Monday, 25 August 2014

No Masking the Blame on Tevez

Last summer, in the aftermath of the Blades' shambolic end to the season and in the midst of an elongated (and ultimately misguided) managerial search, I poste an article to this blog called Reasons to be Cheerful.

It garnered thousands of hits, was linked on West Ham discussion forums and ended up as the second most read article on A United View. You can read it here.  It won't take long. The post was blank.  No words. No pictures. As a United fan I could see no grounds for optimism.
That this caused so much happiness amongst Irons fans caused me much amusement. They really do hate United and some of the 30+ comments left on the kind of defy logic and seem to be based on fantasy and fallacy. Before I share a selection of the comments it is probably worth remembering a few facts regarding the Tevez case which causes much of the hatred and venom.

To start with. Let’s be clear. There is no mystery, there was no simple mistake. The rules were clear and West Ham lied about breaking them.  At the time of the transfer agreements  for both Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano (right on the transfer deadline in August 2006), and until January 24 2007, West Ham United failed to disclose the third party agreements to the Premier League and deliberately withheld these agreements from the Premier League.

When West Ham signed the Argentinian internationals from Brazilian club Corinthians, the players were contracted to four offshore companies via agent Kia Joorabchian - a fact that, according to the commission, Hammers bosses deliberately concealed from league authorities. Both Scott Duxbury and Paul Aldridge denied the existence of the contracts.

"[West Ham] knew that the only means by which they could acquire [the players] would be by entering into the third party contracts," said the commission. "Equally, they were aware that the FA Premier League, at the very least, may not - and in all probability would not - have approved of such contracts. They determined to keep their existence from the FAPL." – Independent Commission statement.

On April 27th 2007 they were found guilty by a FA Premier League Independent Commission of breaching rules B13 and U18. Rule B13 states that all Premier League clubs should act in good faith, while U18 relates to third party influence. A Premier League Commission fined the club £5.5m, stating that a points deduction would have virtually condemned West Ham to relegation which would have been unfair on the fans and players.

At the time of the fine the Premier League added that if they were found to be breaching the same rules again, a heavier punishment would be in order (points deduction/relegation implied).  The club claimed (and this was accepted by the Premier League) that the agreement was ripped up and Tevez was free to play in the final three games.

Despite legal action between Joorabchian and West Ham over the economic rights of Tevez, the Premier League saw fit to agree to the Argentinean’s move to Manchester United the following August. But if such a valued asset was under West Ham’s ownership they must have been gutted to receive a fee of just £2m from the Red Devils.

Following relegation The Blades pursued action to try and force a more standard punishment on West Ham and also financial compensation. They were unsuccessful in appealing the original decision with both a Premier League independent commission and the High Court. They were even told that the appeal commission could not reverse the original decision, but if they had made it in the first place there would have been a points deduction.

United then took the matter up through the FA's arbitration procedure and there was a ruling in United’s favour in March 2009. Lord Griffiths, who headed the committee, suggested that West Ham had not “torn up” the offending contract after the initial tribunal had required them to do so, but instead simply told the FA Premier League that they had done so whilst executing a verbal side agreement with Kia Joorabchian to confirm to him that they were not intending to simply walk away from that contract. This alleged deceit then enabled Carlos Tevez to play in the final three games of the season. This was a key element in reaching the final verdict.

There was a belief that the Premier League had been further misled, so where was the further investigation and action promised two years earlier? The Premier League remained quiet. By quiet I mean whistling in the corner, eyes darting around, making no contact, hoping no one would chase up the further action required.

The thing is, despite their cheating, despite the ongoing fantasy of their fans where they see themselves as the wronged party, I don't feel any real anger towards West Ham any more. Only despair at their blinkered, partisan and misguided views, which their fans continue to espouse. They were, in the words of the commission, dishonest and deceitful, but it was the Premier League commission's failure to adequately penalise them that still rankles.

A decision partly based on whether it would disproportionately punish fans, whilst welcome in some areas of the game (I am sure Wimbledon fans would have liked this applied by the committee reaching a verdict on their move to Milton Keynes), had no place here. The delay to the hearing which led to the decision not to deduct points, was down to on-going West Ham deceit over the nature of the contracts.

I accept United should have stayed up that season under their own steam. It is not about blame for relegation. It is about fair play, abiding by the rules and trust in the authorities to adequately manage these issues. As members of the Premier League you contractually sign up to abide by the rules. If rules are broken which ultimately lead to financial loss for another member club, then it is perfectly rational for them to pursue financial recompense. The fact is whichever club was relegated would have pursued a claim against West Ham. Fate meant that we ended up being that team. 

It galls me whenever I see other, often much smaller clubs, punished by points deductions for administrative oversights and registration issues. Take last season when AFC Wimbledon were deducted three points for fielding an ineligible player, Jake Nicholson, in the Sky Bet League 2 fixture with Cheltenham Town on 22 March. He came on as a substitute at half-time, before scoring his side's second goal in the 4-3 victory. He had an impact in one game and they were penalised the three points.

Further down the pyramid the Conference board punished Alfreton's failure to register an emergency loan keeper; a blank fax causing the lack of registration. The three point punishment was consistent with deductions issued to Conference North sides Oxford City and Harrogate Town.

Yet the so-called “Greatest League in the World” – the FA Premier League failed to apply such punishment to a more blatant breach of rules, breach of trust and the use of illegal contracts. In a world where reference is made to tarnishing the product, damaging the integrity of the brand, surely an instance that Richard Scudamore described as ranking “up there as the number one act of bad faith that any club has ever done towards me during my time here” deserved a similar, if not stronger punishment?

Scudamore’s further comments only lead to the conclusion that finances are all that matters in the moneyball league, fair play, legality and abiding by the rules are just mere PR puff.

"It is quite simple - you are completely undone by an act of bad faith. If a club, through its executives, chooses to lie straight to your face, there is a great deal of damage that can be done from that.

"Ultimately, the Tevez saga goes down to people not being honest. With any regularity body, if people are not honest there is very little you can do about it and that is why the whole thing unravelled.”

Yet this deceit and wrongdoing doesn’t seem to register with Hammers fans who see only United doing wrong. Their argument perpetuated by members of the London based media, such as Hammers fan Martin Samuel who perpetuated myths regarding the transfer of Steve Kabba from United to Watford. In this instance both clubs were investigated and it was found that there was no case to be answered.

So in this mire of denial, anger and abuse, many amusing statements are made. Here are some of the comments made on this blog and a few responses.

“Reasons to be Cheerful: Reason #1: Payments of the money the Blades swindled out of West Ham for not being good enough to beat the drop will stop after this summer.”

Swindled? I seem to recall West Ham settled the claim as they knew they were guilty and before the tribunal set an amount?

“I found a reason to be cheerful, you'll still be in League 1 for a long time.”
“Unless you end up in League 2 ...”

Well we had a good go last season.

“One Carlos Tevez.”

Yes, you are right, there is.

“Where did all the money go? The money that the blunts stole from West Ham? Fairness in Football!!!!!”

Capital B on Blunts if you don’t mind. And as for stole. Steal according to the Oxford Dictionary is to take (another person’s property) without permission or legal right and without intending to return it. I think West Ham settled a payment of their own volition and in negotiation, therefore there was permission and legal right.

“What did McCabe do with the blackmail money? He certainly didn't spend it on the team.”

Unfortunately he did, giving it to Bryan Robson and Kevin Blackwell wasn’t the best use, granted. As for Blackmail – “The action, treated as a criminal offence, of demanding money from someone in return for not revealing compromising information which one has about them”. I only wish we had more compromising information on West Ham, however I think West Ham themselves had revealed enough to compromise themselves, once they had stopped lying to the FA Premier League.

“Phil 'handball' Jagielka is doing rather well at Everton.”

He is. Well done to him. Always good to see your young players develop into the international players you thought they would be.

“Total and utter karma”
“You make me happy every day, I revel in your appalling situation, all bought on by your attempt at a contrived result that went wrong. Karma.”
“Oh deep joy. May you continue unrestrained on your descent into oblivion, it is no more and no less than you deserve. All that ill-gotten dosh and nothing whatever to show for it. It’s really hard to think of a better example of karma in action.”

Karma? In Hinduism and Buddhism this is the sum of a person’s actions in this and previous states of existence, viewed as deciding their fate in future existence. A sort of retributive justice. Given that West Ham cheated and have only suffered financial penalty in the cash fuelled world of the Premier League you could actually argue that karma is yet to exert itself on them. As for us, we got some reward and blew it all. That’s life. That’s football.

“Do they have a word for shaudenfreude in blunt-land?”

Yes, it is spelt schadenfreude. I presume it is the same word you are referring to?

“Can't even get out of League 1 despite our charity payments hitting your begging bowl every year, dread to think where you will be when your wealthy, cockney, top half of the Premier League, still watching the big teams, spending £10m+ on single players, moving to a massive new ground benefactors stop subsidising your shambles of a club. Still at least Avram is is reportedly on his way to make it all better. COYI”
“Every time I think about your nasty little clubs plight I am filled with an enormous sense of satisfaction. Who can you sue to try and get out of this one? It must be someone's fault?”

Acts of charity are voluntary. I don’t recall you being too willing to make this payment. Nice to see the fan here gloating over the Olympic stadium farce that is not just bad for the tax payer but Leyton Orient to. Another example of football’s rules being ignored to the Hammers’ benefit.

And finally it is no one’s fault but ours, well the people running the club. You may well gloat, but with the twists and turs of football, just remember the next team mismanaged could be you.

So then a couple of weeks ago, it finally happened. The Blades were drawn to meet The Hammers in the second round of the Capital One Cup; the first meeting since that Premier League season. No doubt the tie will get the media talking and it got the fans of both clubs talking when the draw was made. United's visit to Upton Park immediately generated plenty of social media comment, but with very different levels of animosity from the respective sets of fans. 

United fans mockingly joked about facing the Shammers, Wet Sham or some variation thereof and the fact at last, some 7 years later we would face each other at last. Hammers fans immediately started with a #BlameTevez hash tag on twitter and seemingly couldn't wait to put the Blades to the sword and give a “warm” East End welcome to United fans.

The interest in the match can perhaps be best summed up by the relatively low ticket sales to United fans. A midweek date doesn't help. Some fans have openly said it just isn’t worth the potential hassle and trouble.  The other factor is many just don't really care about West Ham or the match being against them. If we win, fantastic. If we don’t then, to be honest it is not unexpected given relative league positions. We move on and focus on the league.

So, while Hammers get excited and prepare a hate filled welcome, many United fans will reserve their ire for those who let the situation happen; Richard Scudamore and the Premier League. We don't blame Tevez, many more were culpable and in a greater sense.

Enjoy wearing your Tevez masks lads. The only impact it will have is improving the looks of the average Upton Park crowd and the bank balances of entrepreneurs and street hawkers in the East End.

Friday, 15 August 2014

'Ear all, see all, say nowt

Over the last couple of days a new name rose to prominence when Sheffield United were discussed; Alan Smith. Not the prosaic, monotone striker turned pundit. No this is the Secretary of the Kiveton Branch of the Supporters' Club and apparent mouthpiece of the Sheffield United supporters where the Ched Evans situation is concerned.

Across the mainstream media from Sky News to the BBC, to print and radio, the issue has been discussed and either a reference has been made to his quotes or a direct interview has been broadcast. Whilst the opinion of a United supporter is certainly more relevant than the passing observations of Christopher Biggins and Barry from Eastenders (thanks for that insight The Wright Stuff), his manner and the basis of his comments have caused consternation and frustration amongst a number of supporters.

"Alan Smith, who is a member of the Sheffield United Supporters Club executive, told Sky News that he's been given an assurance that Evans will be returning to Bramall Lane.

He believes that most fans will welcome the club's former top goal-scorer back.

"He has served his time, he has served his sentence and we would have him back. Good players like that have got to carry on playing and if not for Sheffield United it would be for someone else, and we would regret that," he said."

Although some Blades fans at the club's Bramall Lane ground said they did not want the player back the majority - both men and women - said his return would be welcomed."

Sky News

Driving back from the Mansfield Capital One clash I turned to 5Live and the panel of journalists were invited to discuss Ched Evans, but not before hearing the views of a Sheffield United Supporters Club representative.

Listening to the interview I sat in my car, wincing at many of Alan's utterances. Cringing inside. This self-appointed spokesman for United fans everywhere was making us all look stupid, thanks to his ignorance, limited vocabulary and (I'll be kind) naivety (others may say clamour for the limelight). 

Probably the pick of his quotes was; "I don't want to come across as all for rape, far from it". My incredulity was shared by the journalists at the end of the interview. Henry Winter sounded stunned, and struggled to find an adequate response to what he had just heard. He described it as "very dispiriting", whilst Daniel Taylor of the Guardian said it was "not the greatest (interview), there were a few things that were said that made my blood run cold".

Mr Smith is like the worst of the radio phone-in clowns. Sometimes it is not what you say, but how you say it. There may well be some valid points in what he was saying, but it was lost in partisan, bombastic bluster about what Evans owes Sheffield United.

On Radio Sheffield the next morning his ill thought out utterings continued to be made.

"I have been told he's coming back. I'm not willing to reveal who by, but he's a high profile person." I bet they are glad that you broke their confidence Alan, assuming there was something said in the first place. When pushed as to who that person was he wouldn't say as "it wouldn't be fair on the club". Yet his ill-conceived utterances over the previous 48 hours were hardly fair on the club (or his contact), at a time when the club have made no comment as, at the moment, it is not an issue that the club has to comment on. He displayed the worst example of the "In The Know" culture in football. One upmanship of the lowest order.

"No end of people came up to me at the match last night saying what a fantastic interview I did on Sky News", clearly his ego was appeased.

"I'm not for rapists, I'm for my club" Well it's good we cleared that misconception up.

"I believe there will be a job for him going round other people who've done crimes" Doing what? Comparing notes with burglars?

"He's done his time if he raped her, then it's fine."  Really?

I am all for him having an opinion, he can hold whatever views he wants, just don't present it as representative of the rest of us. If I was a senior representative of our Supporters Club, I would be looking to repair some damage and sharpish.

I have a blog, but I have never and would never claim to be a voice of the fans. This is my voice (and that of the odd guest writer). There is no agenda. I might rabble rouse, I might ask all fans to rally behind an idea or cause, but what I put on here remains my view. If others share it, then fantastic. If they don't, then so be it. I am more than happy to debate and discuss.

Maybe Mr Smith will be more circumspect next time he is asked to offer his opinion on such a divisive subject? Maybe he will wonder how he will be portrayed and consider how he will be used and presented to the world? Maybe he will take a deep breath before giving his answers? Maybe he will just put the point across as his own opinion? Maybe he will consider the damage he might do to the club, his connections and the outside world's perception of his fellow supporters? One can only hope.

The time for comment, personal opinion at that, on what happens is October.  Until then anything that is being said is based on supposition and guesswork. A bit like The Wright Stuff ad break quiz which asked how much Evans would be on if he returned? Answer £19,000 per week apparently. When you have picked yourself up off the floor from laughing at such a ridiculous amount, just think about what such fictional figures add to the media frenzy being created. A media frenzy added to by someone willing to put themselves forward, speaking as a representative of our support. Our support is split. No one can assume the mantle of representative, not on this issue.

So until he is released and we see what action the club takes here is a good piece of Sheffield advice Alan, "'Ear all, see all, say nowt", or in more common vernacular, "No comment".

Friday, 8 August 2014

A Gallon Glass Half Full of Magnet

In the past four years of putting my thoughts out to the world I have, at several points in time, been accused of being negative. It goes with the territory. Fans are clappers or slashers, there is very little middle ground in these categorisations.

There have been times where I would suggest that it wasn't so much me being negative as taking a questioning approach to events. I am a strong believer in not taking all at face value and ensuring that you dig below the surface a little. All that glitters ain't gold and what people want you to perceive and think may be quite different from the ultimate reality. 

This approach can be applied everywhere, but it is never more important than in football. You only have to look at events at clubs elsewhere and a short distance across the city to see why. Looking closer to home there have been several chancers and crooks in the Bramall Lane boardroom, some who claimed to be fans, now on the run or having served custodial sentences.

It is true that I have a glass half empty approach, my thirty odd years of attending the Lane have provided more disappointment than joy. I often try and manage my expectations and play down our chances. That way, if and when success comes, it feels all the better. Does that make me negative? Maybe. I prefer cautious.

But this season is different. When asked for predictions for United's final league position by When Saturday Comes and World Soccer, I have responded with "Automatic places". Yes, I have predicted Top 2.

As a result I am currently sat rocking in the corner, back and forth, to and fro. My head involuntarily shaking from side to side. A stiff brandy is being poured for my consumption. My wife's just got me a doctor's appointment. I am sure there must be some medication to help with this mental torture.

I am tapping these words out on the laptop keyboard as a form of written absolution for my brazen optimism and the unease I am experiencing as I deal with these alien feelings. So here is my train of thought....

Whilst many complain that the starting eleven is weaker, I disagree. It appears weaker in parts, a view skewed by positive memories of players who have left and loanees who haven't returned, but it is stronger in positions that matter. In any case, those perceived weaknesses may well be dismissed once players bed in. Who is not to say that with a stronger midfield we might not need a Brayford bombing on from right back and that Alcock will do a perfectly good job? Who can say whether McGahey might be a better all round central defender than Maguire? Therefore why think negatively?

The midfield has plenty of options and with McNulty and Higton no one can claim our forward options are not enhanced. Some may question whether they will score the goals required, but having a proper striker down the middle is more likely to bring other players into play and we should see more goal-put from Murphy, Flynn, Scougall, Baxter et al as a result. The squad is more capable and has a depth we lacked last season, with promising youngsters such as Reed, Khan and Dimaio who can augment it when required.

There will be pressure and expectation placed on the club by outsiders (thanks to the bookies favourites tag) as well as by fans. The run we went on in the final three months of last season was bound to strengthen belief amongst supporters and yes, kick-starting the season in the same manner will be difficult. The opening game is a great test. Along with PNE I expect Bristol City to be up there with us come May, but a draw or defeat isn't a disaster.

Remember the pleasure taken from our opening night victory over Notts County. The win that night was soon put into context, our reliance on a key player and the relative mediocrity of the opposition becoming apparent.

But this season the division is weaker. I don't see any of the promoted clubs doing a Rotherham. Of those coming down, Doncaster are in disarray and Barnsley don't look like anything to fear. Yeovil will slot back in to League One comfortably, although carry less of the threat, shorn of several key players. Of those that remain, Leyton Orient and Peterborough have lost key players and it will not be the same as last season for them. This season needs to be our time and we will never have a better opportunity.

The biggest factor though. That is faith and trust. In the people running the club and the decisions they are making, not just for the short term of this season, but for the long term future and stability of the club as well.  In the manager and coaching staff. In the way the manager goes about his business and how they handle their players. How they respond to set backs, how they handle the press and how they speak in an open, honest, straight-forward way.

I don't expect everyone to agree with me, or my reasoning. But step up, try and be positive, don't look for the negatives and be United. This could be the start of something good. 

By the way, my predictions are usually pretty good. See the excerpt below from When Saturday Comes' look back to last season's League One preview and what the fans of the 24 clubs thought the final table might look like. I may not have predicted the story en-route, but the final league position wasn't wrong.

Up the Blades!