I’ve not yet been to West Ham’s new venue – the former Olympic Stadium in Stratford East – but shall try to do so in order to test for myself the widespread opinion that it is wrong for football (it was built of course for athletics), and hasn’t the atmosphere of the old Boleyn Ground in Upton Park. I’ve written before about the crime that was perpetrated when the millionaires who own the club – one of whom made his money from pornography – dragged it out of the proper ‘East End’ by its roots, in order to compete on a more profitable global scale with the big clubs of Chelsea and Manchester City. (See http://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2014/12/22/bernard-porter/like-the-ancient-romans/#more-20273; https://bernardjporter.com/2016/05/11/goodbye-to-boleyn/; and https://bernardjporter.com/2017/01/07/football-0-capitalism-5/.) That crime, of course, is now irreversible. The old stadium has been torn down, and is currently being replaced by (luxury, I think) flats; leaving a great bleeding hole right in the centre of the culture of the East End which will never be filled in. It’s a bit like taking St Peter’s out of Rome.
It’s all, of course, a symptom of the steady and seemingly inevitable encroachment of capitalist values (yet again: Marx was right!), crushing customary non-money loyalties and allegiances. West Ham are becoming a ‘global’ product, with global (i.e. foreign) players, engaged simply as mercenaries, rather than the Club’s truly representing – as it always used to do – the local area, through locally bred lads. Spectators are treated as mere customers, for profit. That the local ‘Hammers’ are faintly aware of this seems to be demonstrated by a new slogan being displayed at West Ham games just now: ‘We’re Supporters, NOT Customers’. That says it all.
The team that plays in the Olympic (now ‘London’) Stadium is no longer West Ham; any more than Wimbledon FC is still ‘the Dons’, after being moved to Milton Keynes. I suggest that it change its name – perhaps to ‘Stratford Olympic’, which might suit the pretensions of its owners more; and allow a new West Ham United to grow from seed in its old environs. Mind you, that environs probably won’t last very long, socially and culturally, if the flats that are now being built on the old Boleyn site are an early sign of the yuppification of the whole area eventually.
I’m on the edge of divorcing myself from the ‘Irons’ (still called that, from the team – Thames Ironworks – it originated as) after nigh-on sixty years of supporting them; but I thought I should first check the new stadium for myself, out of fairness; and also wait until the team is doing a bit better than it is now. I wouldn’t like anyone to think I was dropping the club because it was losing. It goes far deeper than that.
I’ll need a replacement. (We all have to have our tribes.) I’ve been going to watch Hull City ever since I first moved to Hull in 1968, but can’t really get up much of a warmth for them. (Hull FC is a different matter; but Rugby League isn’t on in the winter.) Tottenham attract me, but that might feel too much of a betrayal, being as they are West Ham’s major and most-hated rivals. Leyton Orient? I’ve been there; it’s nothing. Over the river, Millwall seem to have many of the cultural attributes I’m missing with West Ham, but not the brilliant playing history the Irons had in the 1960s. Besides, ‘sahf of the river’ is foreign parts for an Essex boy like me. Fulham have always seemed friendly, but are are a bit far away (West London), and owned by another capitalist; and since they built their new riverside stand no longer offer spectators the compensation of being able to turn around to watch the Boat Race if the football gets too boring. Obviously I could never conceive of supporting Chelsea. QPR? But that’s West, too.