CAS Trust features in The Guardian’s examination of the West Ham Olympic Stadium tenancy

Badges on Brick

The Guardian ran three articles yesterday, critically examining the West Ham Olympic Stadium tenancy. All were written by Owen Gibson, who was connected to the Trust by Supporters Direct last autumn, and who coincidentally lives close to the Valley. We’ve spoken with Owen several times and Steve Clarke’s contribution to the article was planned in advance. Nevertheless, Steve's comments are a small part of one article, because the Guardian has correctly identified that the issue is one that should resonate across London and even nationwide. That's why these articles are so welcome.

We’d like to explain again why we think it is important for the Trust to be involved in such an issue, and to give you some idea of what more to expect.

Previous directors of the Club openly expressed their concern about the commercial threat of a West Ham occupation of the Olympic Stadium from the first day it was discussed. However, these events happen, and the Trust’s position is not that of fundamental opposition to their occupancy there. The issue is the emerging evidence that the terms of the deal are extremely favourable to West Ham. As a result, we believe they will feel able to offer thousands of discounted tickets, because they will be already showing a handsome profit per game if they sell most of their executive boxes and their regular FAPL fan base of 30,000. Many of these tickets will be offered in our catchment area, because the Olympics created a range of new transport links from south of the river, to the stadium. Based on the very limited public disclosure of the deal, we lodged a complaint with the European Commission that the agreement constituted unfair State Aid. This process lasted eighteen months, a total of three submissions from us, and a final 26 page defence from the LLDC. This persuaded the EC not to launch a formal investigation, (a serious step with potentially major consequences). However, as Owen Gibson explains, it is more than possible that others will make a complaint if more information comes to light - there is a 10 year window to make such complaints.

The lack of information is an important issue, and something which should worry taxpayers and citizens. To address this, last summer we endeavoured to obtain a copy of the rental contract through the Freedom of Information law. Again we found ourselves in an extraordinary tussle with a phalanx of lawyers and other advisers working on behalf of the LLDC (a public body). You can follow this tussle thanks to this website and you may then conclude that we actually got the contract. However, if you download the document you will be confronted by a sea of black ink - redactions in the name of “commercial confidentiality”. One cannot even know the titles of sections which have been redacted. We then complained to the Information Commissioner - this again was opened last autumn. The Commissioner appears to be taking our complaint seriously, and has already extracted a small extra release of information from the contract. They invited us to indicate whether we were satisfied with this extra release, and of course we indicated our dissatisfaction. They were not surprised, but warned us from the start that the process would take some time. They too will be up against the army of lawyers who appear hell-bent on blocking any release of important aspects of the contract until it is far too late to realistically change the contract terms.

Overall we feel our initiative helps to define what a Trust can do on behalf of the Club it seeks to preserve and keep healthy. There will always be contentious issues affecting clubs. If the issue brings a club into conflict with another, Club officials are reluctant to stoke up that conflict; clubs have to exist in the same eco-system. Similarly, if the issue brings a club into conflict with politicians (particularly at municipal level), again the club may feel potentially constrained in its responses (at least publicly). In either case, a Trust need feel no such constraints.  It can exercise all its rights as a group of citizens, acting separately to the Club, but with the same goal. Of course as we come up to the 25th anniversary of the Valley Party, it’s a reminder that Charlton fans have come to the Club’s aid before, even though at that time, Supporters’ Trusts did not even exist.  We are hopeful that our work on the West Ham issue is seen by the Club as a modern example of the Club and the Trust working discreetly together to address a threat to the Club's financial well being; and is an example of the distinct and unique role the Trust can play.

If any Trust members would like to read the report we prepared, summarising the European Commission saga, (it runs to 50 odd pages), please contact any Board member.