Eight days for West Ham to brace itself for one which could decide its fate
Neil Trainis THE improvement in performance Gianfranco Zola has brought to West Ham United on the pitch has been a welcome distraction from the turmoil tormenting the club off it but unthinkable catastrophe still lurks beneath the surface. March 6 2009 may not be a da
THE improvement in performance Gianfranco Zola has brought to West Ham United on the pitch has been a welcome distraction from the turmoil tormenting the club off it but unthinkable catastrophe still lurks beneath the surface.
March 6 2009 may not be a date that resonates with many of us. It may not be a date that even holds much significance for supporters of the famous old east end football club. Yet it should as far as they are concerned because March 6 could, potentially, mark a watershed in the history of a club with celebrated renown for providing the backbone of England's 1966 World Cup winning team.
According to documents seen by at least one national newspaper the date, which might prove to be one of doomsday proportions, will see court officials convene in Reykjavik to appraise the financial condition of Hansa, the Icelandic company which, to all intents and purposes, owns West Ham.
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That company, like many businesses in Iceland crippled by the widespread financial meltdown in the country, is riddled with debt and charged with paying back numerous creditors. Its progress in that regard is to be measured in just eight days' time and, thus, could decide the future of West Ham.
Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson, the club's owner whose holding company is Hansa, which was granted a period of time in which to sell West Ham and pay off its debt, has watched his own personal fortune erode in the wake of the collapse of Icelandic bank, Landsbanki, in which he held a 41% stake.
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He has tried and, as far as one knows, failed to sell West Ham to a wealthy backer capable of taking the club off his hands and starting afresh. There has been interest in acquiring the club but his inability to secure a sale has been down to the recession, prompting tempted parties to bulk at his �250m asking price. This for a club Gudmundsson paid �85m for in 2006.
The sale of West Ham before March 6, it appears, would not only grant the Premier League club an immediate fresh start but, at the risk of sounding overdramatic, help to preserve their status as a football club per se. Yet time is running out.
Club officials, including the vice-chairman Asgeir Fridgeirsson, have already denied the proposition but while West Ham remains in the hands of Gudmundsson as March 6 looms the club, as one of Hansa's assets, is at risk of insolvency.
It has been the norm for directors and officials at football clubs to play down talk of potential crisis and Fridgeirsson, not to mention the chief executive Scott Duxbury, have publicly played their part as firefighters, attempting to douse the flames of anxiety among supporters with concerns for the well-being of their club.
Yet no amount of reassurance can extinguish the peril. If a buyer has not been found, and with just over a week remaining until Icelandic court officials meet once more there has been no sign of one, Hansa are almost certain to fall into insolvency and stripped of its assets. The Hammers could then be placed into administration to keep it alive.
That event would bring a nine-point penalty under Premier League regulations, a deduction which would see the side plummet towards a relegation battle promising to be the most severe in decades.
A projected compensation pay-out of between �30m and �50m is soon to be paid to Sheffield United in the aftermath of the drawn-out Carlos Tevez saga and the prospect of losing more money deepens the gloom at Upton Park. Yet that almost seems a side order to the events soon to take place in Iceland.
There has developed a siege mentality at West Ham. Attacks on the club, it seems, derive from all angles. Even former manager, Alan Curbishley, has launched legal proceedings against them for constructive dismissal.
Amid the commotion, though, should be a sense of reality. West Ham supporters, keen for their side to maintain its progress up the Premier League table under Zola (despite no wins in their last five fixtures in all competitions), would be advised to make a note of March 6.
Many seem soothed by the team's recent rejuvenation or unaware of what is happening behind the scenes. Fridgeirsson and Duxbury have certainly done a fine job in allaying fears.
Yet the fans are about to receive a sharp reminder that it is not only the Luton Towns, Bournemouths and Rotherham Uniteds of this world that plunge into administration. Leeds United, another club with an exquisite heritage, did after all.
Without a sugar daddy to ride to the rescue March 6 will certainly sober up those who believe that West Ham United's plight has been exaggerated.
Dan writes: "Many seem soothed by the team's recent rejuvenation or unaware of what is happening behind the scenes. Fridgeirsson and Duxbury have certainly done a fine job in allaying fears."
Way to patronize your readers. Did you ever think that maybe people are trusting Duxbury & Fridgeirsson because the "Fire sale" you all predicted turned out to be rubbish?
No, couldnt be that. How could you guys write fearmongering rubbish then!