The importance of the stuff around wine, with reference to West Ham United

It’s not just about a liquid in a bottle. The stuff around it matters more than we realise.

The BBC recently put together a short film about the effect on fans of moving a football (soccer) team from an old, traditional stadium to a new one. The club in question is West Ham United, and two years ago they moved from the Boleyn Ground (known commonly as Upton Park) to the Olympic Stadium in Stratford. While the move from an old, cramped 37000 capacity stadium to a brand new 57000 seater ground with modern facilities might seem to be a bit of a no-brainer, according to the fans interviewed it has been a largely negative transition.

The verdict on West Ham’s stadium move: dream or nightmare

At the old stadium you were very close to the pitch, and the atmosphere was remarkable – there’s something about being close to the play that draws you in as a fan. The new stadium (the Olympic Stadium in Stratford) was built for athletics, and so has a running track around the edge of the pitch, distancing fans from the action.

The old stadium was in an urban setting, surrounded by houses and local businesses; the new one is in its own dedicated site, next door to a large shopping centre. What has been lost? Heritage; continuity with the past; authenticity. What has been gained? A larger capacity and a modern facility, but at the cost of the soul of the club. If it were just about the football, watching two teams of skilled, highly paid athletes compete, then there would be no issue with the relocation. But supporting a football club is actually only partly about what takes place on the pitch. Famous Liverpool manager Bill Shankly once said: ‘Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I don’t like that attitude. I can assure them it is much more serious than that.’ He got it.

This all relates to wine. If we strip wine of its heritage, its authenticity, and its stories, then what do we have left? A delicious alcoholic drink? There is so much to wine that depends upon the stuff around wine, and this matters more than we can realize. We should be wary of the unintended consequences of too much demystifying of wine, and too much stripping away its complexity. This complexity is part of its allure. We need to make wine accessible to newcomers, for sure, but let’s do this carefully and intelligently. I’m sure that whoever decided it was wise to move West Ham to a new stadium did it with pure motivations: more fans, more money; nicer stadium, more accessible to new fans. But they didn’t anticipate some of the consequences of this change, nor the importance of tradition, heritage, and being rooted in the local community to the loyal fans who are the heart of any club.

As we discuss and try to enable the future of wine, let’s try not to make the same mistake.

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