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Nov 23, 2006

The Iceman cometh

When the jokes about Kerry Katona and new chairman, Eggert Magnusson's, uncanny resemblance to Dan Dare's old enemy, The Mekon, have resided, what is left to say about the Icelandic Consortium's £85million take-over of West Ham United?

Well, assuming it's not a covert attempt to invade the Earth, and the Rio Ferdinand Quality Hotel won't soon see an influx of green Treens cluttering up the foyer and bothering staff for directions to the closest Pie & Mash Emporium, the overriding assumption is that this take-over is good news for the club and the fans. In fact, it could be very good news indeed.

It's in that ironic way of things that, despite years of abuse, the take-over has come at a time when Terence Brown's stock as Chairman is probably at its highest. Although the man has never been a fan's favourite - and that's putting it mildly - Brown's star has risen over the past couple of years mainly on the back of West Ham's Championship Play-off win in 2005, and subsequent progress to the FA Cup Final last season.

Brown's release of funds to allow Alan Pardew to buy Dean Ashton for an estimated £7.5m, at a time when West Ham had pretty much consolidated their position back in the top flight, was an usual and brave step for a man who'd overseen some disastrous transfer decisions over the previous 14 years of his stewardship. In truth though, the fabulous event that was the 2006 FA Cup Final was a rare high in the turbulent reign of Terence Brown.

West Ham has been a bit of a football anomaly for many years now. A club with a famous history, great tradition, a massive and legendary fan base; a club deeply seated in the roots of the game, with an envious record of being loyal to backroom staff and with an unsurpassable record for producing top-notch home grown talent. If West Ham had been able to keep hold of just half of the young players who have passed through their Academy doors then they would be muscling along in the Champions League with the Madrid's and Barcelona's of this world. But it has never happened.

It was surely no coincidence that when the mighty Premier League was set-up in 1992, West Ham was busy becoming the first side to be relegated from the old Division One only to find themselves playing in the same League the following year! In many ways it seemed to sum up the Hammers - at Upton Park it was still the late sixties.

In fact, Terence Brown's attempt to drag the Boleyn Ground into the late 20th Century became the standard by which all his other dealings with the fans became enshrined. Brown was instrumental in trying to set up the ill-fated Bond Scheme in the early '90's in an attempt to get fans to pay for the development of the Boleyn Ground to bring it in line with the recommendations of the Taylor Report that followed the Hillsborough disaster. The fans - quite rightly - rebelled and the fall-out from this Civil War was long and costly.

Over the years since, the chant of 'Where's the money gone?' (sung to the tune of Middle of the Road's 'Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep' - something alone for which Terence Brown should be castigated) has been a staple on the terraces and later the seats of the Boleyn Ground as, one by one, the cream of West Ham's youth were sold for very little return.

The sale of Rio Ferdinand to Leeds, in particular - at that time the Yorkshire club being one place below us in the League table - was a nadir in the history of the club. The £18m being presumed 'too good to turn down' at the time - resulted in the subsequent loss of Frank Jnr. Joe Cole, Michael Carrick and a whole generation of 'Crown Jewels'.

That Ferdinand and Carrick ended up at Old Trafford may seem inevitable for supporters of other clubs - that's understandable - what stuck in the craw though was that these players found their way to Old Trafford via Leeds and Spurs for millions more than the Hammers had received for them. Not only couldn't we have our cake, it seemed, we never got to eat it, touch or smell it, while everyone else seemed to grab a mouthful.

Even when Terence Brown tried to flex his muscles it always seemed to end badly. After Harry Redknapp had misspent most of his allotted portion of the Ferdinand sale - the rest presumably, ending up building the Disneyland turrets on the new Stand - and had subsequently been sacked in May 2001, Hammers fans expected a new direction. They did get one but, sadly, it was down, as the bright new dawn failed to materialise when Brown was unable to replace Redknapp with his preferred options and was forced to turn to Glenn Roeder.

Brown's subsequent failure to admit he'd made a mistake before finally sacking Roeder three games into the start of the new season in the lower league, following relegation and the decimation of the squad, was as incomprehensible as it was laughable.

However, it has to be admitted that Brown's subsequent backing of Alan Pardew in the season that eventually saw the Hammers win the Play-off final in Cardiff, was probably one of the old Chairman's shrewdest and, to be fair, bravest moves, and the subsequent success of Pardew has enabled Terence Brown to hand over the reigns in a way virtually unimaginable two years ago when the Hammers were losing at Gillingham and Millwall and many people were calling for the manager's head.

West Ham have struggled to come to terms with the success of last season but its generally recognised by the fans at least that, whatever the players may say, the takeover rumours and subsequent meddling by former prospective buyer, Kia Joorabchian, has impacted on the field this season.

The wrangling that heralded the arrival of Argentinian pair Teves and Mascherano is still pretty much unknown, so it's still uncertain if their sale is inevitable now that the Iranian owner of MSI, the players' agency, has failed in his bid to buy the club. On the other hand, if the new owners and Alan Pardew really want to move the club forward then integrating the styles of the Argentines may need to be something they will have to look at.

With funds available in January and Pardew already shown to be shrewd investor in the transfer market, it's to be hoped that the rest of the campaign won't turn out to be a relegation battle. Although just above the bottom three, the fact is that West Ham has endured their worst sequence of defeats for 74 years and there's still several teams worse off! It's difficult to imagine that the Hammers will continue to struggle now that the boardroom battle has been settled and January is on the horizon.

The new chairman is certainly making the right noises. His support of Alan Pardew is welcomed by virtually all the fans, most of whom were concerned at previous bidders Kia Joorabchian's courting of foreign managers who could barely have pointed out the District Line on a tube map (local pride is still a staple at Upton Park). Magnusson's overtures about moving into the Olympic Stadium post 2012 may end up as just a pipe dream but there is surely more hope with the Icelandic consortium in place than there was when Terence Brown was asking questions. In any case, more funding and backing from the new owners legal team may result in the Hammers finding another home in Docklands or, at the very least, forcing through the long-planned rebuilding of the West Stand.

Although outsiders may feel the loss of another English club to a foreign investor is another nail in the coffin of the game that we gave to the world, most Hammers fans are happy to see the back of a family concern that may have had the best of intentions but all too often seemed mired in a game played on muddy fields with laced footballs.

Sometimes it's time to move on and, with Terence Brown and the Cearns family being kept on as an honorary board members and genial hosts, there's still a feeling that the new Consortium have understood enough of the spirit of West Ham United to realise that some continuity is required as they attempt to cope with the demands of the 21st Century game.

Long term, it seems the new backers are looking for a greater development of West Ham United with talk of Europe and - calm down at the back there! - eventual qualification for the Champions League. Of course, to a West Ham supporter - even one who's been lucky enough to have supported the club back to the glory days of the God-like Bobby Moore - this just all sounds too good to be true. In which case, East End tradition demands, it probably is. But then again that may just be the echo of many years of dreams fading, perhaps, this time, there will be a happy ending.

The old Eastenders script has been torn up and a new one approved. The Olympics are coming to town and the streets that most Hammers supporters used to play in are going to become part of the global playground. West Ham United is now poised to become part of that.

Do you know, I think I'm even getting a bit excited?


• If you have comments on this article then email the author Billy Blagg.

• Read more from all Soccernet Correspondents here.