A Vital Guide To...The Boleyn Ground
Where next? West Ham United`s Boleyn Ground, aka Upton Park.
Where are we seated? We have around 3,000 seats in the Sir Trevor Brooking Stand (a name that will rankle Arsenal`s visiting supporters slightly!) lower tier. We are dissected from the centre of the stand, over towards the North East Corner of the ground, where one of the screens and scoreboard is situated. Tickets are £49.
What`s it like? The stadium is a not entirely unpleasing throwback. Situated snugly in amongst terraced streets and local high rise estates. To access the away end, you actually walk through a narrow alley way belonging to an adjacent estate before Upton Park peers at you from around the corner. In this sense, it is a "proper" football ground. Most of the stands have now been modernised, although not all of it, which does give it a bit of a lopsided look.
The West Stand was renovated entirely in 2001 and looks modern and spacious. But the East Stand, or the 'Chicken Run` as it`s known to the locals, hasn`t been treated in any serious way since it opened in 1969. The Sir Trevor Brooking Stand, where away fans sit, was rather hastily turned into an all seater in the wake of the Lord Justice Taylor report. Whereas the South Stand- now known as the Bobby Moore End- and the West Stand have been modernised, the East and North ends haven`t really.
Only the presence of seats masks the retro charm / discomfort. (Delete according to preference). Sight lines in the away end are very similar to those in the old Clock End. The tactical nuances of the action may pass you by as you`re quite low down. If you`re positioned near the back of the stand, the roof can be a bit of a nuisance.
What are the facilities like? In the away end they`re rather pre historic. As I said, seats have been hastily assembled in the Trevor Brooking Stand, but other than that, you won`t find much difference from what you`d have seen in the 70s, bar the flat screen TVs in the concourse. I`d like to have a beer with the person that gave the away end a fire safety certificate at Upton Park. The concourses are roughly the size of Kate Moss` waistline.
So if you want a beer or a hotdog (and at £3.80 for a bottle of warm Carling, why the hell would you?), probably best to visit one of the many food and drinking outlets in the nearby streets. Be sure you`re bladder is totally emptied before kick-off. If you try and sneak out for a whizz at half time, you`ll either lose all of the skin on your knees slaloming between the cramped seats, or else end up with bruised lungs in the queues.
Fortunately, the stewards don`t tend to make you sit down. Probably on the understanding that earwax isn`t a good look for ankles. If you do try to sit down, you`ll have knees like Ledley King come full time. It`s all a bit cramped, but the atmosphere is always good when Arsenal visit. Spurs apart, London away games always offer more time in the pub pre match to lubricate the vocal chords.
What are the home fans like? Upton Park always offers a good cocktail for Arsenal. There`s a London rivalry there, which both sets of fans tunefully acknowledge. Yet at the same time, there is a kind of mutual respect, largely borne of a mutual hatred of Chelsea and Spurs. I`m sure most London based Arsenal fans will have friends and colleagues on the other side of the divide in the home end.
It`s always best to err on the side of caution with regards to colours at West Ham. If you`re not drinking anywhere, you`ll almost certainly be fine, but maybe bring a coat just in case some ne`er do wells stalk your corner. Everyone has their own subjective impressions and experiences I guess, but West Ham have always been alright by me. I`ve been able to chat with Irons` fans pre match.
How to get there? All signs point to London Underground`s District Line. Confusingly, West Ham are actually situated in East Ham, West Ham station is nowhere near the Boleyn. Upton Park is the closest tube station, particularly for away fans.
That`s fine on your way to the game. But a little tip, don`t go to Upton Park station after the game. I think there are people still queuing there who don`t even know West Ham have been promoted again. Get your google map out, walk through one of the nearby housing estates and take the 10 minute walk to East Ham station. No queues and it`s one stop before the hordes join at Upton Park, so you get a seat too.
Any historical landmarks? Just outside the Boleyn pub you will find a statue of the late, great Bobby Moore hoisting the World Cup aloft, with Peters and Hurst holding him aloft. Upton Park, much like Highbury, is enclaved by terraced housing and high rise flats. It`s largely a residential area.
Where to drink? As an away fan, you do have to choose carefully, even if you`re not wearing colours. Avoid the Boleyn pub at all costs, it`s home fans only and it will enforce that rule to the letter. The clientele would not take kindly to an Arsenal fan in their midst. The best choices are probably close to East Ham station. Opposite the town hall, the Miller`s Well is a large Wetherspoons welcoming to away support. The Denmark Arms nearby is also a safe bet. Both are around a 20 minute walk from the ground, so leave yourself plenty of time.
The Duke of Edinburgh on Green Street (cross the road at Upton Park station and it`s on your left) doesn`t mind away fans- though be sure your colours aren`t on show. It does get incredibly crowded in there though. You`re likely to come out with Reebok Classic imprints on your nice new trainers and Guinness stains on your coat sleeve.
Overall, so long as you don`t venture into the wrong pubs or make a huge show of yourself outside, Upton Park can be one of the best and most atmospheric away games of the season. LD.
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