West Ham's financial saga appears to be nearing a conclusion
Like everything to do with the Icelandic ownership of West Ham, this has been a saga. And like an Icelandic saga it has been a tale of struggle although, finally, it appeared to be reaching a satisfactory conclusion on Friday night. It's hard not to have some sympathy for all parties in this story, except, perhaps, for the former owner Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson and the man who enticed him into buying the club, Eggert Magnusson, who dangerously over-stretched themselves and put the club's future in jeopardy, as they tried to satisfy their own personal vanity. Related ArticlesWest Ham: the candidatesWest Ham given £115k fineAston Villa v West Ham United: previewCagliari president eyes West HamFernandes favourite to take over West HamSport on televisionIt meant that when Gudmundsson's empire collapsed in the financial meltdown that destroyed the Icelandic economy, a bank, Straumur, itself in a tricky position, inherited a football club. What would it do? Straumur, along with other creditors, set-up a company called CB (Claret and Blue after the club's colours) Holding and made pledges that it would try and run West Ham as a going concern for the next three years in the hope that the economy would improve and it could be sold on. These were laudable intentions undermined a little when a Straumur spokesman claimed the club had been close to administration - but they always felt a little unrealistic. West Ham's chief executive Scott Duxbury had put in place a plan, the so-called Football Project, which pre-dated Gudmundsson's problems, and provided a model for self-sustainability for a club that had wasted millions on transfer fees and wages. But Duxbury's plan needed stability. He, and Straumur to an extent, hoped that would come but it proved difficult. There was pressure to sell, re-shape the squad, bring in cheaper replacements but this had to be squared with the undoubted necessity of competing in the Premier League. All this was taking place against a backdrop in which Straumur had to re-finance the club's £30 million loan facilities and fight off calls for a debt moratorium back in Iceland not to be extended which it successfully did. Inevitably, perhaps, the decision was taken to try and assess whether Straumur should sell all or part of the club even though they maintained they did not have to. Rothschild and Standard banks were appointed to sift through inquiries many of which were bogus or opportunistic. An early front-runner was the pairing of former Birmingham City co-owners David Sullivan and David Gold, but the Malaysian businessman Tony Fernandes was quietly considering his own bid and had an impressive plan. Last autumn, Fernandes was close to a deal but it didn't happen. When West Ham gutsily drew at home to Chelsea and then, crucially, beat Portsmouth at home on Boxing Day, he decided to make another move. He was also concerned about how his ownership would be accepted by the fans, would they want a Malaysian owner, would they want him over Gold and Sullivan who had made great play of their East End background? Fernandes began testing the water and was encouraged by the response. He submitted his offer. Finally it looked like things were happening although Gold and Sullivan remained in the bidding. And they were still strong contenders on Friday night.
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