Lights out: Bobby Moore plunges the Boleyn Ground into darkness, but there would be darker days ahead for West Ham United
The West Ham faithful — and faithful they are. Even if it’s a cold, wet and windy Monday night in Stoke during the month January — the anti-Christ of all months — when the team is nailed on to lose — they turn up in their droves. And that’s when the match is on Sky Sports, too. Let’s be honest, West Ham fans deserve credit for turning up at all.
If West Ham United ever wanted to progress as a club, then it made sense to leave the Boleyn Ground. The Boleyn was hardly the theatre of dreams some fans made it out to be; it was largely a place of sour results for the best part of 114 years. But it was home.
I would have gladly swapped Upton Park for a trophy or Champions League qualification, so I was a big advocate for moving stadiums — but only if it was done properly. Unfortunately, it hasn’t. The fans have been shoehorned into an athletics stadium on the cheap.
There are a few basic principles when designing a football stadium: tiers should overlap, fans should be as close to the pitch as possible, and the stands should be as steep as possible. None of these apply to the London Stadium. A recent trip to Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium reminded me of how a football stadium should look, and reinforced just how far removed the London Stadium is from one.
It’s very jarring to see people wandering around on the walkway between the two tiers during a game. The bottom and top tiers don’t overlap, and there is a colossal gap between them. The top tier seems to stretch back for eternity — it’s far from steep.
The gap between the two tiers ruins the viewing pleasure of anyone in the upper tier. To hell with watching a football game from the upper tier of the London Stadium — the players look like miniature toys. Even the gaps between the rows of seats are too much.
Teams love visiting West Ham now — that’s not something you could say about Upton Park. The openness of the London Stadium makes them raise their game a little. Coming to this stadium is no challenge for opposing teams, but it’s a massive challenge for the home team.
The board made a huge error in not creating a ‘singing section’; those who wanted to make noise could have all sat together and created an atmosphere.
Whenever the team was losing at the Boleyn Ground, there still used to be a great atmosphere — the fans would make the most of a bad situation by singing self-deprecating songs and laughing their way through. When the team is losing at the London Stadium, you could hear a pin drop.
The best a club like West Ham United can hope for is stability in the Premier League. The club had that in Sam Allardyce and David Moyes — both were got rid. Now that Manuel Pellegrini is in charge, only time will tell if he is a manager of great players or a great manager of players. It’s all very well winning the league with Man City’s endless pot of gold.
The idea of moving homes — well, the one the board sold to the fans — was to progress to the next level. The club has gone backwards ever since it swapped a working man’s stadium for a soulless bowl. The Boleyn Ground may have been small, dated, behind the times and falling apart in places — but it was a stadium built for its purpose — to hold football games and supporters.
West Ham fans are going to hate this — but the brutal truth is that when London rivals Tottenham move into a state-of-the-art, fit for purpose football ground, it’s going to be one of the best in the world, exposing the faults of West Ham’s home even further.
A lot of fans were happy just being us, not winning any silverware at the Boleyn, rather than just being us, not winning any silverware at the Olympic Stadium, minus our identity.
No wonder why so many of them are breaking up with their club, No matter many licks of claret and blue paint the place gets, it will never be a football stadium, and I fear it will never quite feel like home.
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