By J Hutcherson (Sep 26, 2016) US Soccer Players – It didn’t take long for the home fans and pretty much everybody else to decide Premier League soccer doesn’t belong at London Stadium. That’s the stadium formerly known as Olympic Stadium. West Ham beat out Spurs to take over that stadium amid plenty of controversy. Their prize is quickly becoming questionable. Not helping at all was last weeks’ footage of their old stadium being partially blown up for an action movie. Seriously.
For anyone not familiar with London Stadium, the likeliest route there via public transportation takes you through the mall. That’s not a fancy name for a park or some scenic walkway. Westfield Stratford City is a massive mall. Three stories indoors. A food court. The kind of retail masterpiece you’d associate with an American suburb in the 90s. Not to be outdone by the American move to town centers, there’s something that looks an awful lot like that between the mall and the path to the stadium.
There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that if the path took you to a great stadium. It doesn’t, and that’s not necessarily a knock against West Ham. Both of the Premier League teams angling for the Olympic Stadium new it had issues. Built for track and field with plans to remove the upper deck, no one involved in the initial design was planning with soccer in mind. Why would they be? The big deal about the Olympic Stadium was that it would become a small but perfect track and field venue. All of a sudden, it was good enough for soccer, at least in theory.
Do we already have enough “in practice” to make a strong case against London Stadium as the new home for West Ham United or any other soccer team? Plenty of people certainly think so. It probably helps that West Ham isn’t winning. Losing 3-0 at home to Southampton isn’t going to help convince anybody that West Ham did the right thing.
What’s interesting from an American perspective is this seems oddly familiar. A team moves to a new stadium and interest picks up. That’s happened with West Ham, selling significantly more tickets than their old stadium’s capacity. It’s what happens on the field that has to keep up with that demand. A team might buy themselves a season of newness, but sooner than later they have to be competitive. If not, they’ll see that extra interest drop off.
That’s not supposed to be how it works in England. The ideal is a club of dedicated lifelong supporters making it part of the framework of a neighborhood. London Stadium doesn’t really have a neighborhood. It’s surrounded by Olympic Park and across from that shopping mall. West Ham’s old neighborhood is three and a half miles away. They didn’t necessarily give that up, but they certainly reinterpreted their connection to the local area.
It’s that part of the equation that’s causing a large part of the problem for West Ham only a couple of months into their debut season at London Stadium. What was the point of disconnecting from their neighborhood if the result was going to be questionable sight lines, hassles, and lopsided losses? It’s all too much, with no feeling that this is the start of something better.
With no take backs at this late date, West Ham is in a position that’s also familiar from an American perspective. A pro sports team finagles what they want from a city government only to quickly figure out that it isn’t what they really want at all. There’s even the waiting out the lease scenario, with more than a few American pro sports teams counting time until they can seriously negotiate a nicer new home. Of all the things English soccer could’ve borrowed from sports business as usual in the USA, the stadium game was a surprise.
J Hutcherson started covering soccer in 1999 and has worked as the general manager of the US National Soccer Team Players Association since 2002. Contact him firstname.lastname@example.org.
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