I DON’T think I’ll ever quite get over what I witnessed when I travelled to the London stadium for the first time in May.
I’d been quite looking forward to it. I’d envisaged something of an architectural gem of a stadium nestled in a futuristic meadow, where just a few years back a very sentimental Olympic games story had been acted out. The people’s games. The people’s stadium.
From afar it sounded like some thought and love had gone into this development. The whole enterprise had taken plenty of plaudits. When it did what it was built to do.
Prior to Liverpool’s visit to West Ham United’s new base last season we’d heard the reports of their fans having endured a restless season trying to come to terms with the marked difference in their new setting from their ancestral Upton Park home. Supposedly they just weren’t getting settled. Even stories of internecine terrace scuffling going on. It all sounded a bit mad.
And then you go there. And then you see it for yourself.
Jesus wept. It’s so shit it beggars belief. If they’d foisted that pile of crap on us I wouldn’t have wanted to be responsible for my actions. The only time the gaff would’ve seen my face again would’ve been on the CCTV as one of the lads pouring petrol out and igniting it. It is a monument to vanity. Mainly that of West Ham’s deeply irresponsible owners.
It’s setting isn’t futuristic or interesting. It’s in the middle of nowhere. You have to walk and walk to get to it. It is one of the dullest and most arduous approaches to a football ground I’ve experienced. And I’ve been to Charlton Athletic’s ground. It makes the post-apocalyptic landscape the Etihad Stadium is set in look like an Elysian field.
Then you get inside. The refreshment kiosks and the bogs are reasonable and you can move around. The bar for backstage at away ends is low. The back of house at the London Stadium is slightly above it. But no credit there, because it’s not due.
When you emerge from the vomitories into the light, the full horror of this shitpile folly is revealed. Well, it would be if you could see it, because it – the pitch – is so very, very far away. I imagine on a clear day you might just be able to make out the goalmouth at the opposite end of the ground.
The stands are simply miles from the pitch. And more than just unnecessarily so. Just when you think that in designing this abomination that they couldn’t have put you further from the action, there’s some sort of dry moat to take you ever further way. I’m struggling to be usefully descriptive here. You have to see it to believe it. But don’t, whatever you do.
No wonder those daft Hammers were losing it. No wonder they started kicking lumps out of each other. I understand their emotions entirely. You’d want to punch the ground, but in the absence of it being animate you’d just go for the nearest punchable thing you could find. In their case, it was each other.
The Anfield Wrap’s John Gibbons said to me on the day: “If they’d done this to us, I think I might just have jibbed the whole thing”. Too right, John. If Anfield went from being ANFIELD to that, there’d be no point.
My god, if ever there was a cautionary tale of “be careful what you wish for” it is the West Ham nation and that crappy ground. It’s like some biblical allegory about how some tribe – let’s call them the Cockneyites – did some bad stuff, and got all smug about it, but fate came back to deliver them a very poor outcome. Like death or being turned into stone vegetables.
I used to dread the Upton Park aways. Whatever parlous state West Ham might be in you just knew that because the “farkin’ scarsers” were in town that the home team and their faithful would bring their A game. Yeah we’ve won there down the decades, but we’ve had plenty of miserable afternoons too.
At the risk of tempting fate — but that’s never stopped me — I’ll say that we no longer need to anticipate West Ham away with trepidation. The actual visit to that soul-free bowl aside, this trip should hold few fears. The Hammers are having a dog of a season.
Of course nothing is straightforward these days in Liverpool’s world. We should win — we’re much better than them — but we remain psychologically a fragile outfit. Two home wins this week achieved with minimal fuss has helped calm everyone down a bit. Seeing pics of Sadio Mane back in training is a reminder that there MUST be better days ahead.
We’ll line up in London without Sadio, Phil Coutinho, Gini Wijnaldum and Adam Lallana. None of our rivals are so handicapped.
Make Chelsea play a month or two without BOTH Eden Hazard and Alvaro Morata. Yeah Manchester United have had Paul Pogba missing for a bit, but let them lose Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford too and let’s see them win games for fun. Tottenham Hotspur lose Harry Kane for a game here or there but never at the same time as Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen. Manchester City wouldn’t have won every single bloody match if they’d had our injuries to key forwards either. What does their attack look like this weekend if you take out Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne?
The Reds need to just keep picking up the gettable points. Forget the 4-1 beating at Spurs. We could’ve played really well there and still lost 1-0. Beating a madly confident Huddersfield Town routinely last weekend was no small step in the right direction. Take down West Ham this Saturday and things are set up nicely to get interesting after the international break.
Predicted 11: Mignolet; Gomez, Matip, Klavan, Moreno; Henderson, Can, Milner; Salah, Firmino, Sturridge.
Kick off: 5.30pm on BT Sport
Referee: Neil Swarbrick
Odds: West Ham 23-5, Draw 10-3, Liverpool 7-10