“You can’t play football there.”
These words are the damning verdict of Leyton Orient owner Barry Hearn after his recent tour of the Olympic Stadium. It seems that the quest to find new tenants for the £468m venue will continue to be a financial burden on the public purse.
The ongoing saga has been compromised by legal battles, allegations of spying and a series of endless police investigations. West Ham had initially won the contract to inhabit the stadium after the games, but the deal collapsed after a complaint was lodged at the European Commission citing that Newham Council’s £40m loan to the Hammers could be considered as state aid.
It’s safe to say that the original flurry of interested parties have disbanded, largely due to the announcement of new, unattractive legislations. First and foremost the running track and warm up areas will remain a permanent aesthetic feature, after London won the bid to host the 2017 World Athletics Championships. Future tenants will play an annual rent and therefore the likes of West Ham won’t be able to exercise control over naming rights, a key lucrative asset. Neither, somewhat bizarrely, will a team be able to change the seats to reflect their club colours, meaning the only team the current palette suits (besides Spurs) are Swansea City and I can’t see them relocating from Wales can you?
Hearn went on to outline his reasons as to why he believed the stadium wouldn’t be appropriate for the beautiful game:
“You’ve got 40 or 50 yards of running track between you and the play, the seats are built at the wrong slant, you can’t view anything from the lower-tier.” (Telegraph)
This raises the fundamental question, how do you create an exciting and successful environment that suits both the football and athletic identities?
The solution isn’t obvious that’s for sure. Almost every example in Europe is slowly reverting back to a conventional format because of the huge gulf between fans and the action. Stuttgart attempted to solve the atmosphere issues at their former Gottlieb-Daimler stadium by painting the running track green in an attempt to blend in with the pitch, but even these extreme measures failed to satisfy supporters. At the very least you want your home turf to be intimidating for the opposition, with the players feeling like you’re breathing down their neck as they scamper up down wing. Although, we’ve all witnessed those performances we wish we couldn’t see so clearly.
Up until last season Brighton played their home games at the Withdean stadium, which included a running track that circled the pitch. An example then that the two could work in harmony? Well no, it was bearable for relatively small-scale crowds but the ground was hardly fitting for a Championship side, who have since moved to the more contemporary Amex Stadium.
German juggernauts Bayern Munich resided in the Olympic Stadium until 2005 when they moved to the track free 70,000- capacity Allianz Arena. The stadium now plays host to Hertha Berlin and having visited the stadium myself I have to admit that it can be a captivating location. It feels as though the very walls are seeped in history, which makes it almost impossible not to feel over awed just by sitting there. The roof cranes overhead to create an intimate setting, whilst glass panels have been installed to let in maximum light. The seats are well laid out in a fashion that enables you to appreciate the magnitude of the stadium without losing focus on the game unfolding beneath you. Perhaps if Great Britain were to enjoy a successful medal haul in the upcoming Olympics including a Psycho inspired triumph at Wembley, then more parties would hold the landmark in higher esteem.
Harry Redknapp has previously stated in his Sun column that any future move for a club in its existing set-up would be detrimental to the fan base.
“Try to mix football and athletics and you end up with a great big bowl of nothing…The wind-blown no-man’s land between a pitch and the stands can kill football.”
So with Tottenham seemingly abandoning their approach after redevelopment plans were quashed and taking into account that Leyton Orient’s bid is almost laughable, West Ham appear to be the only side with a real chance of moving in after the stadium reopens in 2014. Yet, Karen Brady and co seem content waiting in the shadows, looking to pick up the pieces when this sorry house of cards folds in on itself.
The mounting concern is that London 2012 will simulate the financial disaster of the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. Their stadium was nicknamed ‘The Big Owe’, not just because of the doughnut shaped roof but largely its completion left a crippling $1.5-billion debt on the economy.
The Great Britain team has more chance of winning Olympic gold than the national side has of victory in the European Championships. Agree or disagree, debate it on Twitter @theunusedsub