Behind closed doors. Football returns to an eerie London Stadium


West Ham United 0 : 2 Wolverhampton Wanderers

After a break of 100 days, Premier League football has returned. In their first game back, West Ham faced Wolverhampton Wanderers at the Olympic Stadium in East London.

The journey to the ground was one full of anticipation. After such a prolonged break, the feelings of pride and privilege to be allowed to attend fluttered inside me, as fans were forced to sit at home and watch their teams.

The train, normally packed full of West Ham fans each competing to explain their hatred for London rivals Tottenham, was quiet.

Instead, each carriage was filled by customers, with minds not on football, donned in PPE and spread much further than the advised 2m precautionary distance.

Arriving at the stadium, Londoners had flocked to the Olympic Park on a sunny day. Amongst picnics, music and drinks were two Wolves fans, who had seemingly made the trip down to support the team from outside the stadium.

There were checks to be made when arriving as press at the stadium, although these measures didn’t take as long as the time taken for me to find the correct entrance.

Once the stairs up to the press box had been travelled, the view of the stadium with its empty stands was expansive from the position high up at the London Stadium.

Before kick-off, there was time for a rendition of ‘I’m forever blowing bubbles’ to play over the tannoy, the result a sad, emotional reminder of football’s current situation.

Without fanatic West Ham fans singing the chorus, the bubbles appeared to be floating aimlessly rather than reaching the sky as referenced in their famous ballad.

The match began with a minute’s silence for those that have lost their lives during the coronavirus pandemic as well the players taking a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, leaving me to consider the twin injustices of a cruel pandemic and mindless racism.

The anti racist message extended to players wearing ‘Black Lives Matter’ on the back of every shirt as protests continue as a result of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, and injustice closer to home.

While the option to viewers at home extends to crowd noise or otherwise, the scene inside the London Stadium is one of quiet. Until Conor Coady begins to speak.

The Wolves captain could be heard from every corner of the ground, barking out orders to teammates and organising his defensive line. His scream of ‘lino!’ was particularly poignant, referee Anthony Taylor having to remind the scouse center-back about his responsibilities.

Instructions being circulated amongst the Wolves players were coming in both English from Coady, but also in Portuguese due to their large contingent from the Iberian nation. He was being matched by Michail Antonio and Declan Rice for the Hammers, Antonio continuing to complain at the referee during the enforced water break in the first half.

The aggression and competitiveness were not lost despite the lack of spectators, both sets of players and staff keen to contest any decision they feel may have not gone their way.

Whenever somewhere near normality had resumed, there would be a stark reminder of the times we currently face, Joao Moutinho’s thorough inspection of a recently sanitised ball an example of such an oddity. One ball in particular was perhaps made too slippery by the ground staff at the London Stadium, referee Taylor forced to pause the game as it inadvertently rolled onto the pitch.

The fixture needed a player who could get fans off their seats, if they were here of course. That player arrived with Adama Traore who replaced Diogo Jota but Nuno Espirito Santo’s substitution highlighted another disparity found in this new age of football.

When a player is replaced, there is normally a gauge on their performance by the level of applause they received from their respective fans. This quirk of the game is no longer a feature in the covid-era.

To rippled applause from the Wolves bench, the visitors took the lead on 72 minutes. Substitute Traore received the ball out wide and hung a ball up towards the back post, Raul Jimenez there unmarked to simply head it home.

With their side 1-0 down with the minutes fading, West Ham fans could no longer encourage their team to find an equaliser. That lack of support told as Pedro Neto made it two-nil to Wolves. Matt Doherty’s cross found the young Portuguese winger at the back post, whose sweet volley flew past Lukasz Fabianski in the West Ham goal.

This time the cheers were louder from the sideline, the quality and importance of the strike deserving an away cheer full of rapture, instead it was rewarded with fist bumps from teammates.

As the voices quietened, with the odd expletive still heard, the game came to its conclusion.

The result spells serious danger for David Moyes’ side, while Wolves were delighted at the final whistle to capitalise on dropped points from teams around them.

As football returned, an empty stadium saved West Ham from the boos they may have received. But there’s a lot more to be really unhappy about.


About Author

Comments are closed.