This is my first time doing this so I hope I haven’t rambled on too much and I hope people can empathise with my view regarding Upton Park and the London Stadium.
I share the same view as a lot of people regarding the migration from Upton Park to Olympic Stadium or the London Stadium as it is now called, that I wish we had never left. I completely understand why we had to move in order to become a ‘big’ or at least a ‘bigger’ club. West Ham are an iconic club, there is something about West Ham, we may not be the most loved of clubs and have a reputation which dates back to our older days when it comes to fans fighting (or you could argue now!) but there is something that just makes us a little bit different. I feel that Upton Park was part of this reason. Although it has been said many times before, it simply is just irreplaceable. I feel this was proven in the lead up to the Farewell Boleyn game against Man United back in May, a send-off and a build-up I do not remember another famous ground like Highbury ever receiving in London.
I have been going to Upton Park full time since the 2004/2005 Championship season. Unlike most people who usually have the tradition of being fed West Ham through their old man, mine was actually through my brother and through my aunt who lives just next door to me. My Dad used to take my brother when he was a youngster in the 80s, but he had to stop due to family commitments at home. My brother stopped going in the late 90s before the flame was reignited in 2004 when my brother and my aunt who followed West Ham home, away and all over Europe in the 70’s and 80’s and I started going over Upton Park sitting in row A of the Century Upper before it was named to the Sir Trevor Brooking Stand. Speaking of the great man himself it brings me onto another story. Sir Trev paid a visit to my Nan’s house which is now occupied by my Aunt down Cotswold Gardens in East Ham back in 1975 to visit the family after the tragic loss of my uncle Derek to cancer when he was just 16. My uncle Peter who moved to Australia, a passionate West Ham fan, had a friend who knew a lady down Cotswold Gardens who used to work for Trevor Brooking’s plastic company in Barking. Through this connection, she kindly arranged for Trevor Brooking to visit my family who were grieving over the loss of my uncle a passionate and West Ham mad young lad to come to meet the family after his death. Of course, at this time I was not around but I have heard what a gentleman he was and how he gave everyone a lift at that time, one of my Uncle Derek’s heroes who sadly was not there to meet him. To think such a legend, a true West Ham legend was just 20 feet to the right of my house all those years ago is crazy to think of. It is this history, of my family and the passion that runs through the family that naturally made its way into me. West Ham fans are a passionate bunch, it really is a club that you do not truly know what it means unless you are one, and it is not something you find your way into it is put in you.
Upton Park has been a special place for many years. It was a place I could call home. Living 5 minutes from the ground it was almost an extension of my actual house, that’s how it felt, it was special. I used stand/sit in the East Stand upper front row with my mates and my brother after my aunt moved to Dr. Martins Stand with her childhood friend. Right next to the away fans, in that enclosed small place, giving each other stick having that electric atmosphere right on top of you, the rain blowing in and smacking you in the face from Priory Road roaring the team on as Michail Antonio heads home against Spurs on a freezing cold night in March. There are about as many low moments as there are high moments when I reflect on Upton Park. The lowest was probably the famous 3-4 defeat against Spurs in 2007. Gut wrenching. I still am not to this day over the 2006 FA Cup final however that is a story for the other day! There have been highs too of course, I have witnessed many famous wins at the Boleyn, with my personal favourite being the 2-1 win over Spurs in 2006, the classic ‘We laughed ourselves to bits when Tottenham got the s***s’ with Yossi Benayoun striking late to secure three points in the last home game of the season and in turn stopping Spurs getting a Champions League place.
Upton Park was a place for us all to come together it was a fortress at times, the atmosphere engulfed you, it was home, and it still is. But as the saying goes, ‘all good things come to an end’ and the start of the two David’s reign in charge of us was the start of just that. That was the first thing on their list, get us that Olympic Stadium, and move from East Ham to Stratford. I firmly believe that Upton Park could have been re-developed I know there would have been some difficulty but I do believe if as much effort and desire were put into reforming Upton Park as there was obtaining the Olympic Stadium we would have had a result somewhere down the line. However, moving a club like West Ham who has the fan base to fill the OS as we have proved already, to a brand new stadium in Stratford, a reformed and up and coming area in East London, well it speaks for itself, we can be sold for big bucks. I am not saying the owners do not have the clubs best interests at heart, not at all, they have done a fantastic job for us, on the whole, I cannot deny that but that was the ultimate plan and at present it is backfiring but that is not to say it will not prove good. Things take time.
The standing/sitting debate is clearly the biggest issue inside the London Stadium at the moment, and the in-house fighting between fans and the steward control issue is all as a result of this. The way the stadium has been accommodated, accommodated being a key word here, it is simply not practical for football fans, especially West Ham fans that are extremely passionate and will not be bullied around. I sit in the East Stand upper row A, as I did at Upton Park as it is a ‘like for like’ seat. I do not see hardly any people from the East stand upper or lower seating near me.
The lower tier was standing up a lot in the first game or two in the Europa and Premier League games. Because the lower tier is accommodated, and by that I mean not designed so that the stand slopes down from the upper, I mean that it is directly attached meaning if the lower tier stands I literally can’t see a thing. Usually, this wouldn’t be a problem because I could sit in the East upper at UP whilst the lower stood and I would be unrestricted or I could stand as people behind me stood. It was literally a win-win situation. I cannot stand up to see over the crowd of people as the people behind me prefer to sit and I am then restricting them. This is the problem.
I have to respect that people have paid their £800 just as I did and we all have a right to view the game how we want to, it does not make anybody less passionate a fan. More recently it has been okay and I hope it continues like this. This, I believe, is the club’s fault by not identifying and grouping West Ham fans into appropriate areas that clearly divides people who like to sit and people who like to stand. You knew the areas where people stood and where people sat at Upton Park you knew what you were getting so you could make your choice. I see a lot of the ends of the lower tiers both ends of the stadium stand. This I see as no problem. Nobody is being restricted at all and everyone seems happy to stand in these areas. Yet stewards and ‘security’ that have not the first clue of how to handle football fans are forcing fans out of the ground. Which, in turn, is causing anger amongst fans and results in fans bickering and has led to fights especially after a drink or 10. Whilst this is no excuse to fight or cause the scenes from the pictures we have seen with small children crying this is a result of the stewarding and of the way the stadium is. I didn’t see anything like this in all my years at Upton Park, did you? Poor stewarding and useless security who would rather record fights on their phones than sort the issue, and with no police presence inside the ground and poor separation of the home and away fans could end in disaster if we are not careful.
Could you imagine what would happen if that was Spurs or Chelsea on Saturday instead of Watford? If this isn’t sorted soon I generally foresee serious injury or god forbid worse. Safe standing is something we need to implement, and we need to in time make the OS like UP where we know where people want to stand and where people want to sit. I want to be in with crowds going absolutely mental, flying rows down when we score a goal as I did before. I do not want us to become Arsenal where we rise to our feet and clap a goal, I want to be covered in the aftermath of beer flying up and hugging complete strangers! This is what makes the experience for me, like a proper away goal! I appreciate not every game is like that but when it’s a big one then the celebrations have to meet standards!
The gap between the stands to the pitch (which is separated by a cheap plastic cover which doesn’t even look like an extension of the grass because of the colour difference) is a reflection of the growing distance I am feeling towards us and I never thought I would say that. I will always be West Ham and no matter what I say as long as I can afford to renew my Season Ticket each year and go away I will but I am feeling distant and it’s not just me. The stadium change, the overwhelming amount of white seats compared to the claret and blue, the amount of ‘fans’ wearing different club and country football shirts, the badge change, everything is making me feel that we have sold out, and to be honest I think we have.
I walk out of my house 5 minutes down the road.
I get to the Barking road; Nathan’s Pie & Mash is literally dead. Four months ago, queues were right down the Barking road. East Ham working man’s club, my local, was absolutely rammed, now you are lucky to find more than 10 in there.
The local trades which were promised a place with the club to carry on business and traditions – where are they? They were left behind struggling, in an area where only on a match day at UP would you see them booming, and that was enough to keep them going during the week. Nathan’s Pie & Mash will carry on I believe as I feel enough fans will carry on traditions to keep it alive but the working man’s club will not. Those who used to drink in there would know how busy that place gets. On a recent documentary ‘The Last Whites of the East End’ they said the working man’s took in about £13,000 on a match day if memory serves me right. They will be lucky to make that a month now.
We have replaced tradition with a McDonald’s down by Bow roundabout, an upmarket shopping centre too busy to get into because it is already overcrowded even without football on a Saturday (don’t even want to think what that is going to be like in December) and popcorn stands in refreshments areas. It all has a very modern/American kind of feel to it. It is not West Ham, not the club I grew up with.
However, times change and we have to move on with the club. I have no doubt in time the teething problems will be sorted and some passion and atmosphere will be installed in the ground because I can see the place having its roof lifted off when its gets going. The ultimate concern for me now is what we do on the pitch. I could leave Upton Park after doing what we did Saturday pissed off but come back for more just as loud and just as proud the next week. When I left Saturday I felt like I didn’t care if I went back or not. I have belief however, that if we can bring back the West Ham we saw last season and bring some great times to the OS, we will all feel better about the situation, leaving home and start to learn to love what we have now as there is no going back, which I am harshly reminded of every other Saturday when I have to walk past Upton Park, lonely and abandoned as I make my way to the station.
Fortunes are always hiding, but we will find them one day!
This article was written by Nick Lipman