West Ham owner David Sullivan made his fortune by making porn films, but last night's farewell to
Upton Park the Boleyn Ground may be his gaudiest and most needlessly long production yet.
Rather than allowing supporters say goodbye to their ground in their own personal way; to bask in the still warm nostalgia left by blocks of concrete which have furnished memories both deep and eternal, West Ham subjected their supporters to an hour long, Sky Sports-produced phantasmagoria of flashing lights, excruciatingly forced crowd interactions, and Marlon Harewood.
We assumed that West Ham fans just wanted to stand and roar about blowing bubbles as a kind of primal scream therapy; tearing every last octave from their throats so as to feel they left everything behind. Sadly, West Ham and Sky Sports had other plans. The lights came down, and the fans were treated to a fireworks show to the tune of Twist And Shout, by popular East End band The Beatles. This was followed by a tinny tannoy reverberation of something by someone called Tinie Tempah, which was assumedly chosen as an ironic nod to Paolo Di Canio's infamously short fuse. All accompanied by a series of glitzy flashing laser lights, unsuited to any epileptics in the crowd. Ultimately, the epileptics in the crowd had the last laugh, as they could leave early.
Fireworks at the Boleyn Ground for the last time ... pic.twitter.com/eQg1VLs6Cv
— Sam Wallace (@SamWallaceTel) May 10, 2016
Next appeared chummy Ben Shepherd, who announced himself as a massiv' West 'Am fan by adding a slight cockney inflection to his morning TV show voice, referring to the crowd as 'we', and reading intently from a West Ham branded clipboard. The 'we' act was dropped almost immediately, as a fellow supporter tried to get onto the pitch, eliciting a snippy 'it's a night out for him, and a night off for his family' response from chummy Ben.
Chummy Ben's contribution was that of the groomsman at the end of the wedding table: not trusted with a full speech, so instead is told to read out the telegrams from those who, sadly, can't be with us today. Chummy Ben threw light on some less-heralded members of the crowd including a 100-year-old woman who once danced with Bobby Moore and, randomly The Belgian Irons, a supporters group from Belguim who may need a support group from Belguim having been booed upon their big moment in the limelight.
Next, chummy Ben threw to fellow Sky Sports presenter Bianca Westwood who was high in the Betway Stand - oh, damn this loss of history and tradition - accompanied by a phalanx of brooding former players deemed not good enough to be brought onto the pitch. These included Anton Ferdinand, Carlton Cole and Marlon Harewood, who flanked her as loyal Death Eaters would Lord Voldemort:
Bianca then had to make a swift dash downstairs to join in the procession of Hammers Of The Year, ex-players bewilderingly trundling onto the field in black taxi cabs to do a lap of honour in anonymity before being presented to the crowd. The whole thing was a bizarre, protracted game of bingo, guessing which ex-pro would appear from the next cab:
Is this a taxi version of Deal or no Deal? My money's on Di Canio being in taxi no.8 #hammeroftheyear
— Mark Farrelly (@MarkFarrelly131) May 10, 2016
If they don't interview Harry Redknapp out of one of these taxi windows then what was the point of it all?
— Mark Farrelly (@MarkFarrelly131) May 10, 2016
Di Canio did eventually surface later, standing on the spot he rifled home that exquisite scissor-kick. He watched a genuinely nice video of fans recalling that goal, before Bianca asked him to salute the crowd. Before you ask, no, he didn't. Bianca asked Di Canio to say something nice about the fans. He said they were great, and Bianca replied that 'these are the best fans in the world, absolutely'. The whole thing was tantamount to Stockholm Syndrome on the part of West Ham and Sky Sports, continually preaching to the fans about how bloody great they are as a way of convincing them to continue to sit through this heavily-produced and alienating drivel.
Trevor Brooking was the next to receive the Di Canio treatment, and he had the temerity to call the ground Upton Park, which was decided was a disgusting and ill-befitting name for the place at some stage last week. This subtle yet sudden renaming of the ground on Sky Sports last week was a microcosm of everything wrong with this pathetic pageantry. Just as Sky Sports claim that they invented English Football by paying for it to be renamed the Premier League, their insistence that Upton Park would be called the Boleyn Ground on all of their outlets was another example of their rapacious imperialism; what Louis Althusser called interpellation: an institution naming something gives them a certain level of ownership of it.
We'll provide the presenters, the TV cameras, and, above all, the name, meaning this is our party. Rather than allow the supporters say farewell in their own way - as it should have been - Sky took over. The Skyification of the goodbye to Upton Park is the latest in a litany of an attempts to wrestle football from the masses in order to sell satellite subscriptions.
The whole thing built to an utterly hideous crescendo, as blowing bubbles was butchered by an old man who should know better, as part of a band called the Cockney Rejects, a booking which at least showed that the organisers had a sense of humour.
There were some fine moments, the final video recalling the memory of Bobby Moore was touching, as were a number of the fan videos recalling famous moments and famous goals. Mark Noble also gave a fine speech when the squad were introduced at the end, whereupon he said that West Ham were now a proper football club, and no longer a circus.
True that, Mark.
The real clowns were watching.
— Balls.ie (@ballsdotie) May 6, 2016