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Lose Upton Park and you lose a gem of English football

Mar 21, 2013, 6:30 PM EDT

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For some ridiculous reason – likely that 5 letter word that begins with ‘m’ and rhymes with ‘funny’ – West Ham United have gone ahead and agreed to a 99 year deal with the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) to become the primary tenants of Olympic Stadium.

The agreement is a major step towards resolving seven mind-numbing years of negotiations. The deal means the East End club will get a sparkly new, 60,000 seat stadium at a marginal upfront cost. Hammers majority owners, David Gold and David Sullivan, will invest at least $228 million (the majority of which will come from the public’s pockets) to convert the stadium and make it suitable for football and other sports. Part of the plans include retractable seats and a new cantilevered roof, so that supporters won’t get their heads wet when they’re chucking coins at John Terry.

Sounds like a pretty sexy setup for West Ham but there are still some snags that need to be worked out.

First, West Ham is required to pay off its $106 million in debt by the the 2016-17 season when the club moves into its new digs. This shouldn’t be too difficult as Gold & Sully plan on using the proceeds from the sale of Upton Park (for redevelopment) to keep the banks happy.

Second, Leyton Orient’s owner, Barry Hearn, is making a stink about seeing out judicial review of the decision to award the Olympic Stadium to West Ham. Without a hint of irony, Hearn claims that awarding the Stadium to just one club will “crush” his club and that sharing the palace would be a much better idea. Hearn concedes, however, that his appeal is unlikely to be successful.

Whereas the first two issues are unlikely to hold up the deal, the final concern – that West Ham still needs to sell the supporters on the plan – could prove tricky. And damn right it should! Tearing down Upton Park would be a disaster for English football.

What would a West Ham match be without without a shady, adrenaline-pumping, stroll down Green Street?

How are fans supposed to enjoy pitch invaders – drunk on London Pride and the claret and sky blue – when they won’t even be able to make it across the track before being tackled by the Yellow Jackets?

And what if bubbles don’t travel as well in the Stratford air?

These are just a few of the questions West Ham fans must ask themselves before they cozy up to the swanky new Olympic Stadium.

The electric atmosphere surrounding Upton Park is one of the few remaining glories that defines English football. I, for one, will be bummed if it disappears.

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