Takeover born out of East End passion
It has become increasingly difficult to accept the notion that a new owner at a Premier League club has anything more than his own interests at heart, but the news that David Gold and David Sullivan have fulfilled their long-held ambition with West Ham United is a genuine fairy story.
Portsmouth, Queens Park Rangers, Liverpool and Notts County are just some of the clubs that have been led to the brink of nowhere by new investors whose promises have proved to be shallow in recent years, yet there is every reason to hope the newest owners of a Premier League club will follow a different path.
While many Birmingham fans curiously seem to despise the duo who gave their club stability and Premier League success during their lengthy stint as owners at St Andrew's, Gold and his long-time business partner Sullivan represent the most positive signing West Ham have made in a decade of despair at Upton Park.
With the club in financial meltdown and the team teetering on the brink of relegation, the last thing West Ham needed was a maverick owner such as rival bidder Massimo Cellino, so all Hammers fans should toast the news that two of their own are at the helm of their club once again.
West Ham have long been a club proud of its East End roots and while success-starved followers of Manchester City and Birmingham may be content to associate themselves with foreigner owners, who could be in town merely to massage their own egos, Gold and Sullivan are a very different type of investors.
The vast wealth the two men have built up from modest beginnings is testament to their immense business acumen, yet they appreciate football is not a game you devote your life to in the hope of doubling your investment when the time is right.
By throwing a small chunk of their fortunes into West Ham, Gold and Sullivan fully appreciate that they are not going to add zeroes to their own bank statements any time soon as they arrive at Upton Park at a moment when the club is "in a financial mess", to use Sullivan's own words.
No, just for once, the Premier League has new owners who are a blast from the past as they are taking over a club for all the right, romantic reasons. Indeed, Gold and Sullivan are acquiring the club they love with the intention of building it into the force it has rarely been throughout their time supporting the Hammers. You may have feared such motives were from a distant age for new investors in a football club and yet (unless I am gullible or easily led) these two men have West Ham blood pumping through their veins.
My first meeting with Gold was back in the day when I was a contributor to the West Ham matchday programme and it was decided we should investigate a rumour that suggested the Birmingham chairman was a closet Hammer. Such a tale was well worth chasing up when the next game on the fixture list was Birmingham City at home.
The relish with which Gold took my call confirmed he was keen to talk about his passion for West Ham as, 30 seconds after I spoke to his secretary at St Andrew's, the Blues' chief was on the phone to reminisce about the good old days at Upton Park. In fact, his passion for the Hammers patently overshadowed the love he had for the club he was then leading.
"I know my loyalties are to Birmingham and I don't want to come across as being disrespectful to the people at this club, but the truth is I have always been a massive West Ham follower," he said. "I was brought up idolising the Hammers and it has always been one of my great regrets that the chance to pull on the famous West Ham shirt and enjoy a career as a player with the club passed me by.
"I'll never forget the day the call came for me to have a trial with West Ham and things went very well for me. The offer of a permanent contract was coming my way until my father stepped in as he didn't believe playing football was the right way to make a living. My moment had passed and in a way, I never really got over it.
"I played at Upton Park on several occasions and one great memory was scoring the winner for London Youth against Glasgow Youth in a 2-1 victory back in 1953. I was a nippy left-winger and could have done well in the game, but you need the odd break along the way and my father got in my way. It was a tragedy for me, especially as West Ham were the club involved, but I have been fortunate to go on and make a success of my career despite that."
There speaks a man with a love for West Ham and, while there appears to be some resentment from Hammers fans at the prospect of Gold and Sullivan arriving in their manor, the alternatives were far less appealing. Would this great old club really want another of those overseas wannabes littering their doorstep and causing havoc right now? Or how about a few more of those Icelandic investors promising world domination in double-quick time?
Surely this is a moment when local football men and not unpredictable outsiders are required to steady a rocking Hammers ship and, in Gold and Sullivan, that is exactly what West Ham have found, with the loyalties of the former in this well-established sporting double act unquestionable.
"When I took over at Birmingham, the game at Upton Park was always one I would look forward to and my mum was no different," adds Gold. "She still lives very close to the ground and I wanted to make sure she was well looked after when Birmingham played West Ham and it was lovely to see her enjoying that occasion in the boardroom with a nice cup of tea.
"The trouble was Birmingham and West Ham always seemed to play important games against each other during my time at St Andrew's. I remember the infamous game when West Ham came to our place needing a win to try and save their Premiership lives. In the end, they went down with a ridiculously high total of 42 points and I have to say it broke my heart to see it happen.
"I also recall a fixture many years ago when West Ham needed to beat Birmingham to secure promotion to the Premier League and they did it with a couple of late goals. They were momentous matches and maybe I have always been destined to be linked with the Hammers after all."
Any West Ham follower unsure of Gold's love for their club merely need to get a sense for the passion he oozes from his each and every word and, let's not forget, he was speaking in the days when he was still chairman of Birmingham.
Even though West Ham seems to attract the type of fan who is all but impossible to please, the Upton Park regulars would be foolish to offer the Gold and Sullivan anything less than their total backing as their arrivals may just be better than any signing manager Gianfranco Zola could make in the January transfer window. Time will tell whether West Ham's new owners succeed in their latest mission, but there can be little doubt that their intentions are well placed.