This is written by Greg Richardson (twitter @rakis14)
We all experience loss in our lives, whether it’s a beloved toy, a family pet, or a near and dear family member, everybody suffers the feeling of losing someone or something that a has been a significant part of our lives, wrapped up in nostalgic memories and forever associated with a deep rooted sense of love and belonging. It can be heartbreaking and soul destroying and many people seek help to get themselves through their feelings of grief. To that end that there has been research done that suggests there are 5 stages of the grieving process – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Once people reach the acceptance stage they are then able to move on, never quite the same, but fuller, more complete than their loss has left them. People find a new favourite toy, get new pets, remarry etc. They begin to look forward with hope rather than sorrow.
On 10th May 2016 West Ham fans suffered a loss that has left many of us incomplete, unable to see a future in which we will ever be happy again. The Boleyn ground was taken from us. Our spiritual home was no longer ours. Once the fireworks and celebrations were over, we were left without a place that was very much a central aspect of our identity. Since then I have seen many a twitter rant, Facebook post and fan written blog or vlog that would fit comfortably into the denial, anger, bargaining and depression stages. The question is, will the majority ever reach the acceptance stage of their grief and be able to move forward with the club and it’s new home? And how much greater and harder has the grieving been because of last seasons nostalgic drawn out goodbye?
Following a string of unimpressive performances at The London Stadium, culminating in the lack lustre display versus City in the F.A cup, twitter and the blog-esphere where awash with claims that this type of embarrassing performance would never have happened at Upton Park. Martin Keowns comments that City will have enjoyed playing at our ground cut deep with those who remember the Boleyn as an intimidating place that noone wanted to visit. And whilst there is an element of truth in that reaction, it’s not an entirely realistic representation of our 100+ years at our old home. There were many a time where the atmosphere was electric and hostile and the 12th man that is the fans, really helped drive the team on to perform at elevated levels, not least last season as the whole squad rode a tide of emotion. But likewise there have been times when the atmosphere was lacking. And there have certainly been times when performances have been as bad or worse that last night’s abject display.
The suggestion though seems to be that because we as fans are now further away from the pitch we cannot create the intimidating environment and so the opposition have an easier time and that it is this that is causing or at least contributing to our poor home displays. It also seems to connote that we are unable to inspire our own players and give them the support of the 12th man in our new surroundings.
Now ignoring the actual footballing side of these issues (the tactics we employ to stop the opposition from playing, the work rate and effort insisted on by the manager etc.), I don’t believe that the issue is the distance from the pitch or in fact the stadium itself but more the reluctance of many to move onto the acceptance stage of their grief. I refuse to believe that the matter of a few additional yards has killed our ability to support our side effectively. Against Chelsea in the cup and United in the league (following Mike Dean’s ‘look-at-me’ performance) the atmosphere was brilliant. It has had its moments I other matches too. But too often I hear moans of a lack of atmosphere from people who don’t sing when echoes start to reach us from other parts of the ground and who leave once we go behind.
The stadium is not to blame for people not joining in with singing. It is not the reason that people are choosing to leave rather than support the team in the hopes they can turn a deficit around. It’s all part of their grief about the loss of the Boleyn. It’s their denial, their anger, their depression. It is understandable. But it needs to stop. We can support the team as we always have regardless of our grounds location and our distance from the pitch.
Of course it isn’t as clear cut as all that. There are problems with the stewarding at the stadium and more consideration need to be given to the allocation of seats to bring like minded supports together etc. The way the Boleyn supported the local community has not followed us to Stratford either and this should be rectified. But the club we know and love has. Our history has. West Ham United is not defined by being close to the pitch but by the passion of our fans. We have moments, seasons full of joy and seasons where it all falls apart. Great players that come through the academy. Mavericks that get us out of our seats. All of this is just as possible now as it has always been. Our DNA is the same. Our ability to roar on our team and to intimidate opponents remains. We just need to be open to it, to move beyond our anger, to stop the hypothetical ‘back to the Boleyn’ notions. To accept our loss and look forward with hope that the next 99 years will bring us more of the West Ham we love.