While the missus watched X Factor – and why not? – Rob Hutchison sat down, tried to forget the disappointment of Sunderland’s last-gasp defeat at West Ham and put into writing his thoughts on a first footballing visit to the London Stadium…
Last time I was at the Olympic stadium it was watching Usain Bolt win the 100m final in 2012.
Yep the Olympic ballot delivered me a pair of tickets for the final, a snip at £50 each, but athletics aside, what value and experience does the Olympic Stadium give for watching football?
Me and the kids had a “no colours day” today after recent shenanigans here and waiting at Stratford station for the kids to arrive I barely noticed any stripes in the half hour I was there.
Others had plainly taken the same view and sadly the stadium’s reputation appeared to precede it. It’s only a 20 minute walk, round some building site and construction areas and then the stadium appears on top of a small hill. On checking the tickets, the away fans have to walk all the round to the back of the place to our turnstile, calm before kick off I was a bit pensive as to how this may pan our when leaving after stealing a 1-0 win.
A plethora of burger vans greet you as you walk round, and the stewards quickly frisked us and inside we went. Initial impressions are it feels very new and the tenants have only just unpacked their boxes of belongings.
There’s really no football feel to the underbelly as you arrive, you could be in a stadium about to watch literally anything, a gig, sports event, WWF, anything, the concourse was pretty rammed, although there was no long queues for refreshments.
I asked what the meal deal was, as there’s no pricing info for hot food, only drinks on the screens above the concessions. The reason for that quickly becomes clear as should £5.50 for a sausage (granted a long one matron) in a bun be advertised then they wouldn’t sell too many I’m guessing.
After struggling to a separate table for ketchup we walked across what felt like a wooden walkway you arrive inside the arena, which on the face of it feels very new and impressive.
We had seats in row 12 lower tier which was surprisingly close to the pitch just left of centre. Sadly the stand is very shallow and as you’re low down, there’s no decent view without shifting heads to look through gaps.
You then realise that you’re actually watching from a temporary stand, a sturdy one, but still a temp stand built over the running track and actually above the athletics stadium seats.
So 45 minutes of goalless turgidity later and at half time I need a leak. No signage for toilets to speak of so after wandering around I finally see a sign which eventually takes me to the gents via the scecnic route, and on the way back I pause and take a couple of pics beneath the facade of the football ground.
The upper tier was a LONG WAY from the pitch, but our fans were up there, what was the view / facilities like lads ?
So after an improved second half we do the Sunderland thing and lose with the last kick on 94. Predictable. Time to get out, quickly and safely with any luck.
It didn’t start well as we had to walk under the upper tier WH fans to get out and a few plastic bottles reigned down with added abuse and after the late goal you smelt trouble was a possibility.
The problem is we then had to walk back round four of five blocks of Hammers’ leaving and share with them a narrow perimeter walkway around 50 feet wide for a good 100 yards. It kicked off within about 20 of those yards, a handful of stewards struggling to deal with the scuffles.
We were herded in theory away from West Ham fans down around 50 steps to an alternative route away from the stadium and completely in the wrong direction from our required Stratford Tube station.
Police ambled out with a lack of urgency at it kicked off, and proceeded to get dogs’ abuse from both sets of fans for their lethargy.
Police horses are of course unable to climb flights of stairs so I’m not sue what the point was of them being there, and if I’m honest it was a mess. “Contact the club” was the police’s stock reply. They’re at email@example.com should anyone else want to grumble. I spoke to a WHU ST mate (yes, I have one) and he acknowledged that West Ham have made no effort to improve segregation upon exit; why away fans are in that position within the stadium God only knows, but one day something serious is gonna happen unless there’s a radical rethink.
It’s the club’s fault, no it’s the police’s, no it’s the club’s, no it’s the police’s repeat to end. Get my drift?
So what do I think?
It’s an athletics track with football shoehorned into it lads. The Government have seen a get-out-of-jail free card post-olympics and grasped at it with both hands.
No wonder West Ham fans aren’t best pleased even if it’s costing them next to nowt. It has no soul. At least when you were at the Boleyn you smelt football, heritage and passion and had the tingle of excitement and adrenaline.
Today all I got was whiffs of commericalism, and the stench of football so far removed from what football should really be about.
It’s like that bloke at the car boot sale who buys a huge pub sign for a quid. It looks really nice, it’s a steal, it has potential, but in the end it will end up in the shed because he can’t get it past the missus and onto the kitchen wall.
But don’t worry folks, they only have a 99 year lease; I feel for ’em I really do.