David Gold has reaffirmed his desire to see thousands of West Ham supporters on their feet in the Olympic Stadium in designated safe standing areas. But the Hammers co-chairman has called on the claret and blue faithful to help the club realise his dream by sitting down and being respectful to other fans. In an exclusive interview with Blowing Bubbles, Gold talks excitedly about the possibility of 66,000 fans inside our new home, which would make West Ham number one in London.
‘For as long as I can remember we’ve always been the fourth biggest club in terms of capacity of stadium,’ he said. ‘There’s a correlation between capacity and success but at 57,000 seats, we would remain fourth once Chelsea and Spurs redevelop their stadiums. ‘It should be every fan’s dream to have the biggest stadium in London. How do we get there? We need to first get a licence for 60,000 seats and then another for 66,000 seats, and we can only do this by overcoming a few hurdles. Until we overcome these, fans have to sit. We’ve got to show we care about the guy sitting behind us.
‘It’s OK if you’re 27 and you’re standing there in the cold with no shirt on but behind you might be an 85-year-old chap who loves his football but can’t stand for 90 minutes. ‘Is this right? Of course it isn’t. Don’t get me wrong, for 20 years I stood at Upton Park. I know what it means to stand and watch West Ham but the law says we’ve got to sit down. ‘I’ve said it to you before and I’ll say it again, we will look at rail seating and safe standing but in the meantime, we’ve got to get our licence.
‘There is no doubt in my mind that if we can show we’re respectful, we respect each other and fans aren’t fighting because one says he wants to stand and the other wants him to sit, then I think an experiment with rail seating will happen at the Olympic Stadium. ‘We’re all in this together. We need to show the stadium is safe and we aren’t being anti-social.
‘We’ve come a long way and we’re within touching distance of achieving what’s in the best interest of the club. There are still hurdles to be jumped but they are nothing compared to getting the Olympic Stadium.’ Gold says the increase in capacity from 57,000 to 66,000 would help fund thousands of rail seats. ‘I had one guy tweet me saying that he would rather remain at 57,000 as long as he could stand,’ he added. ‘This is clearly a person that doesn’t understand what’s in the best interest of his football club.
‘If he cares about his football club, he would realise that becoming the largest club in the London is more important than standing because I have been fourth in London all my life and I’m fed up of it. This is the opportunity to be first.’
The conversation moves onto the teething problems the club have encountered at our new home, including the missing seats at the Bournemouth game. ‘It’s like buying a new home,’ he explained. ‘When you move in, does everything work? No it doesn’t and you quickly have a snagging list.
‘There were always going to be snags but let me assure you that they are getting put right straight away. Every day the stadium is improving and that’s not just the snagging list but also the WestHamification of the stadium, which is what we promised.’ The sound of more than 50,000 West Ham fans singing ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’ at our first game in our new home was something Mr Gold had never heard before.
‘There wasn’t a person in the stadium who wasn’t singing,’ he said. ‘I’ve had some ups and downs in my 25 years in football but nothing compares to that moment when I walked to my seat for the first time and everyone started singing. It was a very emotional moment. ‘There had been so much hard work to get us to that point but it was an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that we could not miss out on grabbing.’ While stating once again the club did everything it could to expand Upton Park, Gold admits the move to the Olympic Stadium has made West Ham a ‘different animal’
He waxes lyrical about the superior matchday experience the Olympic Stadium offers compared to the Boleyn – and even references the barges organised by our partners Hammers Chat as helping the fans warm to our new home. ‘People think I go on quite a bit about the matchday experience but I think it’s important,’ he continued. ‘People tell me they are coming to watch a football match but we want to make sure they also enjoy everything else. The facilities in the stadium are 10 times what we had previously.
‘Upton Park has been a massive part of our history and of many people’s lives – none more than mine – but we’ve got to get over Upton Park.’ The conversation then moved onto our defeat at the hands of Astra Giurgiu in the Europa League, something Gold admits being disappointed by.
‘I didn’t expect us to get beat but we did have nine injuries. Slaven put out his best team – there was no-one else you could’ve wanted him to bring on. Am I making excuses? No. The fact is arguably nine of our best players were injured. ‘I usually don’t like the international break but this one was a blessing because we might have six players back at the end of it.’
As for Gold’s hopes for the season now, he continued: ‘Let’s try to forget Europe now. We’re in the League Cup, FA Cup and the Premier League. Let’s do well in these three competitions. ‘Slaven can be a bit braver now in both cup competitions because if we were still in the Europa League, it’s tougher. He would’ve been trying to balance who we were playing and who we are playing after that, and who we can rest.
‘If there is a positive to take out of our early exit it’s that it does give us a better opportunity to do better in the three competitions we’re still in.’ With the sound of the transfer window shutting still ringing in his ears, Gold expressed his delight at the players captured this summer but also his dismay at the amount of money some clubs were demanding.
‘You don’t need me to tell you that there was a massive inflation of the cost of players. You go and try to buy a player from France, or Spain or Italy that hasn’t had the same level of increased income and there was a 50 per cent increase in their demands.’ As for the stress of trying to purchase players to fill the void left by some of our injured stars, he continued: ‘Some people think it’s easy, like going up to the supermarket and getting what you need off the shelf and two weeks later getting your money back.
‘But it’s not like that. It’s not an exact science. You could end up with players that you then can’t move on or with unhappy players. Getting the balance of the squad is very important and now that we’re out of the Europa League, it did make things a bit clearer for us.’ Getting off to a good start at the Olympic Stadium in the Premier League was very important for West Ham but it was the match winner that got Gold out of his seat.
‘It was a good win because you could argue we were handed the win. The match looked very much like a draw until their player was sent off. ‘I was absolutely thrilled and I was excited to have a goal scored so late on by one of my favourite players. ‘It was great to see him in an attacking role and I jumped out of my seat when he scored. I was really pleased for Michail Antonio.
‘That goal is exactly what he gives you and what he does best. He loves getting into the box, running at players and you always feel like he is going to get you a goal.’ He added: ‘Antonio just continues to improve. Also all the years that I’ve been watching football, I’ve never seen a work rate like Antonio’s. He never stops. ‘And I think he’s not the only player who is going to get better. You’ve got to say that Lanzini is only going to get better as he becomes more experienced of our league.
‘I think that’s true of Payet too – if there’s anyway he can get better! But he will certainly become wiser.’ With Sam Allardyce taking his first game in charge of England, it seemed fitting to end our interview on Gold’s thoughts on our former boss. ‘If Sam had been at Sunderland and Barcelona came along and said we’d like you as our manager, and ten minutes later England came along and said they’d want him as their manager, he would go to England.
‘I think that says everything about Sam. Sam’s passion and desire to manage England was a driving force in his life and I’m pleased for him. ‘He’s a good bloke, he’s an honest man, and I think he will make a good England manager. The reason why I think this is because he has always played to his strengths. He has never asked his players to do something that they couldn’t do. If that meant having a back five and hitting long balls, he’d do it.
‘That’s not what he wants, he wants to win football matches but more importantly, he doesn’t want to lose football matches. ‘Now with the best group of players he has arguably ever had, you won’t have to worry about him having to park the bus. I wish him well.’