If Saturday’s unappealing scenes at the London Stadium were meant to be a turning point for West Ham , the response has so far failed to measure up to the scale of the problem.
The club has failed to in its bid to bring police into the ground to work alongside the private stewards from LS185 and begin to tackle crowd management issues that marred the match against Watford.
While scenes on the pitch – when the Irons capitulated against lowly opposition – were soul-sapping, even worse was the drama on the terraces, beamed around the world.
West Ham supporters turned on their own, and on the Watford contingent, as simmering tensions became all too obvious – leaving many supporters, including children, upset and fearful.
The problem that is keeping the police away is the lack of satisfactory radio system installed in the showpiece stadium. This comes despite management assurances that that stadium owners E20 would guarantee a police presence at the next home match on September 21, a low-key affair against Accrington Stanley.
The radio system is likely to be in place for the next London derby – against Arsenal in December – although it is unclear whether or why the police should become involved when security is a matter for the stadium operators – which would have to foot the bill for extra help. It is understood LS185 believes it can cope.
Deputy assistant commissioner Peter Terry said: “Until there is comprehensive Airwave radio coverage throughout the ground, officers will not be routinely deployed within it under a Special Services agreement. The stadium operators have only very recently agreed to install a satisfactory radio system.
“This issue was highlighted to the stadium operators in October 2014 and the MPS has been in negotiation with stadium operators.”
The main bone of contention
The club confirmed that 10 supporters were ejected from the stadium during the Watford game with nearly 50 complaints centred on the main bone of contention – standing in the sitting areas.
Supporters have been told they must sit but some see it as their right to stand, clinging as much as possible to the Boleyn Ground experience. This leads to confrontations with supporters’ who can’t see the pitch.
Without orderly sitting, West Ham will be unable to open up new seating areas and better organise the clustering of similar fan groups – family seating areas etc.
A West Ham spokesman said: “The club is doing everything possible within its jurisdiction to help provide a safe and enjoyable environment for all supporters. The club is working hard to move like-minded supporters into areas to enhance their match-day experience.”
“The way it’s going, someone is going to end up seriously hurt,” said Graeme Howlett, editor of the Knees Up Mother Brown website told The Guardian. “It’s dangerous. We’ve got so many accounts of fans trading blows, people having to dive on their kids to protect them.”
The teething problems come from a number of sources. West Ham believe that the stewards lack the football match awareness of their own staff at the Boleyn Ground. Meanwhile, the layout of the ground itself has added to the problems with poor segregation
In the background remains the unresolved culture war – what it means to be a West Ham fan. The traditional east Londoner wants to retain the grime and glory of Upton Park while the club itself wants to reach out to a global audience, who demand a high class Premier League experience. The standing/sitting issue is the frontline.
These problems have been exacerbated by the reality of watching West Ham from a distance – and those displays by the team being so underwhelming.
Appeal to supporters
An LS185 spokesman said: “We remain determined to ensure that all supporters can enjoy the best possible matchday experience in a safe and secure environment and fully support West Ham’s efforts to migrate supporters attending in family groups to dedicated sections.”
The club has launched its own investigation into the trouble, pledge a zero tolerance and season-long bans for anti-social behaviour.
It issued a statement concluding : “The club now appeals to all supporters to come together and support West Ham in the famous way we have historically been so proud of.
It is important that we recognise the vast majority who have attended the first five fixtures played at London Stadium have been outstanding with their behaviour and support. They, like all at West Ham United, do not want their reputation or the club’s to be tarnished by the minority.”
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