Imperfect, Impractical And Immoral, The Olympic Stadium Fiasco Holds A Mirror Up To The True Values Of British Sport

By on Feb 10, 2011 in English League Football, Latest | 17 comments

If, as seems likely, the decision to grant the post-2012 use of the Olympic Stadium in Stratford to West Ham United is rubber-stamped over the next few weeks, we should perhaps pause for a moment to consider what the decision says about the state of English sport at the start of the new century. For the last few weeks, we have seen an unseemly attempt at a land grab between two large sporting organisations who both seemed to cherish one thing above all else – a site in East London with outstanding transport links, a relative rarity in London, that was available on the cheap. Money, as ever, trumped all other concerns.

The Olympic legacy, a central part of the reason why the games are being held in London in the first place, were put firmly on the back burner and the future of the football club nearest to Stratford feels a little less certain today after the parachuting in of one of the game’s behemoths, but very few people seem to care very much about that. In thrall to the twin false gods of Mammon and the Premier League, the timbre of the debate on the subject had a thoroughly modern feel to it, yet both the Spurs and West Ham bids had the feel of being thoroughly imperfect for completely different reasons. The one aspect of the decision that seems to have been overlooked as the battle intensfied and became more and more bitter, however, is that all of the decisions being made at no point consulted the supporters of all concerned.

As Spurs crashed out of the FA Cup at Fulham a couple of weeks ago, a familiar tune was picked up by the ESPN microphones. To the tune of “Tom Hark”, the amended words of, “Say no to Stratford, North London is ours” were clearly audible. This wasn’t a motley crew of keyboard warriors. This was the hardcore of the Spurs away support, those that are able to get a ticket for an away match in the FA Cup. Yet this voice was barely even acknowledged by the club’s management, who also often seemed to be making a very good job of burning their bridges in N17 before a decision over the Olympic Stadium had even been made. As recently as the 26th of January, the Haringey Independent quoted Levy as saying:

If one had a choice we would rather be building here. But to compete at the highest level we need a larger stadium and if that means we have to move out of the area I think the fans will back us.

But they are now back to the drawing board, and Haringey Council could be forgiven for telling Spurs and Levy to stick the Northumberland Development Project, the Spurs fall-back option of developing White Hart Lane that was the club’s default option until comparatively recently, where the sun doesn’t shine. There has, over the last few weeks, been an increasingly nasty and snobbish aura coming from both the club and a section of its support (most likely those that don’t live or never have lived in the area itself) with regard to the area that Spurs have called home since 1882. It doesn’t seem unreasonable point out to such people that clubs in other, wealthier parts of London are available if Tottenham – or Haringey – isn’t somehow “good” enough for them.

These voices (from the support at least, if not the club itself), however, seem to be very much in the minority and the reaction of the majority of Spurs supporters to the news that the stadium seems almost certain to go to West Ham United has been somewhere between ambivalence and delight that they will not be the ones to have their history and tradition torn up in the pursuit of perpetual Champions League football. Indeed, the We Are N17 group emerge from this farrago with considerable credit, having fought hard to make their voices heard as Tottenham Hotspur FC lost any sense of moral compass in the rush for this plot of land. If the NDP is dead in the water (as many claim it is), Spurs will either be stuck at White Hart Lane as it is for the forseeable future or will have to start looking at other sites, perhaps in nearby Enfield. Perhaps the club has a back-up plan but, if it does, it hasn’t made it public yet.

What, though, of the victors? The delight of Karren Brady is predictable enough, but the viewpoint of the club’s supporters seems more mixed. There are those that don’t wish to leave the Boleyn Ground for sentimental reasons and/or feel that the club could, if it had wished to, have developed their current home and others who feel that the Olympic Stadium will be too big for West Ham or have serious concerns over the effect that the running track will have on their match day experience. If the club is relegated from the Premier League, financing may become an issue, even allowing for the loans promised by Newham Council and, is should be said that the idea of watching Championship football from behind a running track would be more or less everything that many West Ham supporters would not want from such a move.

The question of whether West Ham United will ever be able to get anywhere near 60,000 people to turn out for home matches is also one that has been perplexing some of their supporters, but their attempts to boost their attendance may prove to be a significant problem for the smallest players in this story, Leyton Orient. Orient are the closest club, geographically speaking, to the Olympic Stadium and it is a reflection upon the state of English football at the start of this century that their views have been so comprehensively ignored. It seems impossible to believe that the parachuting of a Premier League football club into a site barely a couple of miles from their ground will not negatively impact upon them to a massive effect and it is to the shame of the Football Association and the Premier League that existing rules designed to stop clubs moving into the direct territory of another club. Leyton Orient, it feels, aren’t fashionable enough for anybody in control of these matters to care very much about.

So, in the unique way that only people that manage these matters seem able to muster, the 2012 Olympic Games have been soured for many already. Perhaps, in this respect, the “legacy” of London 2012 being a big football club stomping into another, smaller club’s immediate vicinity, forcing it to moving out of London or being shunted towards insolvency is completely appropriate as a reflection of what passes for “values” in modern sport. This whole situation has been one that has left very few emerging with any credit, and there is still even time for Boris Johnson to trump all others by not taking any notice of the Olympic Park Legacy Company, though the likelihood of this happening seems remote. As a commenter on the Guardian’s Sport Blog commented earlier this afternoon, “Surely it isn’t part of the Olympic dream to service the business strategies of opportunistic capitalists?”. He’s got a point.

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    17 Comments

  1. One thing hidden amongst all the cockfighting of who whether West Ham or Spurs should Franchise themselves into Leyton Orient’s territory, is the cost of the stadium, and who foots the bill.

    Do West Ham buy the stadium at cost price, or for a reduced fee at the end of the Olympics – nope, it appears that Londoners will continue to pay for the building of West Ham’s new stadium, through their council tax until 2017.

    No wonder Karren Brady sounded as smug as she did in her newspaper column.

    Rob

    February 10, 2011

  2. If multi-million pound football clubs playing in a billion pound league want new grounds they ought to pay for it. If West Ham (and/or Spurs) want the Olympic ground they ought to pay full price.
    I think it ought to stay a 25,000 seater track and field facility. Let the UK track organization figure out a way to pay for its upkeep. They can find groups willing to fill the ground for other events.

    William N Moriarty

    February 11, 2011

  3. ++It seems impossible to believe that the parachuting of a Premier League football club into a site barely a couple of miles from their ground will not negatively impact upon them to a massive effect and it is to the shame of the Football Association and the Premier League that existing rules designed to stop clubs moving into the direct territory of another club. Leyton Orient, it feels, aren’t fashionable enough for anybody in control of these matters to care very much about.++

    A good review but the intent of the quoted section is unclear. The Premier League HAVE already broken their own rules, by approving such a move. They have also not provided any explanation beyond a statement quoted from Peter Scudamore in the Daily Mail to the effect that Barry Hearn should have complained louder, particularly about the Spurs bid.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/article-1349930/CHARLES-SALE-Leyton-Orient-chairman-Barry-Hearn-bays-Olympic-Stadium.html

    Peter Scudamore is quoted as saying If Hearn had complained as much about Spurs as he has about West ham both would have been blocked, that does not explain why both have been approved!

    Also it is less than one mile from Orient to The Olympic Stadium and I estimate that once direct access across the Olympic Park site is possible it is unlikely to take longer than 15 minutes to walk there from the Council Sponsored, traditionally named ‘Leyton Stadium’ that is the home of Leyton Orient which is adjacent to the independent Community Sports Project that operates under the banner of ‘Leyton Orient’ and has strong links and encouragement from the football club.

    Sadly the criteria of the Olympic Park Legacy Company do not say anything about avoiding damage to the sporting and community legacy that already exists, which in Orient’s case has already lasted for 130 years!

    Tolkny

    February 11, 2011

  4. The whole thing is one long unedifying bunlight between people who would sell their own grandmothers for sixpence.

    Leyton Orient RIP.

    Martin

    February 11, 2011

  5. Superb article – worth of a ‘blogitzer’ prize or something.

    Excellent ’90s Guardian’ style headline too!

    CTT

    February 11, 2011

  6. 1) The stadium is less than 1 mile from Orient’s home ground.

    2) The LB of Haringey is spelled with an ‘e’. [Harringay with two 'r's and an 'a' is an area on the other side of Haringey from Tottenham.]

    Pedantic Wanker

    February 11, 2011

  7. Whilst I don’t like that the Olympic Stadium has been moved in on by the Premier League as if it should have some sort of birth-right to any large stadium, I do have some sympathy with West Ham. The problem for London clubs is that the geography and economics of London makes movement and ground development a nightmare. After all, the distance that West Ham are moving is only 3.5 miles – this is only 1 mile further than Leyton Orient are from the ground, and indeed Google Maps suggests an equal driving time. The clubs will still be further apart than, say, Notts County and Notts Forest.

    By comparison, Southampton and Bolton have both moved between 3 and 5 miles over the last 20 years to little fanfare indeed, I’d argue that Bolton’s move was much more of a betrayal than West Ham’s. Ultimately, the club has stayed in East London, which is their ‘town’. By contrast, Bolton moved out to Middlebrook and Spurs wanted to migrate from North London to East London.

    Rob

    February 11, 2011

  8. BTW, just noticed the first poster also took the name ‘Rob’; we are different people!

    Rob (2)

    February 11, 2011

  9. Rob, the pure distances involved aren’t the biggest factor. A meaningful dialogue with the people who pay for everything – the fans – should be the most important factor.

    Moving to Horwich didn’t seem to annoy Bolton fans as much as it would have done some, possibly because of the obvious potential progression it represented. But as Spurs can’t realistically get much higher without more crazy competition-destroying foreign backing (they turned down Abramovich remember) their fans reacted to a similar move differently.

    The feelings of Spurs, West Ham and Orient fans have been scandalously ignored by this whole circus.

    Martin

    February 11, 2011

  10. This whole saga reflects very poorly on football in England in 2011

    Dermot O'Dreary

    February 11, 2011

  11. Excellent article Ian – and some excellent comments too. No doubt someone will be along soon to tell us we’re just jealous.

    The fact that nobody is prepared to disclose how much rent the tenant will be paying is also a scandal. The poorest council in London will loan West Ham money at a time of implementing some savage cuts. This won’t turn out to be good for West Ham, but it’s undoubtedly great for the contemptible Sullivan, Gold and Brady .

    Steve

    February 11, 2011

  12. Did I miss the bit where you say what you’d have done?

    kt

    February 11, 2011

  13. Why do Leyton Orient get so overlooked?

    Leyton Orient have a press conference planned for Wednesday, where Barry Hearn will announce his legal team will put forward a case for compensation or try to stop the move of a, for now Premiership team moving in on Leyton Orients patch. its disgusting Leyton Orient doesnt even get mentioned!

    Go Barry Hearn you & your legal team have a great case, if it happens you should be compensated Millions if you are forced out of your home you have been playing football at for last 130+ years!!!

    Just because Orient are in lower division, doesnt mean West Ham can just walk in & kick them out!

    Anyway by the tme West Ham move in to OS they will be a championship or div1 side with 10k fans in a 60k stadium where you will need binoculars to see whats going on & Orient will be an established Championship team playing in Harlow under new name Harlon Orient in front of 15k fans week in week out.

    Today was the day West Ham United died as a football club!

    Lee

    February 11, 2011

  14. Why do Leyton Orient get so overlooked?

    Leyton Orient have a press conference planned for Wednesday, where Barry Hearn will announce his legal team will put forward a case for compensation or try to stop the move of a, for now Premiership team moving in on Leyton Orients patch. its disgusting Leyton Orient doesnt even get mentioned!

    Go Barry Hearn you & your legal team have a great case, if it happens you should be compensated Millions if you are forced out of your home you have been playing football at for last 130+ years!!!

    Just because Orient are in lower division, doesnt mean West Ham can just walk in & kick them out!

    Anyway by the tme West Ham move in to OS they will be a championship or div1 side with 10k fans in a 60k stadium where you will need binoculars to see whats going on & Orient will be an established Championship team playing in Harlow under new name Harlow Orient in front of 15k fans week in week out.

    Today was the day West Ham United died as a football club!

    Lee

    February 11, 2011

  15. Don’t know why everyone is so surprised about the F.A. allowing a Premier League team to parachute itself into another club’s area, they allowed the same thing to happen with MK Dongs. The plastics have been trying to steal support away from Luton and Northampton ever since they moved in.

    Micky F

    February 12, 2011

  16. Any West Ham fan that cannot work out that a Premier League team that receives a gift of a 60000 stadium (more than double their normal gate), right on the doorstep of a club that attracts less than 5000 per match, is going to have an adverse effect on the smaller club, clearly has the IQ of the average amoeba.

    Perhaps they would like to consider this scenario. Let’s move Manchester United into the Olympic Stadium, and make the capacity 120000 i.e. double their normal gate. I wonder who would be squealing then. Somehow, I don’t think Karen Brady would be quite so smug in that scenario.

    Mark

    February 12, 2011

  17. Just looked on a map of London and West Ham are actually the closest football team.

    Arteee

    October 29, 2012

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