How the Olympic Stadium can transform West Ham

Written by Rhys Paul

Whilst it might seem like yesterday for fans, the decision to make West Ham tenants of the Olympic Stadium had been expected from the moment they were made preferred bidders for the first time in 2011. A conflict of interests with Leyton Orient and Tottenham briefly threatened to derail the hopes of David Gold & David Sullivan, but by 2013 the club had been confirmed as the new tenants on a 99-year lease. As the move became more and more inevitable (thanks to the countdown on the club’s website – 74 days and 16 hours at the time of writing this), fans could at least take consolation knowing that they still a handful of seasons still to play at Upton Park. And now here we are at the end of the 2015-16 season having said goodbye to the 112-year home of the Hammers with the final stages of stamping the club’s authority on the venue soon to be completed. Unfortunately, it has come around much quicker than most fans would have hoped. Some – myself included – would be happy to see the club remain where they are, but the upcoming move is something the club needs if they are to continue their upward trajectory under Gold & Sullivan.

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                                                                           credit Jim Linwood

The transition from a 35,000 to 60,000 capacity was initially one critics were sceptical of. The sale of 52,000 season tickets (the second highest in the league) as well as the increase from 54,000 to 60,000 in March is the biggest indication yet that these concerns were ill-judged. The prospect of 56-58,000 of these fans being in the Claret & Blue end is certainly an exciting one. Few clubs can claim to have such support and whilst the atmosphere will likely suffer in the first season or two, the hope is that this will sort itself out as the place begins to feel more like home. There is also the bonus of the club generating increased revenue (albeit having reduced season tickets considerably) and for those that can remember the club’s flirtation with bankruptcy, this will always be welcomed. Leeds, Sheffield Wednesday and most recently, Newcastle have proven that a large fan base does not guarantee success. Yet with only Man United and Arsenal boasting a bigger capacity, it seems more likely that West Ham are moving in the right direction given the recent performances of the club – both on and off the pitch.

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                                                                             credit Antonio Picascia

Barcelona, Madrid, Milan, Paris and London. These are some of the best cities in the world and are home to some of the great European clubs. All of which benefit from the natural appeal of the cities they reside in and this can be a crucial factor in a player’s decision to move to one club over another. Pedro and Fabregas have most recently turned down moves to Man United in favour of Chelsea and whilst other reasons have been used to justify these moves, it is clear that players can be tempted by location. The 2012 Olympics encouraged the redevelopment of the area West Ham will be moving into and this has arguably made it one of the most desirable parts of the capital. Stratford is a significant improvement from the area of Upton Park with superior transport links making the club seem like a greater part of London than a tube line that only operates half of the time . The build-up to the move has seemingly been used as bait during transfer negotiations and this can only become more tantalising to potential signings once the move actually takes place. Players like Michy Batshuayi and Alexandre Lacazette (who seems increasingly unlikely to join at this point) seem more believable as signings with the club clearly confident it can now compete with ‘big’ clubs in the transfer market.

The sport is having an increasingly business-like vibe to it with huge sums of money being invested into the game thanks to lucrative TV and sponsorship deals. The move from Upton Park is just another indication that times are changing. Redevelopment of the stadium could have only gone so far and that is if the club were granted permission to expand to a capacity of 45,000. The facilities at the Olympic Stadium are also a step-up from the existing ones and anybody who has visited the stadium will already know few clubs will be able to compete with the standard of facilities at the new stadium. Some fans – home and away – will look forward to the new match day experience with the neighbouring Westfield Shopping Centre offering a completely different pre-match alternative to the one many fans are accustomed to. All of these simply make West Ham a far more attractive club from a business perspective and this is vital given the nature of the sport today.

West Ham have always been on the (feel free to accuse me of bias) verge of being one of the top English clubs, but they have been hamstrung by an inconsistency that would see them challenging for Europe one season and fighting relegation the next. You only have to look at the impressive list of players who have worn the shirt in the past to see the club has something special about it. In my opinion, they are in that bracket with several other teams, but it’s the same bracket that I would have placed Aston Villa in 6 years ago. The Olympic Stadium provides the perfect springboard for the team to reach unprecedented heights and, on the back of such a fantastic season, West Ham are in a very good position to take advantage of this. The official website promotes the move with the words of Sir Geoff Hurst

“If ever we have a chance to get our great club back on the path to glory, this is it.”

And really… who is going to argue with Sir Geoff?
West Ham fans, what do you make of the move to the Olympic Stadium? Will it benefit the club? Let us know in the comments below!
featured image by Jim Linwood