It’s only been in the last couple of seasons that I’ve managed to venture down to Upton Park, but it was the type of experience that you associate with some of your early days of watching football. Th e high street entrance to the ground with all the various shops tied in to the fabric of the club and into the ground with its distinct layout and atmosphere.
Sadly, in many ways these are becoming fewer and far between, something that Danny Taylor wrote a good piece on in Th e Guardian a few months ago. City fans obviously went through the type of change West Ham fans are now going through just over a decade ago. At the time it felt like the move needed to be made. Maine Road, for all its charm and sense of attachment you had to it, was beginning to date and fade, and was frankly too small for where City were – and intended to be – as a fanbase
From City’s perspective, the takeover in 2008 was fi ve years or so aft er the move and it would be fair to say that, although the move to the new stadium hadn’t accelerated the fortunes of the club on or off the pitch, without it is unlikely they would have been the sort of proposition that would be attractive to a potential takeover. It is also fair to say that there was defi nitely a period of struggle post takeover. Th e fi nal season at Maine Road saw a decent season under Kevin Keegan with plenty of promise on the way aft er a couple of successful seasons. Keegan’s reign soured somewhat though – with
money being the root of the problem – with the club then stalling and treading water for a few seasons. Undoubtedly it took a few seasons as a period of adjustment to the new stadium. The old raucous Maine Road atmosphere was lost and there was a sense of people finding their way and identity at the new place – something that you can’t simply foster or embed overnight. Now though there is definitely a feeling of ‘home’ there. The success they have had clearly helped in that regard but the new owners have played things very well in terms of the changes they have made aesthetically and in terms of increasing the capacity.
What has been clear though is there hasn’t been a reliance on the new stadium to generate revenue. We saw the owners dig deep into their pockets ahead of the onset of Financial Fair Play (FFP) to propel City into the elite before the drawbridge was pulled up. The vast increase in TV money and also now the commercial revenue they are generating has helped them become self-sufficient. The reality is that matchday revenues (from tickets and the various corporate packages etc) account for very little of their revenue so I don’t necessarily see West Ham’s move alone providing them with the sort of financial muscle to gatecrash the top four order in the way that City managed to do. What it will still do though is provide them with an extra advantage on their immediate competitors to push them into the top top eight or top six bracket of teams
At the time City moved stadiums, as much as there was a sadness at them doing so, there was an acceptance that it was the right move to make. Regardless of the success that has occurred in the second half of the decade since there aren’t many who would truly say it wasn’t a move for the best – and as we have seen it can play a part in transforming a club’s future fortunes. BBM