Green Street, the approach to the Boleyn Ground at Upton Park, has a famous clock outside the Tube station. The message is grim: it reads “DON’T KILL YOUR WIFE/LET US DO IT.” It’s for a launderette, and it’s sold with typical East London humor.
There’s a lot of that around here, and the area needs it: Upton Park is in a ragged part of London, clogged with shops offering mobile phone unlocking, open-air fish markets and halal eateries. And the football here’s not offering much relief.
West Ham is an immensely proud club, fallen on some difficult times. Nearly 120 years old, they have bounced back and forth between the Premier League and the Championship in recent years and are currently locked in a fierce relegation battle. Tuesday night, they were in a classic six-pointer against an equally poor Norwich side, hoping to put a bit more distance between themselves and the drop.
Off the field, the Hammers have been a bit more successful. Owned by two veterans of London’s now-faded pornography industry, David Gold and David Sullivan, West Ham have inked a sweet deal to move out of their aging ground and take over the Olympic Stadium in nearby Stratford. For a mere $26 million, they will get to take over a stadium that is expected to cost nearly $310 million to retrofit for football. In addition, they announced on Monday that they will sell their old grounds here to a private developer, in a deal that has been reported as worth nearly $120m. Not a bad bit of business.
Not everyone is happy about that, mind you. Tiny Leyton Orient, currently trying to clamber out of the third division, sits in the Olympic Stadium’s shadow. They fear their tiny stadium on Brisbane Road simply won’t be able to compete, and they have a point, but they have lost several legal challenges to West Ham’s tenancy there, and as it stands, the matter is settled.
The funny thing is that West Ham might not be far apart from Leyton in the tables next season. Their fabled “Academy of Football” is referenced with heavy irony these days and with just seven points separating the eleven teams trying to stay in the top-flight, they have a brutal run-in ahead of them. In the final weeks, the Hammers will play both Manchester sides, Liverpool and three London derbies (against Palace, Arsenal and Spurs). They are currently 4-1 to go down the chute.
Leyton, on the other hand, sit in third in League One and have a realistic chance of going into the Championship. They are hardly world-beaters and rely too much on a single player — defender Romain Vincelot, a steely defender who begins most of their play out of the back — but they aren’t half bad, either.
The fact that these two clubs on opposite trajectories — one wealthy but always soggy; another plucky but well-scrubbed — might meet next year is a bit of an irony. What would be even better is if the two were in the same division come 2016. One will be playing in a taught ground that barely seats 10,000. The other might be rattling in around a 54,000 seat stadium. And both are likely to be far away from the top-flight.