Home Is Where The Hart Is

The most enduring stories are those that centre upon the quest of their protagonists to find their way home. From Homer’s Odyssey to Homer’s precarious drive in the opening credits of The Simpsons, we are continually entranced and beguiled by the adventures of characters who crave nothing other than safe passage and security from the raging winds of the world beyond. Tony Soprano wheels across the surrounding New Jersey environs after another day of murder, betrayal and therapy and wants for nothing other than one of Carmela’s leftover gabagool and a reclining seat in front of the History Channel whilst Dorothy intones repeatedly that “there’s no place like home” when the transparent nature of the realities of Oz become apparent.

How must West Ham fans be feeling this week, knowing that the ground that saw the majestic Bobby Moore perfect and perform his cerebral form of defending, will be jettisoned for a stadium that will be as homogenous and soulless as any of the others that have been built in the Premier League era? The onward march of progress cannot be stopped and in many cases, it shouldn’t. If that were the case, Mr Mubarak would still be in power as I write. However, with change there inevitably must be some sacrifice. And West Ham supporters, whether willingly or less so, must begin the process of beginning to relinquish part of themselves and who they perceive themselves to be after Friday’s decision to award the Olympic stadium in Stratford came out in favour of their bid rather than Tottenham Hotspur’s.

I wrote a piece for In Bed With Maradona in October in which I put forward the case for a possible ground share between these two old rivals. Although I stand behind my original proposals, the last couple of months have shown me that any move away from N17 would have been fractious and divisive both for the community and businesses within the White Hart Lane locality but even more tellingly, we would have seen a fan base descend into the bitter civil war as was so heartbreakingly played out when Wimbledon relocated to Milton Keynes and were rebranded as MK Dons whilst the hardcore, local support formed AFC Wimbledon. When the FA cup draw threw up a potential match-up between the two clubs earlier this season, the football media quickly went into a hand-wringing frenzy at the thought of the ensuing hostility that would inevitably have arisen from such a fixture. In the end, replays put paid to that but AFC’s success in the non-leagues will ensure that the throng will get their dose of blood-letting sooner rather than later.

I don’t want Spurs to end up as a media sideshow, with supporters clashing outside the stadium and threatening to create a rival fan-owned club, as happened with Manchester United. Nor do I want threats of boycotts and shirt burning. In many respects, the Olympic decision saved us from all of that. There still remains the issue of how the club can accommodate its fans and expand but that is for the people who receive a far greater salary than me to work out an achievable and sustainable way to keep the club in the location in which it was formed. But that is for another day. For the moment, we keep our home.

And for me it means the following… It means I can take the walk from my mum’s house through Fore Street (always on the right-hand side) on a match day with my unborn but imminent, son or daughter. I can buy an open portion of chips with them (salt first, then vinegar) and then walk around the stadium, within the mass of the crowd, taking in the aroma of grilled onions and horseshit. I can buy him or her a programme whilst I pore over the badly printed but cutting commentary of a fanzine. Or see him or her wrapped up in a Spurs scarf for the first time. And watch his or her heroes play on the same pitch as the one on which I saw Jurgen Klinsmann score a spectacular scissor volley on his home debut and the four goals in four minutes we scored against Southampton in 1993, a few days before my Arsenal-supporting grandfather died. I can show him or her the place where I stood for the first time, with tickets bought off a tout by my dad for eight pounds, behind a fence on a sunny April day in 1989 to watch my beloved Spurs (with Waddle and Gazza) beat West Ham. And because he or she will be there, they’ll understand, with any luck. Because he or she will be connected to the past in a way that no manner of perfect viewing, easy access, corporate sponsor-driven stadiums can ever hope to emulate.

However much he prospered in London, my grandfather always harked and pined for the old country. Despite all that he achieved, he missed Cyprus dearly and romanticised it in a way that only our memories allow us to. In much the same way, football supporters do the same. Manchester City might now bestride the football world like an engorged money colossus but it was telling that in yesterday’s Manchester derby, their fans were still chanting that they were “City from Maine Road.” Eastlands doesn’t eradicate such yearning – it paradoxically enhances it.

West Ham will inherit a wonderful stadium – that cannot be denied. In much the same way that Arsenal and Southampton and a number of other clubs have left beloved home grounds in the last decade or so, to be re-housed in bigger and seemingly better locations. But the art décor of Highbury and the intense closeness of The Dell have been lost forever and for the fans of these clubs, it can only be a further factor in their dislocation from the modern game.

As he looks out upon the cityscape of Baltimore in the last scene in perhaps the greatest story of the modern era, The Wire’s Detective Jimmy McNulty’s final line is tellingly, “let’s go home”. In the end, isn’t that what we all want to do?

 

Further Reading: Spurs, West Ham; agree to leave stadium plans behind – In Bed With Maradona

Follow Dispatches on Twitter: @gregtheoharis

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6 Responses to Home Is Where The Hart Is

  1. SpursSimon February 13, 2011 at 11:08 am #

    Nice one – and loved the Homer references and the link up ;-)

  2. Michael February 13, 2011 at 11:29 am #

    Top stuff, as ever. I’m still glad that Newcastle’s plans to move came to nothing (even if one of the plans was just a few hundred metres away from St James’ Park). There’s nothing like that view of the stadium on the hill, right at the centre of the city.

    Much as I understand your emotion, though, I never did like White Hart Lane as an away fan – if only because of the six-day trek from Seven Sisters Road.

  3. Rachycakes February 13, 2011 at 12:26 pm #

    Wonderful post, Greg – and one that, as a Liverpool supporter, I can definitely empathise with. Both of our clubs need bigger stadia; it’s an incontrovertible fact of the modern game. A groundshare with the Bitters? I don’t think so. So it’s either a new stadium it Stanley Park, or a redevelopment of Anfield. I prefer the latter option, because Anfield is home.

    As for WHL – yes, it needs some work. I’ve been once (on my own, for that disastrous Carling Cup fixture a couple of seasons ago). Great, great atmosphere… Surroundings… Must do better! The Olympic Stadium isn’t the way to go. Good luck to WHU, the new Espanyol of English football.

  4. Byrnsweord February 14, 2011 at 9:03 pm #

    A fascinating blog. I myself have just written an analysis of how the Olympic Stadium, irrespective of who inhabits it after 2012, will be an isolated obelisk, detached from its community (and the rest of England generally) by the very manner of its existence and purpose.

    Bravo!

  5. Rob Marrs February 14, 2011 at 10:28 pm #

    A great piece. I think that the legacy of the games is key and the option that allows (a) football (b) cricket (c) athletics in that ground was the only realistic option.

    The issue is: Can West Ham fill it? And what if they go down? Will that cause issues?

    As an aside – aren’t there only two types of story: Someone comes to town, someone leaves town?

    RCM

    http://leftbackinthechangingroom.blogspot.com

  6. William February 18, 2011 at 4:15 pm #

    I think I read an article, where I don’t recall, mourning the decreasing amount of stadiums that you can immediately name when you see footage from them on television. The Dell and Highbury were certainly two such places, while the vast majority of modern grounds are indistinguishable from each other when seen on tv from a camera on the halfway line. At least that won’t be a problem with West Ham’s Olympi-dome – we’ll all know it’s the one with the ruddy athletics track round it.

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