In March 2013, West Ham United was finally confirmed as the new tenant of the Olympic Stadium. The team signed a 99-year lease in which the government agreed to put extra funding towards the costs of converting the site. West Ham effectively secured the stadium rent-free, paying only £2.5 million per year in rent. A number of running costs at the stadium, including maintenance, security, and utilities, are funded by taxpayers.
Fighting off competition from neighbours Leyton Orient and Tottenham felt like a huge achievement for the Hammers. After an emotional final season at Upton Park (during which the club got into Europe and achieved its highest finish in 14 years), there was a feeling of optimism surrounding West Ham.
Two and a half months into the season, however, things could not have been going much worse for the Hammers. During the qualifying stages of the Europe League, the club got knocked out by Astra Giurgiu and had to wait until 22 October to record two home league victories – the first had been secured on 21 August.
West Ham’s attack has been inadequate. Not one of its strikers has recorded a goal this season. On-loan striker Simone Zaza has had a limited impact since arriving at the club, while record signing Andre Ayew and Andy Carroll have missed most of the season due to injury. Expectations were high after West Ham’s first season under Slaven Bilić. The team finished seventh and played an entertaining brand of football. Dimitri Payet starred in midfield, finishing with nine league goals and 12 assists. West Ham beat its record for the least number of Premier League games lost in a single season, losing just eight games to beat the previous low of 13 set in both 1998-99 and 1999-2000.
Because it was the club’s final season at Upton Park, every home game had a special atmosphere, making the already intimidating field a nightmare for opposing teams. This was apparent in the fact that West Ham only lost three league games at home last season.
The London Stadium has thus far failed to recapture the famous Upton Park atmosphere. Whilst hearing more than 50,000 supporters belt out “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” before every game seems to set the tone for a raucous atmosphere, the London Stadium doesn’t have the aesthetic for a proper football stadium. In the first home match against Bournemouth, some fans at the top of the stadium did not even have seats. West Ham legend Billy Bonds claimed that the London Stadium pitch is “like an island out in the middle.” The atmosphere has not only been quieter than Upton Park, but also more toxic. The Astra Giurgiu match in August set a dangerous precedent. West Ham fans were seen fighting amongst each other, reportedly because of disagreements over standing room.
In subsequent matches, there have been numerous issues both within and outside of London Stadium. Two West Ham fans were arrested outside the stadium on suspicion of affray, and another was arrested on suspicion of assaulting a police officer after a match against Middlesbrough. During the game, West Ham fans pelted Middlesbrough fans with coins and bottles. The situation was so severe that the Middlesbrough chairman’s daughter tweeted about the “disgusting behaviour” of some of the West Ham fans.
West Ham amped up the security for its match against Chelsea in the EFL Cup. Police officers were deployed inside the stadium concourses, and rapid response units were placed outside of the stadium. More than 900 stewards were on duty. Unsurprisingly, trouble ensued in this fierce local derby. Missiles, including ripped seats, coins and bottles, were thrown between the two sets of supporters. Despite the presence of riot police, some West Ham fans foolishly attempted to run through segregation lines to charge at Chelsea fans during stoppage time. A match that West Ham actually won 2-1 to set up a big quarter-final match at Manchester United was overshadowed by these disturbing scenes.
The move to the London Stadium was meant to be a natural progression forward for the Hammers. Instead, the move has brought us back to the dark days of hooliganism.