By Tony Attwood
You may recall that State Aid to football clubs is something that riles me. Arsenal have never had any support from the British taxpayer, the owners of lots of oil fields, nor even the Deputy Prime Minister of the UAE. Indeed the last time we were given any money which (had it existed) would have exercised those considering FFP, was in 1910 when Henry Norris used some of the cash he made building houses in Fulham to bail out the bankrupt Woolwich Arsenal FC. It cost him in the region of £10,000. (About £4m by today’s standards).
No one thought of State Aid in the early 20th century, but now it seems to lurk here, there and everywhere. We await the EC’s views on Real Madrid’s relationship with its city corporation – and similar cases elsewhere in Spain. But meanwhile back home there is the issue of West Ham and the gift they have been given of the Olympic Stadium.
For whereas Arsenal spent £450m on their stadium, and Tottenham will spend much the same WHU have spent…. well, we can work it out.
I’m back on the subject because I have been exchanging a few thoughts with a member of the board of the Charlton Supporters Trust, (to whom I am very grateful for his time in bringing me up to speed with the details). CST are leading the project to force a reworking of the rental agreement between the LLDC and West Ham so that ultimately West Ham might pay a lot more and the taxpayer a lot less.
I’m not that desperate to knock WHU, but as a tax payer I am rather miffed. However now I am told there is a TV programme about to emerge on the subject and I do hope that you might watch it, and (assuming it reveals what I am told it reveals) start to lobby your MP (if you live in the UK that is).
Under EU rules State Aid is not on. Not at all. Not at all. And so usually when a deal involving state funding comes around the people running the scheme toddle off to the EC and ask for clearance. That didn’t happen with Manchester City’s stadium, but too much time has past now, and so nothing can be done. But with WHU we are still very much in the time frame, and we’re asking the questions – and we know they never bothered to ask the EC if it were all right to do what they have done.
Now the problem is that in relation to this particular slice of European legislation, only organisations directly affected can make an objection, which in essence means a football club nearby. But clubs are reluctant to come out and openly confront each other. Henry Norris would have done it – and indeed did it in 1919 when he confronted Fulham over playing illegal players, and told the FA he was ready to pursue charges against Liverpool and Man U for match fixing unless they got off their arses. But today’s club directors are not made of such strong stuff.
So clubs today won’t act – but the media is getting the message that this is a bit of a cosy little club all bailing each other out when bath is overflowing (or something like that) and so they are getting interested. Hence the forthcoming TV programme with its rather interesting new revelations (which I have agreed not to reveal, but you will hear about soon enough).
Recently the Guardian reported that the total cost of the Stadium has risen to £701m, of which £272m is now the bill just for converting it for West Ham’s use. Then the BBC’s Dan Roan chipped in with a useful summary of the sorry story so far, followed by coverage of Barry Hearn’s comments that the details of the deal should be made public.
Charlton supporters are still fighting to have the full contract released under Freedom of Information law. The Information Commissioner is still in discussion with the London Legacy Development Corporation about their complaint that the LLDC have failed to comply with the law. The matter has reached the House of Commons. They are acting a bit like the FA or Fifa would, but at least the word is out.
And from what I hear there is more to come out.
Meanwhile Leyton Orient have concentrated on monitoring and lobbying local politicians. Partly as a result of their efforts, questions were asked of the Mayor’s office at Question Time on 21 May. Although the questions are fairly bland, they revealed an important nugget of information. In an answer to Jenny Jones the Mayor listed the sources of funding for the Stadium transformation.
Newham Council’s contribution was given as £45m. That’s a £5m increase on all previously quoted figures. Of course we know that the costs keep increasing and everyone has to chip in to ensure West ham will be comfortable, but £5m is a lot of money for Newham borough, the poorest in the capital. Did the electorate of Newham agree?
If the Information Commissioner insists on fuller disclosure of the rental contract, this will be scrutinized by the media. The importance of such coverage is that it shows politicians that the issue is not a narrow pre-occupation of fans of one club but concerns all of us who are opposed to state aid to football clubs.
I just get a little tingle that Arsenal FC are, unlike some other clubs, not sitting back and letting this all happen. There are just too many clubs taking a non-commercial route through life while Arsenal lives within its means and succeeds in doing things like building the Emirates and becoming the most successful FA Cup team ever, all through a proper use of finance.
Indeed in the State Aid complaint Charlton supporters made I understand they used the cost of the Emirates and the way it was funded, as a benchmark. Of course I am just a humble supporter but if I were on the board I would be bloody seething that West Ham are being given a State leg-up that will put them on an equal financial footing to Arsenal.
Indeed if I may respectfully say to Lord Harris of Peckham, surely sir, this is a much bigger issue to get involved with than how much we have in the bank and weather we are going to sign anyone this season.
I’m hoping that the forthcoming TV programme might push Arsenal into taking some action since they are directly affected by this. All it needs is one club to stand up and say “No, state aid is not on. They do it in Spain because Real Madrid can get away with anything, but not here.”
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