West Ham's Upton Park farewell: Slaven Bilic says Olympic Stadium cannot be 'fortress'

Boleyn Ground 1904-2016: Farewell Upton Park

It will be "impossible" to recreate the Upton Park atmosphere and make the Olympic Stadium a "fortress", says West Ham manager Slaven Bilic.

The Hammers play their final competitive game at their 112-year home against Manchester United on Tuesday.

West Ham will move to the 60,000-capacity London 2012 Olympics venue next season.

"You need to have a hostile atmosphere, be intimidating for away teams. Forget about it - no chance," said Bilic.

'Highbury felt dangerous, Emirates is for selfies'

West Ham fans
West Ham fans face a new route to their home ground next season

It was revealed in April that West Ham will pay £2.5m a year in rent to the owners of the Olympic Stadium, the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC).

At least £272m has been spent to convert the site for use as a Premier League ground but the club have contributed only £15m.

They have sold all their season tickets for next season, which the club say is in excess of 50,000.

This season, they have won eight, drawn seven and lost only three of their 18 home league games.

Arsenal relocated from Highbury to the Emirates Stadium in 2006, while north London neighbours Tottenham are undergoing redevelopment work at White Hart Lane.

West Ham: Slaven Bilic on leaving the Boleyn Ground and Upton Park

"When you played Arsenal at Highbury, it wasn't dangerous but you felt it," added Bilic.

"Then we played against them at the Emirates and we enjoyed it; the players were taking selfies.

"The Upton Park stadium was a first home. No matter where you move after that - if you move to a fancy apartment, a big house or to a mansion - your favourite one is always the first.

"You are losing something because it is impossible to make the Olympic Stadium a fortress."

'Not being at Upton Park will be strange'

Mark Noble
Mark Noble first attended Upton Park as a fan and is now West Ham captain

Midfielder Mark Noble has spent his entire career with West Ham since making his debut in 2004, making more than 360 appearances.

He has served as a fan, ball boy, apprentice, professional and now captain at Upton Park.

"How big could this club be? I don't think there is a ceiling," he said.

"Everybody has seen what happened to Manchester City, to Chelsea, over the years. With people in the world these days with a lot of money to burn, anything can happen.

"We are leaving a place that I have been coming to for over 20 years, first as a supporter.

"Every other weekend it's going to be strange to get in my car in the morning and drive to a game, and not down a street I know so well."

'The atmosphere inspired me'

Jack Collison
Jack Collison scored his first West Ham goal against Everton in 2008

West Ham co-owner David Gold grew up on Green Street, where Upton Park is located, and took over the club in 2010 with David Sullivan.

"My earliest memories were as a six- or seven-year-old boy was the excitement every Saturday," said Gold.

"At that age I used to come and watch the boys playing in the morning at 11 and then at 3pm the reserves. The following week it would be the first team."

Former midfielder Jack Collison, who made 121 appearances for West Ham but retired this year through injury, said: "I remember coming to watch games here as a 16- or 17-year-old and being inspired by the atmosphere and the players.

"It pushed me on to want to be in the first team and make my mark.

"I did manage that and I scored my first goal against Everton. I don't think I will be able to recreate that feeling of the ball hitting the net."


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