Hammers face fan probe on finances
By Raoul Simons, Evening Standard
27 April 2004
West Ham chairman Terence Brown today received a John Magnier-style dossier demanding answers to 180 questions about how the club is run.
In a bid to force a takeover battle, fans' pressure group Whistle have borrowed a technique from Manchester United's leading shareholder to highlight alleged mismanagement by the Upton Park board.
Whistle have engaged chartered accountants to conduct a detailed analysis of West Ham's financial plight and they conclude that "the outlook is bleak".
The questions cover every aspect of West Ham's business practices, including transfer dealings, agents' fees, debt management and directors' salaries.
After gaining access to confidential documents, Whistle estimate that the club's debts of £44million have increased over the last year despite the sale of £27m worth of star players.
As a result, they fear manager Alan Pardew could be forced to sell more players next season regardless of their league status.
Whistle spokesman Mike Hanna said: "Even if the club are promoted this year, further sales are almost inevitable. We believe the debt burden has not eased despite heavy previous sales and a reduction in the wage bill."
But Paul Aldridge, West Ham's managing director, dismissed the claim, saying: "The club's year-end accounts will show a substantial reduction in debt.
"I'm afraid this is clearly another alarmist story trying to destabilise the club at this very important stage in the season."
But Whistle don't just want to destabilise the club, they want to take control. The organisation, which represents around 1,000 West Ham shareholders, claim they are close to unnamed City businessmen who are prepared to invest between £20m and £30m. In return, they want Brown and Aldridge replaced by an entirely new management team.
Hanna added: "Years of losses, a greatly depleted playing squad and a huge loss of value leave no credibility in the current executive management.
"We call on Mr Brown to acknowledge now that new management and fresh finance are crucial to the club's future stability. Serious investors are available and Whistle is also aware that a top management team would be capable of reinivigorating the club." Whistle's previous attempts to oust Brown have failed partly because of the club's ownership structure.
Brown owns 36.6 per cent of the shares, with a further 39 per cent held by the Warner and Cearns families, who are longterm investors.
Provided he is supported by the families, Brown is in a strong position, yet the club's heavy debt to Barclays Bank means they are also influential player.
Some of Whistle's questions are extremely provocative, designed to cause maximum embarrassment to the board and force a rethink among the club's kingmakers.
One concerns spending on corporate entertaining. It reads: "What were the total fit out costs for both chairman's dining room and hospitality lounge in the West Stand?"
Another requests details of the secret world of freemasonry in east London. It asks: "Are there any Masonic connections between any of the company's directors and elected or unelected officials in the London Borough of Newham, or any suppliers or contractors to the group?"
Whistle have also sent copies of their dossier to the Football Association, the Nationwide League and the Department of Trade and Industry in the hope of an investigation into the club's finances.