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Empty seats at the Ems? You should try the Tax Payers’ Stadium!

By Tony Attwood

You might recall a little piece I wrote about the outrageous allegations in the Telegraph about empty seats at matches at the Emirates.  Using faked and misleading photographs the paper tried to make out that vast swathes of the ground were vacant during matches – even though the article admitted the number of unoccupied seats in the ground was around 1000 to 1500 – between 1.5% and 2% of capacity.

Compare and contrast if you will the situation the Tax Payers’ Stadium – the stadium whose unofficial name commemorates the fact that I, and perhaps you, paid for the wretched thing.  For the game between State Aid United and Chelsea 20% of the seats were left empty.  Some on purpose some because everyone knew in advance what was going to happen.

But even that didn’t stop a spot of bother in the stands.

Perhaps the greatest tragedy of the fighting in and around the Tax Payers Stadium last night was the fact that it was all utterly predictable and indeed was predicted.  And it happened because it simply isn’t a football ground.

There are no less than five fundamental problems.  

One is the layout of the stadium, which is designed as an athletics stadium, and so doesn’t afford good views, with even the closest to the pitch, a long distance away.  I have been told by several people that everyone wants to stand, and even when they do they often can’t see very well.

The second is that the ground itself was designed for events which would be attended by people coming along for a half day or even full day event – meaning it is made for easy movement around the arena – not what you really want in a Premier League ground where segregation is required.  The consequences are noted below.

The third is that it is built in a park, where it was anticipated that happy families would meander and mingle before and after events, bathed in the glorious glow of the Olympics.  And that’s where pitched and running battles can be had.

The fourth is it is run by the owners of State Aid United who seem to be congenitally incapable of sorting out issues with the local police force over such basics as a suitable radio system for communication inside the ground.  The owners’ view seems to be “we haven’t paid for anything else – why should we pay for your radios?”

The fifth was explained by the Guardian, which wrote, “when the Chelsea supporters in the lower tier of the Sir Trevor Brooking stand made for the exit behind them they had to cross over a concourse and as some West Ham fans surged towards them the stewards fought to keep the rival factions apart. Objects including coins and ripped-up seats were thrown and, with a bottle-neck seeming to have formed… “

It is fact a stadium that is fundamentally flawed from the point of view of football, and mugs like me – people who believe that one should pay one’s taxes – are the ones paying for a) the mess and b) policing the mess.

So the club now has a standard line which is just cut and pasted after each incident.  “West Ham United and London Stadium partners unreservedly condemn the behaviour of individuals involved in incidents during this fixture with ….” (just fill in the name of the opposition).

So as the police now tell us, “Seats inside the Olympic Stadium were ripped out and thrown, bottles were hurled…” and instantly you see the real issue – how the hell were people smuggling bottles into the ground?   Another issue, I suspect in which the owners of the insulting named “London Stadium” will blame someone else.  Because it is never, ever, their fault.

Thus we had riot police on the streets of London once again, as, according to the Telegraph, there was fighting as “rival supporters clashed on the concourse at the back of the lower tier of the Sir Trevor Brooking Stand”

Which simply raises the question – how the hell is a design of a stadium that allows rival supporters to mix in this way, given a safety certificate?   At least the Telegraph seems to agree saying, “there were serious questions to be asked of the level of security inside their new ground, which cracked under the strain of hosting a big match.”

Of course I am not saying we haven’t had problems at the Ems, but the design of the ground with the four controlled entry points onto the walkways around the ground helps enormously.   Yes we have the flares problem, and the problem of Tottenham fans throwing coins at ambulance men and at Theo as he was carried from the pitch, and yes, of course I know about the breaking down of advertising billboards at WHL by Arsenal fans – but WHL is a very old ground trying to cope with modern situations.  The Tax Payers’ Stadium is a new ground that should never have been given away for football usage.

It would be nice if the FA could be relied upon to do something, but they were complicit in the award of the ground to State Aid, so it looks like things will just be allowed to roll on and on.

And there are problems everywhere.  Indeed one of the problems is seemingly that because of previous issues the number of turnstiles available to Chelsea supporters to enter the ground was seriously reduced – a ludicrous approach to take since it just increased tension.

One good thing that might come out of this is that people will start to realise that this is not a good place to have football, and that it is a deal that should never have happened.   We know that if State Aid get relegated the tiny amount of rent they pay will be slashed even further, but maybe the lower crowds they might then get could help reduce the problems.

As the Independent pointed out, “the violence soon appeared to spill out beyond the ground itself, with reports suggesting that fights had broken out within the Olympic park itself.   Police officers were subsequently required to escort the visiting Chelsea fans from the ground to the nearby Statford station.”

The trouble is though, that is a very difficult area to contain, and now everyone who wants a fight will know where to go and how to avoid the escorts.  It’s not like the old days in the narrow lanes around the Boleyn ground where the environment controlled where you could and could not be.  Kettling was employed on occasion, and the best bet after a match was to sit tight in the ground and wait.

Of course there is another longer term problem – and that was the decision by Margaret Thatcher – a British politician of ill-repute from days gone by – to remove any notion of society from the lexicon.   Yet society does exist – we see it everywhere from religious groups to family units from groups of supporters to gangs of marauding bankers destroying our country’s economy.   Only when a politician of some renown finally gets up and says “actually there is such a thing as society, and as politicians we are responsible for a lot of it” will we really start to get things resolved.
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In the meanwhile, let’s once again remember the claim.   “Be in no doubt, we are part of the most successful stadium migration in history.”

16 comments to Empty seats at the Ems? You should try the Tax Payers’ Stadium!

  • nicky

    This problem, which will be on-going I’m sure, merely emphasises the peril of a football club taking on a ground which was constructed for another purpose. It just doesn’t work.
    The football section of the Olympic Games is never played at the stadium hosting the athletics section.
    Spectating football and athletics are two differing disciplines and always will be. West Ham should have known this. 😉

  • Andy L

    Now that Police stations are closing especially at weekends where do the banned hooligans go to report and therefore miss the games? It is apparent that without turnstyle staff and just well intentioned stewards in attendance any hooligan can gain access as , even at the EMS , there appears to be only the cursory of checks. Let’s face it West Ham have always had a reputation for this sort behaviour as have Chelsea and the Totts.

  • Max

    Tony, I’m surprised you consider the “London” Stadium inappropriate. After all, we have a stadium sponsored by Emirates Airlines, thus called the Emirates Stadium. As WHU’s stadium is sponsored, however reluctantly or unwittingly, by London and its residents, it seems a wholly appropriate name – though cruelly rubbing Londoners’ noses in the fact.

    A propos, I read this morning of a possible sponsorship tie-up between the scrawny chickens new ground and UBER. why do I find that amusingly unsettling?

  • Mike T

    I am able to write first hand having attended last nights game. This article is very well written and reflects the position near enough 100%
    It is a long time since I have felt threatened at a match , although I didn’t feel 100% comfortable at Man City’s ground which was likewise for another purpose but in no way did it hold the same fear factor.
    No doubt a lot more will come out but the throwing of coins and other objects, including glass beer bottles, had nothing to do with the stadium design it was more about terrible security.
    As we all know millions were spent converting the stadium but be under no illusions this arena is not fit from purpose and no amount of addition tweaks will make it so.
    There was no doubt that a number were looking for some sort of trouble but the layout, location and indeed facilities and transport arrangements will not be solved by just ramping up levels of policing.

  • Pete

    Max – a great way for Uber to lose business – particularly in London but also elsewhere. They certainly wouldn’t have my business (as indeed is the case for other sponsors of detested clubs. No Holsten beer, no Samsung phones etc).

    As for Karen Brady’s infamous comment. That will haunt her for years to come. I was teasing a WHU supporting acquaintance of mine yesterday (BEFORE the game) about violence at their new home and he wasn’t really seeing the funny side…

  • SamuelAkinsolaAdebosin

    Are the Totts lucky to have missed out of the bidding for the London Olympics Stadium? I think they should thank God to have missed out. Otherwise they would have been the people now facing this mess arising from unstable Stadium to hold football matches that the London Olympics Stadium alias the Tax Payers Stadium has unforeseenly turned out to be, despite the huge amount of money that was used to convert it for staging professional football matches.

    What is the way forward to arrest this ugliness, that’s for the Stadium owners and State Aids United to figure out and not the business of Arsenal and their supporters to worry ourselves over it. Maybe State Aids United should seek for advice from the Airport Stadium on how they managed to overcome the challenges they faced when they first moved in into the Commonwealth Stadium.

  • Robert

    Nice post, Tony. And thanks for the first-hand view too, Mike T.

    I suspect we’re going to hear a lot more about this dog’s breakfast, but the cretins responsible for this mess will never admit to their part in the disaster. The days of taking responsibility for one’s actions are dead and buried. The government will blame it all on Remainers, and West Ham will refuse to fund the necessary changes.

    Such a shame. It was a beautiful iconic stadium in 2012, now ruined by West Ham’s ugliness plastered all over it. And will it take the death of a supporter or supporters for the senile FA to take action?

    And Samuel, you’re very wrong. It is the business of Arsenal and their supporters, certainly the ones who travel to away matches, to voice their concerns and act accordingly. Best of all would be if the other 19 clubs in the PL censured West Ham, and all supporters acted by demanding their safety is secured before ever attending another match at the Tax Payers Stadium.

    As for Uber, those techno-capitalist destroyers make perfect partners for Smug Brady.

  • HenryB

    There were all sorts of shenanigans involving some dubious dealings when Wham and Tottering were vie-ing for the free gift of the Olympic Stadium – so nothing new there.

    Not that I want to be fair to the Totts but they did realise the stadium was not suitable for football purposes, and part of tier plan as I recall, was to knock it down and build the new Totts football stadium on the site.

    The Wham board decided to take the cheap way out and stick with what was there – always knowing it was not suitable or safe presumably.

    Depressingly it just shows that the ugly face of football and its territorial gangs still exist and are only too happy to come out and mix it at the first opportunity. 🙁

  • MickHazel

    One thing is absolutely certain and that is that the owners of West Ham will come out of this a hell of a lot richer than before and that was undoubtedly their main motivation for the stadium move. The feelings and interests of the West Ham supporters and the long term future and integrity of the club were ignored in the pursuit of maximum financial benefit to the owners.
    I would like to think that nothing like this would ever happen at Arsenal.

  • HenryB

    If anyone is interested in the appalling ‘deal’ between WHam and LLDC, here it is;

    – West Ham will pay £2.5m a year in rent over their 99-year lease – a grand total of £247.5 million
    – The £2.5m annual rental figure will halve to £1.25m a season if West Ham are relegated
    – The 60,000 capacity stadium will eventually have cost [LLDC] £701m following a £272m conversion to make it suitable for football
    – West Ham will pay only £15m towards the conversion cost
    – The LLDC (London Legacy Development Corporation) will keep the first £4m of any naming rights deal for the stadium over a 20-year period and that anything over that will be split 50/50
    – The LLDC will also keep the first £500,000 of any profit on catering, with anything over that amount being split 70/30
    – LLDC will meet all the running costs for the stadium, providing everything from stewards to corner flags
    – West Ham must pay an additional £100,000 for each match they play over an agreed total of 25 per season
    – West Ham must pay up to £100,000 per season extra if they finish in the top half of the Premier League
    – The club must also pay up to £1m in the unlikely event they win the Champions League

    Guaranteed to make the owners millions once they get sponsorship for the naming rights for the Olympic Stadium [Bollix to London Stadium]

  • nicky

    @Henry B,
    The last para of your comment says it all.
    There are those among us who use football matches as a source of violence at the slightest opportunity.
    If their team is winning or losing it doesn’t matter.
    I remember one visit my wife and I made to Highbury, only to notice with some dismay, that one of our seats had been clearly slashed by a sharp knife or razor.
    We can only rely on vigilant stewards and the police in order to deal with these morons and not allow them to win. 😉

  • Polo

    Can never understand why so called ‘adults’ seek violence at a football match instead of being civilised and enjoy the game with their fellow man. It’s unbelievable that we are in the 21st century and segregation is needed to watch a sporting event.

  • Notoverthehill

    Henry B, you are wrong in one respect.

    The rent is index linked with RPIso that will increase with inflation. Assuming an annual inflation of 2% over 99 years that rent could increase to £17.8m per year but TV and ticket revenues would increase likewise. It could mean West Ham pay in excess of £763m in rent in the next 99 years which is more the combined £702m it cost to build the stadium.

    As a matter of fact, West Ham hired a former Arsenal employee to manage the migration to the London Stadium. Angus Kinnear, is the Managing Director. Mr Kinnear, was responsible for the migration from Highbury to The Emirates!

    As for Tony’s dislike of Mrs Thatcher, she is dead. WHO, attacks a dead person.

  • MickHazel

    HenryB wrote….
    ‘The 60,000 capacity stadium will eventually have cost [LLDC] £701m following a £272m conversion to make it suitable for football’
    In fact £272 wasted because it appears it is still not suitable for football.
    For that money they could have pulled it all down and built a fit for purpose new one.
    What a gigantic cock up, and we foot the bill. Whoever is responsible for this fiasco should be brought to book.

  • MickHazel

    correction…. £272 million wasted…

  • Gord

    I see in the news, that a small number of Reading fans had been ejected from Wenger Stadium. Further investigation has apparently caused Reading to suspend seasons tickets for some of those people.

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