You’re not happy, I can tell. You’ve not been happy all season, have you? You thought the move to the new stadium was going to herald a bright new dawn for our beloved Irons, but it just hasn’t turned out that way so far.
If it’s any consolation, you’re not alone. It’s no secret that some of your fellow supporters are angry that they can’t stand up. Equally, others are upset because there are people directly in front of them defying the club’s instruction to remain seated and obstructing their view of the game. In some parts of the ground the atmosphere is toxic. West Ham United? We’re West Ham Divided right now.
Th ere are problems all over the place. A lot of season-ticket holders don’t like their new seats. Many people feel the stewards are heavy-handed. Traditional match day rituals have had to be abandoned. Ben & Jerry’s doesn’t feel right in a football stadium. Popcorn is unthinkable. Th e kids that the new merchandise is aimed at appear to be bored out of their minds. Hardcore supporters sitting next to the little ’uns are having to mind their language while Havard Nordtveit misdirects yet another pass. Th e only thing we seem able to agree on is that our early-season form is woeful.
For many diehards the low point came when, for the fi rst time in the club’s history, we started a game without a single Englishman in claret and blue as the Academy hopefuls – the lifeblood of the club – were overlooked in favour of a bunch of very ordinary imports in a League Cup fi xture.
Happiness was certainly in very short supply in London E20 when Dimitri Payet stood over a 96th minute free kick against League Two small fry Accrington Stanley with the game still goalless. But his moment of brilliance has given us all a chance to forget the grumbles and shelve our differences by setting up a fourth round match that should unite us all.
Cup ties – even League Cup ties – against one of our Billy Big Potatoes London rivals should be enough to remind any red-blooded Hammer why we watch football in the first place. Especially when the oversized vegetables in question belong to a Russian billionaire who has done more than anyone to convince supporters of all clubs that success can be bought at the expense of a club’s heart and soul.
Chelsea. Th e very name ought to fi ll any West Ham supporter with revulsion. Th ere may be much we don’t like about what is happening with our own club at the moment, but we really don’t like Chelsea. Not one bit. And now we have a chance to help them stick that blue flag of theirs where the sun don’t shine. I have my own reasons for disliking the Stamford Bridge club – I grew up in an area with a large Chelsea support and occasionally found myself in playground scraps for having the temerity to wear my West Ham colours. However, my childhood problems pale into insignificance when you look at what has happened in the Abramovich era.
In the 13 years since the unholy Roman empire was established in West London, Chelsea have won a lorry-load of silverware – yet the way they have achieved that success has made them one of the most despised clubs in the country. It’s hard to put your finger on what, precisely, constitutes “class” at a football club. I see it as a combination of style and the ability to handle success. Liverpool certainly had it in their heyday. Leeds didn’t. Man Utd, under Busby, had class; under Ferguson, not so much. Arsenal, for all their annoying ways, have always been a classy set up. Chelsea never have been and never will be.
Here at West Ham, the argument in favour of moving to the new ground was that it will eventually provide the funds for better players and more success. We all want to see that, but we must make sure our identity isn’t buried in the rubble of Upton Park. Th ere are problems at the new stadium, but they can be sorted out over time. Safe standing; a re-allocation of season tickets so like-minded supporters can be grouped together; a family enclosure – it is all do-able. I can even put up with the popcorn if that’s what it takes.
Of course, nothing will help more than stringing a few results together, and none would be sweeter than a victory over the club we must vow never to emulate. Win that game and the London Stadium may finally start to feel like home.