I’m puzzled by why I don’t feel more gutted after West Ham’s ignominious defeat by Manchester City in the third round of the FA cup last night. Well, not all that puzzled. It wasn’t as if ‘we woz robbed’, like in last week’s game against Man United. (A man wrongly sent off in the 13th minute, his red card later rescinded by the FA, but by that time, of course, it was too late: 10 vs. 11. Plus a clearly offside Ibrahimovich goal.) Yes, there was a dodgy penalty in last night’s game, but WH could and should have bounced back from that. Man City were better. One bad penalty can’t explain a 5-0 defeat. And at home.
Except it’s not really home to them, or to the fans. That’s what everyone’s saying. Last year West Ham were pulled out of their original and natural home, the Boleyn Ground in the genuine East End of London: a ground that only accommodated 35,000 spectators, but with a tremendous intimacy – the front rows only an arms-length away from the players – and in an environment full of East End atmosphere – mean narrow streets, pie and eel stalls, the vibrant multi-cultural population that it has always had, as the first stopping-over point for waves of immigrants to Britain from the Huguenots onwards; to be plonked down in a huge stadium not built for football, and unsuited to it, and which feels empty and soulless, in just about everybody’s opinion (I’ve not been yet), and certainly not a ‘home’ in the way I remember the old Upton Park to have been. I’ve bored you about this before – https://bernardjporter.com/2016/05/11/goodbye-to-boleyn/ – so I won’t go on about it any more. Whether the move can account for the team’s poor performances so far this season, as many have suggested, can’t be known. But it explains why I no longer feel as deeply – as ‘gutted’ – about those performances as I used to.
And of course there are far more serious things going on in the world just now to gut one. Syria, for one. The state of the NHS. (I’m about to have an op for a hernia – my belly-button looks like a ripe plum – but, I’m thinking, should I waste their hard-pressed doctors’ time with such trivialities just now?) Then there’s Trump. And Brexit. One could – and perhaps should – go on. Football is only a game, after all.
But aren’t all these problems, even including football’s present condition, part and parcel of the same thing? They’re all the effects of neo-liberal globalisation (or globalising neo-liberalism), whereby rich capitalists – one of West Ham’s owners is an ex-porn king, another is a wealthy Tory Dame – take over the people’s assets, with no regard for the cultures they were nurtured in, in order to turn them into financial assets, in a market which is worldwide, and ruled only by profit. Our economies and societies are subject to the same seemingly irrepressible force. Hence the many variegated protests that are going on now against ‘globalisation’ (or what I prefer to call ‘late-stage capitalism’); from Trump’s dodgy victory in the USA, to nativist and nationalist movements in Britain and Europe; to the left-wing movements against privatisation (and hence globalisation) of the NHS; to this: the widespread discontent at the reduction of our once great ‘People’s Game’ (to take the title of Jim Walvin’s fine 1975 history of it) to a plaything or investment opportunity for the rich, manned by foreign mercenaries. (See https://bernardjporter.com/2015/01/09/mercenaries-in-football/.) If only people could see the connexion. It might be a political as well as a footballing education for them.