As West Ham United have only ever had 10 managers, far fewer than any club of comparable longevity, there was a certain poignancy in listening to Alan Pardew outlining his hopes and fears last Thursday barely an hour before the announcement that Ron Greenwood, arguably the most successful of all his predecessors, had lost the last battle.
The two men have something in common: along with the ill-fated Lou Macari, they are the only West Ham managers to have had no previous association with the Boleyn Ground. All three suffered for it. Even though Macari had once lived in Forest Gate, the locals never took to him. Greenwood had an ambivalent relationship with the crowd in what he once called "an area of swaggerers", though by winning the FA Cup in his third season (1963-64), then a European trophy, twice finishing sixth in the top division and providing consistently high entertainment - not to mention, as Alf Garnett regularly claimed, winning the World Cup for England - he eventually gave them something to swagger about.
Pardew had it tougher, after Reading reluctantly dropped legal attempts to prevent him leaving them in September 2003. There was little swagger at Upton Park when he arrived, just a club with hunched shoulders slowly coming to terms with relegation and debts of £44 million. Yet little more than two years on, there is a swing in every step down Green Street. After six successive victories in the Premiership and FA Cup, the local weekly paper is making comparisons with John Lyall's Boys of '86 (who finished third in the top flight, the highest in West Ham's history) and the nationals are queueing up to apologise for suggesting that another relegation struggle was inevitable.
Ahead of a winnable home game with Birmingham City tomorrow night, Pardew was fielding questions about record signings, Europe, the Champions' League and even, if you please, founding a new dynasty. If he allowed himself to go further than seemed wise, it was an understandable statement of pride from someone who for the best part of 18 months refused to be cowed by dog's abuse in the press and in person. "The David Brent of football management", whatever that meant, was one of the kinder labels.
"I think West Ham fans probably felt they did not know me, and did not have any attachment to me," he recalled. "A mistake I made was to withdraw myself from the media, and obviously I took a lot of criticism for that as well." After 15 months in the job, the outsider's attempts to win friends as well as points were still coming unstuck: "At Rotherham we were 2-0 down coming off at half-time and our fans made their feelings very clear. There were a few choice words. We had met them the night before at the northern supporters' meeting and had a cup of tea, we were all looking forward to the game. We had to dig that out [a 2-2 draw] but if it had gone the other way, it would have been very difficult.
"There were a lot of low points in that season. The pressure and the expectation of West Ham was never going to go away - as soon as I lost to Crystal Palace in the [previous season's] play-off final, I knew what sort of season I was going to get. I had already lost two play-off finals. It was about getting the job done, about just getting promoted."
"Just" sums it up; his young team scraped into the play-offs again after promotion rivals Reading - oh, the irony - somehow contrived to lose their last three games. This time they won with the final's only goal, by Bobby Zamora, but late that season there were still supporters hoping not to win promotion so Pardew would have to be sacked.
Once the club were reaching for the Sky (money) again, the equally reviled chairman, Terence Brown, backed his man with the best part of £10m in fees and wages to spend on players like Yossi Benayoun, Cardiff's Danny Gabbidon and James Collins, Paul Konchesky and Roy Carroll. With bright young English prospects Nigel Reo-Coker and Hayden Mullins a year older, and Teddy Sheringham apparently no older at all, 38 points are already in the bank and the directors have released another £7.2m for an extra striker, Dean Ashton.
"The manager needs to have a vision of what he wants to achieve and you cannot let anyone get in the way of that. But I feel I have been very lucky, because I have met a chairman who has made mistakes in the past and admitted to them. I have found him in a good place and searching for someone to help him. The type of personality I am, that has been good for him, and he has been great for me. He has given me my head."
So Pardew, having become part of the family at last, is enjoying it all so much that he wants to become part of the furniture: "I have seen managers looking elsewhere and I have no intention of doing the same. I believe I can achieve something here. I want to be competing against Jose Mourinho, Sir Alex Ferguson and Rafael Benitez. At the moment that is not the case, but we are going to try and get there. I have just signed a five-year contract and within that time I want us to break into the top six and maybe beyond that.
"I want the ambition of this club to be pushing for a place in the Champions' League. That is the challenge that I would like to take on." Realistic or not, for Pardew it is one hell of a step forward from Rotherham.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF HAMMER HEADS
Syd King (1902-32)
Charlie Paynter (1932-50)
Ted Fenton (1950-61)
Ron Greenwood (1961-74)
John Lyall (1974-89)
Lou Macari (1989-90)
Billy Bonds (1990-94)
Harry Redknapp (1994-2001)
Glenn Roeder (2001-03)
Alan Pardew (2003 to date)Reuse content