If Karren Brady is to be believed – and I, for one, believe every word the noble Baroness tells me – I may not be sitting in the boring old East Stand for much longer. In future, it seems, I will be watching our brave lads strut their stuff from the comfort of a towering edifice named after a club legend.
This will make all the difference to the way I feel about being in the London Stadium. Watching Wolves score a last-minute winner; or Bournemouth coming from behind to snatch an unlikely victory; or losing to a very average Tottenham side; is pretty grim when you’re in Row 14 of the East Stand. But what joy it would be witnessing the same sporting heroics from Row 14 of the Billy Bonds Stand. Thank you, Lady Brady, for improving my life with one simple, brilliant, idea.
You will have noticed I’ve jumped the gun a bit and presumed the club legend in question is the mighty Bonzo. I won’t lie to you – this is mere speculation on my part: contrary to what you may have heard I am not part of the inner circle that makes these decisions at WHU – although I am on pretty good terms with Rosie the Tea Lady, who hears the odd snippet of gossip in the course of her daily duties.
I’m guessing it will be Billy Bonds. I did wonder about some of the alternatives, but most of them don’t quite fit the profile. Dimitri Payet has already been waspishly ruled out by Lady Brady. Julian Dicks isn’t exactly the image we’re trying to project these days. And Paolo Di Canio is more unhinged than the John Lyall gates.
There are other options, of course. The Allen McKnightmare Stand has a certain ring about it. Or maybe the John Moncur Enclosure (book early to avoid disappointment – Moncs did). But I was forced to exclude David Kelly from the shortlist, simply because no one wants something that is guaranteed to fall down every time the ball comes anywhere near it.
Personally, I would go for Martin Peters on the basis that I think we moved to the new stadium 10 years ahead of time. If we’d left it another decade I would have been be too old and senile to care about leaving Upton Park. But, hey, I’m not bitter. It’s time to draw a line under all that Boleyn Ground malarkey and let bygones be bygones.
One suggestion that was bandied about when supporters were told the wonderful news we would be inheriting the Olympic Stadium was that the East Stand would have its own brand-new identity. I clearly recall the young lady at the reservation centre in Westfield who sold us our season tickets telling my wife and me that, henceforth, we would be sitting in ‘The Kop’. I remember the look on my wife’s face, when told the news, with equal clarity.
This was shortly after we had been informed the Champions Statue would soon be uprooted from its rightful home at the bottom of Green Street and moved to Stratford. Someone clearly forgot to pass on the email that the residents of East Ham and neighbouring districts had other ideas about that particular proposal. And well done them for organising such a successful campaign.
While I’m in favour of West Ham United’s owners finally showing Billy Bonds the respect he so richly deserves, I’m not sure renaming the East Stand in his honour will make much difference to him – or me. From where I’m sitting – and I’ve sat in various seats since we moved to Stratford – the East Stand needs more than a new name. It needs some proper facilities and a new pricing structure.
When we were first ‘consulted’ about the move we were repeatedly told how good the whole match day experience would be – not least because of the wonderful catering that would be at our disposal. Much as I loved Upton Park, I will admit that getting a half-time pie and pint was always something of a trial.
So the one crumb of comfort I took from the thought of leaving our home of 112 years was that, at the new place, I would at least be able to have the pick of several bars and quality food outlets which were accessible without the use of sharp elbows and the sort of determination to get served that is required by Arctic explorers trying to reach the Pole. It is possible to feed and water a large crowd in this way. I watch Test cricket at the Oval, and the facilities are fantastic. Expensive, but fantastic.
Sadly, they have not mastered the art of catering efficiently for several thousand people at the London Stadium – certainly not in the East Stand, anyway. It’s a shambles. And I don’t know what they put in those foot-long sausages, but I suspect that if someone gave me the recipe I would turn vegan pretty sharpish. Oh, and while we’re at it, the promise that queuing for the toilet would be a thing of the past once we left the Boleyn Ground is about as hollow as the rest of the hogwash that went with the offer of ‘watching a world class team in a world class stadium’.
However, the real act of taking the p*ss doesn’t take place in the toilets (when you finally get in there) – it occurs when the club relieves supporters of several hundred pounds to sit in the back rows of a stadium that wasn’t built for football in the first place and where the view is abysmal. Despite what many people think, those seats at the top of the East Stand aren’t part of a cut-price deal. What you pay depends on your proximity to the halfway line, not how close you are to the pitch. You can be in the back row and paying a Band One price of £900. I know. Because I did.
When I was up there – yeah, yeah, it was my fault for not renewing my season ticket quickly enough – I invited Lady Brady to join me in Row 73 and give me her honest assessment afterwards. She declined, now, although I’ve been relocated, I’d still be willing to sit up there for a game if you’d care to join me, Karren. Perhaps we could get Billy Bonds to join us. Wouldn’t it be interesting to know what he thinks of the stand that may yet bear his name?
If you enjoy Brian Williams’ regular column, look out for his two brilliant books, Nearly Reach The Sky and Home From Home. And if you’d like signed copies, email firstname.lastname@example.org