Farewell Boleyn: West Ham leave spiritual home

Home sweet home: West Ham take on Leeds in 1967 in front of the ‘Chicken Run’ stand.

It is the end of an era for West Ham United. Modernising is necessary for success say some. But many are unhappy and argue that history and tradition are the whole point of being a true fan.

Turn right out of the tube station and walk down Green Street, following the crowds. Walk past The Queens pub and down towards Ken’s Cafe. Then on your left the landmark that defines this corner of East London rises out of the mass of terraced houses: the Boleyn Ground — home of West Ham United, more commonly known as Upton Park.

For over a century thousands of football fans have made this journey around 25 times every year. But no more: West Ham’s 3-2 win over Manchester United was their last game at their 104-year home.

Jump on a bus for two and a half miles heading north-east and you come to their new home: the Olympic Stadium in Stratford. The contrast is huge, and in almost every material sense, the new ground is an upgrade on Upton Park: it is bigger, newer, brighter, more famous and closer to Central London. The stadium is a symbol of New London, in particular the regeneration of the historically poor eastern areas of the city.

West Ham are the biggest club in England never to have won a league title. Despite a large fan base and an impressive list of legends — Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters, heroes in England’s 1966 World Cup triumph, all played for West Ham at the time — the club have few trophies to show for it. Moving grounds is a necessary step, the owners think, if the club is to reach its potential.

But any change leaves some better off and others wishing things could have stayed the same. One fan, Steve Midwinter, says ‘the move will decimate small businesses in this area’. He laments the loss of his match day routine: going to the same pubs, the same fish and chip shops. Stratford? ‘Just a shopping centre’, many say. There are also worries that the oval shape of the Olympic Stadium will make for a subdued atmosphere in the ground.

There is no doubt that West Ham’s move will change the club forever. Their image as an old-fashioned Cockney club in a run-down area of East London surely cannot last in the well-heeled, shiny environs of the Olympic Stadium. The Irons may improve on the pitch, but is the loss of tradition worth it?

Over land and sea

West Ham will thrive at the Olympic Stadium as the club is propelled into modernity. If things go to plan, West Ham fans will no longer need to put up with their rivals taunting them over their moderate trophy haul. Tradition matters, but the main aim of a football club is to succeed on the field.

If all fans cared about was winning trophies then no-one would bother supporting clubs like West Ham, comes the traditionalist reply. What matters more is the sense of community and history that football clubs offer. If the fans no longer identify with the club, then success loses any value.

You Decide

  1. Is West Ham’s decision to leave Upton Park the right one?
  2. Are there any buildings, other than your own home, to which you feel an emotional attachment?

Activities

  1. Imagine that West Ham do not move into the Olympic Stadium. Name three other ways the stadium could be used, and compare them with your classmates’ choices.
  2. Design and draw your perfect sports stadium.

Some People Say...

“Tradition is the enemy of progress.”

What do you think?

Q & A

I don’t really like football. Why does this matter?
The question of tradition and belonging versus material success is one that goes way beyond sport. One example of this is when people move house: their new home may be larger and in a more desirable area, but moving house can also mean leaving a place you feel very attached to.
What happens to other Olympic stadiums after the games finish?
With the Olympics being the only athletics event that draws huge crowds, other uses need to be found for the stadiums after the games have finished. The Bird’s Nest stadium in Beijing regularly hosts concerts as well as the Chinese national football team’s matches. However some are less successful: the Olympic Stadium in Barcelona is now very seldom used.

Word Watch

Boleyn Ground
The club originally rented the land of Green Street House, which was known locally as Boleyn House due to its associations with Henry VIII’s second wife. Upton Park is the name of the surrounding area.
Moore
West Ham’s greatest ever player captained England in the 1966 and 1970 World Cups; rated by many as one of the best defenders in the history of the game, he died in 1990.
Hurst
Very nearly became a professional cricketer; scored a hat-trick as England beat West Germany in the World Cup final.
Peters
Scored the other goal in England’s World Cup win. At West Ham from 1959-1970, he joined Tottenham Hotspur for a record transfer fee.
Trophies
Three FA Cups (1964, 1975 and 1980) and in 1965 the now defunct European Cup Winners’ Cup, a knockout competition between the winners of each country’s version of the FA Cup.
Shape
The vast majority of English football grounds, including Upton Park, have four clearly defined, often separate stands. Many new grounds, however, are bowl-like in shape. Some fans believe this is a reason for declining atmospheres at English stadia.