Saturday, December 08, 2012

Not just a move of two miles

I've lost count of the number of times over the years that people have said to me, "You support West Ham? They've always been my second team," of course those words have never passed the lips of a supporter of one of London's other clubs but generally supporters from Newcastle to Liverpool, the Black Country to Brighton have had a soft spot for the 'appy 'ammers. Even Bill Shankly once lamented that it would be a sad day if West Ham were relegated, before adding "Aye, we'd miss those four points each season."

I have a feeling that the warm glow of mutual admiration will receed once the move from the Boleyn to the Stadio Olympico Stratford takes place. No longer will the gawd blimey Guvnor, jellied eels, what a player that Booby Moore was sense of romanticism fuel the bonhomie, instead West Ham will join the bottom rung of the ladder that is marked 'big clubs'. The extra capacity and extra income will suddenly propel the club into a new league, in terms of resources. The club will overtake everybody in the current Premier League bar the two Manchester clubs and Arsenal in terms of matchday revenue and whilst those three clubs have benefited from a mixture of rich sugar daddies and financial prudence West Ham United will be the beneficiary of a large chunk of taxpayers money.

This of course has led to some intense beard rubbing and tut-tutting from certain people, the great self-publicist Sally Bercow this week tweeted that it shouldn't go to the football club but the local community. Since when have the two been mutually exclusive, has Mrs Bercow any idea of the work a football club actually does in the wider community?

The attitude of West Ham supporters has changed dramatically over the past six months, fuelled greatly I suspect by watching the Olympics and Paralympics and witnessing what a great venue the stadium is - I'm sure the singing of 'Bubbles' during the opening ceremony by some cheeky chirpy mock-er-neys helped. Before the double games 61% of supporters asked by one of the fanzines said they were against the move, that has changed to 64% in favour.

A lot of the detractors, from a purely aesthetic point of view, have said that stadia with athletics tracks don't generate a good atmosphere. That is true, look at the Olympico in Rome, or the old stadium in Munich, the Stadio Della Alpi in Turin or Espanyol's old ground, but then look at the City of Manchester Stadium. The problem isn't for spectators on the two sides of the ground, the distance between dug out and pitch at the Olympic Stadium is only 1.5 metres more than the distance between the old West Stand and the pitch at the Boleyn - the problem is at either end and anybody who watched the television coverage during the summer would have recoiled in shock when the 'behind the goal' angles were shown. This is of course where the biggest changes to the stadium will take place and I've no doubt that given time and effort a great atmosphere will be created, if not quite up to that generated at the old ground where, as television pundits are constantly reminding us, there is nothing to beat Upton Park under the lights.

Of course the old ground will be missed. That special relationship between the ground and the flats and Green Street and the bus garage and the local immigrant population that can't understand what all the fuss is about, will be gone. The truth is that the old hostile Upton Park disappeared when the ground was revamped, when the gap between the old 'chicken run' and the pitch grew wider, when the Sir Trevor Brooking and Bobby Moore stands replaced the old North and South Banks, when the old hostilities survived simply out of ritual rather than any real sense of threat. The ground still retains the ability to generate an awful lot of noise but there's no reason why the new one can't, just look at the reaction to George Osborne at the Paralympics to see how hostile a partisan Stratford crowd can be!

Providing this isn't just a money maker for Messrs Gold and Sullivan and Ms Brady as far as I'm concerned it's a no-brainer. Having been in Germany this summer and seen how a big club like Borussia Dortmund operates the only way is up as far as I'm concerned. 


A Northern Bloke said...

I was horrified when it was announced that Roker Park would be consigned to history but I have to admit that that The Stadium of Light is a far superior ground, apart from its ridiculous name.

Around the time of the move, Charlie Hurley had been voted Player of the Century and I thought they should have called the new stadium "Hurley Park".

Span Ows said...

Agree entirely. Pity about atmosphere etc but things move on. it will certainly help all those people go and support their 'second team' ;-)

Sally really is a berk and a cow, OK, no doubt she meant including the non-football community but with the multi capacity of the stadium that is a cert anyway.

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