Cafe Football is in the Westfield shopping centre in Stratford, east London, a shopping centre with a faulty name. It isn’t in the west, and it isn’t in a field. (The original Westfield is in Shepherd’s Bush. That is in the west, but not in a field. It is by the A40 and it is like America without the joy.) Westfield Stratford City sits in a puddle of chain cafés and restaurants and shops. It has been on my review list for three years, 2.9999999 of which I have spent cowering in north London.
Stratford was — shall we call it renovated? — for the London Olympic Games in 2012, and it is now a windy building site full of air pollution and hipsters and thwarted hopes. I would like to see a friendly tornado rumble off the Thames to tear the buildings apart and save us all from having to look at them. The land feels — and I felt this at the Millennium Dome nearly 20 years ago — poisoned. It does not need homes that look like fragile ships wobbling above a wasteland, or a shopping centre so complete it could be an airport terminal eaten by a Burberry Concession, or a spaceship with its own fraying political system, and spa. It needs trees.
For the Olympic Games we built a theme park to, of all things, convince us that we could live close on the ground, and play with sticks, and run about; that we could, still, do it. That lie is dead, for we are fatter and more divided than ever.
I can only look back on the newspaper columnists so bewitched by the Olympics that they claimed would save us, and laugh now as I did then, for nothing important can be settled by how fast a man runs from one point to another, or how far someone throws a stick — and what remains is a shopping centre and an overpriced café dedicated to sport and obesity, but mostly obesity. Sport watched on television is not sport. It is anti-sport. Eating is not a sport either.
Cafe Football feels like an outpost of Ikea — metal, orange, capital letters — and it is full of groups of men with shaved heads wearing children’s clothing — or perhaps clothing that does not fit — and couples on first dates. There will be no second dates. A man who needs to think about football on a date does not deserve a woman of any kind, even one prepared to enter Cafe Football. It is decorated like the man playroom of an executive Essex show home.
The menu is divided into sections called Defence (soup, satay, chicken in a basket), Midfield (Burgers vs Pizza) and Attack (‘the legends’ — fish, meat, noodles — and kebabs, pasta and pies). I feel disorientated reading it. I have chicken in a basket, which is bright orange chicken wings over-fried to the texture of crumbling limestone, but crumbling limestone with bones, and they are disgusting, and my companion has a gammon steak which does not deserve to get into print.
I count 16 television screens. This seems quite restrained, although there may be more, in the men’s lavatories or the kitchens, or on the roof. Maybe the chef is a TV; maybe the sous chef is a remote control. (No, that is too much whimsy. There cannot be a sous chef here; if there was, he died.) I would have walled the whole place with them, as J.G. Ballard might have done in his unwritten football apocalypse novel Balls. Themed restaurants designed by modern novelists?
As I look around the wreckage of east London, now branded into west London, which has no fields — an insanity that will become a trend, and I name it fake geography — that is all I want to see.
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