Friday, 15 April 2011

The Mouse That Roared, The Lion That Squeaked

Remember, men. There is nothing wrong with surrendering to overwhelming powers, as long as it is done in a military manner...

West Ham United’s proposed tenancy of the Olympic Stadium faces a barrage of legal challenges after Leyton Orient joined Tottenham in arguing that the financial basis of their bid is illegal, and implored the Premier League to withdraw its approval for the move from Upton Park. The process now looks set to become mired in a flurry of litigation after Leyton Orient's chairman, Barry Hearn waged war on the Government, the Mayor of London and Newham council. Actions against the Olympic Park Legacy Company and the Minister of Sport are also pending.

In a move akin to that of the Duchy of Grand Fenwick, which proudly retains a pre-industrial economy dependent almost entirely on making Pinot Grand Fenwick wine, only to be usurped by an American winery making a knockoff version, Orient claimed that if West Ham move into the Olympic Stadium it could put their institution out of business within three years. Hearn made his aggressive move a day after Tottenham Hotspur also launched an application for a judicial review of Newham's processes. Orient have accused the council, which made a joint bid for the venue with West Ham, of granting "unlawful state aid" to the club in lending them £40m. "We are saying quite specifically that the £40m loan is unlawful and illegal," Hearn said. "We are asking them to withdraw it. It is state aid and they don't have the authority to make this kind of commercial investment under their charter."

West Ham are relying on the £40 million loan from Newham Council to convert the Olympic Stadium following the 2012 Games, but Orient and Tottenham, whose bid for the stadium was rejected in February, argue that the loan breaches British and EU law preventing state aid for private companies. Tottenham and Orient are seeking a judicial review of the council’s decision to agree the loan to West Ham.

Newham Council agreed to borrow the money over 25 years at preferential rates available to local government and forward it to West Ham, who will make repayments from ticket receipts. Newham taxpayers will be liable for the debt in the event of default, but their mayor, Sir Robin Wales, has argued that the borough is gaining a community asset.

Tottenham argue that Newham did not act equitably because the loan constitutes state resources that were offered only to West Ham, conferring on them an advantage over their rivals. They and Orient argue that the loan was secured at a far better rate than West Ham could have achieved privately, and that without the loan the club could not have made the bid that they did.

Spurs and Orient also argue that Newham’s support for West Ham, already based in the borough, was irrational because were Tottenham to move to the Olympic Stadium, it would double the benefits to the council and the community. They also claim that the council had acted beyond its powers — ultra vires – by using public funds to assist a commercial entity. At the very least the challenges will further delay the agreement of a lease between West Ham and the Olympic Park Legacy Company, which was scheduled for completion by March 31.

In a letter addressed to Sir Robin Wales, the Newham mayor, Orient's lawyers accuse the council of being exposed should West Ham default on the loan, of conferring an advantage on the club by giving them a loan at preferential rates and of not offering the loan to any other bidder. Newham, which has 21 days to respond, refused to comment. The council and West Ham are negotiating with the Olympic Park Legacy Company (OPLC) over the detail of their final agreement on the £486m stadium. But they have previously argued that the loan does not expose council tax payers, could not have been spent on anything else, and is underwritten by West Ham's owners, David Gold and David Sullivan. They are expected to argue the £40m will be put towards community facilities that will benefit local residents.

Hearn revealed his full intentions yesterday, 24 hours after Tottenham informed Newham they were bringing legal action. "The biggest case that has gone in today is the Newham one," he confirmed. "What are they doing lending £40m to a football club? They are not allowed to be involved in commercial deals. This is state subsidy of a commercial operation, which falls foul of European competition laws." The Orient chairman told Sky Sports News: "The whole plan is that we do not want West Ham in the Olympic Stadium, it is black and white, we think they are on our patch. We have started today with the official announcement we have submitted for judicial review an application request against Newham Borough Council."

West Ham beat Tottenham to the title of preferred bidder in February following a protracted bitter battle. The executives of the Olympic Park Legacy Company voted uninimously for the pledge to keep the athletics track, over a bid from Spurs and AEG that argued the only viable option was to rebuild it as a dedicated football ground. But Orient claim that West Ham's presence at the stadium will be detrimental to their own position as the local club for Newham residents. Hearn said he is no longer concerned with finding a new home for Orient or seeking compensation: "My efforts are not focused on anything other than stopping West Ham."

He believes West Ham's plan to subsidise tickets, including giving away 6,000 per match to local schoolchildren, will fatally undermine Orient. A club statement released before the Legacy Company decision said: "The decision of the Olympic Park Legacy Company to award the use of the London 2012 Olympic Stadium in legacy to either West Ham United or Tottenham Hotspur will have grave implications on the future of London's second-oldest Football League Club and threaten our proud traditions as a community-based Club. The impact on Leyton Orient will be huge. The prospect of excess capacity leading to discounted tickets and the broader appeal to floating fans of a more high-profile club threatens to swamp us. It is tragic to think that the true legacy of the 2012 Olympic Games could be the death of one of football's most-established community clubs."

Hearn has already written to Prime Minister David Cameron and London Mayor Boris Johnson asking them to look again at the decision. He is funding the legal challenge with the £1 million proceeds of Orient’s FA Cup fifth-round replay at Arsenal."This is about one thing only, stopping West Ham getting occupancy of the Olympic Stadium," he said yesterday. "It’s not about compensation, alternative stadiums, it’s about stopping them getting in there because it will put us out of business."

Hearn is also challenging the Premier League’s decision to approve West Ham’s move from Upton Park, an issue that will be heard by an arbitration panel under FA rules in the next two weeks. League rules state that the impact on other clubs has to be considered when a club propose to move ground, and Hearn believes Orient’s circumstances have not been given proper weight.

If Tottenham or Orient are successful in arguing that Newham’s funding is illegal, or in any of a series of other challenges being considered, the OPLC could be forced to withdraw its support for West Ham and restart the bidding process. The applications for judicial review against Newham are part of a slew of legal challenges against the Olympic Stadium decision. Hearn is also seeking judicial review of the Government and Johnson’s decision to approve West Ham as preferred bidder for the Olympic Stadium.

Tottenham, meanwhile, are considering seeking judicial review of the Government and mayor’s decision, as well as the process by which the OPLC came to recommend West Ham. Among possible grounds of complaint is how the OPLC applied five criteria on which the decision was based. Originally these were weighted in favour of financial criteria only for the rules to be changed for the latter stages of the bid.

Spurs are seeking to overturn the Olympic Park Legacy Company’s decision to recommend West Ham for the stadium, or failing that, pressure London mayor Boris Johnson and the Government into providing them with more support for an alternative ground development in Haringey.

Although Newham Borough Council, the OPLC and West Ham all declined to comment, OPLC's chair, Baroness Ford, who has long‑standing experience of public tenders, said last week she was confident it had followed due process throughout. However, she conceded no final contracts could be signed while the legal process continues.

Hearn is clearly in no mood to back down. "We think various parties have acted unlawfully and illegally and they need to be called to task," he stated. "This is an all-encompassing charge by Leyton Orient, a battle by the little man against the big forces of evil if you like, this represents a challenge to our future and we have no choice but to fight our corner, and we believe we have right on our side." Whether this mouse that roared secretly expects a quick and total defeat is unclear. Perhaps the Duchy of Brisbane Road is simply hoping to rebuild itself through the generous largesse that the the 'big forces' bestow on their vanquished enemies. Think less Germany through the Marshall Plan at the end of World War II, and more the newly built hockey stadium to be situated in the Eton Manor section of the Olympic Park after the Games.

Elsewhere, the 'big man' is having plenty to say himself. Benni McCarthy has revealed that he cannot remember when he last spoke to West Ham manager Avram Grant. The South African striker recently had his contract at Upton Park terminated, having been taken out of the 25-man Premier League squad. "I don't really know when I last spoke to him," McCarthy said. "But he's got a lot on his plate at the moment. I'm sure he could help his position if he'd maybe take a little bit more time to speak to players. That's what you do if you are a manager and you have a good relationship with players, you get results. But I'm not the type of person to go to a manager and give them ultimatums - they make decisions on what they see in training."

The South Africa international, who failed to score in his 14 appearances after joining from Blackburn in January 2010, also acknowledged that his fitness problems were partly self-inflicted. He told Sky Sports News: "I let myself down. I just went hiding under a rock because I couldn't deal with the fact that I was injured. I never trained how I could train because obviously I was out for two months (with a calf injury) so I wasn't allowed to train or anything - it was just treatment, treatment, treatment."

Although Scott Parker will win the fans’ Hammer of the Year award again this season, surely it should go to the now departed McCarthy, snipes John Dillon in the Express. After 14 appearances without a goal for West Ham following a £2.2million move from Blackburn, the striker walked off with a £1.5million early contract pay-off this week. No player could have done more, he reasons, to uphold the club’s long tradition of doing the most utterly ridiculous, laughable, unfathomable, pointless, confused, desperate and infuriating thing that it can manage in the face of all common sense.

It could only happen to West Ham, agrees The Sun. The portly striker agreed a huge pay-off just halfway through his 30 month contract. This might save the Hammers £1million in wages but the South African has still cost them £6.75milion. Prior to arriving at Upton Park, McCarthy scored a respectible 151 goals in 352 games for five clubs. His return at West Ham? Nothing in 14. Then there was Freddie Ljungberg, whose £85k a week, £3million transfer fee from Arsenal and £6million pay-off worked out at £520k a game. Plus another £18million all in for Kieron Dyer at £600k a game, for 30 appearances and no goals. No one can match West Ham for buying pap. Joey Beauchamp left inside 58 days without playing a game after London traffic pitched him into meltdown, while Florin Raducioiu was found shopping in Harvey Nichols when he should have been preparing for a cup tie in Stockport. And don't even mention Marco Boogers, who disappeared in his caravan. Welcome to the Hall of Fame Benni, the latest in a series of West Ham lions that squeaked.


Jimbob said...

Brilliant as usual and one of my all time favourite films

Paul said...

Great to have you back, Trilby: I've missed the sagacity and rapier wit.


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