great soccer players, few awards and, above all, an unaccustomed stadium
Lives and works in London
Lives and works in London
While soccer city London is mostly known for its top clubs Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea, West Ham United, tomorrow AZ’s opponent in the Conference League semifinals, also has a remarkably large fan base. The club has many fans in the East End and also in surrounding regions such as Essex and Kent.
Chris Gotobed has been attending his club’s games for decades. He points out that West Ham draws 60,000 for home games, even though it has not won any major prizes in recent decades. “That says it all. West Ham has always had a lot of fans.”
The Cockney Boys
It is mostly a working class crowd that the club attracts. In the stands you can still mostly hear the old-fashioned London cockney accent, which is intertwined with East London. In fact, one of the club’s nicknames is “The Cockney Boys.
In the process, the club and its fans are also known for humor and self-deprecation.
“West Ham has something cheeky,” says supporter Andy Slight. “As fans, we probably get noticed because we don’t take everything too seriously. When we got relegated (in 2011) you saw the fans doing the conga dance. Everyone did it, because what else could we do about relegation?”
The players themselves also seem to appreciate the humor. “The happiest time in my career was probably at West Ham,” Craig Bellamy once told the Daily Mail. “The first year I was injured, but the people were great. Even if they mocked you, it was still funny.”
The striker, who also played for clubs such as Manchester City and Liverpool, got that same feeling within the club. “The training facilities were poor, but if you whined about it, the first thing you heard was, ‘Well, it was good enough for Bobby Moore.’ Then you’re talked out of it, haha.”
Defender Moore is one of West Ham’s greatest club legends. He won the European Cup Winners’ Cup with the club in 1965 and the World Cup with England a year later, in which his West Ham teammates Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst (three times) were responsible for all the goals in the final against West Germany (4-2).
Since then, it has often been recalled that it was actually West Ham that won the World Cup for England.
This year West Ham is experiencing a very mixed season. The good performances in Europe somewhat disguise the mediocre results in the Premier League. Relegation is still a possibility, although the team has shown its best side against Manchester United.
Afterwards, the fans loudly sing along with the club song “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” and “Twist and Shout” by The Beatles, while the players walk a lap of honor. London Stadium may not have the magic of its former home port of Upton Park, but especially during evening games, beautiful scenes take place.
Before the home game against Manchester United, there is a buzz around Broadway in London’s Stratford district beforehand, where local pubs such as Queens Head, The Abbey Tap and Ye Olde Black Bull gather hundreds of West Ham United fans.
The pubs are a 15-minute walk from the 2016 London Stadium, which is located in the Olympic Park built for the 2012 Games.
A more modern atmosphere surrounds the stadium, where entertainment and live music should serve a multidimensional audience. No air of attenuated beer or overflowing urinals here, inseparable from the characteristic, old stadiums.
In that respect, everything here smells and feels different from Boleyn Ground, also known as Upton Park, where West Ham played its home games for no less than 112 years.
The home ground was one with the club, but when the owners were offered the chance to use the Olympic Stadium for a rent of several million euros a year, it was a so-called no-brainer.
Fans don’t feel at home
To illustrate: Tottenham Hotspur, which was also in the running to play at the Olympic stadium, built a new soccer temple worth over a billion euros. So West Ham saved themselves huge money in that regard.
The transition does come with a symbolic price tag, however, as fans do not yet feel at home in the new accommodation.
Five kilometers away before the game against Manchester United is quiet in The Boleyn Tavern, the pub that stands around the corner from the old stadium, where a modern apartment complex has now risen. The bar was known as one of the greatest West Ham pubs, but today only a few fans visit.
Among them Mandy Slight and the aforementioned Chris and Andy. “There is no atmosphere in the new stadium. There are many fans who no longer come to the home games,” the latter lamented.
Still, the club feeling runs deep and the trio continues to come faithfully. Andy: “I still go to the games because West Ham is my life.” Wife Mandy adds: “Our daughter is now 26 and has had a season ticket since she was three, so that shows how long we have been going too.”
The last time the club won a major prize dates back to 1980, when it seized the FA Cup. The club did play in Europe regularly, the last time being against a Dutch club in 1999.
1999: world goal Lampard for West Ham against Heerenveen
A young Frank Lampard, now manager of Chelsea, decided the away game with sc Heerenveen in the then Intertoto Cup. Lampard is one of many players from the club’s illustrious youth training program.
The latest gem from The Academy of Football to keep an eye on is Declan Rice. Top clubs are said to be looking at over a hundred million euros for him next summer. Indeed, business-wise the club is doing extremely well, invariably ranking among the richest 20 clubs in Europe.