Filed: Wednesday, 14th September 2016
By: Paul Walker
Iím going to a football match on Saturday, and really, really looking forward to it. It probably wonít figure highly on MOTD, but so what, I canít wait.
Itís going to be played at one of those stadiums where the pitch is the same shape as the ground. (I know, it wonít catch on.) And Iíll be able to see the numbers on playersí backs and even read their names.
I will stand and sing Bubbles to my heart's content, alongside the finest group of men, women and children you will find supporting any team in the world. Sold out.. 3,000. And there wonít be a steward running towards me insisting I sit down.
Those fantastic people are our fans, my travelling companions. And they are probably looking forward to a weekend of football and not aggro in the seats.They might not all have been able to borrow the family brain cell for the afternoon, but it takes all sorts, they are pretty harmless even if they do throw beer about a bit too much (such a waste).
West Bromís away section will be rocking, lets hope that the West Ham we knew and loved last season turn up too!
But there will not be a hefty - very hefty - bloke in a hi-vis jacket wearing an orange baseball cap (you know who you are) throwing his weight about.
And guess what? I will certainly see a few of the local West Midlands plod (fine body of men and women) who will be close at hand, tolerant (well sometimes, this is the WMP, donít forget) and they will at least give a re-assuring feel to the proceedings.
You know, when I go to away grounds there always seems to be a couple of specially trained police walking around the bar downstairs, having a laugh, smiling, joking, chatting. Come on London Stadium CEO Linda Lennon, think about it. Even if they canít talk to each other on their Mickey Mouse phones!
Yes, I canít wait for the away trip to the Hawthorns. Smallish club, similar sort of stadium to the one we have just left, and they would probably consider that they were somewhat similar to us. Mid-table, going nowhere, but just happy to be in the top flight.
So now comes the devilís advocate bit. Take a look around everyone, is this what you want, do you really want to be like this fine upstanding Albion club for ever? Boing, boing, up and down we go!
They will never be a big club, never attract the best players. Never be in the Champions League. But we have been given that chance, I know there are countless problems and some pretty nasty stuff going on--and the stadium is nothing like what we were promised. World class, you must be joking.
But itís the only way we will ever be anything really special in terms of Europe and the outside world. Someone pointed out that Mark Noble has played over 350 games for us, and only about half-a-dozen have been in Europe. Says it all really.
So, through gritted teeth and against all my instincts, we have to show we are better than this, regardless of who thinks they own our club. We may have been ďmugged offĒ as the phrase of the moment goes, but itís done now. Thereís no going back, letís move on. We are West Ham, arenít we? We should be bigger than all this.
The problem is I sense that so much of the off-field near anarchy at Stratford these days comes from a suffocating sense of resentment. That we have been dragged somewhere, kicking and screaming, that we donít want to be and who donít want us there.
We listened to all the PR from our owners, the hype and the, frankly, manipulation of almost everything. And we gave up, we knew it was not a fight we could win and we have gone with the flow to Stratford.
But the locals are not amused, are they. Stickers in pub window saying íno football shirtsí are not going to give an impression of an open-arm welcome, are they?
I found that out the first home league game when I asked a nice lady copper where the nearest toilet was as we forced our way out of Stratford station. She helpfully pointed one out just inside the Westfield entrance. Three large blokes all in black didnít think so, chased me into said loo and all but threw me out. Welcome to E20.
But I donít go to football to go shopping, I get enough of that at other times. If Westfield donít want us on the premises, so what. But it will be interesting the day that 3,000 Manchester United fans come sightseeing there. Canít wait for that one.
I go to football to support the club I have loved for close on 60 years, to be with mates, to have a wine or three. And a whine, yes, I can see that coming.
There has been such a nasty atmosphere at the London Stadium, you sense the one-cell brigade is bigger than I thought. Fighting each other. Are you sure? Frightening children? Spitting at women?
Take a look at yourselves people, just see what this looks like to the outside world.
Yes, there is plenty wrong with our new home. LetĎs face it, the view is crap, we are miles further from the pitch than I expected, but thankfully I am not in the posh, expensive seats on half-way where Slav has to run 30 yards to get to the touchline.
One of my good friends wrote something on the KUMB Forum this week saying the away end is in the wrong place because it encourages all away fans through Stratford station, and he is right. With a non-existent police presence and paper-weight, disinterested, rude, badly-trained stewards, I fear for the problems that will occur on the wide open spaces on the concourses inside and outside the stadium.
The security issues have been flagged up by countless fans from the very start, as a nightmare waiting to happen. But we are dealing with the local council, government quangos, and people who know nothing about football security at this level but still think they know best.
I wouldnít want to be dealing with councils and bureaucrats, I donít envy Karren Brady her job. The things you hear make you blink in disbelief. Like sending experienced former Boleyn stewards, probably all West Ham fans, to man car parks and lifts because if they were allowed inside the stadium they would watch the match. You mean like they did at the peaceful, well-run BML at the Boleyn? Sometimes you cannot make it up.
They say itís all about ístandingí fans. But it seems there were only seven complaints from 57,000 fans last weekend. There are far, far more pressing issues than that.
I have to say here, I have never encouraged or condoned standing. But it happens, and by thousands every weekend all over the country, and they are not treated like our fans are being. But that goes both ways, if someone behind you wants you to sit down, then just do it, for heavenís sake.
While we are on ístandingí, I refuse to accept that it is right for a local authority to bully their tenants. Yes, I mean you Newham Council. There is no connection between 3,000 more seats being allocated and the grossly over-played so called dangers to safety from Ďstandingí fans.
We all now know it is not the law, but a civil matter. And that the regulation is a Premier League/Football League one. But that rule is surely unworkable, not fit for purpose because it is handled differently by virtually every licensing authority in the land.
Take a quick look around at TV. Arsenal fans all standing behind the goal at the Southampton match. Chelsea do the same next to the away section. Every set of away fans anywhere in the top two divisions are allowed to stand.
But our council are now flexing their muscles. They are in charge now, after 20 years of West Ham turning a blind eye. We have enforcement officers on the case, one Sheila Roberts (and please no grubby remarks about chains, handcuffs and basements please lads). She is also chair, I believe, of the London Stadium Safety Advisory Board, who hand out the safety certificates.
I suggest Newham take a look at how Manchester City Council handle this sort of thing. Manchester City have spent £60m extending the Etihad recently, and want to spent a similar amount at the other end of the stadium next summer to bring their attendance up to 61,000.
But City have standing, and have had for all the time since they moved from Maine Road. Our fans will have noticed when we were there last month that all the lower tier next to the away fans stand all the time.
Manchester Council would not even think of withholding a safety certificate because a few thousand stand each week. City bring millions into the local economy and their owners have regenerated rundown east Manchester for them.
At this point I must apologise to a few KUMB contributors, when I insisted recently that City own their ground now. They tried to buy it, but thatís still pending. More investigation says they still pay a small rent with all the money going to sports facilities in the city. And Manchester City get a free hand to do what they like with the Etihad.
As I said, if the regulation cannot be enforced the same at every ground--home and away fans equally--then it should be scrapped. Unenforceable regulations and laws are worthless. But Newham seem to want to make a big statement here that you are not seeing anywhere else.
They should be hammering the owners for the poor stewarding, dreadful segregation, potentially dangerous concourses where fans can run from one section to the other. And those owners? Oh, yes, I forgot, they are Newham Council and the London Legacy Development Corp (LLDC). Silly me.
My advice is to give our owners their 3,000 extra seats (the other 6,000 are some way off even DG says) and work together making the stadium safer, to make it work, and to make people feel welcome.
I expect to be made welcome in the Black Country on Saturday; I did work there once, and understand the language. And I will find that excellent, massive pub that does curry for all with both sets of fans sitting together. I canít wait.
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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