Hayley Wheeler: Who deserves the Olympic Stadium?

02 February 2011 07:42
As the OPLC's deliberations move into the latter stages, it really got me thinking about the implications of a take over by Tottenham and West Ham.

Obviously the main priority for the OPLC will be the legacy - which will retain the essence of what has been created for the London Olympics and use the facilities to benefit the future generation of British Athletes. I'm sure that from an impartial perspective, that would be the only implication. But of course it isn't.

Hundreds of thousands of football fans are now musing over a possible move and a consequential step up in stature of their club. Naturally, the potential move has been met with mixed emotions with Tottenham fans protesting outside White Hart Lane at their last home game. And the message to Tottenham Chairman Daniel Levy was loud and clear: "No to Olympic Stadium".

Recent opinion polls carried out in London revealed that West Ham's bid was widely espoused, whilst Tottehnam faced an overwhelming backlash from the general public. It would be remise of me to ignore the implications for local teams such as Leyton Orient. They fear losing the younger generation of fans to the glitz and glamour of the bigger clubs encroaching on their territory. The loss of fans, and subsequent income, could have devastating effects.

I have always taken the bid by West Ham seriously - in terms of the location - moving from West Ham to the Stratford stadium would make sense. They would retain their East London roots and gain a higher capacity stadium to match the stature of the club. And they are a big club, despite their current unfortunate position in the Premier League.

However, with the likely prospect of relegation looming, you have to wonder if the same crowds would flock to watch their team if they lost their status in England's elite league. Not only could the Hammers struggle to fill the planned 60,000 capacity stadium for football matches, my reservations remain as to the frequency of large crowds being drawn in to watch athletics.

Surely the only events that could pull the crowds would be the major Championships but I still don't imagine it would be near 60,000 people. The athletics track would also make fans even more detached from the action on the pitch. Personally, I would hate to be that far away from the pitch. The fans like to impose themselves on the games, which makes for a great atmosphere and gives a feeling of unity between players and fans.

And will this move be financially viable for West Ham when there is a possibility of Championship football next year and a large proportion of the funding for the move will be borrowed? The last few years have seen a number of clubs either in, or on the brink of administration, a situation that affects the fans, the players and the owners - a situation no-one wants the club they love to be in. And it concerns me that putting a club into debt is dangerous enough when the club is flying high, let along when they face relegation.

If their fate lies in the Championship next season, they will be bringing in significantly less revenue from television coverage and various other financial perks of the Premier League. An issue that I would imagine will weigh heavily in West Hams 'cons' list. West Ham are clearly using their tactical nous by heavily incorporating the Olympic legacy into their bid and preserving the Olympic Stadium as a multi-sport venue. It remains to be seen how successful this will be for the club in the long run.

I have only recently begun to take the Tottenham bid seriously. I genuinely thought that they had entered into the bidding war for one of two reasons; they wanted a fall-back plan in case Haringey Council refused planning permission for the Northumberland Park Development project, or because they wanted to use it as a bargaining tool against Haringey Council to encourage them to allow planning permission.

Now that they are on the brink of getting full planning permission they remain in full contention to win the Olympic Stadium from under the nose of West Ham. Financially Spurs are dominant in this bidding war. They have been well run and will not need to borrow money to fund the project; however I hardly think that where the money will come from will be high on OPLC's priority list.

They are a club that is in and around Champions League football and the demand for a higher capacity stadium is greater than ever - the 15K+ waiting list for a season ticket is evidence enough. Although Lord Coe reiterated: "I'm prepared to revisit my words but I don't recall a whole heap about bulldozing down a publicly-funded community facility, replacing it with a football club and inspiring a generation of Tottenham season ticket holders, however many there may be on a waiting list."

Fair enough, Tottenham do not want to retain the athletics track, but this, in my opinion, is the correct thing to do if it is to be bought by a football club. One thing that bothers me is the lack of publicity surrounding Tottenham's offer to pour money into the Crystal Palace athletics complex which will turn it into a world class, championship standard venue, and one more suited to the stature of athletics. They may be bulldozing two thirds of the stadium but they haven't forgotten about the Olympic Legacy altogether.

I have to admit, as a Spurs fan myself, the thought of leaving White Hart Lane evokes immense sadness. The stadium itself may look like a tin can in desperate need of a revamp, but the memories that are submerged within are of the highest value. The fans are desperate to stay put in N17, and a big part of me is too, despite the horrendous journey to get there!

However, the few fans that can see through the tears will realise that if Tottenham are going to continue on their uphill trajectory, relocating to a stadium that can house 60K fans is imperative. The lifeblood of the club runs through the veins of the fans and of the players, who will unequivocally follow the club to pastures new.

Daniel Levy has indicated that regardless of whether Spurs win or lose their bid for the Olympic stadium they will be packing their bags and moving elsewhere - the Northumberland Park Development project has become too problematic to continue. As sad as it is, I would rather see my club continuing to prosper, as it should, than stay put.

Hayley Wheeler

Source: DSG