Shotgun wedding may result in a short-lived marriage
and feeling like home to our deserving fans”. We should consider a few points. Given the scale of expenditure and planning, why was long-term future not factored in from the start? This would have prevented the risk of a national asset being sold for peanuts. Or worse, becoming a white elephant.
Are West Ham deserving of this stadium? World class? They are not yet Premier League class. They are third in the npower Championship, without a win in their last five home matches, and far from sure of promotion. Their average Upton Park gate is 28,800. They want to move some four miles to the Olympic stadium in Stratford where capacity will be 60,000 – after it has been modified down from 80,000, adaptation which will cost some £50m.
Who’s paying? That’s unclear. Newham Council are considering investing £40m, “subject to an appropriate and acceptable return”. Will due diligence be done on West Ham? Portsmouth and Rangers illustrate why there must be confidence that the bubble will not burst. Future income predicated on sales of hospitality packages and season tickets is speculative.
Ms Brady made some of the right noises: “Our vision for the stadium has always been about standing up for the promises made for London back in Singapore in 2005 [when London won the right to host] and what they meant for our future generations ... we are honoured to have once more received the support and backing of our friends at UK Athletics.”
The athletics body was unequivocal, but they are between a rock and a hard hammer. Claire Furlong, head of communications, said it was “frustrating to have to go through the process again” but insisted last night that the future of track and field in the stadium was “absolutely watertight”.
“We have our 99-year lease agreement. We believe West Ham are the right solution. We have been in partnership for such a long time, and we’re effectively all in it together. Is the track legacy in jeopardy? No it’s not.”
They have written a letter to the Legacy Company “reiterating our support for West Ham. This is the right option”. Hopefully so. But there’s a history of major athletics facilities being butchered to accommodate other sports, and commercial reality is harsh.
Stadium Australia, the Sydney Olympic 2000 venue, removed the running track a year later. Beijing’s Birdsnest has struggled for economic viability; Athens’ 2004 field of dreams is now a bankrupt nightmare; the 1996 Atlanta Olympic stadium was immediately converted to baseball; Manchester lost the 2002 Commonwealth athletics venue to football, with little better than a club facility remaining in the warm-up track. When the Melbourne Cricket Ground hosted the 2006 Commonwealth Games, it was the first time there had been athletics there since the 1956 Olympics; Bayern Munich adopted the 1972 Olympic stadium, but always hated it because the pitch was too far from the crowd.
That’s the heart of the conflict. Hampden, Ibrox, and Celtic Park all once had running tracks. All are now gone. Hampden’s will be restored for the 2014 Commonwealth Games, then speedily ripped out. The successful London bidder will be revealed in May, the aim being to reopen the reconfigured stadium in 2014. Football and athletics are a proven unhappy marriage. I bet this shotgun wedding in Stratford doesn’t reach anything approaching a 99th anniversary.
West Ham jumped in with an 11th-hour bid for tenancy of the Olympic Stadium.