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Stratford Peace Olimpique

February 8, 2011

This is a screen grab of me from The Daily Politics today talking about Olympics. If I’d had more than 10 seconds to put my point across I would have said something like this:

I like football. This weekend I went to see my team Watford take on Nottingham Forest at the City Ground. We lost 1-0 – but that doesn’t really matter. There’s alot more to football than what goes on on the pitch. If you don’t know what I mean – have a look at some of Stuart Clarke’s photos. The football he documents is about the people in the crowd, at the turnstile and in the food cue. The stadiums, their gangways and the streets outside. The City Ground is just the kind of place he would like – all the stands are different shapes and they all have different names. They have grown with with club and preserve it’s triumphs, traditions and stories.

It’s no wonder that the fans of Tottenham and West Ham don’t want to move to the Olympic stadium – they will lose the connection to their past if they lose their grounds. The fans of Leyton Orient aren’t happy either . According to the January issue of When Saturday Comes, Premier League football in the Olympic stadium means Orient could end up relocating their ground to Harlow. That’s an odd Olympic legacy – Harlow get a new football team. On the flipside, if Tottenham get the ground and the Crystal Palace athletics stadium gets renovated – that will seriously affect the chances of Crystal Palace ever being able to move back to their spiritual home from where they currently reside, in Croydon.

There are so many different ways of looking at the stadium issue. Does it show bad legacy planning? Does it show that no matter how well you plan a legacy, in a world when everything is so connected, you will never know quite what the consequence of a single piece of planning will be? Or does it show that sport is a part of our culture and grows as we grow (at Watford we only have three working stands at the moment – ha!) – and that any attempt to mess with this is always going to jar: an athletics stadium is unlikely to work for football, an Athletics stadium is unlikely to produce a big enough cultural step-change in national passion for athletics to make it seem relevant. Build it, and they may not come.

Sometimes I think it would be better if the Olympic stadium was reduced to a 10,000 seat athletics venue. A new football team could be started in the deep recesses of non-league football. It could be called Stratford Peace Olimpique. The crowds wouldn’t be very big so you’d be able to watch the game standing on the athletics track – which would be nice because people would be standing on the track where all the amazing things in the Olympics had happened.

A few weeks ago Fran and I went to see Ian Sinclair talk about the Olympics and its affect on East London. He’s highly skeptical about whether it can work – just like all the people at Games Monitor. He said some really profound things at the end of his talk about people in East London finding ways to take over the Olympic park and bring it back into the city in the years after the games – I think this is what Gabin is saying in his interview when he says ‘we will all find our way through’. The way I see it there are two Olympics. There’s the Olympics as an idea, a moment in time a sort of vague dream of something better and then there’s  The Olympics as legal entity, a set of institutions, building projects and money. If there is a hope that the games will have a broadly positive impact on London we will have to hope that the two Olympics can somehow marry up. Hopefully the debarcle over the stadium won’t proove emblematic of how hard this will be.

I’m tired. Sorry if that wasn’t very coherent.


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