of being persecuted by the gods of football - those who decree that things `just weren`t meant to be.`
Now these pages have been well known for their criticisms of another of the game`s dinosaurs - the now thankfully retired Alex Ferguson, late of Manchester United, although he still seems to be a threatening presence in the dark recesses of Old Trafford. And I accept that I might be guilty of seeking an alternative source to criticise when I appear to be picking on `Big` Sam. But in truth he seems to be doing a splendid job of coming out of the shadows of the oafish Ferguson and assuming the mantle of the archetypal paleolithic football manager, full of self-delusion as exemplified by his assertions that he could not understand why he had not been appointed to manage Real Madrid, never mind England.
In truth, Allardyce does represent, along with the West Ham owners, the complete reversal in style, attitude and culture of a once proud club - the one time `Academy of Football` - from the days of Ron Greenwood and John Lyall, when people like me admired not only the way the club played the game but also the way in which its public face was so much more agreeable. And whilst I accept that, once again, I may be looking back with wistful sentimentality to the golden age of Upton Park, I suspect too that some of my good friends and neighbours may feel the same?