Filed: Sunday, 19th May 2013
By: Paul Walker
So the Olympic Stadium survey has been completed and shows vast support for West Hamís move to Stratford. Surprised by the finding? No, neither was I.
Such was the campaign in favour of the move by our owners, with a long list of legendary players wheeled out to give their support - from Martin Peters to Sir Geoff - in an orchestrated PR campaign, I would have been shocked by anything less than the 80 per cent plus who voted of favour.
With a heavy heart, I was one of them, because I love the Boleyn and four generations of my family have called it their football home. But I am determined to be enthusiastic about the move.
I accept that moving to a bigger ground is the only way we will ever be able to consider competing for a top six position, and itís the sort of progress that is inevitable in todayís modern game.
Over 12,000 completed the on-line survey, and by the very nature of our attendance figures and 20,000 plus seasons ticket holders, a vast majority of that 12,000 will have been in the season ticket category.
Not quite so many said that they trusted our owners, but I will let that one pass for now. What is certain is that the local authority and the police in Newham would not have allowed us planning permission now to expand the Boleyn, the infrastructure of the Upton Park area could not cope with another 15,000 on match days. So, frankly, we had little choice if we wanted any form of progress.
The survey co-incided for me with having a book pressed firmly into my hand and told by one of my younger match day mates, that I should read it, such was my known opposition to any changes in the all-seater stadium regulations.
The book, 'Stand Up Sit Down' by Peter Caton, proved more of an eye-opener than I expected. And I only agreed to read it because Peter is a West Ham fan!
Much of the book , published last year and well researched and argued, sought to make the point that we have standing in most stadiums because the authorities have virtually given up trying to make people sit down in large sections of grounds, because many thousands just stand in front of their seats.
Peterís point, among many other compelling ones too plentiful to explore here, was that if you now allow ímanagedí safe standing in front of seats, then serious consideration should be given to organising safe standing properly if only in small areas of stadiums.
And that got me thinking. The Bobby Moore Lower at the Boleyn is an almost totally standing area, as is the corner of the ground between the main stand and the Sir Trevor Brooking stand, plus a small section right next to the away support in the Chicken Run.
So, I ask our greater leaders, if they tolerate this now - and it has been going on for seasons without a hint of a problem - what will you do when we all move to the Olympic Stadium? The same people who prefer to stand, or are in the cheapest areas of the Boleyn and really have little choice, will be needed to fill our new home at Stratford.
There is going to be a Kop-like end there, we are told, for singing and atmosphere. So will not thousands of our faithful decide to stand there? The same may apply to the other end of the stadium or, heaven forbid, along the sides in the cheaper seats if there is going to be such a thing (and IĎm back to the Ďtrustí bit now.)
Stratford will be much higher profile that the little old Boleyn, supposedly matches being beamed world-wide and watched by 54,000.
Can any one believe that the club will employ vast armies of stewards to try to make people sit down, who have been doing the exact opposite for years. West Ham, back in previous years after the Taylor Report, had plenty of trouble from Newham Council and the licensing authority over the persistent standing in the Bobby Moore Lower. There were plenty of threats to close the enclosure.
But as time has progressed, things have changed. I have never been asked to sit down at West Ham by any steward, and I cannot remember an away match I have attended in years that has seen any problem with the vast majority of our following standing.
Last season I saw 15 away games in the Championship, and our hosts couldnít wait to get enough of us in the ground. Places like Barnsley, Doncaster, Bristol City, Coventry, were overjoyed we were there standing or not.
This season I have stood at Wigan, Manchester City and Stoke without a flicker of complaint from anyone.
What ever the law says, and Catonís book continually makes the point that standing is not illegal, most clubs seem to have come to a happy compromise and just turn a blind eye to certain sections of their own support as well as their visitors. Will that happen at our new home in Stratford (thatís if Barry Hearn finally allows us to go there).
I am told by friends who have travelled with me to Boleyn matches as away fans, that it is virtually impossible not to stand in our away end, in particular the section that overhangs the East Stand now that the pitch has been moved.
Caton is clearly enraged by the lack of logic over the way all-seater stadiums are managed, pointing out that rugby fans of both codes can stand and drink alcohol in view of the pitch.
What impressed me about the book and the people behind it in the national fansí groups, was the detail and the righteous indignity of being treated differently to fans of other sports, as well as fans at rock concerts in football stadium who seem too be able to do what they like.
The laws clearly are illogical. But I am sure that Peter Caton is not naive. Heís in his early 50s and must realise that the establishment - police and government - donít want to be bothered by football, they just want it controlled and put away quietly in itís own box. There is no appetite for any sort of change.
I still have mixed views. I spent the past 20 years of my professional career working in Liverpool. I also had a friend who somehow escaped the Bradford fire by deciding to run towards the pitch rather than to the, closer, exits behind the main Valley Parade stand.
Several of my friends were also at Heysel. I can recall writing my paperís match report of that European final from a black and white TV in the Manchester newsroom because all our reporters in Brussels had been ordered from the press box to cover the carnage on the terraces that night.
And working in Liverpool I have known, supported, interviewed and been proud of members of the Hillsborough Families Support Group.
They are now finally getting the truth and justice. And they desperately donít want to see the return of terraces, even if it was fences that killed those fans and not the fact that they were in a standing enclosure.
Caton argues, with some justification, that there has to be respect, support and sympathy but that the Hillsborough families should not have undue influence on a government policy. Trouble is, the fear of being blamed if anything like Hillsborough was to happen again, makes people scared witless.
Caton concludes that there is a massive, fear driven, establishment cover-up going on. It is clear from the officials he has dealt with, that nobody wants any sort of change from Taylor. Itís too much bother.
While I was reading the book, the Prime Minister got in on the act when responding to a question from Margaret Aspinall of the HFSG, who lost a son at Hillsborough.
Cameron, not surprisingly, showed a total lack of understanding, much like his smirking sidekick Jeremy Hunt - you remember him, the sports minister who did not know the offside law and called Liverpool fans hooligans.
Cameron was asked last week if there was going to be any change in the all-seater regulations. He said: "I think we should listen t the experts, and so far the experts seem to have said that all-seater stadiums are the right approach and we should not change anything unless someone produces some overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
"But to me football matches now are about all-seater stadiums, particularly when you consider the size of the crowds. I went to watch my team, Villa, being beaten 8-0 by Chelsea, and when you looked around the idea of replacing seats with standing would have all sorts of dangers. So there are no plans to do that."
What ever side of the debate you are on, those words are lacking in any sort of genuine understanding - or more importantly - desire to open the debate any further. No doubt though, he could see Villa fans in the cheap seats, standing at Stamford Bridge, just like Villa fans do in the Holte End (thatís the stand to the right of the directorsí box at Villa Park, David).
Now I have to admit I have come into this debate rather late in life, having spent some 40 years in press boxes and separated from the rank and file I now occupy.
And I do recall, though, that the last time my late father saw a match was in 1975 at Wembley when we beat Fulham, and dad was sent spinning down the terraces when a great surge cascaded through our fans at the Cup Final. He was 55, and never went to a game again.
Personally, I prefer to have a seat. At my age with a bad back and dodgy knees - as well as permanent scars on my shins from hitting the back of the seat in front of me - I want to be able to sit down occasionally.
Now I know it can be said that I should move to a different part of the ground and leave standing to the youngsters, but I cannot afford such seats. Standing, if re-introduced, would certainly be behind the goals and that is where the cheaper seats are that I can afford.
German style convertible terraces would, I fear, be too expensive to introduce here. And as Caton has found, there is just not the will from any level of authority, to change what we now have.
Heís discovered he and his likeminded mates are banging their heads against a brick wall that is our political establishment. But I must admit the book did open my eyes widen than I expected.
So bring on the standing Kop at the Olympic stadium. COYI.
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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