West Ham-Chelsea violence just the latest sorry chapter in London Stadium's stormy history

London Stadium - the series of security issues which have marred a state-of-the-art venue

The London Stadium cost a fortune - but it's been dogged by problems

Thursday, October 27, 2016

It's only been around four years, but the London Stadium has been dogged by negative headlines since before the first spectator was even admitted - and most of the criticism has centred on security.

Once London won the Olympic bid for 2012, the planners designed a stadium that was top-notch, a beacon for the whole of London, not just the regenerated East End.

We already had Wembley, rebuilt in the early noughties, and Twickenham, which had been remodelled in the nineties. But still it was felt we needed another world-class sports arena, even though the eventual cost would run into the hundreds of millions (at the last count the project had cost £700m).

In April 2012, before the stadium had opened to the public and builders were racing against time to get the venue ready for the August Games, private guards at the Olympic park forcibly attempted to stop the media taking pictures and footage of the complex, even putting their hands over lenses, even though they were on public land. 

This raised concerns about potentially aggressive and over-intrusive security during the Games, because the guards didn't seem to know there are no restrictions when it comes to filming on public property.

Then came the staffage shortage overseen by the contractor G4S. A chronic shortage of manpower came to light, as did revelations that the security guards had received no schedules, uniforms, or training, and many had been allocated to venues hundreds of miles from where they lived. Some had been sent rotas intended for other employees, and offered shifts after they had failed G4S's own vetting. Others hadn't been properly vetted  - all just a matter of days before the 2012 opening ceremony. 

Newspapers were quick to talk of "chaos" at the Games venues and G4S was savaged in the media. Chief executive Nick Buckles was forced to attend an MPs' inquiry and resigned a year later. Thankfully thousands of British soldiers stepped in to police the venues and plug the alarming gaps.

Since then we've seen the back-and-forth between Tottenham, West Ham and Leyton Orient over who takes over the stadium, with all manner of accusations and counter-accusations flung back and forth between the various parties. West Ham eventually won the argument, but then details of the tenancy contract emerged and the poison pens were out again, many people suggesting West Ham had been given the keys to a stadium for a peppercorn rent. 

Now we have a new controversy over security at the venue which is thought to have cost the taxpayer over £700m. Whereas the critics once said those patrolling the Olympic Stadium were too abrasive, now they claim the security personnel are too soft, too under-qualified, unable to control West Ham's hooligan fringe.

There have also been claims that the stadium's football fitout wasn't complete in time for the Hammers' first game, and that the stadium is simply ill-suited to football, but the security nightmare is very much front and centre - and the headlines aren't going away.

Fans who attended last night's game spoke of a "disorganised," "chaotic" situation, with police and stewards powerless to prevent the problem. One fan even told talkSPORT the violence was akin to the Hillsborough disaster, the ultimate indictment of any sports facility.

After four years of negative publicity, the strife in Stratford must finally be sorted out. It's the least Britain's taxpayers deserve.