Mark Webster, a presenter on talkSPORT2 and an avid West Ham supporter, was at the London Stadium on Saturday as supporter unrest marred the Premier League meeting with Burnley. Here’s his view on the shocking scenes…
My seat for West Ham games is just four rows from the front, opposite the edge of the box, on the west side of what is now known as the London Stadium.
Back in the summer of 2012, when it was the Olympic Stadium (which still strikes me as pretty decent name for it, but there you go!) that spot was on the track, right in the heart of the action when, on what was to become known as Super Saturday, Jess Ennis, Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah took it in turns to bring home the gold. Tragically, that spot was now the position from which I witnessed Sad Saturday.
The day when enough was enough for a handful of interlopers, and a mob of a few hundred in the stands, who decided to make it known that they thought the ownership had sold their club up the Thames. And chose the game against Burnley to make their protests vocal, and in some case, physical. That is, they did so after West Ham went one down. I suspect we would not have seen them if we’d won. Does that make their radical, and in some cases wholly inappropropriate responses look somewhat hollow? Yes, I think so. But then again, it was clearly an instinctive reaction, and for a few, the stopcock just blew. Not an excuse, but possibly a reason.
One particular fella in the standing section at the north end of the stadium happened to march directly in front of me. Face screwed up with anger, and determined to get as close as he could to the Director’s box as he could, so as to make his point. He was pursued by a young kid in a giant hi-def coat who really didn’t need all this trouble for the wages he was on. As a member of what was, suddenly very clearly, a wholly inadequate stewarding force. The kid looked scared, he looked bewildered. He looked like someone who shouldn’t have to be dealing with something like this. It just was not fair on him.
Of course, the owners wouldn’t have heard that fan from where he was trying to make his point. Which is about as prescient as it gets, really, isn’t it? This whole sorry mess has been a drip, drip, drip form of torture that began when the board seemed to think that they were ready to take a fair to middling, and actually pretty decent at times, back street London club and plonk it in a big, shiny new cathedral of sport.
The problem is, the cathedral is still big and shiny, but the club is not even nudging fair to middling at the moment. For me, they have failed horribly to fill the space they have taken on. Nevertheless, I think the stadium could still work. Yes it will need to have some bells and whistles attached to make it feel more like a home. And perhaps some more radical architectural tampering? While it is also something that the simple passage of time could also help fix. But fundamentally, more important than all of this, the owners have got to prove, and quickly, that they can make the leap from honest broker Black Cab driver with The Knowledge to a Formula One Grand Prix winner. Or at least, regular podium finisher.
If they can survive in the Premier League – and not doing so presents a completely different set of issues – they simply must up their game and improve their recruitment of both coaching staff and players. So that the only people we see on the pitch are players that the fans are proud to see wearing the West Ham shirt. Get that right, and the owners may still yet save the day.
Rennie & Webster’s World Of Sport is brought to you between 10am and midday, Monday and Friday, on talkSPORT2. It features Mark and Tom trying desperately not to obsess about West Ham, and instead find the trap doors in the stories from a planet’s worth of kicking, running, throwing, sliding, steering, hitting and all the other stuff in between.