West Ham arrive at Olympic Stadium
After 112 years the team I follow - West Ham United - have finally left Upton Park. For those of you who follow my posts, you will know this has been on the cards for several years.
As I was lurking around outside the Olympic Stadium on my first ever game there last weekend - a kid of about 11 or 12 years old slumped against one of the railings and said to his family "It just doesn't seem like West Ham anymore".
I could have shook that kid's hand. For his youthful insight. Because he was spot on. And he had the guts to say out loud what many brave faces were thinking. There were more than just a few - of what social media are now calling 'old school' Hammers - putting on brave faces. A guy we knew commented to me and my mate Sher that 'it's not Green Street is it?' And we sort of laughed. But inside I was cringing.
One of the problems with the Olympic Stadium (and there are many) is the access. And there has been minimal forethought from either the club, Westfield management or local train companies as to how fans are to arrive at - but mainly leave - the Olympic Park. Westfield shopping centre in Stratford (the international hub of East London where up to sixty thousand Hammers will be arriving for home games) have decided to make life very difficult and refuse access to West Ham fans - making the whole process of leaving the stadium a logistical nightmare. Myself and many others consider this discrimination. This is not a process being exacted by the Met - but Westfield themselves.
Yesterday myself and two friends staged a bit of a protest and singalong at Westfield - and were quickly moved on and asked to 'leave the area' by some asshole security guard who told us Westfield was 'private property' and they could allow or deny access to whoever they liked.
Park and ride from the old ground. Or even shuttle buses from outside the DLR. Anything. Come on West Ham - help us out here.
I have a severe disability in the right arm - plus my right leg is fkd - and even now - nearly two years later - I am still recovering from the effects of a severe bout of pneumonia. Yet despite this, West Ham United are forcing me into a match day walk of over three miles just to get out of the former Olympic Park and head towards Hackney - completely in the wrong direction as I live in Kent. Nice sunny afternoon on a Sunday - early KO - lovely. And it was still murder to walk most of the way back to the the London Fields area.
From a photography point of view - even two hours before kick off, the Olympic Park is a nightmare because you are battling to get a view of anything at all. I tend to 'spot the shot' before I take it and home in on whoever or whatever I have seen - often from some distance. But now - lining up the shot is virtually impossible as outside the Olympic Stadium - the mental pre-comp has gone in a fraction of a second as you are battling against hundreds pushing past you.
In the seven years I spent at Upton Park - I did not take photos at every game I went to. But when I did, I had a plan - which identifiable West Ham areas or characters I would target that day. Or what particular effect I would like to achieve that day. Or what lens to use. Now, I don't have a plan. It is not possible to put a plan together because if you stop for just a second or more as you walk up to and around the new stadium, about 50 Hammers stumble apologetically into your back. It's the same as a game at Wembley. Yeah Wembley - okay for a day out once in a while - but takes hours to get out of the place and you're fecking knackered for days afterwards.
Despite all this, inside the Olympic Stadium - it's actually better than outside. Yes, the seats are far away and there's a horrible strip of astroturf and luminous green sheeting over the running track which looks shit. But it was a laugh. First game and I spent the second half walking around the stadium at will and was glad to see a few old faces, receive a few hugs, and be asked for a few photos from the 'old school'. A security guard followed me around for about 10 mins telling me I 'wasn't allowed in this area' - but gave up.
Inside that West Ham buzz was still there. And I think people will move and find their place in the stadium - groups will gel back together. Perhaps what I loved most was the fruitless attempt of security guards to try and make the new Bobby Moore Lower conglomerate sit down. Absolutely hilarious.
People have bought season tickets at bargain prices. 200 quid for instance. At the Olympic Park I see large family groups of people, pensioners struggling on walking sticks - West Ham virgins who never even knew about life outside Ken's caff or Nathan's eels - looking overwhelmed and not really looking as though they know what they are doing there. Where will they be in the cold sweat of a 7.45 KO in January I wonder?
Personally, I think that polite family fervour will die down. This isn't the West Ham way and every Hammer I know won't let this place become the new Carrow Road. Come January/February in the freezing cold of on an evening kick off against some shit team that no-one really cares about - I don't think we'll be seeing these scenes of family elation. I reckon more than a few will stay home. Unless they fix the access problem - I probably will - and I pretend I'm hardcore. 'Old school' they would call me - I stood up to Millwall.
As for me? Uncertainty is like a friend on Facebook that's gone quiet on you. The last few days has got me thinking as to whether I'm more football fan than photographer - or more photographer than football fan. I became a football fan at around 12 years of age. But I was taking photographs long before then as I have pics of my younger brother in nappies. But as my friend JK said on Flickr - it's a whole new ball game now (literally) and a whole new landscape in which to place West Ham United.
Olympic Stadium - jury's still out. But COYI.