Before I start I’d like to make it clear that although I watch an occasional ODI or Test Match I am not a cricket fanatic, I split my time between following a number of sports, cricket is one of them; so I feel this is an impartial view from a sporting perspective. .
Having put a lot of thought into the Olympic Legacy (with particular attention on the stadium) I have come to the conclusion that Cricket has a strong argument to play host with the Olympic stadium.
My argument is based on three main principles:
1 Football and athletics tracks do not go together.
It has been proven time and time again; the vast majority of football clubs in Europe that played with an athletics track have built a new stadium without one or moved to a stadium without one. The impact on the acoustics and the weak visibility are the main culprits. The only two notable football stadiums with athletics tracks that have survived the onslaught are the Olympic stadiums in Berlin and Rome which (I assume) have only been spared the build-dozer because of their historical significance. The recently-built Juventus Arena speaks volumes, it is built on the footprint of the former Stade De Alpi which despite being only 16 years old was closed in 2006 and demolished in 2009. This is because the large distance between the stands and the pitch (as of the athletcs track) had such a detrimental impact on the fans experience that gate figures were shockingly low. Not surprisingly attendance has increased since moving to the Juventus stadium.
Significantly, many West Ham fans don’t want the stadium any-more, the majority of fans were interested when they had the option to own it and thus be able to modify it to improve visibility etc, but now they can only become tenants, the majority look on the potential move in a negative light. Why move away from a purpose built football stadium that they own with good visibility and a good atmosphere? Only to become tenants of a less-suitable stadium. I don’t know how familiar people are with Upton Park but it is largely a modern stadium with a good capacity for its’ needs. The stadium has three newish two-tier stands and one older one-tier stand (East Stand). The only developments I would recommend West Ham carry-out is revamp the older stand adding an extra tier whilst maybe increasing the gradient and fitting in some extra hospitality boxes. This would cost no more than 15m and at an educated guess raise the capacity to around 42,000. This would provide the club with ample capacity relative to demand.
2.The oval outfield of the stadium is ideal for cricket.
Every time I see an aerial shot of the ground I think cricket, the oval shape looks taylor-made for a cricket field; even the roof looks like it has drawn architectural inspiration from cricket grounds in the way it is white and doesn’t cover the entirety of the seats.
3. The stadium can still have an athletics legacy.
The only intensively maintained part of a cricket field is the wickets (or pitches) in the centre of the field; this area isn’t really used in athletics, it may suffer a few javelin hits but I’m sure something could be arranged to prevent the pitches to suffer much damage from this. The part which would cover an athletics track could be simply removed and relaid, accounting for a week or so to allow the relaid grass to ‘knit’ back together. Lords Cricket Ground achieved this when they took up the took up Archery Stands used for the London Olympics and relaid grass in their place for a crucial Eng vs SA test match to be played on the field the following week. I wouldn’t have noticed the recently relaid grass if I hadn’t have been briefed about it by Bumble. This gives us confidence that events like the 2017 World Athletics Championships could go-ahead without any major headaches.
When the stadium was available for ownership one of the bids was a joint one made by the England and Wales Cricket Board, Essex CCC, Middlesex CCC and Kent CCC; I feel this was a sensible bid with potential. Now there are three forms of cricket (Twenty20, ODI and Test) there is a big enough calender to sustain a reasonable return from the ground thus making finances available to maintain the arena well. Since the stadium has been made available for tenancy Essex CCC and East London University have submitted a bid to become tenants.
I also feel this would be a great opportunity for English Cricket to have its own national stadium; although it is considered that Lords is the home of English Cricket the England and Wales Cricket Board are only a tenant of the ground which is owned by Marylebone Cricket Club. Rugby Union has Twickenham, Football has Wembley, Cricket could have the Olympic Stadium. Whilst I acknowledge and respect that the Cricket Board like to share the wealth that international matches yearn by spreading out the fixtures around the country it would by nice of them to use the stadium for events like Finals Day and high-profile test matches to make cricket available for the masses…the tickets could be an awful lot cheaper if 60,000 were made available and Stratford is all of a sudden a very accessible place. And when we travel to Australia to partake in the Ashes series they entertain us in 60,000+ arenas, why cant we return the favour?
Below: The old Stade De Alpi, demolished after just 16 years of service.
Tell me you can’t foresee a cricket field: