Friday, 4 May 2007

The (Not Very) Civil War

In a follow-up to yesterday's story, 'Honest' Dave now claims half a dozen clubs are considering suing the Premier League for failing to deduct points over the Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano transfer dispute. Whelan states that three Barclays Premiership clubs have already instructed lawyers to look into the findings of an independent panel, and while he has decided not to seek legal advice personally, the Wigan owner-chairman has vowed to support any proceedings should they materialise. Fulham and Middlesbrough are thought to be two of the clubs leading the threat to sue. The Wigan chairman is convinced the east London club "got away with murder". "There's six clubs involved and I know there are three at present receiving legal advice," he said. "You have owners involved as well as chairmen. You have the likes of Middlesbrough, the likes of Fulham where the owners, like myself, stay in the background. They have come forward big-style to say 'we're not happy with this'."

Whelan then launched a wide-ranging attack on the Premier League, saying none of the other clubs near the bottom of the table would have been treated as leniently as West Ham: "There's a general feeling through the Premier League that what has happened here has been shambolic. The Premier League is in shambles. Had West Ham been deducted points I wouldn't have been elated, but it's clear that this is a very serious offence." In a piece in The Times, Whelen insists: "If there is a case, I think the clubs will vote to take it to court or wherever they think is necessary and I will support them. Had it been a smaller club, ten points would have been deducted. However, it’s West Ham. They’ve been fined £5.5 million, which is absolute peanuts because if they stay up they’re going to get a minimum £35 million.”

An article in The Independent suggests the threat of civil war is now hanging over the Premier League. Andy Hunter believes the admission that six clubs have reached a "gentleman's agreement" to sue the Premier League or West Ham, regardless of whether they avoid relegation, will alarm the organisation and illustrates the depth of the grievance felt at the commission's findings. In any case, there appears to be unilateral support for a ten point penalty to be imposed on West Ham. "All the clubs up to Middlesbrough feel pissed off," said Whelen. "Every club down there, we'll support each other. It's a shame to fall out with other football clubs, but what must be must be. If West Ham stay up it's not justice in any shape or form. I have spoken to other chairmen at length on this. Will it go to court? I don't know. The lawyers are looking at it now. Whether they're going to sue the league or West Ham themselves for damages and loss is another matter. We're waiting for opinions from QCs and I would expect within a week we would have an idea about what they're going to do."

West Ham's new owner, Eggert Magnusson, is said to be confident that no further sanctions will be imposed on his club, because recommended punishments were not contained in the Premier League regulations and no precedent existed to the charges brought against West Ham. However, there is a concern that the involvement of wealthy individuals such as Fulham chairman Mohammed al-Fayed may lead to a lengthy legal dispute. Whelen is looking at a slightly different angle though. Lawyers are exploring how the third-party liability was removed from Tevez's contract on the day before West Ham won 3-0 at the JJB Stadium last Saturday. "If that proves to be illegal, then we've a strong case to get the three points back we lost because that lad was very influential in that game," argued Whelan. "Good luck to West Ham because they've got away with it, but I hope in the end that justice prevails and they go down."

As the storm clouds gather, the Premier League are still refusing to be drawn into a public row with those concerned. According to a report in The Telegraph, they are instead waiting to see if any clubs start legal proceedings against them. It is understood that the Premier League maintain they followed the letter of the law in the case and that there is no precedent for a massive points deduction for the offence. Whelen has a problem with this as well. "The FA is in charge of all rules and regulations and I asked Richard Scudamore why didn't he let the FA handle it," moaned the Wigan chairman. "I think the FA would have been much tougher. They would have gone into it a lot sooner and we'd have had an answer weeks ago."

Alex Ferguson is another name who has thrown his weight behind some form of legal challenge. He is quoted in the Daily Mail as saying: "It is nothing really to do with us but I do understand it. They have every right to take advice on it because it was a strange decision. I feel for the clubs at the bottom, the pressure on teams like ourselves doesn't compare with the pressure those teams are under. Paul Jewell has done a fantastic job at Wigan but they have never recovered from the decision that went against them at Arsenal. You just hope they can get out of it. That is where the real pressure comes as opposed to teams like us trying to win the league."

Away from the court room, and the Daily Express contains a story that both Matthew Upson and Lucas Neill have declared their intention to stay at the club. Upson, who has been troubled by calf problems, said: “I will not write off playing again this season, but we are running out of games and time and my chances look slim. I have worked hard to get the move here, so to not be able to play given the position the team are in is frustrating. It is difficult, but you look to solve the problem and get on with it rather than complain." Fellow crock Dean Ashton has also met with Magnusson and has been informed he is part of the club's plans regardless of what happens in the next two weeks. The same article predicts, however, that Anton Ferdinand, Nigel Reo-Coker, Marlon Harewood and Hayden Mullins will all be shown the door by Alan Curbishley this summer.

Finally, the Daily Mirror have picked up on the Carlos Tevez interview on the official site to claim the Argentinian striker may stay at West Ham beyond the summer. Despite being at the centre of a legal wrangle, Tevez said: "I have come to love the people of West Ham and the club. I have always worked hard as a player and as a man and West Ham inspire me to continue doing this. They have always treated me with respect and I admire them for supporting me through this. My aim is to continue working hard for them because just as they love me, I love them." Sky Sports flesh out the story a little more. "There is a possibility I could stay," Tevez told WHUTV. "It is a case of sitting down with the directors of West Ham to sort out a few things, but certainly there is a chance I could stay with the club. The fine and everything surrounding it is something for West Ham and the lawyers to take care of. My only concern, as always, is playing football. We will be doing everything we can to keep this club in the Premier League and for me it is an opportunity to repay the support the fans have shown me. They have supported me from day one and I have a very special relationship with them."

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