I didn’t go to any events at the 2012 Olympics. Too mainstream. This rain soaked, Friday night FA Cup tie was my first visit to the old Olympic park, then.
Immediately out of Stratford tube station, the juxtaposition of Westfield shopping centre and West Ham’s home ground is jarring. This multi-million pound, luxury shopping mall on the doorstep of such a proudly working class club is a strange proposition.
I was fortunate enough to visit Upton Park on a couple of occasions. The best you got their were carrier bags flailing on barbed wire atop the walls of miserable looking flat blocks. Now, on the long walk to the stadium, you might be lucky enough to tread over Armani, Victoria’s Secret, or Hugo Boss bags. You might even be tutted at by a member of the Saudi Arabian royal family.
Perhaps even more unfathomably, there are food trucks outside the ground that sell pulled pork rolls. Now this is a team I could get behind. If they’d had a granola dispensary, bags of mixed seeds and nuts, or velvety flat whites, I’d have snapped up a season ticket there and then.
Hup the Hammers, what, what!
For those of you coming out in a cold sweat at such good taste, fear not. You can still buy beef burgers made of racehorses and greyhounds, hot dogs conjured from pigs anuses, and a selection of woeful largers.
But still, make no mistake, this is a club that is well and truly gentrified. It’s not only Stratford that was spruced up, it’s West Ham United, too.
Having said that, there is some of the old fighting spirit left on the concourse inside; a tangible monument to their fans’ wearisome claims that West Ham won the 1966 World Cup.
The stadium itself is very impressive, but the much discussed faults are clear as day.
It’s been said a million times, but the distance between the pitch and the stands is much too big. From the back rows of the upper tier in the Bobby Moore Stand the players were little more than featureless subbuteo figures.
Moreover, three sides of the stadium are blighted with huge gaps that stretch the upper and lower tiers apart. It’s a tragic waste of space in a superficially wonderful stadium. To get an idea of scale, some of the gaps are as wide as how big West Ham think they are, compared with how big they actually are.
But, if there’s one thing West Ham can be proud of, it’s the sound system. My word, it’s extraordinary. The pre-game montage blasted out of the speakers with supreme clarity. If nothing else, I’d heartily recommend that West Ham build a new identity around this. I’ll give them this for starters: add a scroll to the badge with sana ratio de superbia written on it.
The bubble machines that kicked in with I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles seemed utterly knackered. Half of their bubbles simply spewed out, flightless, onto the grass in a congealed mess, like the froth oozing from dad’s mouth when I found him past out earlier. I put him in the recovery position before I left. He text me ten minutes into the game to confirm he’d regained consciousness.
The game wasn’t much of a contest. An even start gave way to a City first. West Ham then duly missed a sitter before City seemed to score with every subsequent attack. 3-0 at the break. It was four a matter of minutes into the second half. A scattering of people made for the exits. The true exodus seemed to have been tacitly arranged for the 75th minute. At that point, swathes of people up and left, including old John Fist here. Dad text to say he was seeing the ghost of every dog he’s ever owned, so I thought it best to go and check on him.
Any notion of beating the crowds was redundant as fans were flooding out of the stadium. So much so that pedestrian traffic control measures were in place while the last ten minutes were still playing out inside. John Stones made it five during that time.
A paralytic banker boarded the train at Canary Wharf. He looked fantastic in a suit of great expense. Stumbling and slurring, he tried to get off at Canada Water but couldn’t, so ended up alighting at Bermondsey. He had no idea where he was, or where he was going. The rest of us in the carriage laughed.
It’s a metaphor.