Jack Cronin reports on a hugely symbolic change at the Boleyn, as the club sets its sights on Stratford.
West Ham United’s move to the Olympic Stadium took a significant step on Monday, as the famous John Lyall gates at the entrance of the Boleyn Ground were uprooted from their foundation – to embark on a new life in Stratford.
There is an imponderable potential that surrounds the club right now. In Slaven Bilic’s maiden season as boss, the Hammers are enjoying their most successful Premier League campaign – sitting pretty in fifth with nine games to go and a deliciously real possibility of a top four finish on the horizon.
As the Upton Park faithful continue to dream, the Boleyn prepares for its farewell. For 112 years, United’s home has hugged supporters like a favourite coat, a source of happiness and warmth. Of course, there have been relegations – a few scratches and bruises along the way, but fundamentally the Boleyn stands as a monument to good football, family and tradition.
It seems as though only yesterday that the world was gripped by a thrilling Olympic Games in Stratford, Newham was simply bursting with activity and like ants to a discarded ice-cream, we gorged on a feast of sport. Fast forward four years and all the grandeur remains, especially our most beloved centre-piece of the Games; the Olympic Stadium, West Ham’s new home.
It’s no secret what a big stadium move can do for a sports club, what it can do for a business looking to flourish and reach heights beyond what were previously possible. The Hammers are not the only footballing outfit to take this plunge; Arsenal, Southampton and Man City (to name a few) have all migrated to pastures new.
Around East London there is big debate. It has been split opinions between purist and modern football fans but predominantly there stands an overwhelming optimism for what’s around the corner. There have been some suggestions that West Ham will struggle to fill the arena, but all evidence points towards packed crowds.
Speaking to the Evening Standard, Vice-chairman Karen Brady confirmed that the club are seeking to increase the capacity from 54,000 to 60,000 to meet booming season-ticket demands, “It’s 54,000 [at the moment], we are looking to take it up to 60,000 because demand for season tickets has been so high that we’ve now got several times as many people that want season tickets than we can actually fulfil demand, so, we are looking at increasing the capacity.”
It’s an exciting prospect, and news of expansion has certainly quietened naysayers, however there is still discomfort; because people live, work and breathe all around the Boleyn, it’s a sense of nostalgia and the fact so many people have grown up there. They’re going to miss it.
Writer and Broadcaster Mark Webster spoke to BT Sport and cited the importance of the move, “Better players are going to want to play there, and more people are going to watch football there.”
Seemingly there is little room for sentiment in the modern game. There is no question that West Ham are providing their house with a fitting send off, with one more magical FA Cup tie under the floodlights for fans to enjoy against Manchester United – a place at Wembley within their grasp, it would be a fairy-tale to take one last trophy back to E13.