SIMMERING Boro supporters will rightly feel a deep sense of injustice over the Premier LeagueÃ¢ÂÂs two-faced judgement on West Ham.
The decision by league chiefs NOT to dock points from the Hammers after they were caught bang to right using ineligible players and then lied about it is a kick in the teeth for Boro fans.
It has picked off the scab on a wound to the heart that still hurts after a decade.
And in a game awash with cash the idea that the ‘right and fair’ punishment can be commuted to a heavy fine is tantamount to inviting the rich to bend the rules at will. West Ham changed hands in a ÃÂ£100m buyout earlier this season. A ÃÂ£5.5m fine will be accepted as a reasonable part of the purchase costs if those three points can buy their survival.
The Hammers knew but did not reveal to the authorities that Argentinian duo Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano had not been correctly signed when they arrived in August. They had been loaned to the club by shadowy investment group MSI who owned their previous club River Plate and were trying to buy Upton Park – and who, crucially, retained the pairÃ¢ÂÂs registration.
And then, once questions were raised by the Premier League about the exact nature of their Ã¢ÂÂthird partyÃ¢Â? ownership – which is categorically against the rules – West Ham engaged in a systematic campaign of deceit to conceal the truth.
Fielding ineligible players brings an automatic three point deduction per game throughout the English pyramid system almost without exception. Every year non-league tables are scattered with asterisks denoting teams docked points for fielding players who have not told their senior club they have picked up a ban in Sunday football, or forget they signed a registration form for another club as cover for pre-season friendly but then never played, or in the case of AFC Wimbledon this season signed and played a lad who had previously turned out for a team in Wales but had not obtained the routine international clearance.
There are almost no grey areas, no exceptions and such cases are rarely overturned on appeal. Even with vast public sympathy and the support of Tony Blair AFC Wimbledon could only knock their punishment down from 18 points (the wrong ‘un played six games) to three. The offence stood and whil the punishment was lessened it was not commuted to a fine.
A points deduction is also the penalty usually considered appropriate for such and offence in the Premier LeagueÃ¢ÂÂs own rulebook – which, as all Boro fans know, was once considered sacrosanct. The panel’s report preamble said:
Ã¢ÂÂThe Rules of the FAPL allow us to penalise a club by deducting points and that is a course that we consider would normally follow from such a breach of these rules,Ã¢Â?
Yet such a punishment was set aside because – get this! – it was considered to have too great an affect on the relegation battle and was unduly harsh on the loyal fans. The judgement said:
Ã¢ÂÂIf the impact upon players and fans was to be the overriding consideration, there may never be a deduction of points.Ã¢Â?
Ã¢ÂÂThe fans and the players have been fighting against relegation against the ever-present threat… the efforts and loyalty would be to no avail were we to now deduct points.Ã¢Â?
Right. So poor West Ham donÃ¢ÂÂt get punished because it may see them pushed back down through the trapdoor and it wouldnÃ¢ÂÂt do to have those chirpy Cockernees upset?
But it was Ã¢ÂÂright and fairÃ¢ÂÂ for Boro to be cast into the abyss despite amassing enough points to finish 14th in 1997? Back then Boro were hit with a draconian three point deduction in January that directly contributed to a costly relegation and the subsequent loss of brilliant players like Juninho and Ravanelli and a yearÃ¢ÂÂs top flight income. There was no concern back then about the distorting impact on the survival battle nor on the distress to fans.
Worst, the commission admitted the main reason it did not dock West Ham points – as it should have done – was because of the timing and the impact it would have on the table at this late stage. The report said:
Ã¢ÂÂA points deduction, say in January, whilst unwelcome, would have been somewhat easier to bear than a points deduction today which would have consigned the club to certain relegation.Ã¢Â?
That raises two points. The first is that matter could and should have been pursued in January had it not been for West HamÃ¢ÂÂs deliberation evasion in dealing with the leagueÃ¢ÂÂs requests to see the documentation on the deal so it would appear their cynical attempts to frustrate the investigation and avoid justice have been successful.
It also raises major question-marks over the logic of the punishment. In saying they can not wield the ultimate sanction because of the proximity of the relegation battle but may have considered it if West Ham were not still involved, the Premier League appear to suggest they would only dock points if such a punishment had no effect.
That is perverse, invites teams to break the law knowing them will only be punished if it wonÃ¢ÂÂt hurt them and is a breach of natural justice. PFA chief Gordon Taylor believes only the precarious position in the league table saved them from being docked points.
In fact, had West Ham been comfortably 12th they would probably be appealing now claiming they should have been docked points and not fined the hefty ÃÂ£5.5m.
The judgement will reinforce the growing impression that the football authorities have an arbitrary notion of what constitutes justice and see it as relative to the perceived status of the offender. There is a glaring contradiction that suggests justice has not been seen to be done in an even handed way.
Wigan boss Paul Jewell – whose side were pulled back into trouble as Tevez starred in a 3-0 win over the Latics – believes the Premier League ‘bottled it’ and that the decision has given the green light to big teams who can afford financial penalties to press ahead with dubious ‘third party’ signings. Indeed, he hinted that some bigger clubs already have taken that step.
West Ham’s beaurocratic survival boost has infuriated their fellow strugglers with Wigan chairman Dave Whelan insisting he will sue the Premier League and demanding reintstatement and compensation if the Hammers stay up at his side’s expense and you can imagine Mohammed al-Fayed and Steve Gibson ready to contact m’learned friends too.
Up to fiv eteams are said to be considering action against the decisions – either through the Premier League or through the courts. A senior official at one of the clubs told the Daily Mail: “It is within the Premier League rules to challenge the decision and we will be looking at it. They said it was a serious breach of rule U18 and, according to the rules, that should carry a points deduction.”
And it will inflames passions on Teesside where it is still widely believed that Boro were given a raw deal. Lest we forget, BoroÃ¢ÂÂs transgressions came when an injury and virus ravaged team failed to fulfill a fixture at Blackburn on December 19.
Keith Lamb had informed the league of BoroÃ¢ÂÂs 23 man sick list and was told there was provision in the rules to call a game off if they could show Ã¢ÂÂjust causeÃ¢Â? – so they did and then set about proving they had reason to do so.
Boro’s attempts to show Ã¢ÂÂjust causeÃ¢ÂÂ was rejected by the panel and at an appeal for which they signed on George Carmen QC, who until then had reportedly never lost a case.
But Boro held their hands up to what they had done – indeed, gave the league notice of what they planned – and throughout proceedings they were transparent. The disciplinary panel accepted the club Ã¢ÂÂacted in good faithÃ¢Â?. Yet they were hammered.
In contrast, this time round the Premier League panel concluded that West Ham had been Ã¢ÂÂresponsible for dishonesty and deceitÃ¢Â?.
West Ham’s former chief executive Paul Aldridge Ã¢ÂÂtold a direct lieÃ¢Â? to the face of league boss Richard Scudamore as he denied back in September that there was “any documentation of any sort in respect of these players which the FAPL had not seen”.
In BoroÃ¢ÂÂs case there was no chicanery, no attempts to circumvent the rules and no attempt to gain a long-term advantage over their rivals – but West Ham broke the rules and lied about it in order to field players they could not afford week-in, week-out.
Mascherano hasnÃ¢ÂÂt set the world alight but the consensus of press pundits and Hammers fans alike has been that Tevez has almost single handedly kept them within reach of safety with his displays since the New Year.
So West Ham could survive thanks to a player who they have broken the rules to buy and covered up the evidence -but the Premier League considers that a lesser crime than calling off an easily rescheduled match because the team has been ravaged by flu.
What will hurt Teessiders not yet hardened to injustice even more is that the Ã¢ÂÂineligibleÃ¢ÂÂ player scored against Boro – who are not yet safe – in what could yet be a decisive 2-0 Hammers win last month.
And that having now been allowed to sign the correct paperwork – after the transfer deadline – he could yet get the goals that keep West Ham up. Those of a more nervous Ã¢ÂÂtypical BoroÃ¢Â? disposition will be now convinced that such survival will be at our expense.
You can read the full Premier League judgement here.
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