Monday, 14 July 2014

For kids who eat, breathe, sleep football: Stay the night in a stadium

by Oxyman/CC-BY-SA-2.0
I was going to London for a long overdue one-to-one bonding weekend with my son. Well, as much as I could bond with a teenager who mainly communicates in grunts and insists on walking several metres behind me at all times in case anyone should think – god forbid – he's actually with me.

I spent a frustrating evening on the internet, scrabbling around for a cheap hotel for us. Everything was either way outside our budget, or way outside central London. And then the gods of Google took pity and pinged this place at me: West Ham United Hotel. I wasn’t sure I could believe my bloodshot eyes. You got that? For £65? Only 11 tube stops away from the Circle Line? My son would love to stay there.

With excited, jittery fingers, I clicked and booked, but kept it secret from him. I was already savouring the ‘ta-da’ moment.

So what’s so special about West Ham United Hotel? Nothing much at first glance. Budget hotel. In a dodgy bit of London. Functional lobby. Bog-standard rooms. My son isn’t even a West Ham fan (he supports Chelsea). As for me, I like football about as much as I like a session with the dental hygienist.

I’ll tell you what it is. It’s this.
Every one of the hotel’s 60 rooms has a huge wall-sized window directly – I mean directly – overlooking the football pitch. It's right there, bang outside your bedroom. Lie in bed and get your own, close-up, long, lingering eyefuls of it. You are sleeping inside the stadium.

It’s all very clever, and a bit James Bond. During a match, the receptionist explained to me, the hotel bedrooms are used as executive boxes. But once the game is over, the hotel staff flip the beds out of secret cavities in the walls, shuffle everything around a bit, bring out the hairdryers and the tea and coffee-making facilities and turn them into regular hotel rooms for any-old-cheapskate-body. 

After a busy day in the West End, we finally made our way to Upton Park.

“Huh? West Ham Hotel?” said my son, as he made the sign out in the darkness. “We’re staying here?”
“Yeah,” I said wearily, feigning disinterest. “Just because it was as cheap as anything else. Not a very nice bit of London, you see.”

As we took the lift up to our room, and along the corridor, I walked casually-on-purpose, but in my head I was skipping. We turned the key and entered and ... Oh. The curtains were closed. Actually, this was better. The impact would be more dramatic, like the curtains opening in a theatre. My son flopped on the bed and started fiddling with the TV remote and the bedside touch lamp. 

“Shall we see what the view is out the window?” I asked after a couple of minutes, as if I didn't really care one way or the other. 
“Okay”, he said, moving towards the window and pulling the cord.


“Did you know about this?” he asked, grinning suspiciously.
“Yes,” I replied, grinning mischievously.

I got more than grunts that evening. He spent most of it staring out the window, babbling about the stands, the turf, the floodlights, the players' tunnel ... every little detail. The only frustration was that the doors don't open to let you to step out onto the balcony.

It was especially sweet that when we finally settled down to go to sleep, he wanted to keep the curtains open. 
He fell asleep facing the window. Only then did I sneak over and draw the curtains. (The giant digital neon clock was a bit annoying.)

First thing in the morning, he leapt out of bed, and pulled that cord. We stayed in the room until the latest possible check-out time.

And he doodled stadiums all the way home.
Visit the hotel’s website here

Warning! This hotel will close permanently when West Ham United move from Upton Park stadium to the Olympic stadium for the 2016/17 season onwards.

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