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No character, no history, no connection


Filed: Wednesday, 5th September 2018
By: Beavis Danzig


Even though more than two years have passed since West Ham United relocated to Stratford, many supporters are still struggling to come to terms with the move.

Here, the KUMB Forum's Beavis Danzig attempts to articulate exactly what it is about E20 that leaves him cold...

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You don't have to have a degree in sociology to understand why the stadium feels so emotionally hollow, or why the players don't get any kind of boost from playing there (or why there's no solution short of a bulldozer).

There are never going to be ultras, hardcore fans or any of that at the Olympic Stadium bevause there's absolutely nothing about the set-up or experience that encourages it.

I'll try and put it into a list:

1. The Tube there has gone from being an almost purely WHUFC experience into a potpourri of commuters, shoppers and tourists just passing through.

2. Getting off the Tube used to feel like disembarking onto the front line. Now it feels like a filtration process: valuable shoppers one way, undesirables the other.

3. The walk down Green Street, flanked by claret and blue wherever you looked has been replaced by a soulless frogmarch across a bypass.

4. The run-down, red brick surrounds, even if now just shop fronts for bookies and chicken shops, used to drill in the history of the place. it was rough and tumble, but full of character and the perfect backdrop to get you in the mood for a football match.

That has now been replaced by giant glass monstrosities that have barely been there ten minutes. There is no history, just an overwhelming sense of corporate isolation that no honest punter could relate to.

5. The food carts, having Gary Firmager bellowing from his stepladder, Irons straddling the Champions' Statue with a rib roll in one hand and plastic bag full of booze in the other. It gave the place an edge, a buzz.

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Even just the smell of petrol and sound of the pumping generators, or the heavy-duty cables haphazardly plugged into whatever shop would let them. it puts the mind in a certain place; it's intimidating but in all the best possible ways, ways that make it feel like home.

it's the "beware of the dog" sign to outsiders, but lovable best friend to its owner. When you joined in the "Irons" war cry, it absolutely felt like it meant something.

Compare this with the OS and its airy walk through the cultivated, artificial nether-realm of the Olympic Park to be greeted by a fantastic range of franchises that do their worst impression of a world food festival, complete with massive overpricing and complete lack of a personal touch (Mark's ribs excepted).

These are all before you even pass through the turnstiles. You've already gone from being an enlisted partisan, ready for war, to a pacified consumer.

Then once you get in, it just gets worse.

6. The high, open, airy concourses feel like a place of permanent transit. Gone are the low ceilings complete with natural meeting points. To stay in one place for too long in the concourse you feel more like a blockage in an artery than a supporter at their favourite drinking spot.

7. The complete lack of personality to the building itself that the old place absolutely reeked of (sometimes literally). There's a reason people like "distressed" or "lived in" furniture.

Every dented door, every faded bit of paint at the Boleyn told a story and going there was like taking your place in history. There's none of that at the stadium. Of coourse that'd be the same for any new ground, but just gives more reason for it to exceed in other areas.

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8. Taking your seat, you are witness to having an absolutely luxurious amount of space around you. At the Boleyn, if the bloke next to you was an XL, you'd be lucky if half of him wasn't already in your seat.

Many will say this is an improvement, until you realise that being comfortably spacious is the #1 enemy of good atmosphere at a football ground. This doesn't just go sideways, but forwards and backwards as well.

The place simply isn't designed for football and tries to hide it with its laughably shallow rake and massively spaced-out seats. As a result, a sole Iron's voice simply doesn't carry from one seat to the next like it used to. Now when you sing "Bubbles", you can hear your own voice a bit too loudly, so everyone sings a bit quieter. The space around you isn't comfort, it's isolation.

9. This principle extends itself to the layout of the stands themselves and the chasmic gaps between the sections. Should a few of you overcome the natural disadvantages of the spacious seating and create a bit of noise, the next hurdle is overcoming the atmosphere moats that exist between the stands themselves.

It was easier to get a small sing-song going at the Boleyn due to the tight seating and it was easier to start echoing round the stadium, due to the closeness of the stands.

10. The sense of ownership has long been documented but is worth bringing up again. It simply doesn't feel like our home, because it isn't. It feels like every half-baked Council project you've ever been embarrassed to attend.

From the competing E20/WHUFC corporate turf war going on - with the signs and branding, to the stewards more interested in the Liverpool game on their phone - it feels every bit like the neutral ground that it is. That lack of instinctual desire to fight for your turf takes a good 20 per cent out of even the most die-hard Iron, and don't think the players don't notice.

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11. The distance from the pitch; the most obvious and absolute standout failing of the design. It's impossible to feel a proper human connection to a bloke when you can't even make out his face. We aren't supporting Mark Noble and whoever else, we're supporting the West Ham player with 16 on his back.

There's no interaction or back and forth there, they might as well be robots in West Ham shirts. We've gone from feeling like we're in the support trenches, cheering on our pals to being back at HQ five miles behind the line, watching units that represent bodies of men being pushed around map.

Without that connection, the players are never going to feel that human urge to push past their limits and we're going to have a hard time generating empathy in the hard times. We'll just slump in our seats and watch the casualty figures roll in, fully removed from the action. It's absolutely no wonder other teams love playing there.

Everyone is aware of every one of these points, even if they can't put articulate them. It manifests itself in a lack of pride, a lack of commitment, a lack of intensity which spills out onto the pitch. It actively generates antipathy. Supporters don't feel connected, they feel shafted like a bloke in a failed marriage taking it out on his dog.

Club football has always been a bit of a turf war and when you don't give a toss about your turf or even feel like you fully own it, the stomach for a fight isn't there. We have to kill this mistake before it kills us.


Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.







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