Talking Point


Guest Post by Dan Silver

On Wednesday I went to a football match. Or at least I thought I did. According to media reports of what transpired at the London Stadium that night I had visited a bomb site, survived a war zone or, improbably, travelled back in time to the 1980s. Reading the write ups on Thursday morning I increasingly felt relieved just to have survived the outing.

For the record, I arrived at Queen Elizabeth Park via Pudding Mill Lane at around 5.15pm, uncharacteristically early as I wanted to buy a birthday present for my son from the Stadium Store before the crowds gathered. All was peaceful. Police officers kitted out in bulky riot gear queued with the claret and blue-clad early birds to buy burgers and chips from the vending trucks.

I met up with a mate and wandered off to the Plough in Swan Wharf, a delightful hipster bar by the canal where the overriding mood was one of excitement. We returned just after seven, climbing the stairs nearest to Turnstile D, where impeccably behaved away fans were filling into the stadium. There wasn’t even a discernible edge to the atmosphere, let alone toxicity.

After the game had finished we exited the East Stand by Turnstile G and followed the herd across the main bridge leading to Westfield and beyond as my usual route home via Pudding Mill Lane had been reserved for away fans. It took about half an hour to get to Stratford station, a shuffling, staccato journey punctuated by the odd celebratory song and bouts of bellyaching about the route.

Then we all got on trains and went home.

My experience that evening bore almost no relation to the grim and graphic accounts published by reputable news outlets – and I’m willing to bet the vast majority of the 40,000-odd home fans who attended the game felt similarly bemused by the coverage.

One fan, interviewed on Radio Five Live and widely quoted in articles on newspaper sites like the Evening Standard’s], said ‘if they don’t close the stadium… then someone could get killed there.”

Think about that for a moment. Not just hurt, but killed.

In a piece for The Guardian
, West Ham fan and writer John Stern asked the question: ‘Who would subject their kids to that kind of atmosphere?’ (As an aside, I do, John. Two of them, aged eight and nine, every week. And they love it).

The front page of The Daily Telegraph’s sports section today (Friday) carried a graphic repeating some MPs calls for West Ham to play future matches at the London Stadium behind closed doors should fan trouble persist.

When David Sullivan claimed recently ‘lots of people want the migration to fail’, this was the kind of coverage and outcry he would have had in mind.

Yes, the scenes inside the ground at the end of the match on Wednesday night were deplorable and anyone identified as throwing missiles at other fans – other human beings – should be banned from attending football again.

Likewise there are still clear and identifiable safety issues at a stadium which still isn’t set up for football fans. I’ve been very critical of both the board and the stadium operators in the past and will continue to be so until they address these problems fully. It is shocking in this day and age that some parents are afraid take their children to watch a football match for whatever reason.

But to paint Wednesday’s ugly scenes as some sort of return to the pitched warfare witnessed on the terraces thirty years ago isn’t just wrong, it’s also irresponsible. But it seems that, having predicted carnage in the run up to the game, most media outlets were going to write about it whether the facts supported that assessment or not. One frothing-mouthed article published on even quoted a local resident’s complaint that “there was chanting and hollering”. At a football match? Surely not! Padlock the turnstiles immediately!

At the risk of seeming paranoid it’s difficult to read such coverage without detecting an agenda at work. The resentment and jealousy of the deal West Ham negotiated to secure the London Stadium has been writ large across both social and mainstream media for some time now.

A prevailing narrative has been established that the club have overreached, that the ground is too big for the club, and any evidence supporting that view is highlighted at any opportunity, no matter how tenuous. The disproportionate reaction to Wednesday’s events conforms to that pattern.

The Mirror’s Dave Kidd identified a bloodlust on the part of the posturing morons in both ends on Wednesday night. Sadly it’s since been more than matched by those clamouring for West Ham’s pound of flesh.