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Dec 12, 2006

The reign of Alan Pardew

There are many clichés in football; it being a 'funny game' is usually foremost amongst them, it also being a 'cruel game' normally following closely behind. Alan Pardew learnt the meaning of both of those on Monday as new chairman Eggert Magnusson took one look at West Ham's performances against Wigan and Bolton before dispensing with Pardew's services, almost before the new owners sign had been placed in the Director's car park.

No matches to turn it around, no money given in the transfer window, this was ruthless and sent out a clear signal. Put simply, when £85million plus has been invested then relegation is not only not an option, it is not even to be flirted with. And I think we can ignore the idea that the Icelandic consortium are, even as we speak, desperately searching for a successor. These people know what they want and they know how to get it. Expect the new manager to have already been approached.

Regardless of whether or not the sacking was justified - and, as ever, opinions are largely divided - most West Ham fans are shocked at the departure of a man who was just a minute away from delivering the FA Cup just seven short months ago. Hammers supporters may well consider another cliché though, when viewing the sacking of the popular manager; 'Be careful what you wish for, it may come true'.

After years of under-funding and under achievement, where the appearance of yet another young England hopeful meant that 'bigger' clubs would come circling with cheque books poised, long-suffering Hammers fans had long prayed for a new board and owner, one that would grab the club and drag it kicking and screaming into the 21st century and, like it or not, that appears to be what they now have.

The chairman and Icelandic banking mogul Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson, who provided most of the cash for the £85million takeover, were both present at the defeat by Bolton and they were patently not happy at what they saw. I can't blame them - neither was I. But for a club like West Ham to subsequently sack the manager immediately after - particularly after two seasons in which the club has had a successful return from the Millennium Stadium - is a shock to the system and hardly the 'West Ham way'. But isn't decisive action what the fans have been crying out for years and something that Terence Brown singularly failed to do in the Glenn Roeder era?

The new owners are not looking for West Ham to scuffle around bobbing and weaving between divisions, they are not even looking at trying to scrabble around in mid-table, Gudmundsson and Magnusson have their sights on top European competition and they expect to get there sooner rather than later.

These men haven't been brought up in the East End, they've not learned that West Ham are a loyal club who are loath to sack managers - hell they probably don't even understand how a few thousand Hammers supporters finding their team 4-0 down should suddenly decide to remove their shirts and do the 'Hokey-cokey' in the rain. But why should they? These new owners simply looked at the squad, looked at the achievements of recent seasons and asked if something hadn't happened in the manager's office. They felt they knew the answer and acted according to how most businesses are run.

Of course, the irony of all this is that virtually all West Ham fans will feel genuinely sorry for Alan Pardew. A good and likeable man whose feelings for West Ham were shown at their best after the late winner against Arsenal that so upset Arsene Wenger, Pardew had shown signs last season of being a top English coach who might have even been touted for the England role had his success in the FA Cup come a season before.

After a tentative start, Pardew had shown himself to be an excellent manager with a good eye in the transfer market, who was able to coach his team in the fast running; free flowing football that served so well last season, suggesting that a foreign manager didn't always need to be the way forward.

Long-suffering Hammers fans had long prayed for a new board and owner, one that would grab the club and drag it kicking and screaming into the 21st century and, like it or not, that appears to be what they now have.
Billy Blagg

That being the case this season's slump has puzzled many. Whether he has been shown the respect he deserved by some of his players and if he was a victim of circumstance with regard to the Tevez and Mascherano transfer - the circumstances of which still haven't been fully released - we may never know (although released from his managerial shackles, expect to hear the full story soon).

Nevertheless, I know hardly any Hammers fans who didn't will Alan Pardew to turn things around, and many will still think he wasn't given sufficient time, but that is the 'old guard' mentality and I think its something many of us will need to be wary of over the coming seasons.

Of course, the paradox here is that there are generations of supporters who cannot remember Ron Greenwood and Bobby Moore, a time where the local support and East End fraternity meant a special bond between club, fan and local community. Many of these ideas have been passed down from father to son and have become so imbued in the fabric of the club that it is often hard not to find yourself wondering why you have these feelings for something you barely remember. But, in a week when 'What is a real Cockney?' has been discussed on the leading unofficial site, WestHamOnline's Forum, perhaps it is inevitable that this week has turned the old regime upside down.

Me? Well after initial doubts that I can't deny (they appeared in my book) I really took to Alan Pardew and I'm both saddened and bemused by what has happened this season. Quite why these cycles appear throughout West Ham's history is something that I'm perfectly happy to let the Icelandic Consortium find out and hopefully solve. Neither am I too concerned about West Ham's immediate future. The sacking of Alan Pardew has shown me that the new owners mean business and I suggest there will be a number of clubs around the relegation area wondering if they might have to remove the Hammers from their 'perm another two from five' calculations. But that's the future. Right now I'd like to take some time to thank a man who must feel gutted at what has happened to him these past three months.

Alan Pardew has had a rough ride at West Ham, both at the beginning and end of his career. But he was always stoical and determined to get things right and eventually won fans over with the 2005 Play-off semi-final victory over Ipswich and the final win over Preston in Cardiff, during which he seemed to grow in stature. In 2005/6, with pundits tipping us for a quick return to the lower division, Pardew brought us a magnificent season that was eventually cruelly ended in the most heart-breaking way in the FA Cup Final, but not before a scintillating game had taken place in what is regarded as the greatest final of modern times.

Personally, I'll always remember celebrating with my son, a boy too young to remember the 'good days', after a Marlon Harewood strike had secured the semi-final win at Villa Park. Alan Pardew brought us that and, whatever intentions the new owners have, they will have to come up with something to better it.

That semi-final and final are a memory that no-one can take from me and it's something that Alan Pardew should remember as he contemplates his future in football. I don't expect him to be out of work for too long - I can imagine a couple of Premiership clubs are already looking up his number - and, whatever he does, I will certainly wish him well. As West Ham look to a new and different future so should Alan Pardew.

Where West Ham go from here remains to be seen but, for now, I'd just like to say good luck Alan - and thanks for the memories.


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

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