West Ham's grounds for optimism over Olympic Stadium
By Frank Keogh
As David Gold surveys the east London landscape from West Ham's boardroom balcony, he can see his childhood abode - plus a potential new home for his beloved Hammers.
Gold looks down whimsically at 442 Green Street, where he grew up, only a corner kick from the Boleyn Ground.
A few miles in the distance at Stratford is the fast-developing 2012 Olympic Stadium, which he believes is a new natural base for the Premier League club.
"It is an amazing stadium and we could turn it into a multi-purpose facility. You could hold international football matches, European matches, World Cup matches there," said Gold.
As the future on the stadium reaches
another landmark on Wednesday,
when the formal process of finding a long-term tenant starts, the controversial Hammers bid appears to be among the front-runners.
The sightlines are better than Wembley and as good as the Emirates Stadium
David Gold, West Ham co-chairman, on the Olympic Stadium
Gold and long-time business partner David Sullivan took over the club they supported in January after selling Birmingham City and winning a protracted takeover battle with Air Asia and Lotus F1 boss Tony Fernandes.
While Fernandes saw the Olympic Stadium as a significant part of untapped potential at West Ham, Gold conceded to being a recent convert.
The Hammers co-chairman had been worried by the requirement to retain an athletics track and the impact that would have on fans watching football.
"I was reluctant in the early stages because I have always been against the running track but going down there and seeing it was different," he said.
"At first, I thought the running track would be prohibitive but, seeing the layout of it, the sightlines are better than Wembley and as good as the Emirates.
"You could have international athletics and cricket. Essex Cricket Club would play there and possibly even international Twenty20.
"We are fully committed to this being an international sporting venue, plus a centre of excellence and learning.
"It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to grab the nettle and turn this into a legacy for the people of Newham, the people of London and the entire country."
West Ham's relatively new commitment to retaining the track has buoyed enthusiasm about the club's bid.
When London won the right to stage the Games back in 2005, bid chief Lord Coe pledged athletics as a key future use but initial plans meant capacity at the stadium would have been reduced from 80,000 to 25,000.
"It would be a great disappointment to see this magnificent stadium reduced to just 25,000. It's unthinkable," stated Gold.
"I don't think the country would ever forgive the people who turned an iconic venue into a white elephant.
"When we arrived at the club, we were concentrating on survival in the Premier League. As that became assured, our thoughts moved to the Olympic Stadium.
"Our feeling was they were hell-bent on a 25,000 stadium. When we saw it, we realised they were making a mistake.
"At the beginning, everyone like Ken Livingstone [then mayor of London] was saying no, whereas now Boris Johnson [current mayor] is hugely optimistic and encouraging us.
"Sir Robin Wales, the elected mayor of Newham, is very supportive.
"Everybody seems to be warming to the idea. When we first started, it was athletics, athletics, athletics but we are the best option going forward."
On Wednesday, the mayor said backing a football club at the stadium could boost England's bid to hold the 2018 World Cup.
"West Ham United are an East End institution and deserve the chance to be the best and beat the best," said Wales.
"We have always argued the Olympic Stadium needs a top-flight football team after London 2012.
"In my eyes there is only one obvious choice - and that's the Hammers."
Gold indicates that West Ham plan to reduce the capacity to 58,000, with huge video screens behind the goals and larger seats.
"We would be moving to probably the most accessible place on the planet, with high-speed trains coming in and out of Stratford every few minutes," he said.
But do West Ham, whose current Upton Park ground is not always full to its 35,000 capacity, have enough supporters to pack the new venue?
"We would fill the stadium," insisted Gold, whose business interests stretch from lingerie to helicopters.
"New stadiums encourage support and our support stretches from east London into Essex and all the way down to the east coast.
"There are West Ham fans in Southend and Ipswich and nearly all the way to Norwich.
"At the moment, they can't get to West Ham easily but there will be 20,000 car parking spaces at the Olympic Park.
The Olympic Stadium is designed with removable layers
"There is shopping at the proposed nearby Westfield Centre, so part of the family could go there while the others go to the stadium. The answer to every question is positive."
Gold, who was a Hammers youth team player, accepts a move from Upton Park will not please many fans.
"Upton Park would be redeveloped and there is a desperate need for that in the area," he commented.
"I grew up in Stepney but the house got bombed and I lived in Green Street from the age of five or six until I got married when I was 21.
"Nothing has really happened in that area apart from some work on the stadium and the erection of a statue of West Ham's World Cup winners. It is time for redevelopment.
"When I stand on the balcony of the boardroom at West Ham, I can see my old house and beyond that the new Olympic Stadium. I have to pinch myself when I think that could be our new home.
"It's a nice feeling being at Upton Park. It's still a great stadium and we have the ability to increase the capacity there to 42,000 but this is a one-off opportunity to change everything.
"Upton Park was never meant to deal with the traffic. If you were to build a new stadium now, you would build it at Stratford. Even if I wasn't involved with West Ham at all, I would say you've got to do this."
However, converting the stadium from an Olympic venue to one fit for a Premier League club will be costly.
"We roughly estimate conversion to a football stadium would cost £100m as a ballpark figure, while the value of Upton Park could be £20m to £30m," said Gold.
"There is already a contingency fund of about £50m to convert the stadium post-Olympics and we would make up the shortfall - the deal would have to be thrashed out - over a period through a percentage of gate receipts or a share in turnover or profit.
"The bottom line is if they pull most of it down, they will not receive money and they will spend money to maintain it.
"The roof is the main problem as it was built to cover only half of the spectators and we would have to redesign it to cover the whole of the stadium. It's a design fault.
"Because they were going to pull it down, they didn't believe they needed a full roof, so they put on a cheaper one."
There will be much negotiation to be done to stop the roof caving in on West Ham's plans but it would be hard to find more enthusiastic bidders as the process continues until a final shortlist is drawn up in March or April of 2011.
This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.