ROTHERHAM UNITED’S deduction of three points and a £30,000 fine for fielding an ineligible player invites a comparison which has been studiously ignored. Even Daily Mail columnist Martin Samuel, a man who usually has a great deal to say on such matters, is yet to deem it worthy of comment. I wonder why?
I am referring, of course, to the infamous incident dubbed ‘The Carlos Tevez Affair’ in 2007 which resulted in Sheffield United being relegated from the Premier League.
Rotherham, at face value, appeared to handle the matter with dignity during a time last month when they were battling to avoid relegation from the Championship. It may have been more bloody had they not reached safety despite the deduction. Nor if Brighton, their opponents at the New York Stadium when the breach occurred on Easter Monday, had been relegated after falling a point or three short of survival. More of that later.
Rotherham made a genuine administrative mistake but were rightly punished. What influence defender Farrend Rawson, whose loan deal from Derby had expired, made in the match is debatable. He is a defender and the Millers kept a clean sheet so, it could be argued, that he had a bearing on the outcome.
The fact he shouldn’t have been playing in the first place is not up for debate. Rotherham gained three points using a line-up which wasn’t within the rules. It was only right the reward was taken off them and a financial penalty imposed. Fairness to all concerned.
Spool back eight years and a more high profile and influential player was also being deployed, this time in breach of Premier League rules, to help West Ham maintain top flight status. An action which much later was discovered to be deliberate. A fine of £5.5million was imposed but, crucially, no points deduction. That was unfair to Sheffield United, who ultimately were relegated, and to all the other clubs in the dog-fight.
United lost an initial appeal against relegation in the summer of 2007. This despite an arbitration panel admitting it “would in all probability have reached a different conclusion and deducted points from West Ham”.
Eleven months later after an acrimonious row between the clubs, an independent arbitration hearing ruled in the Blades favour concerning financial compensation and West Ham agreed to pay instalments totalling £20m. Lord Griffiths who chaired the hearing, said: “We have no doubt that West Ham would have secured at least three fewer points over the 2006-07 season if Carlos Tevez had not been playing for the club.” That is a gross underestimate.
Fines are not imposed and not contested if you are innocent. Compensation is not awarded and paid without protest if you are innocent. If you are guilty justice must be seen to be done. Clearly it wasn’t. Given the choice between a relatively tame cash penalty and money-laden Premier League status, it’s not difficult to understand the error.
Indeed, West Ham were later found to have staged a cover-up after claiming initially that they had no knowledge of third-party involvement in Tevez’s contractual arrangement. Premier League chairman at the time, Richard Scudamore, said of West Ham in May 2013: “If a club chooses, through its executives, to lie to you to your face, there is a good deal of damage that can flow from that.” Damning words.
The likes of the Mail’s Samuel, coincidentally a West Ham fan, overlook all this to make the point that United were relegated because they didn’t accumulate enough points throughout the season. This is true.
They only needed to avoid defeat on that black day in May 2007 at home to Wigan to maintain Premier League status. They didn’t. They lost 2-1 thanks to an inexplicable handball by Phil Jagielka, his last act before joining Everton. The resultant penalty was scored by David Unsworth, released by United less than four months earlier. That left Wigan level with United on points but they survived on a better goal difference.
Samuel’s view is only valid if United had of been under-performing on a level playing field. Tevez made 19 League appearances and scored seven goals for the Hammers in 2006-07, six of them in their remaining 10 matches. The last of which was in the 1-0 win at Manchester United on the final day of the season. A result which sealed the Blades fate.
That is not a level playing field. If West Ham had been deducted points accordingly, United with their 38 points total, would have survived by a comfortable margin. Fact.
In League matches involving Tevez, West Ham gained 26 of their 41 points haul. Fixtures in which he scored reaped 12 points. In matches were he scored but was on the losing side, he contributed another two to the Hammers’ goals for column.
So from whichever angle viewed Tevez had a major influence on the outcome of West Ham’s season. If the same rule used for Rotherham had been applied to West Ham (I appreciate the clubs operate under different governing bodies) they would have been at the very least 12 points lighter.
Rotherham’s dignified acceptance of their three-point deduction is not quite all it seems. A club statement revealed as much.
Following victory at home to Reading to ensure second-tier football, it said: “Having secured our Championship place for next season on the pitch on Tuesday night, the Board has decided not to appeal against the decision to deduct us three points.”
However, in a paragraph which could have been drafted by West Ham’s lawyers, it added: “Our mistake did not affect the integrity of this year’s competition, but if we had been relegated in the place of a team that had secured fewer points on the pitch over the season, that would have been a gross injustice.”
We’re back to level playing fields and abiding by the rules. That is something Rotherham nor West Ham have still to appreciate.