In December we asked Leyton Orient, Tottenham Hotspur, and West Ham fans what they made of the possibility of either Spurs or the Hammers moving into the Olympic Stadium in Straford, East London. The response was overwhelmingly negative with a comfortable majority of both Spurs and West Ham fans opposing plans for their team to move into the Olympic stadium.
Yet in a fortnight’s time the little-known Olympic Park Legacy Committee (OPLC) could rewrite the roadmap of domestic football when it recommends who should take over the Olympic Stadium after the 2012 Games. The OPLC will select its internal preferred bidder on 28th January which will then likely be ratified by the Government and London Mayor Boris Johnson on 31st March.
The view from White Hart Lane
From a Spurs perspective many fans argue that the club’s hierarchy is deluded if they think they can move 10 miles across London from North to East and still be “Tottenham” Hotspur. Fans’ group We Are N17’s petition opposing the move to Stratford now has almost 5,000 signatures – and you can expect this number to go through the roof if the OPLC gives Spurs the nod.
“If Tottenham Hotspur FC was to move to the Olympic stadium it would in effect be Stratford Franchise FC and would have lost all the tradition and history associated with the club,” said Spurs fan Ian Trow. “The older generation of fan, myself included, would totally abandon this new franchise. If some fans wish to go then so be it, but a new club in Stratford will not be, nor will ever be, TOTTENHAM Hotspur FC.”
The FSF already has a policy opposing “football franchising” – that is taking a club out of its natural and historic community. It’s clear from the correspondence we received that many Spurs fans feel this move would fall into the category of franchise football.
Yesterday’s news that, should they win the bid, Spurs would effectively demolish the Olympic Stadium and rebuild a new ground from scratch has been met with fury too. Tottenham MP David Lammy described it as a “diabolical waste of public money”. An estimated £500m of public money was spent constructing a stadium which might now only be used for one month.
Only one in five Hammers back Olympic Stadium move
While the franchise issue might not be quite so clear cut with regards West Ham and the Olympic Stadium – both are situated in the city’s East End although the stadium is in traditionally Leyton Orient territory – fans’ opinion is still very much against the move. The majority oppose their club’s proposal which is to move to the Stratford venue, reducing its 80,000 capacity to 60,000 in the process.
A thread on popular Hammers forum kumb.com generated more than 5,000 replies and 116,000 page views. Only 18% of the 410 fans polled backed a move to the Olympic Stadium. Hammers fans who contacted the FSF argued that the club’s owners were not showing enough respect for West Ham’s past and argued that the Olympic Stadium’s facilities were simply not up to scratch.
At present the stadium has no permanent toilet or catering facilities and the top tier is temporary. It would cost the club an estimated £180m to adapt the stadium into a multi-purpose venue capable of hosting athletics, cricket, football, and rugby, as proposed by West Ham.
Unlike Manchester City’s stadium at Eastlands the Olympic Stadium was not built with the intention of converting it for football. While Spurs insist they’d remove the running track West Ham say they’d like to keep it in place. This means fans will be a long, long way back from the action. The stadium’s roof also only covers the upper tier – fine for a summer sport like athletics but not so great for a midweek kick-off in the depths of winter.
“As a family of three season ticket holders we’ll not be renewing if we move to the Olympic Stadium,” said Kev, an unhappy Hammer. “New football stadiums should be built with the fans in mind, with decent sightlines and facilities, the Olympic Stadium has neither. Even European teams are moving from running-tracked stadia to purpose built ‘English’ style ones, like Juventus.”
The Old Lady of Italian football is moving as the running track was so unpopular that attendances often dipped to shockingly low levels. You can see how far back from the pitch fans would be at the new Stratford stadium via this diagram taken from The Times.
Brisbane Road blues over Premier League neighbours
Although Leyton Orient are, geographically speaking, the prime candidates for a move to the Olympic Stadium the OPLC dismissed their plans which included the removal of the stadium’s running track. It will be interesting to see if the OPLC veto Spurs plans as the North London club also plans to rip up the running track.
While media attention is inevitably drawn towards the big-hitters from the top-flight, this issue is every bit as important to League One Orient. Stratford is traditionally part of the club’s catchment area and the O’s fear a Premier League giant moving onto its patch, and gobbling up future generations of fans, could prove catastrophic. Chairman Barry Hearn compared it to “Tesco moving next to the little sweet shop on the corner.”
FSF affiliate Leyton Orient Supporters’ Club’s views are certainly clear: “While we are keen to see a sensible legacy use of the Olympic Stadium, fans of Leyton Orient are concerned that a ‘big name’ club moving into our immediate area would have a negative impact – both social and financial – on Orient.
“While we don’t expect any defections among our current supporters, a Premier League side in the immediate locality will provide competition for ‘casual’ fans. More importantly, it is likely to impact on our community activities and ability to attract the fans of the future. Finally, LOFC’s opportunities to sell commercial sponsorship – particularly for matchday activities – will be reduced.
“We believe it is not in the best interests of football and its supporters in East London for major clubs to move closer to established league grounds. As a result, we would expect the FA and the Football League to ensure that the Orient’s interests are protected appropriately.”
Doug Harper, chair of the Leyton Orient Fans’ Trust, agrees: “Sadly, none of the media has mentioned the affect that either of these ‘big boys’ moving into Stratford will have on ‘little Leyton Orient’. As usual, the lesser clubs are not important in the big scheme of things. If either of these teams moves into the Olympic Stadium it could force LOFC out of not only Leyton, but also out of Waltham Forest.”
I’m a fan who opposes the move – what can I do?
For a start it’s never a bad idea to let your local MP know your views, especially if they happen to be from a constituency which will feel the impact of these plans. See They Work For You which is an easy guide to contacting your MP. Fans from all three clubs have also got themselves into gear – get in touch with them and see how you can help.
Olympic Park Legacy Committee statement
The FSF spoke to the OPLC who were unable to answer specific questions but did give the following statement: “We are very pleased with the extensive and serious interest shown in the Stadium. We started this process to ensure the very best legacy for the Stadium, and we are now at a point where we have selected the two strongest bids. We will go forward to start negotiations with the two consortia of Tottenham Hotspur and AEG, and West Ham United and Newham Council.
“The Stadium is a vital and vibrant component of the Olympic Park – securing the most appropriate and viable solution is crucial for our long-term aspirations for the future Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park area. The Legacy Company aims to have a preferred tenant in place by the end of the financial year in 2011.”
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