West Ham fans – the best in the world, right? Well, according to a recent piece featured in the Telegraph, the Boleyn ground generates the sixth best atmosphere from home fans in the Premier League.
That doesn’t make us the best in the world, but I’ll take that and happily brag about it. But wait – The Daily Express completely disagrees and has labeled West Ham fans as the quietest in the league. Erm, I’m now really confused. Is it possible to have the sixth best home atmosphere and be the quietest at the same time?
The Telegraph’s piece does seem to be an opinion-driven article, but in my experience, it probably reflects general opinion. West Ham has always been talked about as a club with a good ground and great fans. The Express’ piece describes that, somewhat unfairly, the sound was measured over two games with a smartphone app. From my calculations, the Hammers’ fans were recorded at home to Aston Villa and away to Everton.
I might be biased (well, there’s no might about it), but this seems like an incredibly unintelligent way to measure such statistics and doesn’t fairly reflect reality, or take circumstances into consideration. The disclaimer style sentence within the article as good as renders it as pointless information anyway, but nonetheless, it does make me wonder how we are perceived as fans, home or away. I have to admit that over the years, I had become increasingly disappointed with the noise levels at the Boleyn.
However, I accept that during my years as a season ticket holder, circumstances were less than ideal. I saw relegations, subsequent relegation battles and heavy defeats, and with ticket prices rising there was bound to be some unrest in the stands. Even in more recent years, away games just hadn’t been what they could have been, but again, poor form and lack of excitement were to blame. The reflection of the team is in the fans and vice versa.
But I have to say there has been an upturn in atmosphere at Upton Park this season, and there has been more enthusiasm at away games. It’s been a joy to watch and listen to. The question has to be asked of how ‘atmosphere’ is measured. Okay, the noise level is a given, but in terms of the Telegraph’s report on general atmosphere, it really is a feeling, and a personal one at that. In that case, it’s great to know that we are considered in the top few.
But decibels are a whole different kettle of fish. If you’re standing behind the kind of fan who belts out the initial lines of ‘Twist and Shout’, the volume is cranked up to 11. On the flip-side, if your team is 3-0 down at half time, it’s going to be a bit on the quiet side with the exception of the odd expletive.
This raises other points of debate too and these are two things that, to me, have little or no place in football – singing sections and music playing after goals. There’s just no need for either. Nope. I feel that singing sections are cheating and essentially a way of a club saying that the fans as a collective aren’t good enough. They will inevitably raise the feel-good factor and put smiles on a few faces, but it just feels too staged.
The same applies to music after goals. It’s just a ploy to get everyone to actually sing the same thing at the same time, and it’s not a spontaneous eruption of pure joy at scoring a goal. It’s also going to raise the decibels, thus cheating. Speaking as someone who has visited grounds across the country to follow West Ham, atmosphere is a feeling, an instinct. The match atmosphere is one thing, and that is something that’s generally dependent on singing, banter and the excitement of the game itself.
But there’s more to a match day ambience than just the game, especially on an away day. It’s the opposing fans you meet on the streets, the journey to the stadium, the tension of the game in hand and even the history of the ground. The conclusion has to be that there are simply too many variables when it comes to exclusively measuring noise levels as a measurement for atmosphere: stadium capacity, proximity to the pitch, match circumstances, maybe even the weather.
The atmosphere is about getting like-minded people together in a stadium to support your club through thick and thin and making each game an occasion. I hope the final season and a half at the Boleyn ground will polish its legacy off nicely and it’ll be the top of all the pointless polls for next year!