Monday 2nd January wasn’t my favourite day of the year so far. The day began OK and we spent the morning taking down the Christmas tree and decorations, moving the tree to the garden to be chopped up and re-cycled at a later date, and depositing the boxes of various decorations into the loft for another year. A leisurely lunch and then we set off for the London Stadium at around 2.30pm.
We live in Bury St Edmunds so it is quite a trip when we go to watch West Ham, but not as far as some fans travel. Listening to the radio on the A11 I realised that the kick off was at 5.15, not 5.30 that I had in mind, but still leaving us sufficient time to get there on time. As we reached the junction with the M11 there was a long tail-back of traffic, and we crawled for most of the journey to Epping, which is where we normally catch the Central Line train for Stratford.
Unfortunately the car park at Epping, the largest car park on the whole London Underground network, was full, as were all the nearby streets within walking distance of the station. Never mind, we drove on two further stops down the line to Debden and parked there. We got to Stratford around 40 minutes before kick-off and set off on the long winding route march to the ground. As West Ham fans have found, although a direct walk from Stratford station to the London Stadium shouldn’t really take that long, it is not possible to take the most obvious route, and we are directed on a journey that takes twice as long in dark streets with minimal lighting. You can see the stadium but don’t seem to be getting much nearer following the prescribed course.
When we reached the stadium the crowds outside and queues to get in were much bigger than usual. I soon found out the reason why. The security checks and bag searches were more extensive than usual. When my bag was searched, security found that, in addition to gloves, hats, the programme, a few snacks etc. we were trying to enter the ground with two dangerous articles, namely two plastic bottles of Pepsi Max. Now I don’t have a problem with security searches normally, but this time it was as if we were going through Stansted airport. I was surprised that they didn’t ask us to remove our belts and shoes!
I was not impressed with the manner of the way we were treated by the security guy, who was insistent that we deposit the offensive Pepsi Max plastic bottles in a bin before entering the ground. I asked to speak to his boss and was directed to another security guy. I explained that the drinks were for our journey home. With the game ending after 7pm, and the difficulty in entering the Westfield Centre after the match to buy a drink for our return trip, I demanded to know why we were not allowed to keep our drinks.
I was informed that no dangerous weapons are permitted in the ground! Now I am a long- time supporter in my sixties, and have been watching the team regularly since 1958, and have never before been stopped from entering the ground with plastic bottles of drink. I stood my ground and insisted that Pepsi Max was not a dangerous weapon. What did they think I was going to do with it? Apparently it is considered to be a danger to fans if I threw it! I explained I had no intention of using it as a missile. I wanted a drink on the way home. Now I sit about as far away from the opposition fans as is possible in the London Stadium, and not even Steve Backley could throw a javelin that distance, let alone a soft drinks plastic bottle. Surely coins are a much more dangerous missile; what next, will we be asked to remove all coins from our pocket before entering the stadium?
The chief security guy finally agreed that we could take the plastic bottles into the ground if we removed the caps! Kick-off time was approaching and I wasn’t prepared to discuss the matter any further, so we took of the caps and entered through the turnstiles with our full bottles of Pepsi-Max without the tops. I did ask the security guy for the name of the authority that imposed the rules, and he informed me that it wasn’t actually a stadium requirement as such (plastic bottles of drink are sold within the ground), but a strict directive from Gold and Sullivan, and I should direct my complaint to them.
When I reached my seat as Bubbles began, I was relating the story to the grandfather who sits next to me with his six year old grandson. He had the same experience and his grandson’s fruit shoot also had to have the cap removed before they entered the ground. Very frustrated by my experience I sat down to watch the game. I looked at the teams and was pleased to see that the manager had selected a side which was likely to have more pace than usual. I was looking forward to the game. I really felt that it was going to be a good one. I will write a letter of complaint to Messrs. Gold and Sullivan tomorrow to see what they have to say.
(To be continued …..)