Upton Olympic Park – surely a “no brainer”?

March 26, 2010

SOCCER-ENGLAND/WEST HAMWest Ham United fans are probably more worried about what league they will be playing in next season than what stadium they will occupy in 2013 but their new owners’ plan to move to the Olympic Stadium certainly bears examination.

Nervously hovering above the relegation zone, West Ham are under the fresh new ownership of David Gold and David Sullivan and if their previous owners dismissed the idea of the three-mile move to Olympic Park, the new men have been quick to bring the issue back to the table.

They announced a potential bid in association with the local Newham council to move in after the Games, keeping the running track and a potential capacity of 55,000.

Newham’s mayor Robin Wales described it as “no brainer” and it is hard to argue.

Crystal Palace might be a bit tatty with dire transport links but as the country’s current leading athletics venue it is full to a 20,000-capacity once, possibly twice a year.

The idea of having another, admittedly world class, athletics venue a few miles away when London will still host only one or two major annual meetings plus, potentially, a world or European championships every decade if they are lucky, looks like an outrageous waste of money.

English clubs have never taken to the idea of playing in big stadiums with pitches surrounded by running tracks, despite the prevalence of that arrangement throughout Europe, but this looks like an opportunity too good to miss for West Ham.

Their 106-year-old Boleyn Ground, popularly known as Upton Park, was redeveloped only a few years ago but still has a maximum capacity of 35,000. It has an appeal as a traditional, tight ground and there is a very strong community feel about the place but an argument against a move on the basis of not spoiling tradition does not hold water these days.

Middlesbrough, Stoke City, Arsenal, Sunderland and many others left much-loved old grounds for new homes with bigger capacities and infinitely better facilities. Manchester City fans might have taken a while to get their heads round a move from the terraced streets of Moss Side to the seemingly atmosphere-free City of Manchester Stadium after the 2002 Commonwealth Games but until this week “Eastlands” had turned into an impregnable home.

Good for London, good for athletics, good for the taxpayer and certainly good for West Ham. What’s not to like?

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