Hammers, Blades & The Damage Done

By on Sep 23, 2008 in English League Football | 4 comments

Such was the effect of Bryan Robson’s predictably disastrous spell of Sheffield United in charge the following season, the saga of The Blades, West Ham United and Carlos Tevez has been largely forgotten by the media over the last twelve months or so. The story has, however, roared back into the headlines following the release of the findings of the arbitration panel which studied the case. As you may remember, there was controversy surrounding Tevez’s transfer to West Ham United from day one, and the irregularities rumbled on until the FA stepped in and confirmed that the third party agreement concerning his ownership by Media Sports Investments was against their rules. Tevez’s contract was quickly tidied up, and the FA fined West Ham £5.5m but, controversially (since there were only a couple of weeks of the season left), didn’t dock them any points.

The supreme irony came on the final day of the season, when Tevez scored a highly improbable winning goal for West Ham at Old Trafford to send Sheffield United, beaten at home by Wigan Athletic, down in their place. In the couple of weeks between the judgement and the last day of the ruling, it had been Dave Whelan of Wigan Athletic who had been the most vocal in public condemnation of the ruling, though his opinions on the matter were slightly more muted after Wigan stayed up. As soon as the relegation places were decided, the Sword Of Damocles was taken up by Sheffield United’s Kevin McCabe, for whom this was suddenly the greatest injustice in the history of football. The case was referred to a three man arbitration panel (former MCC president Lord Griffiths, Sir Anthony Colman, a former High Court judge, and Robert Englehart QC), and their findings made for pretty bad reading for Sheffield United:

We have no doubt that West Ham would have secured at least three fewer points over the 2006-07 season if Carlos Tevez had not been playing for the club.

Perhaps they should make up the pools panel this winter. Sheffield United have been very precise in the amount of money that they want in compensation from West Ham United. £30,396,897. Of that amount, £21.8m is lost commercial revenue and television money, whilst £4m is made up of money lost on the sale of Phil Jagielka to Everton (Jagielka was believed to be worth £8m at the time, but had a £4m buy out clause if Sheffield United were relegated). The remainder of the claim is for lost ticket sale revenues and commercial activities. The striking thing about the figure is how exact it is. One can’t help but suspect that, had Neil Warnock been as meticulous about team preparation as their solicitors appear to have been in compiling this list of grievances, they might have won enough points to render all of this an irrelevance.

The argument put forward by the arbitration committee is fundamentally flawed. Tevez played just twenty-six matches during that season, three of which came after his clearance to play was approved on the 27th April 2007. The argument that there was anything wrong with his playing in (and scoring the winning goal in) West Ham’s last match of the season is irrelevant, because he was cleared to play in that match. The statement made as quoted above belies a fundamental lack of knowledge on the part of the panel of how football actually works. It’s just as plausible to say that the distraction caused by the Tevez affair cost West Ham points as it is to say that they definitely would have gone down had he not been playing. West Ham lost their first seven consecutive matches with Tevez playing. Who’s to say that they wouldn’t have won a couple of these matches had they played someone else up front.

Ultimately, the blame for this debacle lies with the Premier League. They knew that there might be a problem with Tevez’s registration as soon as Javier Mascherano went to Liverpool during the transfer window. They also knew that a points deduction was probably the appropriate punishment for such a serious breach of their rules. It is supposition to assume that they believed that West Ham would be relegated anyway, thus negating the need to deduct points from them in the first place, but it wouldn’t be surprising if that was the thinking behind their decision. It may or may not have been a calculated gamble but, if it was, it failed spectacularly. Ultimately, they fined West Ham United £5.5m, and West Ham paid it. For anyone to turn around and pass judgement, almost eighteen months after the event, that West Ham should be liable for a further punishment of over £30m strikes me as being (at least in purely legal terms) bordering on illegal in itself. The independent arbitration committee, which was brought in with the intention of resolving this issue once and for all, may just have opened a whole new can of worms.

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    4 Comments

  1. Hmmm, well you may well be right, but the fact remains that the precedent was that West Ham should have been docked points from the off. If the Premier League surmised that they didn’t need to do that and they’d go down anyway, they surely would have no qualms in docking them (think of Leeds and others going into administration when already down). The punishment was barely even a slap on the wrist given the scale of the offence and punishments handed down to other clubs for similar (or much lesser) offences. If they had docked West Ham points when they came up with this punishment none of this would be necessary, but they didn’t, and Sheffield Utd have good cause to be aggrieved – whatever one may think of people like Kevin McCabe and Neil Warnock (and trust me, I can’t stand them – but here they were utterly right). And the fact that Sheffield Utd didn’t play well, and didn’t amass enough points to “deserve” to stay up is utterly irrelevant. West Ham broke the rules knowingly and lied about it repeatedly – compare this to Luton who came clean about offences committed by people at the club and got docked 30 points for so doing! Under the circumstances this compensation is the bare minimum that could have been awarded, and the only way the PL could possibly extricate themselves from the mess they (the PL) had put themselves in.

    (Full disclosure- I support Sheffield Wednesday and the relegation of the Blades was hilarious from a purely local-rivalry perspective. But the way West Ham were treated was ridiculously biased, and even if they have to cough up another 30million now the punishment is much lighter than it would have been if they’d been relegated for a (minimum of one) season.)

    Csiki Andy

    September 24, 2008

  2. While not wanting to sum this up in a phrase isn’t it telling that in the Football League clubs are fined point because down there it is all about promotions and tables and in the Premiership they are docked money because that is what that league is concerned with.

    Michael Wood

    September 24, 2008

  3. I can’t really agree with this comment that it’s somehow irrelevant that Sheffield United didn’t amass enough points. What I find puzzling is that Sheffield United are claiming compensation from a team that they had no contact with after amassing a ten-point advantage, and can surely therefore not be held liable for Sheffield United’s inability to maintain this advantage. Just as the idea of a panel of lawyers somehow calculating the value in points of a player’s contribution on the basis of depositions is bizarre, so it is bizarre that a team should be effectively sued for playing football games and winning them against other opponents. If Sheffield United are aggrieved at being relegated as an indirect result (that’s right, indirect) of a punishment meted out to another club seeming insufficient, then that grievance should be aimed at whoever did the punishing – the Premier League. West Ham have acepted their penalty and paid it, even if some people do think it was lenient.

    Gervillian Swike

    September 24, 2008

  4. “that grievance should be aimed at whoever did the punishing – the Premier League. West Ham have acepted their penalty and paid it, even if some people do think it was lenient.”

    Agreed. The punishment was a farce. I don’t remember if anyone appealed it or if that’s even possible, but blame lies with the Premier League, not West Ham. I think Sheffield are right to feel aggrieved, and I feel for them, but they are targeting the wrong entity.

    Brenton

    September 24, 2008

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