A banner at West Ham’s London Stadium, “$OLD A DREAM GIVEN A NIGHTMARE”, sums up fans’ feelings towards their new home. After qualifying for the Europa League in their last season at the Boleyn Ground West Ham started the 2016/17 season at the London Stadium, built for the 2012 Olympics, buoyed by promises that the 60000 capacity ground would facilitate their progression into an established European power.
But the dream quickly turned sour. They lost to Chelsea on the opening day as fans were frustrated by poor views and even non-existent seats. Terraces are 18m from the pitch and fans are separated from their heroes by a running track, resulting in a sterile atmosphere that is a far cry from the raucous and intimate Boleyn Ground.
This, along with a packed schedule of domestic and European football and the dimensions of the London Stadium’s pitch, inhibited West Ham’s form. The pitch is 5 metres longer than at their old home, making it less suited to West Ham’s high intensity attacking football. After a 5-0 win at West Ham Manchester City boss Guardiola said “the pitch, the stadium, helped us”.
West Ham haven’t managed to replicate the form of their final season at the Boleyn Ground, with both seasons since resulting in bottom half finishes. After a series of uninspiring transfer windows left West Ham sliding towards relegation fans revolted, throwing projectiles at owners Sullivan and Gold during a home loss to Burnley, claiming they’d “destroyed” the club. Fans felt they’d been duped into giving up their spiritual home under false pretences, with the 112-year-old home of stars from Bobby Moore to Paulo di Canio swapped for a cheap buck.
All they can do now is try to create memories in their new stadium to match the old, a formidable task given their history. Whilst their summer spending spree gave fans hope, results are yet to improve.
The London Stadium fiasco should be a warning to clubs. A stadium isn’t just something that facilitates the sale of as many season tickets as possible. It’s a second home to tens of thousands of fans, with their usual pub, seat and pie shop all part of the experience. Replicating the feel of an old stadium in its replacement is a difficult task, made harder when fan’s matchday traditions are ripped up by the replacement’s distance from its predecessor. A good football stadium can overcome these hurdles, a soulless athletics venue cannot.