By Tony Attwood
Sometimes it seems like screaming at a concrete bunker. Those odd campaigns that Untold takes on, when few other people want to notice. We keep on plodding away, reporting each bit of news, in the hope that in the end the story will unfold and people will get interested, at least for a day.
State aid for football clubs is one of those. Hardly exciting and sexy. Not even appallingly awful like the way Barcelona treat children, or the way the Independent newspaper became the mouthpiece of their excuses.
But the issue has been rumbling around Real Madrid for five years now, and there are questions to be asked elsewhere – including of course West Ham. Man City had questions too, but they seem to have got away with it – but that doesn’t mean WHU and clubs in Spain will.
In each case the issue is the same: there seems to be an unreasonable amount of state (or local authority) money going into a club to help it with its stadium.
And now, suddenly, today, there’s a spot of interest, and the return of the feeling that if just one of the cases in which a local authority or state agency has given money , directly or indirectly, to help a club develop a stadium, then the others will open up.
Which is not to say that Real Mad, Man C or WHU are guilty of anything at all. Rather, it would be nice to know through an independent enquiry.
What has now brought things back into the news in England is West Ham, who have been gifted the use of the old Olympic Stadium.
The deal was done by Boris Johnson, Mayor of London and his lapdog London Legacy Development Corporation. As we’ve noted before they did the deal on their own, without checking it through with the European Commission. State aid is utterly illegal in the European Union, and the standard test is whether the state has acted as a private company would have done in the same circumstances.
And that is the problem, for the money that the local authorities get in these cases look pathetic. No private company would ever have done this sort of a deal.
Madrid authority got some fairly pathetic land near the edge of the city in return for land of the same size right next to the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium. Man City pay £3m a year and their sponsors have promised to fly out of Manchester airport. West Ham are to pay £2.5m a year plus a percentage of the catering take.
The taxpayer in the UK (me, and you if you live and work here) is paying £138.9m to convert the stadium just as we paid £486m to build it in the first place. West Ham are paying £15m “towards the costs”, although not until they sell Upton Park. The phrase “having a laugh” springs to mind.
The problem for WHU, and indeed other clubs in Europe is that they might well have been lulled into a sense of security by the fact that the EC has done little in the past on this issue, and this is how Man City got away with it. The use of the ground was not investigated within the 10 year time limit, because the EC was not looking at football then. But investigations have started into football clubs in Spain and Holland and the UK is obviously next. In such an atmosphere there LLDC should have checked with the EC – but didn’t. Which is odd.
Sir Robin Wales, the Mayor of Newham, defends the WHU deal by pointing to the City of Manchester stadium affair. But the EC is certainly interested in a variety of Spanish clubs. The Manchester arrangement now looks to be the oddball – the one that got away.
Boris Johnson doesn’t mind too much either – by the time this hits the courts he won’t be Mayor any more.
But there is still a lot of secrecy around, and no one really knows all the ins and outs yet. Which is why it is looking more and more likely that the EC will now take action.
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