HAMMERS GO DOWN FIGHTING; Gala Dinner Erupts in Brawl after Ba's Autograph Snub; O'Neill Top of Five-Man List to Step in for Sacked Grant

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Byline: SAMI MOKBEL and MATT LAWTON

WEST HAM'S disastrous season plumbed new depths last night when a brawl erupted at the club's swanky end-of-season bash.

Sportsmail understands that trouble flared after striker Demba Ba allegedly refused to sign an autograph for a supporter.

Angry scenes marred the [pounds sterling]275-a-head dinner at London's Grosvenor House Hotel. Scott Parker swept the board for awards, but the evening will be remembered for all the wrong reasons after an unsightly brawl.

A witness said: 'There were a couple of supporters who were asking Demba Ba for his autograph. But he turned round and said he was too tired.

'The fans said they were season-ticket holders and didn't deserve to be spoken to like that. Then it all kicked off.'

Officials from the relegated club tried to brush off the incident, claiming the supporters involved were known troublemakers. But the ugly scenes piled more misery on the club just 24 hours after losing their top-flight status.

Security guards rushed to defuse the situation as punches and plates were thrown and tables turned over, before the unruly supporters were ushered out of the room.

Celebrity supporter Ben Shephard, the host for the evening, and co-owner David Gold made desperate appeals for calm while fans fled the hotel to avoid any harm.

Two police cars were sent to the scene.

West Ham players had been instructed to attend the event, which attracted 750 guests, and warned by letter they would face a fine of a week's wages if they failed to comply, although Carlton Cole and Robert Green were excused -- Cole because of a neck injury and goalkeeper Green because his wife is due to give birth at any time. The incident was an unwelcome distraction from appointing a new manager to replace Avram Grant, who was sacked little more than an hour after Sunday's 3-2 defeat by Wigan, which ensured relegation. …