Adventures in Football #49: London Stadium (West Ham Utd)
April 3, 2022
WEST HAM UTD vs. EVERTON (Premier League)
Given the history and stature of West Ham, who on average attendance this season are the third biggest club in the country, it’s somewhat of a shock that they’ve never won the league. The closest they’ve come was P3 in 1986. They have won three FA Cups in 1964, 1975 and 1980 but as a lifelong football fan I’ve never seen them win a trophy. When you consider the players West Ham have had over the years it’s startling they’ve not won the title. The likes of Billy Bonds, Trevor Brooking, and the legendary England ‘66 World Cup winning trio of Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst.
The year West Ham “won the World Cup” with their players starring on a global stage they finished P12 and the next season, with that World Cup boost…P16. Their best league finish in this period was P6 in 1973. They’ve had higher placed finishes in the Premier League (P5 in 1999). So their current squad, under former Everton boss David Moyes, is arguably one of the best they’ve ever had. Which is why they’re packing out the London Stadium, former Olympic venue and home to the Hammers since 2016.
It’s not been all sunshine at the London Stadium and indeed the lockdown during the pandemic may have helped West Ham’s current success. With no fans the club seemed to go from strength to strength and by the time the fans returned they had a successful club to watch. I’m not blaming the fans for West Ham’s shortcomings, but it did seem to take the pressure off the players. This game takes place four days before West Ham face Lyon in the quarter finals of the Europa League.
Before the move to the gigantic London Stadium, West Ham played their games at the Boleyn Ground, known also as Upton Park. The ground had castles by the entrance and a look that’s not been replicated by the massive bowl of the London Stadium. There’s a concern, from me anyway, that the London Stadium is a bit soulless. I’m willing to give it a shot and we’ll see how it goes. Would I rather this game was at Upton Park? Ultimately, yes.
Here’s where we are at the start of the day. West Ham two points off Europe. Meanwhile Everton are only three points off relegation. There’s an awful lot at stake here. West Ham, a team that literally sing “fortune’s always hiding” before their games could be on the brink of a historic run. A lot rests on how April plays out. Likewise, Everton are in danger of slipping out of the top division of English football for the first since the early 1950s. April will be crucial to their survival battle. Except for Arsenal they’ve been a top tier club for longer than anyone currently and have the most seasons in the top division of any club.
It’s a pleasant enough drive down to London. We’re on the M42, M40, M25, M11 route into London, only encountering traffic on the M11 exit onto the A12 because of people going into London to watch the boat race. So, when Maria cuts a few of them up at the roundabout I’m not even mad. Parking in London is surprisingly easy when you know how. My advice to you is an app called Just Park. Basically, you find the area you want to park in, and you pay a resident to use their driveway. We were in a parking space on Matilda Gardens, which is close to the Olympic park. The view above is from the end of the road we walked out of from Matilda Gardens. We were so close you could almost see it from our parking space. There’s also an option to road park around this area but there isn’t a lot of room and it’s not a private car park so you’re running a risk. We paid a tenner and were set for 6 hours.
That left us free to stroll over to the ground, which is less than a mile away and oh no, what horror is this building hiding? Well, I suppose if it’s hiding something it’s doing a shambolic job of it.
The stroll continues through the ‘chain your bike up’ area of a block of flats. This is chilled out neighbourhood and we see lots of joggers. I don’t know what I expected from a football ground in east London but this isn’t it. I was expecting more things like the HORROR building.
Through part of the Olympic park with the city in the background. It helps immensely that the weather is so good. We were predicted snow during the week but it’s turned out nice. I’m still wearing a hoodie and a coat but at only three layers I’m basically nude compared to the winter matches.
As we’re walking along the pathway we realise that, hello, there’s a stadium over there behind the trees.
And here it is. Normally I get to talk about the journey and things that go wrong but we literally drove right into London, parked up and strolled over to the ground. Are we getting good at this? Do I need to rename this the Groundhoppers Guide? Anyway, we stroll over to a steward, and there are millions of them, to ask where Gate H is. He pulls out a goddamn map and shows us. I feel like the London Stadium gets a fair share of tourists. Technically we number among them. We head across bridge four and through a security check point. Bags are checked. We’re both padded down and it’s during this process that I wonder how an Everton fan managed to sneak a blue smoke bomb into the ground for use later. I can only assume it was in his pants, or possibly up his arse. Imagine farting and setting it off in the pub.
Maria wants food as we didn’t have time to stop and it’s over to Crave Burger for some scran. We’re actually in the Everton zone here but they’re all queuing up for beer to the right. Maria gets a coke and they have to take the top off it. We’re in the upper deck row 45. If I can get that onto the pitch from there you should sign me up to take long throws. The burgers are NINE POUNDS A POP. We grab a portion of chips to share and that’s another four quid. We’re certainly paying for the big stadium experience today! The cheese isn’t melted but it is cheddar not that plastic stuff you get in non-league.
It’s not worth £9 but it was better than the standard burger you get at most gaffs. I’ll give them that.
We stroll around the ground, past the club shop and spot this Olympic relic from 2012. You can go up there and look down upon all the peasants should you wish.
Also around there is a new version of the World Cup winners statue that’s over by the old ground. Only it’s the European Cup Winners Cup. I couldn’t get a photo of the turnstiles because I had chips in one hand and the ticket in the other. It’s completely unmanned and you scan a barcode to get in. West Ham are trialling something where you activate your ticket on your phone and it just lets you in automatically. I don’t know how that would work.
I settled for a snap from the other side where people are congregating already. Come on you Irons! West Ham have done a bang up job of sticking West Ham related stuff everywhere in the London Stadium so it doesn’t feel like they’re tenants in someone else’s gaff. It’s been six years but I still think of this as the Olympic Stadium not really as West Ham’s ground. All the bits and pieces of branding around the place made me feel a bit differently. I still want a whopping great big West Ham badge on the roof somewhere but that’s just me.
Look at the size of this bastard! I knew it was big but just saying it’s big doesn’t do it justice. It is, to date, the largest football stadium I’ve set foot in (apart from Old Wembley for an Aerosmith gig). It’s modern and has facilities out the wazoo.
Look over there where the big screen is. You can see the concourse through there. There are people chilling out on the concourse who can see the pitch. Then you’ve got a big old walkway to get into the stadium from there. I feel a bit sad we didn’t get that walkway out of the end. There’s a platform area over there. Not sure what it’s for. They could do a trophy presentation there though.
I’ve been a bit critical of some older stadiums for the legroom and how it’s designed for people exclusively under 5’ 6”. Well, not here friends. Look at the legroom here. World class legroom. Five stars. What concerned me about West Ham’s ground was the sheer size of it negatively effecting certain things. Namely view and atmosphere. Well, the view was perfect. Upper deck of the Billy Bonds and my view was flawless (apart from when the girl in front stood up mega early for a chance and I couldn’t see Jarrod Bowen approaching for a tap in).
Seriously, this is my view. I’ve tried to get the zoom level right so it matches what the eye could see. I reckon that’s about right. That’s a decent view for row 45 upper deck. The stadium is very fan friendly and it’s designed for the fan. I have no real complains here. Apart from atmosphere. We’ll get to that. Pre-match we had an interview with Mark Ward and unlike every other ground in the country when they interview someone you could see him on the big screen and hear every word he had to say. The sound system in this motherfucker is brilliant.
Look at how full it gets in here! I persist that you definitely get tourists coming to West Ham because it’s definitely easier to get tickets to this than Arsenal, Chelsea or Spurs but you still get that massive club vibe. The absolute best part of going to West Ham is “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles”, which they bang out with all their heart. It’s incredible to hear. Especially the “Fortune’s always hiding, I’ve looked everywhere” when the music is gone and the crowd just sing it. PRETTY BUBBLES IN THE AIR! One of the great footballing warm up experiences. They banged it out twice pre-match, again at half time and for good measure again at the end.
Onto the game then and Everton turned up. Their awful away form has seen them capitulate when faced with an unfriendly atmosphere. There’s no confidence. It’s an issue. Here they gave a much better performance. The likes of Mykolenko, who hasn’t even been selected, and Iwobi had good games. The only downside for Everton was giving away a silly free kick, whipped into top bins by Aaron Cresswell. One of the goals of the season. I was so stunned by it that I forgot I was supposed to celebrate and reluctantly stood up to applaud about 10 seconds after everyone else.
Now for some good old fashioned criticism. Firstly the crowd was very quiet. I don’t know if that’s the acoustics or the more vocal supporters being spread out but I couldn’t hear much support from West Ham. Not until about an hour into the game when they perked up. Everton fans were far noisier, as they tend to be away from home, and you could argue this was as much a home game for Everton in terms of crowd noise as a match at Goodison. There were also a staggering number of half and half scarves being worn around the ground. Again, I can only assume this is a result of tourism because otherwise why? The half time music was a mixed bunch. Considering their banging tannoy you’d think they’d play some decent tunes. “Run to the Hills” by Hammers fans Iron Maiden kicked us off and I thought we’d be in for a nice time and then it was Fozzy and HHH’s theme music from WWE. I guess tannoy man is a wrestling fan. Cancelled.
Second half saw a rally from Everton, who really did play quite well on the day, and Mason Holgate firing in a deflected equaliser. There were some serious LIMBS from the Everton end. It didn’t last though as Jarrod Bowen, as I mentioned earlier, scored after Antonio broke the offside trap. More misery for Everton after that as Michael Keane was sent off for a second yellow. Keane being suspended might actually help Everton a bit because he was one of their worst players. West Ham saw it out and I was shocked at how many people left early. It’s 2-1. It’s not like one team is out of sight here.
As we were leaving I spotted this pitch. I think it’s a school pitch for the Bobby Moore Academy. On Maps it’s called the London Marathon Community Track. It’s so weird having a pitch in the shadow of the ground.
A nice touch around the exterior is the safety rail having the results of the Olympics on it. Shout out to big man Gwang Geun Choi for his judo gold medal back in 2012.
One last look at this beast and it’s time to go home. This is one of the security areas we passed through earlier. Tonnes of stewards and security at West Ham. Probably the most I’ve ever seen. In fairness the likelihood of a terror attack is far higher in London than elsewhere in the country and big stadiums are targets. Plus the entrance areas are wide, presumably designed for ease of passage for Olympics fans, and hard to block off.
We head out through a different route because security found it necessary to block the entire one side of the ground off. I was a bit miffed about this. We had to walk all the way around the stadium. I’m guessing this is standard and prevents fisticuffs but fans were mingling together pre-match and there was no issue. It’s Hednesford all over again! Except this time I can’t just open the gate. Anyway, we left through Graffiti Central and Weed Road and made our way back to the Midlands via a reverse of the earlier described route. Right, let’s whip out the star ratings!
It was not impressive. It got better in the second half and I loved the pre-match singing but during the game is was eerily quiet at times. For such an enormous, cavernous setting it was weird. **
Tickets were £55. That’s, by some distance, the most I’ve paid for tickets this season. I’m aware Premier League prices are more expensive but this is the third Premier League game I’ve been to this season and the others charged mid £30, which is reasonable. £55 isn’t, quite frankly. Neither is £9 for a burger. *
It was a scrappy game but Cresswell’s free kick was worth the trek to London. A stunner. Cowley-esque. Everton gave it a go and it was a decent game until the sending off. ***½
EASE OF ACCESS
Surprisingly good. Admittedly, that was because of the app we used but we parked nearby. It was a pleasant stroll to the game. We stopped off for a pint on the way back and by the time we left the pub, after watching a bit of Spurs vs. Newcastle, the traffic was clear. ***½
It’s an awe-inspiring stadium to walk into. The facilities are incredible. The legroom was great. ****
While I really enjoyed the experience of being in the London Stadium the lack of atmosphere, for a club of that size, and the sheer cost of everything (got to pay for all that security I guess) drags it down. My preference for something with a bit more history is evident here. That said, it was really enjoyable as an experience and I’d recommend it.
On my ratings it drops between Port Vale and Forest Green. I preferred West Ham to Forest Green so that’s probably accurate. It was a better football experience than St Marys too.