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End of an Era: West Ham’s Upton Park Exit

The Boot Room

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If the 2-0 win away at Arsenal was the stuff of dreams for the 3,000 West Ham fans at the Emirates on the Premier League’s opening weekend, then the travelling Hammers who witnessed their 3-0 win against Liverpool would have been in delirium.

Yet many West Ham fans, especially those of an older generation, are waiting for that first home win of the season. A home win against Leicester or Bournemouth may not have been special in any other season, but this is no ordinary campaign.

For 111 years, West Ham have called the Boleyn Ground, often called Upton Park after the area where the stadium is located, their home. From great-grandfathers to great grandchildren, generations of Hammers have walked, drove and caught the bus or tube to join the masses walking along Green Street on a matchday.

Queens Market that lies adjacent to the stadium has been there since Victorian times, but it’s not the hustle and bustle of the market that is the most recognisable noise in that part of London; it’s the echo of the clubs’ famous anthem, ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’.

But the song that has been sung at West Ham games for nigh on one hundred years, gaining as strong a connection with West Ham as You’ll Never Walk Alone has with Liverpool, won’t echo onto the East London streets around the Upton Park underground station for much longer.

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The clubs owners, David Gold and David Sullivan, were keen to take advantage of the Olympic Stadium, that did not have a full time resident following the games in 2012. From August 2016, West Ham will be exactly that.

Going from a stadium capable of holding 35,000 supporters to one that would be able to house 60,000 makes financial sense; yet in a romantic sense, West Ham could lose a lot.

The close proximity of the fans to the pitch at Upton Park can make it an intimidating place for away teams to play there, but also one with a great atmosphere that can make the stadium reverberate.

To go from a ground where home supporters can literally scream down the necks of opposing players to one that separates fan from footballer with a huge running track could have a real negative effect on that ambience; just see how the Emirates struggles to keep the noise in.

The hardcore support can sometimes be a negative; those same fans who can be the proverbial ‘12th man’ can also be a millstone around the necks of their own players when times are tough, as the fans expectations hang heavy.

The biggest expectation is often talked about as playing football in ‘the West Ham way’. Much the same way that Ajax and Barcelona have deep-seated traditions of playing attractive football, so does West Ham.

A nickname that comes from the glory days of the 1960s, in particular when three West Ham academy graduates helped England win the World Cup in 1966, it can often mean that success by playing less attractive football still can mean unpopularity.

Despite leading the club from relegation back to the Premier League, Sam Allardyce was given particular short shrift from the club’s fans; Slaven Bilic’s appointment, one that seen a crowd favourite as a player return to the club in the dugout, was far more popular.

But perhaps the move to the Olympic Stadium, although great for the balance books (especially as the club only have to pay £15m towards the renovation costs), shows the battle football is going through in this modern age.

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In the grand scheme of things, one hundred years is not a long amount of time in context; yet in organised football, that is almost its whole existence.

You have fans on one side, who understand that clubs have gone from being important to the local community, to being big players on the global stage, not just in football but in business itself.

But then you have the other side of the coin: the generations who see the club not just as a hobby but as an extended family, with a stadium with an enormous emotional pull.

Perhaps West Ham, and the Boleyn Ground, are the biggest example of that. Even in the global market of the Premier League, football lovers from all over will make a pilgrimage to the deepest part of East London to see West Ham, where tradition never seems to be lost.

As a fan who has visited Upton Park as an away supporter, it can be a real grim experience. Exposed to the elements and paying through the nose for tickets, the long tube ride to the Boleyn could be seen as a trip back in time to the darkest times of football fandom.

But when you hear the sound of 30,000 fans all singing about their dreams fading and dying, the hairs stand on the back of your neck. It all makes sense, it all brings back what being a supporter who travels rain or shine to watch their team is all about.

Upton Park may not be the most glamorous stadium in the world, but through the eyes of a football traditionalist may well be a long-lost paradise, the long train journey from the heart of London almost adding to the romance of it all.

It will be a sad day for the West Ham faithful to say goodbye to the Boleyn, but it would be sadder if what makes the club special to those same supporters was lost with the move; even for someone who does not bleed claret and blue, that would be far worse than paying four quid to eat a soggy pie in the pouring rain.

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Stoke City

Is Bojan Krkic the perfect player for Gary Rowett to build Stoke City around?

The 27-year-old has been an outcast at the Bet365 Stadium.

Martyn Cooke

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Bojan
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As Gary Rowett continues to rebuild the Stoke City squad over the summer there will be plenty of speculation regarding who will be arriving and departing the Bet365 Stadium.

The Potters have already dipped into the transfer market by signing Nigerian midfielder Oghenekaro Etebo and Wolverhampton Wanderers striker Benik Afobe whilst Egyptian starlet Ramadan Sobhi was sold to Huddersfield Town last week.

Xherdan Shaqiri, who is currently representing Switzerland at the World Cup in Russia, has confirmed that he will be leaving the club whilst, in contrast, Joe Allen has signed a new long-term contract to remain.

There are still plenty of question marks over current players. The likes of Jack Butland and Badou Ndiaye are expected to attract interest from Premier League clubs whilst the expensive pairing of Saido Berahino and Giannelli Imbula may not fit into Rowett’s plans but will be short of offers.

But what about Bojan Krkic?

The diminutive Spaniard was once one of the most promising young forwards in Europe after he rose through Barcelona’s prestigious La Masia academy system and made his first team debut at the age of 17.

He made over 100 appearances for the Catalan’s prior to loan spells with Ajax, AC Milan and Roma before eventually moving to Stoke in the summer of 2014.

Bojan has certainly made an impact at the Bet365 Stadium, particularly during his first two-and-a-half years with the club, but he fell out of favour under Mark Hughes and has spent the last eighteen months on loan in Germany and Spain.

(Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

At his best, the 27-year-old was a magician who produced moments of sublime skill and was a central creative influence in the team.

He was technically magnificent and would often glide across the pitch, weaving between defenders and was a genuine threat whenever he received the ball in the final third.

Bojan was one of only a handful of Stoke players from the last decade that would bring supporters to the edge of their seats in anticipation and expectation when he was in possession.

For anyone who requires a reminder of what the forward can do, simply look up his solo goal against Tottenham Hotspur form 2014.

Much has been made of his injury in January 2015. The Spaniard suffered severe knee damage in an FA Cup tie at Rochdale that meant that he was out of action for the remainder of the season and the common narrative is that he was never the same upon his return.

However, this storyline is incorrect. In fact, Bojan was at his peak over the Christmas period in 2015 when he was the centre of Stoke’s attacking trident which also included Shaqiri and Marko Arnautovic.

Such was the effectiveness of the trio that The Potters picked up the nickname of ‘Stoke-a-lona’ in reference to their attacking brand of football.

So where did it all go wrong for him?

He fell out of favour with Mark Hughes and, after being dropped from the starting line-up, was never able to regain his position as Stoke City’s creative hub.

The Spaniard subsequently has spent the past eighteen months on loan with Mainz and Las Palmas but has struggled to make any significant impact either in Germany or Spain.

(Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)

In many respects, Bojan’s stock has never been lower. He has fallen off the radar somewhat in the past year and it appears that any hopes that he may have had of returning to a prominent European club are all but over.

However, this opens up a potential return to Stoke despite their relegation to The Championship.

Last season The Potters were desperately short of creativity and goals – something that Bojan can provide.
The Spaniard man be the perfect figure for Gary Rowett to build his new look team around.

Joe Allen and Oghenekaro Etebo will provide defensive security and energy in the centre of midfield whilst Benik Afobe will make be the focal point in the final third.

Bojan could be the perfect link player if deployed as a number ten and you would imagine that he would be more than capable of causing chaos amongst defences in The Championship.

There is, of course, the question of whether the 27-year-old would be prepared to play in the second tier of English football, although Allen’s decision to sign a new contract and remain at Stoke would suggest that Rowett is capable of being persuasive.

If Stoke are serious about challenging for promotion, then keeping Bojan and reigniting his career at the Bet365 Stadium would be a serious statement of intent.

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West Ham United

Jack Wilshere is West Ham’s most realistic midfield target this summer

The 26-year-old seems the best option for Manuel Pellegrini at the moment.

Jamie Watts

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Manuel Pellegrini has seemingly put signing a new midfielder high on his list of priorities this summer, having been linked with some stellar names, but is Jack Wilshere (Sky Sports) his most realistic target?

The Chilean has expressed his desire to get the Hammers playing attacking and progressive football again next term, and views a quality midfield addition as vital in achieving this.

Initially, the suggestion was made that Pellegrini would attempt to move for two-time Premier League winner Yaya Toure (the Telegraph), before stories broke claiming his interest in Paris Saint-Germain’s Javier Pastore (Sky Sports).

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However, talks for both have stalled, with Toure’s preference to join a top-six side (Sport 24) and Pastore’s reported wage demands of £190,000-a-week (Sky Sports) to leave the French capital, with it now looking more likely Roma will land the 29-year-old’s signature.

Wilshere would employ the tactics Pellegrini is after and would instantly inject technical quality into the current functional midfield trio of Mark Noble, Cheikhou Kouyate and Pedro Obiang. His ability to carry the ball past defensive counterparts and to spot a final pass would add extra dimensions to the Hammers’ play, and at the age of 26 he could still have his best years ahead.

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The ex-Bournemouth man has revealed he will not sign a contract extension at Arsenal with his contract set to expire imminently, meaning Pellegrini could land his signature on a free.

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Leicester City

Tottenham should elevate reported interest in Leicester City protege Demari Gray

The 21-year-old could become a superstar if nurtured properly.

Jamie Watts

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Tottenham Hotspur were reportedly interested in the possibility of signing Leicester City‘s attacking protege Demari Gray a few months back, according to reports from ESPN. And after a fruitless period in the search for attacking reinforcements, Mauricio Pochettino should revive his interest in sorting a deal.

Gray contributed four goals and three assists in 30 Premier League appearances last term, and is currently the captain of the England U21 squad. But he is likely to evaluate his future with the Foxes this summer, due to his lack of regular game-time. And Tottenham seems a great fit for the winger.

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Spurs have pursued multiple attacking targets since the window commenced, without gathering any real traction on any of their targets, and it seems Pochettino – for once – is more concerned with making a marquee signing, than bringing in a player with the scope to develop and grow into a top player at White Hart Lane.

Talks for Anthony Martial, Christian Pulisic and Ivan Perisic have all stalled in recent times, and a move for the Leicester City man could be just the ticket for Spurs. He brings all the attributes they’re currently looking for; blistering pace, exceptional balance, end product, a cool head and notably the ability to hit an absolute cracker if awarded space.

If he reaches his peak under the guidance of Pochettino, which is more likely than not given his immense talent, the player could double in market-value and could become a key player for the Lilywhites for years to come.

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