DAVID GOLD’S first memory from a lifetime following West Ham was when a German doodlebug exploded at Upton Park and closed the ground for six months
TEESY DOES IT … Gold celebrates victory over SunSport’s David Face
But he reckons relegation would have an equally catastrophic effect, which is why he rates today’s home clash with Wigan as one of the most important in the club’s history.
The Hammers co-owner said: “I know the club has been relegated in the past and bounced back – but the Hammers have never gone down carrying the burden of debt that myself and David Sullivan inherited when we took over in January.
“We’re talking about £100million debts and that’s not easy to manage in the Premier League, let alone the Championship.
“I’m not saying the club would go to the wall or anything daft like that. But we’d have to make some pretty meaty cuts.
“David and I would need to put our hands into our own pockets again – which isn’t something you care to do too often when you’ve already forked out £50million for the club – and it would still need a massive overhaul from top to bottom.
“When you have to swing the axe like that, it makes the task of coming straight back up that much harder.
“For every club who do what Newcastle have done this season, there are at least two or three like Leeds and Forest who sink even deeper.
“The problem we’ve got is there is no contingency plan, because we came in midway through the season.
“When we were in charge at Birmingham we didn’t face problems on the same scale because we had Plan B ready just in case.
“A player knew he would earn maybe £10,000 a week in the Championship, £20,000 a week if we got promoted and it would be back to £10,000 if we went back down.
“Between 2006 and this season, Birmingham were the only club who ever went down-up-down-up again in four successive seasons – and neither promotion was through the play-offs, because we knew how to cut our cloth.
“I hate that word relegation. And I don’t want to even think about it coming to that at West Ham, because this club means so much to me.
“As a penniless kid growing up in the East End of London I used to wait for them to open the gates at half-time, so I could sneak in there with my mates.
“I was seven when that doodlebug exploded and blew away half the stand in 1944, and even though the war-time games weren’t the best, I remember feeling devastated at the prospect of months without seeing any football.
“I get the same awful feeling when I think about going out of the Premier League and what it could mean to the club.
“Thankfully, we’re still in a decent position, or at least one where our future is still in our own hands.
“And a win at home to Wigan would surely make us safe, because I can’t see Hull winning their last three games.
“So this game is right up there with the FA Cup finals and the play-off final against Preston a few years back in terms of importance. Must-win doesn’t even start to describe it.”
Gold, a remarkably fit 73, famously left his poverty-stricken roots behind to become one of Britain’s most successful businessmen – his wealth varies between £300-500m, depending on how healthy the Stock Market is.
He started out by helping his mum sell buttons from a handcart in front of their house and moved on to selling books, greetings cards and sweets from the front room.
Gold realised it was the raunchy books that sold best – and he sensed there was money to be made publishing soft core porn.
That led to a long-term alliance with Sullivan that extended into property, an airline, the highly successful Anne Summers and Knickerbox franchises – and two football clubs.
But when the referee’s whistle goes today, Gold insists he will be just like any other Hammers fan, desperate for his side to do well. He added: “I’m an awful football watcher, in the sense that I just can’t sit still.
“I live every minute of every game, kick every ball, jump up for headers, ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ at the near-misses. By the end of a game I’m completely drained.
“With so much riding on today’s match I’m going to be an absolute wreck. I just pray it will be worth it at the end.”
Gold has only missed one match since he and Sullivan bought West Ham – Monday’s miserable 3-0 surrender at Liverpool, a performance that seriously reduced confidence in the club’s ability to stay up.
He was prevented from making it to Anfield on time by the flying ban.
That meant he could not jump aboard his favourite four-seater Cessna jet once he had finished a round of business meetings.
Gold has held a pilot’s licence for nearly 40 years, and still flies his jets regularly.
But he always hires another pilot to take him to away games, explaining: “I’m absolutely shattered after a match. I’d be in no fit state to fly anywhere.”
It is ‘concerns’ like that which spell out the difference between Gold and the average West Ham fan…
By DAVID FACEY
Published: The Sun 24 Apr 2010