Knees up Mother Brown – West Ham United FC Online: Opinion
It’s a stain on the club’s character that has never gone away. The transfer scandal that changed the way many fans nationwide felt about West Ham United FC.
Once we were everyone’s second favourite team, the Cockney boys who played pretty football and provided three heroes of the England’s World Cup triumph. Then we found ourselves branded as cheats and liars.
Whatever your view of the Carlos Tevez affair, who you blame, whether you feel we were harshly treated – and we can debate the whole thing for hours – the very worst thing about it all was how it damaged our reputation.
We were charged by the Premier League with cheating our fellow members and with lying to the Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore. For me that’s the real issue and all that matters, the days and years of bitter argument all came later.
And the memory of all those dark days when a cloud hung over our club, have come flooding back this week.
I have always felt we were used as a scapegoat, by people inside and outside the game, but the bottom line is that we brought it on ourselves. We were guilty and have paid the price ever since.
These days the whole thing is enshrined in tribal loyalty. On Saturday when Sheffield United arrive at the London Stadium for their first league clash with us since 2006, there will be chants, t-shirts, Tevez face masks and both sides of the argument will believe they are right.
It’s a long time ago now when West Ham first signed Tevez and Javier Mascherano, to March 2009 when were agreed the ?18.1m out-of-court settlement that was still hanging over us until the final instalment in 2013.
There are many out there, certainly the under 30s, who were still at school when all this started. There will be a few young journalists this next few days who will be told by a news editor to get a Tevez story for the weekend.
They will have to delve into Google to find out what really happened – and if you read some of that, it’s nowhere near the truth.
The nuts and bolts of the whole saga, though, are one thing. For me – and I wonder if many who lived through it all feel the same way – the very worst aspect was having our good name, our very integrity, called into question.
West Ham lost so much respect. You cannot try to cheat your rivals, you cannot allow yourselves to be called liars. The damage to our good name has never fully recovered, in my view. We lost respect and that is what has bothered me ever since.
We were fined ?5.5m by the Premier League under rule B13, that says clubs should act in good faith towards their fellow competitors. That meant we lied. It was the major part of the fine, the lesser amount was for breaking Premier League rule U18, which covered third party interference.
You see, there were no rules forbidding signing players who were part-owned by a company, but the contract you signed them under was a key aspect for scrutiny.
Those third party rules were hardened up by the FA and FIFA long after the dust had settled in the Tevez affair. FIFA has always allowed third party ownership, so the actually signing was perfectly legal.
At the centre of a storm: West Ham Utd’s former CEO, Scott Duxbury [Pic: KUMB Archive]
But when our former MD Scott Duxbury was accused of concealing a contract and lying to Scudamore, it was a very different red line that we crossed. One that brought our good name into disrepute, one that offended the sense of fair play.
Back in the day when I worked for a living, my then boss – an annoying Yorkshireman – decided it would be amusing to give a West Ham fan the job of keeping tabs on the Tevez story. He pointed out that I should be in the front line when my Cockney spivs got relegated. Such a funny guy.
I spent best of part two years scrutinising every last word of endless legal stuff, We got away with it. I have never really forgiven the powers that be at West Ham who got us into that mess.
I don’t know whether it was just ignorance of the rules or whether they believed the patter of a smart agent. Whatever, it backfired big time. It is how others saw us, the embarrassment, the change of attitude towards us, that really got to me.
I was working at Anfield on the day of the Tevez-inspired win over Manchester United. I had long given up on the whole saga, accepting relegation because I expected us to lose at Old Trafford and for Sheffield United to get the win they needed at home to Wigan Athletic. Neither of those expected results happened.
I had deliberately blocked out everything from Old Trafford. I knew Tevez had scored, but that’s all.
As the final whistle blew there was a tap on the shoulder from a colleague, Dominic Fifield, now with the new Atlantic on-line extravaganza. “Don’t worry, you’re safe now,” he said. My reaction was to say that this was only the beginning of a long, painful experience.
I have never watched a Sean Bean film since and I know the names of the Sheffield MPs who tirelessly tried to get Government to lean on the FA. I have never watched the Great Escape DVD, expecting us to be punished.
Then came the legal circus. Sheffield United milked it for every ounce of sympathy. Kevin McCabe had better lawyers and patience. He got what he wanted in the end. Funny how he has been turned over in court recently by the Blades’ new owners. What goes around…
Sheffield took just eight points from a final 33. On the field it was their own fault; off the field it was ours. Three hearings, the High Court and then arbitration at the hands of an old buffer from the MCC, Lord Griffiths, who decreed that one man could save you from relegation.
Patently not true in many eyes, but from a cricket man – where one player can win matches single-handed (see Ben Stokes) – came a different view. But all along you knew somehow we would be found guilty in the end.
Yet Carlos Tevez didn’t keep us up that season. Robert Green did, even if Carlos did score 44 per cent of our goals from those final five games. Of course, he failed to score a single one in his first 20…
The Great Escape: Mark Noble, Anton Ferdinand and Tevez celebrate at Old Trafford [Pic: Google]
But what came out of backfield over the third party issue really killed us. It wasn’t until the following January, when Mascherano was on his way to Liverpool, that we were caught out. Liverpool’s chief executive, Rick Parry – now the new EFL boss – got his hands on Mascherano’s contract.
If you recall, that transfer took ages to complete. Liverpool discovered a clause that allowed the player’s agent Kia Joorabchian to move the player in any window without our agreement.
How West Ham allowed that clause I will never know. The interpretation was that an agent could have outside control of team selection, which is not allowed. Tevez had the same sort of contract.
There was plenty of third party involvement in the Premier League at that time, some across London at Chelsea. But that clause in the contract, did for us in the end. A matter of weeks later we were charged.
By now Sheffield United had something to get their teeth into, and I always felt we would lose out in the end. That we were not docked points surprised many, including McCabe. They didn’t manage to get us thrown out of the Premier League but the fines, the massive arbitration award, the legal costs, damaged us. In 2011 we were relegated.
Fair to say the Tevez affair has hurt West Ham, dogged us and handicapped our progress for many years. The collapse of the Icelandic economy likewise. You wonder whether David Sullivan and David Gold would ever have been able to buy the club had Tevez not happened. We might even be still at the Boleyn.
I know we have played Sheffield United since in the League Cup, but Saturday will no doubt be seen by everyone from Bramall Lane as their redemption day, back on equal footing with us. We haven’t lost three league games on the trot since April; how the in-form Blades would love to do that to us!
* Further reading: KUMB Q&A with Scott Duxbury.
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