Back in 2016, West Ham United made the move from the Boleyn Ground to what was then known as the Olympic Stadium, now the London Stadium.
It was a polarising switch for many given that for all but the first nine years of the club’s existence, the Hammers’ spiritual home was at the south end of Green Street. Generations of the claret and blue fraternity had spent every other weekend there.
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The Chicken Run, the North and South Bank, Moore, Hurst and Peters. Brooking, Bonds, Devonshire. Di Canio, Lampard, Ferdinand.
That tightly packed old-fashioned stadium held memories to last a lifetime.
A move was needed for a multitude of reasons, not least because the club had effectively outgrown the stadium. With transport links in the locale at breaking point every match day, a move made sense, and the club had, unsuccessfully, tried to redevelop a site at Crown Wharf in Bromley-by-Bow some 17 years before.
Where Messrs. Gold and Sullivan struck gold with the fan base was with the promise of European football. A team to be proud of that would take the club to the next level in an iconic stadium with superb access and egress.
The long-held dream of taking the Hammers back to the upper echelons of the game would soon be a reality.
However, the dream quickly turned into a nightmare. The ground was labelled a ‘soulless bowl’ from the get-go, and the intimidating atmosphere that could often be created within the four stands at the Boleyn simply evaporated.
The athletics track had gone, but supporters were still too far away from the pitch. A pre-match pie and a pint at the Boleyn Pub or The Queens, a ritual for many, had been replaced by corporate greed. A tenner for burger and chips outside the ground, well away from any other food and drink outlets, was never going to curry favour with the Irons faithful.
Added to that was footballing fare that was right out of the Championship. West Ham were dire for long periods of that first season.
Losing to Astra Giurgiu in the Europa League Play-Off at the end of August 2016 was an inauspicious start but the shape of things to come.
Finishes of 11th, 13th and 10th were about where the Hammers were at as a club, with league results peppered by cup defeats to the likes of Wigan Athletic and AFC Wimbledon. The type of games that were always the club’s Achilles heel.
Things were even worse last season when only David Moyes’ return saved the club from certain relegation. A late revival saw them end the campaign in 16th, but once again, it was hardly the European dream that everyone had bought into.
‘Just like my dreams they fade and die,’ is a line from West Ham’s ‘I’m forever blowing bubbles’ anthem, and at that stage it couldn’t have been more apt.
However, this season something has changed. Maybe it’s the fact that no supporters are inside the ground. After all, if they can be the 12th man when needed and give the players a boost, then the same surely applies when things take a downward turn. That negativity is going to feed into the player’s collective psyche.
Whatever the whys and wherefores, Moyes is now showing the kind of managerial nous that got him the Manchester United job in the first place. Along with Stuart Pearce, Alan Irvine and Kevin Nolan, the Scot has revitalised an underperforming group.
His transfer buys have all come good, Declan Rice is playing like a young Bobby Moore, and in Michail Antonio, he has arguably the hardest working striker in the Premier League.
Whisper it quietly… Champions League football isn’t even out of the question either.
West Ham have only lost once – to Liverpool – since before Christmas. To put their form in perspective, they now sit five points ahead of last season’s champions.
Although the East Londoners have by far their toughest test of the season to come this weekend, as they go looking to stop Manchester City’s record-breaking winning run, they have nothing else to fear and everything to gain from the final 13 matches of the campaign.Jason Pettigrove
Other clubs may have more talented players, with all due respect, but you won’t find many other outfits whose XI out on the pitch are so in tune with each other and with the demands that the coaching staff have placed on them.
If the ultimate European dream is finally to be realised this season, then no one can say West Ham United don’t deserve it.
It’s been a long time coming, but all good things to those who wait…