By Tony Attwood
On 6 August Untold ran quite a long article about the way the new West Ham stadium is being financed with the club paying little towards the transformation of the ground into a football stadium, and the state financing the building costs, and the day to day running of the stadium.
Then on 31 August we had another go asking anyone who considered that this was not a reasonable use of public money.
Now we’re back, because in our own small way (well, middle-ish way given the number of readers we have) we have made progress working with many other concerned groups. Of course it wasn’t just us, not at all, but we did our bit to help.
And today after all of the abuse I had to wade through from alleged WHU supporters (abuse that obviously I deleted – for as I have said before someone who writes a comment calling the author of the piece a load of names is hardly likely to get published), I think I can say we’ve done our bit to take the campaign a step forward.
Which is not surprising I suppose when the main arguments made against the campaign for an enquiry were
a) if Arsenal had been gifted a stadium we’d be quiet
b) Man C got away with it so why shouldn’t WHU?
c) if WHU didn’t have the stadium then it would be empty
d) fuck off you bunch of tossers.
So what’s the new deal? Well, the Information Commissioner has ruled the terms of the deal should be made public.
The London Legacy Development Corporation and West Ham Utd didn’t want this and one might say, if they had nothing to hide, why not? Those details we had before were fairly useless because so much text was redacted.
Boris Johnson, who was instrumental in WHU getting the deal, might be slightly concerned that his attempts to hide the truth are unravelling, although of course he won’t show it.
But of course we knew we were getting somewhere when the government launched its desperate statements about the Premier League paying for grassroots football, now that Sport England has refused to give any more money to the FA, and the local authorities are nearing bankruptcy because their budgets have been cut by 40% – by the government.
The Premier League’s first informal response to the government when asked for money for grassroots football was along the lines of, “you’ve given state aid to West Ham over the Olympics Stadium, and you want us to pay for grassroots football? Wake up to reality!” Or words to that effect.
This move demanding openness today is a major step towards getting the whole shambles into the open, once we found the government, failed to apply to the European Commission for an exemption.
So we know that West Ham will pay only £15m of the £272m required to turn the Olympic Stadium into a football ground. We know the lease price is being kept secret, although some people talk about £2m a year – which is what the stadium will take within one or two matches.
Things like the proportion of the naming rights, catering, merchandising and other revenue that WHU will get have been kept secret, for reasons that have never been explained. Commercial confidentiality was claimed but is laughable – that is a viable excuse only if the information is of use to a rival business. How could it be? How could Arsenal benefit from knowing how much WHU paid in rent?
So now the LLDC must say which costs it pays and just how little WHU pays, plus the terms of the lease. We know WHU keep all the money from ticket sales. What else do they get?
One of the more amusing defences lodged by WHU is that if they had to reveal the terms of the deal it would in their OWN WORDS have a “very real potential to damage the perception of WHUFC in relation to the stadium”. The LLDC said it would hurt the sale of naming-rights and other incomes.
In other words, if we knew the truth, we’d know we’d been done, and think less of WHU and the LLDC and the Olympics. Yes we would, but that is no defence.
Then, in an amazing move we discovered that West Ham had said it would sue for breach of confidence if confidentiality clauses were broken. An amazing move, since you can’t sue anyone for obeying the rule of law, even if your contract says otherwise. One wonders about the planet of residence of those who said that.
It was obvious that the information being held back was of no use to competitors and we and other interested groups made that point.
What makes everyone so interested is that £148.8m for the stadium came from the taxpayer – you and me (if you reside and work in the UK). It is our money and we want to know how it is being used.
Of course the LLDC can spend more taxpayers money and take up more time in appealing in the name of secrecy. Let’s hope they realise they have done enough damage and simply get on with it. If they are now sensible and decent we should start to get details in October.
As I noted last time around, the problem we have is that football clubs tend not to point the finger at each other very often, as they have to do business with each other, and a row with WHU now, could mean a failure to buy a player from there in the future.
So it is have been down to the supporters to keep the publicity alive, which is why an alliance of supporters’ trusts including the AST promoted a petition on the Government website calling for an a public inquiry into the deal for West Ham United to become tenants at the Olympic Stadium.
As I noted above, at a time of massive cuts in central and local government benefits and services, plus a long pay squeeze on public employees the question was why is central, regional and local government offering huge subsidies to the owners of West Ham United?
Our argument has always been that public money should be used responsibly, and in a way which does not distort the competitiveness of independent sports bodies and businesses.
And thus considering the cost to the taxpayer, and the effect of this taxpayer subsidy on competition between clubs, a full public inquiry into the deal is needed.
The Untold Books
- Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football – Arsenal’s early years
- Making the Arsenal – how the modern Arsenal was born in 1910
- The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal
- 15 September 1953: Chelsea 0 Arsenal 2. Having won the league the previous season Arsenal had to wait until this, the 9th match of the season for their first win, by which time they were bottom of the league. Both goals came from Lishman.
- 15 September 1971: Arsenal’s first European Cup game: Stromsgodset IF 1 Arsenal 3. Simpson, Marinello and Kelly scored in Norway in front of 23,000.