By Phil Thornton
Well, the circus has packed up for another 4 years. Maybe it was fitting that West Ham’s first league home game at their new ‘Olympic’ stadium (bought and paid for by the ‘Great British Public’ TM) came as a reminder of all those ‘legacy’ promises that were spun in order to justify the obscene costs of the London 2012 Games.
“Legacy” – it’s one of the words of the new millennium. Everyone’s after a legacy from political failures like Tony Blair and Barak Obama to global institutions like FIFA and the World Bank.
When the much lauded opening ceremony for London 2012 was taking place, I was sat in a tapas bar on the Costa del Sol watching it with the sound turned off. Now praised as some kind of glorious reimagining of British cultural, scientific and social triumphs , all I saw was a surreal, Lionel Bart-esque imperialist wet dream. The Queen! With James Bond!! How very er, British!
Underneath all the showbiz however was the familiar story of land grabbing, social engineering, corporate greed and political sophistry. I was also reading Iain Sinclair’s ‘Ghost Milk’ at the time which put all the 2012 hype into its true historical context. Here’s Sinclair writing in 2008, four years before the London games began about what was already happening to that much romanticised area of the East End where the Hammers now plough their trade.
To question all this at the time or even now is to be branded a ‘naysayer’, a ‘cynic’, a ‘Doing Britain Down-er’ and anyone that opposes such magnificent projects is an enemy of ‘progress’ but what kind of progress is it, if progress at all? These vast theme parks, like the Millennium Dome before it, sold on similar promises, soon become nothing more than corporate entertainment centres with terrible transport systems and windswept concourses.
West Ham owners, David Gold and David Sullivan won’t be moaning however. They now have a buck shee super-stadium and won’t even have to stump up the running costs for most of it. This places them at a considerable financial advantage to other clubs both in London and elsewhere who have to spend large parts of their revenues on stadium costs.
What’s the betting that Gold and Sullivan end up selling large chunks of the Irons off to ‘investors’ keen to take a punt on a project that’s too big to fail. Where is the legacy in all this for those kids living in the shadow of the new stadium, or those businesses now left without a customer base in Green Street?
Just as Manchester City’s move from Maine Road to Eastlands left an already impoverished area, Moss Side, even more bereft, so West Ham’s move will have a lasting legacy on the population of E13. Yet at least City pay £4 million a year in rent to use the former Commonwealth Games stadium plus all overheads. West Ham’s deal not only upset other clubs, notably Spurs and Orient who had their eyes on the ground but also may fall foul of European ‘state aid’ laws, y’know those pesky ‘level playing field’ rules those Brussels types were always imposing on us.
Legacy doesn’t always work out in the way those who seek it planned. Blair was looking around for a legacy and thought he’d found one with Iraq. That backfired but hey, he’s still milking that cash cow for all it’s worth, so what’s a legacy worth these days? Obama thought he’d found one with Health Care but, that piece of ‘communism’ is still twitching in the morgue and The First Black President presides over a nation whose law enforcement and judiciary kills and incarcerates its black population in frighteningly disproportionate numbers. No you can’t mate!
The word legacy actually means “an amount of money or property left to someone in a will.” It’s not about some demagogue associating themselves with a piece of legislation or a bloody conflict, it’s not about creaming off contracts or gifting a stadium to a bunch of millionaire businessmen. If it wasn’t yours in the first place, how can you pass it on?
Abstract legacies will no doubt justify Team GB’s record medal haul at Rio 2016. They were ‘inspired’ by the successes of 2012, and maybe some were, and maybe money talks and bullshit walks, and maybe asking what it’s all about anyway, is just being a joyless loser. Keep those flags flying, keep those medals and honours coming, keep the myth intact; ‘we’re all in it together’ folks.