Grounds for excitement at West Ham
ESPN analyst Kevin Keegan is one of English football's most respected figures and he will be writing for ESPNsoccernet throughout the season. As a player, Kevin represented Liverpool with distinction, winning numerous titles in domestic and European football, and was twice named European Footballer of the Year during his time at Hamburg. Kevin has managed England, Newcastle United, Manchester City and Fulham and is one of the most respected voices in the English game.
The news that West Ham have secured the Olympic Stadium site is hugely significant as it could send the club soaring into another stratosphere. I firmly believe that Sheikh Mansour would not have purchased Manchester City had they not left Maine Road for the City of Manchester Stadium in 2003, and edging out Tottenham to be given the keys to the Stratford site could be akin to winning the lottery for West Ham and their supporters.
The right decision has been made as West Ham are a good fit. I think the club submitted a very good bid, articulated their position and their arguments very, very well and while the press made Spurs out to be the bad guys in this scenario, the composition of their bid left them open to criticism. The North Londoners wanted to do things too much their own way, while West Ham have compromised and tried to find some middle ground. Promises were made by the bid team regarding an athletic legacy and the Hammers have been chosen because they included a running track and ticked most of the boxes. Tottenham did not.
West Ham will now benefit from their foresight because the move to Stratford will elevate their standing in the Premier League. It will put them level with clubs like Tottenham, because when they run the numbers with their enhanced corporate facilities and capacity to hold entertainment events, David Gold, David Sullivan and Karren Brady will be surveying a far more favourable business landscape that they do at present. Upton Park was not built with corporate income in mind.
I know from my own experience of moving from Maine Road to Eastlands in 2003 that however beneficial the move will ultimately prove to be, there will be some initial teething problems. Our first priority at Manchester City upon learning that we would have a new home in a few years was to ensure we retained our Premier League status, and that is a challenge that will also be imperative for the Hammers to meet. That demand induced pressure, and it ensured everyone was focused. We knew we had to be in the Premier League when we moved into that stadium if we were to fill it, and we had to be playing attractive football if we were going to sell our season tickets.
When we eventually did take up residence in our new home we then struggled to win games. It is a phenomenon that afflicts many clubs when they change grounds and it does take time to adjust - even to seemingly minute details such as how to actually get to the stadium and where to park. While the new facilities were fantastic, and we had a separate warm-up area and a spacious dressing room, you lost something in the move. The players were suddenly in disparate areas of a cavernous space and you lacked the intimacy that we had at Maine Road, where the treatment table was in the middle of the room because that was the only place it would fit. You lose some tradition.
There was a grieving period, if you can call it that, after leaving Maine Road. There certainly was for me as I loved the place.” -- Kevin Keegan on moving to Eastlands in 2003
There was a grieving period, if you can call it that, after leaving Maine Road. There certainly was for me as I loved the place. I liked to look at the old turnstile, I liked to go and visit the tea lady, Rose, who we saw all the time. I used to have a routine where I would go upstairs and say hello to all the directors, but that was no longer feasible at the new ground as the boardroom was so far away you would never make it back in time. A change of environment disrupted your routine and it took some getting used to.
The atmosphere is also different in a bowl-shaped stadium. West Ham will find out that those kinds of arenas do not have distinct ends that generate banter between different groups of home supporters. Some fans didn't like moving in 2003 as they had occupied their seats at Maine Road for 40 years and had sat there with their dad, who had since passed away. That's the part you can't replace: the nostalgia and the memories. The same will be true of leaving Upton Park.
However, there is a key difference between Manchester City's move to the City of Manchester Stadium and West Ham's planned departure to Stratford, and it has received plenty of publicity in the media: the issue of the running track. I am no fan of them and played many times at the old Wembley which had a dog track around the perimeter. By the time you walked down the tunnel, across the massive sandy track and to the centre circle, you have already done your warm-up. As a manager, if I was playing at home I would like my crowd to be close - as they are at Newcastle and Manchester United - but with a running track, you lose that intimacy. Even if the fans are reaching the same decibel levels as they did previously, it doesn't translate onto the pitch in the same way. That is just common sense.
Our plan with the Commonwealth Games stadium was always to lose the running track, but the Olympic bid demanded an athletics legacy in the stadium and that is something that West Ham must now adjust to as best they can. However, the pluses of a move certainly outweigh the minuses. I spent 18 months at Eastlands and by the time I left, it felt like home. There will be a period of acclimatisation, but West Ham will eventually feel the same about Stratford and the stadium which will take them onto another level.