Anfield Stay Was The Right Decision – Just Look At West Ham’s New ‘Home’

LONDON, ENGLAND - Saturday, November 4, 2017: A reproduction of Spitfire MK805 on display outside the London Stadium ahead of the FA Premier League match between West Ham United FC and Liverpool FC. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

IN the past fortnight Liverpool have travelled twice to the capital and, in Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United, have faced teams at grounds which differ from the ones they’re traditionally associated with.

I attended both games and was keen to see how they differed from both each other and their spiritual homes. Determined to keep an open mind and at least try to accept some level of change of the game, I was keen to see if there was any improvement on their old grounds.

There’s already a prejudice at play though. I’ve always preferred the shabbier grounds and wide concourses and walkways tend to leave me cold. Oh, they’re fine and it’s obvious that most people prefer a bit of comfort in their life, but there’s just something about an old ground. Maybe it’s character, or the fact that it hasn’t fallen under the wheels of an architect/planner somewhere, but I just prefer to be at something that was designed to watch a game rather than host an insurance convention.

Take the Emirates. It’s a lovely place to watch football. The seats are padded and you can put your elbows by your side rather than into your neighbours’ ribs. The veggie Balti pie is really nice too and the view is impeccable.

It’s not Highbury though, is it?

Highbury was a wonderful stadium. Tucked into a rookery of houses just off the Holloway Road, it was both beautiful and plain. Love had gone into it. True, if you weren’t on the Clock End and were unlucky enough to be in the stand to the left of that huge terrace, you couldn’t always see the pitch such was the low-slung roof above, but it was a day out. You knew you’d been to one of the great grounds in the country. It meant something. It was their Anfield. Glorious, shoddy and yet somehow irreplaceable.

Of course, Tottenham’s move is only a temporary one but it felt weird going to Wembley in a hunt for three points rather than a trophy or the right to play for one. Luckily, they’ve removed the hour of eardrum-splitting entertainment they usually shove onto the pitch before finals. There was no smoke, parachutists or people singing at you this time.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, October 22, 2017: The biggest crowd for a FA Premier League game during the FA Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool at Wembley Stadium. (Pic by Paul Marriott/Propaganda)

They’ll return to White Hart Lane in due course and though Wembley is deemed to be the footballing paradise, I’ll feel happier when they’re back on the other side of North London. White Hart Lane in its old guise was one of my favourite grounds though it has lost some of its gloss since they’ve knocked “The Park” down (a pretty horrible pub, incidentally, but with a beer garden which answered perfectly on the odd occasion when we played them in warm daylight). It just seems a bit strange to play at a neutral ground and call it something else.

The London Stadium is something different. There will be no otherworldly home for West Ham United. This is it for them. That’s “home” forever.

I don’t envy them.

Again, I used to love Upton Park. It fitted every criterion. A little careworn, a tight terrace which was close enough to the pitch to hear the ‘keeper berate his defenders. Upton Park was a proper ground with generations of shouts, victories and defeats soaked into the wood and steel. Near to a tube station and several pubs, it was always something to look forward to. West Ham v Liverpool meant something.

The London Stadium is exactly as it states. It is a stadium in London. All descriptions end there. There is nothing other than that. They might as well have called it “The Sometimes Football Stadium”. I did not feel I was anywhere special. Oh, it’s a fine place but it’s not a football stadium.

I tried to work out where it had gone wrong. The pitch is close to the fans so it wasn’t that. You can get a lot of people in and there are no poor views so what is it that rankled. I think it is this.

The concourse is too nice. Seriously. It’s too comfy.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Saturday, April 22, 2017: A general view of the London Stadium, home of West Ham United, pictured before the FA Premier League match against Everton. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

At Upton Park or Loftus Road, the standing area behind the terraces were/are tight so, to get a bit of room you’d get to your seat early and have a shout at the other lot. That starts off an atmosphere and come kick off you’re onto something.

But with a fine selection of eateries and beer on tap it’s easier to stay behind and have a chat with your mates. With seven minutes to go before kick off last Saturday the ground was still half empty. This has been a problem with Wembley too.

Upton Park could be a cauldron. The London Stadium is a cinema.

I’m fairly sure that the more hardened West Ham fans can’t be delighted at that move. There’s nothing to it. No soul whatsoever. I felt sorry for them – as many Reds feel an affinity with The Hammers (pass and move, good working class club, close to the docks etc.) – but once they started on the “we pay your benefits” and “feed the scousers” I thought back to Anfield and how I’d rather be at our true home than singing from an auto complete setlist in an echoless bowl.

And it could have been us. Remember this from 2007?

“The spade needs to be in the ground within, what, 60 days?”

Well, quite.

The redevelopment of the Main Stand has put pay to talk of a move away and, fortunately we will be remaining at Anfield despite the arguments that we need to move to compete. I’m not sure Liverpool would be Liverpool without Anfield. West Ham doesn’t seem to be much of a West Ham anymore. They’re just a faceless club to me now that they don’t have the connotation with Upton Park. There’s precious little soul in the game as it is and there’s has gone in the name of progress.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Friday, September 9, 2016: A general view of the new Main Stand during the Liverpool FC Main Stand opening event at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

But, that’s to them and it makes me all the more grateful that we didn’t follow suit with a ground move when the carpetbaggers were in charge. The prospect of an enormous bowl in Stanley Park with large screens depicting incongruent advertising (West Ham’s advertises a Jermyn St tailor for some reason) would be too much to bear.

Anfield certainly has its problems but at least we get to sit or stand in our own home while we’re wondering why no one is shouting and singing. I’d hate to be doing that in a place where no one is the slightest bit arsed about what the ground means.

We’re an overly romanticised set of fans and are often accused of pouring on too much emotion, but with so many clubs moving away from their central core are we not losing part of the reason we joined this glorious thing for in the first place?

Away games are a chance to go into someone else’s sanctuary and tell them that the scousers are here and we’re going to take your points and dignity. It’s hard to do that when the home fans aren’t that bothered as they don’t really see that as home.

When people come to Anfield and win I take it as a personal slight. They can’t do that. Not on our ground. This is our turf.

I’m no great admirer of Fenway Sports Group but at least they’ve protected what is and shall always be ours. The second that goes, the grip of the intangible forces that makes Liverpool what it is in our hearts slips away a little more.

Be careful what you wish for.

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11 Comments

  1. englandsnumber6

    dont get left behind in the wilderness, times move on stop living in the past.

  2. Fully agree with you Karl. It will be interesting to see how the new Spurs stadium turns out – they seem to have learned a few lessons from the Emirates and hopefully it will have more atmosphere. London Stadium has been aptly named as London Council Tax payers paid for it in the main and West Ham got all the benefit for a song. In effect they have got a massive subsidy from the rest of us (not that it has done them much good). All in the name of legacy! Hope that Anfield continues to retain it’s atmosphere, but you need 60,000 capacity.

  3. 100% agree on this! Liverpool won’t be Liverpool anymore if we leave Anfield. That stadium is part of our identity, where history is written all over the wall, but on the other hand isn’t afraid to move on and look to the future. No matter how much it is redeveloped through the years, the spirit of Billy Liddell, Bill Shankly, Ian Callaghan, Bob Paisley, Kenny Dalglish, Ian Rush, Steven Gerrard and many other great men who represented this club will always be around. They wouldn’t in a hypermodern ground in Stanley Park however. Yes, Anfield can be a scrappy, old fashioned piece of histrory you sometimes leave with pain in the knees (my legs are way to long for the space I get at the Kop, the old Main Stand of the Anfield Road stand), but at least it has body and soul. And it’s ours!

    Supporting the club from Belgium for more than 25 years now, I have never been able to visit Higbury or Upton Park (at least, not on match days, I have been around the grounds (or what was left of it) when I was in London a few years ago), but last season I was lucky enough to be at our away game White Hart Lane one last time and I was glad I did. Those old English grounds have/had a soul the newly built ones simply lack. It’s al comfort, but no soul. They don’t breathe football. And whith those grounds gone, clubs seem to lose their identity. It happened to Manchester City and Arsenal in some way, it changed clubs like Stoke City and Southampton and it defeneitely did to West Ham United that, as a club, seems to have lost all it stood for. I really hope it doesn’t do the same to a club like Tottenham or Everton.

  4. Couldn’t agree more.. would have been happier with 50k redevelopment of White Hart Lane.. hopefully I’m wrong but in the big games you could feel the sound ripping through you when we scored really cant see the new ground being able to compete in atmosphere..

  5. the trouble with Liverpool fans is they hang-on with a tight grip to their past glories, and true they are Britons most successful football club, but id rather be cheering the here and now. my point is football has changed gone are the days of any team can win the league [except lucky Leicester ] you need money and lots of it to compete and if you need a bigger stadium to that then that’s what you need to do

  6. Agree with this so much. The reason the concourses are so good? Revenue per customer. Not fans, not communites. Customers.

    One of my favourite aways was The Valley. There was literally a shed that served beers pies and chips. Proper dive. Loved it.

  7. We’re now only seeing the fruition of Anderson’s vision for the Waterfront and for me you can date this back to Man City’s move after the Manny Commenwealth Games. Stadium paid for by central government and bigwig investors coming in with an open cheque-book to take care of its future use.

    The move for us was 10-15 years or so ago down to the waterfront which was a huge missed opportunity. Very poorly managed thinking, lack of foresight and probably a council that acted against the club at every opportunity. The club being used against itself by the council as leverage to redevelop the Anfield area. This has been proven to be an ultimate load of shite, as soon as Brambley Dock became available Everton were seen as the saving grace of redeveloping that area of the city and not where they currently reside.

    Purely from a land value point of view the value of the actual land and any redevelopment in that area holds its value in years to come. In Anfield not so much, land values are poor and will continue to be for years to come. The best example of this is Arsenal. If Arsenal decides to move again (not unthinkable) the value of the existing land will of increased 10 fold, so as an investor that element makes sense, not so at Anfield, the waterfront yes. This is what Anderson understands and will bend over backward to get Everton that site. He is merely mirroring what Man City and West Ham have done, using public money that will eventually end up in a private enterprise.

    Once the lease covenants run out (5 years) at West Ham on the owners they will sell. A sale in the next 5 years means that a % profit from the sale goes back to central government. Unfortunately for West Ham they’ve underestimated the effect of building a soulless bowl can have on the teams’ performance. The distance from the pitch for me just creates this thing where the game is removed from the crowd and there’s a complete disenfranchisement. I doubt Moyes is the saving grace, but I’ll leave that to Mike Nevin and his anti Moyes pod.

    Man City understood this so totally removed the track from the ground save this mistake down the line. Anderson could well be about to make the same mistake as West Ham by trying to combine both.

    The premise is right to build a stadium on the site it’s the execution that’ll be its success or ultimate undoing. Left to the Peel Group it might be a success involve Anderson it could be a car crash

  8. nice article Karl, used to love going to wham when I was an apprentice in London, a group of us lads, every mid-week during the season find a game @spurs or wham, (we couldnt afford the money or the time to get up & back to Anfield for the Tuesday nights… Lfc always played Tuesdays…?) enjoyed the games always goals, as wham attacked with abandon, recall one wham v blues 3-3 when both sides had players like Moore, Peters & Hurst, and a young H. Rednap on their wing, Bally shouting to Kendall; Harvey& co in his high pitched voice, with cockneys on the chicken run taking the P*ss…

    I already have problems with Lfc since 2007, back stabbing of beloved Rafa, and the erosion of Shanks “Liverpool ways” the Holy trinity is dead.. and I wonder how many of the true supporters can continue to raise a voice against away supporters who are more “in tune”… I am so glad I am not a kid in the “fast food media age” .. wonder how many of them have heard of “Bovril”?? ha ha…

  9. Surprised it hasn’t been mentioned already but if you like Westham so much you should at least learn the name of their old ground. Here’s a clue: It wasn’t Upton Park.

    But if those are the delights you grave then Selhurst should float your boat. Always found it a sod to get too, but despite the current hyperbole about the atmosphere, it remains a ‘proper’ footy ground.

    • Until 2016, West Ham were based at the Boleyn Ground, commonly known as Upton Park, in Newham, East London.

      So he’s right – and you’re just being pedantic

  10. I think it strongly depends on the situation. In West Ham’s case, the move was executed poorly and not with the supporters in mind.
    When the other Reds I support (since they are my local team), moved from the Olympic stadium to the Allianz, it also took a while to get used to it. But since the view and atmosphere were so much better than in the iconic but distant Olympic stadium everyone was happy and all 74K seats are sold out on every match day.

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