Let’s Talk About Money

The conundrum of stadium, money, tradition and success.

MoneyDo you ever stop to consider why you support a football club? What is it that makes you want to invest so much time, money and emotion into the fortunes of a particular team? What do you get or want out of it in return?

Of course there is no simple answer as everyone has their own story and perspective. Originally it would have been about creating bonds and a sense of community; families, friends, territories and rivalries. Perhaps this still exists in the lower leagues at places such as Rochdale or Hartlepool (who I understand to be the most unsuccessful teams in history) but it has become less relevant at the top level; particularly in the Premier League where money and success rule. The dilemma for a team such as West Ham (or more importantly its supporters) is what constitutes success and what are you prepared to sacrifice to secure it?

It is no surprise to anyone that there is a strong correlation between how much money is available to a club and the level of success on the pitch; if we measure success by league position or trophies won. The move to the London Stadium was, no doubt, seen by the owners as an opportunity for the club to progress financially, to keep Tottenham off our patch and to increase the value of their investment. I don’t want to get involved in the merits or otherwise of the new stadium and we have to accept that there is no going back; like it or not we should concentrate on making the most of what we now have.  We are now in the London Stadium; where can it take us?

“The clubs who have better financial resources have the better teams”

– A Wenger

Based on the financial accounts for 2014/15 West Ham were the 20th biggest club in Europe (in terms of revenue) and the 9th biggest in the UK.  We were one of a cluster of English clubs with reasonably similar levels of revenue comprising Newcastle, Everton, West Ham, Aston Villa and Southampton. Manchester United are way ahead of everyone else followed by a closely grouped Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool. There is then a gap to Tottenham before a further gap to our own group.

As Tottenham is the nearest financial target in our sights if we are to improve our relative position then I use them for comparison purposes only. In 2014/15 Tottenham had revenues of £196m compared to West Ham’s £122m. With a similar sized stadium they were able to generate more than us in Matchday (£41m/ £20m), TV (£95m/ £79m) and Commercial (£59m/ £24m) revenues. TV contributed 65% of West Ham’s revenue compared to Tottenham’s 49%.

The larger stadium will certainly generate incremental Matchday cash but it is difficult to see the direct impact that it will have on TV or Commercial activity; as these are more a function of team success and wider, higher profile. For the sponsors involved with football the attraction of Premier League clubs is the worldwide appeal of the major teams participating and this an area where both West Ham and Tottenham suffer in comparison with the (so-called) big 5 clubs. (In fact I ave not seen any significant major overseas profile for Manchester City yet but they can at least rely on the UAE for hefty sponsorship deals). Tottenham fare better than us with commercial sponsorship due to their longer and more regular involvement in European competition but they are still some way behind the others. It would be rare in Asia, for instance, to see locals wearing Tottenham or West Ham shirts and that is why our sponsors have tended to be local rather than international businesses. Breaking into that club and attracting overseas support is a major challenge for any new team.

So where does that leave us? Potentially with improved financial security and topping the also-rans-financial league I mentioned above, but with a mountain to climb if we want to see a sustainable step change in status. Over the last 4 years West Ham have been the 5th largest net transfer spenders (notable for our lack of large transfers out) and although this has brought relative improvement we remain firmly part of that mid-table pack. A realistic view is that it would appear virtually impossible to grow organically into a truly big club; only significant external investment can make that difference. Otherwise the future is the same mid-ranking club but in a much larger stadium.

And that brings us back to the original questions. What does success look like and how badly do we want it? Surely it should be better than 4 cups in 50 years but are we prepared to give up the remaining sense of community, tradition and what it means to be a Hammer in order to achieve it?

Source: Financial information taken from the excellent Swiss Ramble blog.

Offside: Changes Needed? – Part One

Raising the flag on problems and shortcomings of the current offside rule.

OffsideI recently wrote an article where I posed the question, “what is the point of the penalty area?” In this I suggested the removal of the penalty area as it stands to be replaced by a line, which would stretch right across the pitch. The line would have nothing to do with the issuing of penalty kicks, but would be an instrumental line for a change in the ridiculous offside law (as it stands), which I will outline further starting with this article.

I’ve got a lot of views about offside and I’ve been reading about the law, FIFA guidance, referee guidance etc. One problem I have is that it has been proven in scientific research that human beings (including linesmen!) physically cannot move their eyes fast enough to take in all the necessary action. To make a correct decision they have to assess the positions of the player passing the ball, the player receiving the ball, and the second from last defender at the exact moment a pass is made, bearing in mind that they could be some distance apart, and possibly moving at speed in opposite directions.

I believe we need to look back in history to ascertain why the offside law was introduced in the first place. If you study the development of football in the 1860s, the offside law was probably the biggest bone of contention between the clubs in existence at the time who all had their own version of it.

A compromise was eventually agreed and written into the Laws of the Game in 1866, and was eventually adopted throughout. It was similar to the rule that exists today with the difference being that at a player was offside if he was in the opponents’ half, and he was nearer to the opponents’ goal line than both the ball and at least three opponents when receiving a pass from his team-mate.

The rule changed in 1925 with three opponents becoming two opponents. In 1990 the law was amended so that a player was onside if he was level with the second to last opponent. This change was considered to be part of a movement by the authorities to make the rules more conducive to attacking football and help the game to flow more freely.

But why was it introduced in the very first place? In the very early games of football, players would stand close to the opponents goal, a term known as goal-hanging (as happened a lot in the playground games of football in my day), and the ball could be played to them, where they would be in a good position to score, and obstruct the goalkeeper too. Quite clearly as the game developed it was realised that this was an unsatisfactory state of affairs.

But why do we have the situation where you can be offside in half of the area of the pitch? Can you really be goal-hanging more than fifty yards from goal? Once we’ve dispensed with the nonsensical penalty area that I previously referred to, I believe we should draw a line across the pitch, say 18 yards from the goal line. It doesn’t have to be necessarily 18 yards; it could be 20. Some experimentation would be needed of course. We would then change the rule so that you can only be offside in this final 18 yards of the pitch. This would prevent the current condensing of play in the centre of the field and stretch it out further.

In my view it would also help the assistant referee, whose task with regard to offside can be difficult, as they need to keep up with the flow of the game, consider if players are in an offside position when the ball is played, and then decide if any players that are in an offside position become involved in active play.

As I mentioned before, officiating errors in respect of offside are inevitable from an optical viewpoint, with the eyes and brain of a human being unable to process all of the necessary action to accurately call an offside decision accurately. The risk of errors increases by the foreshortening effect, which can happen when the distances between the attacking player, the defending players, and the assistant referee vary significantly. This is exacerbated if the assistant referee is not directly in line with the defender, and with the speed of the game today, this is virtually impossible.

The assistant referee has to judge if a player is level with an opponent at the moment the ball is kicked. The ball may be kicked from a short distance away or 40 yards away, and the linesman has to be able to see all of this with one set of eyes. It becomes even more difficult if an attacker and a defender are running in opposite directions. Sometimes it is just not possible to keep all necessary players in the field of vision at once.

This article will be continued with further details of the complexity of the offside rule that most of us don’t know about, and ideas for solutions to simplify the law for players and spectators alike, together with a call for video replays that could easily be introduced without any hold up to the game.

The Penalty Area: What’s The Point?

Thinking outside the box. The existing rules on penalty awards put on the spot.

I’ll start with a question. Why do people refer to the penalty area as the penalty box? A box suggests to me a three-dimensional object, whereas the penalty area (or “18 yard box”) is just a set of lines which denote a rectangle measuring 18 yards by 44 yards or 792 square yards. This is about one-sixth of an acre which makes it sound bigger than it really is.

It’s a nonsensical area with an arbitrary size that has one main purpose. It is there so that any foul committed within it by the defending side, including intentional handball, results in the award of a penalty kick. My suggestion is that this is a ridiculous law and should be abolished immediately. I’m not petitioning for the abolition of the penalty kick itself, merely the reason for awarding it. The penalty area also has a supplementary purpose in that it exists, of course, as an arbitrary area in which the goalkeeper can handle the ball.

At the moment a foul could be committed inches inside the penalty area, and a penalty kick is awarded even if there is no way that the goal is threatened, or a goal scoring opportunity denied. The attacking player may be moving away from the goal, or the ball may be played by the defender’s hand without there being any real danger of a goal being scored. Nevertheless a penalty kick is awarded which effectively means an 85% chance of a goal being scored.  

If exactly the same offence occurs inches outside the penalty area then a free kick is awarded. This means that the defending side can build a wall, and effectively means a less than 2% chance of a goal (unless of course you’ve got Dimitri Payet in your team!). At the speed of football today, it is difficult, nigh on impossible, for the officials to be certain whether or not the offence is inside or outside the area, but the end result of their decision makes an enormous difference to the outcome.

Compare that to the situation where a player is clean through on goal, say thirty yards out, and is brought down by a defender, thereby denying a clear goal scoring opportunity. This latter situation should, to make it a more sensible rule, result in the award of a penalty kick in my opinion, even though under the current rules it would just be a free kick. 

So my proposal is that the penalty area is abolished, and a penalty kick is awarded whenever a clear goal scoring opportunity is denied, regardless of where it takes place on the pitch. We don’t need a penalty area for this and it would therefore become redundant.

And I’ll go a step further to discourage dissent from the side that have a penalty awarded against them. If anyone in the team shows dissent towards the officials, then not only does the penalty stand, but the penalty kick is taken without a goalkeeper in the goal, thus increasing the possibility of a goal to very close to 100%.

These changes will mean that penalties are only awarded for good reasons, and dissent will be eliminated at a stroke. It makes sense and must be introduced. But will it? Of course not, because the change is too radical. But should it? Of course it should.

But, I hear you say, what about knowing where keepers should be allowed to handle the ball? I would have a line all the way across the pitch 18 yards from goal, allowing the keeper to handle the ball anywhere within it. Those diehards amongst you can keep the penalty area where it is, if you must, for goalkeeper handling purposes. But it should no longer have anything to do with the award of penalty kicks.

My line, which would stretch right across the pitch, would also have nothing to do with the issuing of penalty kicks, but would be an instrumental line for a change in the ridiculous offside law (as it stands), which I will outline in a future article.

To be continued ……