It was not only Hamburg Hammer who was in London that last weekend before Christmas. I visited the British capital too and made WEST HAM v HULL my first game in the London Stadium! I was lucky to get two tickets in the Sir Trevor Brooking Stand Lower through West Ham’s ticket ballot and two other tickets with a little help from my friends. Travelling together with Mrs. Rapidhammer, my son and my future daughter-in-law it wasn’t a “football only weekend”, though I will focus on my experience regarding the London Stadium.
Well, my feelings after the first visit to the former Olympic Stadium are not euphoric, but all in all quite positive – maybe first of all because of the result, a very important though undeserved 1-0 win due to a Mark Noble penalty and much help from the “man of the match” called “the post”. Having been hit three times in this very game I think the match will be remembered for that post only … . but for me this match will always be something special, my first afternoon at the Olympic Stadium. But now one by one:
Staying in a Shoreditch flat over the weekend we travelled to the stadium from there by bus and walked to the ground for 15 mins, reaching it near the away end, a little left to the main concours. We were late because Mrs. Rapidhammer had to get to Oxford Street in the morning, and we couldn’t get back to the flat as fast as we had thought due to the “bloody traffic” in “bloody London” (as the cab driver said). Then we had lunch at Poppie’s Fish and Chips in Brick Lane and I decided to order the first jellied eels of my life, thinking that eating this typical East end food could be a good omen for a win of our Eastenders in claret and blue.
I have to confess that it took me some time to put away this unfamiliar starter, and then the main dish also wanted to be eaten. Well, it was a nervy bus ride then with repeated phone calls telling our friend with the tickets that we would arrive at the ground very soon.
Arriving at Parnell Road, a bus stop I suppose only a few of you will know, we had to make our way by foot crossing the A 12 motorway and a small river, walking on a flood protection embankment – a lonely though not idyllic area which hardly can be compared to pre-match Green Street with its pubs, cafes, food stalls and matchday programme sellers, and the buzz and excitement which could be felt there on match days.
But when we reached the main concourse in front of the big screen, the feeling and the excitement was there at last, with the crowd queuing up at the gates and the fans getting nervous and shoving each other a little, as “Bubbles” was already played inside the Stadium, and we feared to miss West Ham’s first strike let alone an early goal.
Then, having got into the stadium we had to cross the third bridge of the afternoon spanning the gap between the former lower tier of the Olympic Stadium and the new retractable seating which covers the running track.
We sat behind the goal, with some distance to the part of the stand occupied by the away fans. Of course we were not as close to the goal and the corner flag as in the Sir Trevor Brooking Stand Lower of old, but the sight line was good. As far as I remember my last visit to the Emirates, the distance from the seats to the goal line at Arsenal’s ground was identical to the space behind the goal at the London Stadium. What I couldn’t get used to during the whole game was the big screen behind the opposite goal tempting me to watch on the screen what happened on the pitch when the “real play” took place in more distant areas like the opposite box.
As regards the atmosphere during the match, you can’t call the support from the stands extraordinary or overwhelming in this game, but taking into consideration the fairly poor performance of West Ham’s team this afternoon, the crowd cannot be blamed. The supporters did get behind the team, there was some banter with the away fans, and the atmosphere wasn’t very different from the average game at the Boleyn. And to mention that too, there were no signs of any crowd troubles.
To see the really big crowds in the two main stands was amazing, and I think it can make us proud that so many people follow West Ham, that the club had no problem to fill a stadium that has a capacity of more than 60% plus, still having thousands and thousands on the ST waiting list.
We all follow the West Ham, over land and sea,
and also to the Olympic Stadium, on the River Lea!
Having missed “Bubbles” before kick-off, I was very happy that Mark Noble who reliably as always converted a soft penalty and “the post”, our man of the match that was hit three times in one game, secured the playing of our hymn also after the final whistle. Or was it me having eaten jellied eels who made this win happen?
Well, to be honest, I hope not to be obliged to include eels in my match day routine from now on.
In high spirits because of the result, not the performance, we walked out of the stadium to the strains of “Twist and Shout” and tried the new club store. It is big enough and well organised to avoid long queues and being overcrowded too much after the game. Yet I was less impressed with the place into which the John Lyall Gates have been moved from Upton Park, but I think they are better visible when the store is not as full as it is after games.
What I didn’t fancy at all was the long way to Stratford after the game, a walk even more uninspired than the way to the stadium from Parnell Road bus stop in Bow which we had taken before the match. No one was there to sell food or badges, no pubs or cafés line the road and being locked out from getting into the Westfield Shopping Centre showed that football supporters aren’t really welcomed in this area. Though I can understand that the crowds have to be managed to make their way to Stratford Station, this cold and unhospitable way back from the ground was a real “turn-off”.
But all in all, my feelings after this very first visit to the former Olympic Stadium are positive. The club has done well to seize the opportunity of moving to a bigger ground when it was there, and now we have to make the best of it. Things will get better, we will get more used to the new surroundings and a new match day routine will be developed by those who can go regularly. And for me as a supporter from outside the UK, a trip to London watching West Ham will always be something special.
Of course I still miss Green Street and the old Hammers Social Club where one could have a pint or two after the game, I miss the West Ham Hotel with its view over the pitch, I miss the short walk to the World Cup sculpture before the game (of which I hope that it will remain at the junction of Barking Road and Green Street near the former Boleyn Ground), and I also miss the small Catholic Church of Our Lady of Compassion near the towering Stadium…
But come on you Irons, let’s see the positives! We can grow as a Club, as had our stadium, and when not only the results but also the team’s performances will start to improve, we will share more and more memories of great games at the OS – and the London Stadium will feel home after some time.
I for my part am looking forward to my next experience at the new home of the mighty Hammers – sometimes next year hopefully when we come back for another weekend to “bloody London” (as not only the cab drivers call it when they are stuck in the traffic jam …). Thank you to Paul from the new WHU Indepent Supporters Association for helping us out with the tickets, I very much hope to meet up again, and also to have time to see some of you guys from “West Ham Till I Die” next time!
Come on you Irons, have a wonderful Christmas everybody, and let’s hope Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve let us move further up the table – to midfield security!