The Boleyn Ground has been the home of our club, West Ham United for over 100 years, 108 to be precise. Not only is it our physical home but more significantly, our spiritual home too. Together with the fans, it is the DNA of our great club.
West Ham has always been a family club. The hardened fans did not become supporters through choice; it was a heritage, a birthright, part of the family lineage. Fathers cannot wait to buy their sons and nowadays daughters their first set of colours – the claret and blue heraldry – whether this is a bib, baby grow or full kit.
All fans remember their first game at the Boleyn Ground, a treasured memory that will stay with them for the rest of their life. Even more memorable will be their first game under floodlights. Evening games at the Boleyn are something extra special; there is a magical feel to the ground. This experience is then enhanced by the crowd striking up a chorus of I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles as the team runs onto the pitch. There is not a ground anywhere in the country that can match this atmosphere.
With the move to the Olympic Stadium looking evermore likely, will we lose some or all of the aforementioned? It would be a sad loss if we did; traditions built over generations and passed down from father to son, swept away in an instant.
From a commercial aspect, the move across the borough makes sense. The increased capacity and the opportunity to encourage “A” list corporate sponsorship and corporate hospitality will generate untold revenue, the like of which the club can only dream of at present.
Transport links to and from the Olympic Stadium are far better than the current links to Upton Park. The current tube link relies heavily on the District Line being in working order on match days, which as we all know has had its fair share of problems in recent years. Road links and parking in the area are poor. The tube links at the Olympic Stadium are excellent. There is direct access to British Rail, the Central Line, the Jubilee line and the Docklands Light Railway.
The catering facilities are far better in and around the Olympic Stadium. The Olympic Park and Westfield Stratford City will offer added attractions to enhance the match day experience. These new facilities will attract visitors some of which could well incorporate taking in a match as part of their east London experience.
No one can question the commitment of Messrs Gold and Sullivan to West Ham. It is clear that both are supporters as well as being major shareholders. However, it must not be forgotten they are businessmen first and supporters second, they have both invested a substantial amount of their own money into the club. As is the way with all businessmen, at some stage they will need to realise their investment. Once the move to the Olympic Stadium takes place and possibly a couple of years down the line when the dust has settled, this will be the perfect time for them to push the button on their exit strategy.
When the time comes for Messrs Gold and Sullivan to sell and provided West Ham retain their Premier League status, they will light the touch-paper ready for the next Russian oligarch or rich Middle Eastern Sheikh to buy the club. If or when this happens, then Messrs Gold and Sullivan will realise their dream, not only their investment but will the fans realise their dreams.
Sometimes, you have to be careful what you wish for. If we move to the Olympic Stadium, if Messrs Gold and Sullivan sell their stakes in the club, if the club is taken over by a rich oligarch or sheikh, will the club still have the same values? West Ham are in danger of their DNA being contaminated by corporate sponsorship and corporate supporters in the way Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea have seen their DNA contaminated.
Are the fans prepared to trade our heritage, our family values, our DNA for the trappings of money and success?