Have West Ham Lost Their Identity?

West Ham fans love a good moan to be honest; we’re known for it it’s just tradition at this point. We moaned when Allardyce got us out of the Championship and established us as a safe mid-table team in the premier league (the football was dire at times to be fair), we still boo Jermaine Defoe for jumping ship over ten years ago, and we have a 10 verse song mocking Lampards weight. So maybe everything’s actually fine and we’re just over exaggerating a few teething problems that’ll sort themselves out eventually, the owners are actual West Ham fans after all which is rare for football clubs nowadays. But maybe we’re right, maybe it was a huge mistake leaving Upton Park, we really are losing our identity and are on our way to becoming East London’s very own Corporate/Westfield/Library F.C.

First things first; the idea of actually leaving our home, growing up I remember me and all the other kids being all giddy and excited about the Olympics being in our back garden and the games themselves were amazing, what I wasn’t ready for was the mass gentrification and social cleansing that started to occur in what is such a proudly working class and diverse part of London. Naturally then I was scared to death when we announced our Olympic Stadium bid and it was eventually approved. West Ham started out as amateur team in Thames Ironworks F.C. with the purpose of using football to the build morale of workers for an iron works company and has always retained its beginnings as part of its identity. To this day we’re still nicknamed the irons and have a huge passionate working class following; the proposed move just felt like we were trying to abandon that identity and go in the direction of clubs like Arsenal where corporate hospitality and prawn sandwiches have been embraced with open arms.

The opinion of us as a fan base was very divided. Many didn’t want to leave our home but some, like our owners, thought we needed the move to compete with the bigger clubs and reach new heights; there was literally a 50:50 split. Personally I don’t even see the appeal of being a “big” club, West Ham have never won the league and we only have four major honours to our name (excluding our  World Cup in 1966 of course) and that hasn’t stopped us coming for the last 100 years; to be honest we’re sh*t and being a big club is overrated anyway.

As the move got closer I started to try and make peace with leaving, there was talk of safe standing and the club had announced a new season ticket band with a price of £289 and even £99 for children with games working out to around a fiver for under 16’s. For years English football clubs have exploited fans loyalty with extortionate ticket price rises and getting away with it. Here was my club setting an example to the rest of the Premier League on affordable football for all, a season ticket people can actually afford? Maybe we were going in the right direction after all. A few weeks before the season the club announced it had sold over 50,000 season tickets, wow maybe we might actually fill the ground too.It turns out though that loads of these season tickets were sold to non West Ham fans. I’ve spoken to a TOTTENHAM fan that told me he bought 3 season tickets just because they were cheap, pictures started doing the rounds on social media of lads with Chelsea tops on and Man United fans with season tickets as well as touts hoarding up season tickets to sell individual games to fans that missed out, affordable football kidnapped for profit. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to go to another teams ground just to watch a game, football’s a global game and every team should always embrace visitors, but large amounts of fans of other teams exploiting the new cheap season ticket scheme to sell on for profit whilst actual fans miss out? This isn’t what we signed up for.

The first time we used the new ground was a Europa League qualifier and the difference between our old home and new one was telling. Gone were the burger vans, budget chicken shops and old school cafes of Green Street, replaced conveniently with a shiny Dominoes stand, carts selling popcorn and hot dogs with prices the wrong side of a fiver. The stadium itself reminds me of Wembley, clearly world class and epic but not the sort of place to intimidate opposition the way the Boleyn did and atmosphere was telling. It just didn’t feel like home and any chants started just felt forced and quickly petered out.

Then came our first Premier League home game and standing vs. sitting. At Upton Park in the two lower tiers behind the goal as well as a small section of the East Stand known as the Chicken Run everyone stood, everywhere else in the ground including the family sections sat. It might be against Premier League regulations to stand but the club didn’t enforce the rules in those certain areas and we all knew the score; you wanted to stand up and be a bit rowdy you got tickets in the unofficial standing areas, if you wanted to sit down you got them anywhere else. A week before the game however letters were sent out urging all fans to sit down with claims about our safety certificate not being approved and constant standers being banned for life were made. The game came and inevitably there were problems; Incidents of fans arguing due to people that wanted to stand being mixed with fans that wanted to sit down, stewards aggressively trying to make areas which were all standing sit and even some fans being kicked out. The atmosphere didn’t help with long periods of silence bar the odd half-hearted “stand up if you love West Ham”. The Bournemouth fans clearly picked up on this with chants of “Is this the Emirates” coming out of their end a few times. The next home game at Watford was marred by terrible incidents of fans fighting each other, accusing others around them of being fake fans as well as chants of “where were you at Upton Park” being sung one too many times. I can’t remember the fan base ever being this divided; the mood around West Ham right now just feels more and more toxic.

Finally fan safety, this wasn’t even considered to be an issue in the run up to the move in the way atmosphere, identity and making the place feel like home was. It’s taken for granted nowadays that safety for both home and away fans is a priority. At the Boleyn we had our regular stewards that we all knew and proper segregation. At the two Premier League games however the segregation was poor, fans were allowed to walk through the same turnstiles and walk through each other’s sections with ease, this led to some inexcusable fighting by certain sections of the support which is scary considering the games were against teams that we have no relevant rivalry with. There’s also NO police presence whatsoever and it doesn’t look like there will be anytime soon. The games are being treated by security like it’s a Michael Buble concert and if we play a rival like Spurs or Chelsea before we sort it out it won’t be pretty.

So what’s next? Is it all doom and gloom and has it all gone to sh*t? Despite being the pessimistic miserable guy I am I do think the situation can be saved. Our owners Gold and Sullivan are actually genuine West Ham fans and not exactly pantomime villains out to rinse the club for all it’s worth. Gold has in the past vocally supported safe standing which if we actually follow up on could potentially solve the standing issue as well as the atmosphere, a designated family section like in the Boleyn is also a must and security can be addressed too. We might not be the same old West Ham of Green Street E13 but if we can support our team properly and everyone’s getting along and intimidating the opposition maybe it won’t be so bad. Or we could all just stop moaning but that’ll never happen.