One of the most interesting stories of the past year in football is that of West Ham leaving Boleyn Ground and moving into the Olympic Stadium.
I don’t know if anyone else recalls – or maybe we’ve all forgotten? – the ugliness at the last West Ham home match last season. It wasn’t exactly a glittering goodbye to the grounds, largely due to fan behavior.
And now, apart from the obvious issues that exist in an Olympic Stadium being used for football (which we all know, so there’s no point rehashing) what were among the first issues in the new season but West Ham fans and their poor behavior!
Fans fighting other fans? Despicable, we all said. Low. Yes, there’s some mismanagement going on with ticket pricing and allocations that has caused non-West Ham fans to buy season tickets for West Ham. Yes, the stewarding could be better.
But as I watched the supporters streaming out of the ground today after a very poor showing against Southampton, I couldn’t help thinking the ground was only part of the problem. The ground was supposed to be this wonderful thing that was going to elevate West Ham’s stature, and all it’s done is become a scapegoat for something else.
The first is the mediocre playing of the team. Payet is a star, there’s no question. Some of the other players are quite good. But they’re just not special. They played outside their minds last season, and I don’t know that they’re underperforming this year as much as they were overperforming last year.
The other is the sometimes shocking behavior of fans. We got a taste of some of the ugliness in the Euros, with flares seemingly at every other match. Something about going to a football match, it would seem, causes some of us to forget common human decency, like not attacking other people, not throwing bottles at other people, not picking fights when you’ve gone out to enjoy yourself. And when your team is down, you don’t bail to beat the traffic. You scream your support until the end.
Supporters and teams have a symbiotic relationship, and I think the fan issues are having a much greater impact on the pitch than the actual physical pitch is. Just my two cents.