As David Sullivan and David Gold left the Olympic Stadium, with West Ham United collapsing on and off the pitch in their 3-0 capitulation against Burnley, one man refused to budge.
A majority of Hammers fans had congregated a few metres down from the Director’s Box, aiming their insults and granitic like beliefs at the pair, behind the fateful decision to move stadium. Yet every one of those supporters knew that their anger was not the subject of a club legend.
Looking on, stunned and shocked, surrounded by empty seats, Sir Trevor Brooking stayed. The cameras couldn’t find a close up picture of his face but to anyone who saw the footage it was evident Brooking was close to tears.
Born in Barking, this was the local lad who redefined what it meant to play for West Ham. After 528 appearances and 19 years at the club, Brooking took over a crisis at the start of the century, and in 2003 was pictured with a face of realisation and resignation as the plan to save the club he loved from relegation narrowly failed at the hands of Birmingham City.
There was expectation and certainty that he and West Ham would bounce back. The club did under new management, but no doubt Brooking expected that. Ask him that now and you may find a different answer.
In certain moments of a club’s life, change is natural. Usually that affects the mechanics of the club itself, players and managers being examples. We’ve seen it recently with David Moyes replacing Slaven Bilic and the likes of Javier Hernandez and Marko Arnautović entering the team in the hope that performances improve.
This is different. Supporters feel that the soul of the club has not just accidentally fallen away from the path towards a new era, but instead that the owners have shoved it down a cliff edge.
The question is what does identity transpire to Hammers supporters? At Upton Park lifelong friendships were formed, not just between fans in the ground but also between those street sellers on Priory Road and Green Street, to the food servers at Nathan’s Pies and Eels and The Best Kebab.
Being realistic though, if leaving the comforts of familiarity for a shot at European football, as Gold put it a few years ago in a tweet, meant that passionate and fruitful memories would have to be talked about in a different surrounding then you’d have bet fans would’ve agreed.
The problem is that we’re now into West Ham’s second season at the Olympic Stadium and instead of the Champions League music blaring out of the stadium speakers, announcements to tell those in the arena not to protest on the pitch are not commonplace.
Just like the pressure on the earth’s fault lines, the club were due an earthquake, but this was no natural disaster and it occurred on a day where one club legend became a greater talking point than a man being remembered 25 years on from his death.
This was the day where a fitting remembrance of Sir Bobby Moore, with that famous number six claret and blue shirt, became the centrepiece event before kick off. In terms of identity, that number and those colours combined are a symbolism of not just an east end side who defied the odds in the 1960s but of England’s greatest ever sporting moment.
So in this match it wasn’t hard to forget the protagonists that altered the landscape of football for Hammers fans. The light had shined for decades even in the most troubled times on the pitch, but it remained bright off. Now, a majority simply don’t believe they see any flicker of it at the end of the current tunnel.
It’s why the first protests began when Burnley took the lead in the second half. Scenes of Mark Noble shoving a fan to the floor in what he saw, and could easily be interpreted as self-defence is beneath what the club stands for.
As Burnley increased their lead the protests became proportionate to the anger of seeing another ball hit the back of net. Humiliated on the pitch again. And many will be asking is it really in our own backyard?
Beneath the seating area of Gold and Sullivan, eager eyed faces stared down their owners, the ones who have presided a club which has now coerced its fans into mutiny. Next comes apathy and then desertion.
With protests like these it’s always the fans on the pitch that create an overall metaphor for everyone who has paid a ticket to watch their team. Yet there would’ve been families with kids, the elderly and then a certain man with the surname of Brooking, sat motionless watching on, who wished that the attention be on the result and not a fan chucked to the ground by the captain of the club he cherishes.
Moyes is a manager who has taken 21 points from his last 19 league games, and five from his last seven when the club needed him the most. The side have conceded 11 times in 270 league minutes. But realism needs to strike. West Ham are still in the league, and if fan protests like that continue again then they will more than likely be in the Championship next year.
And this is according to Brooking. He recently said: “When you’ve just lost 3-0, had people coming onto the pitch and a lot of people venting their frustration to the directors- that means the next five games at home look prety bleak.
“There is no way the team is going to play and get the points to stay up under that sort of atmsophere. It is impossible.
“That atmosphere must never come back in the last five games otherwise the club is in serious trouble and the players won’t be able to deliver.”
The history of protests in sports, much like that across society, holds many lessons for us that we need to approach with an open mindset. So often sport has been used as a canvas used to challenge convention, prove the worthiness of a marginalised group and create publicity for issues which need to be discussed.
From protests against institutionalism such as the Hillsborough campaign and Kick it Out, to more specific outcries of owner malpractice and mismanagement, Blackpool and Charlton Athletic being two examples, the right to a voice as a fan has become part of what is essentially an expected tradition.
Now with the media landscape changing fans can voice their opinions, however distasteful, live to the world just minutes after a match has finished. Arsenal Fan TV is perhaps the most famous fan media entity, but the Hammers also have that option.
The drive and determination embedded within the heads of supporters to change the current climate cannot and should not be underestimated. But there has to be a better way of communicating those beliefs than jumping onto the pitch of a game when it could impact on the result. Repetition equals relegation.
If West Ham fans want to change the status quo they need to understand that altercation won’t create alteration. The likes of Brooking are the ones who need to reinforce the message that supporters are aiming to get across, that the club they knew isn’t recognisable and that’s reflecting on the pitch.
Otherwise who knows what will happen next?