, , , , , , ,

Thursday 4th August 2016 ko 19.45

UEFA Europa League 3rd Qualifying Round 2nd Leg

WEST HAM UNITED 3 (Kouyate 8 25 Feghouli 81)


West Ham won 4-2 on aggregate

Att 53,914

Entry £15

Programme £3.50

When you go to the first match at a new stadium one or two things you take for granted go out of the window. There are no end of means of getting to the Olympic Stadium in East London, West Ham’s new home, but stood at the concourse of London Marylebone station there were quite a few people in claret and blue looking slightly perplexed. It really wasn’t a case of follow the stream of colours.

I opted to walk the 400 yards to Baker Street station and take the Jubilee line to Stratford. That proved to be the route used by the majority, you’ll get a much quieter trip if you take Metropolitan/Circle/ Hammersmith & City line to Liverpool Street then change on to either the Javelin or Central Line. I used that method on my return and bypassed the packed platforms. In time people will pick their preferred routes and it will calm down, but until then it does pay to do your research.

You do need time to visit here though. I caught the 5.08 train from Haddenham & Thame Parkway station and I reached my seat 15 minutes before kick-off. I was directed through the Westfield Shopping Centre where the stewarding was numerous and nervous but worked well. The pedestrian stop/go controls weren’t used before the game but very much so afterwards. The attitude of a few patrons then was plain idiotic, surely it stands to reason that a tube station’s platform has a finite capacity? The 15 minute stroll through the 2012 Olympic Park does help to thin the human traffic.

A lot has been said on how and why West Ham United are here. On one hand as much as people loved the Boleyn Ground it was well past it’s sell-by date and a move to Stratford represents an acceptable distance to travel. For the London Legacy Development Corporation the situation was far tougher.

On one hand they had an 80,000 seat athletics stadium that once the Olympics were over needed a use. Athletics fans won’t like me for saying this but aside from the Olympics the sport’s mass appeal is limited, and there is already one “White Elephant” athletics stadium in the capital, at Crystal Palace. It put the LLDC in a poor negotiating position, and the result is the that West Ham’s 99-year lease is very much in the club’s favour.

But main thing is that the stadium is being used, and that the Olympic legacy is being respected, athletics will continue be hosted here. You really don’t have to look too far to find multi-sport event stadia that have failed to find a post-event use. Just look at the Don Valley or the Athens Olympic stadia. If not West Ham then who?

But for the majority of the time the London Stadium (I await the sponsored name with some trepidation) will be configured for football. I missed out on the London Olympics in 2012, so on the 4th anniversary of “Super Saturday” when Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah, and Greg Rutherford all won Gold it seemed fitting to visit the site of their triumph.

But despite the hugely expensive conversion, in no small part caused by extending the roof to a world record 84 metres at it’s deepest point the stadium is a compromise between the needs of football and athletics. I took my seat, compact camera around my neck and a fan laughed,

“You’ll need a longer lens than that, mate!”

And you could see his point. Yes, the lower tier is constructed  to cover the running track ends but the sides of the top tier are still curved to follow athletics. You are some distance from the action, and you can see the track through the translucent blue sheeting. It’s far from being a bad view, but it’s not a view as good as purpose-built football stadia such as Arsenal or Wembley. It’s a good compromise, but a compromise nonetheless.

This wasn’t really meant to be the first West Ham game here. Juventus had been lined up for the grand opening three days later, but Europa League qualification was a bonus in more ways than one. The first leg in Slovenia had been lost 2-1 so this game was nicely competitive. Due to a mixture of discount pricing and simple anticipation the game sold out, and even though West Ham didn’t look remotely match-fit they won both the game and the tie easily. But here’s something to consider if you’re taking in an evening game.

I made my way through the various pedestrian control measures back to Stratford station and jumped immediately on a Central Line train, changing at Liverpool Street. I reached Marylebone’s concourse around 11pm. There were only 2 more trains back to Haddenham, so extra-time would have left me stranded.

The London Stadium is a straightforward place to reach by public transport of you have 3 things in your favour. One is to be reasonable able of foot, there is plenty that you have no option but to cover by walking. Another is to be organised, this isn’t one to make up as you go along, and the third is to allow yourself plenty of time.

But as much as the stadium does everything West Ham United need it to, there are two things it will never be. It will of course never be the Boleyn Ground, that is home and it’s gone. But despite the largesse the London Stadium will never entirely be a football stadium. It’s a compromise, albeit a good one, and one any self-respecting football fan should pay a visit.