To say the least, the sight of West Ham players sunning themselves on Miami Beach while watching Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Ashley Graham cavorting for a photo shoot was untimely.
The least that Hammers fans want for their failing team is for them to be avoiding the unseasonable London cold that they must shiver through. But, David Moyes’ decision to take a sunshine break is just the latest in a line of embarrassing missteps.
Last week’s 3-0 defeat to Burnley was a disgrace for the club from just about every conceivable angle, from players’ heads dropping once Ashley Barnes had scored the visitors’ first goal, to the multiple invasions of the London Stadium pitch and the sight of the club’s co-owners, David Sullivan and David Gold, fleeing for their lives after an angry mob confronted the directors box.
Why were they targeted? The owners talk plenty, but too little stands up to scrutiny.
“We start the season in three and the ambition is to win those three trophies,” Sullivan said in July, making great play of signing Pablo Zabaleta, Joe Hart, Marko Arnautovic and Javier Hernandez. “On our day, we can give anyone a hard time. I’d settle to win a cup.”
If that can be excused as pre-season giddiness, then consider vice-chairman Karren Brady’s statement from July 2016. “Be in no doubt, we are part of the most successful stadium migration in history,” she said.
What happened last week at the London Stadium demonstrated that the team’s battle against relegation is merely symptomatic of a club wracked by promises not being met by practice. Dissatisfaction boiled into a mob rule that might yet cause March 31’s six-pointer with Southampton to be played behind closed doors.
This week’s attempted diversionary PR exercises and talk of life bans for miscreants have done little to calm waters.
It was revealed that the owners would now consider injecting cash and organisation into stadium security.
Having previously accepted the low-rent – literally so – services provided by LS185, the operator of the London Stadium, it took their own safety being threatened for such changes to be mooted.
Those who attend the stadium on a regular basis know full well the disorganisation that reigns, where neon-tabarded youngsters on minimum wage attempt to police a place purpose-built for the Olympics, in which Corinthian, middle-class values pervade and there is no need for the segregation that football’s tribalism makes necessary.
When the former Olympic Stadium was repurposed as the London Stadium for West Ham’s tenancy in the summer of 2016, its name formed part of a rebranding of both the club and the area of the capital city it lies within.
Until a decade ago, Stratford was an unloved and unloveable interchange, but it now teems with new-build apartments, with a massive shopping mall towering over the slate-grey 1960s and 1970s planning disaster that previously pervaded. It is sold to its potential tenants and businesses as the centrepiece of a new London, with easy transport links to the old City of London and Canary Wharf.
The Hammers’ move from the Boleyn Ground on Green Street, placed within rough, tough, working-class suburbs, was sold to corporate clients and media as the club modernising for the 21st century. At the same time, the club’s badge was amended from plain old “West Ham United Football Club” to “West Ham United London”, a none-too subtle attempt to place the club at the heart of a metropolis.
But that is not West Ham’s natural place in life. The club’s heartlands lie in Essex, where the old East End has migrated London’s demographics have changed. Visits to Green Street were a return home to the old way of life.
The old ground, where fans were on top of the action, seethed with authenticity. The London Stadium, remote, soulless, inconvenient, uncomfortable and where the players are far too far away from spectators, feels nothing like home.
That unsettling sense of dislocation gave rise to the planned march that was cancelled ahead of the Burnley game, causing potentially violent schisms among supporters. Sullivan and Brady chose to fraternise with the leaders of the Real West Ham Fans Action Group, a movement headed by prominent former hooligans who then unilaterally cancelled the march.
That did little to help the image of the club’s executive class. And it did nothing to prevent them being in the eye of the storm once fans in the ground turned anger in their direction.
These are owners who attempts to paint themselves as benevolent custodians, yet took the club into a new home where they pay a peppercorn rent of just £2.5m for a substandard stadium with unsatisfactory safety practice, and who also charge interest on loans to the club.
Last week, they reported profits of £43m, simultaneously admitting that the move to the London Stadium from Upton Park had done little to affect their bottom line. They are architects of their own unpopularity and the crumbling state of the club that Hammers fans must suffer.