Burnley's English striker Ashley Barnes trips up a pitch invader
Burnley's English striker Ashley Barnes trips up a pitch invader

The toxic feud that threatens to destroy a proud club

WEST Ham fans who contributed to the toxic atmosphere during Saturday's 3-0 Premier League defeat by Burnley should stay away from remaining home matches, the hosts' former midfielder Trevor Brooking says.

The defeat at the London Stadium was marred by several pitch invasions, scuffles in the stands and fans taunting owners David Sullivan and David Gold, both of whom were escorted away from the directors' box for safety reasons.

Club legend Brooking was left almost alone in the directors' box as West Ham slumped to their fourth league defeat in five matches, leaving them three points above the relegation zone in 16th position with eight games left in the campaign.

The unrest is reaching a tipping point with fans discontent over the move from Upton Park to the Olympic Stadium, a cavernous venue, as a symbol of the club's poor governance and decision making. Now, fans attend a venue that is not safe, and loaded with frustration.

Police secure the area after a pitch invader ran onto the pitch
Police secure the area after a pitch invader ran onto the pitch

Combine that unrest with the perilous on-field performance, and you have a dangerous combination that saw supporters fume at the directors' box "sack the board" and "where's the money gone?".

The Telegraph reports that the club has launched an investigation into the events and called an "emergency meeting" with all London Stadium stakeholders. The Mail reports that captain Mark Noble is now unlikely to face retrospective action after tangling with a pitch invader, while The Mirror suggests that the Football Association's punishment could include making the club - fighting for Premiership survival - play behind closed doors.

How did it get to this?

Tensions have been simmering, to the point that there were plans for a protest before the game, which was postponed after leaders of 15 fan groups - not all of them on the same page - were given a meeting with the board.

A Pitch invader is seized by security staff
A Pitch invader is seized by security staff

The best explanation is from The H List blogger Jim Kearns, featuring in The Guardian.

He explained: "The board brought Saturday's crowd trouble upon itself by refusing to acknowledge the stadium and team are substandard.

"West Ham fighting relegation from the top flight is not unusual. But that is rather the point. The quid pro quo of the move from Upton Park to the London Stadium was supposed to be a better team, not a similar one, but at a different venue."

He continued: "Saturday was the inevitable corollary of having a board of directors who speak with grandiloquence about the Champions League and then behave as though they are still running Birmingham City in the lower leagues."

A pitch invader (2L) confronts West Ham United's English midfielder Mark Noble (L) during the English Premier League football match
A pitch invader (2L) confronts West Ham United's English midfielder Mark Noble (L) during the English Premier League football match
West Ham fans use their camera phones as sections of the crowd chant abuse toward the directors box
West Ham fans use their camera phones as sections of the crowd chant abuse toward the directors box

Brooking begged the fans not to cause a downward spiral that sees the club drop out of the Premier League.

"Just don't come to the games at the moment until you try to allow the players to get the points to stay up," Brooking told BBC Radio 5.

"There is no way the team is going to play and get the points to stay up under that sort of atmosphere. It is impossible.

"That atmosphere must never come back in the last five (home) games otherwise the club is in serious trouble and the players won't be able to deliver.

"All I would say ... is 'anyone who has got that aggressive frustration just don't come to the five home games that are left' because we need everyone ... all working together to try to get sufficient results."

With their next home game against fellow strugglers Southampton, their place three points above the drop zone looks precarious.

"Before yesterday they had six home games out of nine, which to a certain extent looked an advantage," Brooking, 69, added.

"When you've just lost 3-0, had people coming on to the pitch and a lot of people venting their frustration to the directors - that means the next five games at home look pretty bleak.

"There is no way the team is going to play and get the points to stay up under that sort of atmosphere. 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."

West Ham United's Welsh defender James Collins (2R) confronts a pitch invader carrying a corner flag
West Ham United's Welsh defender James Collins (2R) confronts a pitch invader carrying a corner flag

Brooking also said that co-owner Sullivan was struck in the face by a coin after Burnley's third goal led to West Ham supporters directing their anger towards the directors' box.

"Before the final whistle, two of the directors went upstairs - were asked by the security people to do so," Brooking added.

"I think a coin did hit David Sullivan on his glasses. I didn't see it but I did have that confirmed, which was part of the reason why they thought people in the directors' box should go inside to save any more problems like that."

Manager David Moyes admits he's never experienced anything like it.

"I don't think I've been at a football game in my time where I've seen that," he said.

Police officers are seen pitchside
Police officers are seen pitchside

"All I would say to all of them is that we need them [the fans], we are fighting for points, we are all in it, the players know."

West Ham United's Vice-Chairman Karren Brady (C) is seen in the crowd
West Ham United's Vice-Chairman Karren Brady (C) is seen in the crowd

Veteran BBC caller John Motson puts how bad the scene was in stark perspective.

"It was the most scary moment I've had at a football ground. I'd even go back to those days when Luton and Millwall had that riot back in 1985.

"If there hadn't been that neutral area between where the directors were sitting in the front row and the 300-400 - that's only an estimate by me - irate fans who were shouting at them, pointing at them and throwing things, I think someone could have been seriously hurt, in addition to that coin which was thrown at David Sullivan.

"It was a very ugly and toxic scene."

West Ham fans hold up a banner that sums it all up.
West Ham fans hold up a banner that sums it all up.

Chelsea legend Frank Lampard, who started his career at West Ham, says he can see the fans' perspective - but condemned the way they went about voicing it.

"It was very toxic today, a horrible feeling in the second half," Lampard said on Match of the Day.

"Fans confronting the players, I understand Mark Noble's position, he's Mr West Ham, he's a fan. This isn't right, whatever way you look at it.

"This was very aggressive today. I understand some of the fans' problem, they lost an identity moving stadium.

"The club have a £29million net spend since they've moved. It's not enough, they've gone backwards. So fans are asking the question - but not mid-game."

If there's one positive, then at least seeing the worst of society brought out, in small pockets, the best of society.



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