Last month Spurs and West Ham were named as the “preferred bidders” by the Olympic Park Legacy Company (OPLC) to take over London’s Olympic Stadium after the Games in 2012. But what do fans make of the move?
The FSF would like to hear from fans of both clubs as well as those at Leyton Orient who also have an interest due to Brisbane Road’s close proximity to the Olympic Stadium in Stratford. OPLC intend to select the successful bidder by the end of the financial year, 31st March 2011.
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Following David Gold and David Sullivan’s Hammers takeover the pair made it clear they were keen to take the club to the Olympic Stadium and submitted a bid to the OPLC. Capacity would be cut to 60,000 (from 80,000) and the stadium would also be used for NFL games, concerts, cricket, and athletics.
Some fans argue that a larger ground, with better facilities, would help the club generate further revenue. This in turn could be invested in players and see the Hammers climb the league table. There are also those who argue access to the Olympic Stadium would be far superior to the Boleyn Ground – many Tube lines run to Stratford and there’s a large car park.
However, those opposed to the move argue that more than 100 years of history – the Boleyn Ground opened in 1904 - should not be thrown away for the sake of a few more seats in a stand. There are also serious concerns that the ground simply isn’t suitable to host football.
The ongoing use of the stadium for athletics means a running track must be kept in place; supporters will find themselves a long, long way back from the pitch. Opponents also question the logic behind a club who currently struggle to sell out moving to a stadium with almost 25,000 more seats to fill.
Lastly many feel uncomfortable that a club which has the security of owning its own ground is willing to throw this away to become a tenant in a stadium they don’t own. An online survey on the kumb.com forum indicated that seven out of 10 fans opposed the move “to an Olympic Stadium with a running track”.
Spurs are also in the running for a move to the Olympic Stadium and proposed its joint bid with Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) – the company who redeveloped the Millennium Dome and turned it into the successful O2. As with the Hammers those backing the move argue that a larger stadium would benefit the club financially. This cash bonanza would then, they argue, be spent on football matters.
The club regularly sells out White Hart Lane and would maintain the Olympic Stadium’s full 80,000 capacity if it was to win the bid. While Spurs insist that redeveloping and extending White Hart Lane is their preferred option AEG Europe chief executive David Campbell insisted the bid was entirely serious claiming: “We don’t back losers.”
However local MP and Spurs fan David Lammy has backed a petition launched by fans' group We Are N17 opposing the move, which more than 4,000 fans have now signed. He argues that the Olympic Stadium is not suitable for football, questions the logic behind uprooting a club from its community, and compares the club’s fate to that of Wimbledon: “We have seen this before with Wimbledon, who had to leave their south London roots and are now in Milton Keynes, as MK Dons.”
At what point does a club moving ground actually become so-called franchise football? If Spurs were to move the 10 miles or so from North London to Newham some argue this is just as significant as Wimbldon’s move to Milton Keynes, regardless of whether Spurs keep the same name. Many would consider the move an act of betrayal which effectively cuts all ties to whom Spurs once represented – the local community.
While Spurs and West Ham might have hogged the national media spotlight on this issue no one should forget its importance to Leyton Orient. Stratford is traditionally part of Orient’s catchment area and there are real fears that a Premier League giant moving onto their territory could be catastrophic.
There are understandable fears that youngsters who might have supported Orient will have their heads turned if a Premier League club pitch up on their front door. Chairman Barry Hearn compared it to “Tesco moving next to the little sweet shop on the corner.”
Where does the FSF stand on the Olympic Stadium?
The FSF is a democratic organisation and we normally set policy at our annual conference, Fans’ Parliament. However, as the next Fans’ Parliament isn’t until July 2011 it is appropriate that we gather members’ views on this before the decision is made in March 2011. If you’re not a member already, join the FSF for free here.
To that end we would like to hear from fans at Orient, Spurs, and West Ham. Your views will inform the FSF’s National Council who have the power to set interim policy. At present the FSF has two relevant policies. Firstly, an opposition to “football franchising” – that is moving one club to another community. Secondly, a policy that clubs should only move grounds with their fans’ support.
From browsing forums, polls, and petitions it does appear pretty clear what most fans think. However, we do not want to take that for granted – if you follow Orient, Spurs, or West Ham let the FSF know what you think via firstname.lastname@example.org.
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