West Ham news: Blame Seb Coe and Boris Johnson, not the club, for the scandalous waste of £752m stadium

Is this the legacy Coe envisaged 11 years ago?

Ian Herbert
Chief Sportswriter
Wednesday 02 November 2016 18:33 GMT

There are many reasons for rage about £752m being casually tossed away on a stadium to accommodate a London football team currently larging it in the £5bn Premier League, though the contribution which that club is stumping up for the privilege tops the lot.

West Ham United have paid £15m – the cost of an average midfield player – towards the £323m alteration costs to their new ground and are finding about £2.5m a year – the annual salary of an average midfield player – to help with the running costs. And that’s their lot. The exchequer is picking up the vast remainder of the tab, at a time when 8 per cent of 16-24-year-olds in the capital report recently being homeless and the number of people sleeping rough there is double what it was five years ago. 'Football - bloody hell,' as a manager once said. Out there in the real world, what must they think of this game we love and the parallel plain it occupies?

Well, the game cannot take the kicking on this occasion. We must turn to an old friend of this column to understand how this nation, which the Conservative Government have been telling us for six years requires a long dose of austerity, is blowing three quarters of a billion to accommodate Slaven Bilic and his merry men.

He is one Sebastian Coe, who was talking in a very loud way about ‘legacy’ in 2005, when insisting that a 20,000-seat unroofed athletics stadium must form the centrepiece of 2012 London’s Olympic Bid. They told him at the time that he should bring a football club in from the start for the Olympic Stadium, because you count on the fingers of one hand the number of days athletics needs 20,000 seats.

Coe was not having it. I mean, he really was not having it. It takes a hell of a lot to fluster this man but one of those occasions arrived when, under questioning by the Greater London Authority, it was put to him that Tottenham Hotspur may be the stadium’s future occupants. “I didn’t make a promise to Tottenham Hotspur season ticket holders,” he fulminated. Football would not be in the 2012 Bid document, diluting London’s appeal with to IOC. Safe to say it also helped Coe’s bid for the presidency of athletics’ governing body, the IAAF, to make a “permanent home for athletics” one of the Bid’s articles of faith.

West Ham at their new ground
West Ham at their new ground (Getty)

Enter, stage left, Boris Johnson, an individual who loves nothing more than a spectacular project. It was he who pushed for an additional £300m or so more to be spent bringing some Premier League razzle to the stadium and making it dual use after all. Except £300m wasn’t enough. The original canopy only covered two-third of the seats, so £160m would be needed for a new cantilevered roof – the largest cantilevered roof in the world, no less – and to install 21,000 retractable seats, bringing the lower tiers closer to the pitch.

By the time it came to adapting the stadium for the only sport which could consistently fill it, West Ham were the only show in town. And since everyone who has sold a house knows what a lack of willing buyers does to the price, Karren Brady & Co can hardly be blamed for driving as good a deal for their shareholders as they could.

A little spirit of inquiry and curiosity would have told Coe that he was not breaking new ground, here. When Manchester staged the Commonwealth Games in 2002, an expensive new stadium was also built. But in that city they happen to have effective administrators, who worked out exactly what the legacy would look like. It was agreed, ahead of construction, that the Commonwealth Stadium would be converted for use by Manchester City and the original design took account of that. The conversion only cost around £42 million, with the tax payer and Manchester City each footing half the bill.

Coe and Johnson together
Coe and Johnson together (Getty)

Prime Minister Theresa May dipped into the world of football for an easy hit in the popularity stakes on Wednesday, when she appropriated the poppy for political ends and damned Fifa's refusal to allow England and Scotland to wear one on their jerseys when they play each other, next week. Everyone loves some feel-good Fifa-kicking. An intelligent head of government would have looked at this scandalous £752m waste and demanded that Coe and Johnson answer to the DCMS select committee for their actions.

West Ham coincidentally revealed that they are unlikely to play any home games before September next season because it will take 15 days for the seats to be put back in place after next summer’s World Athletics Championships. The seats are actually not retractable at all. They must be entirely dismantled. It was thought that the process would only take five days but not so. The firm who promised to do so, Alto Seating Solutions, has gone into liquidation.

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