Sunday, March 29, 2020
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It's friday evening and the weekend is almost upon us. Traditionally a time to get hopelessly drunk, Saturday night may see fans of any number of Premiership teams hit the bottle, as a poor result tomorrow could see your club plummet down the table. As it currently stands, the League is as compact as a disk, what with only 3 points separating Fulham in 10th with West Brom at the bottom. An inexplicable woeful performance this weekend for over half the teams in the division may result in them languishing in the relegation zone.

Supporters of West Ham will have been drowning their sorrows a lot this season as their club reels from one disaster to another. When the 90minutesonline website poll questioned who would be bottom come Christmas, I was the first to cast my vote and went for what I thought was a bold prediction in opting for the Hammers. It seems though that I am not the only one to have spotted the downward spiral trend of West Hams season.

Their campaign started reasonably well, with 2 victories from 3....and that’s about as good as it gets. Soon afterwards Alan Curbishley quit, with suggestions that outside interference in transfer policy, notably the transfer deadline day sales of defenders George McCartney & Anton Ferdinand to Sunderland, had forced him to step down. Acrimonious statements were flung from both sides, with the likes of agent and "transfer adviser" Kia Joorabchian suggesting that Curbishley’s legacy was to leave behind a squad that was too big, full of players who were sub-standard, injury prone and overpaid, leaving the club with an inflated wage bill approaching the £50million mark. The former Charlton man’s response was to cite the double deadline day departure as a move that was made without his consent, thus making his position untenable.

To be honest, I can see both sides of the argument. Curbishley did embark on a substantial spending spree during his tenure at the club and many of his signings had little impact on the 2007/8 season - Bellamy, Dyer, Parker, Faubert and Ljungberg being mostly injured; Boa Morte and Quashie being mostly crap. Also £14million for McCartney and Ferdinand is great money for two pretty standard Premier League defenders. At the same time, old Llewellyn Charles had worked wonders keeping them up the season before and was doing a good job when it came to actually coaching the team and getting results, so shouldn't have been subjected to such blatant interference in his squads affairs. All a big mess really and to compound matters, in recent weeks, Curbishley has gone on to file a claim for compensation against the club for constructive dismissal.

This couldn't come at a worse time for the hapless hammers given their current financial plight, with all and sundry seemingly bombarding their coffers, looking for a slice of their loot. Another entity looking to ransack the clubs kitty is Sheffield United, still bitter over the part that the ineligible Carlos Tevez played in their relegation at the end of the 2006/7 season. On September 24th this year, a panel of independent arbitrators ruled in favour of the Blades, finding West Ham culpable in breaching Premiership regulations that led to Sheffield United being relegated and thus making the Hammers liable to pay compensation. Figures in the region of £30-£50 million have been bandied around in the press, but it's sure to be an amount that will hit West Ham hard.   

To really rub it in, at least ten Sheffield United players who incurred wage cuts as part of relegation clauses in their contracts are seeking legal advice with a view to claiming compensation for loss of earnings. The legal wranglings of this affair look set to stretch on for some time, with West Ham attempting to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, but it is still not clear whether or not the Court has jurisdiction to hear such an appeal. Meanwhile, the Blades have gone to the High Court to obtain an injunction to prevent the Hammers from appealing and the whole saga rumbles on.

This debacle came as something of a surprise to Gianfranco Zola, the man who was appointed Curbishley’s successor. When appointed, the diminutive Italian was under the impression that he was going to have money to spend in January and beyond. No sooner had he had his feet under the desk, than this fracas with Sheffield United suddenly erupted in his face, rendering any potential transfer budget a wipeout. Zola, looked visibly perturbed when this issue was brought up in press conferences, but at the time, results were going for him and he could focus the journalists attention on what was going on on the pitch.

His first official game in charge was against Newcastle and it was a good time to catch the Geordies, who were on a shambolic run with Chris Hughton temporarily at the helm. A deflected goal by David di Michele gave West Ham a fortuitous lead, but the ran out deserved 3-1 winners. The next league fixture saw the Hammers record another victory, 2-1 away to Fulham. Carlton Cole, who had been arrested earlier in the week for drink driving, opened the scoring, but it was a fluke result, with West Ham emerging victorious against the run of play in a game that had seen them largely dominated by a Fulham team reduced to 10 men for the entire second half. Still, it was an encouraging start to Zola's fledgling management career as Lady Luck seemed to be beaming down on the Italian.

Unfortunately for the equine faced Italian, she is a fickle mistress. October saw 4 straight defeats, 1 for, 8 against and November hasn't been much better with a scrappy draw away at Middlesbrough followed by a disastrous capitulation at Upton Park, where the Hammers surrendered a goal lead by conceding three in five minutes to Everton deep into the second half. This terrible run of results has left West Ham hovering just a point above the relegation zone.

With things on the pitch rapidly going downhill, another off field crisis threatens to engulf the club. It became clear earlier this year that one of the principal victims of the Credit Crunch would be the nation of Iceland, who were facing severe recession as a result of economic turmoil with high interest rates & inflation and an alarming decline in their currency. West Ham chairman Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson is owner of the countries largest bank, Landsbanki, but sources close to him claimed several months ago that the nations plight would not effect the finances of the Institution and would have no impact on West Ham. "Lansbanki is still running with considerable, healthy profits" was the bold quote, confidentially stated back in the summer.

Fast forward to October and Lansbanki proved to be not quite as infallible as Gudmundsson’s lackey had predicted, as it entered receivership on the 7th of that month. Suddenly, another Gudmundsson stooge, Ausgeir Fridgeirsson was stating that it would be "very unlikely" that there would be any January arrivals and that Zola would have to sell before he buys. Fridgeirsson was still adamant that the Icelandic consortium would remain in charge though saying "we have not been accepting any offers...agents have been contacting us and we have told them we are not interested". Another month, another fib. A couple of days ago and Fridgeirsson was singing a different tune, telling the BBC that "he (Gudmundsson) is evaluating all of his business interests, including West Ham".

It transpires that the Credit Crunch has significantly dented the finances of Gudmundsson. The holding company for shares in Landsbanki, Samson Holdings, filed for bankruptcy last week. Within a day of this occurring another damning piece of infomation came to light. At the beginning of the season, West Hams shirt sponsors, travel company XL, went bust, which at the team seemed a minor problem, the embarrassment of wearing cheap looking shirts with the players squad number taped to the front the only consequence of note. However, it has been revealed that a £163million loan had been given to the doomed company by none other than Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson. Whoops.

To conclude then, the chairman’s screwed, there's no money to spend, the former manager & half of Sheffield is trying to extract cash from them that they haven't got, the rookie manager is on a losing streak, players are possibly going to have to be sold and there is the usual raft of injuries to contend with - including permanently crocked star striker Dean Ashton. It looks pretty bleak and Hammers fans may be hoping that with Gudmundsson willing to sell, a sugar daddy may be enticed to swoop in - but given the current furor with the pending court cases surrounding the club, as well as the inability of clubs like Everton & Newcastle to find a new buyer, I wouldn't hold my breath if I were them.

Tomorrow they face Tony Adams Portsmouth. Pompey will be full of confidence after picking up their first victory under Donkey Boy in their last outing away at Sunderland, so this will be no easy task for Zola's team, who will have to banish thoughts of last weeks embarrassing implosion against the toffee's. Poor Gianfranco must wonder what he's let himself in for and no matter what the outcome tomorrow, I'm sorry Hammers fans, but I predict a season of gloom on the horizon. If relegation is indeed on the agenda, then West Ham fans may have to turn to drink if they want some London Pride.


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