By Tony Attwood
Reputations, like football accounts can be funny things. We’ve had endless arguments on this site about what has happened to the extra money Arsenal have made from having almost paid off the cost of the Emirates Stadium, and why that money hasn’t brought more than the the three FA Cups. Those wins made Arsenal the greatest FA Cup club of all time, but many seemed to expect more trophies, and trophies of a a different kind. Arsenal’s reputation as the greatest Cup team, like Mr Wenger’s as the greatest ever FA Cup manager of all time, seems to have counted for little.
We all know that argument back and forth and there’s not much point in running it all again, but it is interesting to see that the gift of the so-called “London Stadium” to West Ham United for nothing, with them not even having to pay for the policing of their own supporters, has not brought in the mega extra profits that I for one expected. And although it has taken a while, appears to have broken their reputation.
The “London Stadium” seems to have added £8.7 million a year to the income of the club. OK that’s a lot but it is less than the annual salary of a very top player. Let’s say it is the salary of three middling players in the Premier League – and watching WHU on TV they certainly look as if they could do with three middling players.
Then there was the naming rights issue. I once argued (to much dismay from some quarters) that the West Ham brand, while not exactly toxic, due to the valiant efforts of West Ham’s friends in the media, was not strong enough to bring in the sort of money the West Ham board claimed to be theirs for the asking.
My argument there was that while the Arsenal management is toxic to some groups surrounding Arsenal, and the media love to criticise Arsenal at every turn, and the bloggettas find every move a failure, the actual brand name in the world at large is positive. The club has a worldwide following, and still has a very positive association with its greatest periods of success, in the Chapman / Allison era and the early Wenger era.
Against this there is no major negative that can be rolled out against the club to equate for example with Liverpool fans’ activities at the Heysal Stadium. There are no major financial corruption scandals, and although there have been several barren periods when no trophies were won the position of being the the third most successful club in the history of English football is still secure, as is the position of having won the League the third highest number of times. Of course we’d all like that to be “the most” not “the third” but our 13 league titles, although behind Liverpool’s 18 and Man’s 20, is a long way ahead of the next club on the list, Everton, who seem unlikely to win the League again soon.
The two things that people have tried to knock Arsenal with over the years (moving the club a whopping 12 miles and getting elected to the 1st division in 1919 on the expansion of the 1st division from 20 to 22 clubs and the Football League from 40 to a whopping 86 clubs in just three seasons) are still repeated although they have been countered so clearly the arguments really look a bit silly now.
When Arsenal moved close to Clapton Orient and Tottenham Hotspur in 1913, the crowds for all three clubs went up significantly, as did their success. Arsenal’s move put football in the local papers every day, and generated an additional passion for the game in the area which translated into crowds.
As for the promotion of 1919, the story of Arsenal fixing it ignores the League’s response to the match fixing scandals of the time, and Arsenal’s role in expanding the Football League into the south of the country, while other clubs sided with the Southern League. There’s a whole series of articles which examine every nuance of the case in enormous detail here.
Which takes us back to West Ham. Despite the move and the free stadium, there is no great expansion to their finance. No mega naming rights deal. A list of lifelong fans who are banned. A battle with relegation and nothing positive about the club’s position other than if they do go down their rent gets cut in half.
Even the fines and bans are rebounding on West Ham in that crowd funding is helping the guilty pay their fines, and they seem to have a lot of support from others in relation to their fight against the ownership.
But they are in profit, and maybe that is all that matters. They’ve made money in three of the last four years and are seemingly living with the burden of that comment that this was the most successful club move in the history of football. If it were true I would be interested to see the least successful.
What West Ham did get wrong and Arsenal got right was the sale of the old stadium. Upton Park apparently brought in under £9 million because the club had a load of loans that were secured by the ground, and which had to be paid off.
So what’s my point? I think that despite the Inter City Firm reputation and a fairly modest number of honours, and despite the fact that some of us really did think several times before going to the old ground for an away match, West Ham had a solid and positive reputation in the media which they propagated relentlessly.
That has now been blown away by the perceived arrogance of the board and the perception that they really did get a huge tax advantage from a governmental cock up in building a stadium and having nothing to do with it other than give it away and keep paying for its upkeep.
Reputations are hard to build and easy to destroy. And I think West Ham’s has gone. I suspect many people inside and outside the club really don’t mind, but there it is.
Arsenal’s reputation is, I think still fairly solid (although such things are very hard to measure absolutely) although it is constantly being knocked by the media whose current obsession with “empty seats” has no historical perspective and is itself in part down to the media. And Liverpool’s reputation has amazingly been reborn despite 18 years without a league title, 12 years without any trophy of any kind and their appalling past. Tottenham’s reputation has clearly never been based on trophies (17 years since the last and something like 55 since they last won the league – sorry I lost count on that one, but it must be about 55).
Reputations are odd, and not really based on reality. But I think West Ham might well have quite a battle on their hands to get back to the old mythical happy chirpy east enders image so beloved of their pals in the media.