– Article by James Ash –
The proverbial storm clouds are gathering at the Olympic Stadium and there is little sign of the sun piercing through them to help change the miserable forecast for West Ham United. The Hammers, who thrilled many last season with their performances, are struggling in their new home – but it shouldn’t be a surprise.
Moving stadiums is never easy. Moving into a stadium that it is perceived to be relatively cheap is even harder, and moving into a stadium at the tax payers’ expense is intimidating. Not only is the club involved faced with the difficulties of adapting to new surroundings, there are heightened levels of public scrutiny and expectations.
As I tweeted yesterday, it would be a tough task to put a list together of football clubs that deserve to move into a stadium, but I don’t think West Ham United would have been on it. The club’s move to the Olympic Stadium in Stratford from Upton Park is hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons at the moment, and results on the pitch are not helping.
A club with, for better or worse, strong traditions and a universally recognised history was never going to settle into an Olympic venue overnight. However, the issues the West Ham board is now facing are bigger than just teething problems – they are attacking the club’s soul. Now, let’s be clear, I am not saying West Ham is less deserving than any other club, but the club is now facing an internal struggle that many from the outside believe could have easily been avoided.
Despite all of last season’s suggestions that Upton Park was a beloved as the club’s legendary players, the move to a bigger ground was the right decision to make. It had to be. Bigger crowds, more income. It’s one of the few ways to properly compete in modern football. Let’s ignore how the stadium was acquired for the time being.
However, once the deal to move to the Olympic Stadium was confirmed, West Ham had a duty to make the transition easy for its fans and its players. Let’s take the new rules and restrictions effecting the paying punters. There’s been violent infighting and even when the side won a Europa League qualifier in July, some fans weren’t overly convinced with their new home.
But here’s the biggest problem so far: don’t stand, and try not to sing too loudly. It’s hardly the right way of re-creating the Boleyn atmosphere. We can understand that a key to getting attendances up is to bring more children into the ground with family-friendly atmospheres – but to telling fans to change their habits before they’ve had the chance to remember where the loo is isn’t exactly a warming welcome.
This sort of change needs to be organic – an evolution not a revolution. The club could have slowly introduced new rules after discovering which areas of the ground suited its range of supporters instead of dictating terms to the people it relies on to make this move work.
The players are also struggling. Could it be the manager; could it be the stadium? It’s hard to tell right now, but it’s very likely some of the squad will blame the stadium – and their new training facilities – on the poor form rather than themselves.
There’s no doubt that a few good results will help lift the clouds, but for now, West Ham needs to decide what sort of club it wants to be and set out a clear plan on how to make that happen. Otherwise, the Olympic Stadium could be home to a club that isn’t just losing football matches but losing its identity.