‘Now Warnock has left I have no real problem with the Blades’

The bitterness of the Great Escape will emerge as we face Sheffield United again

I loved Carlos Tevez in his short spell as a West Ham player – but there is one thing for which I still haven’t forgiven him.

Tevez, you will recall, signed for West Ham alongside Javier Mascherano in a transfer deadline deal that was to have serious repercussions for the club.

No doubt some of the bitterness that surrounded the Great Escape season of 2006-07 will surface when we play Sheffield United at the end of this month, but now that Neil “Colin” Warnock is no longer associated with the Blades I have few problems with the Yorkshire club.

Yes, ‘Tevezgate’ meant we ended up paying Sheffield United £18.1m compensation in an out-of-court settlement – having already been fined £5.5m by an independent commission set up by the Premier League.

But, for me, the real villain of the piece was Wigan chairman Dave Whelan – a man who himself was no stranger to hefty fines for questionable transactions.

Let’s not kid ourselves: the Hammers were far from blameless in this sorry saga.

In signing the two Argentine internationals West Ham contravened Premier League rule B13, which states that all its clubs should act in good faith, and – more importantly – rule U18, which prohibits players being owned by a third party.

In short, the Premier League doesn’t like the idea of an outside company controlling various players at different clubs because of the obvious conflict of interest that could well arise when they come up against each other. You can see their point.

The commission that investigated the affair before setting the fine ruled that Paul Aldridge, West Ham’s managing director at the time, lied to the Premier League.

And Scott Duxbury – the legal adviser who went on to become chief executive for a while and is now busily sacking managers at Watford – was also accused of withholding information by the inquiry. It really wasn’t a good look for a club that had always prided itself on its integrity.

However, the commission allowed Tevez to continue playing and decided not to deduct points from West Ham’s modest tally – which in the end proved to be the difference between relegation and staying up.

With two months of the season left, the drop looked a certainty. After a humiliating 4-3 defeat by Spurs at Upton Park we were bottom of the table, 10 points from safety with only nine games to go. Then an unlikely win at Blackburn sparked an astonishing run that was to see us win seven of those nine games.

A 2-0 win at home to Middlesbrough came as a pleasant surprise to anyone who had watched the Hammers struggle all season. But if the win against the Smoggies raised eyebrows, what happened the following week at the Emirates was simply astonishing.

Arsenal should have run up a cricket score but a combination of a Bobby Zamora goal, a string of brilliant saves by Rob Green and some outrageous fortune saw us take the points, making us not only the last away team to win at Highbury, but the first away team to win at Arsenal’s new home. How West Ham is that?

Next up were Warnock’s Sheffield United – deep in relegation trouble themselves. They hammered us 3-0 at Bramall Lane without a single word of complaint about the inclusion of Tevez in the West Ham side.

The misery of that defeat was compounded in midweek when we surrendered 1-4 at home to Chelsea. There appeared to be no way back from that.

Then, on the Saturday, we beat Everton. A week later we went to Wigan – another relegation rival – and comfortably won 3-0. By this time Mr Whelan, was getting distinctly nervous about his own club’s chances of survival and was looking for someone to blame for their predicament.

‘I’ll support any fellow Premier League club which takes action if they are relegated at the expense of West Ham,’ he wrote in the Manchester Evening News. ‘We at Wigan are not whingers, but rules and regulations must be adhered to by everyone. And what West Ham did regarding the signing of Carlos Tevez was way outside the rules.’

This came after the fine, but that clearly wasn’t enough for Chairman Dave. ‘This is a very serious offence West Ham committed. They broke the law, told blatant lies and should have got a 10-point penalty,’ he told the BBC.

By this time Watford had already been mathematically relegated, leaving two more to go from the Irons, Charlton, Sheffield United, Fulham, Middlesbrough and Wigan, who just happened to be above us (and outside the relegation zone) on nothing more than goal difference.

‘Justice would be West Ham being one of the two clubs that still has to go down, but justice has so far not been served in this case,’ Whelan reckoned.

You would think a man who believed in justice so passionately would be outraged at the thought of honest people being cheated out of their hard-earned money.

But that is exactly what had been going on in his chain of JJB Sports shops at the turn of the decade, and the Office of Fair Trading took a very dim of view it.

The OFT discovered that JJB had acted with others to keep the cost of certain replica shirts illegally high – known in the trade as price fixing – and imposed a £8.4m penalty on Whelan’s company.

The size of the fine had him spitting feathers, and JJB appealed. It was reduced to £6.3m, but that still didn’t satisfy our feisty friend. He took the matter to the Court of Appeal… and lost.

Back in the basement of the Premier League, the Hammers’ survival hopes were still intact after a 3-1 home win against Bolton in the penultimate game of the season, but no one really expected us to go to Old Trafford and beat the newly crowned champions in the all-important final match.

But we did, of course! And, I hardly need remind anyone who watched the game that it was Tevez who scored from close range on the stroke of half time to give us a 1-0 victory that is without doubt one of the most important victories in West Ham’s history.

The only disappointment for those of us who had pictures of Mr Whelan on our dartboards was that Sheffield United lost their last game to Wigan and it was them, rather than Dodgy Dave’s mob, who went down.

The Old Trafford triumph, as it turned out, proved to be Tevez’s last game for us.

He moved to Man Utd in the summer of 2007 after more ill-tempered wrangling involving a certain Kia Joorabchian – the player’s representative who had brokered the original deal which caused all the problems in the first place.

Tevez, however, returned to the Boleyn Ground shortly after Christmas – which takes me back to the unforgivable act I mentioned earlier.

The reception our former striker got was spine-tingling, and he responded with a crossed-arm salute to all sides of the ground. That’s the same crossed-arm salute you see in so many pictures that have been taken outside the London Stadium.

I’ll be honest with you here. That crossed-arm thing has really started to annoy me. Perhaps it’s because after seeing the likes of David Sullivan and his odious son doing it in an attempt to look like real supporters I see it as part of a boardroom-inspired campaign to give the club a new, more marketable, identity.

Perhaps it’s simply because I’m a grumpy old git. Either way, I don’t like it. Having to put up with Stratford is bad enough. Let’s not look like Karren Brady’s demented army while we’re there.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.