Our first Premier League match at the London Stadium was also my first trip to the new ground and like most fans, I took a sharp breath in as I saw our new home for the first time. The stadium, the location and the atmosphere are all undeniably impressive and for a split-second, I was that squiffy 11-year-old again, off to the Boleyn Ground with his old man for the first time to take in the mad footballing skills of Brian Deane and Kevin Horlock.
But as we all know, no change comes without transition and a lot of fans have raised concerns about the new ground. The running track. The retractable seating. The cost of food and drink. The atmosphere. As a fan who was originally against the move but came round to it a year or so before we moved, I’ve so far retained faith in the club’s ability to sort out these issues and others that fans are concerned about.
After all, David Sullivan, David Gold and Karren Brady have worked wonders with our club and they deserve a bit of faith from fans. But making my way home after the Bournemouth game and witnessing the ludicrous spectacle of stewards vainly trying to manage crowds of more than 50,000 chiefly through the use of cardboard “STOP” and “GO” signs, I couldn’t help but feel that the fans raising concerns had a point.
The main talking point from our first experiences of football at the London Stadium is obviously going to be the club’s determination to make us sit down. This is for a good reason; we won’t get a full stadium licence and a 60,000 capacity until we show we are committed to sitting.
But listening to Bournemouth fans chanting ‘is this the Emirates?’ at us the other Sunday, I was furious. This is a club who were in League Two only a few seasons ago and they are out-singing us in our new ground. That should not be happening. Three thousand extra seats and more fans being able to watch West Ham would be a good thing, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of the atmosphere.
David Gold has stated his support for safe standing previously in Blowing Bubbles – now it’s up to him to put his words into action. Celtic, whose ground capacity is the same as the London Stadium, introduced safe standing sections this season and it has so far worked well.
West Ham introducing a similar scheme, or perhaps a family section, would be a practical and popular solution to one of many fans’ main concerns about the new ground. Furthermore, what the Bournemouth match showed us is that the club have considerably bigger structural problems to do with the new stadium than fans standing up. Crowd management outside the ground was, as I say, a nonsense. The cardboard signs work fine as long as everyone behaves themselves, but if you get just a couple of idiots pushing and shoving, chaos ensues.
I’ve seen a video on Twitter of West Ham fans being allowed to walk into the away end before the Bournemouth game. As far as I’ve heard, there wasn’t any trouble, but as someone else correctly pointed out, imagine if that happened against Millwall in the cup. I’ve also seen a fan complaining on Twitter that he paid for a seat behind the goal at the Sir Trevor Brooking end – only to find that his seat wasn’t there, only terraces. Karren Brady tweeted him to apologise and stated that the club would be compensating 56 supporters affected, reflecting that this is far from a single case issue.
Broadly, the new ground is very impressive and the transport links and local food and drink outlets are an improvement on the Boleyn Ground, the latter depending on your tastes, personally I miss the Black Lion something fierce.
But the London Stadium is not yet entirely fit for the demands of accommodating 60,000 noisy, effervescent fans every fortnight and if the club are serious about us competing with Arsenal and Spurs, then they need to start getting the basic things right before telling us to sit down.