People often say that “size matters” and, with West Ham United set to move into the Olympic Stadium for the start of the 2016/17 season, could the Hammers become the biggest club in the capital in the future?
With the Olympic Park having been opened up to the general public just last Saturday, a visit could be seen as an enjoyable day out for all, especially the opposing supporters, when the Irons move in.
Before Sunday’s visit of Liverpool to the Boleyn Ground, it was noticeable that a rock band could be heard as supporters made their way in to the stadium and that was a taste of what the co-owners want the atmosphere to be like when action commences in Stratford. The Olympic Stadium will be classified as UEFA category 4, which will put it in the elite top 30 stadia throughout Europe, making it possible to host major finals, bringing supporters from all over the world to London.
When David Sullivan and David Gold bought the club back in January 2010, there was already talk about taking over the Olympic Stadium when the main event was over because their vision was to get the club playing Champions League football if they moved away from Green Street.
To see how this shift in the balance of power could come about, it’s important to look at the Premier League opposition in the capital.
Chelsea were bought by Russian businessmen Roman Abramovich back in 2003 and since then they have become one of London’s top-flight big boys. However, if Abramovich decides to walk away from West London then they will be back in trouble in terms of the amount of money they would have available. Abramovich realises that their current Stamford Bridge home is too small with a capacity of 42,000. The Chelsea Pitch Owners Ltd, a group of supporter shareholders who own both the stadium and the name of the club, have previously refused the idea of relocation and without their blessing the team would no longer be able to play under the name of Chelsea.
Chelsea Pitch Owners are a part of Chelsea Village, which was intended to enhance the whole matchday experience. However, this branding was dropped in 2003 as the club wanted to focus solely on the development of the club with regards to football. Without a bigger stadium, how long will Abramovich be prepared to bankroll Chelsea?
Tottenham Hotspur is also a club with major problems. It only holds just over 36,000 supporters and has money issues. In recent years they have had a reputation for sacking managers and this season the squad may not be good enough to qualify for any European competitions, which is surprising due to the money received from the sale of Gareth Bale. Spurs need to develop a bigger stadium and when West Ham were announced as the preferred bidder to move to Stratford, the North London side had to consider its redevelopment options.
Back in February, West Ham agreed to sell Upton Park to a property developer but recent speculation has suggested that Spurs considered buying Upton Park as a temporary base while they redevelop their White Hart Lane ground. How well would that go down with the loyal West Ham fan base? So expansion for them is going to be expensive and a long way off.
Sides such as Fulham and Crystal Palace have no real plans to either increase the capacity or to move stadiums and to be truthful, both teams are struggling to retain their top-flight status.
That only leaves one top-flight London club to discuss and that is Arsenal. Arsenal are just Arsenal; big and powerful. In 2006 the Emirates Stadium opened its doors and currently holds the accolade of being London’s biggest Premier League stadium. It can house 60,000 supporters and although they haven’t won a major trophy since they moved to their new home it is not due to the fact that they are unable to attract the calibre of player to achieve this, it seems to be something wrong with the team’s attitude and style of play.
If West Ham are to achieve their vision of Champions League football, the club need to be able to capture the sort of players that would help them move up the table and start challenging for honours.
The move to Stratford could be seen as one that will allow them to achieve this aim and then they could be competing with the likes of Arsenal in the not too distant future.