Off the back of the longest season in Premier League history and a summer break of just six weeks English football took centre stage over the weekend as the 2020/21 season started.
Due to social distancing measures fans are still absent from the stands as they were when project restart kicked off in June. The hope of fans being able to return to stadiums in some capacity from October 1st are currently pending review due to the confirmed COVID-19 case numbers rising across the country.
However, when fans do return to the stadiums, whether that be in October or a later date, I won’t be there because for the first time in 18 years I am without a season ticket for West Ham.
I have many happy memories to take from my 18 years as a season ticket holder. From a 3-0 win against Sunderland at The Boleyn Ground for my very first game to the final fixture at the former East London stadium, a 3-2 win against Manchester United to all but crush their top four credentials. , with the winning goal being scored by one of my all time favourite players for the club – Winston Reid.
I’ve also added to those memories during the first four seasons at London Stadium with wins against Tottenham in our first campaign at the former Olympic Stadium as well as Andy Carroll’s wonder goal in a 3-0 win over Crystal Palace – the best I have ever seen live with my own eyes.
Following West Ham didn’t stop there. I’ve travelled across the country to see them play from trips to Anfield (Liverpool) and Old Trafford (Manchester United) to the John Smith’s Stadium (Huddersfield Town) and Fratton Park (Portsmouth) with the standout moments being watching West Ham become the first team to win at both the Emirates (Arsenal) and the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
All in all it’s been a huge part of my life for so many years, to the point where when i’m being introduced to someone new people as ‘the big West Ham fan.’
However, over the last couple of seasons the enjoyment of going to games has dropped significantly and I always knew the 2019/20 season would be my last as a season ticket holder.
A large reason for that was because i’m pursuing a career in journalism, therefore there is a good chance i’ll be working Saturdays when most of the games are played. But for those of you who do not know there is a cloud of toxicity over the London Stadium at the moment.
When West Ham were confirmed to move to the former Olympic Stadium there was promise from the board and people at the top of the club that it would take us to the next level. Instead the club has battled relegation in three of the four seasons since the move, finishing 10th in the other.
I have no issues supporting a below average football team. West Ham have been one of those my entire life. During my years as a season ticket holder I have seen two relegations from the Premier League, many other relegation battles and just the one FA Cup run, but supporting the club is part of my DNA.
I went to games week-in week-out at the Boleyn Ground for fifteen years, many others did so for a lot longer, therefore many were sceptical about the move. Personally I was in favour of it, I saw the logic behind it and supported the boards decision.
However, other fans were a lot more reluctant with their decision to back the move, so when promises weren’t met and we the club has evidently failed to kicked on in the way the board insisted we would, it created a negative atmosphere.
This atmosphere was brought into the stadium on match days and was toxic whenever West Ham seemed like they were moments from disaster (Which seems to be all the time) and when any of us, football fans or not, are surrounded by that amount of negativity we consume it.
It’s part of the reason why the players don’t perform on the pitch, with many pundits at the minute saying ‘The West Ham board won’t want fans in the stadium given the state of things.’
At one point during my personal battle with depression West Ham games were the escape. It was where I could switch off from everything around me and focus on a game of football for 90 minutes.
To go from that to anticipating a negative atmosphere over the last few seasons which has had me wake up with a feeling of dread at the thought of going is nothing short of incredibly sad.
In the past I would build weekend plans around going to watch West Ham games but during the 2019/20 season before games were to be played behind closed doors as a result of COVID-19 I wasn’t so fussy about missing games.
I missed them for a number of reasons, friends birthday celebrations I would normally turn up late to, a date I would usually arrange for another day or to play a round of golf which I would save for a Sunday morning.
I would always keep an eye on the score and catch the highlights on Match of the Day and I would be equally as gutted/frustrated if we lost. But the occasions I was missing the games in favour of had me surrounded by groups of my closest friends in a situation where the atmosphere was a lot more positive, and just how the negative atmosphere at West Ham stuck, so did the positivity.
I’m never going to say never about getting a season ticket again in a few years time and i’ll definitely try to get to a game when I fancy it, hopefully that will be this season if fans are allowed back in stadiums.
However, for now the thought of having a season ticket is completely off the table. This is down to the negative atmosphere created at the stadium and around the club as a result of the way it’s run. As well as all of the above – I want to try new stuff!
Stuff that will hopefully have me keep moving in the right direction mentally.