A fan’s guide – the club from early doors to today
Surprise winners of the Europa Conference League in 2023, West Ham took a long while to adjust to the London Stadium, built for the the 2012 Olympics. Leaving behind Upton Park, graced by some of the greatest names in the history of the game, the Hammers bade farewell with a memorable campaign in 2015-16.
After five years of mediocrity and discontent at Olympic Park, West Ham surprised everyone by challenging for a first-ever Champions League spot in 2020-21. In the end, they had to settle for the Europa League, the last game of the season feeling like a victory lap. Fittingly, on the scoresheet was Declan Rice, one of many England internationals to have come through the club’s illustrious academy system.
While David Moyes has proved surprisingly resilient in subsequent disappointing seasons since, Rice became a world-class defensive midfielder and one of the first names on the England teamsheet, playing all games at Euro 2020 and the 2022 World Cup. Bowing out as captain of a major trophy-winning when West Ham overcame Fiorentina in the Conference League final of 2023, Rice filled the club’s coffers to the tune of £100 million but left a huge gap with his move to Arsenal.
Based in East London since 1895, West Ham were originally an ironworks team, hence their alternative nickname, the Irons. Involved in two key moments in English football history – the inaugural ‘White Horse’ FA Cup Final of 1923 (lost 2-0 to Bolton), and providing three key elements of England’s winning 1966 World Cup team – West Ham enjoyed periods of mainly post-war success.
Known also as being ‘The Academy of Football’, the club adept at bringing through young players, West Ham’s story really starts in the mid 1950s. Members of their young squad, most notably Malcolm Allison, John Bond, Dave Sexton and Frank O’Farrell, all of whom would later manage top clubs, would meet after training and talk tactics. Sitting for hours in Cassettari’s Café near the Upton Park ground, the young Hammers would plan moves with saltcellars and vinegar bottles – moves which would culminate with the Second Division title in 1958.
With Ron Greenwood in charge, the young, tactically savvy trio of Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters broke through to win the FA Cup in 1964, Cup-Winners’ Cup in 1965 and, of course, World Cup for England in 1966. Today at the corner of Green Street and Barking Road, near what is now the Upton Gardens housing complex, Philip Jackson’s statue The Champions captures the trio striking an iconic pose holding aloft the Jules Rimet Trophy on a historic July afternoon.
Another Academy product, Trevor Brooking, was the lynchpin of a side that won the cup again in 1975 and 1980, while the Academy’s Tony Cottee and his strike partner Frank McAvennie scored the goals to earn West Ham a record third-place league finish in 1986.
Since then, the club’s great talents – Rio Ferdinand, Joe Cole, Frank Lampard – have all been sold to balance the books. In 2010, Davids Gold and Sullivan, and Karren Brady, who previously ran Birmingham City, took over West Ham, whose finances were in perilous state after the previous Icelandic régime. Gold and Sullivan had emotional ties to the club, Brady (‘The First Lady of Football’) a savvy operator who was behind much of the negotiations to move West Ham to the Olympic Stadium in Stratford.
The move itself had been far from smooth. Having submitted their bid in 2010, West Ham were chosen as the preferred post-2012 option, ahead of rival would-be tenants Tottenham and Leyton Orient. The awarding of a 99-year lease was announced in March 2013, sparking more legal wranglings when it came to light that the government would be footing £25 million of the estimated £270 million-plus costs to convert the stadium to a football ground.
With Sam Allardyce taking over from Avram Grant as manager, a relegated West Ham bounced back from the Championship in only one season. For 2014-15, Allardyce was brave enough to change to a more attacking formation, allowing the incoming Diafra Sakho to become top scorer. Poor spring form saw Allardyce sacked and ex-Hammers defender Slaven Bilić come in as coach.
It wasn’t just the seventh place, United’s best top-flight finish since 1999. Bilić’s team provided the crowd with some of the most memorable matches, and goals, in many a year. Mingled with spectacular free-kicks by Dimitri Payet and the mazy dribbles of Manuel Lanzini was, of course, nostalgia, the clock ticking down on 112 years at Upton Park.
The final game, a thrilling 3-2 win over Manchester United, will live long in the memories of everyone who was there – the occasion almost ruined by an attack on the visitors’ team bus as it tried to push through the narrow streets packed with fans around the venerable ground in the run-up to kick-off.
What followed was anger of a different kind as poorly segregated fans at the London Stadium and a struggling team, bereft of Payet, sank down the table. Bilić, David Moyes and Manuel Pellegrini all fought a rearguard action before Moyes’ unacclaimed return in 2019.
Few expected a revived Jesse Lingard and Michail Antonio to light up the Premier League, although great things had long been expected of young defensive midfielder Declan Rice, soon an established England international. As stalwart midfielder Mark Noble approached nearly two decades in a West Ham shirt, the future looked surprisingly brighter for the Hammers.
Performing unexpectedly well in the Covid-hit 2020-21 campaign, David Moyes’ men kept up the pace the following season, putting together the club’s best European run for half a century. But there was more to this than putting Genk or Dinamo Zagreb to the sword. The 2-0 win over Europa League specialists Sevilla in the Round of 16, overcoming all the odds, raised the roof of the London Stadium.
Few, not even Mark Noble, had experienced anything like it, and late goalscorer Andriy Yarmolenko will long remember the crowd embraces afterwards, the yellow and blue of the Ukrainian flag mingling with the claret and light blue. Swatting aside Lyon, the Hammers then came up against tougher opposition – and tougher fans – in Eintracht Frankfurt in the semi-final.
Despite woeful league form, West Ham benefitted from a relatively easy passage to the final of the Conference League. In Slavia Prague’s inappropriately small stadium, favourites Fiorentina were shocked by a last-minute winner from West Ham’s Jarrod Bowen win the club its first major trophy in 43 years. It proved a fitting farewell to a departing Declan Rice, in imperious form all game, and a positive endorsement of much-criticised manager Moyes, overjoyed at the final whistle.
The field of dreams – and the story behind it
It hasn’t been an easy move, on or off the pitch. West Ham opened their 99-year tenancy of Stratford’s London Stadium in August 2016 with a curtain-raising friendly against Juventus. There then followed as series of incidents at home games, partly the result of poorly organised segregation, partly frustration at the home team doing so badly at such a soulless location.
This is, after all, where the 2012 Olympics and 2017 World Athletics Championships took place, since reconfigured for football use, capacity limited to 60,000.
The problem is both the distance from seat to pitch, many preferring to watch on the big screen rather focusing on the live action, and the gap between upper and lower tiers due to the retractable seating. The contrast with intimate, intimidating Upton Park could not be more striking.
Bobby Moore and Trevor Brooking lend their names to the stands behind each goal. Away fans are usually allocated three upper sections (218-220) and four lower ones (117-120) in the Sir Trevor Brooking end nearest the West Stand, accessed through gate D. Having a seat nearer the pitch will make a significant difference to your match-day experience.
The sideline East Stand honours another Hammers hero, Billy Bonds.
Going to the ground – tips and timings
The London Stadium is near the multi-level Stratford transport hub that serves the Jubilee and Central lines, as well as the DLR and overland rail, and incorporates Stratford International on the DLR and the rail link with St Pancras 6min away.
Following signs for the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, you walk out of the main buiding alongside the Westfield Stratford City retail centre. Keeping M&S to your left, you pass the Bat & Ball and The Cow bar/restaurants before Stratford Walk leads you across to the stadium complex.
Note that post-match crowd-flow stewarding leads visiting supporters back to Stratford the long way round – you may not be able to walk back the same direct route.
Driving to the London Stadium is neither recommended nor encouraged. Its sat nav code is E20 2ST but there’s no parking in immediate vicinity. The nearby Westfield Stratford City retail centre (sat nav E20 1EJ) has three car parks with a combined 4,500 spaces. Rates are £8.10/3hrs, £9.50/up to 24hrs, cards and cash (change given) accepted. The most convenient for the stadium complex and bars on Chestnut Plaza is car park B, open 24hrs.
Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much
Of the 19 Premier League fixtures in 2016-17, only two were offered for general sale. Priority is given to Claret members (£20/season, under-16s £10), who purchase tickets online or by phone (UK 0333 030 1966, international +44 333 030 1966, Mon-Fri 9am-5pm).
The match-day ticket office (from 9am) is by the Stadium Store opposite gates E and F. There is also a ticket collection office by gate J that opens 2hrs before kick-off.
Matches are divided into three categories A-C, and pricing is laid out in six bands, 1-5 and premium 1966. For a Category A game, prices range from £50-£80, for Category C, £25-£40. Over-65s and under-21s are given half-price reductions for Bands 1-5 for games in Categories B-C, a £45 full-price ticket costing £22.50.
For league fixtures, away fans pay a flat-rate £30, over-65s and under-21s £25.
what to buy
Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts
Opened by team captain Mark Noble in 2016, the Stadium Store (Mon-Sat 10am-5pm, Sat 11am-5pm, match days 9am-kick-off & after final whistle) is on the south side of the stadium, across from the ArcelorMittal Orbit attraction.
Filling the shelves are WHFC coffee mugs bearing individual player’s names, retro gear including a Bukta-brand trackie top as worn for the 1975 FA Cup Final and books such as Clyde Best’s moving The Acid Test. The home kit for 2023-24 suffers from a half-hearted attempt at integrating bubbles, the away shirt is a much neater white with cycling-style collar and cuffs. Third choice is, bizarrely, also white, but even more bizarrely, a literal mess of orange and yellow around the midriff.
The store contains a West Ham themed café and the John Lyall Gates, moved across from Upton Park. There are three other outlets in the West Ham Essex hinterland, in Basildon, Romford and Thurrock.
tours & Museum
Explore the ground inside and out
Five-language multi-media tours (£19/£17 advance, over-65s £16/£14, children £11/£10) of London Stadium run every half-hour from 10am-3pm, and until 3.30pm on non-match day Saturdays. On match-day Saturdays, tours start around 8am-8.30am and finish late morning.
Visitors are taken into the changing rooms, the manager’s dug-out and the player’s tunnel, with video content bringing to life great moments from 2012.
Where to Drink
Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors
Of all the pubs around Upton Park, the Boleyn, a grand, Grade II listed red-brick landmark, steeped in Hammers lore, has survived the club’s move to Stratford and retains its historic character.
At the Westfield Stratford City complex built around the Stratford transport hub, The Bat and Ball allows you to get in a quick game of ping-pong over a craft beer or two. There’s live sport, too.
A few doors down, on Chestnut Plaza and the last place you come to before heading over to the stadium, The Cow is more seasonal grill restaurant than bar but also operates as a pub, albeit with an open-plan, industrial feel. Set on top of Westfield car park, urban activity centre Roof East runs during the warmer months, with its own bar and street-food outlets.
Nearby Broadway contains a number of pubs usually welcoming to away fans, starting with the Abbey Tap (No.12-14), with screens and craft beers a-plenty.
Halfway between Westfield and the stadium, by the ArcelorMittal Orbit twisty statue/ride, The Last Drop, the former Podium, is the last bar/restaurant before the ground, well versed in serving fans on match days. If you’re visiting the Stadium Store, then downstairs you’ll find the West Ham United Coffee Co with its colourful Hammers-themed murals and tabletops, serving cappuccinos not pints.
Those coming in via Hackney Wick can take advantage of the riverside CRATE Brewery, an independent outlet for original microbrews and pizzas, and the nearby Howling Hops Tank Bar, a warehouse converted into a tap room. A couple of bridge hops over the water from the stadium – walk down Bassett Lane past the Bobby Moore Academy – these provide a trendy, friendly alternative to the mainstream chains and standard pubs around the Westfield complex.