The decision is finally made, the saga is finally over but the debate will rage on, are West Ham United fans happy with the Olympic Stadium?
The decision that we would be the new tenants of the Olympic Stadium in Stratford from 2016 was met by a huge mixture of positive and negative responses. Every Hammers fan has a strong view on the issue, and it’s easy to see why, this is a huge and monumental moment in the history of West Ham United football club.
It means, as of 2016, we leave our fortress that is Upton Park after a remarkable 112 years of service. A ground that has seen many generations come before it, and many moments on and off the pitch that have shaped our club’s history.
Way before the Olympics, when there was the first inevitable suggestion that owners David Sullivan and David Gold were looking into the possibility of the Olympic Stadium being our new home, the general consensus among Hammers fans was not a favourable one. I was with the majority. Without knowing all the details, the whole of thought of leaving Upton Park to a new stadium with a running track around it and a complete lack of atmosphere was extremely unappealing.
However, as time has gone on, and more information regarding the move and the stadium has come out into the open, I, like many other West Ham fans, have begun to warm to the idea. As far as the future goes, this is an excellent opportunity for the club and if we are ever going to at least attempt to develop and become a force in English and European football then this move had to happen.
From a financial point of view, the move is a no brainer. The club will put £15 million towards the funding and renovations of the Stratford stadium, with the remaining £120 million or so being invested by Newham Council (£40 million), The London Legacy Development Company (£20 million) and the Government treasury (£60 million). West Ham will continue to pay £2 million a year to rent this exceptional stadium. To put the cost of the stadium into perspective, Arsenal’s Emirates stadium cost £390 million to build and seats just around 6,000 more fans that the Olympic Stadium. These hundreds of million pounds we have saved will go a long way to ridding a large chunk of our spiralling debts as well as potentially being used in the transfer market for new signings.
As well as the move being excellent financially, the stature of the club will increase dramatically. The 54,000 aesthetically pleasing stadium will attract big name sponsorship deals as well as high profile players. Just take the example of West Ham reportedly putting in a £14 million bid for prolific goalscorer and highly sought after Wilfried Bony this week. If we can attract big names to the club, then there is no reason why we cannot make that step up and compete with the big boys of the Premier League. Of course I understand it’s not that simple and we will need to get the results on the pitch in order to attract big names, but the Olympic stadium will certainly have more of a pull factor than Upton Park. In addition the Olympic Stadium will be a UEFA category 4 stadium, the highest possible category, allowing the ground to host big footballing events such as the Europa League final (unfortunately too small to host Champions League final). Again this would be financially rewarding and there are also the opportunities to host non-footballing events providing more income.
Another big issue for me which appears to have been resolved is the running track. Arguably the biggest concern that put me off the Olympic stadium was almost needing binoculars to watch the football with the running track between fans and the pitch. Thankfully David Gold has confirmed retractable seats will be in place and therefore the distance between the pitch and the supporters should be an acceptable one. That being said, I’m very interested into seeing what these retractable seats are going to look like.
So these are the main positives regarding the move and for me they are positives that outweigh the negatives and will give us a much stronger opportunity in developing as a football club.
I completely understand those against the move and not wanting to leave the Boleyn ground. I am gutted to be leaving it too. It has played such an integral part in West Ham’s history, playing host to West Ham great’s such as Moore, Bonds, Brooking and Di Canio. Every West Ham fan has their own favourite Upton Park memories and looking back there have been so many. It would have been fantastic to carry on playing at the Boleyn for many more years but some great things you have to let go of, in order to better yourself. Upton Park will always be fondly remembered and loved by every West Ham fan.
The other strong issue regarding the move is the atmosphere within the ground. There is no doubting the incredible atmosphere Hammers fans generate at Upton Park and this is something which cannot be completely replicated at the new ground. The larger, more modern open grounds such as the Olympic stadium will never have the same atmosphere and decibel levels as the more enclosed, traditional football grounds such as the Boleyn. However to think the Olympic Stadium will be completely atmosphere-less with potentially 50,000 or so West Ham fans is false. Whatever the ground, fans at the end of the day make the atmosphere and we have never been a quiet bunch. It might not quite be the same as Upton Park, but I’m sure we can get it close.
All in all, I think it’s at that stage where we have to move with the times and look to the future. The past is history and Upton Park will always be an incredible part of West Ham United’s history. However the potential and incredible opportunity the Olympic Stadium brings is simply too good to turn down, both financially and for the development of the football club.
The move will forever divide opinion amongst the West Ham faithful but it is essential, now that the saga is over with, everyone gets behind the team on the pitch. Here’s to a new era.