Full disclosure: Before we proceed, we should say we're about as conflicted as it is possible to be. Brockley Central is a Spurs fan, with friends who work at the club. In our day job, we work for Manchester City FC and LOCOG.
Next week, the London 2012 Olympic Stadium’s legacy mode will be decided, with two bids on the table: one from Tottenham Hotspur and AEG and another from West Ham United and LiveNation.
The Spurs bid involves relocating from White Hart Lane in North London to a new, purpose-built 60,000-seat home that would significantly expand the Club’s seating and hospitality. To compensate athletics for the loss of the Olympic Stadium, they would refurbish the existing athletics stadium at Crystal Palace as a 25,000-seat venue. Crystal Palace Football Club itself has spoken rather hazily of plans to turn the existing athletics stadium in Crystal Palace in to a new home for their club.
West Ham, by contrast, wants to relocate a short distance from the Boleyn Ground to a modified version of the just-built Olympic Stadium, which would reduce its capacity to 60,000, but retain the athletics track, thus honouring the spirit of the original Olympic bid, which promised a legacy for athletics at the heart of a regenerated East London.
Both clubs have ageing stadiums and average attendances close to capacity. White Hart Lane is the worst major football stadium in London for public transport. For either club, a move will give them vastly improved transport links and a comparatively low-cost new home. If neither bid is successful, then the majority of the stadium will be removed in any case, and a roofless athletics bowl will remain.
Some have suggested that Spurs are hoping to strengthen their negotiating position with Haringey Council. The argument runs that the club has spent years working with the Council to develop a new stadium and have finally come up with a proposal that could work for both sides, but think they could squeeze further concessions from the Council and don’t really want to desert their historical home. We don’t subscribe to that view. The club has analysed its fan base and thinks there are as many supporters from East London and Essex who would find the Olympic Park much more accessible as there are north London fans who would be disadvantaged. The iconic location of the Olympic Park, its ability to support a much wider range of commercial activities and a shorter, cheaper construction programme must be incredibly appealing.
What’s in it for West Ham is less obvious. Football clubs like Juventus and Bayern Munich, with home stadiums built to host athletics, realised long-ago that they create a terrible atmosphere, hated by regular fans and armchair supporters alike. They don’t have the season ticket waiting list of Spurs and a lack of atmosphere could deter new fans from coming. They could be the Blackburn Rovers of the south and the only club in the Premier League with a running track, spoiling sight-lines for fans and reducing payments from broadcasters, who’ll be less inclined to show their home games.
Athletics wants the prestige of being located in the Olympic park and a venue capable of bidding for the World Athletics Championships. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the money to pay for any of this itself and athletics events don’t attract the crowds to justify a large stadium. Should London ever want to bid for the Athletics, then Wembley has been designed to allow a temporary athletics platform to be installed.
As for the suggestion that Crystal Palace is on the wrong side of town, that smacks of nothing other than vanity. London should have a high-quality athletics venue, but a rebuilt Crystal Palace venue could do the job very nicely, if Spurs are forced to deliver it before they can move in to their new home. Not only would it meet athletics' needs, but it could breathe new life in to a forlorn facility in South East London (which is the reason for writing this article).
Lord Coe supports the West Ham bid and his desire to stick as closely to the spirit of the original pledge to the IOC is understandable. However, as Qatar and FIFA are busy proving, lots changes occur between a bid being chosen and a major sports event being delivered. Indeed, the London Olympics already looks different to the one promised. The IOC extracts a high price from any host city and are getting a wonderful legacy in the form of the Olympic park. Better this country finds the solution that suits its own needs than be lumbered with a white elephant, which taints our memory of the Games and our view of the organisation that forced it upon us.
Whatever happens, it shows the wisdom of the ODA’s decision to build a modular stadium, short on architectural drama, but (relatively) cheap, flexible and recyclable, which means that London will pull off an almost unprecedented feat - building a venue specifically designed for two months of international sport that also works for the people of the city, forever after.