West Ham once gave life to a part of east London, but the Boleyn ground is gone and the heart has been ripped out of the club
The fate of the little memorial garden on Green Street, next to where the Boleyn ground’s main entrance once stood, is just one of the problems facing West Ham United. Full of bedraggled scarves and wilting flowers and plaques dedicated to long-gone fans – should it be taken from its present location, where the roar of the crowd will never be heard again, and reinstalled in the club’s widely detested new home?
Another is the much loved statue 50 yards away, on the crossroads at the junction with Barking Road. It depicts Bobby Moore, the embodiment of the club’s self‑image, in his moment of greatest triumph, holding aloft the World Cup while borne on the shoulders of his club mate Geoff Hurst and Everton’s Ray Wilson, while a third Hammer, Martin Peters, looks on.
• Saints’ 3-0 defeat at Newcastle proves final straw • Pellegrino’s assistants also leave after one win in 17 league games
Southampton have sacked Mauricio Pellegrino after a miserable run of one win in 17 Premier League matches left them embroiled in a fight to avoid relegation with nine games remaining.
The club are targeting a swift appointment – a third in less than two years – ideally before Sunday’s FA Cup quarter-final at Wigan Athletic. They could, however, wait to name the Argentinian’s successor, because they have no league match until the end of this month, at West Ham on 31 March.
German international reached his half-century of assists as Arsenal’s best players all contributed to victory over Watford
With eight minutes gone in this meeting of upper-to-mid‑table powers there was a significant little wonky detail. Arsenal had just taken the lead on an afternoon when they passed the ball with speed and verve through midfield, with Mesut Özil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan producing some sublime touches.
It was from Özil’s free-kick that Shkodran Mustafi rose above a mildly interested Watford defence to send a firm header wiffling into the far corner: “And that ladies and gentleman is Arsenal’s ONE THOUSANDTH goal in the Premier League!!” a ludicrously upbeat voice declared over the Emirates Stadium PA as the players celebrated.
West Ham United’s players fear the toxic atmosphere at the London Stadium will harm their battle against relegation after their 3-0 defeat by Burnley on Saturday was marred by furious supporter demonstrations against David Gold and David Sullivan, the club’s co-owners.
Although David Moyes called for his team to stick together after an afternoon of chaos left them three points above the bottom three, there is concern within West Ham’s dressing room that their fight to stay in the Premier League will be derailed now the fanbase appears to have lost all faith with the board.
The east London club have launched an investigation and is braced for a heavy fine from the Football Association after the London Stadium’s security failings were exposed by four pitch invasions, hundreds of supporters gathering in front of the directors’ box to vent their feelings, the police receiving two assault allegations and Sullivan’s glasses saving him from serious injury after he was struck by a coin during the protests.
The situation is far from ideal, bearing in mind the damage that West Ham’s third consecutive defeat has done to their chances of staying up. Several players were visibly annoyed with the delays caused by supporters breaking on to the field of play, with Mark Noble, the captain, hurling the first pitch invader to the ground and James Collins becoming involved in a heated exchange with another. It is understood the squad is worried about the prospect of further unrest during the run-in. The pressure on them is already immense and while they understand why fans are upset with the hierarchy, the last thing they need are any more distractions during a crucial period.
The squad flew to Florida for five days of warm-weather training on Sunday morning and need to regroup swiftly before their next game, which is at home to fellow strugglers Southampton on 31 March. Yet the sense is of a club at war with itself. Supporters believe promises have been broken since West Ham left Upton Park two years ago and they have railed at a lack of investment in the transfer market. Within the club, however, there is disbelief that the mood turned so quickly in the ground after Ashley Barnes gave Burnley the lead in the 66th minute.
The day was supposed to be remembered for commemorations marking the 25th anniversary of Bobby Moore’s death. Yet the atmosphere deteriorated after the visitors scored, even though West Ham would have had ample time to rescue themselves in normal circumstances, and there is a feeling that the disruptions played a part in the team’s subsequent collapse.
Sullivan and Gold were escorted from their seats on safety grounds in the 84th minute. Some supporters gathered below the directors’ box had made throat-slitting gestures and some threw missiles. Sir Trevor Brooking, who was sitting on his own in the directors’ box by the end, confirmed reports that a coin hit Sullivan. “I didn’t see it myself but I did have that confirmed, which was part of the reason why the people in the directors’ box had to go inside to save any more problems like that,” the former West Ham player and manager told the BBC.
The focus in the aftermath switched to the failure by stewards to respond to the pitch invasions and the way they were overwhelmed by the surge towards the directors’ box, with one female steward knocked to the ground. Questions were raised about the slow response from the security team, given the fallout from a cancelled protest march before the game. Rival fan groups had clashed over that decision and Mark Walker, the chairman of the West Ham United Independent Supporters Association, has criticised the club for not condemning the threats and abuse that he received last week.
West Ham, who say they went through the proper safety checks before the game with the relevant authorities, called an emergency meeting with the stadium’s stakeholders on Saturday night and will issue bans to anyone involved in the pitch invasions.
Sullivan blamed LS185, the stadium operators, as West Ham do not have control over stewarding. “We feel very badly let down by the stadium operators appointed by the mayor’s staff,” he said on Saturday night. “Where were the stewards and police?” A spokesman for the mayor of London responded by saying that Sadiq Khan’s office has no influence over the stadium’s security, while the reason it took police so long to appear was because officers are not required in the ground for low-category fixtures.
The London Legacy Development Corporation is conducting an inquiry with LS185. While both organisations had made preparations for the march that never took place, they will analyse whether there was information to suggest that there would be some form of protest inside the ground.
Ultimately, however, the FA will hold West Ham responsible for the inadequate crowd control. West Ham, who banned around 200 fans after violent clashes during last season’s League Cup victory over Chelsea, expect to receive a fine, while the FA has the power to make them play behind closed doors. Aston Villa were hit with a £200,000 fine after pitch invasions overshadowed their FA Cup victory over West Bromwich Albion at Villa Park three years ago.
Following Brechin City has never been one of football’s soft options. In 112 years of existence, the club’s honours list extends to a handful of Second and Third Division titles alongside the Forfarshire Cup. Brechin are, in fact, the kind of perennial lower league club commonly disparaged by those further up the chain. That Northern Ireland’s Michael O’Neill is among those to start out on a managerial journey at Glebe Park suggests Brechin actually have plenty to offer.
This season they are on the verge of breaking records they would rather avoid. They head into Saturday’s Championship meeting with Dundee United having won only a single fixture – against Highland League Buckie Thistle, in the Scottish Cup – out of 32 played this season. Fortune clearly has not been on Brechin’s side; having edged out Buckie, they were drawn against Celtic and lost 5-0 in the next round. Their goal difference in Scotland’s second tier is minus 38, with their four points the result of draws. They are the only team in the top divisions of English and Scottish football without a league victory. The situation would be extraordinary at any level, let alone a professional one.
The whys and wherefores of Brechin’s plight are straightforward. Having finished fourth in last season’s League One – 12 points adrift of second-placed Alloa – Brechin proved the surprise package of the play-offs when sealing a Championship berth. Brechin, who train on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, are one of two part-time teams; the other, Dumbarton, have the benefit of a central Scotland location in respect of attracting players.
“A club of our size doesn’t have the resources to plan appropriately for being in the Championship,” says Ken Ferguson, Brechin’s chairman. “So you get up there, reappraise the situation and want to give it the best shot you can but you can’t by any means stretch the club to keep up with full-time teams. We knew it would be hard, probably not as hard as it has been.”
This season in more auspicious surroundings is at least lucrative for a club which announced a £40,000 loss in 2017. Attendances have hovered around the high hundreds and the Brechin Supporters’ Club is still running a bus to all away games; around 20 diehards are ever-present.
“You always have the odd few getting on the manager or players’ backs but most people have enjoyed the season,” says Dean Walker, the supporters’ club chairman. “To have no wins so far into the season obviously isn’t nice but the banter has been good. The fans have mostly taken it on the chin.”
Brechin have become victims of narrow margins. Fifteen of their 26 defeats have been by a single goal. St Mirren, the runaway Championship leaders, have struggled to 2-1 and 1-0 wins over the Angus men. So what would transpire if they can imminently break the run?
“I don’t think the players will overly celebrate because that’s them doing their job,” says Ferguson. “I think the fans will quite rightly take an opportunity to enjoy it and they should do after sticking by us through what’s been a difficult season. They have been coming away from games week after week being told: ‘You were unlucky, you played well there, the win is close.’ You get fed up hearing that.”
In an industry where managerial sackings can transpire after eight games, that Brechin – a members-owned club run by committee – have stuck by Darren Dods eight months into this campaign is highly admirable. Brechin even afforded Dods resources to bring in loanees from Premiership clubs in January.
“We are proud of our reputation of bringing young managers through,” adds the chairman. “It is hard getting players to travel to clubs like ours so you have to be a good club. That’s all based on reputation. It is too easy to sack managers. Darren is doing everything he can and the vibe in the dressing room is good.
“We will go down as a better team, with better players and in a stronger financial position than when we went up. Obviously we don’t want this hanging over us about not having a league win and players’ own professional pride will hopefully deal with that.”
Key in the thoughts of Brechin’s staff for now is beating the 10-point total of Clydebank in the equivalent league in 1999-2000. They are at least now level with Dundee, who amassed four in 1898-99. As if to prove what a brutal business football was in that era, winless Vale of Leven claimed five points in 1891-92 and Clyde six a season later.
“I think the atmosphere and attitude would be harder if we were full-time players and in training every day,” says Patrick O’Neil, the Brechin goalkeeper, who has never played in a team reaching March winless in a league. “When it’s only twice a week, you don’t really get down about things. And there has been an excitement about playing a lot of really good teams at really good stadiums in the Championship. The spirit is actually fine but it helps that it’s such a good club that treats you well.”
The supporters’ club chairman insists the scenes will be “mental” if or when Brechin notch a league victory. Others at the club, it seems, would greet such a win with relief.
Tottenham meet Arsenal at Wembley on Saturday but next year’s derby will take place at the new White Hart Lane with the old rivals on a more-equal footing regarding revenue
Of all the numbers that cling to Tottenham’s new stadium project – and there are many, some of them mind-boggling – there is one that screams for attention in north London. It is the projected capacity of 61,559. The final figure could change. The club continue to fine-tune the design and they have applied for permission to go higher than 62,000. But what can be said for certain is that the ground will become the second-largest on England’s club football landscape.
It will be smaller than Old Trafford, which holds 75,643, but bigger than Emirates Stadium, which accommodates 59,867. That, for Tottenham, is a very big deal. Talk to anybody at the club about the new stadium, which is rising fast on the site of the old 36,284-capacity White Hart Lane, and that is the detail they invariably volunteer. It will be bigger than Arsenal’s.
Tottenham have long been fixated with ruling the roost in their neighbourhood and as they approach the derby on Saturday at their temporary home of Wembley they enjoy a four-point advantage over Arsenal in the Premier League. They know that victory would not only enhance their top-four prospects but deal a serious blow to those of their rivals. There is a bigger picture.
For Tottenham, Arsenal have been the benchmark in business terms. When they left Highbury for the Emirates in 2006, trading a much-loved but hemmed-in 38,500-seat venue for a state-of-the-art bowl, they entered a new ballpark in every sense. Year on year, and aided by the revenue streams from regular Champions League qualification, Arsenal powered clear of Tottenham on a financial level.
It has been a wonder that Tottenham have been able to lever themselves above them on the pitch – they finished clear of Arsenal in the league last season for the first time since 1995 – and compete with the rest of the so-called big six.
It has been down, in large part, to the alchemy of Mauricio Pochettino who, since his arrival as manager in the summer of 2014, has spent a net £40.25m on permanent transfer deals. To reinforce the point, that it is £40.25m over eight windows. By way of comparison, Arsenal – under Arsène Wenger – have shown a net spend of £163m in the same period. Pochettino has still pieced together the most exciting Spurs team in years.
Tottenham have been painfully aware of the need to construct a more robust platform upon which to challenge and they have taken their inspiration from Arsenal. To borrow the poker phrase, they have seen their oldest rival’s move and sought to raise them.
They want their new stadium to be bigger and better; they have obsessed, for example, over how to create the most immersive atmosphere. The 17,500-seat single-tier home end will be the centrepiece.
Crucially, the move will enable them to bridge the gap to Arsenal in financial terms, beginning with match-day revenues. According to Deloitte’s football money league, which was published in January and analyses the 2016-17 season, Arsenal made £100m in gate receipts compared with £45.3m for Spurs.
Earnings at Spurs were up by £4.5m on the previous season, however, mainly because they hosted their Champions League games at Wembley, giving them a taste of what might be to come in a big stadium.
Arsenal sit sixth in Deloitte’s table with total income of £419m while Tottenham are 11th with £305.6m – the figures boosted by a huge increase of £77.8m in broadcast revenue helped by their Champions League participation, the first under Pochettino.
Commercially, Arsenal remain ahead, earning £117.3m to £72.1m, but Tottenham believe this is another area where the stadium will get them closer. With such a status piece, they will become more attractive to sponsors.
There are many other potential uplifts. White Hart Lane was not fit for purpose in terms of corporate hospitality whereas the new stadium will push fine-dining.
It will become a conference and events venue – like the Emirates – and the hotel being built as part of the development will complement that. The stadium’s multifunctionality will help, too. Thanks to the retractable pitch, it will stage NFL games and, perhaps, concerts and boxing.
The bottom line for the fans is that the stadium and increased revenues will equip the club with the means to attract and keep the A-list names. The theory is that players such as Harry Kane will get the salaries to convince them Tottenham ought to be their destination club rather than a stepping stone.
Pochettino is excited. Like everybody, he knows that the clubs with the biggest stadiums and highest turnovers win almost all of the prizes. “When we finish the new stadium and settle there, it would be the time to say: ‘Now, we will win the title,’” he said in December.
Will it work like that? Is it in the nature of the chairman, Daniel Levy, to loosen the purse strings? Tottenham will have banks debts of £400m to repay over a five-year period and they have pledged to find the rest of the required £850m themselves. Last May, the club announced they had spent more than £340mon the project, which included £100m from the banks.
It was certainly interesting to hear Wenger say in January that Arsenal still had “financial restrictions from the banks” relating to the £390m Emirates build. One of the problems for them – and everyone else – is that they cannot compete on a financial level with the Manchester clubs.
In many respects, Tottenham are living an austerity period under Pochettino. The new stadium opens next season and if and when the shackles come off, the possibilities are tantalising.