Hammers fans must get used to life on wrong side of the track

What's it like playing in a ground with an athletics track and no atmosphere, where the far goal is 160 yards away? Nick Szczepanik heads for Brighton to experience 'the worst view in England'

If West Ham United's plans to move into the Olympic Stadium come to fruition, their fans will soon be watching matches across an athletics track. The experience is unusual in England, but not unique, as supporters of Brighton & Hove Albion know too well. They have been putting up with it at Withdean Stadium since 1999, and are counting down the games before they can move into their new – and track-free – American Express Community Stadium. What are the problems?


All seating at the small, council-owned athletics facility is outside the track, the closest seats to the action fully 16 yards from the touchline. In the South Stand, which is raised six feet to allow sightlines over the dugouts, the views are not bad. But seats in the North Stand begin at ground level and are only six rows deep in places, and behind the goals, occupants of the front row are up to 39 yards from the goalline, looking across eight lanes of track, the steeplechase water jump and the pole-vault run.

Go to the back and you gain the advantage of height, but you are 22 rows further away from the action. At this point the far goal is around 160 yards distant.

"If you watch the game from a low level, across the track, with stands that only rise gradually, you always get a poor two-dimensional view of the match," said Brighton fan Mick Wright. "This is obviously much worse when you are behind the goal. I feel for the away fans, who are subjected to the worst view in England."

Beyond putting advertising hoardings halfway across the track to make the pitch appear less distant, there was little the club could do.

"Because the away stand is so far away everybody stands, and you can't blame them," said chief executive Martin Perry, who has previously worked on Huddersfield's Galpharm Stadium, and has ensured that the front seats at Brighton's new ground will be only eight metres from the goalline.

"My understanding is that at the Olympic Stadium the distance is 45 metres," he said. "There is an optimum viewing distance, so a lot of the seats must be beyond that. The sightlines cannot be as good."


Brighton's players, fans and management are unanimous that the track affects atmosphere as much as it does sightlines. "It's very different, and not ideal," Casper Ankergren, the former Leeds United goalkeeper, said. "I like it when the fans are close, even though it can cause trouble – I've been hit with coins and lighters and balls." Not, it is safe to say, at Withdean. "Exactly. I'm quite safe here, but you lose atmosphere with a track. I want a bit of tension, with the fans close."

Gus Poyet, the manager, agrees. "The best thing in English football for a foreigner is to play three yards from the fans. When I first came here, you could score a winning goal and celebrate with the fans. That's a feeling that doesn't have a price. In the Olympic Stadium in Rome, they have to run 30 yards to celebrate with the fans. It's two and a half minutes before you can start the game again.

"We've had away games this season when the noise of the home supporters at corners and free-kicks makes you think you are under pressure when you're not. A corner at Withdean is nothing without supporters close by. In Spain, Real Sociedad had a tiny old stadium, very tough for visitors, and now they have a massive new one with a track, and it's easy and enjoyable to play in."

Graeme Rolf, who supports the team at home and away, got a rare players' eye view: "I played in an exhibition match here once, and I did feel very disconnected from the crowd. I like to hear the players shouting to each other, the instructions from the dugout, even the clash of shinpads – but you seldom hear that at Withdean."

According to operations manager Richard Hebberd, the roof and scale of the Olympic Stadium will make some difference, "but perhaps not as much as West Ham think. With the track there is simply too much extra space for the sound to get lost in. The problem is not necessarily sound travelling across the ground but along the stands. Our south stand makes a lot of noise, but you can't always hear it when you're in there".

Brighton fan Gary Dunk, who sis behind the goal, could not understand West Ham's decision. "I think they will miss Upton Park," he said. "It has been a formidable little ground for them. We've just had to put up with this because the club were left without a home by a previous owner. I prefer more intimate grounds, so I can't wait for the new stadium."


An athletics facility has to cater to its other tenants – in this case, Brighton & Hove City Athletics Club, whose field-event facilities have caused football as many problems as the track.

"We thought about seats within the arcs of the track behind the goal, but there you've got the hammer and discus enclosures, the pole vault area and suchlike," Hebberd said.

Chief executive Perry added: "We had here someone who aspired to be a top-class hammer thrower. Just imagine the impact on the pitch, which is horrendous and repeated. You have to have trays of turf ready and a turf doctor to put a new plug of turf in. And what if you missed one? Athletics is a summer sport, and during the time when the pitch should be recovering from the football season, it has javelins, hammers and discuses raining down on it.

"I think the Olympic Stadium is a fantastic facility, but the fact is that it's an athletics stadium – and I think there are practical issues about athletics and football sharing, no matter how good the stadium is."

Shoppers at Selfridges department store in central London

Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleFormer Newsnight presenter is being touted for a brand new role
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
i100(More than you think)
Brendan Rodgers seems more stressed than ever before as Liverpool manager
FOOTBALLI like Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game