For anyone searching for Football Manager content or a calm, balanced review of a game of football: you have clicked on the wrong article. This article has nothing in common to what has previously been published on this site: it is a rant about how embarrassed I am to be a West Ham fan at this point in time, and you may be surprised to find out that it has nothing to do with how feebly we have began our 2016/17 campaign. I am absolutely livid about the way in which the board are allowing the London Stadium to be operated: it is dangerously bad.
Before I press on and everyone assumes that I am a romanticist who believes that West Ham should have stayed at Upton Park for the remainder of time – can I put out that I do not fall into that category. I loved Upton Park, I cried twice during the game against Manchester United: yes, Michail Antonio and then Winston Reid caused me to cry over a game – it’s sad, I know. However, I fully supported the move to Stratford: as a club it was the right time for us to move on in an attempt to become a “big club” – although we did have planning permission to expand the Boleyn so that argument is flawed. Moving to a bigger stadium undoubtedly brings benefits: it enables you to bring in more fans, thus making more money – therefore enabling the club to invest more heavily in the first eleven… Well that’s the theory.
In theory our move to the London Stadium is fantastic for the club and its loyal fanbase. It means that more tickets can be sold to those not fortunate to be able to attend every week; it means that more young people in the local area can attend fixtures and become supporters; and it means that the club is able to become more of a commercial attraction to big businesses. In theory the move is great.
But I don’t live in a world consisting of perfected theories. There are so many problems with the London Stadium – one of which being its pathetic name – and I would like to take this opportunity to vent my anger about them. The reason being is that I am afraid of what could become of the club that I have loved and cherished ever since the day that I became aware of what my football club stood for.
The fact of the matter is simple: the standard of stewarding at the London Stadium is nothing short of atrocious, and the fact that Mr Gold has attempted to wash his hands of the trouble is despicable. I wilfully acknowledge that the stewards that work on matchdays at the London Stadium are not employed by the club, they are employed by the ‘Stadium Operators’ – but when mass violence breaks out it wont be the ‘Stadium Operators’ that are fined: the hammer will fall on West Ham United.
I have been to every fixture at the new stadium apart from the Europa League clash against NK Domzale, and at no point have I felt that the stewards have been in control of the stadium – and I wish that I was being hyperbolic. Against AFC Astra I arrived at the game just four minutes before kick-off, and as I expected there were substantial ques to get into the stadium – which, annoying as it is, I can live with… What I cannot comprehend is why it would ever be deemed to be acceptable for a steward to shout at the top of his lungs that:
“NO MORE BAG CHECKS: IT IS CURRENTLY TOO BUSY!”
Do I need to elaborate upon that point? Not really because it is blatantly obvious that playing in the ‘Olympic’ Stadium clearly comes with subsequent terror risks. It does not take a brain surgeon to work out that not searching bags is not okay…
There are, however, wider issues with the stewards: they simply aren’t well-trained enough. The vast majority of them have never stewarded a football crowd so simply do not understand that standing up to sing ‘Bubbles’ is just a small part of what makes West Ham, West Ham. They do not understand that being told to sit down soon after scoring a goal may be an inflammatory comment to make. They do not understand that ejecting individuals from the crowd for standing while the entire away end is bouncing up and down signing ‘Cheerio’ is like showing a red rag to a bull.
Don’t get me wrong: people shouldn’t stand persistently. They shouldn’t throw a tirade of abuse at the stewards. But at the same time: they are being provoked for doing something that they had been doing for decades at Upton Park. In my sixteen years as a West Ham fan I never once saw the Chicken Run sit down, nor did I see the Sir Trevor Brooking Lower sit, nor did I ever see the Bobby Moore Lower use their seats. In a letter that most season ticket holders received this week from Mr Gold and Mr Sullivan they described the standard/sitting situation as “polarising”, yet they fail to realise that the way in which the stewards are dealing with infringements breached by fans with regards to the club’s contract with the LDLC is abhorrent.
I could bang on about the ridiculously poor stewarding all day: but instead I will summarise the situation in a succinct, simple manner. At yesterday’s game children left the stadium crying, with their parents in fear of their safety. That just isn’t acceptable.
I also take issue with the way in which home fans are segregated from away fans. The line between home and away support is paper thin, and it was a line that was so nearly breached during half-time against Watford, a team that doesn’t have a history of violence. I dread to think how easily a team that West Ham have animosity with will be able to breach the barrier between the two sets of fans: when West Ham face Spurs, or if we face Millwall in the cup chaos will break out – there is no doubt in my mind about that.
Prior to the game against Bournemouth a select group of West Ham fans had to walk through the away-end concourse to reach their seats – not only is that dangerous, it is yet another example of how badly the club have planned our move to the new stadium.
However, I am most disappointed by the infighting that seems to have become a constant feature of life at the London Stadium: it’s disgusting. Fighting at Upton Park was a rare occurrence – fracas very rarely broke out, so what has changed? We have played at the London Stadium five times (including the non-segregated fixture versus Juventus) and there have been incidents of infighting in half of those games. Previously, West Ham fans had laughed at seeing other teams go through this very issue – I had always felt that it was the most ridiculous thing that could ever happen at a game of football…. Well, I was wrong.
My view at the London Stadium is fantastic: I sit in row 32 and my view is superb. When the atmosphere gets going: it is brilliant.
But there is more to a stadium than how easily you can see the pitch and how good the atmosphere is: you need to feel safe, and I know for a fact that a large amount of fans do not. As you can probably tell: I could rant and rave all day long about this topic, but I wont.