Not to the particular surprise of anybody, East London-based Premier League side West Ham United have recently been named the “preferred bidder” in the race to become the new occupants of the Olympic Stadium in Stratford, writes Emma Webb.

Happy at home | West Ham United midfielder Mark Noble puts Norwich City ahead at the Boleyn Ground. (Image | West Ham United FC)

Home comforts | West Ham United midfielder Mark Noble puts the hosts ahead against Norwich City at Upton Park. (Image | West Ham United FC)

The Hammers beat rivals Tottenham Hotspur and Leyton Orient among others, as well as seeing off an attempt to move in an NFL franchise.

In doing so they have become the most likely residents of the £486million, 80,000-capacity ground that was the centrepiece of the London 2012 Olympic Games.

West Ham have been at their current home, Upton Park, for a century, and club owners David Sullivan and David Gold expressed an interest in moving to the Olympic Stadium almost as soon as talks began on its post-Games future.

Deciding to formally apply for a move has divided opinion throughout the devoted West Ham fanbase as to the potential consequences of leaving Upton Park behind.

The club website offers supporters an explanation of the decision and outlines the factors that influenced it. They criticise the facilities at the stadium, which is beginning to need considerable renovation work.

For instance, the lack of hot water in the public bathrooms cannot be rectified while the Hammers remain there.

Meanwhile, the club claim that the fans themselves have complained about poor transport links and a lack of affordability preventing them attending games, and aim to move to Stratford in order to resolve these concerns for those living further afield.

Arguably the main issue is capacity, for the last nine home games have been sell-outs, indicating that there is sufficient interest in watching West Ham from supporters to warrant a larger stadium. Indeed, many fans feel that the Boleyn Ground has long since been outgrown.

Even when relegated to the Championship, season ticket sales dipped but slightly, and early-stage cup games against the likes of Aldershot and Crewe Alexandra sold a vast number of seats.

Initial concerns that the club did not have the fanbase to fill an arena of this size seem to be unfounded in this respect.

The argument of those against the move, however, is rooted in a deep sentimentality for the historical nature of West Ham and what it would mean to leave behind the relics, around which many lifelong fans have built a home and a way of life.

The very words “Green Street” are synonymous with claret and blue blood. The 1966 World Cup commemorative statue, featuring Hammers hero Bobby Moore lifting the World Cup for English victory, will remain at the end of the street but with no further connection to its surroundings.

It has been insisted by the board that a great many features of Upton Park will follow the club to the Olympic Stadium, including the John Lyall gates and commemorative bricks, but what will become of the Boleyn Ground itself is yet to be decided.

Identity | The strong connection fans feel with Upton Park would undoubtedly be lost should the move to the Olympic Stadium go ahead. (Image | West Ham United FC)

Identity | The strong connection fans feel with Upton Park would undoubtedly be lost should the move to the Olympic Stadium go ahead. (Image | West Ham United FC)

Such a vast capacity venue means the intimate atmosphere of Upton Park could so easily be lost: the running track around the pitch will further separate fans from the action on the pitch and this obstacle will most likely prevent the smallest observers from being able to see at all, which hardly sits well with the family-orientated nature of West Ham and club policies about “family football for all”.

The vision for West Ham to become a top six club is one shared by directors, players and manager Sam Allardyce alike, and the move to the Olympic Stadium could be a first step towards this goal.

However, some cannot help but feel that supporting West Ham means embracing the guaranteed white-knuckle ride through seasons where every cup game matters, Europe is a distant dream and relegation is always a possibility.

The FA Cup final against Liverpool in 2006 has been repeatedly hailed as one of the greatest cup finals in history, due in no small way to the “underdog” status of West Ham and their credible and extremely dramatic fight against a then-top six Liverpool side.

An atmosphere such as this could surely not be recreated were West Ham also the Premier League champions, conquerors of Arsenal and Chelsea by a dozen goals to nil and boasting a squad full of multi-million pound internationals all hurrying to transfer from Manchester United.

Almost every decision in favour of West Ham has so far been appealed by Leyton Orient, the closest club geographically to the Olympic Stadium, and Spurs, who hold greater persuasive sway due to their size and established nature.

There have been fears that a decision will never be reached due to amassed red-tape to-ing and fro-ing, instigated by these two clubs, both of whom are determined not to let the stadium be awarded to the Hammers.

Yet with the backing of every decision-making committee involved, plus London mayor Boris Johnson, it seems suspiciously as though a decision was made some time ago to see the Hammers move “home” to Stratford, despite the protestations of other teams.

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