Monday, 22nd July 2019
The price we pay
Filed: Saturday, 2nd February 2019
Author: Paul Walker

I want to tell you a storyÖ and itís never likely to be as funny as when Max Bygraves said it back in those old black and white TV days.

Itís something I have mulled over since getting home from the debacle of Wolves, a pretty dreadful evening for the 3,000 of us who were there in the visitorsí section, not a great story in itself but one that just sheds some light on the things we have had to cope with since we moved to the inhospitable acres of Stratford.

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Me and the lad were travelling south from Manchester on a packed train, full of cold, disgruntled commuters as well as a handful of Hammers fans. The pair next to us were a young man with his elderly father, he must have been in his 80s, immaculately dressed if just a little hard of hearing.

When we got to Wolverhampton there was a scrum to get off the train. The son turned to realise that his dad was still sitting down and unable to force his way up the aisle and towards the train doors. A few helping hands saw to it that he did get off the train and was reunited with his son.

Nothing special I hear you say. But the short conversation we had with them produced a sad little nugget of information that I canít really forget. The pair were both home and away season ticket holders, an expensive and very loyal couple with the son determined that his dad could continue a lifelong support of the team he loved for as long as possible.

But then he told us that his dad had given up watching West Ham at the London Stadium. A bit shaky on his feet and easily tired, he was unable to manage the walk to the ground from any of the stations that surround the former Olympic Stadium.

Surrounded by soulless walkways, canals, rivers and bridges, there was nowhere to sit and rest, no pub or cafť like Kenís to break up the journey. There is not a stationÖ Pudding Mill Lane, Hackney Wick, Stratford International or Stratford underground that is much less than a mile walk, give or take 100 yards or so.

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I have discovered that, much to my surprise. You can check it if you like, just Google. So the world class transport system we were told was in place canít help an elderly gentleman to get to see his club. The Boleyn to Upton Park station are no more than half a mile apart. So this is the price we pay, a small one that effects a lad and his old fella, for having a 60,000 capacity stadium and an inhospitable Westfields plus the back alleys and dark passages surrounding the stadium.

Now I am sure you will all find ways of belittling this little story, and even I thought that there must be some way to make it easier. Mobility buses are around, but he probably wouldnít qualify. Whereas outside Wolverhampton station there were plenty of cabs to take people to Molineux, that doesnít work at Stratford.

Nothing you can do about it really, itís progress and the price you pay for a massive stadium that is going to propel us onto the new level with a galaxy of top players arriving.

But as we can all see now, that is not going to happen any time soon. I am getting a bit sick of constantly seeing bits of information streamed out to us, saying our revenue, attendances, gate receipts, wage bill etc are amongst the top 20 in Europe, even the world.

But until this catalogue of statistics produces something worthy on the pitch, we are going nowhere. In such circumstances the old chap on the Wolverhampton train would have preferred staying at Upton Park. I can understand that, as I equally understand why we moved to Stratford. But itís still a bit sad that an old time fan like this has been virtually swept away, collateral damage.

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As for me, and as my wife keeps saying, you are not really interested. But I have opted for the first time to give up the battle to travel south for an 8.00pm kick off on Monday against Liverpool.

Having to wait until a week before the game to be sure of what day it would be, brought it all into sharp focus. My train ticket from the frozen north would have cost me £20 more because I was booking it so late.

Now I know itís my fault where I live, and £20 is no more than an extra glass of shampoo to the corporate-obsessed boardroom that we and every other club in the country has now. The smart-suited lot, be they football club owners, TV execs or Premier League officials really donít give a jot about the travelling fans.

I know I would have to leave that game a minimum of 10 minutes from the end to be sure of getting my last train home from Euston. So I have jacked the idea and put the ticket on the club exchange. Like I said, thatís my problem and I know many of our local fans like 8.00pm kick offs because they can get to the ground from work easier.

But there are thousands of our fans who arrive now from outside of the London area, I see them every game on the south bound trains. Nobody seems to be that bothered about us.

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I noticed this week that one of the newest members of the OSB had been axed because of stuff the club had discovered on his website. Thereís been an outcry from some of our fans, even though it amazes me how little people realise exactly what is illegal to publish online. It is covered by the same laws that cover newspapers.

But my point really is that I noticed how many different categories exist amongst the much-maligned new version of the despised SAB, abandoned by the club last season.

The gentleman involved was on it to represent the away season ticket holders, but I wondered why there was not a category to voice the interests of the many thousands of long-distance fans we haveÖ and if there could be one to aid the old and infirmed for as my son pointed out, that Wolverhampton situation will be him and me in ten years time.