By Tony Attwood
When you think about it, West Ham have it all. So much in fact that it probably makes every other club green with envy and puce with anger and probably maroon with something else.
In 2017/18 (the last season for which figures are available) WHU had the eighth highest turnover in the league and the 11th highest wages bill, which is the right way round for success. Earn more, pay out less. In the year up to May 2017 they made £43m profit. Rather nice if you can get it.
They had a net debt of £35m. Big by your or my standards but not impossible to manage in football. Especially as their turnover was £4.82 billion. (Shall I spell that out? £4,820,000,000.)
And here’s the thing. Their stadium, funded by British taxpayers like me, and possibly you, costs them £2.5m a year. Arsenal’s stadium cost £390m plus interest on the bank loans. The interest alone cost £20m a year, and that is before the repayments.
So WHU had no capital outlay, got a brand new stadium, and paid £17.5m a year LESS than Arsenal’s interest. About £35m a year less than Arsenal’s interest and repayment.
And let’s consider that stadium. Figures here are from Soccerstats.com. Yes West Ham get fractionally fewer people through the gate than Arsenal because it is a slightly smaller stadium, but this season’s figure show the top four clubs for crowds are
|Club||Av home crowd||Total crowd||Capacity||% tickets sold|
And the usual note of course about empty seats at Arsenal stadium. Arsenal have some season ticket holders who don’t come to every match, often because of transport or personal issues as in fact do virtually all clubs. But they have paid for the ticket.
Anyway, now WHU are in financial trouble. With Tottenham we can understand it; they have built the stadium, paid Mr Leavy eye watering sums of money, and now haven’t got enough to pay their staff. But WHU: how did that happen?
Not from stadium debt as we can see. Along with Manchester United West Ham haven’t had a stadium debt for years. Yet their players are not being paid the full amount at the moment in order to help the non-playing staff. David Moyes, accepted 30% deferrals and the owners, David Gold and David Sullivan, deferring interest payments on shareholder loans.
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They are not giving those interest payments up, mark. They are just holding off. For a while.
Of course deferrals of payment to players don’t mean the club has no money. As we all know, Manchester City are backed by an entire oil rich state, and yet they are said to be in talks with their players over deferrals.
There have been wonderful words said at WHU such as Ms Brady saying, “I would like to say a big thank you to David Moyes and his backroom team, our captain Mark Noble and our fantastic squad of players for the commitment and determination they have shown to offer their help and support. I would also like to thank the shareholders whose support through this injection of equity once again demonstrates their commitment to the future of the Club.”
But WHU are running out of money, when the man now our Prime Minister, as mayor of London, agreed to give the club the stadium we own, for next to nothing! As Sport England said at the time, “Under this deal we have to pay West Ham.”
The answer to why they are in trouble is generally the same for all clubs in trouble. Spending too much on players and relying on future income as if it were guaranteed.
As the seventh annual Football Distress Report by insolvency specialist Begbies Traynor reported, “We’re now seeing signs that over spending on playing staff and poor planning are on the rise again…”
West Ham really have had it all, and I mean it all. A stadium that cost them £17.5m a year less than Arsenal’s, a crowd that keeps turning up no matter what, average attendances of 59,924 – the third highest this season in the league.
Indeed it must take a level of such super incompetence to create a financial problem in this club, even with football stopped, that raises an issue. WHU of all clubs should be sailing through this crisis without a care in the world. .
Of course clubs are in difficulty in the lower leagues, but the report on West Ham effectively puts them not among the big boys of the Premier League but the likes of Bury, Oldham Athletic, Blackpool, Sheffield Wednesday, Notts County, Bristol Rovers and Bolton Wanderers.
For if you talk to anyone in those distressed clubs, or any analysers such as Dr Rob Wilson, the specialist on sport finance at Sheffield Hallam University, you will be told that, “The Premier League is the big body at the top with all the money.”
By way of explanation, Kieran Maguire, author of the Price of Football however put it another way saying that clubs have “a culmination of an overpayment of wages and poor cost control in terms of how the clubs are being run”.
Now we know, as Maguire says, “In the championship, wages are 150% of revenue,” but there is no excuse for this in the Premier League. We know that the directors of West Ham are not in the club as patrons pouring money in, but rather as people who would like to (and indeed do) take money out. In this regard they are just like Arsenal.
But when we, the poor, exploited tax payers, find our hard earned money ripped away from us by someone like Boris Johnson when he was mayor, and the fruits of our labours being then given to a football club like WHU, we might at least expect they could a) be grateful and b) make a decent job out of what they have been given by making loads of money which then, no matter what the circumstances, involves them c) paying tax to the government on their profits. Even in very bad times.
In this case, none of that seems to be true.
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