It’s time for an early Christmas cracker joke: what’s the difference between Coronation Street and the London Stadium saga? Answer: whilst they’re both soap operas, at least Coronation Street has a vaguely believable plot-line. As a long-time West Ham fan, I do have to stand back and applaud the sheer incompetence of what we are currently witnessing.
Some of the goings-on between the various parties involved with the stadium have been farcical at best and a complete and utter, diabolical, watch-it-through-the-fingers-of-your-hands shambles at worst. To recap: back in 2011, West Ham and Newham Council’s bid to take over the stadium beat Tottenham and AEG’s. Leyton Orient didn’t like it, but you know, tough.
This deal was to collapse due to something-or-other, so a year later we were back at square one, except now there were four bidders interested. West Ham were one of them. Tottenham weren’t — cue much possibly-now-misplaced crowing. At the same time, The London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) was formed to take over the running of the stadium. They are top banana, as you will soon see.
After much wrangling, in December 2012, once again West Ham were named as the preferred bidders. A 99-year lease deal was eventually agreed in March 2013, with us paying £2.5m per year. Incidentally, UK Athletics have a similar deal, when they have access to the stadium every year from the last Friday in June until the end of July.
That’s a touch awkward when the stadium seating needs to be reset but takes the length of an ice age to do, but still. It’s from this point that, well, everything went down the toilet really.
For the next few years, virtually every football team in the land, including Middle Wallop United under 16s, complained that we would have some kind of competitive advantage. In 2016, to be honest, it was hard to argue, as we found out that we don’t actually pay for any police, stewarding, heating, pitch maintenance, or corner flags. As a result, everyone hated us.
The following year, the LLDC announced that we were not even covering the costs of staging matches, much to everyone’s incredulity. As a result, everyone really hated us. To combat the tidal wave of negativity, Karren Brady from The Apprentice — and West Ham board member — helpfully suggested that maybe the LLDC’s ability to agree a value-for-the-taxpayer deal, run a stadium and make money from a minimum of nineteen 57,000-odd crowd matches was on a par with my ability to paint the Sistine Chapel single-handedly in one evening, blindfolded. With no paint.
Obviously, LLDC didn’t like this, and so began a war of words which, no doubt, will eventually involve NATO getting involved to ensure constructive peace talks. With all of this going on, you might be forgiven for forgetting that we have an actual football team called West Ham United playing at said stadium.
More observant readers will have noticed that since the move, results have been a touch flaky. The whole situation reminds me of a time when I was trying to do some school homework, a few more years ago than I care to remember: I could hear people squabbling outside in the street, while I was sat in my room unsuccessfully trying to conjugate French verbs. Rock and roll.
Personally though, I don’t think that the stadium row has been the sole factor in us being a bit rubbish, with the odd exception, over recent years. Let’s be honest: for the majority of our history, it’s not been massively different — and perhaps our years in the wilderness at the Boleyn Ground are a little clouded by that magical last season there, when you knew that we were likely to give anyone a run for their money.
Even then, if Payet wasn’t in that team, the results dropped. I don’t think, without the rows, that things would be massively different on the pitch with the personnel that we have had. Surely a more pertinent reason why our results have been, by and large, poor has not so much been the stadium per se, or the arguments, but the relationship between the fans and the aforementioned Brady, as well as Messrs Gold and Sullivan.
At one stage, relations were so low that Kim Jong-Un and Donald Trump were starting to get worried, and throw in the fun and games at last season’s Burnley match, and you’re not far off World War Three. What hope is there for the team in that sort of environment? Maybe the future is brighter. There has, apparently, been a slight thawing in LLDC and West Ham’s relationship.
This season, we’ve seen glimpses of what the team is capable of: the 3-1 win against Manchester United was the best West Ham team performance I have seen in a long time. The stadium disagreements have rumbled on, but despite that, the team has proved, at least on occasions, that it can produce.
The fans have demonstrated the power of being united in the past, so imagine what would be possible if West Ham’s board and the LLDC could come together for the benefit of everyone: maybe we wouldn’t be an unwanted part of an early Christmas cracker joke after all.