West Ham United will move into the Olympic Stadium in time for the 2016-17 season.
The Hammers have been officially confirmed as the new tenants for the site at Stratford, with the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) announcing the 99-year lease deal on Friday. Details of renovation plans have also been revealed, which will see the stadium revamped into a 54,000-seater venue in time for August 2016.
Negotiations between the LLDC and the Premier League outfit have been dragging on since December, and the agreed deal ensures the stadium, which will have retractable seats, will still be used for the 2015 Rugby World Cup and the 2017 World Athletics Championships. It is an arrangement, argues West Ham co-chairman David Sullivan, which suits all parties and should be welcomed by the club’s supporters.
“We really feel privileged to be going into this stadium. We’ve had 13 sell-out games in a row and we need a bigger stadium,” he said. “We want football to be affordable for the working class man and that’s why we want a bigger stadium. This is a win-win situation for London, for the legacy and for West Ham United Football Club.”
A number of Hammers fans, though, are firmly against moving from Upton Park, which has been their home since 1904. The club are now expected to launch a charm offensive to get these supporters onside, and Karren Brady has wasted no time in letting them know that a decision has already been made to name two stands the Sir Bobby Moore Stand and the Sir Trevor Brooking Stand, whilst insisting the stadium will be ‘world class’.
Despite their current ground holding 35,000 spectators, Brady also expressed her confidence that they will have little problem in filling their new venue, which will hold almost 20,000 more seats. The fact they have sold out their last 13 matches at home, as Sullivan referred to, is evidence enough that they needed a bigger stadium.
But whilst Sullivan, David Gold, Brady and co can feel a little smug with themselves at the moment, they must be careful not to take their eyes off what really matters: events on the pitch. It’s all very well have a brand new spanking stadium, but the reality is a stadium of such size will only likely be filled on a regular basis if the Hammers can welcome the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur.
And that is no disrespect to their fan-base, which is one of the largest in the county and averaged over 31,000 in the second-tier last season and, as has been pointed out, has packed the ground out for most of this campaign. But it makes sense that they will struggle to sell out every other week if their opponents are to be provided from the Championship.
This underlines the importance of finding stability during the next three years before they move into their new home. During the past decade, Alan Pardew, Alan Curbishley, Gianfranco Zola, Avram Grant and, the current incumbent Sam Allardyce have all been appointed. This may not seem a lot compared to others, but for a club who have only had 14 permanent managers in their history, it’s quite a turnover.
Allardyce took over in the summer of 2012 following relegation from the Premier League, and immediately led them back into the top-flight. Although they are not mathematically guaranteed of their place amongst the elite next term, they are currently six points ahead of the relegation zone, and have a game in hand over their closest rivals.
With this being the season in which all clubs are desperate to remain in the Premier League to take advantage of the new television deal and the riches that accompany it, Allardyce has done a fine job. But with his contract set to expire in the summer, speculation has been rife that he may be shown the door before the 2013-14 campaign begins.
Big Sam may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but it is hard to argue against the fact that he gets results: ask those Newcastle United fans who wanted him out and then saw their team relegated the following season, or even more tellingly, those Blackburn Rovers fans who are now looking on in disbelief as they stare League One football square in the face.
That’s not to say West Ham must stick with Allardyce, but if they are to decide on a change in the summer, it is imperative they get the right man. Because if they don’t, and they descend down the pyramid, the prospect of them trying to shift 54,000 tickets to fill the Olympic Stadium for that visit of Barnsley on a Tuesday night could be problematic.