LONDON, United Kingdom, Aug 22 – Slaven Bilic insists West Ham United’s move to the London Stadium will be a big success as long as his team keep winning.
Bilic’s side celebrated the first Premier League fixture in their new home with a 1-0 victory over 10-man Bournemouth on Sunday thanks to Michail Antonio’s 85th minute header.
Having spent 112 years playing just a few miles down the road at Upton Park, a storied venue renowned for its hostile atmosphere, West Ham’s decision to rent the rather soulless Olympic Stadium, which hosted athletics in the 2012 Games, risks damaging their home advantage and draining the club of some its character.
A cavernous arena with a large running track separating the crowd from the pitch, the stadium doesn’t lend itself to the kind of intimate atmosphere that made Upton Park such a daunting place to visit.
A near-capacity 56,000 crowd packed into the London Stadium on Sunday, but they were subdued for long periods and used most of their vocal energy to protest about the club and local council’s strict guidelines to stay seated at all times.
Despite the sterile experience, Hammers boss Bilic claimed he enjoyed the atmosphere and said the stadium would be rocking like the Upton Park glory days if his players can repeat or improve on last season’s impressive Premier League form.
“I’m not paid to say I like the new stadium if I don’t like it, but I thought the atmosphere was brilliant,” Bilic said.
“I’m a big fan of the old stadium, I like those freezing cold stadiums, but I felt it was proper loud today and the fans helped us big time.
“It’s up to us. As long as we are winning and they are going home happy they are going to pack this stadium. If it’s packed it will be a great atmosphere.”
– Frustrated –
If West Ham are to fulfil Bilic’s prediction of an atmospheric first season in the London Stadium, they will need better luck with injuries than they are currently experiencing.
Already without record signing Andrew Ayew, France midfielder Dimitri Payet and defender Aaron Cresswell, Bilic learnt on Sunday that former Liverpool striker Andy Carroll would be sidelined for up to six weeks with a knee injury.
Bilic hopes Payet will return by next weekend, but he admitted to being frustrated that the injury-prone Carroll had been ruled out yet again.
“They told me four to six weeks. It’s a big blow for us. It’s a bit frustrating,” Bilic said.
“The worst situation is when you have a player and say he is the one to build around and then you can’t count on him.
“He did the whole pre-season really well and then he’s out. That’s why he is so down.
“There is no point in moaning, we know the situation. We just have to play differently.”
With so many players sidelined, Bilic was relieved to see West Ham bounce back from Monday’s late defeat at Chelsea.
“It wasn’t a good game but if we’re talking about character and team spirit, nobody can say we didn’t deserve it,” Bilic said.
For all West Ham’s effort, they didn’t look like breaking through until Bournemouth midfielder Harry Arter was sent off for a second booking in the 77th minute after chopping down Cheikhou Kouyate.
However, it was Arter’s first booking for dissent that infuriated Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe.
“Ultimately it’s the red card that has cost us the game. The second booking is understandable. It’s the first one that burns,” Howe said.
“It’s dissent and we know we can’t do that. “We’re going to get red cards galore if we don’t learn quickly.
“I’ve drilled that into the players. I don’t know how many times I can do it.”