Back to football’s bad old days?


“Even if you were a movie director, and you were planning to do a movie about this, and you had boxes [to tick], what would you say? Who would we play against, against the biggest club in England, Manchester United. And you wouldn't want it to be an early game, so it was late at night.

And with a bit of rain. You wouldn't want a calm game, but a 3-2 thriller. It was exactly like the fairy-tale this stadium deserves.”

It was, and yet some of those same factors contributed to vandalism and violence that will always be remembered as part of the story of the last ever game at Upton Park. The high-profile opponent and the evening kick-off made for a fervent atmosphere that simply did not exist when Swansea City arrived last Saturday afternoon. It would surely not have been the same even if Swansea on Saturday, rather than Manchester United on Tuesday, had been the final match.

Of course hyped-up fans are part of football but it is the job of the authorities to ensure nothing gets out of hand. The fans who vandalised the coach must be punished, and the Metropolitan Police and West Ham United are committed to doing so. But those fans had the opportunity to behave badly, the necessary but not sufficient condition to incidents like this.

Bilic said afterwards that where he lives in Canary Wharf “if you poke your nose you have a couple of policemen around you”, but that outside the ground there were “50,000 people and no police”.

Those numbers are not quite accurate but the evening could surely have been handled better.

There were simply far too many people on Green Street in the build-up to the match. It was chaotic and unsafe even before the United bus tried to turn into the road and reach the car-park.

David Sullivan did make some ill-advised comments on Tuesday evening, but yesterday he was right when he went on to LBC radio. “I think we are terribly lucky there wasn''t a terrible tragedy last night,” he said. “I am acutely embarrassed.”

It is easy to say with hindsight, but the turnstiles might have opened earlier than they did. While the turnstiles aimed to open at 6.15pm, 90 minutes before kick-off, some faced technical difficulties and did not open until 6.30pm, by which point there were so many people on Green Street and Barking Road that the United coach could not safely reach the car-park. United got near enough to the ground to make the initial kick-off, had they walked the rest of the way, which of course was not an option. But the delay to kick-off, while inconvenient for some, did at least allow almost everyone with a ticket to get in in time. That would not have been the case at 7.45pm.

But if the evening was all about drawing a line under the 112 years at Upton Park, it was also a clear demonstration of why the club has to move. The issue is not so much the ground itself, as the space it is built on. This is was space that the club leased from the Catholic church in 1904, and bought from them in 1957. It is space surrounded by housing, and many tightly-packed terraces. It is space serviced by one Tube station, towards the far end of the District and Hammersmith and City lines. There are not enough trains, not enough buses and not enough parking.

The Olympic Stadium will not have these problems. It was tested four years ago by one of the world''s great sporting events, and has been tested again since. No-one is more attached to the current location than David Gold, who grew up on 442 Green Street, but he explained on Monday afternoon why the club has to move.

“I am emotionally attached [to Upton Park], but I am bright enough to know that nothing is forever and that it's time to move on,” Gold said. “The Olympic Stadium has five train stations.

We have one antiquated station, Upton Park, which I am sure they will close one day and turn into a museum piece. Here it is feeding a 35,000-seater stadium. People say 'why don't you develop Upton Park', but there is no room to develop Upton Park. The stadium was built before cars or buses. It has served its purpose, been a wonderful, wonderful experience, over 112 years. But it is time to move on.” – The Independent

Original source: Back to football’s bad old days?