A football fan’s memory of his first home game is so often reflected on that it’s hard to not be clichéd. So often they’ll recall how their childhood hero scored a late goal against a big rival and from then on they were addicted. Like heroin. My first trip to the home of West Ham United - Upton Park - was different - a 0-0 draw.
I remember nothing of the game itself, my memory of the place though is cinematically vivid, for everything was bigger than me as I walked down Green Street surrounded by blurs of claret and blurs of blue and sounds of I’m West Ham ‘til I die. The indescribable crescendo as the music cuts out and all of a sudden; Fortunes always hiding.
Moving to the Olympic Stadium promises fortune. It is a business decision first and foremost and it is only regretful that the motive of pound signs carries such weight in the beautiful game. Small clubs – hell, recently relegated clubs – cannot and will never become big clubs without money. Recent history is enough to prove this. Football games are won as much in the board room as they are on the training ground, and clubs like ours don’t stand a chance.
The prospect of greater revenue is the greatest aphrodisiac (ironically in the case of Sullivan) to our co-owners, and of course they’d sooner follow their Coutts accounts than their hearts. I am trying to find some beauty in this ugly thing but it is proving impossible.
That is not to say that there is not a great deal of significance in West Ham being the first choice to take over the Olympic Stadium. It is the weightiest of honours to have the blessing of London in becoming custodians of the amphitheater that hosted the greatest show in earth this summer. Furthermore, I do not fear that the weight of such history will weigh too heavy on our shoulders; we are well enough acquainted to the weight of history playing in an arena that is cast over by the eye of England’s greatest skipper.
One thing that would weigh on West Ham, however, is the size of this great stadium. Indeed, a half full, but beautifully architectured arena cannot provide the same atmosphere as a packed-out Boleyn. I cannot think about leaving that atmosphere, those sounds ringing around our home. It is just the case that the LLDC’s kindness has been humbling, but it’s hard to move on.
Somewhere rooted in the back of my mind, however, is the thought that we are on the cusp of being a very good Premier League side. Now could be the time to adapt or die, to progress or to be left stagnant amidst our own mid-table mediocrity and the development of teams around us. Rare is the chance to break into the upper echelons of the promised land of English League Football, and the Olympic Stadium could, perhaps, be our agent of progress, the way in which we can realize our dreams of true success.
It has been so long since real silverware, so long since contenting victory and East London has been a wasteland for it. The Olympic Stadium could be the lilac breeding out of the dead land, mixing memory and tales of victory, of Bobby, of Brooking, with desire, the desire to do it all again, and to do it now.
The allure of glory is painfully tempting until considering what would be left behind. It’s the walk down Green Street, the pints in the Queens and the Boleyn, the statue of Bobby and our boys, the fruit market, the chicken run, the chills at five-to-three on a Saturday when you look around Upton Park and see thirty-thousand singing with you. It’s something that you cannot buy, cannot take from us, and is why I and nearly 90% of fans can’t bear the thought about leaving our home
You can’t invent tradition, you can’t invent culture, and you cannot even transfer it. Our history is what we hold dearest, for without it we have little, it’s what makes us more than a club and makes us bigger than just football. From today, all that has changed.