The indications have always been that the Hammers are in pole position to move into a stadium close to their spiritual east London home. Their proposals to keep the perimeter running track in place and merge the arena into a multipurpose sports venue has ticked many of the boxes recommended by the Olympic Park Legacy Committee (OPLC) – with local borough council’s and councillors, UK athletics, Lord Coe and a host of other high profile athletes and politicians all siding with West Ham.
With their financial limitations compared to Tottenham, the Hammers have needed to buddy up with the Newham Council in much a similar way as Manchester City did when procuring Eastlands following the 2002 Commonwealth Games.
By venturing into such a partnership West Ham are losing the independence of wholly controlling their own football ground, and whilst in the short term it will present them with a state of the art home with increased capacity, will the move really be for the best for the club, and sport in London in the long term?
Upon arriving at Upton Park, incoming Chairmen David’s Gold and Sullivan painted a utopian image of the future of football in the east end, with the Olympic Stadium being the hive of local sporting activity.
An increased capacity meant lower ticketing prices, deals for families and children making football in and around those parts affordable and theoretically enjoyable for one and all. The spirit of the blitz lives on as the club sought to entice a whole new generation of Hammer with this field of dreams scenario.
Unfortunately though, as warming and endearing as this selfless concept is by the David’s, it is not without its obvious pitfalls and by adhering to the requisite’s of the OPLC and Newham Council, West Ham are making strong concessions to take tenancy.
By largely maintaining the stadium in it’s soon to be current format, as a 60,000 all seater arena with running track, West Ham are first and foremost quite literally distancing themselves from the archetypal close-knit English football ground and the intimacy, intricacy and atmosphere they bring.
Even ultra-modern stadia such as the City of Manchester stadium and the Emirates have successfully retained this feel, and damningly West Ham’s quasi football-athletics idea has been backed by only about a quarter of their supporter base in a recent poll conducted by KUMB.com.
The old guard will still go along regardless, but for Gold and Sullivan’s speculative proposals to catch on, the new breed of Hammer must benefit from the entire experience of live football action, and that experience will undoubtedly be jeopardised with the retention of the running track.
At present, West Ham’s average home gate is just over 33,000 at over 90% take-up, but that is a long way towards best utilising a 60,000 capacity. Natural footfall will increase because of the new stadium itself but these floating voters can come and go dependent on the teams fortunes, and as of late, that isn’t encouraging.
With high ticket prices and low availability around the capital’s top clubs, the concept of trying to tap into a large pool of football fan unable to attend games is a logical business plan. However, in practice, West Ham are hamstringing themselves by getting into bed with the authorities as their proposed stadium is just not conducive to retaining a potentially easy-come easy-go following.
It’s no use going to see Scott Parker bursting through midfield if he’s a dot on the horizon and you’ve got little chance of witnessing close up the nifty footwork of Victor Obinna if your 200ft away from him. This is football, not bird watching. The West Ham branded binoculars will never catch on.
There are other factors too. The over emphasised playing area and the receded positions of the stands can make for desolate conditions during the winter months. Indeed, it is not uncommon for fans on the terraces of similarly designed Serie A stadia to make fires to keep warm when it gets a bit nippy. That doesn’t harness the family environment the Irons are preaching or will go little towards community development by enthusing pyromania.
Then there is also the issue of the playing surface. Just imagine what Wembley would look like if it had upwards of twenty full games a season played on it as well as all the extra curricular activities? It’d be more suited to Young Farmer of the Year rather than the FA Cup final, and the apocalyptic image of West Ham slogging it out on a mud-bath in front of a half full stadium is not much of a legacy that Lord Coe and his chums keep harking on about.
Which leads us nicely on to what exactly would bring the greatest sporting legacy to London. Lord Coe has talked about a ‘moral obligation’ to the International Olympic Committee to retain the venue as multi-sport complete with track. One of the pitfalls of having nobility fronting the process is that there is then a rhetoric to remain quintessentially British in our conduct.
Essentially, the IOC can do little or nothing about what we decide to do with the Olympic Stadium once the games have taken place, yet the OPLC appear reticent to renege on any promises made to an organisation that would feel scant regard to renege on any promises made to us, and that has previously and continuously been embroiled in allegations of malpractice across large areas of its body.
Surely the decision as to what to do with the Olympic Stadium is one to be solely made in the best interests of the British public, and surely that should be to make best use of the Olympic Stadium whilst also securing the future of sport in the area as a whole.
Tottenham have been criticised from many quarters for their proposals to redevelop large parts of the stadium and renovate the place to tailor their own specific needs. Essentially, Spurs are being selfish in their wishes for the stadium but very selfless with their proposals overall, which would see another new high class sporting facility in the vicinity by redesigning and refurbishing the historic Crystal Palace National Sports Centre.
The OPLC has kept its cards suspiciously close to it’s chest about it’s plans for Crystal Palace – the current home of UK athletics. At present, Crystal Palace is a grade two listed building and would need special dispensation to be demolished, yet given that a new home for UK athletics would be a few miles down the road having been built at public expense, the future of athletics, and indeed the future of Crystal Palace’s actual existence post 2012 is highly precarious.
Should athletics find a new permanent home in east London, this famous old venue would either be left to rot, or, more likely, be sold to developers to be converted into plush flats, offices or a retail outlet. It appears the legacies Lord Coe speaks so honourably about do not extend south of the borough of Newham. It is London 2012, not east London 2012.
Spurs have also promised, albeit tenuously, about future funding to sport in the area. Lest we forget, that after the coalition came to power, they swiftly announced approximately £9bn worth of sporting spending cuts. If Spurs can’t and the Government won’t fund sport, who exactly will pay for the sporting legacy in London post 2012 and past the Olympic Stadium?
Given the situation Manchester City were presented by their council – take it and do what you want – the West Ham hierarchy would have the track ripped out in a flash and tell the athletics community to take a long jump if they thought about going near the place.
The actions of West Ham are blatantly transparent. They cannot afford their own new ground, and as such are getting in bed with the top brass whi