I have just got back from the city of Athens as I write this and as per usual, it was an amazing experience to follow West Ham abroad. There had been many safety warnings put out by the club in advance of this fixture, and this was due to the passionate fanbase that Olympiacos have and possible trouble with their ultras.
It has to be said that I did not witness any trouble. All I saw was an intense, passionate home crowd that drove their team on. It really was an impressive atmosphere as the crowd drove their team on. I have only ever experienced this level of passion at the Frankfurt semi-final.
But to put that atmosphere in context, it was a semi-final, this was only a group stage match which makes it even more impressive. As always the West Ham away fans were very vocal too but the performance of the side didn’t help and quickly dampened our enthusiasm.
It does appear to be a different kind of atmosphere in some European countries as opposed to our own domestic matches. It does appear that the foreign authorities are more relaxed on what fans can do to create an atmosphere such as the use of fireworks, drums and other methods that are banned in England.
The London Stadium has often been criticised for its lack of atmosphere. Many fans called it the soleless bowl when we first moved in which I believe is harsh. The atmosphere has started to improve the more fans get used to the stadium and singing areas are established, and I really think the atmosphere has improved quite significantly at the stadium in the last few years.
I still look back at that game against Sevilla when Yarmolenko scored and remember what a night that was. There have been other games in Europe and in the league too. Every game we have played against Spurs has always had a hot atmosphere. This is becoming more and more consistent as we get settled into the stadium.
Of course, nights under the lights at Upton Park will be very hard to beat, but the longer we are at the stadium, the more memories of great atmospheric occasions we will have. The stadium is not designed the best way to create the maximum noise. However, the moving of the seats behind the goal to straighten out the ends has helped.
I also think that Chris Scull does a good job at building up the atmosphere, as does the DJ on European nights and we are significantly ahead of where we were when we first moved in. I think in the future, if it’s possible to move the stands on the side of the pitch even closer this will massively help. Whether this will happen in the near future I am not sure. I also believe a move to safe standing in certain parts of the ground would really help too.
The downside of all these great European nights is that most of our league home games now occur on a Sunday afternoon and I don’t think this is the best time for an atmosphere. Sundays often contain people who are tired from a busy Saturday, hung over and often means people have not had as many drinks as they would do on a traditional Saturday, this seems to affect the atmosphere too.
I do think it is up to the fans to generate a great atmosphere and we do this in most games but sometimes if we are not performing and certainly only having percentage stats of 20 percent in some games, it is hard for the fans to get particularly up for that. Let’s hope that the atmosphere continues to improve with each season because there is nothing better than attending a game with an intense, passionate crowd acting as a 12th man.