A huge stadium was left in prime real estate after the 2012 London Olympics. As John Oliver will tell you, it’s all fun and games until you only use your multi-billion dollar stadium for three weeks.
Previously, West Ham had called the Boleyn Ground home for over a hundred years. Though it ebbed between periods of mild success and general mediocrity, West Ham had its best ever Premier League season in 2015–16.
Thanks to the splashy signing of Dimitri Payet, the Hammers finished seventh and were in contention for a Champions League spot for most of the season. The fans of the club were electric, displaying their typical bubble-blowing persona and selling out practically every fixture. With a solid squad and a talented manager, Slaven Bilić, a period of resurgence seemed to be on the horizon.
However, West Ham was set to leave Boleyn after the season for the mammoth London Stadium. Fans worried that a stadium built more for Olympic sports and festivities would not be conducive to harboring a successful footballing atmosphere. The Hammers lost only three out of 19 games at home during the 2015–16 season, and replicating the fortress-like atmosphere would be the only way to make ground on the top four.
The Hammers have not finished higher than 10th since their relocation. Why? Could a stadium possibly have a negative effect on the play of a club? It’s still West Ham fans, isn’t it?
I traveled to a late January FA Cup fixture to watch the Hammers play Championship side West Bromwich Albion, and I slowly began to understand how the new accommodations fit with the description that one long-time season ticket holder gave to me: “It sucks the bloody life out of the club.”
First of all, the walk from the tube to the stadium approaches a mile. On the way back, I actually got frantically lost in the masses all leaving London Stadium at the same time, and I was in desperate need of a bathroom. Granted, in building a multi-billion dollar stadium, bathroom-needy Americans surely fall far down the totem pole. I digress.
The entrance to the stadium was in absolute shambles. Fans were stuck clustered in a giant mass, only able to enter at the gentlest trickle I’ve ever seen. Despite being 20 minutes early, I missed the kickoff, and I missed the bubble-blowing (this is actually symbolic, I’m not taking the piss).
There’s no denying the grandeur of the place. The beautiful basket-like roof compliments the odd yet charming oval-esque shape, and it just beamed importance. But this is not the club West Ham is — it is a working-class team that’s supposed to be in the heart of East London.
Instead, it is far, far removed from local pubs, many of which lost a great deal of business due to the closing of the Boleyn. One is stuck to overpriced stadium food and drink, items that could not be more processed if they tried.
Sitting in my nosebleed seat, I could not believe how far back from the action I was. Regardless, what was most stunning was the sheer lack of noise from the crowd. I thought this was the team of bloody East Londoners?
It was unsurprising that they lost 1–0 to inferior opposition of the day — though a glorious stadium, it certainly sucked the life out of the club. I’m sure the West Ham ownership is fine with this, assuming it’s content with the fortune it’s reaping in.