The owners, managers and contractors at the London Stadium are like Millwall fans – nobody likes them and they don’t care, and this makes winning improvements from them tough. The controversy over the catering price rises this season was a case in point.
Catering is the responsibility of a company named Delaware North. They operate not just at the football matches we attend but at concerts and other sporting functions that happen between our home fixtures. And they charge a fortune for poor quality grub and a terrible range of drinks.
The club has lawyers on the case over the catering contractor’s failure to honour the pricing deal that commits it to charging no more than the average of three other London grounds. But Delaware North is sticking two fingers up even with the threat of legal action. WHUST and the other groups on the club’s Independent Supporters Group has pushed the club to sue but the club seems to have the same attitude to attacking legal action as it does to attacking football.
In the meantime, a few small successes have been eked out of them. The bars have introduced a cheaper lager and at the time of writing, a few have reintroduced real ale – though only at a tiny number of outlets, leaving those bars inaccessible to most seating blocks. But early-doors discounts and the fact that the stadium turnstiles are now open earlier does attract more pre-match arrivals.
That makes it faster for the late arrivals to get through the turnstiles too – after they have got through the hold-ups with the wand-waving security staff. The stewards came in for criticism when we first moved to the London Stadium. Again, it’s not the club who employs them but stadium operator LS185.
However, WHUST has been involved in running some training and awareness for stewards and worked on new protocols for dealing with fans in specific situations. Newham Council is another body that seems to hate football fans. Its London Stadium Safety Advisory Group (SAG) is the powerful body that covers safety issues such as the security searches, fans standing and the infamous wall between the away and home fans.
Newham refuses to allow any direct fan representation on that group. So there was no consultation about the wall. Instead, Newham claims meetings are arranged in advance, with the chair of the SAG, the club and supporters’ groups and any issues raised are then put on the agenda.
At least three SAG meetings have reported no issues were raised by supporters, but this is because those pre-meetings have not happened. Twice the club cancelled the meeting and once the council chair did. In a statement, the Council said: ‘The organisation of this Sub-Committee is carried out by WHUFC. The meeting referred to was not cancelled by the council; it had been arranged on a date when the chair was not available. Hence it was rescheduled.’
WHUST has escalated its demands for a seat on the SAG, as happens with many other football clubs around the country, and the Football Supporters Association is backing that. The council says it is not important that the SAG chair has no interest in football and is not a football fan. ‘The chair’s expertise lies in safety rather than the events,’ it says.
The official reason WHUST is denied a seat is that ‘security and commercial issues’ cannot be discussed in front of fans. Yet WHUST meets with all the commercial bodies and the police separately and has always agreed to, and respected, necessary confidentiality at all those meetings.
Communication with the club itself is a challenge. The owners have made clear in public statements and by their actions that they do not want to engage with fans and do so reluctantly. They reacted with fury to the White Paper and the too-little, too-late toughening up of Premier League rules. It puts the club’s head of supporter services in a tough bind.
Rather than just complain when things go wrong (which does happen too often), WHUST always proposes a solution or offers a constructive way forward or workable alternative. We regularly take up individual issues if a fan, or a group of fans, does not get a reasonable and prompt response from the club.
Ticketing is the most common problem – though issues with digital tickets and access to the London Stadium have eased. Our latest intervention is in the shape of Intrepid Irons, a group for women West Ham fans.
The club has responded positively to this initiative. The group takes up issues ranging from sanitary products in the toilets to misogynistic behaviour by fans and inappropriate stewarding or policing.It also liaises with women’s fan groups at other clubs to try to get the best experience for home and away fans.
There’s still much to be done to improve the fan experience at the London Stadium. WHUST believes the complexity of the leasing and management arrangements combined with the anti-fan ethos is an own goal.