Kevin Gage's Sheffield United Column: West Ham's London Stadium is a soulless, mundane athletics stadium... I hope the Blades never follow their lead and leave Bramall Lane
There’s no substitute for the real thing, as the old adage goes. You can’t beat watching a game live.
We’ve all probably said or at least heard similar during our football travels. I’m sure the 3,000 loyal Sheffield United fans who took the time, made the effort and spent their hard-earned cash on a trip down into East London on Saturday afternoon will have some stage thought along similar lines as they planned their trip.
I’m equally sure that after witnessing the reality of West Ham’s ‘London Stadium’ first-hand, they will be now having second thoughts on ever making this particular away day again!
Social media was awash with negative comments about the absolute farce that greets spectators at the Hammers’ home ground. I didn’t go, never wanted to, and to be honest I never will want either as I had already heard from various friends in football what a terrible spectator experience it truly is.
Even a front row seat puts you about 30 to 40 yards from the touchline, and if you are unlucky enough to get a seat on the back row… well, you might as well watch it on your phone! Which I’ve no doubt many hundreds or possibly thousands of us stay-at-home Blades probably did on Saturday.
Me included, though to try to create a genuine West Ham away watching experience, I put the phone on my mantlepiece and squinted at it from the far side of the lounge!
Spare a thought too please for the 35,000-plus loyal West Ham fans who used to pack out their historic, atmospheric, fabulous Upton Park ground in the heart of their community and have been forced to give it up to frequent a soulless, mundane, corporate athletics stadium a few too many miles away.
To add insult to injury, us taxpayers of the UK paid for it as well! However, as an Olympic venue and after the showcase and huge success of the 2012 games it was money well spent.
It’s just morally wrong that West Ham United FC were allowed take advantage and make huge financial gains at the expense of their supporters matchday experience. Please, PLEASE, current and future owners of Sheffield United – don’t EVER make that same mistake, whatever the financial rewards may be.
Right, rant over. Football time.
We remained unbeaten away from home. Of course we did. It’s what we now expect! However after a first 30 minutes that was very poor indeed as we gave the ball away time after time, I just hope that our players don’t go out just ‘expecting’ it to happen too. Their seemed to be an air of complacency at times, and although we clawed our way back into it as half-time approached and actually had the better chances, I wasn’t sitting comfortably on my sofa!
Cue their goal by our nemesis Robert Snodgrass, and only George Baldock will know quite why he had a 10 yard start on Snodgrass’ run when the keeper hoofed it forward, but then neglected to run back at any speed, didn’t sense any danger, and consequently allowed him to be 10 yards in front of him with a clear run on goal to stroke the ball home.
Complacency? Lack of concentration? Certainly not a lack of speed as George is probably the fastest in the squad. There’s no way Snodgrass will outrun him. In the Premier League, you can’t switch off for a second or you will get punished. He did, and we were.
Another benefit of watching a televised game is that you get the occasional shot of the managers shouting or reacting on the touchline, and after about 30 seconds of Saturday’s second half we duly got one. It was at the exact moment that Chris appeared to shout “get f*****g up” and waived his arm in the direction of the West Ham goal!
The message was loud and clear, and presumably a repeat of his half-time words! We needed to get our game going, get up the pitch and play our football higher up the pitch. It had ‘Chelsea’ written all over it, though this time the deficit was a single goal, and just like at Stamford Bridge the team responded brilliantly.
We pushed on, we got men forward, we caused them problems and despite a few scares on the break at times, we looked the most likely team to score. Unfortunately, our two best chances fell to Baldock who was maybe a bit too anxious to make up for his earlier error!
The eventual goal came though and George finally showed his increasing quality this season with a measured cross from the right and after a great touch from his fellow wing back Enda Stevens, ‘The Moose’ volleyed home.
There was still time for that man Snodgrass to miss a great chance from about three yards at the end, after which Chris Basham was furious and screamed at the man who’d switched off for a moment to let him drift in unmarked at far post. Baldock duly accepted his rollocking!
I think, all in all, a point each was about right. We weren’t at our absolute best, but maybe the Arsenal game took more out of the players than we realised, and although not one of the Premier League ‘big guns’, West Ham away is a difficult place to go to. Certainly difficult to get to, and to then watch the game anyway!
They say after 10 games a league starts to ‘take shape’. So after our 10 games we sit in eighth place, and of those 10 games, eight have also been against the current top ten! It’s a first quarter of the season most Blades would have only dreamed of, and I for one would have snatched your hand off at the start of the season for these 13 points from our opening 10 games.
Not just the actual points of course, but it’s the manner in which we’ve accumulated them that’s been so impressive in my book. We certainly look comfortable in this division and I do genuinely feel that there’s still room for improvement from both the team collectively and players individually.
It’s a natural progression based on their increasing confidence as games are played, their experiences in this division, their technical ability and their desire to compete, backed up by a manager who won’t let either them or the team fail. There’s more to come from them all, believe me.
It’s a great time to be a Premier League Blade. Enjoy it to the full!