Manchester United Fans Write To Club About Old Trafford Atmosphere

Friday's defeat at Brighton saw Manchester United complete an unenviable triple of defeats to promoted clubs and was another example of the team playing not just badly, but atrociously. What's baffling is that they have shown an impressive capability to beat some of England's top sides, only to flop against less-heralded opponents.

It's not sufficient for a team with so much talent and several players are on thin ice with fans, who want a strong finish to the league season ahead of the FA Cup final vs. Chelsea. Marouane Fellaini, for example, talks with the assuredness of a €50 million star who plays 50 times a season, as opposed to the player who, in reality, has started seven times in all competitions in 2017-18.

United's final away game of the season is at West Ham on Thursday. The fixture has been a notable away day in the club's history, from winning the league there in 1967 to effectively losing it in 1992 and 1995. But that was the old West Ham, for whom Louis van Gaal's side were opponents in the final game at Upton Park two years ago. Things are different now.

At the start of this decade, a lifelong West Ham fan called Nick invited this writer into the Hammers Social Club behind the club's old Boleyn Ground, also known as Upton Park. Packed with fans of all ages, the decor may have been out of date, but the atmosphere was fantastic, the sense of community clear.

Upon seeing Nick last weekend, I suggested he must be pleased after his club beat Leicester on Saturday, a result that secured their Premier League safety. Nick, though, said that he would rather his team had lost at Leicester and went down, "because then we'd have a better chance of our owners leaving." Like many diehard supporters, he despises what the club has become since moving to the London Stadium in 2016.

The seats furthest from the pitch might as well be in the next postcode, games are played in a toxic atmosphere because of fan in-fighting, stewarding has been ineffective and fans feel cheated and displaced after leaving their old home. (The British taxpayer might also feel aggrieved, given the cost of updating the stadium after the 2012 Olympics.)

West Ham's average attendance went from 36,000 to 56,800 overnight, but the club's identity and soul was adversely affected. Stuff like that is important in football, especially for fans who go to games. Many don't feel that the new stadium has taken the club to the next level at a world-class stadium, as the owners claimed when explaining their reasons for the move.

The 3,000 away fans who attend Thursday's game will help push total attendance at the London Stadium beyond one million for league games this season. West Ham are the fourth best-supported team and have bigger crowds than Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea, but it is a new crowd that has differing expectations.


Some fans are new to live football and want to sit in the seat they have paid for, while others want to stand up with their mates. That latter group want to drink in pubs and use local businesses as they did at the Boleyn Ground, as opposed to the chain restaurants of the nearby Westfield Shopping Centre.

But is also true that the growing pains endured since the move would have been far less, had the team been fifth, rather than 15th and having conceded a league-worst 67 goals. Winning smooths discontent.

"We've usually had attractive football at West Ham, even when we've lost," said Nick. "West Ham fans want one of two things: Attractive football or wins. You've got one of them at Man United; we've got none here."

It was into that maelstrom that Moyes arrived in November after the dismissal of Slaven Bilic. At his first game, away to Watford, the travelling fans sang with venom for the board to be sacked. West Ham lost 2-0 and were 18th after 12 matches. But things did get better. There was a win vs. Chelsea in December and the club were 11th by the end of January.

While there has not been much to sing about since, Moyes was charged with avoiding relegation and, in that respect, he's almost certain to achieve his goal. Had he failed, it would have been another black mark on a career that has nosedived since an ill-fated spell in charge at Old Trafford.

Named Man United manager five years ago on Wednesday, Moyes was released 10 months later. He always maintained that, had he known he would get such a short time, he would have done things differently, but it was an ignominious period where nobody -- not the fans, the club or its manager -- was a winner.

Four years later, fans still await a return to the glory years enjoyed under Sir Alex Ferguson, who will be in the thoughts of those making another long trip south on Thursday. Beyond Moyes, a pair of familiar faces could feature as part of opposition: Patrice Evra and Javier Hernandez both play for West Ham, though neither feature frequently.

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