From London Review of Books:
At the heart of West Ham’s woes is the simple fact that the football club is no longer playing at a football stadium. The shape is all wrong, for a start: a rectangular pitch is surrounded by an oval array of seats, most of which are too far from the action to allow the energy and sound of the fans to have much effect on what happens on the pitch. The stadium was built for athletics, and without thought for the fact that the only viable future it had after the Olympics was as a venue for top-flight football. The massive cost of moving the retractable seating to allow both West Ham and UK Athletics to use the stadium is the reason for most of the financial problems besetting LLDC.
That West Ham is an inconvenient necessity in Stratford could scarcely be more obvious. On match days, stewards frogmarch the fans streaming out of the train stations away from the Westfield shopping centre on a circuitous route to the stadium, purportedly for health and safety reasons. The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park’s website announces that the job of the London Stadium – as it is now known – is to bring in ‘new events and activities’. Sadiq Khan refused for months to meet Brady to discuss the problems at the stadium, before finally acquiescing to a meeting that lasted only 45 minutes. His priority is a commercial strategy for turning the stadium into ‘a hub for global events and not just football’. The Rolling Stones will play there in May in their first appearance in Britain for five years.
If the club’s results had been better over the past 18 months some of the discontent would probably have remained buried. Most West Ham supporters had reconciled themselves to moving to Stratford (largely because they hated losing at anything to Tottenham) and having done so grasped at a dream, as football fans are wont to do: in a bigger stadium, with increased match-day revenue, good times, they hoped, would finally arrive. As it turned out, the last season at the Boleyn Ground was a successful one and expectations soared. But Sullivan and Gold saw no reason to invest money in a team whose vulnerabilities were still evident. As the squad’s deficiencies became ever more glaring after the move, they looked for cut-price players to patch things over, but in the last transfer window appeared only to weaken the squad. Without a better team, there is only the harsh reality of a stadium that isn’t fit to stage football and owners who, at best, were deceived as to what kind of stadium they had secured, and at worst dissembled when the decision to move could no longer be undone.
West Ham fans tend to think that what happens at their club says something about the state of English football. It’s an illusion born of a summer afternoon 52 years ago when West Ham players provided the four goals and the captaincy that won England the World Cup. But it is not without some truth. Over the past two decades or so English football has changed almost beyond recognition.