Blog: What next for the Olympic Stadium?

It is worthwhile for this writer to state a personal view about the future of the Olympic Stadium post-2012.

It would make complete sense for a country the size of this one to have a genuinely World Class venue for staging international athletics in the future. The major positive to come out of staging the games appears to this writer to be the retention of a facility capable of matching any other, thus making London a credible home for the World or European Championships in the near future as well as lucrative Diamond League meetings at which the planet’s elite competitors test themselves against each other as well as the clock for high stakes.

We are all football fans on this site, but many of us here are followers of a multitude of sports, athletics included. There can be no doubt what the number one sport of choice is on these isles, but from time to time it is right and magnanimous to acknowledge that it is somebody else’s turn. UK Athletics badly needs a shot in the arm to attract the young medal-winners of the future, and if they are to demonstrate an ability to make the stadium a viable and sustainable venue in the years that follow, then in this writers view, football should be played there only on an occasional and one-off basis.

The proposed moves of either Tottenham Hotspur or West Ham United to the venue in the not-too-distant future have been the source of much debate and disagreement both amongst football fans generally and within the fanbases of the clubs concerned. The suggestion that were Spurs to move to another part of London then they would no longer be Tottenham Hotspur seems to this writer to make a great deal of logical sense.

Given the size and scale of London as a city, and the historical rivalries that exist between some London clubs more than others, how for instance would their antipathy with Arsenal live on with the same intensity if it were not really a North London derby? Their ‘kind offer’ to redevelop the Crystal Palace athletics venue carries a somewhat patronising tone too, and smacks of one sport seeking to put another one ‘in its place’.

West Ham certainly have a stronger geographical claim to the stadium, but there would be question marks about whether or not the Hammers could fill a substantially larger ground on a frequent basis (right now there would appear to be a realistic prospect of the club being in the Championship at the time of any move). To their credit, the trio of Gold, Sullivan and Brady are committed to retaining the legacy of the venue as one that can stage a multitude of sports, athletics included.

This would certainly appear to be a more reasoned and considered approach to a facility paid for by taxpayers than the modus operandi of Daniel Levy and co. However, while not finding this prospect entirely unpalatable, this writer is amongst those who struggles to find any genuine enthusiasm for it. Both clubs have perfectly good stadia of their own which are steeped in history and certainly in the case of White Hart Lane, hold scope for redevelopment. Moreover, football has had its own taxpayer-funded venue, and Wembley can hardly be said to be busy for 365 days a year – nor should it need to be. To an outsider, football must come across right now as a spoilt child who can not stand to see a relative getting a new toy.

Adding their names to the list of those seeking a similar outcome to that outlined earlier are Leyton Orient. Those concerned with the League One club are deeply concerned that a the arrival of a larger fish on their doorstep would drive away what they call ‘floating’ fans. In an official press release, the club states, “the prospect of excess capacity, leading to discounted tickets and the broader appeal to floating fans of a more high-profile club threatens to swamp us.” This is an interesting argument and poses more than a single question.

Would Tottenham (or whatever they became) in particular be so lopsided in terms of supply and demand that they would have to practically give tickets away in order to get a near-full ground? The likely answer to that question is negative. Many clubs are less than keen to offer bargain basement tickets on matchday anyway for fear of upsetting those who have paid up the full price on a season ticket. The issue of ‘floating’ fans poses a question as to why someone would become a ‘floater’ in the first place. One suspects that had they been overly keen to watch Premier League football then they would have affiliated themselves to a club in the top tier long before now. Given the choice, followers of lower league football would also be pleasantly surprised by how many actually chose to shun what many see as a league of divers, show-ponies and detached corporate forces.

Orient are one of many clubs whose have engaged in laudable community projects and have a commitment to developing home-grown players from within their own catchment area. Indeed it is institutions like these whose survival is of paramount importance, as they transcend 3pm on a Saturday and weave themselves into the fabric of a community.

Nobody would like to see the footballing equivalent of a high street shop being wolfed by a new supermarket, and it is a prospect that is understandably in the thoughts of many O’s fans right now. However, it is worth noting that the casual fan must only make up a very small percentage of the matchday attendance at Brisbane Road, and that football supporters and people generally have more soul than they are sometimes given credit for. If they were prepared to watch Orient lose to Colchester on a wet Tuesday night, then the argument that they will jump ship when something slightly better turns up struggles to hold water. This writer hopes his faith in humanity is well-founded and should note it is not based on a crude hypothesis but the real experience of friends and acquaintances who have left their seats at a Premier League ground to go and watch ‘real’ football somewhere else.

One can only wish Orient and their fans all the best regardless of the outcome of next week’s decision. Where they and this writer will agree will be in the view that no football club should be full-time residents in the Olympic Stadium and that the original purpose of the venue as the national home of athletics should be honoured. Football does not need to be the beneficiary of taxpayers’ money once more and nor does it help itself by acting the playground bully and raining on the parade of others.

If Tottenham or West Ham wish to redevelop or move their grounds elsewhere to accommodate additional supporters and raise revenues, then good luck to them. In the meantime, we should remember the disappointment of UK Athletics when it was decided that Wembley should be primarily a football stadium. It would surely be fair to acknowledge that other sports in these isles deserve quality facilities too.

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