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Friday 9 December 2016

Hammers still in a hole, but at least now it's a half-English hole

Published 24/01/2010 | 05:00

There is a lot of pressure on David Sullivan and David Gold, who returned to Premier League ownership when they bought West Ham United last week.

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West Ham are a traditional club and Sullivan and Gold are traditional owners with a business background rooted in the community they serve. Pornography may not be Louis Edwards' butcher's or Manny Cussins' furniture store, but it is something everyone can understand, especially down the Boleyn Ground and not just when Russell Brand is in attendance.

The pressure on Sullivan and Gold is, however, greater as they have more than just the demands of the eager supporters of West Ham United to satisfy.

Sullivan and Gold are British owners and the football community has turned against foreign owners, believing that they are all that is wrong with English football.

Traditionally, it was owners in general that were wrong with English football and there is nothing wrong in principle with that idea.

The spectacular behaviour of some foreign owners in recent times has allowed a nostalgic view to grow that there was a time when clubs were once run by kindly, munificent types who cared only about their fellow man.

The Glazers' behaviour and the management of decline by Hicks and Gillett has led some to the conclusion that everything would be okay if the clubs were run by men who understood the community.

The problem is not that foreign owners don't understand the community or know nothing about football. It is that they are foreign owners who do not understand the community, know nothing about football and are fakking skint.

It was not the nationality of Thaksin Shinawatra that made him a bad owner of Manchester City. As the former prime minister of Thailand, he could be said to have an interest in the adult entertainment industry himself, but that was not the root of his downfall. The "fit and proper" test has always been an elastic concept, even before it was introduced, and Thaksin's human rights violations would have been overlooked by many if he could have provided as supporters expected.

Thaksin was a good man to play golf with, but not a good man to provide the money that Manchester City needed to reach the heights they now believe they deserve.

Manchester City have foreign owners now and their supporters are probably the only ones not complaining about it.

English football was built by people who knew nothing about football and were occasionally happy to take direction from people who did. The rest of the time they managed to cause a mess no matter where they were from.

West Ham fans will have spent the last few days trying to figure out which agenda laid out by Sullivan and Gold last week they should believe in. On one hand, Sullivan painted a picture of a club so broke it was a miracle they had considered buying it and faced competition for doing so. Sullivan said it made "no commercial sense" to buy the club, which he had done because he was a lifelong West Ham fan.

On the other, he was providing the supporters with a bit of sugar by promising Champions League football within seven years which, I think, may also be the schedule Peterborough are working to.

Empty promises are, however, part of the routine for the football man and it will soon be discovered if it does them any good.

After all, the nationality of the last owners was not their problem initially and, in many ways, they were the supporters' dream, when they went on a heavy recruitment campaign which included doing things like paying Freddie Ljungberg 75 grand a week.

Meanwhile, in Iceland (that's an opening to a sentence that rarely ends well), former chairman Eggert Magnusson was quick to point out that when he was making those crazy deals, nobody said stop. He was surrounded by football men, but he was the money guy and presumably the football men like Alan Curbishley assumed he knew what he was doing.

Eggert probably assumed Curbs knew what he was doing as well which was his first mistake. I sat near Curbs at the cricket at the Oval last summer. He was with a friend and they were dressed in matching short-sleeved blue cotton shirts and navy slacks. Nothing about him suggested he was anything more than the controller of a South London mini-cab firm having a day in the sun.

West Ham's problem was not necessarily the nationality of their owners but that they happened to be owned by a country that was about to go out of existence financially and they were using the same business model.

West Ham are still half-owned by Iceland, in the form of the nationalised bank Straumur which backed the original takeover and has decided to hold on to half the club in the hope of making some money back.

They are still in the hole. Meanwhile, back in David Sullivan's world (another sentence that doesn't always end well), West Ham were trying to entice Ruud van Nistelrooy to the club, believing he could save them.

Like many a dysfunctional type, football always believes there is a saviour somewhere. Putting aside his commitment to financial rectitude for a moment, Sullivan, West Ham's saviour, was ready to pay Van Nistelrooy 100 grand a week to be his saviour. This made sense, he explained, because this player could save them from relegation and that was the worst prospect of all.

Meanwhile, in Iceland, Eggert was making the same defence of his decision to sign Lucas Neill, Craig Bellamy, Ljungberg and the rest as they, too, saved the club from relegation, even if West Ham are now in masses of debt and Iceland itself has been destroyed.

Not everybody can be saved, of course, we all acknowledge that. Sullivan and Gold could be the men to carry on the grand tradition.

dfanning@independent.ie

Sunday Independent

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