West Ham count cost as re­lo­ca­tion sparks turf war

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

While his­toric Up­ton Park is be­ing re­duced to rub­ble by de­mo­li­tion work­ers, just across east Lon­don the price of progress seems painfully high to the West Ham fans en­gaged in a strug­gle for their club’s soul.

Just five months ago West Ham waved farewell to Up­ton Park, their home for 112 years, and headed into a bright and lu­cra­tive fu­ture in their new and big­ger Lon­don Sta­dium.

Be­com­ing the main tenants at the for­mer Olympic Sta­dium had been a gru­elling process, but West Ham’s hi­er­ar­chy felt the pol­i­tick­ing and le­gal wran­gles would be worth­while if the in­creased rev­enue helped trans­form their un­der­achiev­ing club into a ma­jor force. De­ter­mined to fill the sta­dium, sea­son-ticket prices were slashed to a cheap­est mark of £289 ($359, 320 eu­ros) for adults, in com­par­i­son to Up­ton Park’s low­est range of £600, and busi­ness was boom­ing at the box of­fice ahead of the new Pre­mier League sea­son. West Ham’s num­ber of sea­son-ticket hold­ers dou­bled to over 50,000, close to sta­dium ca­pac­ity, but while co-own­ers David Sul­li­van and David Gold counted the cash, the streets around their new home have be­come paved with blood rather than gold.

Tra­di­tion­ally draw­ing their sup­port from the work­ing-classes who grew up in the tough dis­tricts around Up­ton Park, West Ham’s change of ad­dress was ex­pected to re­peat the trend of crowd gen­tri­fi­ca­tion seen at Ar­se­nal and Chelsea. Once feared in the 1980s for their large num­ber of hooli­gans, Chelsea’s fan­base un­der­went a re­mark­able change when higher ticket prices saw many old-school sup­port­ers usurped by the mid­dle classes, who saw the mod­ern game as a fash­ion­able ad­di­tion to their life­style.

West Ham had se­ri­ous prob­lems with their “In­ter-City Firm” of hooli­gans for many years as well, but rather than keep out the un­de­sir­able el­e­ments, the cheap tick­ets and larger sta­dium have al­lowed a way back in for some of the club’s more volatile fol­low­ers and a new breed keen to fol­low in their vi­o­lent foot­steps.

Adding to the ex­plo­sive mix, fans who stood through­out matches at Up­ton Park have quickly be­come frus­trated by the club and lo­cal coun­cil’s de­sire to en­sure they stay sit­ting in their new abode. Con­tin­u­ing to flout the rule, those sup­port­ers have turned vi­o­lent when con­fronted by stew­ards or other fans, often those with chil­dren whose view of the match is im­peded by the stand­ing.

Com­pound­ing the prob­lem is a se­cu­rity de­ba­cle which means po­lice are only on duty out­side be­cause there isn’t a ra­dio sys­tem in the sta­dium which would al­low of­fi­cers to com­mu­ni­cate.

West Ham have pushed for a po­lice pres­ence in­side the ground but it is the re­spon­si­bil­ity of sta­dium own­ers E20 to meet the cost.— AFP

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