Two games, two days out, two very different experiences. A day at the Emirates versus the Olympic Stadium; absolute polar opposites.
Ok, the West Ham game was always fighting a losing battle being on a Sunday, as you’re likely to be nursing a stinking hangover and face the prospect of the dreaded Sunday blues post-match. Still, a day out at the football should always be full of excitement, whatever your mood or whatever the day.
I was fortunate enough to have tickets to both, Arsenal versus Chelsea and West Ham against Southampton. And, in the space of 24 hours, it was clear as day how Arsenal nailed their stadium transition to much better affect compared to West Ham. There was absolutely no comparison. Yes, it’s still early days for the Irons, and Arsenal struggled in their first year at the Emirates, but the build up was exactly the same to the Highbury days.
N.B: I’m not a supporter of any of the teams involved in the games I went to.
In the Hammers defence, Arsenal were involved in a tier-one fixture against Chelsea, and West Ham were not playing such a blockbuster against Southampton. But, the adjustment from Highbury to the Emirates seemed far more easier to digest because of the location. It was a proper football day out, straight from the tube, excitement already around, with copious amounts of Arsenal fans flogging the streets.
With a variety of pubs in the community offering a top atmosphere, it was the perfect start before kick-off. ‘The Gunners’ pub was one of the best drinking places I’ve been too. Class inside and outside, a big beer garden with fans chanting on the tables, and beer being passed around like Spanish tapas.
In comparison, getting off the tube at Stratford, was a dire experience. Rather than football fans gearing up for match day; it was a load of punters out at Westfield shopping centre, and no football pub insight. The location was instead a jumped up ‘bar’, which housed both sets of fans (odd) – little atmosphere, no singing on tables. Genuinely stood there feeling sorry for West Ham fans.
After a few swift drinks, the walk to the stadium were very different accounts. The journey to the Emirates; consisted of groups chanting for the Gunners, cheering on the team, gearing up for kick-off. 10 minutes of stench from burger vans, people in conversation about the game, walking past the famous Highbury; everything a build-up to a football match should have. West Ham, was the odd Hammer trying to galvanise others around through the famous ‘Irons’ call. Every time, there was little response. No burger vans, no smell, minimal conversation, no old ground.
A lot has been made of both stadiums not carrying noise, being like a library with no atmosphere. But the Emirates was electric, again, an element of the game has to be taken into account. But the crowd were really rocking, both sets of fans in good voice, and you knew you were in for a top match from the off. The Hammers was a totally different vibe.
Quiet, devoid of identity and, to be honest, quite boring. More people were on their phones, scrolling through bloody work emails. It honestly felt like being in a virtual game. Both managers looked like caricatures at a distance away from their team and bench, in a cast aside fashion similar to a game of FIFA. Terrible.
The fact West Ham played so poorly naturally did not help the fans, and the fact Arsenal were so brilliant, obviously inspired theirs. But, the crowd weren’t to know this before kick-off. West Ham was more like a day out on a Wednesday afternoon for a spot of lunch.
I felt for the Hammers fans, it’s a difficult situation to be in, and their is little alternative. It really hit home, when on the journey back, as the tube went past Upton Park stop, a few fans next to myself genuinely looked at each other with an expression of pure sadness, deject, and fear.
Rightly so, West Ham are lost at the moment. And it’s not Slaven Bilic’s fault, it’s the people at the top suffocating the club through want of bigger marketing appeal, obvious from the bare bones of the stadium’s name.
Stop calling it the London Stadium. That's what the powers that be want ahead of selling naming rights. It's the Olympic Stadium.
— Ian Ridley (@IanRidley1) September 25, 2016
You had that identity at a 35,000-seat stadium, the Boleyn Ground, a place of history, culture and buzz. The change of location has killed the spirit. RIP Hammers. It’s going to be very awkward playing at that venue in the Championship…