Security increased at West Ham as uncertainty reigns
Moyes tells players to show strength of character as they take on Southampton
West Ham United owners David Sullivan and David Gold. There will be extra security in front of the directors’ box for the match against Southampton. Photograph: Mark Robinson/Getty Images
In different circumstances it would be possible simply to look forward to a day of huge significance at the bottom of the Premier League. If life at the London Stadium was that straightforward, however, they would not be fortifying security in front of the directors’ box, and there would be no clamour for the trio running West Ham United to stay away from home games for the rest of the season.
The future has arrived in less than glorious circumstances, humbling West Ham as they prepare to host Southampton on Saturday afternoon. The promised dream has turned into a nightmare in a soulless bowl. It has been three weeks since West Ham’s last game descended into chaos, and it is hardly ideal they have spent that time working with the authorities to prevent a repeat of the ugly scenes that marred their 3-0 defeat against Burnley.
This is a relegation six-pointer with an unwelcome distraction. It is the 17th-placed team at home to the 18th, with two points separating the sides, and there will be as much focus on events in the stands as those on the pitch.
It is a sad situation but there is no escaping reality for West Ham with the dust still settling after Burnley’s first goal resulted in five pitch invasions and hundreds of supporters gathering below the directors’ box to protest against David Gold and David Sullivan, the club’s owners, and Karren Brady, the vice-chairman.
Sullivan was struck on his glasses by a coin, and he and Gold had to leave their seats early. Almost 20 West Ham fans have been issued with lifetime suspensions for invading the pitch or throwing missiles, the club is facing punishment from the Football Association and the fallout even featured Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, rebuking Brady for claiming that cuts to the stadium’s security budget were responsible for the trouble.
Stewards were overwhelmed, and the toxic atmosphere raises the prospect of trouble flaring again, not least because Sullivan, Gold and Brady are expected to attend the game against Southampton and have indicated no desire to part with the club they led away from Upton Park two years ago.
Brady and Khan met to discuss the stadium’s problems on Monday, and the Safety Advisory Group (SAG), which features West Ham, the Metropolitan Police, the London Legacy Development Corporation and the stadium operators, LS185, has agreed additional security measures for the game.
Police will be inside and outside the ground, stewards will be positioned in the stands and by the pitch, free flow around the stadium will be reduced and West Ham have placed a barrier near the directors to stop fans getting too close.
A female steward who suffered concussion in the crush below the directors’ box and a male steward who was left with a blood clot behind one eye after being assaulted are expected to return to work.
The operation will add £60,000 to the security bill, and will be covered by the taxpayer, although the safety enhancements are just as well given that the SAG has warned that further trouble will leave West Ham facing the prospect of playing future matches behind closed doors.
“I want this club to appeal to really good international players,” said David Moyes, West Ham’s manager. “I want them to say ‘I want to join West Ham United’. I don’t think what happened against Burnley is going to make those players want to join us.”
Moyes, whose contract runs out at the end of the season, says he would like to remain at West Ham. However, his decision is likely to depend on them staying in the Premier League. Uncertainty reigns. Victory will take West Ham five points above Southampton but it is telling that the visiting manager, Mark Hughes, has spoken about using the crowd against the home team.
After all, the build-up to the Burnley game was overshadowed by Mark Walker, the head of the West Ham United Independent Supporters’ Association (WHUISA), becoming the target of an online campaign orchestrated by members of the Real West Ham Fans Group (RWHFG) after his organisation tried to resurrect a cancelled protest march.
Walker held productive talks with Sullivan after the club were criticised by Wes Streeting, the Labour MP for Ilford North, for failing to condemn the abuse. Yet WHUISA will vote on Saturday morning on whether to march before the Manchester City game on April 28th, while there is intrigue over rumours of rival groups holding a “static protest” outside the stadium against Southampton.
The mood is fragile and although the players have sympathy with the supporters’ complaints, which have mainly focused on a perceived lack of investment in the transfer market since the move to Stratford, they are concerned more disruptions will harm their efforts to stay up. Five of West Ham’s final eight games are at home, with visits from Everton, both Manchester clubs and Stoke still to come.
The collapse against Burnley was alarming, and Moyes, who has Arthur Masuaku available after the wing-back’s six-match ban for spitting, told the players during their recent mini-break in Miami that they must show strength of character if there are more protests.
“They were shocked,” Moyes said. “We couldn’t understand it. We were only 1-0 down. If anything we needed the fans’ support. I can show you the stats that said as soon as the pitch invasions started the players dropped off physically.
“We’ve said to the players if anything like this happens again we have to make sure we don’t drop off, and that this time we rally round each other quickly because it looked like we just went to pieces.”
Moyes is still getting to grips with West Ham’s politics, which is an unenviable task, and the week has been dominated by calls for unity from claret and blue heroes like Mark Noble and Sir Trevor Brooking.
The problem for West Ham is that the strength of any truce is likely to depend on which team scores the first goal.