Almost two years after the event, and at a considerably lower price than the offenders might have expected, Sheffield United and West Ham United have finally reached a settlement over the aftermath of the Carlos Tevez affair. I noted on here a couple of years ago that there was a slightly grubby element to the whole story – it was proof, as if proof were needed, that money is now the driving force between the Premier League. West Ham United, desperate to maintain their Premier League status, didn’t so much bend the rules as twist them into a complex piece of sculpture. Sheffield United, relegated on the final day of the season, played the Sword of Damocles card and, hungry for vengeance, gave every impression of wanting to drive West Ham to the wall with their desire for compensation.
Having at first decided that they deserved over £30m in compensation (an amount of money that would have seriously jeopardised West Ham’s future), the settlement reached seems to display at least a modicum of common sense. The final figure agreed is £15m, to be paid in instalments. However, in a peculiar twist to the story, a number of lice are now coming out of the woodwork claiming that they too should be compensated for, well, West Ham not getting relegated in 2007. Top of the pile is Neil Warnock, their manager at the time. Never mind that Warnock was out of contract n the summer of 2007 and that Sheffield United hadn’t offered him a new contract (if they thought that he had done such a good job and that their relegation was such a travesty of justice, why didn’t they offer him one and end up with – stop sniggering at the back – Bryan Robson in charge there?). There’s a chance that free money may be on offer, and Warnock wants a piece of the action.
He’s not the only one. Players from the team are considering suing for loss of earnings. “There has been contact for some considerable time with West Ham’s lawyers, and we could go towards arbitration,” Chris Farnell, the lawyer representing the players said. “I think it (arbitration) is more likely to happen than not”. In addition to this, Ken Bates has also been sniffing around, stating that his Leeds United (who, as you will probably remember, were in the summer 2007 absolute paragons of moral rectitude) deserve their slice too. When they got relegated on the last day of the season we lost a substantial sum. “If they are being compensated for their loss then we believe we should be compensated for our loss”, said Bates. Presumably, he’ll pay this money to the creditors who were left high and dry by Leeds’ increasingly suspicious looking CVA during that summer.
And herein lies the rub. This site has never held any particular affection for West Ham United. However, the decision to pursue legal action of this kind against a fellow club was always going to end in this sort of undignified bunfight. The fact of the matter is that, no matter how unjust it may seem, taking the litigious is always likely to kill the game in some small way. Perhaps the answer to this would be for Sheffield United to pay the compensation that Neil Warnock and these former players feel that they are due. After all, had United stayed up, this is what presumably would have happened. Alternatively, if Sheffield United and/or Neil Warnock feel that the Premier League bottled out of deducting West Ham United points, then perhaps they should be suing Peter Scudamore et al instead. It’s also worth considering the fact that, because the whole matter has (still) been handled internally through Premier League disciplinary procedures and arbitration, no legal precedent has yet been set. Ultimately, this whole grubby mess seems set to rumble on and on, and football in general seems a little worse off for it.