Hammers win race for Olympic Stadium

2012_olympic_stadium.jpg

West Ham United’s owners look all set to move the club from its historic Boleyn Ground to the Olympic Stadium at Stratford after Olympic Park Legacy Company (OPLC) officers recommended acceptance of the their bid, according to reports from BBC London.

The move still needs to be ratified by Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, and Government ministers. The Football Supporters’ Federation still opposes West Ham’s move into the Stratford stadium - read on to find out why.

Officers have reportedly recommended the bid of Hammers’ club owners David Gold and David Sullivan to the OPLC board of directors as preferable to that of Spurs. West Ham has promised to keep the 2012 Stadium’s running track in place whilst Spurs planned to demolish the track and stadium. The athletics “legacy” would then have been transferred to a refurbished Crystal Palace Athletics Stadium. While Spurs’ plan to move to the Olympic Stadium was widely opposed by fans – many of whom considered the club’s hierarchy  deluded in thinking they could move ten miles across London from North to East and still be “Tottenham” Hotspur – Hammers supporters appear split on the proposed move.

An initial poll (now deleted) on West Ham fans forum KUMB in 2010 showed that only 18% of the 410 fans polled backed a move to the Olympic Stadium. The overwhelming majority of Hammers fans who contacted the FSF in December 2010 also argued that the club’s owners were not showing enough respect for West Ham’s past and argued that the Olympic Stadium’s facilities were simply not up to scratch.

Whereas Manchester City’s stadium at Eastlands was built with football in mind (post 2002 Commonwealth Games) the facilities at Stratford were envisaged and designed for future use as the nation’s showcase venue for athletics after two-thirds of the seats had been removed to give the stadium a permanent capacity of 25,000. With the running track still in place fans will be some distance from the pitch – at least 45m and as much as 190m according to estimates in The Times.

Many Hammers fans are also furious at the club’s refusal to carry out meaningful consultation with supporters and feel it’s a perfect example of how a clique of executives can treat a wide supporter base with utter contempt. Those fans’ anger has been further intensified by misleading Olympic Stadium photo mock-ups which hide the athletics track. They also doubt Hammers’ vice-chairman Karen Brady's assertion that the club has a 17,000 strong season ticket waiting list.

Nevertheless, many Hammers have warmed to the idea of moving to the Olympic Stadium. The possibility that Spurs could have moved onto their patch is one factor amongst others that has seen opinions shift and the latest poll on KUMB shows that 57% of fans who voted backed the move (31% no, 10% undecided). This is an essentially defensive posture – will future polls show similar results now the danger of Spurs moving in has been snuffed out and the reality of moving away from the Boleyn Ground dawns?

Regardless of FSF members’ representations, or polls on fans’ forums, there is only one way the club can claim to have the backing of supporters – proper consultation needs to take place and take place now, ending in a properly organised and overseen vote of all supporters. FSF policy is that any stadium move should only take place after a full, free, and fair vote by the club’s supporters in favour of such a move.

However, on this occasion the FSF must also oppose West Ham’s bid (although we would still argue the club’s hierarchy has a duty to consult Hammers fans). It is FSF policy that ground moves should only take place when they have both the majority of fans’ support – which West Ham have not yet shown – and do not breach Premier League/Football League rules. Both leagues changed their rules to prevent a reoccurrence of the Wimbledon-Milton Keynes Dons saga.  Premier League rules on ground moves clearly state a move should not “adversely affect Clubs (or Football League clubs) having their registered grounds in the immediate vicinity of the proposed location”.

It is clear on this occasion that Leyton Orient fans fear for their club’s future if a Premier League giant sets up shop in traditional Orient territory – both the supporters’ club and supporters’ trust at Orient oppose West Ham’s plans. “Tesco moving next to the little sweet shop on the corner,” in Orient chairman Barry Hearn’s words. Given West Ham’s position on Spurs’ move many Hammers will be sympathetic to Orient’s plight.

Leyton Orient Fans' Trust chair, Doug Harper, said: “We are disappointed but not surprised by the decision by OPLC to give the Olympic Stadium to one of the two bidding clubs, in this case West Ham. It is now hoped that The Premier League will stop pussy footing around and actually abide by their own rules, which so far, they have had no signs of showing. It seems a bit disturbing that the final decision will be made by just two directors of the Premier League (chairman Sir Dave Richards and chief executive Richard Scudamore).

“Guidelines that were brought in after the franchising of Wimbledon to support and protect clubs like Leyton Orient are being ignored. If the legacy of these Olympics is that the East End loses one of its two pro clubs, because of the whims of multi-millionaires and those that are supposed to police and protect its clubs, then there are people that need to hang their heads in shame.”

“Why the Premier League has apparently waved through these plans we have no idea. It would appear to contradict their own rules,” said FSF chair Malcolm Clarke. “The FA has yet to express a view which is disappointing as the guardians of our game and the plans also breach promises made as part of the London 2012 Olympic Bid.”

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