Gold and Sullivan: Quietly optimistic...
Like me, many of you may have had a bad year last year. You might have lost your job, had health worries, had marital problems... It happens, but the key thing is to use the start of a new year as the impetus to move on and enjoy better fortunes. So it is for West Ham too.
During 2009, barely a week went by when we weren't being told about The Hammers' escalating financial deficit. Blah blah blah... we heard it over and over again, just as we ended up hearing the constant drone of stories about West Ham being open to potential takeover offers from mystery consortia.
Their 2009/10 season transpired into a long, slow, lingering death but despite the claims from football writers of all kinds that the Upton Park club should swallow their pride and listen to possible investors, the suits at West Ham denied there was no rush to do so.
Until the end of 2009, that is. With Gianfranco Zola having to field a team largely consisting of youngsters and, perish the thought, even Kieron Dyer week in, week out, something had to be done. The club's debts were growing by the day – an inescapable by-product of annoying everyone from Sheffield United and Millwall through to Alan Curbishley – and suddenly the need to operate on the patient became critical.
With that, The Hammers threw open its doors and welcomed anyone foolish enough to wander in with big ideas and even bigger bank balances. With 2010 not even a month old, David Gold and David Sullivan were chosen from a predictably short shortlist as the men to provide the cash transfusion that would keep the club alive. And everyone lived happily ever after, The End.
As a West Ham fan, I hope it is, and if I'm honest, I'm quietly optimistic that it will be. Why? Let me explain.
Firstly, we're all aware of the pornographic foundations on which Gold and Sullivan's collective and vast personal wealth was built. Yes it's a mildly amusing (if almost worn out) source of laughs for any football fan, and far be it for me to spoil your fun by suggesting we all stop making jokes about them now. I'd probably be giggling about them too if I were in your shoes, and probably secretly wishing I'd earned a vast personal fortune out of selling porn myself as well, I dare say.
Then there are the accusations of financial wrong-doings on the part of the Davids while holding the purse strings at Birmingham City. Despite the alleged suspicions of those that felt Gold and Sullivan had over-valued the club when the time came to sell up and move on, an inquiry on the part of the City of London Police proved that no such crime had taken place and the pair were exonerated. Personally speaking, that'll do for me.
All of which leaves us with two men who are, by all accounts, true West Ham fans that have had shares in the club before and wanted to take full control of the club a long time ago. That alone wouldn't cut much ice with the average Hammers fan, but from what we're led to believe, they're shrewd businessmen who are willing to sacrifice much of the money they have in the bank just to get West Ham back on a neutral financial footing – and that's before they've kicked off any plans to move the club in a forward direction again.
Aside from the small matter of clearing £110 million of debt, they're also making funds available to Zola to buy or loan some much-needed reinforcements for the team. God knows they're needed. Earlier this season you'd have heard me joking that West Ham's hopes ridiculously fell squarely on the inconsistent and at times baffling skills of Carlton Cole. I thought we could do better by aiming to acquire the goalscoring talents of someone far better. Needless to say I've been longing for Cole's return from injury for many weeks now, such are the dire straits my favourite club have been in, and no – I didn't think I'd ever here myself say it, before you ask.
Perhaps now the team will be strengthened by the influx of some better or at the very least 'available' newcomers. They'll have to be available and willing if Zola's to snap them up in the last dying days of the January transfer window. But why not clear out some dead-wood while they're at it too? Kieron Dyer has to go now. It's been tough for the poor lad, but he needs to go. Luis Boa Morte? Get out. Yes, that should do for a start...
Then there's the ambitious plans that Gullivan (hey, it worked for 'Jedward') have for relocating the club to the new Olympic Stadium in Stratford, post-2012. To some died-in-the-wool Hammers fans, it might seem like idle troublemaking to even think about turning one's back on Upton Park. Even West Ham legend Billy Bonds has been saying it'd be a shame, but even he's intelligent enough to realise that a move would be beneficial in the context of the game in the modern era.
At the moment, Upton Park sits cheek-by-jowl with houses and shops in a residential street in East London. Capable of accommodating 35,000 fans on match day, it can be very tricky to reach when the few transport links in the area are fit to bursting with home and away fans eager to see the action. Moving to a brand new stadium only two miles away in Stratford would see up to 55,000 reaching their destination – all generating extra revenue for the club as they make use of the wider choice of transport facilities, and no doubt swinging cats around to show how much extra space there is too.
Yes, Sullivan and Gold have got big plans which they'll carry out with quiet efficiency, I've no doubt. While at St. Andrews, they showed a propensity to stabilise Birmingham City while gradually increasing the value of the club through common-sense wheeler-dealing and resolutely supporting the manager. This is something they've said they'll do again and all from the standpoint of having secured only a 50% stake in West Ham.
And that's the final bit of shrewd business they've done. Rather than fork out for the full 100% (which, admittedly, they've got the first shout on should they ever change their minds), they've promised to offer other interested parties the chance to invest in the remaining 50%. That could see one of the other takeover bidders, Tony Fernandes, getting involved as well. Fernandes, head of the Lotus Formula 1 team and West Ham supporter, will surely find it hard to turn down a second bite of the cherry by adding his financial clout to an exciting project such as this.
So the saga is finally over. West Ham have been saved from potentially plummeting down the leagues thanks to the persistence of two men, much derided by many, but committed to saving the club they love.
Admittedly you won't find many West Ham fans dancing in the streets at the arrival of David Gold and David Sullivan, but give it time. I suspect they'll have a different opinion by the time this season's through.
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