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Take your minds back to 2012.

Sporting royalty had engulfed the country, with athletics’ finest flocking to the UK to compete in the grandest of all competitions.

London Stadium a hindering shadow for West Ham in their Premier League fightSeven years earlier London had won the bid to host the Olympic Games, but while the nation turned delirious at the decision, the formalities of choosing a site for the main venue had created headaches for organisers and construction workers alike.

Stratford was chosen as the preferred location, yet the project represented a metamorphosis of an industrial wasteland into a gleaming high-tech multi-usage park.

At the centre-piece stood the Olympic Stadium, a gleaming light across the London skyline, and an arena it was thought would provide a long-lasting legacy to the Olympic message and dream that emboldened Lord Coe’s message of inspiring a generation.

There was no doubt that the spectacular spectacle of Jessica Ennis-Hill, Mo Farah and Usain Bolt showcasing their talents to win Olympic gold proved the stadium provided the right setting for history to be made.

With the bright orange flame watching on in the background, amongst 75,000 other spectators that is, athletes were bound to an ideal of hope and dedication. The eyes of the world were on them. They knew performing at just 99% was not an option.

It is perhaps no different to what West Ham United fans expect of their players. Same ground after all.

What was purely once an athletics arena is now a multi-functional sporting venue, with the Hammers the owners outside of the stadium’s track and field obligations.

Since 2012 the stadium’s capacity has reduced from 80,000 to 60,000, and while the crowd size is considerably higher than what West Ham achieved at Upton Park, you’d have thought that it would be the latter and not the former which holds the greater numbers.

With more modern transport links, a high-status shopping centre and up to date infrastructure, you’d think the stadium would be a perfect fit on the surface.

Yet dig deeper and the cracks become thicker, caused by the anger and resentment levelled by Hammers supporters at David Gold, David Sullivan and Karren Brady, with the arena making more headlines off the pitch than on it.

It is after all still an athletics stadium. You can redesign the seating arrangements inside to facilitate football matches, and even though it doesn’t reflect the Olympiastadion or Stadio Olimpico in terms of the size of the area between fans and pitch, there is still an undeniable fact that a large proportion of fans didn’t want to move.

They cite plans by Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea to build stadia suited primarily for football, where supporters breathe down players’ necks on the touchlines, castigating the opposition at close range to form an intimidating cauldron.

To do that at what is now the London Stadium you’d need a megaphone. Everything all feels too distant. We are now moving into an era where it’s not just teams in England but also abroad who are designing and constructing state of the art stadia to move forward into the next generation, and they all seem to be getting it right.

Atletico Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano may not look like a menacing arena but step into a match against Barcelona or Real Madrid and you will suddenly realise that the way it has been designed means every fan’s voice reverberates across to the pitch, and vice versa.

Juventus left the Stadio delle Alpi in 2014 to make sure that the crowd never felt too distant when the Italian side needed a boost from their own faithful. The same could even be said for Barcelona in their re-design of the Camp Nou. With 105,000 all under one roof, a substantial majority of away teams will shudder at the thought of facing the Catalan club.

So the atmosphere is one downfall of the London Stadium. There are others. Indeed, Hammers fans had a right to be infuriated when they were told no by organisers of the stadium to change the colour surrounding the pitch to claret from green. Although the pitch is a standard Premier League size of 105m x 68m, on occasions the background colour disorientated the players and made the pitch bigger than it looked. The downside of being a tenant eh?

To add to insult staff members have had to use shuttle buses to get to different car parks due to construction for athletics events over previous summers. Events like this continue to steadily build up anger.

Then there is the issue of cost. And oh boy, it’s not pretty.

On 1 December, London mayor Sadiq Khan announced he had taken control of the stadium following the publication of a review that was hugely critical of previous administrations.

Khan claims mismanagement and a “catalogue of errors” have left taxpayers footing the huge bill in the running costs for the stadium, with arena operators saddled with annual losses between £20-£24m for this past year.

When the bidding process started in 2011, all financial risk and costs were taken on by the public sector. In the end, the £323m cost of conversion, including a £133m overrun of the original £190m estimate, was pretty much all paid by public money.

It costs £4.75m a season for West Ham to play at the stadium, and costs such as these go back to 2006. Then, the Olympic Delivery Authority never planned to build an arena which could be used by a Premier League club, so decided to commission a design for temporary seating, with the eventuality that it would turn into a 25,000 capacity athletics stadium.

Yet it was decided by the then Mayor Boris Johnson that the brand image left by such a move would not be a fitting legacy for the message that London 2012 wanted to get across from the games, and instead formed the Olympic Park Legacy Company to create a competitive bidding system for its future use.

When West Ham came to the conclusion that they would bid for the stadium use the idea was, in the bidding’s early days when Spurs were involved, that the Hammers and not public sector bodies, were to be responsible for the maintenance, development and operational costs involved.

But subject to legal challenges the decision was scrapped, and eventually it was decided, even before the application was accepted, that it would be the public sector to take on these costs. All West Ham had to do was pay rent as tenants.

To be clear this is not a problem created by the club itself, yet supporters are angry of the way Gold, Brady and Sullivan viewed the risks involved, with the stadium now creating more noise off the pitch than the home fans are in it.

Naming rights is a topic of hot debate if revenues are going to be maximised, but at the moment the mayor’s office doesn’t want to publicly state what may be on the table as a bargaining tool, while West Ham have said they do not want to increase their overall contribution, even if it results in more control.

All in all, David Sullivan’s prediction that it would only take six months for wisdom over the move to triumph is now just air. There’s no substance to it. Performances are improving under David Moyes but underlying issues with the stadium continue to distract the football on it. And with others now starting to resurface, they cannot be called teething problems anymore.

The long-term hope was that it could be an arena fit for the Champions League. Now the danger is that it may be one extraordinary expensive echo chamber in the Championship.

Originally published at moorethanjustaclub.com

Post written by Tim Adams
for Moore Than A Club, Blog: moorethanjustaclub.com, Twitter: @MooreThanAClub

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