View from Across the Pond….
I remember during the summer, only two years ago, the narrative for West Ham was so different: A seventh place finish, European football, a masterful Frenchman creating chances and scoring goals, and above all, a brand new stadium. During that summer, with the smell of success still in the air, most of West Ham’s social media regulars spent their summer defending their club against claims of an unfair deal to acquire the use and possession of the Olympic Stadium. Local London newspapers breathlessly released story after story detailing the raw points of the not-so-transparent negotiations.
“Taxpayers to supply West Ham’s corner flags and goal nets!”
By August it was almost fun to provoke the random Spurs supporter or even Leyton Orient fan on Twitter when they decried the burden that West Ham had put on the London taxpayer. And then something strange happened….
As the new season progressed, the enthusiasm went away. There were sight line issues from the stands, the stewards were overly militant, and of course there was that athletic track keeping even the first row of seats far off the pitch. Coupled with Cresswell and Ayew suffering early injuries and an embarrassing exit from Europe, (and the unseen drama that Dimitri Payet was causing the team) by October a good portion of the West Ham supporters were ready to give the stadium to Orient.
“Bring Back the Boleyn!”
Living half a world away, I think I understand the psychology behind the longing to return to Upton Park. All your fond memories are from that spot. The time your grandfather took you to the grounds as a child and the boys came back to score a stoppage time winner. All of those memories are fond, and so far, there are few fond memories at the new stadium.
“We should have never left the Boleyn. That place was a fortress!”
I might be a recent convert to the West Ham religion but from what I understand over the past 40 years we were relegated at that fortress five times and won only one FA Cup during those four decades. So I think it’s important to filter out nostalgia for the good times that are memories of Upton Park, and get behind this team for the sake of the future. That sad but blunt fact is that London Stadium still offers West Ham the best chance to compete with the traditional top six clubs. Almost doubling the seating capacity, allows for an additional revenue stream that puts West Ham at least on a better financial trajectory.
I realise that the common Twitter narrative says that Mr. Sullivan won’t spend as freely as we all suggest he should, but that fact is: while he is, no doubt, wealthier than you or I, he still doesn’t have the means to compete evenly with the big clubs. All Premier League clubs have the same distributions from broadcasting sources, so we have no advantage there. I can tell you West Ham has no apparel or clothing sales in America, unlike the other large clubs in England and Europe who market kits and shirts all over the world, so there is no revenue advantage there. Ticket sales are the only advantage West Ham can boast when trying to earn their way into the top ten. Obviously a 66,000 seat venue is worth more than a 35,000 seat venue. Basically, West Ham’s supporters need to make peace with the London Stadium, athletic track and all.
Hopefully, West Ham someday can buy out full ownership of the stadium. I suspect the London Legacy Development Board will one day decide that it is a money-losing millstone around their necks and to sell it to WHUFC at a discounted price will be the best move for the local taxpayer. Its’ possible our mysterious new board member from America could aid in the financing of that, as his firm specialises in providing capital for large ventures that most banks wouldn’t consider. If that happens, maybe the track could disappear and the capacity could be increased. Possibly even a Dortmund-style safe standing area to amp up the atmosphere. But even if NONE of this comes to be, West Ham is going to be playing their matches at the London stadium whether you like it or not. In the same way we are giving David Moyes a fair look, it’s important we give the stadium another shot. I’m afraid without the enthusiasm of 60,000 supporters we might find ourselves facing Fulham and Forest next year, instead of Arsenal and Liverpool.
I understand the one variable that affects the feel of a stadium more than anything is victory. It’s hard to keep the excitement in the air when Joe Hart is diving all over the turf and we are down 3-0 in the 60th minute. But if this coach or a future coach gets the spark going, and these talented transfers like Hernandez and Arnautovic begin to live up to their potential and the Hammers start climbing the table, I think we need to put our London Stadium resentments aside and make it as much a fortress as an Olympic stadium can be. Two weeks from today, when Leicester comes to town, would certainly be a good day to start.