In Conversation With David Sullivan
22 Feb 2012 at 18:03
ID: David, you’ve had two years at the club now. If you knew then, what you know now, would you still have done it?
DS: Just. Just, I think. It’s been a harder time than we imagined. Both from a financial point of view and a football point of view. We shouldn’t have got relegated last year with the team we had. That was a major setback from a financial and a football point of view. We never came in thinking we would be relegated, but there was a lot of dissent in the camp, a lot of infighting, and we picked a bad manager [Avram Grant]. Simple as that. On paper you could make a very strong case for him, but I don’t want to say any more because I think it’s wrong to keep hitting somebody over the head. We are as much to blame as the manager.
ID: How near was he to going in the January 2010 transfer window?
DS: It’s very hard to talk about third parties, but we were very close to having another manager come, who I can’t name for obvious reasons. We had 25 hours of meetings with that manager. Twenty-five hours! At every meeting, that manager said to us: “I will be the next manager of West Ham United”. And we kept saying: “When?” Had he come, we would have changed manager. The problem came when he finally said he wasn’t going to come until the summer, and only if we stayed up. At that point, we thought, probably wrongly, it was too late to bring somebody else in. The obvious alternative was Sam at the point, but I think that would have been unacceptable to the supporters last January. Whilst it was acceptable in May, Sam wasn’t the first choice in January. He was the backup choice. David [Gold] would have changed for the first choice manager, but he was unhappy to change for the second choice manager, and I didn’t feel strong enough to have a row about it. It was a very marginal decision. Whether Sam would have kept us up, who knows? To me there were enough good players to keep us up. Just with Demba Ba and Scott Parker – those two alone should have kept us up.
ID: But Avram didn’t even play Demba Ba all the time, did he? A lot of us couldn’t understand that.
DS: He wasn’t fit when he arrived. He came on against Birmingham and hit the post in his first 20 minutes. But then Scott got injured at a vital time. With 8 games to go, I think we had 32 points off 30 games. We got 1 point from the last 8 games. And that’s when Scott got injured.
ID: When did it dawn on you that it wasn’t going to work and that we would be relegated?
DS: Before the Wigan game. And then at half time, I thought, wow, maybe I’m wrong. Because I thought we could beat Sunderland the next week and that could be enough. But we couldn’t defend, you see. Under Avram, we couldn’t defend, and that was our problem. It wasn’t a problem scoring any, we just couldn’t defend. But I suppose in all honesty I thought we were going down over the last 5 or 6 games. In January we had a little run, and that made us think perhaps we should hang on to the summer. Whatever happened we would have changed manager in the summer. We got lucky at Fulham. We got annihilated and went in 2-0 up at half time. It was like a real fluke performance. We won that game and picked up points here and there.
ID: You talked about dissent. Was that between the players and the manager or within the squad.
DS: I’m on the outside looking in, so I really don’t know, but I think there was a foreign group and an English group. I think the English group were plotting against the manager. Everything was wrong at the club last year and by way of contrast, everything is right this year. Everyone’s together.
ID: Is that Sam Allardyce’s influence pure and simple, or are there other factors?
DS: Several disruptive players have left and I think Sam is a different breed of manager. He wouldn’t have stood for it. Had he come in last January I’m not saying we would have stayed up, but I think there’s a greater likelihood we would have stayed up. But as I say, I don’t think it would have been acceptable to the supporters then. It’s been very costly from a football and a financial point of view being relegated and we have lost key players. Scott Parker just didn’t want to stay. Demba Ba had a get out if we were relegated.
ID: How did that work? Did we pay money to Hoffenheim?
DS: I’ll tell you exactly what happened. We wanted to loan him, but Hoffenheim said they wouldn’t loan him as they could get 6 million euros for him from Stoke. He then failed the medical at Stoke. I went back and asked to loan him again. Again they said no, but they would sell him to us. So we paid 500,000 euros down, which was almost like a loan fee, and then we’d pay 5 ½ million euros starting the next season depending on how many games he played – one level of payment in the Championship, one level of payment on the Premier League. I’ll have to make the figures up because I can’t remember, but something like 25,000 euros a game in the Premier League and 10,000 euros in the Championship. Demba Ba signed a three and a half year contract with us. We had a deal where his salary would be halved if we were relegated. He said, “Well on that basis, I have got to be allowed to walk if we get relegated”. What we should have said in retrospect – but none of us thought he would score so many goals – is that we’d be happy to give him £40 grand a week in the Championship. In the end I offered him £45 grand a week to stay but he wouldn’t take it. What we should have said was that if we don’t halve your salary, you haven’t got a get-out. The failure to put that one line in the contract cost us very, very dearly. As I say, he was on £35 grand a week and I offered him £45 grand a week to stay, but he went to Newcastle. His agent got £2 million to take him to Newcastle.
ID: So do Newcastle now have to pay to Hoffenheim the money you would have had to pay?
DS: No. That’s why Newcastle could always outbid us. It was our deal with Hoffenheim.
ID: So Hoffenheim got stuffed, then.
DS: Yup, they got half a million for him. This didn’t work for anyone except Demba Ba… and Newcastle. I’m told he’s got a £7 million get-out at Newcastle and he gets half the money over that. They keep denying it but I think you’ll see in the summer he will leave Newcastle or he’ll get a monstrous rise to stay there. If they get about four million, half will go to him, so if they sell him for £7 million they’ll only net about three because they paid his agent £2 million to get him out of here. Getting £3 million is not bad, but for a player of his quality it’s not fantastic. It’s one of those mistakes that happen, but it’s probably one of the worst mistakes I have ever made in my life. It just didn’t enter our heads. it didn’t enter anybody’s head that he’d score enough goals that we’d want to give him £40k a week and his old club £15/20k an appearance and we’d still be relegated. In reality that’s exactly what happened. The agent just threw it in at the last minute. He said “Obviously if his salary is cut by 50% you’ve got to let him walk”. We thought, OK, if we get relegated, do we really want a £40k a week striker in the Championship? Well, we would have because he was devastating. If he was with us now and his knee had held up, because remember, he did have a very very bad knee, I think we’d be 15 points clear, I really do. He’d be cutting through those defences. You live and you learn.
ID: You can say that again.
ID: Who’s the best player you’ve signed? The deal you’ve done and thought, yup, we did well there.
DS: I can’t think of one [roars with laughter]. I think Taylor is a very good signing from Bolton. But again we’ve been unfortunate. He’s had an injury he has never had in his life and then he gets sent off the other night. He’s the most educated and articulate fellow you could ever come across and he does something like that! I can’t understand it. I’m hoping it’s Ravel Morrison, but time will tell.
ID: How did that come about? It seemed to come completely out of the blue. There was no gossip about it at all.
DS: It had been going on for a few weeks. His contract was up with Man United, and under European rules he could go to a foreign club for half a million pounds we took the gamble of offering Man U a package which comes to a couple of million quid to take him now and we offered the player a fantastic deal that builds on Premier League games, so if he is a very successful Premier League player, he becomes exceptionally highly paid. It was through contacts. There were five Premier League clubs in for him but we persuaded his people to bring him to us. He could be the worst signing we’ve made or the best signing we’ve made. Time will tell.
ID: When I first heard about this deal I was convinced Harry Redknapp would hijack it, as he specialises in rescuing difficult players. But I suppose he was in court at the time and couldn’t pick up the phone to Sir Alex!
DS: Ravel is a young man. It might be that Man U let him go because we weren’t in the Premier League. We have always got on well with Man United. Newcastle were in strongly for him, we were told. I really think he will be in our first team before the end of the season. He wants first team football so that appealed to him. I met him, and I think he had never met the owners of Man United. Maybe that persuaded him to come. Time will tell if it was a good signing or a bad signing. But I can’t say any signing we’ve done up to now is a fantastic signing. Actually, to get James Tomkins to renew was a good development – not a new signing, but nevertheless.
ID: Were there clubs on for him?
DS: Newcastle bid £4 million for him.
ID: Because that’s the trouble at West Ham – just when you get the nucleus of a good side we get relegated or two or three of the leading players go. If we get back into the Premier League you’ve got the spine of a top class side. Green in goal, Tomkins, Noble in the middle…
DS: But as contracts run down you have a problem. Green’s contract is up this summer. We have made him a fantastic offer, subject to us staying in the Premier League. But if we don’t stay in the Premier League a) we won’t be able to afford him and b) he won’t want to stay. So we have to go up.
ID: So if we go up, he will stay…
DS: It’s his decision, but I think we have made him a great offer. I think he likes the club, he likes the manager, but it’s his decision.
ID: He’s been in great form this season.
DS: Yes, he has been in brilliant form, but it’s like with all players, as they move towards the end of their contracts. But there is a wind of change coming through in football, and it’s a cold wind. Some players are not getting quite what they want. I’ll give you an example. Sunderland, a year last summer, wanted Matthew Upson, and they offered us £6 million for him. I accepted it because there was a year left on his contract. He was the second highest paid player at the club. It would be wrong to say what he was on, but he was the second highest paid player at the club. Sunderland offered him a four year contract on the same money and a little bit more. He said: “I’m too good for Sunderland”. [ID laughs]. A year later he’s got a two year contract off Stoke on under half the money that Sunderland offered him, so perhaps he should have gone to Sunderland It would have definitely helped the club, because I don’t think his contribution in our relegation season was fantastic. And it would have got us £6 million pounds in.
ID: I think that’s what’s called choosing your words carefully. [laughs]
DS: Yeah, you know of all the players, I think he let the club down. He let me down personally, because I fell out terribly with the manager when I was at Birmingham when I let him come to West Ham in the first place. I thought he wasn’t doing it at Birmingham. It was a fantastic offer from West Ham – it amounted to a package of 8 ½ million, all of which we got. He rung me up on holiday and begged me to allow him to come to West Ham. He was on £12k a week at Birmingham and he was offered more than quadruple that to come to West Ham. He begged me to let him go and I went against the manager to let him go, which I had never done before. We needed the money and I don’t think he was trying at Birmingham. That’s my opinion. I think his mind was elsewhere. He didn’t want to risk injury… But despite selling Upson to West Ham in the January window, Birmingham still got automatic promotion that year, so selling him didn’t actually damage Birmingham.
ID: Do you find that a lot? There’s all sorts of paper speculation, and if a player makes up his mind he wants out, there’s nothing you can do?
DS: This might not please many people, but if you look at Scott Parker’s performance in the first five games of this season. To me, it didn’t look like he was doing the tackling you’d normally expect him to do. He was running about, he was doing OK but he wasn’t doing the tackling we know he can do do, because he knew that the one thing that would stop a move for him would be an injury. To me it looked like he didn’t want to be there. He told us he didn’t want to be there. He didn’t want to play for the club. In the nicest possible way, he said “I’ve given you my all for the last 3, 4, 5 years, you owe it to me to let me go”. Now there is an argument that he’s right. There’s no player who has given more for the club in recent years, so to make him stay against his wishes… He was protecting himself either consciously or subconsciously. If you want to be kind, it was subconscious. If you want to be unkind, he was consciously protecting himself. His performances in those games were not the Scott Parker we know and I think most supporters could see that. He’s gone to Spurs and he is back to his old self. That’s football, unfortunately. I’ll be honest with you, in his defence he didn’t go to Spurs for any more money. He was the highest paid player at West Ham. All they did was add a year to his contract, so it wasn’t a financial thing with him, it was a football thing.
ID: You said the last transfer window was the most difficult you’ve ever been through. Take us through from the start to the finish. What was it like for you as the chairman, trying to find a player, then you’d see it in the papers…
DS: We chased about 20 players. At the end, I think we bought very well. Only time will tell. Take Vaz Te. We got him for what we wanted to pay, but at the start of January they wanted double. Even though his contract was up this summer, they were gung ho, but by the end of the transfer window it’s either getting money off us or getting nothing in the summer. Maynard was exactly the same. They’d have got 6 ½ million from Leicester last summer, but he wouldn’t go to Leicester.
ID: You tried to get him last summer, didn’t you?
DS: Yes. We offered £4 miillion. We’ve ended up getting him for what will amount to a couple of million quid, which is not a lot of money for a payer who… I mean the other night against Southampton he could have won the game for us with one touch. He smashed one in and the guy made a great save. He’s a decent player. I think we bought well at the end.
ID: What happened with Jordan Rhodes?
DS: We bid £4 million. They said he’s not for sale at any price in this transfer window and in fact it turned out to be the case. We were buying a young talent who may not have made the jump. It’s not guaranteed, but he’s a prolific goalscorer. To get 27 in 25 or something was incredible, and he’s an improving talent because each year he’s getting more.
ID: And then they sack the manager instead! Bizarre. There must be more to that than meets the eye.
ID: What about Jelavic from Rangers?
DS: Jelavic we weren’t sure about. We thought it was an awful lots of money, five or six million pounds and he wanted double the wages he was on at Rangers. We thought the whole package was…
ID: So you didn’t actually make a formal bid?
DS: Yes we did. We made two or three formal bids for him. We bid £5 million, but they wanted six or seven. They wanted more on knock ons. They wanted quick payment, and we now know why. I wasn’t prepared, and Sam wasn’t prepared, to bid a penny more than £5 million. And we both had reservations about it. It is a real gamble when you sign any player. What you are trying to do is buy value for money. Maynard was £1,650,000 and £350,000 based on promotion or staying up. They get nothing for promotion this year, but next year if we stay up or get promotion it gets £2 million. So that’s better value. Also his wages are high but not as high as we would have had to pay the Rangers player. So we think that was better value for the club than the Rangers deal. Whether it turns out to be, only time will tell.
ID: Was there ever anything in the Tevez rumours?
DS: Three times we asked. Three times they said “no chance”. And how that Twitter thing got going on the Saturday afternoon… You’d have thought he was on the plane back from Buenos Aires. He’s also very unfit. He was in a Marbella hotel sunning himself for a couple of weeks, so I think he’d need a month to get fit anyway. I’ve got to say I’d have taken him because he’d have got the whole crowd going and I think perhaps within a month he’d have been fit anyway. Demba Ba wasn’t fit for a month but he had a fantastic impact. I’d love Tevez to be coming out for us Tuesday night at Blackpool. I’d just love it. But each time we went back they said ‘no chance whatsoever’. So we did try three times but each time it was a no. I’m not sure Tevez would have come. We spoke to his agent but the dispute with Man City was so nasty he maybe didn’t want to give them an escape route, who knows? It was never really a runner.
ID: How damaging is it when rumours appear in papers or on Twitter or on the internet generally? Have they ever scuppered a deal?
DS: Yeah… They scuppered the manager coming to West Ham a year ago. When that got out in the press… Bearing in mind we’d been having meetings for a month… I won’t say who the manger was, because I think it would be unfair…
ID: I think we all know…
DS: It only got out when he appointed two agents to negotiate his contract with us.
ID: How can you do that? How can two different people negotiate?
DS: I don’t know. Then overnight his betting went down to 6-4 on to come, and you have to think one of those two agents has told somebody. We kept it secret for a month, then Bingo, it’s in the press, and he says “Oh, it’s all in the press now, I won’t come”. We didn’t particularly want the guy from Rangers [Jelavic] but we made our bid. Everton only came on the scene because they then knew he was available. They might not have known that before us. We didn’t go in for Maynard early. We went in overnight on the transfer deadline. We did it very quickly. Wolves were desperately trying to get him as well. Had they known of our interest they might have ramped their bid up a bit more.
ID: There was a rumour that Wigan had signed him for 2.5 million at one point.
DS: All these deals were close but we just snuck in and took him. The more you can keep it quiet the better. I mean, we tried to get Torres from Chelsea.
ID: Get out of here! Did you really?
DS: Well if he couldn’t score in the Premier League, come along with us for a month. We might fire him up!
ID: And how many words did their response consist of?
DS: They just said: “Not at this moment in time”. The best one was Blackpool. We went in for Phillips there, a very good young player. Blackpool came back and said we made £30 million last year, because they didn’t spend any money, we’ve got £40 million in the bank, I think your’e approaching the wrong club to buy a player off [laughs]. It was a very nice reply!
ID: What happened with the bloke from Watford, Sordell?
DS: We watched him, and we thought he was a rising star, maybe one for the future, but we’re not sure about now. And we wanted somebody for now. He ended up at Bolton, didn’t he? If he gets 8 goals for Bolton this season we made a bad decision, if he gets two, we made the right decision. He doesn’t score that many goals when you analyse it. Martin, our head of recruitment, went to watch him several times and really liked him, but said if you want somebody for now, he may not be it, And his personal demands were pretty high – Premier League wages. We talked to Watford about him. We could have lived with the fee Watford wanted, although Bolton paid more than we could have got him for. The player wanted plenty of money and we thought the overall package for what he was going to deliver, short term was too much. Long term, who knows?
ID: Is it important to plan for the future and make sure that any player you sign now is capable of hacking it in the Premier League?
DS: Yes, absolutely. We did look at another striker, but decided he might not make it in the Premier League. He wanted to come. We could have had him for £1.75 million but Sam just thought he might not make the jump. I didn’t have an opinion to be honest. Let me tell you something, I believe in coincidence. Get this. Carlos Tevez. Born, 5 February. Cristiano Ronaldo. Born 5 February. Neymar. Born 5 February. All born on the same day as me. Jordan Rhodes, also born 5 February. And you know what, this other player that we didn’t sign, also born 5 February. When I saw the Huddersfield guy was the same date as me and the same date as those players, I thought it was written in the stars. Just incredible. An incredible coincidence, isn’t it?
ID: I reckon we should get the Rothmans Yearbook out and look up every footballer born on 5 February.
DS: There aren’t many. If you take the best ten strikers in the world, there’s three of them born on 5 February.
ID: Did you tell Sam Allardyce?
ID: What did he say?
DS: He didn’t think much of it [laughs].
ID: I can imagine him now. “Typical bloody chairman”. [laughs].
ID: If England came knocking for Sam Allardyce, what would your reaction be?
DS: I don’t think England are going to come knocking. He has a specific clause in his contract which says he can leave for England. It’s the one job he can leave for. This time next year maybe, but I think they will stick with their manager . In three or four years’ time if we have had a good run in the Premier league he would be an obvious candidate.
ID: How do you think the fans have taken to him? I can remember when you were looking to appoint a manager and we had an exchange of emails and I said ‘whatever you, don’t appoint Allardyce.’ You replied that he had a great record and that I should look it up on Google. I admit I was wrong.
DS: He’s actually a very nice person. The mistake we probably all made, was that we had never met him. We imagine he’s a gruff, thick northerner [laughs], do you know what I mean? But that’s the image he’s got! He is the most thinking, intelligent man. He analyses everything. He’s into stats, which I am too. Very experienced, and if you look at his track record he hasn’t had a failure anywhere. When Newcastle sacked him, they were half way up the table and he was only three months into the job. I think he’s done a decent job. I’ve got to tell you, the other night against Southampton, we were playing fantastic football, we were attacking, we should have scored a couple, at least one of them should have gone in. We were looking good, playing really attractive stuff, just what the supporters wanted. Then a disaster, and a player does something stupid. And then of course, ten against eleven, you’ve got to change the whole formation. You’ve only got two in midfield, both your wingers are having to defend, and it’s been tough again. There have been games where we’ve played football and games where we haven’t, but I have got to tell you, under Zola and Avram I was surprised how little football we played. Under Zola we didn’t play attractive football the last six months of the year. When we took over there was nothing attractive about the football.
ID: Do you think in retrospect you should have given Zola another chance?
DS: Possibly. Possibly.
ID: I was gutted when he went. He was the one manager who got the best out of Carlton Cole.
DS: Maybe, but the one player he wanted was Benni McCarthy.
ID: I take back everything I just said… [laughs].
DS: Seriously, he said “You get me Benni McCarthy and I will keep you up.” He would have loved a more expensive player, but if we had two or three million to spend he said get McCarthy and he’ll keep us up. Well, he should have taken one look at him when he arrived and saw that he was two stone overweight and not signed him. Benni McCarthy probably cost us four or five million quid. We had to pay him off. We wrote off a £2 1/4 million transfer fee. And I thought, well if that’s his judgement on transfers, I’m seriously worried. If you include the transfer fee, wages, NI, payoff, agents’ fees and everything, McCarthy cost us £7 million! But yes, half of me says yes, we should have given him more time, but really, we should have been relegated under him because 34 or 35 points doesn’t keep you up most seasons. It was a bad year with Portsmouth, Burnley and I can’t remember the other one. There were some bad teams in that division who shouldn’t have been in the Premier League. We stayed up by default really. Against that, he didn’t have much ammunition. He had to sell his side. It’s also very difficult when people aren’t fluent in English, but then we picked another one [Avram Grant] who also wasn’t fluent in English. I really do like English managers and I really don’t think I would ever appoint a non English manager ever again. I find Scottish people hard enough to understand to be honest! I keep having to ask Alex [McLeish] to slow down a bit. I can’t follow what you’re saying!
ID: Would you have looked at bringing Alan Pardew back? He has always said he has got unfinished business at West Ham, hasn’t he?
DS: We thought about it. But remember, at the time he had failed to get Southampton promotion for two or three seasons despite spending a pile of money. He had flopped at Charlton, so it was hard to make a case. I liked Pardew. The press all liked him.
ID: I did. He seemed to kick every ball. I loved his emotion on the touchline. He really built up quite a rapport with the fan.
DS: It was, just to me… We looked at Avram. With a team that’s been ripped to pieces he got them to the FA Cup Final. He got Chelsea to within a kick of winning the Champions League, albeit he had inherited the team, although it wasn’t doing well when he took over. At Portsmouth they just sold everybody, and if you put the 10 points back, they almost wouldn’t have been relegated. On paper, that looked better than Mr Pardew. So he couldn’t get Southampton promoted, flopped at Charlton, but he’s now done a fantastic job at Newcastle. You have to make a decision based on what you know. It’s like Chris Hughton. He’s done a wonderful job at Birmingham, but at Newcastle, big question marks. Did he just inherit a team with which anyone could have got promoted with, with Andy Carroll and all of them. But he was one of a number of names we looked at. We were looking for someone with a better proven record.
ID: Let’s move on to the Olympic Stadium.
DS: Before you ask anything, I can’t go into too much detail on this, for reasons you will appreciate. This is a very sensitive time, so please accept that there’s not actually an awful lot I can say.
ID: OK, I do understand that. Where are we at in the process?
DS: Well, we are going through the new tender process to ascertain the differences between ownership and lease. It will be a complicated process and no decisions have yet been made with regard to bidding. A bid has to be submitted by 23 March.
ID: What is your top priority in deciding whether to bid?
DS: We would need to ensure that the atmosphere at the stadium is right for football. Whatever shape or form that takes is still under discussion. We reckon we can make the stadium work from a legacy point of view, to provide a heart in the stadium, to create the jobs, the usage, to give the stadium a national and international stage, but we have to be sure it is right for football. If it is a truly multi-purpose stadium then that is a fantastic legacy and vision for everyone.
ID: But the terms of the bid seem to be more disadvantageous in this process than before. They’ve taken away naming and catering rights, for instance.
DS: Under the previous tender process, as owners of the stadium, we could adapt it, with enhancements such as demountable seats, covered seats with the roof, world class corporate facilities. We have to see what we will be able to achieve as a tenant. We also have to be very careful about who we share with.
ID: Who would you rule out?
DS: We are not too keen on rugby or sharing with another football club, as we have to ensure the stadium is a home for West Ham, not just a venue to play our matches.
ID: Amen to that. A lot of fans who used to support a move to Stratford are now having second thoughts and wonder whether we shouldn’t just stay put and redevelop our existing ground.
DS: We have a stadium that could have a 45,000 capacity. We have a hotel. We have 3,000 corporate hospitality guests, a stadium we own. We say how/when and who, so to give that up we have to be 100% sure the deal is right for the club.
ID: I can see you’ve got to tread carefully, given the timing of this interview, so let’s imagine a scenario where for whatever reason the Olympic Stadium doesn’t go ahead, what would you preference be then – to redevelop or find a new site for a new ground?
DS: I think it makes more sense to redevelop Upton Park.
ID: You wouldn’t look for another site elsewhere?
DS: Economically I don’t think it would work. Maybe long term, but short term you’d want to fill up the ground consistently and have a waiting list of season ticket holders, then you’d build the East Stand bigger and better. There’s a big part of us that wants to stay at Upton Park. It’s a very difficult decision.
ID: Have you been surprised at the reaction of fans to the Olympic Stadium? It is quite split, but you might have expected it to be 90-10 against, but it has been more like 50-50, but I think opinion is now shifting away from it.
DS: When we did an opinion poll we got 87% in favour. But it’s the one area… I’m going to have another look at it myself and see what can be done, but I think I have said all I can say for now.
ID: Just one more thing, there have been various fans group say they want you to hold a proper referendum of fans, maybe get the Electoral Reform Society to oversee it. Is that a possibility?
DS: No, because who would vote? Would you just let season ticket holders vote? All the fans who say they are supporters but don’t come to games? We’re not a democracy. Where you’ve got fans running clubs they usually go bust. I don’t think you could even give fans the true… In a perfect world you’d love to keep Upton Park, play one year at the Olympic Stadium, and then ask people which they prefer. But it’s not viable. We wouldn’t get a lease for 12 months. I tell you, none of us know the answer. None of us know the answer. And I really can’t go any further than that. I hope your readers will understand.
ID: Let’s move onto the ownership of the club. How much do you and David Gold actually own? And how has that changed since the beginning?
DS: I think we own about 32% each. The bank owns 35%, the Harrises own 1% and Terry Brown owns a tiny little bit. He put half a million pounds in. I know the fans hate Terry, but you couldn’t have a guy that loves the club more than Terry. He may have run the club like an accountant, but he goes to every home and away game and he loves the club. When we asked for half a million quid he put it in. You could say well it’s nothing, but it isn’t nothing, it’s a substantial sum of money. The Harris’s put a couple of million pounds in. One of them is on the board. They are lifelong supporters. John has been a supporter since 1946. His son Daniel loves the club. They put some money in when we did. I’ve still got an option till 2013 to buy the rest of the shares but unfortunately we are putting so much money in to keep the club afloat and to pay down the debt, I don’t particularly want to put up another pile of money to buy the remainder of the shares, when I have an option over them anyway. And I have got to tell you that Straumar are supportive. They can’t give us any more money, but they did actually loan us another million quid at one stage, which was incredible really. They are very lovely people, nothing to do with the old lot. This season David and I have put in £32 million. There’s approximately a £17 million trading loss this year, which we are not proud of. We had to make a decision whether to run it like an Administrator, get rid of all the players and be fighting relegation, or to have one go at giving it our all to get promoted. The other £15 million is being used to pay down debt. We have to pay down the banks on a schedule. We have to pay down Sheffield United. The whole Tevez deal cost the club over £30 million. We inherited 70 or 80% of that. It finishes in 2013. The trouble is, the payments get bigger in the later years. I can’t name the figures because it’s confidential but it is ratcheted. The previous owners would do any deal as long they didn’t have to pay in the current year. It was always ‘pay later’. And two years’ season ticket money was taken in advance, which we rolled over for a year. This year, because we were relegated, they wouldn’t roll it over, so we had to pay down £7 million advance on season tickets and there’s a £7.7 million advance next year so all the season ticket money is gone.
ID: How close were we to going out of business?
DS: Well, if we hadn’t put money in we’d been out of business. And that’s what people fail to understand. If you owed the money to the Inland Revenue you could go into administration, give them 20p in the Pound, which Rangers will do on the drip and then come back. The problem with West Ham is that the money is owed to Sheffield United and other football clubs, so they are football debts and administration doesn’t get you out of those. The banks have a charge over the ground, the training ground, over everything. So even if you go into administration that isn’t lost. So administration wouldn’t clear the debts of the club. Even if it was for the benefit of the club, even if we lost our shares, if we could get out of all that debt, we would go into administration. But you’d only get rid of 20% of your debts, not the 80% which are football debts, or debts charged against the football club, the ground – every asset of the club they’re charged against.
ID: When you took over you will have obviously done your due diligence, but were you really aware of all of the mess at that point?
DS: We knew it was a hell of a mess. There might have been five or ten million we didn’t know about, but we knew about £100 million of it. We said right from the start that if this wasn’t West Ham, we wouldn’t be doing this. This is not a good deal.
ID: Two years on, do you think people really appreciate how bad the situation was, and what you both have done to rectify it?
DS: Some do, but unless you know the real figures you don’t. I think there’s a belief in football that whatever happens, the club survives. There will soon be a club that won’t survive. It might be Portsmouth. The only clubs that cease to survive are tiny ones. It has not happened to a big club yet. West Ham was probably the most insolvent club in the country due to the excesses of the Icelandic owners. If, for example, Roman Abramovich died tomorrow and his widow didn’t want to support Chelsea, the debts and the players’ wages would put Chelsea out of business. Same at Man City.
ID: So there are some clubs that are run as playthings and others have to be run as businesses. In the end, something will happen to those clubs that are run as playthings.
DS: If the owner loses interest, they’re buggered. It’s like a rich man who buys a yacht and then loses interest in it. Although we have not been good businessmen in what we’ve done this season, we cannot do that year after year. In a weird sort of way, we can’t let the debts keep increasing. We will have lost £15-17 million pursuing the dream. In fact next year, or the year after, or whenever it comes in, even if you want to, you can’t, because of the Fair Play Rules.
ID: What effect will that have?
DS: In the Championship it will be ferocious. Wages will come down. You won’t be able to renew players, you’ll have to let good players walk away because you can’t afford to pay them the wages they are on let alone an increase if their contract is coming to an end.
ID: Have you found that a difficulty already? I know you can’t name individual players but have there been players who you’d like to sell on but they won’t take a cut and the club that might be interested in them won’t meet their demands?
DS: Some players, because of their wages, are worthless. We then have to pay the player off. We have had one where if he had been on £2-3 grand a week, there would have been a queue of clubs to take him. We might even have got a £100,000 fee for him. But because he was on a very large multiple of that we’ve had to give him a huge sum of money.
ID: How do you and David Gold divide your duties?
DS: I do all the transfers, bringing the players in, things like that. David does all the PR, goes to the training ground. If I’m unsure about something, or it’s a substantial amount of money I’ll ring David just to check he’s OK with it. For example, the Jelavic bid was quite a big bid and he’d have had to stick in half the money. He gives me his opinions on it, you know? When we appointed Sam we both met him together, same with Avram. In the main, we think alike. We’ve been in football together for nearly 20 years
ID: Are you tempted to follow his lead and join Twitter yourself?
DS: No, my son is on Twitter and he loves it. He’s a bit dyslexic so anything that encourages him to write, I am very pleased about. I know when we signed players on the transfer deadline, I was ringing him up – by the way, that was the worst night of the season – and he was tweeting we had signed players but he hadn’t put the ‘ed’ on the end of sign.
ID: David Gold clearly loves it, though.
DS: Yeah, he loves it. I just haven’t got the time. I can’t handle my emails. Sometimes I get 2,000 a day. The thought of trying to do Twitter as well would be too much.
ID: You are very quick at replying to emails.
DS: It’s because I am here. David can’t reply to every tweet he gets but he does his best. He tries to keep the supporters informed about what’s going on. He’s very open and honest, as I am too. We believe in open and honest management. You hope that if you are honest with the supporters they can see you’re trying your best. At this moment in time we have to accept that there are many clubs we can’t compete with. We hope that over time we can compete with all but the Man Citys, Chelsea and Man Uniteds of this world. Maybe one year a few players will come through. You get lucky. It can happen. You sign a couple of young players, a couple of youth team players make it. We’ve still got ambition.
ID: Who are the young players you’re most impressed with? Danny Potts has done well, hasn’t he? He was brilliant in his first game
DS: Yes, but he was brought in too soon. It was a good experience for him. But with any young player, they can have a brilliant debut but it’s asking too much for them to do it in three or four quick games. Had Sam had a choice, he wouldn’t have done that. It was done by necessity. All the players who got a yellow card at Birmingham were suspended against Derby. Rob Hall is a good player but his knee’s gone and he’s out for the rest of the season. But I don’t think he’d be in the first team now with the players we’ve signed. He’s a player for next season. Elliot Lee, George Moncur. There are two or three. If you’re in the Championship they’re going to get more chances.
ID: We need to be 15 points ahead at the beginning of April so Sam can try a couple.
DS: Yes, absolutely. That’s the dream. It’s a bit unlikely, but anything’s possible.
ID: It’s interesting that we are at the top, and yet you’d be hard pressed to name a game where we’ve played brilliantly and played a team off the park – maybe Blackpool at home.
DS: We all think there is another gear in the team. In a weird sort of way we saw it against Southampton the other night but there are a lot of nerves out there. There are nerves in the crowd too. They were really up for it against Southampton though, and that helped the team. I agree with you, it’s been a struggle, but it was always going to be. Norwich last year, it wasn’t a pushover, they would grind out result after result. They scored a lot of late goals, and that’s what we have got to start doing. We haven’t won a single game in the last quarter of an hour. We’ve scored a lot of early goals and then win 1-0. I am hoping in the last 18 games we can get some points in the last ten minutes.
ID: What happened with Tony Fernandes?
DS: He was trying to buy the club when we were trying to buy the club. He’s very tricky, Tony. I won’t say any more than that. He told a few pork pies to us. What he said this year, his offer was ridiculous. He wanted to put a little bit of money into the club – and I mean ‘a little bit’ – to take 51% of the club. We didn’t have 51% to sell really, as it would have left us with 13% between us. We’d have been giving him our shares. It was a ludicrous offer. But he’s certainly pumped some money into Queen’s Park Rangers. Or run up some debt, time will tell. It will be interesting to see if they stay up or go down. Tony is a charming, charismatic man, a fantastic salesman, very good at talking.
ID: What’s the most memorable West Ham game you have ever seen?
DS: I went to the cup finals as a kid. When I was 15 and living in Hornchurch I went to the 1964 cup final. Ronnie Boyce. Beating Man U 4-0 in the snow the other year was memorable. I know it was a semi reserve side, but even so, that was quite a good experience. Even beating Stoke in injury time. We were so much more up for those cup games, but then there was that abysmal performance at Birmingham where we just capitulated. I never went. I thought, I just can’t face it if we get beaten up there. Funny how fickle some supporters are. The first time we went back we got jostled and booed. The last time we got applauded. So perhaps after 12 months they realise we didn’t do such a bad job. Birmingham are having a fantastic year. Undefeated at home and a major threat to us. It will be a very big game when we play them at Upton Park.
ID: Have we had the money for Diamanti yet?
DS: No. It’s gone to the European Court of Arbitration. I fear Brescia might go bust on us. But even if this court tells them to pay, it doesn’t mean they will. Say they owe us £1.7 million. They are trying to get £500,000 knocked off for a technical reason. Well why not pay us £1.2 million in the meantime? I don’t understand it. It doesn’t make any sense.
ID: Why was Fabio Daprela let go? He looked a real prospect.
DS: The manager took the view he was just OK. We got 750,00 euros from Brescia and we actually got paid that money. It was a one off payment and we thought it was reasonable business.
ID: What’s the situation with Marek Stech?
DS: If he starts in two more games we have to give £700,000 to Sparta Prague. It’s very hard. We have tried to renegotiate with them, but they’re having none of it. It’s a bad, bad situation.
ID: Karren Brady’s column in The Sun doesn’t go down well with many fans. Have you been concerned by some of the things she writes?
DS: She’s always done it. If I stop her doing it, the club would have to give her the money. And it’s a substantial amount of money, so I prefer for her to do it and the club not to give her the money if that makes sense! I’m confident that Karren will never write anything detrimental to our great club and she hasn’t this season.
ID: Sam’s column in the Standard is quite a good read. He doesn’t get into trouble over that. Yet.
DS: He doesn’t earn any money from it either! [laughs]. He does it for nothing. Just to get PR for the club.
ID: Do you think racism has been eradicated from Upton Park? I’ve only experienced it twice in my twenty years as a season ticket holder, but once at the end of last season I witnessed some really extreme anti-semitic stuff against David Gold after we’d lost a game in the last minute. It’s still there, isn’t it?
DS: If you lose in the last minute we all say and do things… That’s why I never speak to the manager until the Monday. I don’t speak to him after the game. If it’s a midweek game, I’ll speak to him the next day. I think things can be said on both sides that you might live to regret. I think some people, through ignorance, lack of education, they come out with the racist thing. I’m short, so I have the hightism thing against me, which hurts just as much [Iain laughs]. I was born short. I wish I had been like Brad Pitt, but I am what I am. I may not be black, I may not be Jewish, but I’m little.
ID: At least you’re not ginger!
DS: I like ginger women, actually. I like redheads. [both in fits of laughter]. Perhaps I would prefer to be a black Jewish man than a small white man. So I get hightism remarks against me. You’ve just got to take it on the chin. It’s not very nice and yes, we did get a bit of grief at the end of last season – “You’ve wrecked the club, and done this and that”, but we have done our best and we are not going to get it right all the time. Hand on heart, we picked the wrong manager, but I don’t want to keep whacking Avram. He was a lovely person but he wasn’t right for West Ham. Another club, he might have been wonderful for. We made a mistake, but if you look at managers, they sign players and make mistakes all the time. Unfortunately as an owner, you make a decision every couple of years, or every five years , you hope you get it right.
ID: Have you ever had a manager who wanted to sign a player, you’ve seen that player and you say ‘absolutely not’?
DS: Only when the manager has been there a few years. You’ve got to give support in the early years. But after a few bad buys I have written emails to managers where I have said “I’m supporting you buying this player, but I am telling you now that this is a bad, bad player and you shouldn’t be signing him”. I think I have been right on virtually every occasion. I have only vetoed about two players in a long period of time. In the main you support a manager. I’ve signed a couple who I would not have signed but the manager wanted them so you support him. All you can do is give your opinion. Sometimes you say to a manager “think about it, have a long, hard think about it” and sometimes they do and change their minds and sometimes they don’t. You support the manager, or you become the manager. I have signed a couple over the years where I have taken a longshot gamble and said to the manager “are you Ok with it, you don’t have to play them but don’t boycott them”. I have only signed them with their approval. I have only said to a manager, say every 50 players, I don’t want them to sign someone, and I might pick one out of 50, subject to finances.
ID: Is there one that you have picked that has then gone on to do really well?
DS: I signed Mauro Zarate at Birmingham on loan and he almost kept us up an he went on to do well at Lazio. I think he’s at Inter Milan now. We signed a little Equadorian who did very well and is now the top scorer in Mexico. Zarate we signed on loan with an option of buying. I wouldn’t buy a player like that on a long term contract. Everyone’s got to be in agreement. Every player we have signed this year, the manager has picked and I have supported him. They all made sense on paper. I also signed Ilan at West Ham. I saw the state of Benni McCarthy when he arrived and had my doubts about him, though he was the manager’s first choice. I had the opportunity to take Ilan for half a season, with an option in our favour for the next season. I signed him as I thought we needed more firepower. He wasn’t a great player, but his five vital goals kept us up. He had an uncanny knack of sticking his right foot out and scoring. Whilst he didn’t do enough for us to offer him a long term contract, I think he did the job he was brought in to do. Zola agreed to take him, though he knew nothing about him, and thankfully he played an important part in our first season survival. I’ve never signed a player without the agreement of the manager in 20 years in football. On the very rare occasions (eg Ilan) I have taken the initiative they have supported my judgement.
ID: The FA have launched a campaign on homophobia in football. If a player came to you and told you he was gay and wanted to come out, what would your reaction be?
DS: I’d say ‘Good luck to you’. I think we’ve had a couple of gay players at West Ham. I’m pleased that we have signed up to the FA and Government campaign on homophobia in football. In fact, I think we signed up yesterday. It’s the right thing to do. We have a lot of gay fans and they would expect us to do nothing less.
ID: Why do you think no gay player has ever come out, apart from Justin Fashanu, and we all know what happened to him?
DS: I think it’s because they’re nude in the dressing room, they’re in the shower, I think they feel a little bit threatened. If they knew one of their teammates was gay…
ID: Oh come on, that’s rubbish. Surely nowadays no one really believes that gay men fancy any other man they might meet?
DS: Well they probably do think like that, some of them, but it doesn’t mean they are going to try it on. I don’t know what to say, maybe some footballers feel threatened by gay footballers. To me it’s nothing. If you’re that way inclined, good luck to you. I’ve always jokingly said that I wish every man in the world was gay. There would just be me and the whole female population. So the more men that are gay the better as far as I am concerned.
ID: You’d be bloody knackered though… Just to finish off, have you started planning for if we go up?
DS: Well yes and no. It’s difficult. The players we signed this January, we all think can perform in the Premier League.
ID: Presumably a key aim has to be that we don’t become a yo-yo club like West Brom.
DS: Yes. Sam never got relegated with Bolton. He had a tough first year but he never got relegated in about nine seasons. He got them up to fifth or sixth in the table. I think he won the Carling Cup with them. Despite the debt, we’re a bigger club than Bolton. If we add a bit more finance, maybe we can be a top six club.
ID: What’s the deal with Sam? If we get up would you expect to extend his contract?
DS: He’s got a two year contract. We’d have a look at it. I’ve always thought if someone’s got a contract, you speak to them at the end of it. Everyone’s happy. At the end of that you see where you are. I think it is wrong to negotiate a long way in advance. Wait till the end of the period, he decides what he wants to do, we do the same.
ID: What do you make of Mr Di Canio’s start in management?
DS: Good! Very impressed!
ID: Did you ever consider him seriously?
DS: I met him, and I said in the nicest possible way, while my heart would… you cannot have a rookie manager. I actually said, you’ve got to take a lower league club. He’s had a little bit of financial support at Swindon and that does make a big difference in that division. I’m not belittling what he has done at all. If he does it next year in a higher division you start to think perhaps he’s very very good at it. It’s like the Huddersfield manager. He did well, but he had money to spend and he had layers on high wages. The counter argument is that he got Jordan Rhodes for two bob from Ipswich so he’s a good judge of players. I do watch for the Swindon results every week. He’s got passion, theres’ no doubt about that. And he loves West Ham. I’d like nothing better than in five years’ time to be in the Champion’s League, Sam’s got the England job, Di Canio’s just got Swindon promotion to the Premier League, and we pinch him! But that’s five years down the line. I feel he’s got to do two or three years of establishing himself and his credentials. Ron Noades won Division 2 with Brentford, but he couldn’t do it in League 1. Just because you can win League 2 doesn’t necessarily mean… But it’s a great start.
ID: Whenever you read an interview with Paolo, all he wants to talk about is West Ham.
DS: He loves West Ham and West Ham loves him. He’s on a par with Tevez with the supporters but last summer we had to go for safety. We looked at lots of managers and two of them are now doing very, very well. We looked at the Watford manager [Malky Mackay] who’s now at Cardiff, we looked at Chris Hughton, who’s at Birmingham and they’ve both done fantastic jobs. We went for Sam because we wanted experience. Having made one mistake, we wanted to play as safe as we possibly could. With Paolo, if we’d brought him in then, had he done badly we’d have looked so stupid. Also, it’s a bit like Paul Ince, if you fail at high level you find it difficult to start again lower down, not that I am making a case for Paul Ince! [Iain laughs]. He did an OK job at Milton Keynes, he bombed out at Blackburn, you really want to see someone earn their apprenticeship as a manager. You get some top class footballer who wants to come straight in as a Premier League manager, well not many do it.
ID: Have you looked back at the 10 Point Plan you issued in May 2010 and checked how you’ve done?
DS: [laughs]. No! I daren’t! What did we say?
ID: Number 1 – appoint the right manager. Tick?
DS: We may have eventually. Second attempt.
ID: Signed new players.
DS: Sort of.
ID: Made more investment in the Academy.
DS: That’s probably neutral, but we have sustained it despite relegation.
ID: Continued to clear the debt.
DS: Sort of
ID: Freeze season ticket prices for renewals.
DS: Well, we’ve done that.
ID: Build the status and image of the club.
DS: I think we’ve done that, with the crowds we’ve been getting, we really are promoting the brand hard with advertisements, with mailshots. We mailed two million people in Essex and East London with leaflets on West Ham. We’ve just taken 50 pages in the Evening Standard and the Metro on a deal for the next year
ID: You should be advertising on LBC!
DS: We do that as well. No, it’s talkSport.
ID: Disgrace! You should sponsor my evening show! 400,000 people!
DS: Is that what you get?! That’s incredible. But they’d have to do it very cheap!
ID: Next one, make it enjoyable to come and watch.
DS: Well, we’re starting to win games, and that’s the most important thing, you win games.
ID: Get closer to the community.
DS: We really do put a lot of effort into that and spend a lot of money
ID: Go for the Olympic Stadium.
DS: Er…. [Iain laughs]
ID: Get closer to supporters
DS: We’ve for the Supporters Advisory Panel and they come up with some very good ideas. I correspond with about 50 fans on the email and they give me their opinions.
ID: But you still enjoy it?
DS: If it wasn’t for the financial drain, I’d say I was loving it, but it is at a level which is a bit frightening. I think David has aged five years in two! I can still laugh about, but I really don’t know why! We’re 4-1 on to go up, and you just pray it happens. But you see Blackpool coming with a run, Birmingham coming with a run, Hull, Reading.
ID: I think Southampton will drop to the playoffs.
DS: Reading are a good side, you know. Even before we had the sending offs, they were at us. When it was 0-0, there was nothing in it.
ID: They’ve always been a bit of a bogey side for us. I remember the 6-0!
DS: We’ll beat them when they come here. Our home form is really improving and I think you’ll see that continue for the rest of the season. The crowds are getting bigger. We’ve got Palace on TV but that will be sold out because of Kids for a Quid. To get a sellout at 12.45 on a Saturday is fantastic. You can’t beat Kids for a Quid when you talk about getting the community involved. It allows people who haven’t got much money to bring their kids. I met a guy the other day who brought 19 kids to a game with his pal. Nineteen! In addition to doing transfers and wage negotiations, I’m very involved in the marketing of the club at a micro level. I have organised most of our expansionary advertising campaigns including the 2.5m leaflets we’ve distributed since the stat of the season and the 50 pages we’ve recently contracted to book in the Standard & Metro. Myself & Karren invented Kids for a Quid at Birmingham 20 years ago and its something we really believe is important for the long term future of the club. We regularly use it regularly at West Ham for games we think are not going to sell out.
ID: You’ve got to catch them young.
DS: Yes, because in 20 or 30 years’ time, they will be our supporters. It’s called investing in the future.
ID: I think that’s a good, positive note to end on. I want to really thank you for doing this. I know the readers of West Ham Till I Die will appreciate it and also appreciate the fact that you have been so open and transparent.