Our last stand

If it sounds like a stitch-up, if it smells like a stitch-up, then you can be damned sure that it is a stich-up.That's my view of the on-going row about standing at the London Stadium.

And we are walking straight into a battle that we cannot win. That is, being allowed to stand behind our seats at our new home in Stratford, something thousands in the Bobby Moore Lower and large sections of the Sir Trevor Brooking end at the Boleyn had done for decades.

Sunday saw our first Premier League home game in E20, Bournemouth the visitors under the all-seeing cameras of Sky, who had this first West Ham match at the former Olympic Stadium on their schedule for weeks.

But now they have a news story to occupy their minds, one that has been around a while but as is typical of Sky, it only becomes real news when they are there to witness it.

And this is the problem. All they did is slowly pan their cameras across the home support--particularly at both ends of the stadium--and just show the amount of people who were standing up, refusing to sit down or --worst of all--becoming engaged in heated arguments with stewards.

It was beamed worldwide and was the subject of much earnest discussion about the behaviour of West Ham fans, and left plenty of our fans right in the firing line. Season tickets may be withdrawn, miscreants have been highlighted and condemned. And this will go on until our fans comply passively with the directive to sit-down during matches.

It might take months, but I doubt that our club and the authorities who own and license our new home will care one jot about a few thousand people who lose their tickets. Collateral damage, but in the great scheme of things, just one of those things.

And I can assure my friends and colleagues in the Bobby Moore Lower on Sunday that we were in a very small minority as our stadium moves from being a working class ground to a gentrified arena fit to house the very new-look fans West Ham have attracted.

Around 25,000 new fans now in our 57,000 current capacity, 16,000 of them--as Karren Brady points out--are youngsters.

You can tell by the general feedback on fans' forums, that a vast majority of our fans, new and old, do not understand why people want to stand when they are being specifically told it is against ground regulations (not the law of the land, that only applies to the ground owners who must provide a seat for me to sit on).

Now I have stood on the BML for years now, happy to do so, and enjoy the banter and general atmosphere. Many around me stand because they love the joy of watching games that way, or believe it is their right to do so. Many stand because they have to if they want to see the game and knew the situation when they bought their tickets for the BML, Chav Corner or the small group of nutters who always stand in the Chicken Run next to the away section.

In all, I reckon we are talking about maybe 5,000 West Ham fans who stood during matches at the old Boleyn. A small minority of our home support. That 5,000 or so transported into the London Stadium will be an even smaller minority.

And if fans start being thrown out, banned with their season tickets gone, I doubt there will be much sympathy from the rest of our following.

What has concerned me, reading the reactions of many of our fans on various websites is that they think this is a debate, where earned discussion can be held with the club over safe standing. Where folk believe that if enough people stand in one area, a blind eye will be turned and we can all carry on like we did at the Boleyn.

Don't be fooled. This is nothing like that. Do not forget that we do not own our ground, the only Premier League club to be tenants. Our owners have no say in the ground regulations, the issue of safety certificates, Newham Council's view and how the stewarding is carried out.

We are tenants. And I would be surprised if somewhere in the small print of our contracts with the owners, there was not included clauses that govern possible punishments if we misuse THEIR stadium. Or do things against THEIR wishes.

It surprised many when Karren sent out that draconian, no inch of compromise, directive about standing a couple of weeks ago. It seemed a little over the top, we'd only had a couple of 'trial' games at the stadium and the general rank and file had probably not been in their true seats anyway.

But she knew what was coming. She knew their was a licensing/safety meeting coming up in a few weeks, and she no doubt knew already the attitude of the owners to customers who did not comply with their regulations.

Do not forget that this is a multi-use sports arena, and we are only there--I believe--because we were the last resort to save the place from becoming a hugely expensive white elephant. We are there under sufferance really, not really that welcome. And the rules are the rules.

No debate, no thought of shifting a few like-minded 'standers'into a singing area where they wouldn't upset the Essex middle classes who have been persuaded to bring their kids and wives, and buy the ice cream and popcorn on the concourse.

So we are being stitched-up, set-up even, so that authorities can make their point. I can only appeal to my fellow fans not to allow ourselves to be made scapegoats. Because they are just waiting for us, waiting to make examples of a few.

Why do I think this? Well, as I may have mentioned before, all goes back to my previous life when I worked for a living. Sadly, I spent too much time at Old Trafford and witnessed first hand the tactics used to beat the trouble making 'standers' at Manchester United.

I recall once asking Martin Edwards, the former chairman and owner, why the club were picking a fight with the true, hardcore fans, who wanted to stand. His view was generally that Man United were not bothered, they wanted the club to go upmarket, to attract the richer, Cheshire-based middle-class fans rather than those handy Red Army boys from Salford who didn't spend enough anyway.

And that is what happened. Fans were thrown out, banned from the ground, and then one summer the worst offending area in the old Clock End, was transformed into a brand-new disabled section and family stand.

Nothing wrong with that, before anyone starts having a go at me. All clubs should pay better attention to the less fortunate fans, and to our credit the amount of disabled spaces at the London Stadium is a vast improvement on the Boleyn. But they have the space now, even if they do not have a family stand.

I know the lack of standing areas at the London Stadium will drive some fans away, their traditions swept away. And I sympathise.

But I believe that the hands of our owners are tied, giving them the chance to put out consolatory statements showing sympathy with the fans with traditions views, but making it clear that they must sit down because the license says so.

Sadly the debate is over, if it ever started. What we were allowed to do at the Boleyn will not be the case now. And, as I said, the sympathy will be limited because the vast majority of fans want to sit down, or do so because they do not want the aggro.

The capacity has already only been increased to 57,000, that's 3,000 less than the club wanted. At say ?40 a ticket, that is around ?120,000 a match, or over 19 home league games, over ?2m a season in lost revenue. Karren and the Davids do not want that.

They want a 66,000 capacity stadium working a full volume to make the most money possible. They will not settle for less and if that means throwing out a few thousand seasons ticket holders, with --they say--10,000 on the waiting list, they will do just that.

And what of those Bournemouth fans who stood on Sunday? Well, that is easy to solve. They will have their allocation cut or withdrawn. I refer you to our old friends at Manchester United for proof of that.

Yes, I know I sound like a prophet of doom. But I have seen this happen before, and I don't want to see it happen again to my friends and colleagues when they take their seats in the new Bobby Moore Lower, where a vast amount of last season's BML patrons, are now going to be seated.

My advice is not to make ourselves a sitting target, don't give Sky the chance to run and re-run footage of our fans make a last stand, because if it comes to a war, there is only going to be one winner.

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