Thursday, 12 April 2018

London Stadium

West Ham 3-0 Southampton

31st March 2018

I groaned inwardly a few years back when I learned West Ham United were going to be leaving Upton Park to relocate to what was then still known as The Olympic Stadium.  Not because it represented another ground to visit – the more the merrier, as far as I am concerned.  No, it was because I had attended an athletics session at the venue during London2012, and had come away deeply underwhelmed by the experience.  The shallow rake of the seating and the (necessary, obviously) running track around the pitch meant the action looked a long way off.  I could not imagine what Messrs. Gold and Sullivan could possibly do to remedy these shortcomings.

However I cheered up, just a touch, when it dawned the visit would ford me the opportunity to wander around the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, and see what had changed in the intervening five and a half years.

In addition to the athletics, I had attended events at two venues in the park in 2012: hockey at The Riverbank Arena and handball in The Basketball Arena (or The Mattress, as it had rather wittily been nicknamed).  Of the latter venue nothing remained, but I knew it was never intended to last beyond the games.  Indeed, there had been some talk of the whole erection being dismantled and shipped to Rio for the 2016 event.  Whether that ever happened, I have no idea.  I rather doubt it.  There is now a block of upmarket flats on the site, which forms part of the larger Chobham Manor “residential neighbourhood”, as it likes to be known.

The Stratford Gate entrance to The Olympic Park in 2012

The Mattress (Basketball Arena) can be seen in the distance.
The large screen showed other sports going on, mainly rowing from Eton Dorney, when I was there. 

Flats now sit on the site on The Mattress in 2018

The Riverbank Arena housed the 2012 Olympics Hockey tournament....

.....All gone now - just a grassed area.

The future of The Riverbank Arena was still uncertain back in 2012, but the jungle of scaffolding around place suggested to me that it’s long term prospects were shaky at best.  The pink and blue playing surface soon found its way to Hallam University, I believe, and the tract is now naught but pleasant parkland, with no clues that a 16,000 seated venue once stood (albeit fleetingly) on the site.

Of the other park venues which were used during the games, The Copper Box  Arena is still in place, and is presently home to the London Lions basketball team and the benecosMavericks netball club. 

The Copper Box in 2018, with the RUN artwork outside.

Although with some mischievous placing of a lampost, one can make is spell RUIN

My pic does not quite capture it but the copper-facing sheets are liberally splattered
with birdshit of an impressive array of different colours.

Panorama of The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in 2018
On the horizon (L-R)  ArcelorMittal Orbit, The London Stadium, The Copper Box Arena,
 Here East (a "technology hub" and "innovation centre") built on the site of the 2012 games media HQ. 
Finally the former site of the Riverside Arena.

Looking towards The Velodrome (2012)
The Olympic rings structure can just be seen on the hill on the far right of the pic.

The Olympic Rings and Velodrome in 2018

The Velodrome 2018

The Velodrome and, to the right, the former site of The Basketball Arena (The Mattress).

Also still in place are The Velodrome and the Aquatic Centre; although the latter has been shorn of its seating area “wings”.  And looks all the better for it, I have to say.

But the biggest change to the site is that there is now a big bloody road running through it: Waterden Road, which the park visitor has to negotiate.

The London Aquatics Centre 2018

The London Aquatics Centre 2018

I took a pic of an impressively botoxed Sharon Davies back in 2012

The Olympic Stadium in 2012

Which brings us, I suppose, to the Olympic Stadium itself, or London Stadium as it has been rebranded.  The first thing I noticed upon setting eyes on the place again, apart from all the claret and blue make-up, was that those iconic triangular floodlight structures appeared gone.  It was only once I got inside did I realise they had been integrated into the vastly extended stadium roof.  Integrated upside down, I might add.

Despite my misgivings, the experience was not so grim as I had feared.  Although this may have been in no small part due to the fact I spent the 90 minutes in company of 50,000 or so Hammers’ fans who were perhaps enjoying their most fun Saturday afternoon for a long time.  And the view appeared no worse than I have experienced at a number of large venues over the years.  A consequence of the retractable seating which is used during football matches at the ground, is there are eerie sections of “ghost” seating hidden away in corners and behind banks of in-use seating.

The Olympic Stadium in 2012

I could not be sure if I was approaching the stadium from the same direction second time around.
I suspect not.

The London Stadium 2018

The London Stadium 2018

The London Stadium 2018

West Ham United have very much made the place their own.

Even the mascots get their own luxury coach.

Entrance E

The ArcelorMittal Orbit was erected for 2012, and is still going strong.
I thought about giving it a go, but £16.50 for a glorified helter-skelter seemed a touch steep (pun intended)

As it sez: Stadium Store.

Panorama of The London Stadium from the Bobby Moore Stand.

I probably overdid the panorama thing with The London Stadium,
but I took advantage of the fact I could wander
unimpeded around most of the venue.
This was taken from the West Stand.

The London Stadium.

This was the view from my £450 seat back in 2012.....

.....and the same view in 2018

Another panorama - this one from the Sir Trevor Brooking Stand.

.....and then from the East Stand.

This was one of the pockets of "ghost seats" scattered around the ground.....

.....and another.

I think these are the original floodlighting units, turned upside down and incorporated into the extended roof.
One of the downsides of having to extend the shelter, is that there is a LOT of structural clutter hanging down from the roof.

As to the football itself, well I have witnessed a fair few number of cup tie mismatches over the years, but I can barely recall such a one-sided 45 minutes of top flight league football.

The visitors were woeful, and the architects of their own downfall.  After a Southampton corner in the 12th minute, visiting midfielder Mario Lamina was harried into losing possession midway into the West Ham half, allowing the home side to break up-field quickly.  The ball found its way to Joao MARIO whose right foot shot had Saint’s keeper flailing at mid air, at the ball flew past him.

Five minutes later Marko ARANAUTOVIC doubled the Hammers' lead, with Southampton once more contributing to their own woes by again giving the ball away cheaply – the Dane Pierre-Emile HĂžjbjerg, the guilty
party here.  Seconds before the break ARNAUTOVIC scored his second and his side’s third, with a delightfully controlled finish.  But once again, this goal had its roots in Southampton tamely surrendering possession just outside the West Ham box.

Saints improved a touch after, I am sure, being exposed to manager Mark Hughes’ wit and wisdom during the break, and did carve out a couple of half-chances.  Unfortunately both fell to a match rusty Charlie Austin who was unable to do the needful.  Indeed, it was the home side who came closer to adding to the scoring; Arnautovic curling a long range effort just past Alex McCarthy's left hand post, before match programme cover star Aaron Cresswell improvised a shot which clipped the crossbar on its way over.  

Finally a word on West Ham's teenaged Irish International Declan Rice - Perhaps not his most testing environment of late, but he really looked a class act this afternoon, in the heart of the Hammers' defence.  

One to watch, I feel. 

West Ham United v Southampton - March 2018

West Ham United v Southampton - March 2018

Saint's 'keeper McCarthy has a flap at a corner.

Joao Mario opening the scoring.

Marco Arnautovic' initial header was saved by Alex McCarthy.....

.....but the dyed-blond Austrian followed up to make it 2-0

West Ham United v Southampton - March 2018

First-half corner kick for West Ham

Flags out to herald The Hammers' Premier League survival?
This big win certainly would not have harmed their chances.

Panorama of The London Stadium.

Aaron Cresswell almost fashioned a late fourth for his side - this attempt hitting the crossbar on its way over.

An unhappy Mark Hughes surrounded by happy bubbles.

Time Up

No surprise here.

Panorama of The London Stadium.

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