West Ham are flying high in the top six, the Europa League, and were the most in-form Premier League team over the festive period, having taken 10 points from a possible 12 and not conceding a goal in four games. The fans should be flying high as well, but instead, it’s all a bit of a damp squib, particularly when it comes to the atmosphere at our ground.
I know what you’re going to say, but it’s not the stadium. It’s not the concrete, the pillars, the sitting, the distance from the pitch, etc. The problem is, even though we’re winning – a lot – it’s all gone a bit flat in east London. We know the atmosphere at that ground can be electric. We saw it for ourselves in the incredible home game against Sevilla in Europe, but we haven’t really moved from the sparks of that night into a full-blown flame.
So what’s kept us quiet at home? And how do you get a football ground like the London Stadium up and roaring? The thing that tends to keep a stadium quiet is a string of bad results – and West Ham incredibly, at the time of writing, do not have that issue.
There’s been a few poor results, conceding five each to Fulham and Liverpool in December, but both have been away from home. West Ham’s excellent holiday form of not conceding in four games saw three of those games at home. Even if you only sing when you’re winning, winning alone should be enough for us to make some noise, right?
The trouble is, as enjoyable as it is to win games, and gather all three points, and climb up the league table to sixth, and sit on top of your group in Europe, and have a player in the running for the league’s top goalscorer, etc, ad nauseam ad nauseam, West Ham really are playing some boring football.
Don’t get me wrong – it is wonderful that West Ham don’t get annihilated by Brighton home and away anymore, but that hard-fought 0-0 was mainly spent watching West Ham put 10 players in their own box with the sole aim of resisting an endless stream of Brighton attacks. It worked; we got the point, but it was so awful to watch, especially on a night when most fans had to get to the ground without running public transport while the Metro was tweeting their thoughts and prayers for any Londoners who had risked their lives to leave their homes that night.
It’s hard to get excited about your team when they aren’t doing anything exciting. This was something picked up by former player Joe Cole while he was on punditry duties for broadcaster TNT at the Manchester United game.
While we went on to win the game rather convincingly, the first half was dull and uninspiring, leading Cole to comment that ‘It’s really flat, there’s no intensity, West Ham fans are not really involved in the game. West Ham need to get the crowd in it because at the moment, I’ve never seen it so quiet here.’ For context, Joe Cole’s second stint at West Ham was during the Sam Allardyce years, so his claim of having never seen us so quiet does actually carry some weight.
Fans, including me, will argue that stadium energy is a give and take – and it’s hard to get energetic when the players on the pitch seem to be drained of energy. Even with the winning results, we often look lethargic and uninterested for large portions of the game, only coming to life for Soucek to score towards the end.
Lest we also forget that we pay to be there while the players are paid to be there. It’s not unreasonable to expect to be entertained for our hefty admission fee. We’ll cheer on good football, but there’s only so much we can applaud when watching our team defend for their lives for an entire half, especially when it’s by their choice to do so.
David Moyes has had nibbles at the atmosphere in the ground being challenging, including quite recently in his post-match interview after the Palace match, saying ‘we’re finding it really hard to build up a good atmosphere.’ He goes on to suggest maybe the team isn’t playing well enough to have such an atmosphere, but it’s not very motivating for fans to hear.
The man may be the most successful manager of my lifetime, having delivered us the best results of my lifetime, but dear me, he sure is hard to like sometimes – and it’s hard to like his winning brand of football too. The atmosphere will always reflect what we see on the pitch – right now, it’s effective, but it just isn’t as exciting or entertaining as we know West Ham are capable of being.
Once we can find a way to be effective and, at the same time, fluid, creative, and dynamic, the atmosphere and energy in the stands will more than match what’s displayed on the pitch.