The Sweeper: West Ham’s Gold Diggers?

David Gold and David Sullivan

Big News
David Gold and David Sullivan, the porn moguls and former owners of Birmingham City, have purchased half of West Ham United, seizing operating control. They say they want to try and persuade the government to let them move into London’s new Olympic Stadium, presumably to generate more revenue and tap into West Ham’s potential than is possible at Upton Park (without expensive redevelopment). Sullivan said they hope to rent the stadium, though admitted the running track would present a considerable problem.

Sullivan put down the purchase to his heart ruling his head. “West Ham is the club of the East End and Essex. I went to school in Hornchurch and right out into Essex is West Ham land,” he said. “We wouldn’t buy this club at all if this wasn’t West Ham. It makes no commercial sense for anyone to buy this club.” Elsewhere, he said “We are West Ham fans and I don’t think we would have bought West Ham if we hadn’t been fans as, from a business point of view, it is in a serious mess.”

That’s certainly true — the club has £100m of debt –  but Sullivan is a smart businessman, and he’s been waiting a while for the mess the previous ownership took the club into to lower the price enough for him and Gold to take advantage of the situation. Here’s Sullivan, speaking just over two years ago:

I could see a scenario where the Icelanders, in two years’ time or 18 months, making no money out of West Ham having cocked it up, they might want to walk away. They might want to say to me, ‘Come and buy half the club and make it work for us,’ because they have done some appalling things at West Ham. The wages they are paying both to staff and players – I cannot see how the business model works. And they have done it as an investment, no other reason.

Investment, of course, is why Gold and Sullivan owned Birmingham City (their tenure was hardly free from controversy). They say their purchase of West Ham is not about business but about being close to home (not the first time we’ve heard this from Sullivan, as he considered where next to invest after Birmingham), which may well be true, but it’s certainly also the usual smart business from the pair. And there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, if they can find a better business model for the club than the disastrous previous ownership, something Sullivan identified a while back. West Ham fans will still want to keep a sharp pair of eyes on them, though, especially if the club sells its traditional home to move to a rental situation at the Olympic stadium.

Worldwide News

  • In today’s daily update on the Glazer family’s attempts to become most hated in Manchester, we learn they could take a juicy £130m out of the club next year.
  • The Times’ Matt Dickinson takes a look at a club where owners find it much harder to screw the fans, AFC Wimbledon, the fan-owned club that’s seen eight years of success. Dickinson’s article is rosy in general, though ends with words of unanswered caution: “To go to Kingsmeadow is to renew your vows with the game. It shows you how a club can be run, how they should be run, how they were always intended to be run. The place is full of happy fans, well-meaning staff, enthusiastic volunteers. How long can it stay that way? How far can fan ownership carry them?” The question, though far from inappropriate, does seem to imply non-fan owned clubs are usually well-run as a rule — which is in England, quite patently not the case.
  • Only a generation late, the Football Association is finally, really, truly building the National Football Center they’ve been promising for the best part of a decade.
  • Yours truly was pleased to be nominated for the Best Football Writer of 2009 by Soccerlens, so if for some reason you enjoy these daily ramblings, you may want to vote for me, and check out the other categories as well.

The Sweeper appears every weekday, and once at the weekend. For more rambling and links throughout the day every day, follow your editor Tom Dunmore @pitchinvasion on Twitter.