My first visit to Upton Park was in 1958. I was four years old. I sat in the stand. B Block in the old West Stand to be precise. When I was old enough to go with friends we always stood. The North Bank was our position of choice for many years. I stood when over 42,000 crammed into the ground against Tottenham one day. We could barely move. But we were young and we didn’t care. It was more fun to watch a game whilst standing on the terraces. It was all we could afford anyway.
But in 1989 a disaster in Sheffield led to a review of the law relating to safety certificates being issued at football stadiums. They became all-seater at Premier League grounds more than twenty years ago, and despite many people wanting safe standing areas, they remain so. Many would welcome these areas but it would require legal changes for it to happen. Just because unofficial standing areas became the norm at Upton Park, usually in the lower areas, and a blind eye appeared to be turned, it doesn’t mean that it is a right now that we have moved into a new stadium. Many who don’t wish to stand (or in fact cannot stand) are inconvenienced because of their position in the ground.
At Upton Park fans knew where the unofficial standing areas were and migrated to them accordingly if they wished to stand. Moving to a new stadium has meant that these unofficial areas have not yet been established and this has therefore exacerbated the issue.
We could have had 60,000 for the visit of Bournemouth. But this had to be reduced to 57,000 as we couldn’t get a safety certificate for the higher figure. Who is to say that this won’t get reduced further if the standing persists? With 52,000 season ticket holders and tickets for away fans then this only left around 2,000 tickets available for people who are unable to get a season ticket. And we are told there are thousands on the waiting list. The club would like to increase the capacity to 66,000 to accommodate the demand, but this looks increasingly unlikely whilst some supporters continue to defy the rules because they believe it is their right to stand.
Now I prefer to sit to watch football. I am not one of the new breed of supporters (Essex middle class was the term used by one standing fan). I have been a regular for nearly 60 years and I have reached an age where a day out to watch football involves a lot of standing and walking, and I prefer to watch the game in relative comfort sitting down. I join in with Bubbles, and I shout and scream as the game is on. I leap to my feet when a goal is scored. When I get home I have often got a very hoarse voice. I am as passionate about West Ham as I was in the sixties, seventies and eighties when I stood on the North Bank. But I don’t have to stand up to show my passion.
The new stadium is infinitely more comfortable than Upton Park. I am lucky in that I sit in an upper tier where others are also seated. As I looked down at the Bournemouth game I could see the problems and conflict arising. Many stood in defiance because they believe it is their right. Throughout the game many faced away from the game with their arms aloft and started the chant “Stand up if you love West Ham”. I love West Ham but I don’t have to stand to prove it. This was followed frequently with “We’re West Ham United, we stand if we want.” These fans are not concerned about the consequences of their actions. They don’t seem to care if they mar the enjoyment of others. They don’t care that fewer can get tickets.