Our trip to Blackburn for the FA Cup fifth round encounter was an uplifting experience for a number of reasons. First up, it was really pleasing to see the FA Cup being treated with respect as the royalty of competitions that it is. It may not be the most lucrative in terms of television or prize money, but it has a history that brings an undeniable sense of romance that ‘proper’ fans cannot ignore.
For Hammers fans, the level of interest was so great that tickets sold out in hours, and on the day the resulting atmosphere was almost like a home game. After all the damage the ‘big’ clubs have done to the FA Cup in recent years with them ignoring it in pursuit of more financially enticing activities, the scenes at Blackburn were just the shot in the arm that the FA Cup needed. The match also provided visible evidence of the tremendous passion and loyalty of our fans.
Well they were wrong with an estimated 30,000 on the priority waiting list for the remaining 7,000 or so season tickets. In January 2010 when Sullivan and Gold took over, we were filling Upton Park to 89 per cent capacity with an average attendance of 31,000 per game. Now, a recent poll ranks us as the ‘most committed’ fans in the Premier League based upon having the highest occupancy in Premier League at 99.8 per cent.
No doubt the lure of spending time at the Old Lady Boleyn in her final season is a factor, but the level of demand for season tickets for the Olympic stadium indicates an enduring increase in interest. Don’t get me wrong, a jump of 20,000 in capacity is massive. It will take us from having the 14th largest ground to fifth after Wembley, Old Trafford, Emirates and Etihad. As a comparison point, we have one tenth the number of followers of the official club twitter account compared with Man United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool.
Separate polls in 2014, however, ranked Upton Park as having the sixth best atmosphere and as the seventh noisiest ground in the Premier League. Things have gotten even louder since, as Tottenham found out last month, but the Olympic Stadium is much bigger than the Boleyn and will need a lot of noise if we are to bring that home atmosphere with us.
Last year we were voted wittiest fans in the League on the basis of our witty chants — let’s hope the laughter continues into our new home. But whatever else, you don’t need a poll to see that at the moment West Ham are Europe’s fastest growing and right now (probably) the Premier League’s happiest club.