Saturday 18 November 2017

West Ham must play behind closed doors if trouble persists in stadium

Brady: West Ham vice-chairman Picture: Getty
Brady: West Ham vice-chairman Picture: Getty

Paul Hayward

Before anyone pins the blame on a stadium, it might be remembered that West Ham fans pelted the Manchester United team bus with bottles and coins only in May - at Upton Park, the shrine the Hammers occupied before the big move to Stratford offered "a real opportunity to change the brand values of the club", in the words of vice-chairman Karren Brady.

Those new brand values are not looking so shiny today. The dream of fans lunching at Wagamama and browsing the shops of Westfield before getting behind the Irons is somewhat complicated by the image of a young girl holding up a coin that was thrown her way in the League Cup match between West Ham and Chelsea.

West Ham supporters were bound to protest that they were not solely responsible for the disturbances, which, to be accurate, were not on the scale of the 1970s and 1980s, when tribes fought running battles. For chilling violence, you need to turn to the attacks by Russian amateur MMA fighters on England fans in Marseilles this summer.

There is, though, a pattern around West Ham, even if Chelsea fans "started it" (a claim not yet proven) by showering coins on home supporters in the Sir Trevor Brooking stand. Yes: Sir Trevor, the urbane, strolling, gin-and-tonic claret and blue midfielder, has been dragged into the spectacle of young men chasing adrenalin rushes and cheap points for machismo.

In isolation, this could be dismissed as a blend of traditional West Ham-Chelsea hatred and festering discontent among Hammers fans about the move to a ground that feels wrong in many respects for football. Arsene Wenger said West Ham had won "the Lottery" by moving on to the stage of the 2012 Olympic fiesta. For now it looks like a losing ticket, though that can still change.

Upton Park, as we know, was a cauldron, a gathering place for the generations, with a distinct identity and a history of hostility.

Transplanting all that to an arena that no one could think what to do with after the summer of love, aka the London 2012 Olympics, was bound to cause dislocation, and resentment, especially when Brady started talking about "brands" and the old West Ham having no distinct "culture". Upton Park, or the Boleyn Ground, said Bobby Moore and Billy Bonds. 'London Stadium' suggests a global marketing exercise.

Even West Ham's statement after the Chelsea game was full of boasts about the new HQ: "London Stadium is fitted with a state-of-the-art Panomera CCTV system which provides HD footage of every area of the ground and has led to the successful identification and subsequent banning of 23 individuals already this season."

HD footage: how flash is that? You can now see the acne on the face of the modern hoolie as you ban him for life. And "state-of-the-art Panomera CCTV" speaks of the modern surveillance society that will see the miscreants weeded out, eventually. They are fighting a losing battle.

But before the London Stadium picks up a tab far bigger than the £2.5 million per year West Ham are paying to play there, there has to be an acknowledgment of how frequently this is happening. The bombardment of the United coach was no minor incident. Hundreds trapped the bus on the road into Upton Park as United's players took cover inside (admittedly while some giggled and made videos).

Those belligerent urges were not a cri de coeur for the loss of Upton Park. They have followed West Ham to Stratford. There has been trouble in games against Watford, Sunderland, Middlesbrough and now Chelsea. A thousand stewards and uniformed police were there to keep the peace on Wednesday and could not stop trouble breaking out. Meanwhile, a song sheet urged the home crowd to keep up a homophobic dirge against John Terry. Its author was unable to spell Dimitri Payet's name correctly.

You sense at West Ham games the random anger of our times. Some feel they can behave as destructively as they wish. But this is no time for compassionate sociology. Children holding up coins and looking scared? We cannot go back to that. Before peppercorn rent becomes pepper spray, it might be wise to place West Ham on notice. One more outbreak should mean games behind closed doors. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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