At last, our complaints about state aid for football are heard

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.

Strange Days

  • 21 April 1908: Hearts 1 Arsenal 3.  With the league season having finished the day before with a home game against Sheffield Wednesday, Arsenal immediately boarded a train and started a crazy eight matches in nine days in Scotland.

15 Replies to “At last, our complaints about state aid for football are heard”

  1. One of my Spud mates told me they are getting £100m from the council to assist them for their stadium……this is not mentioned in the above.

  2. All this requires is a challenge by any club anywhere that considers it has been “disadvantaged” by the deal. Most likely complaints would come from Orient or Charlton, but surely not Spurs who themselves used £27 million of ratepayers money in their failed attempt to get the Olympic Stadium.
    Sometimes you feel that it’s good to be in the European Union.

  3. Tony, that all might be immaterial for WHU if Britain vote to leave the EU. Of course the other side of that is that suddenly many European footballers will fall in to the Work Permit rule and English football will suffer more and the prices for English players will carry an even bigger premium.

  4. Ah the old “independent Enquiry” Tony, to get to the heart of the matter, the kernel at the centre of the nut under scrutiny.

    I am not convinced. Independent enquiries tend to be not very independent, and often not very enquiring. And then of course there is the delay, the interminable delay, the months of clamour for AN INDEPENDENT ENQUIRY (led by David Conn in the Guardian, to weeks if not months from selecting the members of the enquiry team, amidst raucous complaints about their alleged independence, to taking the evidence from multiple well heeled and solidly lawyered parties, to synthesizing the evidence into an agreed and intelligible format, to finally and formally publishing the document. Ministers, Mayors and the EC will ponder the analysis and conclusions. Local politicians will make hay. Responses will be formulated, perhaps appeals launched.

    By which time, two or three years hence, no one has a clue what the original issue was anyway. There is something of the Sir Humphrey about an independent enquiry.

    The other issue on any subsidy, with Spuds and Citeh at least, is the cross over funding between urban regeneration – a ‘good’ thing in the view of the EC, and even in my view, – and state subsidy of the sports business – a bad thing ( all round).

  5. On a side note to the Olympic stadium West Ham are announcing the season ticket prices tomorrow.

  6. Anicoll5

    Where has the “independent enquiry” come from?
    All I can find on this is that European law has been broken and a claim could be made by “disadvantaged” parties.

  7. The “independent enquiry” comes from Line 10 above TG

    “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.”

    Public funding or government/state aid is perfectly legal within the EU, whether provided to an individual or to a private business or publicly owned corporation, IF it can be shown that “general economic benefit” will be an intended and feasible result. Hence the claim of Spuds to be engaged in the regeneration of N17.

    I can hear m’Learned friends sharpening their axes !

  8. They do but the are quite careful how they use them I think TG – the Commission is able to and does look into different cases where they receive what they regard as a valid complajnt from a government or business or individual citizen. It can be internal or even to do with non EU countries trade and state funding activities.

    As I said earlier though the process extends over a massive time scale. tHe invesigation into Spanish and Dutch clubs and their various state subsidies Tony Attwood referred to in his article began in December 2013 and 18 months on (almost) is nowhere near reporting.

  9. According to the “Football is fixed” website Jonathon Moss is seriously implicated in match fixing with some very convenient sendings off and penalties at key moments. All very detailed and worth a read.
    He has just been awarded the FA Cup Final ahead of Mark Clattenburg, whose boots he is not fit to lace as a referee.
    This cannot be good for us or football

  10. Pat 7; I’ve never heard that story from any source. If it were to be true, rather than a bit of oneupmanship then it would be illegal unless the council could show that it was a commercially viable deal rather than aid.

  11. In general, as long as you are a bit clever, on this plane of existance, the worse you behave the more you get. Sorry for being an old cynic, and of course there are exceptions…but….
    Just goes to show how well wenger has done without any of this state aid, and I would imagine a few restrictions that never have and never will be made public.

  12. If WHU do get censured and fined stand by for them to ground share with Spurs, at least on a temporary basis, because that will help to raise the funds to pay the fines.

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