I still remember the first time I saw it. We were on the DLR heading to Upton Park for a 2011 home match vs. Sunderland. It was just a grey mass in the distance it didn’t really mean anything to me then. West Ham had just been announced as the new tenant of the Olympic Stadium but moving in was still five years away and I was heading to Upton Park for my first West Ham United game.
Six years later, I’m sat on the tube heading for Stratford for my second West Ham game, this time at the London Stadium. I was absolutely buzzing for this, I loved Upton Park and the history, the atmosphere inside and outside the stadium, but all good things have to come to an end and we had a beautiful new home to check out.
We left Stratford Station and headed to the stadium. We were very early as we were doing a match day tour before the game. I would highly recommend this to anyone and it’s well worth the 30 quid.
To be honest my initial reaction to seeing the stadium was “meh”. Don’t get me wrong, it’s gorgeous, but I was hoping for the same “whoa” feeling I had when Upton Park just emerged out of the neighborhood. Everything here is focused around the LS, which isn’t a bad thing, it just didn’t give me that “whoa” feeling.
As you get closer to the stadium the “whoa” factor becomes more apparent. Both from afar and nearby the stadium is gorgeous, it truly is. The club did a great job branding the outside and the video board is really impressive. The touches with Andy Carroll’s wonder goal and Mark Noble’s Mr. West Ham tribute are really nice. I also really like the park like feel of the area immediately surrounding the stadium.
The weather cooperated and the atmosphere outside the stadium was a mix of excitement and tension. We were in good position to be safe but facing Everton and Romelu Lukaku had a lot of people worried about a blood bath, myself included. I missed the local stands and food trucks that would line Green Street. Everything felt more corporate/retail than my Upton Park experience felt. Which is sad, but I’m an optimist and I think overtime it will feel more authentic especially when the club ends up buying the stadium. I was surprised at how underutilized the area outside the stadium is. The club has a great opportunity to really turn it into a unique match day experience but it’s lacking. Part of that I’m sure is the rent that the operators are charging to be outside the stadium but still the club could do more. I fully believe the club will own the stadium within ten years so much of this will change over time but it was still a bit disappointing.
Walking into the seating area was incredible, it’s beautiful. I know some have criticized the seat colors and design but as an American it beats the pants off 90% of NFL and college stadiums. Generic bleachers and monotone designs are the norm. One thing I noticed right off the bat is there are bathrooms everywhere! I can’t think of any stadium I’ve been to that had more bathrooms. Even at halftime I was in and out in less than 5 minutes that’s unheard of at Lambeau Field or Camp Randall. The food and beer selection is lacking in my opinion but that’s also because NFL stadiums have become spoiled for choice of unique and interesting foods.
I was surprised at how intimate and close the place felt. I had read everything online and seen photos, watched the games on TV, and was expecting it to feel like a cavern. In reality, it is cliché but it is smaller than I thought it would be. During the tour, we got to go to some of the different seating areas and I really don’t understand what all the moaning is about.
The pitch is not that far away and when you compare it to some of the Italian stadiums where you might actually be a full mile from the pitch, the LS is much closer. Yes, it’s farther away than Upton Park was but almost every stadium in the Premier League is. I was pleasantly surprised by how good the views were even from higher up. The views up there are actually better than the upper decks of most NFL stadiums.
My seats were in block 147 row 2, which was amazing. I could almost reach out and touch Manu as he was taking corners. You got hear what some of the players were yelling at each other, which, was a really cool experience. I was shocked at how inexpensive the ticket was. Forty quid for second row was unbelievable. I paid 52 quid for an upper section corner seat at Upton Park and that was six years ago!
The biggest issue I noticed was the passionate fans seem spread all over the stadium. You have pockets of fans starting songs and cheers whereas when I was at Upton Park it generally came from the same area. It was interesting to hear two groups of West Ham fans start two different songs at the same time and see which would take over. This will change over time as supporters migrate toward each other when renewals come up every season. The best analogy I can come up with is the difference between an NFL game and college game where you have a student section that leads the majority of all the cheering and then NFL games where everyone is on their own.
The Hammers outplayed Everton in every way and the fans could sense it and really got behind the team. I was very happy with how loud the place would get toward the end of the game for set pieces and big saves. I think the roof does a good job of keeping the noise in the stadium and when the place gets loud it truly is loud. I don’t think TV microphones do a very good job of picking this up. I was waiting for us to get the go ahead goal and for the roof to come off but alas it was a 0-0 draw. A good point though and one point closer to guaranteed safety.
Overall, it didn’t feel like home yet, it was close, but not quite there. I wish I could have been there for the Spurs game as I’m sure that will be the game that goes down as the first time the LS felt like home. I think we all knew it would be bumpy and it has been but we have a beautiful new stadium and I truly believe can become every bit the fortress that Upton Park was. I was very satisfied with my experience at the London Stadium. Do there need to be improvements? No question, but I think it’s a pretty damn cool stadium and home we will come to love.