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Fortress London: is Stratford starting to feel like home?

Filed: Monday, 4th March 2019
By: Robert Barlow

Itís been two years and eight months since our emotional farewell to Upton Park - The Boleyn Ground - and all that its legacy carried.

Fireworks lit the East End skies, our former Hammers made welcome returns and our captain gave a rousing speech to appropriately suggest that West Ham United is more than just a football club, a family.

The farewell to the Boleyn was a spectacle fitting of the stadium it celebrated. A day full of emotion, a night full of memories.

Bobby Moore turned out the lights at our former fortress and the 35,000 fans witnessing our 3-2 victory over Manchester United all turned their backs on a familiar sight that theyíd never get to look back at again.

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In the meantime our new home in Stratford, The London Stadium, has had its fair share of criticism. The plans to move into the 2012 Olympic Games centrepiece venue were always met with mixed foresight.

A necessary step towards becoming a more competitive top flight club was the prominent motive for moving home. The more nostalgic and sentimental were far less enthusiastic about what would become of Upton Park, an area we had called 'home' for more than a century.

So in light of our first three years in Stratford, is there cause for optimism, or just resignation that anywhere other than the Boleyn will truly feel like home? Even now, time will tell.

The earliest stages of our transition into the 60,000 seater werenít our finest moments. Crowd trouble marred our fixtures against Middlesbrough, Watford and even our league cup victory against Chelsea amongst others.

That Chelsea match was the first real insight for Hammers supporters of the acoustic capabilities of our new home. On that night the London Stadium felt far more like an arena than a bowl.

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One of the most consistent issues that the stadium has fallen foul to is that the club are naturally inconsistent. The vicious cycle that being a West Ham fan offers is one that hasnít remotely shied away with the move to Stratford.

When we arenít winning games, the easiest factor to blame is the new stadium. That "the atmosphere isnít intimidating enough, the fans arenít close enough".

What many fail to take into account is that at every football stadium there are periods of radio silence. It isnít easy getting the crowd going against an out-of-form Burnley or a Brighton side we "should" be leading against at half time, if not sooner.

Impatience and frustration is felt a lot more at the London Stadium than it was ever noticed at Upton Park. But that isnít to say it wasnít there pre-2016.

Weíve seen some spectacular goals at the London Stadium, none more impressive than Andy Carrollís sumptuous overhead kick against Crystal Palace and Dimitri Payetís solo run against Middlesbrough.

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Weíve also claimed some wonderful scalps in front of sell-out crowds, most notably the big performances against Manchester United and Arsenal this season. But what the London Stadium needs is a consistently exciting team to play football in it.

Payet had all the makings to be the jewel in the ground's crown. To be a talisman as we transitioned into a new era. But the Frenchmanís tantrum prior to his return move to Marseille was one of many a sour pill that West Ham fans have had to swallow since we said goodbye to Upton Park.

Our now quite historic protest game against Burnley seems almost like the turning point in our modern ventures. Since that incident the owners have really sat back and knuckled down. In a way that not many expected them to.

Backing Manuel Pellegrini and investing in the squad, as well as working quietly behind the scenes to increase the stadiums capacity amongst some other fixings that will add to what "homeliness" the London Stadium provides already.

The club have made some exciting moves in the last few months. Tying down our young prospects is a massive contributor to how secure and at home we can be with West Ham. If the board expresses a desire to build for the future, the fan base will watch on with eagerness.

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The long overdue announcement that the clubís all-time record appearance maker would have a stand named in his recognition has gone down exceptionally well. The Billy Bonds East Stand was officially unveiled prior to our game against Newcastle on Saturday.

This news sits alongside a club statement regarding proposals to shift lower tier seats up to four metres closer to the pitch. While this seems ambitious, and certainly like something West Ham could get very characteristically wrong, itís promising to see some engagement and response from the higher powers.

All in all, the London Stadium will benefit from some care and attention from our chairmen and some extra acceptance from our supporters.

Nowhere will ever feel like home the way the Boleyn did. But itís in our hands to write another chapter in our history, keep our traditions and make long-lasting memories at the London Stadium.

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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