We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto. Instead there is pristine landscaping, wide open boulevards, people meandering, rather than forced by a crush. An impressive new shop, inspiring skyscrapers, reminders of Olympic glory and a stadium that is a behemoth.
Welcome to the world of West Ham at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. A new era.
Fans who saw the new home of the Irons for the first time on Sunday stared wide-eyed at vast blue skies, neatly manicured grass and an armoury of claret and blue insignia, billboards and signposts, all beneath the rather improbable Orbit and its vertiginous slide.
On a neighbouring sports pitch, fans were kicking a ball about to kill time. Boys clambered on bridges to watch the water. People cycled unimpeded. There’s just so much room. An agoraphobic’s nightmare.
The journey from the various Stratford stations to the ground was a little miracle for those used to squeezing out the Upton Park Tube station and trudging down chewing-gum roads through a miasma of onion water and scarf barter.
Some may miss that, of course. Some may worry that the terraced house claustrophobia that engendered tribal passions and created clusters and knots of vociferous support would be lost in the sanitised London Stadium.
What does Bilic think?
Slaven Bilic is not one of those. He was notable for his reticence to embrace the London Stadium, not as a playing surface, but as a cauldron of noise, a 12th man. He played at Upton Park, he knows what it’s like to feel the crowd’s hot breath on his neck.
But, so far, he seems convinced. He said after the 1-0 win over Bournemouth: “For a first game, the atmosphere was brilliant. I am a big fan of Upton Park. I am not paid to hail the new stadium but I felt the fans’ proper love – and they helped us in the second half.
“I was right when I said it was up to us. As long as we are winning and competing and as long as they go home happy, they are going to pack the stadium.”
Pack the stadium they did, with 56,977, an improbable 13 short of the capacity for that game with Bubbles sounding just as effective even it rolls over a considerable green no-man’s-land that surrounds the edge of the pitch.
Fidgety Slaven Bilic can’t be up and down in his seat. He has to make a choice or do a lot of trudging there and back.
The capacity will hit 60,000 soon, we’re told, and could possible rise to 66,000 next season, according to co-chairman David Sullivan. Then we will see the full scale of what’s on offer. Because the stadium still has bizarre areas under covers and out of bounds.
There are a few teething problems. Whether it’s the lure of the bars or the sheer scale of the place, fans were slow getting back to their seats after the break giving that atrocious wilting Wembley “prawn sandwiches” air to the start of the second half when a concerted rallying cry would have been better (especially in this lacklustre game).
The crowd created an atmosphere but it was less organic than in the close-knit Boleyn Ground where different stands bounced off each other and kept the tempo levels high. It’s more of an effort to feel part of the action high in the stands, perhaps disconnected by some out-of-use seating, watching at a scale that someone described as “Subbuteo through binoculars”.
Sky commentator Alan Smith said: “At times it was flat. They fans didn’t have much to shout about did they? They wanted to get behind the team and, every now and then, the West Ham fans did burst into song.
“I suppose the fans will have to get used to the stadium, just like Arsenal fans at the Emirates. It’s a different sort of feeling.”
When West Ham pressed, showed inventiveness and purpose, the decibel levels soared so, Bilic is right, the atmosphere is driven by the football (and vice versa).
And there remains the sticky, unresolved and increasingly acrimonious problem of standing. The fans want to stand. Two sections stood throughout, as well as the away fans. The debate on social media has become quite bitter and defiant – with some pointing out there were no seats at all.
The management want them to sit because that’s what the licence says and because if someone stands, those behind are forced to follow suit. Messages on the vast screen outlining this policy were met with jeers and there is no practical way, without hit squads and draconian clampdowns, that the club is going to make fans who want to stand, sit.
But space provides opportunities to do things better. So the concessions serve beer quickly, it’s more family friendly, the accessible wheelchair areas look first class and the movement around the stadium, inside and out, is slick. Added to that the variety of ways of getting away at the end of the game and this is plainly a world-class venue.
This is home now. And, on balance, it’s a better place to be.